April 21, 2017

Anticipation, 'culinary biography' edition


I'm so excited about this one.  I greatly enjoyed reading and listening to her short biography of Julia Child, two of the six remarkable women are Eleanor Roosevelt and Barbara Pym, and ... 'culinary biography.'  Oh, yes please.

April 20, 2017

Walking, writing

When she was much older, [Virginia Woolf] would create her heroine Mrs. Dalloway (who 'dallies along the way' ...) who is, perhaps, the greatest flaneuse of twentieth-century literature. These are the very first words Mrs. Dalloway speaks in the novel:  'I love walking in London,' said Mrs. Dalloway. 'Really, it's better than walking in the country.' For Woolf to be able to walk in the city by herself was a hitherto unimaginable kind of freedom, and while the move [to Bloomsbury] helped her become a professional writer, it was her walks that gave her something to write about. ... As she walked through the city, she would rewrite scenes in her mind; the life she saw around her seemed 'an immense opaque block of material to be conveyed by me into its equivalent of language.' Wondering about the people she saw pushed her forward in her literary project -- how to represent 'life itself' on the page. And to do this, she turned again and again to the city that was 'the passion of [her] life.' The noise of the streets was a kind of language, she thought, one that she would stop occasionally and listen to, and try to capture. ... The jungle and shuffle of London is the heartbeat of life itself.
from Flaneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo,
  Venice and London
, by Lauren Elkin

Flaneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo, Venice and London,
by Lauren Elkin
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017
Borrowed from the Boston Public Library

April 19, 2017

'I walk because, sometimes, it's like reading ...'

... You're privy to these lives and conversations that have nothing to do with yours, but you can eavesdrop on them. Sometimes it's overcrowded; sometimes, the voices are too loud. But there is always companionship. You are not alone.

from Flaneuse: women walk the city in Paris, New York, Tokyo,
  Venice and London
, by Lauren Elkin

April 2, 2017

Books in houses

It is difficult to overestimate the impact that the availability of all kinds of books had on the lives of the ladies of the late Georgian country house. Novels and romances, together with quantities of non-fiction books, were devoured by both men and women, but the latter spent much more time at home than their brothers and husbands. ... Books, which would be sent for, or borrowed from a friend or even a public library, were an invaluable resource for women, providing instruction and entertainment, and topics for discussion with friends and relations.
      The eighteenth century saw a dramatic increase in the number of books were published, and in the range of subjects they covered.  When Lady Christina Fox died in 1718 there were thirty-one books in her closet at Whitehall, including three Bibles and a prayer book. Of the remaining volumes, at least twenty were mainly concerned with religion. The others were all serious works, on subjects such as 'acute disease' and 'politicall arithmeticke.'  If one compares this with the fifty-seven books read  by Lady Christian's granddaughter Susan O'Brien in 1793, 1794 and 1795, the contrast is striking.  These included few, if any, religious books, but numerous novels. Susan read several historical works, including an account of the French revolution and a history of the Plague of Marseilles. She read travel books, accounts of the American states of Virginia and Kentucky, and several volumes of memoirs and letters. ...
     Novels began to appear in increasing numbers after 1740, when the first part of Samuel Richardson's best-seller Pamela was published. Word soon got around if a book was worth reading. Early in 1751 Caroline Fox wrote from Bath to ask her husband to 'Send Peregrine Pickle (as it can't be had here) in all haste.'  ... Sarah Napier recommended Fanny Burney's Cecilia to Susan O'Brien in 1782, the year of the book's first publication.
      Commentators soon began to express their concern about the popularity of  novel-reading among women, believing that the time thus spent was wasted, and that novels would corrupt feminine minds and hearts. In 1761 Sarah Pennington advised her daughter not to give herself  'the trouble of reading ... novels and romances' -- 'though many of them contain some few good morsels,they are not worth picking out the rubbish intermixed.'  There is no indication, however, that the girls at Melbury and Redlynch were discouraged from reading novels. ... [In 1789] Harriot Strangways wrote from her school in Weymouth to beg her sister Mary to send her 'The Prince of Abyssinia, which I have a longing to read.' ...In 1792 Harriot was reading Ann Radcliffe's Gothic novel The Sicilian Romance (published that year), commenting in a letter to Mary 'How shocking it is!  It has given me a sort of languid feel that is very, very disagreeable' ...

I borrowed this book from the library after seeing it mentioned in this one.  It traces the everyday lives of the women in several interconnected aristocratic families in 18th and early 19th England (ancestors of the author, I think).  It's a bit overstuffed with facts and details for my needs, so I'm skimming a bit, but it's the kind of history I love to read most.  Much more appealing that 'politicall arithmetick,' whatever that is, which just sounds terrifying. :)

Wives and daughters:  women and children in the Georgian country house, by Joanna Martin
Hambledon and London, 2004
Borrowed from the Boston Athenaeum

{The painting is Serena Reading, by British artist George Romney, c. 1782, found here.}

March 26, 2017

Anticipation (food in books edition)


It's so kind of people to write books especially for me. :)

March 22, 2017

Reading lives

Having recently worked my way through two not-all-that-engaging biographies of  people I was looking forward to knowing more about, I was reminded of how wonderful it is when the opposite happens ... those times when I've found myself reading, and loving,  a beautifully-told life of someone I didn't expect to find as interesting as I did.  That's even better, I think. :)

March 21, 2017

#PalliserParty: Can You Forgive Her?

After Trolloping our way through the #6barsets two years ago (and,on the whole, loving them) our friend JoAnn and I are starting to read the six Palliser novels, starting with Can You Forgive Her?   {We also just watched the first six episodes of The Pallisers, the 26-episode(!) Masterpiece Theater series which first aired in 1974.  I didn't really start watching M.T.  until about ten years later, so I only vaguely remember the incredibly long and detailed adaptations they did in those early days.  It was fun to watch, though a little dull, and it doesn't hold a candle to the book. But I wouldn't have missed the scenes in Episode 3 when Burgo Fitzgerald tries to borrow money from his aunt for anything. I think I might still have the vapors.}

Can You Forgive Her? introduces us to Alice Vavasor, a principled, young (but not very young) woman with a comfortable fortune who is engaged to marry John Grey, a scholar landowner. Years before, she had been engaged to her cousin, George Vavasor, but had broken off the engagement when she realized that he was a philanderer. Alice's father and her formidable aunts approve of her new engagement, but they are horrified when Alice re-engages herself to George and becomes a 'jilt' for the second time.  George, as it turns out, is mostly or only interested in attaching himself to Alice's money, to fund his campaign for a seat in the House of Commons.

It also reintroduces us to Plantagenet Palliser, an aristocratic and rising young Member of Parliament, and his wife, Lady Glencora, whom we met, in passing, in two of the Barsetshire Books. They have a new, arranged, and unhappy marriage; Plantagenet is stiff and scolding, and Glencora is young, flighty and still in love with Burgo Fitzgerald, the unsuitable man she had hoped to marry.

There's one more love story woven in, when Kate Vavasor, George's sister, visits her aunt, Mrs. Greenow, and becomes a witness to a love triangle among the wealthy widow, a clumsy but enamored farmer, Mr. Cheeseacre, and the rakish, romantic but debt-ridden Captain Bellfield (this plot thread seems to be there for comic relief).

On the whole, I think I'm glad that I read the Barsetshire novels first, because they instilled a love of Trollope in me that I'm not sure I would have gotten from this book, or at least not as much.  It was funny in places, and quirky in others (it was interesting to see how much time our Mr. T. spent describing rooms and furniture and wallpaper, and there was that deadly dull three or four pages describing a hunt).  And there were some odd moments, too, with characters sent off into oblivion (or at least to America) with a promise from the author that we'd never hear from them again) or brought into the story out of the blue {the woman who appears in George's room as he is packing to leave}. For me, I think it's mostly that there weren't any characters that I could really warm to, except for the steadfast Mr. Grey, and to be honest I think he deserved better. :)

This is sounding like I didn't enjoy Can You Forgive Her? - I did, very much, and definitely enough to look forward to what happens next.  We don't have a particular schedule in mind, but our #PalliserParty will continue, and we'd be happy to have you join us!

Can You Forgive Her?, by Anthony Trollope
First published in 1864
Purchased; Penguin Classics edition for Kindle (with terrible typos throughout!), and Audible edition narrated (excellently) by Timothy West