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The Brimming Cup by Dorothy Canfield
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The Brimming Cup (1919)

by Dorothy Canfield

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When her youngest son leaves for his first day of school, Marise Crittenden is bereft. She feels a sudden lack of purpose, which is further challenged by the arrival of new neighbors. Mr. Welles, an elderly man, has settled in the village after a long career in business. Vincent Marsh, a younger associate, has come along to help him settle in but immediately trains his sights on Marise. His attentions, coming at this vulnerable time, are both irresistible and frightening.

Marise is a strong woman in a strong marriage, but her marriage lacks the spark of courtship and Vincent promises her more excitement than leading the village chorus, or tending to the needs of other families in the village. A visit from her childhood friend Eugenia makes Marise doubt even more whether life as a wife and mother is all it’s cracked up to be.

This book plodded along for quite some time -- about 200 pages in fact -- before the pace picked up and Marise got her act together. The last 100 pages are dramatic, filled with insight, and very satisfying. If the entire book read that way, it would have earned a higher rating. I stuck with it for the sake of a group read, and I think I would still recommend it, but with reservations. ( )
1 vote lauralkeet | Feb 15, 2018 |
A good enough book, but it had a sense of gossamer vagueness to it. I don't know why, but I found some of the secondary characters – Paul, Mr. Welles, Aunt Hatty, Mark, and especially (for some reason) Elly – more interesting than Marise or Vincent or Neale. And I thought the "C.K. Lowder land fraud," and Neale's involvement in it, came to a very predictable conclusion. ( )
1 vote CurrerBell | Feb 10, 2018 |
After reading the prologue, my hopes weren't too high for this book. The characters were likable, but far too wordy and prone to wax philosophic. Fortunately, once the novel proper began, and the two lovers had aged, the author found a better balance between description, dialogue, and character introspection.

The story follows Marise, a passionate and intelligent woman, susceptible to being led by her strong emotions. In the prologue, she is a young lover, recently engaged and devoted to Neale. When the first chapter opens, she and Neale have been married for ten years and have three children. Her youngest is off to his first day of school, and Marise feels a hole in her life that she can't explain; it frightens her. That same day, her new neighbor, Mr. Welles, moves in. He is an elderly man who is retiring to the countryside he has dreamed of for many years. Marise was expecting this new appearance, but she is surprised to meet the younger man who has accompanied Mr. Welles to help him settle down - Vincent Marsh. Vincent is an attractive man with a magnetic personality and a lot of money, and he is clearly drawn to Marise. He believes that she is wasted in her small Vermont town, squandered on her children and dull husband, and she would be better served living with him. He shares his many ideals about life with her - that parents are the worst people to care for their children, that life is chaos and meaninglessness, and the only happiness is to take what you can get out of it and hold on to that momentary happiness to the exclusion of consideration for anyone else - and Marise is swayed by those strong emotions of hers, wondering if his outlook on life isn't the right way, after all.

The author fully reveals Vincent's moral outlook, but clearly doesn't share it; other characters, like Neale, outright contradict him, and Marise sees him for the shallow man that he is at the end. Hallelujah! Because I really disliked Vincent. He is now one of my top-hated characters. Basically, any character who claims that a mother is not the best person to raise her own children would end up on my bad list, but every further thing he said was worse and worse! Just a few chapters in, I found him to be selfish, arrogant, contemptuous, greedy, and utterly without compassion for other people. He justified this with his intellectual jargon, but I thoroughly disliked him. I congratulate Canfield on creating a character so fleshed out that he could evoke such strong emotions, but I wonder if that was her intention. She wanted us to like him, too, because Marise falls for him, and everyone around him talks about what an attractive person Vincent is, but I could not agree with them. It even angered me that Marise would not see through all of his ridiculous posturing. I was so relieved when she finally matured enough to withstand his emotional onslaught, and rejected him as he deserved.

Although my feelings against Vincent were undoubtedly stronger than the author intended, it didn't detract from my enjoyment of the story. If anything, I read those pages more feverishly, in an angry energy. I loved Marise (which made her attachment to Vincent all the more infuriating), and I loved her husband Neale even more. If Vincent considered Neale a dullard, that could only mean that he was the best of all men. Neale really was the greatest. He was so full of love for his wife and children, kind and considerate towards others without taking credit for it, and full of intuition married to common sense. Everything he spoke I agreed with one hundred percent.

I loved (and hated) the characters, I was interested in the plot, the writing was beautiful and descriptive ... so what lowers the rating for this book? That wordiness that overloaded the prologue and reappeared sporadically in the rest of the novel. It mellowed out considerably as the story opened properly, but sections were still overdone. Fortunately, the more elaborate moral and philosophic explorations moved to the realm of mental introspection, where they were easier to digest, although even here she sometimes went overboard. For instance, after Marise's moment of climax, where she throws caution to the wind and reveals her attraction to Vincent, and he declares his passion and kisses her, we have four long chapters of mental deliberation before she decides what to do. Four! That's a bit much. By that point, of course, I was invested enough in Marise to really care what she was thinking, and the reading was swift, but the story would have benefited by some trimming in sections such as these. When characters did pursue philosophic topics with each other, the reader received snippets of the conversation, rather than the whole debate. While such exchanges may be stimulating to have in reality, reading them in a fiction novel is less pleasing; it feels more like a textbook than a story. Canfield did much better when she abbreviated these conversations and just delivered the gist of the ideas involved. The moral lesson and philosophy were heavy handed, but not nearly so much as in the prologue. I liked the ideas bandied around, but would have found them more compelling if Canfield had been concise.

If you can handle a few narrative rabbit trails, you will find much to commend in this lovely story with characters that will catch your attention, one way or another. The writing is lovely and the ending quite heart-warming. I enjoyed it and count it another great find under the green Virago cover. ( )
3 vote nmhale | Dec 7, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy Canfieldprimary authorall editionscalculated
Goldman, DorothyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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April 1909 Lounging idly in the deserted little waiting-room was the usual shabby, bored, lonely ticket-seller, prodigiously indifferent to the grave beauty of the scene before him and to the throng of ancient memories jostling him where he stood. Without troubling to look at his watch, he informed the two young foreigners that they had a long hour to wait before the cable-railway would send a car down to the Campagna. His lazy nonchalance was faintly colored with the satisfaction, common to his profession, in the discomfiture of travelers.
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From the book cover: "It was like a procession, all half in the dark, marching forward one after another, little girls, mothers, mothers and little girls... what for... oh what for?"

One day in 1920 Marise watches her youngest child depart for his first day at school and feels redundant. Absorbed in her role as wife and mother she has not been aware of the slow ebbing of her spirit, nor the way in which her marriage, though comfortable, and happy, has lost its passion. As the year progresses Marise continues as the pivot of the household, drawing new neighbors into the family circle and the Vermont community. Doing so, she reassesses her marriage and the values on which it is based, each day underlined by the questions she now asks herself -- and sharpened by her increasing attraction to another man. First published in 1919 this intuitive novel explores the emotional turmoil one woman faces as she struggles to resurrect her own identity.
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