But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? — What did you look forward to? —To any thing, every thing — to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perseverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured ... {from Emma, by Jane Austen, 1775-1817}

January 12, 2017

Life with Queen Victoria: Marie Mallet's letters from Court, 1887-1901

... Matilda sat beside her and laughed when she saw the title of the book Maud had been reading. 'Last time I was here, it was the memoirs of a lady-in-waiting,' she said, teasing Maud.
      Mockery slid off the armor of Maud's self-sufficiency. 'I like that kind of book,' she replied simply.
from Envious Casca, by Georgette Heyer

{Hearing these lines in the audiobook I'm listening to, just about the time I was starting this book, was just too, too perfect.}

After reading quotes from it in a book I read last month, I was very happy to find this book at the library.  I'm a Queen Victoria groupie, as you may have noticed, and reading about life at court in a book of letters is just icing on the cake as far as I'm concerned. :)

Marie Mallet, who was born into an aristocratic family who often served at Court, became a Maid of Honour and later a Woman of the Bedchamber (a more senior and influential position)  to Queen Victoria, serving on and off until Victoria's death in 1901. Her role was part companion, part social secretary; she read to the Queen, played piano duets with her daughters, answered letters and telegrams, and accompanied the Queen on relentless and unavoidable carriage rides in every kind of bad weather.  'Waiting' involved hours of waiting for the Queen, and Marie writes about the boredom, and the great discomfort of being at Balmoral in cold weather and at Osborne House in the heat. But she also comments on the personalities and foibles of the ministers and royals who visited the Queen, and on the political and historical events she learns about at close range.

All of this is described in letters she wrote to her husband Bernard, a civil servant, and to her mother, who had also served at Court, and there's a wonderful mix of gossip, exasperation, fascination and a deep sense of honor and devotion.  One of the charms of the book is the Queen's fondness for Marie's young son Victor, who edited the letters and adds some of his own reminiscences.  But what comes across most is Marie's love and admiration for the Queen, and the Queen's great affection and confidence in her.  It all makes an unimaginable life very human.

Are you looking forward to Victoria, starting on Sunday? I am.  To be honest I was a little less then impressed with the novel it's based on, but it's hard to imagine that the sets and costumes won't give the story more life. And Rufus Sewall. I'm just saying.

Life with Queen Victoria:  Marie Mallet's letters from Court, 1887-1901, edited by Victor Mallet
John Murray, 1968
Borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum

January 1, 2017

Bewildering Cares

      But the difficult side of the question is this:  does one make people happier necessarily by making them more comfortable?  Because it is our business, presumably, as servants of Heaven, to inspire not only comfort but serenity and hope in the lives around us. ...
      I had meant to discuss all this with Arthur, because he always sees some side of any given question which I have ignored, but as I entered the cold, darkened hall I heard voices in the study, and, I feared, angry and protesting voices. While I stood hesitating, Kate's head popped up at the basement stairs, her cap well on the back of an agitated perm, and her voice came in a dramatic stage-whisper.
      'They're at it in there, all of them, ovcr the Strange business. That shuffle you meant to make of the rabbit won't do. I'll stew it up and keep the pudding hot, though if you ask me I'd say those apples were more fit for a pig-tub than for apple-charlotte.'  
      So a meal of some sort anyhow was ready, and over-ready, when I at last heard the sound of people rising and chairs scraping back in the study, and voices exchanging curt and chilly farewells. Two calls at the door had filled in the time, as one man was drunk and wouldn't go, and the other in search of a job which asked apparently no skill and no credential.
      Arthur came in looking o exhausted that I went to the book-shelf and took out Mr. Mulliner Speaks.  I propped this against the water-jug for him, and Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell, which I have read thirty times already and will probably read thirty more, against the loaf for myself. There is nothing so good for worried people as to read at their meals, and funny books, if possible, for laughter grows so rusty in war time. It wasn't till we were settled by the study fire over coffee that he looked up at me and laughed a little. 'We are to be martyrs for our opinions, Camilla dear! Mr. Weekes brought a message from  Mrs. Weekes that, all things considered, we had better not go to lunch with them on Thursday. They want to consult with the Archdeacon alone!'
      'What a good thing I didn't get myself a hat!' was all I let myself say, though I could have said much, much more.

I confess that I am cheating, because a few days ago, I listed my favorite books from 2016, and said very confidently that I was sure that nothing else I might read in the last few days of December would possibly belong on the list. But that was before I started reading this one, and on Saturday I decided that I'd just leave a page or two for Sunday morning so that it would the first book I finished reading in 2017.  But I couldn't, I just couldn't. Besides, if the very first book you (ahem) finish reading in January ends up on your list of favorites twelve months later, that's a very good thing. :)

Camilla Lacely is a middle-aged vicar's wife in a small town in England, in the very early days of World War II.  Her husband Arthur is thoughtful, intelligent, and devoted to her and his flock; their only son, Dick, is funny and irreverent, has just enlisted. When Camilla receives a letter from an old school friend, asking her what she, and her life, are like now, she writes about her week in her diary to help her remember what she might tell her.

Her week is filled with small 'bewildering cares,' like cooking and finding presentable clothes and helping her neighbors, and with the 'storm in a tea-cup...but then we happen to live in a tea-cup!' that's unleashed when the curate, Mr. Strang, preaches a sermon about  pacifism and upsets everyone. Camilla is drawn into endless horrified discussions, which she tries to avoid because she had fallen asleep in church and didn't actually hear what he said. She's also a reader, escaping into her favorite books and bemoaning the fact that instead of following a housekeeping 'system,' as the village busybody insists she should, she's often tempted to curl up with her library book instead.

That's only one of the reasons that I loved reading Bewildering Cares, as I did exactly that. :) The writing was gently funny, but also thoughtful, especially when Camilla tries to reconcile serious spiritual questions with the small but real concerns of daily life. The introduction writer also compares Bewildering Cares to Angela Thirkell and E.M. Delafield (and she might have added Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Gaskell, in Cranford), but I especially liked (and agree with!) the review she quoted (from the time) about Winifred Peck being a modern-day Anthony Trollope.  If you love any or all of these writers, or have any bewildering cares to escape from, this is a wonderful book.

{Bewildering Cares is one of the first books from the new Furrowed Middlebrow imprint that our friends have been talking about. I didn't make the connection at first, but Winifred Peck also wrote House-bound, one of the first Persephones I read.}

Bewildering Cares, by Winifred Peck
Dean Street Press, 2016 (first published in 1940)
Borrowed from Kindle Unlimited (but immediately purchased so I could keep it!)

December 31, 2016

Happy new year!

There are years that ask questions and years that answer. 
Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

For so many reasons, I hope that for all of us, 2017 will be a year that answers, bringing us happiness, health, hope, and joy. And more wonderful books that we can possibly ever read, and most of all, that we read them together.

December 29, 2016

In love with this book already...

Of the novel the Daily Mail critic wrote, 'It is quite on the cards that before long Winifred Peck will qualify as a modern Anthony Trollope' and indeed Camilla and Arthur are clearly well acquainted with the 'Chronicles of Barsetshire', casually referring to Trollopeian characters. Camilla Lacely is also devoted to Charlotte Yonge, E.M. Delafield, Winifred Holtby, Dorothy Whipple and Angela Thirkell, although for Lent she has been 'trying to do without a library subscription'.  However there is little time for reading, except during meals.
And I'm only halfway through the introduction. :)

December 26, 2016

2016's best

I know there's almost a whole week of reading left in this year, but I'm going to go out on a literary limb and guess that the library books I still have stacked up will be enjoyable but might not surpass these.  But then again, the wonderful thing about the books below is that even though I expected I'd like them, I was surprised again and again by how much I did ... and, for me, what a gift that is.

Looking back, it was a very good year for nonfiction ...

 and for fiction...

and for mysteries {though the mysteries I read by the dozens never seem to stand out from each other as much},..

But one mystery, with very engaging characters I hope to meet again, became even more gripping as an audiobook. And an audiobook with recipes?  It works.  And although Laurie Colwin is wonderful anytime, I started listening to Home Cooking when I especially needed comfort, and it's been perfect. :)

I'm looking forward to your lists, if you have them, and to more wonderful reading with you.

December 23, 2016

Christmas wishes ..

What can I give Him, poor as I am? 
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; 
 If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; 
 Yet what I can I give Him: I will give my heart.

And I'll give it to all of you, dear bookish friends, with every wish for a Merry Christmas. :)