Thursday, December 31, 2015

A young lady gets her way - a short episode from Orley Farm

I really thought that yesterday's post would be my last from 2015, but today I read the most delightful chapter in Orley Farm, and I just had to share it with someone. (I'm on p.188 of the second volume, with just over 200 pages to go.)

I will redact the names, so that this won't be a complete spoiler.

Trollope has not identified a heroine in this book, but he tells his readers early in the first volume that one character will "be the most interesting personage in this story." She has all the hallmarks of a Trollopian heroine. She has fallen in love with a young man but of course has not shown him any signs of her partiality. Her family has noticed, however, and she has been given to understand that she cannot marry this young man. Her mother in particular objects to him, because he is not well-off, not settled in life, and not handsome.

Our young woman accepts this. "She acknowledged from the very first that he was not the sort of man whom she ought to have loved, and therefore she was prepared to submit." But like Lily Dale, her heart has been given, and she will be no other man's wife. "As regarded herself, she must be content to rest by her mother's side as a flower ungathered." She isn't going to rest, literally, though. "Then she went away, and began to read a paper about sick people written by Florence Nightingale."  This is where it gets fun, and funny.
But it was by no means [her mother's] desire that her daughter should take to the Florence Nightingale line of was by no means matter of joy to her when she found that [her daughter] was laying out for herself little ways of life, tending in some slight degree to the monastic. Nothing was said about it, but she fancied that [daughter] had doffed a ribbon of two in her usual evening attire. That she read during certain fixed hours of the morning was very manifest. As to that daily afternoon service at four o'clock - she had very often attended that, and it was hardly worthy of remark that she now went to it every day. But there seemed at this time to be a monotonous regularity about her visits to the poor. . .All this made [her mother] uneasy; and then, by way of counterpoise, she talked of balls, and offered [daughter] carte blanche as to a new dress for the special one that would grace the assizes. 'I don't think I shall go, said [daughter]; and thus [her mother] became really unhappy. Would not [the unsuitable young man] be better than no son-in-law?
The final straw comes at dinner on Friday evening, when the young woman refuses the minced veal, eating "nothing but potatoes and sea-kale" [observing the Friday abstinence from meat]. "Then [the mother] resolved that she would tell [her husband] that [the unsuitable young man], bad as he might be, might come there if he pleased. Even [he] would be better than no son-in-law at all."

The daughter breaks her mother down in a mere two weeks. I can't decide how deliberate this is, though. As Trollope writes it, the young woman is genuinely good and truly means to be obedient. But like many of his heroines, she is stronger than her elders - or just too much for them.

However, neither the mother nor the daughter knows what we the readers know about the unsuitable young man, and a secret that he has been keeping.

One final point: this is the second reference to sea-kale in this book. Previously, it was fed to an invalid. I had to look it up, to see if it was the same as the super-food kale that turns up everywhere now. It's a different variety, from what I read once very popular and now making a bit of a come-back.

This will definitely be my last post for 2015, so once again I will say Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My favorite books of the year

It's the most wonderful time of the reading year, when the lists of favorite books appear. They remind me of authors I haven't met yet, and books that I want to read. I still have about 30 hours before the TBR Dare kicks in - so plenty of time to reserve or order a few more.

As always, I can't resist compiling my own list. In fact, I started it last week, and I've been mulling it over since then. Here are my favorite books of 2015, generally in the order in which I read them:

Live Alone and Like It, by Marjorie Hillis. Snappy and snarky, this "Classic Guide for the Single Woman" of 1936 is full of practical advice, some of it still applicable 79 years later. I also enjoyed her second book, Bubbly on Your Budget, from 1937.

The Nile, by Toby Wilkinson. I loved this mix of history, archaeology, and travelogue, as the author traced the Nile from its sources to the Delta.

Century of Struggle, by Eleanor Flexner. Another classic, this time a history of the women's rights movement in the United States, first published in 1959.

A Humble Enterprise, by Ada Cambridge. I collect stories set in tea shops, and this 1898 novel about a family struggling to support themselves after their father's tragic death is charming. Sadly, the recipe for the scones that draw the Melbourne crowds is not included.

There Was and There Was Not, by Meline Toumani. An exploration of the Armenian diaspora and the continuing influence of the early 20th-century genocide in Turkey. It is also an account of the time the author spent living in Turkey, to research the book. I learned so much about Armenia and Turkey and the genocide itself from this.

The Turning Season, by Sharon Shinn. I thought this story about shape-shifters was very clever and original (not that I've read that many stories about shifters). It is the third in a series, of which I enjoyed the first (The Shape of Desire) much more than the second (Still Life with Shape-Shifter).

Pioneer Girl, by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Pamela Hill, ed). I thought my copy of Wilder's autobiography was never going to arrive. It was absolutely worth the wait. I was reading parts of The Long Winter the other night (as I frequently do), and remembering how excited I was to see a picture of Mrs. Boast.

Mr. Scarborough's Family, by Anthony Trollope. This bicentennial year of Anthony Trollope's birth inspired Audrey's #6Barsets project, to read through the Barchester chronicles. I loved re-reading Doctor Thorne, The Small House at Allington, and The Last Chronicle of Barset. But it was this late novel that really stood out for me. It is a darker story, of a father with an inheritance, and two sons. There were two twists in that story that left me gaping, unable to believe what Mr. Scarborough (and his creator) had pulled off. I am currently 500 pages into the 800-page Orley Farm, and I think it will be on my "Best of 2016" list.

Girl in a Green Gown, by Carola Hicks. This book is a history of a painting, the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck (one of my favorite painters). Carola Hicks explored different elements in the painting, while tracing not just its creation, but how it moved across Europe, to end in Britain's National Gallery.

The Real Charlotte, by E.O. Somerville and Martin Ross. I am slowly working my way through their collected works, and I can see why this 1894 novel is considered their masterpiece.

The Light of the World, by Elizabeth Alexander. A poetic and heart-breaking memoir about marriage and family, shaped by the sudden death of the author's husband.

The Children of Pride, Robert Manson Myers, ed. I became a little obsessed with this collection of letters from a Georgia family, written during the Civil War. First I read the abridged 671-page edition (covering 1861-1868). Then I tackled the original, which opened in 1854. I didn't read all of its 1440 pages, but I appreciated the earlier letters, with more information about the family. The abridgement has some very touching letters on the death of a young mother and her child, which oddly aren't included in the longer book - so yes, I am keeping both of them for now.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by N.K. Jemisin. This book, the first of an "inheritance trilogy," follows Yeine Darr, who has just been named an heiress to her grandfather's throne of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. But what that really means is that she is now fighting not just for the throne, but for her life, against the other two candidates, her cousins. N.K. Jemisin created a fascinating world, where the gods walk among their people - not always willingly. I need to look for more of her books.

The Deepening Stream, by Dorothy Canfield (Fisher). This author's books became another obsession this year. As much as I enjoyed Rough-Hewn and Her Son's Wife, this story of Matey Gilbert was my favorite.

Keeping Fires Night and Day, Mark J. Madigan, ed. A collection of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's letters. See obsession above.  (Also one of the most meticulously-edited collections I have ever read, a delight to my archivist self.)

The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, by Vaseem Khan. A twisty thriller set in Mumbai, starring a reluctantly-retired police inspector and a baby elephant, the "unexpected inheritance" of the title. I am looking forward to the second book in this new series.

All on Fire, by Henry Mayer. This massive biography of the pioneering editor and abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison launched my third obsession of the year. I've lined up some additional reading on the abolitionist movement, and on Garrison himself (including a biography written by his children).

I feel like I can't leave out Patricia Wentworth and Miss Silver, considering how many books of hers that I read this year. I thought Spotlight (AKA The Wicked Uncle) was great fun.

Looking over my reading journal, I read more books than usual this year, but I wrote about fewer. This was mainly due to internet issues and to illness at different times. I made a serious dent in my TBR stacks, though I didn't manage to get the number to 200 this month (it's currently at 232). My goal for 2016 is to get it to 100.  (Realistically, the only way I think I can make that is to not buy books. And I don't actually think that's realistic.)  My other goal for this year was to read more diverse authors, and I succeeded in that. I will keep that goal in 2016, aiming for at least 12 books (or 10%) by authors of color.

Happy New Year, a little early! Now I'm off to read some other people's lists, and add to mine. I hope 2016 brings us all even more great books. And a more peaceful world - as long as I'm hoping. And my replacement reading glasses - I am so tired of squinting.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday miscellany: Bookish connections, reading & baking, and a Christmas present

Good morning from a stormy Houston! Our ridiculous winter heat wave has finally broken, but the cold front is bringing us some treacherous weather. We're under a tornado watch, and with the terrible storms in the Dallas area, I'm keeping an ear out for the weather alerts. My sister in El Paso just sent a picture of her backyard deep in snow - not quite a white Christmas, but close.

I was amused by a couple of bookish connections in the last couple of days. First, in the Christmas chapters of Orley Farm, Anthony Trollope wrote about children "who could not hurry fast enough into the vortex of its dissipations." That made me laugh, not just with the eager children, but because it reminded me of Jane Austen. In gently critiquing the novel her niece Anna was writing, Austen wrote,
Devereaux Forester's being ruined by his Vanity is extremely good; but I wish you would not let him plunge into a "vortex of Dissipation". I do not object to the Thing, but I cannot bear the expression; - it is such thorough novel slang - and so old, that I dare say Adam met with it in the first novel he opened... (Letter, Sept. 28, 1814)
Trollope uses a similar phrase later in the book, "a vortex of ruin and misery."  He was a big fan of Austen's novels, but he died two years before the first edition of her letters was published, so he could not have seen this. I wonder what he would have thought of her advice to a fellow author.

Second, have you ever had a quotation from a book niggling away in the back of your mind?  It drives me crazy, until I can pin it down. From the massive biography of William Lloyd Garrison, I learned that Louisa May Alcott's father Bronson was a supporter of Garrison's work, and that her maternal uncle Samuel May was one of his closest friends and allies. I knew that there was at least one reference to Garrison in Alcott's novels, but I could not for the life of me track it down in the nine I own. I came across one completely by accident in Rose in Bloom, while trying to find a different quote about obligatory Christmas presents.
[Rose's] heroes ceased to be the world's favorites; and became such as Garrison fighting for his chosen people; Howe, restoring lost senses to the deaf, the dumb, the blind; Sumner, unbribable, when other men were bought and sold; and many a large-hearted woman working as quietly as Abby Gibbons, who for thirty years has made Christmas merry for two hundred little paupers in a city almshouse, beside saving Magdalens and teaching convicts.
Oh, the satisfaction of tracking down an elusive quote!  (Being more of a print reader, it never occurred to me until just now that I could easily search the digital editions of her books.)

Third, Melanie posted something from Little House on the Prairie in her Christmas greetings. It mentions little heart-shaped cakes that Mary and Laura find in their Christmas stockings, along with a tin cup and a stick of striped candy each. Every time I read about the Ingalls' family Christmases, I am struck by how grateful they were, for so little. Anyway, the mention of the cakes sent me off to find my copy of The Little House Cookbook, which includes a recipe for the cakes.

My copy has the same style cover as the books themselves - the familiar yellow.
Leafing through this, with all the familiar Garth Williams illustrations, has made me want to pull the books off the shelf again - and also bake some little cakes. They're made with lard, though, and I'm wondering if I can substitute shortening.

Finally, I only received one book for Christmas (not counting the one I bought myself, which hasn't arrived yet). It's one I've been wanting to read for a while:

I hope you are all enjoying the holiday weekend. Going back to work tomorrow will be a bit of shock, I have to say.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

200 pages into Orley Farm: "Christmas at Noningsby" (Chapter XXII)

It was a surprise, reading this morning, to come across several chapters set at Christmas. "Christmas at Noningsby" is the second. I've read that Anthony Trollope found the holiday stressful and that he could be a bit of a grinch about it.  His "Christmas stories" that I have read are no match for Charles Dickens or Louisa May Alcott's. ("Catherine Carmichael" is downright grim.) This chapter is the closet thing I've read to a happy Christmas story.

Noningsby is a country estate near Orley Farm. It is the home of Judge and Lady Staveley, their son Augustus and daughter Madeline. Joining them for Christmas is their elder married daughter with her children, as well the London attorney Mr. Furnival and his daughter (the non-heroine) Sophia, Lucius Mason from Orley Farm and Peregrine Orme. Rounding out the party is a friend of Augustus, Felix Graham, an attorney who prefers to support himself by writing for the papers, and who has some rather unorthodox opinions.

I wonder if Felix is speaking for the author when he tells Madeline Staveley, on the way to church Christmas morning, "I cannot help thinking that this Christmas-day of ours is a great mistake." Of course she protests, and he goes on to say, "That part...which is made to be in any degree sacred is by no means a mistake." But, he continues, "I believe that the ceremony, as kept by us, is perpetuated by the butchers and beersellers, with a helping hand from the grocers. It is essentially a material festival; and I would not object to it even on that account if it were not so grievously overdone." He doesn't mention other kinds of shopping, the emphasis on presents (which play no part in the chapter).

The conversation between them ends with their arrival at the church, and here Trollope surprised me with his warmth:
I do not know of anything more pleasant to the eye than a pretty country church, decorated for Christmas-day. The effect in a city is altogether different. I will not say that churches there should not be decorated, but comparatively it is a matter of indifference. No one knows who does it. The peculiar munificence of the squire who has sacrificed his holly bushes is not appreciated. The work of the fingers that have been employed is not recognized. The efforts made for hanging the pendant wreaths to each capital have been of no special interest to any large number of the worshippers. It has been done by contract, probably, and even if well done has none of the grace of association. But here at Noningsby church, the winter flowers had been cut by Madeline and the gardener, and the red berries had been grouped by her own hands. She and the vicar's wife had stood together with perilous audacity on top of the clerk's desk while they fixed the branches beneath the cushion of the old-fashioned turret, from which the sermons were preached. And all of this had of course been talked about at the house; and some of the party had gone over to see, including Sophia Furnival, who had declared that nothing could be so delightful, though she had omitted to endanger her fingers by any participation in the work. And the children had regarded the operation as a triumph of all that was wonderful in decoration; and thus many of them had been made happy.
Later it is Madeline who leads off the first round of blindman's bluff, the final round of which draws in the staid Judge Staveley. Snap-dragon comes next. "To the game of snap-dragon, as played at Noningsby, a ghost was always necessary, and aunt Madeline had played the ghost ever since she had been an aunt..." This year her brother suggests that Sophia would make a lovely ghost, and for the first time, there are two carrying "two large dishes of raisins, and two blue fires blazing up from burnt brandy." Some members of the party think "Aunt Mad." makes the prettiest ghost, while others have eyes only for Sophia.

This makes for lovely reading on Christmas Eve. However, the chapter before is a troubling one, set at the Furnival home in London. Mrs. Furnival, who has not been invited to Noningsby, spends Christmas alone. And the chapter that follows is set at Groby Park, where I am sure that the only feasting will be done in private by the miserly Mrs. Mason.

Merry Christmas from Houston!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

100 pages into Orley Farm, by Anthony Trollope

I have had Orley Farm set aside to read this year, to round out Anthony Trollope's bicentennial, and because it is now the oldest book on my TBR shelves (there since 2002). After joining the end of the #Barsets read with The Small House at Allington and The Last Chronicle of Barset, it feels a bit strange to be reading Trollope on my own - particularly with several people reading his Christmas stories.

I also thought of Trollope when I was considering comfort reading. His stories can draw me in so easily, with that familiar narrative voice. To me, the first pages of this book are vintage Trollope.
    It is not true that a rose by any other name will smell as sweet. Were it true, I should call this story 'The Great Orley Farm Case.' But who would ask for the ninth number of a serial work burthened with so very uncouth an appellation? Thence, and therefore, - Orley Farm.
     I say so much at commencing in order that I may have an opportunity of explaining that this book of mine will not be devoted in any special way to rural delights. The name might lead to the idea that new precepts were to be given, in the pleasant guise of a novel, as to cream-cheeses, pigs with small bones, wheat sown in drills, or artificial manure. No such aspirations are mine. I make no attempts in that line, and declare at once that agriculturalists will gain nothing from my present performance. Orley Farm, my readers, will be our scene during a portion of our present sojourn together, but the name has been chosen has having been intimately connected with certain legal questions which made a considerable stir in our courts of law.
A few pages later, he tells us, "as all the world knows, Hamworth church stands high, and is a landmark to the world for miles and miles around." That's one of Trollope's catch phrases, "all the world knows," and I smile now every time I see it.

That said, however, I am 100 pages into this 800-page book, and there are so many unTrollopian things going on. I don't think I've ever written a book-in-progress post before, but I am just so surprised at these atypical elements. I don't know where the story is going, and I don't think any of these qualify as spoilers.

Just to set the scene: Orley Farm is an estate, one of two owned by Sir Joseph Mason. At his death, he left the larger estate, Groby Park in Yorkshire, to his oldest son Joseph. By a codicil to his will, he left Orley Farm to his son from a late second marriage, Lucien. Joseph Mason had always understood that the two properties were to come to him, and after his father's death he took the widowed Lady Mason to court over the will (Lucien being an infant at the time). Mr. Mason lost the case, and Lady Mason has remained in possession of Orley Farm for the last 20 years, collecting its £800 a year in rents and income.

As the story opens, Lucien Mason has just turned 21 and taken over the farm. He and his mother are on friendly terms with the local squire, Sir Peregrine Orme. His grandson and heir Peregrine is a little younger than Lucien. Now normally, Trollope would tell us who the hero of his story is going to be. Not here. It may be Lucien, who is obsessed with scientific agriculture and is risking his capital on uncertain improvements, deaf to advice or caution. Perhaps Perry will be the hero - but he is obsessed with rat-catching, and he is a spendthrift in the bargain. Both of them are hobledehoys, and I have no idea what is to become of them.

Usually by the time we're well into the story, Trollope has also introduced his heroine, and told us she will be the heroine. There's no sign of one yet. I did think that it might be Sophia Furnival, the daughter of a London barrister involved in the Orley case. She is described as
a clever, attractive girl, handsome, well-read, able to hold her own with the old as well as with the young, capable of hiding her vanity if she had any, mild and gentle with girls less gifted, animated in conversation, and yet possessing an eye that could fall softly to the ground, as a woman's eyes always should fall upon occasion.
But Trollope immediately makes it clear that she isn't his heroine: "Nevertheless she was not altogether charming. 'I don't feel quite sure that she is real,' Mrs. Orme [Perry's mother] had said of her, when on a certain occasion Miss Furnival had spent a day and a night at The Cleeve."

If we don't have a heroine, though, we certainly have a female villain, in Mrs. Mason of Groby Park. I think she is the most evil woman I have come across in Trollope's books. She starves her family in the dining room, while devouring food served her own dressing room. Her three daughters live on short rations of bread and butter, while she is privately served roast fowl and bread sauce. Her husband had to insist that the servants receive board wages (food and lodging), because she was not giving them enough food to live and work on. Mrs. Mason spends the money that she saves on food (from everyone else) on luxurious clothes (for herself), while her daughters wear old thread-bare clothes. This is a serious matter, since all three are of marriageable age, and I'm sure they're hoping to escape their mother's abuse as quickly as possible. Trollope has surprisingly strong words for her: "Such a woman one can thoroughly despise, and even hate..."  I am already hoping that Mrs. Mason will get her come-upppance, and wondering if it will be as drastic as Mrs. Proudie's.

I also have to mention the oddest chapters, where Samuel Dockwrath, a lawyer in the Orley Farm neighborhood, travels up to Groby Park in connection with the disputed will. He spends one night at a hotel in Leeds, in the company of some commercial travelers. Trollope goes into great detail about these men and their interactions. This seems so far outside his usual milieu, but he lays out their community with its rules and hierarchy as he does Barsetshire society. One of the salesmen, Mr. Kantwise, represents the Patent Steel Furniture Company. with a line of folding iron furniture. It isn't selling all that well in Yorkshire. Unwilling to let any opportunity for a sale pass, he insists on unpacking and assembling for Mr. Dockwrath "three tables, eight chairs, easy rocking-chair, music stand, stool to match, and pair of stand-up screens, all gilt in real Louey catorse; and it goes in three boxes [when taken apart]." That "Louey catorse" cracked me up every time I read it.

This story keeps surprising me. I'm looking forward seeing what the next 100 pages brings - maybe a hero or heroine. And there may be additional updates, with the long Christmas weekend for reading.

Edited to add: I got the younger Mr. Mason's name wrong, it's Lucius (not Lucien).

Friday, December 18, 2015

This is not a cheerful Christmas post

Just the opposite. This week I got mugged while shopping for Christmas presents.

I sometimes struggle with the social side of the holidays. I don't enjoy shopping - outside of bookstores - and I get anxious about buying the right presents. The bookish people are easy, there are just too few of them on my list. But with my list resolutely in hand, I headed out Wednesday evening. Walking from the parking lot to the store, I was hit from behind by a man who then grabbed my purse. I felt this disbelief that it was really happening, and also outrage that he was trying to take my purse. I held on as hard as I could, yelling at him, but he managed to rip the bag from its straps and run off. A woman who had seen the whole thing led me into the store and found the manager for me, even though her young son was upset by what had happened.

I only had a few dollars in my wallet, but of course the thief got my credit cards and driver's license (not my car or house keys, thankfully). He also got my phone, and my reading glasses - which leaves me half-blind. I've done everything I can to protect myself against identity theft and access to my bank accounts. Tomorrow I have to figure out what to do about my phone. And get a new library card. At least he probably hasn't been checking out books in my name.

After the police came to file a report, I drove home to make all the necessary calls. I knew I wouldn't be able to sleep for hours, if at all, so I made a big mug of hot cocoa and climbed under the covers with Jeanne Ray's Eat Cake. I had been thinking of this book all night (it's high on my list of comforting books). The narrator Ruth's mother Hollis came to live with her after a day-time robbery.
I wish I could find the person, the people, who kicked in her door. I have never gotten over my need to tell them that they took too much. The television, the stereo, largely worthless jewelry, six pieces of family silver which included her mother's butter dish that had come over with the family on the boat from Denmark, they could have all of that, but they shouldn't have kicked in the door. That was the thing that changed my mother for good. Divorce and hard work and single motherhood - she was up for all of those challenges. But to be seventy-three years old and know that someone can just kick in your door, that they don't even have enough finesse to force the lock, really destroyed her sense of how the world was ordered. It scared her, my mother, who had always been such a brave person. Even after it was long over it left her unsure of things.
One of the threads in this lovely story is watching Hollis find her way out of that fear and into a new independence.

Usually I line up some seasonal mysteries to read at Christmas, and I've been saving two of the British Library Crime Classics (Mystery in White and The Santa Klaus Murder). But even fictional crime seems less appealing right now. I want the literary equivalent of hot cocoa and flannel sheets and a cat sleeping nearby. In the meantime, I will put up Christmas lights and make the family's traditional candy. And I'll be thankful that the man didn't have a gun (and neither did anyone else), grateful for everyone who helped me, and mindful of how many people are suffering much worse violence and mourning much greater losses.

Monday, December 14, 2015

William Lloyd Garrison and the Fight Against Slavery, William E. Cain, editor

After reading a 700-page biography of William Lloyd Garrison, which chronicled his part in the struggle to end slavery in the United States, I was curious to read Garrison's own words. I was not however ready to commit to the entire 35 years of his pioneering weekly newspaper The Liberator, especially since it's only available on microfilm or in distant archives; or even to the six volumes of his published letters (yet). I was happy to find this book of "Selections from The Liberator," drawn from the first issue in 1831 to the last at the end of 1865. It begins with a biographical essay on Garrison by the editor William Cain and an overview of slavery in the United States, which accounts for almost a third of the book. Dr. Cain also wrote a brief introduction to each selection from the paper, giving some background on the topic being covered and noting related articles in other issues of the paper, for further reading.

Naturally the main focus of the selections here is Garrison's own: his call for immediate emancipation of all enslaved people, and the full acceptance of African Americans as citizens with all the rights enjoyed by white Americans. There were frequent explanations of why slavery was wrong, why human beings could not be held in bondage or denied their rights just because they were black. The language used was simple and clear:
No man has a right to enslave or embrute his brother - to hold or acknowledge him, for one moment, as a piece of merchandise - to keep back his hire by fraud - or to brutalize his mind by denying him the means of intellectual, social and moral improvement. . . Every man has a right to his own body - to the products of his own labor - to the protection of law - and to the common advantages of society. ("Declaration of the National Anti-Slavery Convention," 1833).
That these points were repeated so frequently made me realize how hard it must have been to get even these basic ideas heard, let alone accepted. The selections also show Garrison's commitment to social and political equality for African Americans, and to pacifism and non-resistance. And as early as 1838, Garrison was writing in favor of equal rights for women. This issue would lead to schism among the abolitionists, but Garrison never wavered. He introduced a resolution at the Fourth Annual National Woman's Rights Convention, in 1853, which is amazingly broad in scope for its time:
Resolved, that woman, as well as man, has a right to the highest mental and physical development - to the most ample educational development - to the occupancy of whatever position she can reach in Church and State, in science and art, in poetry and music, in painting and sculpture, in civil jurisprudence and political economy, and in the varied departments of human industry, enterprise and skill - to the elective franchise - and to a voice in the administration of justice and the passage of laws for the general welfare.
I found the selections informative and interesting. I enjoyed reading Garrison's own words, which convey the passion he felt in the fight against slavery.  His language was sometimes violent, particularly when calling people north and south to account for their sins. I appreciated the background information that Dr. Cain provided, especially on slavery itself. It was chilling to read that in the 1850s, slave owners in the eastern states were selling 25,000 slaves each year to the western slave states. That really underlined the abolitionist argument that slavery destroyed families - so many families torn apart in those years.

However, after reading the Meyer biography, I took issue a couple of points in the biographical essay. First, Dr. Cain stated that whatever Garrison said about women's rights, he expected his wife Helen to play the traditional home-bound role of wife and mother. Henry Meyer quoted a letter from Helen to Garrison before their marriage, where she wrote that she did not want to play a public role in abolition or other reform works. Garrison respected her decision, and in fact she did sometimes join in the work (for example helping to organize an annual antislavery fundraising fair). As their children grew up, she also took on a more active role - again, her own decision. Second, I disagree with Dr. Cain's dismissal of Garrison's role after the Civil War: his "main activity in the postwar years was performing the role of abolitionist hero." Yes, he took his share of the honors belatedly given to the abolitionists. But he wasn't just sitting around waiting to be given awards or promoting himself. He was out working on behalf of the freed people, women's rights, immigrants and Native Americans. In a biographical essay of 57 pages, of course there isn't the scope for a full biography. But I think these two points are important. I would never argue that Garrison was a saint, but on the evidence he was at least innocent of these two sins.

Next up in my abolitionist reading course is the second autobiography of Frederick Douglass, My Bondage and My Freedom. I understand it covers his break with Garrison over tactics and strategy, as well as Douglass's decision to start his own abolitionist newspaper, in competition with The Liberator.  As a bonus, published in 1855, it will fill another year in my Mid-Century of Books.

Friday, December 11, 2015

This Rough Magic, by Mary Stewart

Still in search of books with happy endings, I turned next to Mary Stewart. I had started This Rough Magic a couple of times before, knowing it's a favorite with many people, but the story didn't hold my attention past the first chapter. I find that happening a lot with books lately - I end up starting some of them at least three times before I really settle in with the story. I know some first chapters almost by heart at this point.

From my false starts with this book, I remembered that it is set on the Greek island of Corfu. Lucy Marling, a young actress whose first London play just folded, has escaped grey rainy England to stay with her sister Phyllida Forli in a seaside villa. Phyllida is married to a Roman banker whose family owns not just the villa, but the original estate, including a castello of fantastic design. Lucy is astonished to learn that the castello is presently leased to Sir Julian Gale, "one of the more brilliant lights of the London theatre for more years than [she] can remember." She has wonderful memories of seeing him play Prospero, in a production of The Tempest at Stratford. He has developed a novel theory that Corfu is actually Prospero's island of exile, and allusions to the play run through the story. Staying with Sir Julian is his son Max, a composer. The Forlis have another tenant and neighbor, Godfrey Manning, a writer and photographer. Godfrey has hired a young man, Spiro, to help with the photography and running his boat. Spiro's mother and sister Miranda work for Phyllida. After an accident at sea, Godfrey turns to her to help him break the news that Spiro was lost overboard. His body has not been found when another young man's washes up in their secluded bay. What looks like an accident may be disguising a murder - and perhaps not the only one.

There was so much to enjoy in this book, starting with the setting. I have been googling pictures of Corfu and wondering how I can manage a trip there. (I confess with some embarrassment that, as many times as I've read My Family and Other Animals, this was the first time I have looked Corfu up in maps and pictures, and really understood where it is.)  Lucy is an engaging narrator, and I liked her comfortable sisterly relationship with Phyllida. I think this is the first of Mary Stewart's heroines that I have met with a sister; so many of them are on their own, with only distant relations. I was fairly sure from the start who the hero of the story was going to be, and who the villain, and I enjoyed watching that play out. And of course there is the dolphin, a regular visitor to the bay who features in Manning's photographs. He is the means of introducing Lucy to the Gales, and when she finds him mysteriously beached in the bay, Max helps her rescue him. What is it about dolphins? Like baby elephants, they are just irresistible.

The story here is certainly an exciting one, with the tension building right up to the last pages and an explosive conclusion. I don't know that I could pick just one favorite about Mary Stewart's books, but this would certainly be in top three or four (with The Ivy Tree, My Brother Michael and Nine Coaches Waiting).

The constant references to The Tempest intrigued me. I was fortunate to see a production in Stratford myself, with the great John Wood playing Prospero. But that was almost thirty years ago now, and I remembered very little from the play. I had never read it, so when I had a day off from work on Tuesday, I stopped in at Half Price Books and found a good used copy. I started reading it that afternoon. I sometimes struggle with Shakespeare's language and with the twists of the plot (Twelfth Night is a complete mystery to me). I found The Tempest very easy to read, so much that I was surprised to find myself in the final scenes almost before I knew it. I can't help thinking that Prospero should prudently hold off on breaking his staff and drowning his book. After all, he is leaving his island with the men who engineered his exile in the first place, not to mention another one who had just agreed to assassinate his own brother.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Through the Wall, by Patricia Wentworth

Like many of Miss Maud Silver's clients, I have begun to find her company restful and calming. When I was left a little shaken by the end of Margaret Kennedy's Troy Chimneys, I headed for that section of the TBR stacks. I wanted a story with a tidy neat ending, where virtue is rewarded and lives happily ever after. I was glad to find exactly that in this later book in the series, published in 1950.

Like the last two Miss Silver stories that I have read, the central character here inherits the family fortune. Marian Brand and her sister Ina grew up never knowing their father's family, whom he disowned as a young man. So Marian is shocked to learn that her uncle Martin has left his entire estate to her. This cuts out his brother's widow and son, who have lived with Martin for years in his home. Marian even inherits that house, which Florence and Felix Brand share with Florence's sister Cassy and a young cousin, Penny Halliday. The household also includes the resident cook, Eliza Cotton, and a very superior cat named Mactavish.

Marian has been supporting herself and her sister Ina (who "isn't strong"), as well as Ina's feckless actor husband Cyril, on the £5 a week she earns working at an estate agency. She puts up with Cyril, but she has no intention of supporting him in luxury. He soon learns though, as the other Brands do, that by the terms of the will the money goes to Felix, Florence, and Cassy in the event of Marian's death.

The house that Marian has inherited, with its inhabitants, is in the seaside town of Farne. Cove House was once two houses, now thrown together, and connected by doors on each floor. Marian decides to take Ina to live there, with the houses divided once again. The other side is a bit crowded at the moment, because Felix has invited the singer Helen Adrian to stay. A pianist, he often plays for her shows, which leaves him with little time for his own composition work. Before she travels down to Farne, Helen visits Miss Silver, to consult her about a little matter of blackmail. However, she chooses not to take Miss Silver's advice. She doesn't mention that she is going to stay in Farne, so Miss Silver has no reason to say that she is as well, to join her niece Ethel Burkett, whose small daughter Josephine is being sent for the sea air. (In this book Miss Silver is constantly knitting socks for Ethel's three school-boy sons.)

It's a nice little set-up for a mystery story. I had a pretty good idea of what was going to happen, but I very much enjoyed the way it all developed. I took an instant liking to Marian, and to Penny, Eliza and Mactavish. Ina is also an interesting character: not physically or emotionally strong, but loyal to her sister, and trying to deal with her difficult husband. There is a romance for one character, begun rather dramatically in a railroad accident, which proceeds quietly and comfortably, in contrast to more lurid and unhappy events that draw Miss Silver to Cove House. In the end, it is she who sets in train the denouement that solves the case - at one point even moving through the house in her stocking feet, though she makes sure to resume her shoes before the police arrive.

Nor is this the only incident of disrobing. Thanks to Vicki, I knew that this book features a strip-search of the female inhabitants. There has been a murder, and a female officer is checking for bloodstains. Miss Silver, staying in the house at that point, volunteers to be searched along with everyone else, which sets a good example. The officer, Mrs. Larkin,
being passionately addicted to crochet, became quite warm in her admiration of the edging which decorated Miss Silver's high-necked spencer and serviceable flannelette knickers, which had three rows on each leg, each row being a little wider than the last. On being informed that the design was original she was emboldened to ask for the pattern, which Miss Silver promised to write down for her. After which they parted on very friendly terms.
They soon meet again however, when Eliza Cotton asks Miss Silver to be present during her turn.
After which she stalked up to her room and gave Mrs. Larkin and even Miss Silver the surprise of their lives when the removal of her black afternoon dress displayed pink silk cami-knickers with French legs. Nothing more compromising than this came to light.
This book was featured on the Clothes in Books blog, with some great pictures of cami-knickers and underwear knitted and crocheted (including a bra, the thought of which gives me hives). I'm sorry that Moira didn't enjoy this book as much as I did - it's definitely one of my favorite Miss Silver adventures.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Troy Chimneys, by Margaret Kennedy

If Margaret Kennedy were still with us, I would be strongly tempted to write her a letter about this book, to complain about how she pulled the wool over my eyes, and then the rug from under my feet. Only in the last couple of chapters did I begin to suspect where the story was heading. Still, the ending came as a painful shock, and I finished the book with a heavy heart. I wish that I'd thought to pick up Lucy Carmichael as a restorative. I badly needed a story with a happy ending, so I turned to Miss Silver instead (and she came through, as I knew she would).

All I knew about this book when I started reading it was that it involved a collection of family papers, centered around a Regency gentleman. I have noticed that Margaret Kennedy often used fictional letters or other documents in her stories. In those I have read, they serve to contrast how something happens with how it is remembered later - and to show how it is frequently mis-remembered and misunderstood. The documents also show that even those close to an event don't always know the full story. This tension is at the heart of two of my favorites, The Wild Swan and A Long Time Ago. She must have enjoyed creating her fictional documents, her stories within stories.

In Troy Chimneys, we have the reminiscences of Miles Lufton, written while he is recovering from a hunting accident, in the country rectory where he grew up. A Prologue dated 1879 tell us
     In letters and journals of the Regency occasional reference is made to a person called Pronto who is generally mentioned as a fellow guest in a country house.
     Conscientious researchers have identified him with a certain Miles Lufton, M.P.; he sat for West Malling, a borough in the pocket of the Earl of Amersham, and he held an important post at the Exchequer during the years 1809-1817. He spoke frequently and well in the House, in support of Vansittart's financial policy. Nothing else is known of him save that he could sing...

In the 1879 framing story, Miles's manuscript has been sent to someone who is researching a friend of his, Lord Chalfont, the heir to the Earl of Amersham. There are letters back and forth with the researcher, which give some information not found in the manuscript. It is an interesting device, to be reading about people reading about the main character. It would put him at a distance, except that we have his own words in his reminiscences, which bring him to life. We learn about his early life, how he came to a career in politics, and how his "Pronto" persona developed. I didn't like Pronto much. He does everything with calculation and an eye to its effect. He is an apple-polisher and brown-noser par excellence. Miles doesn't really like him either, and in fact he almost seems to have developed a split personality. Pronto is in charge most of the time, while Miles watches (and disapproves). Only with his accident and long recovery does Miles emerge. In writing his memoirs, Miles seems to be struggling toward an integration of the Miles-side of himself and the Pronto-side. It is very interesting to watch, and I thought Margaret Kennedy handled that story really well.

But how she chose to end the story is another matter. It's well done, but it's just wrong. It's her story of course, and she was free to end it as she pleased, as she felt it should end. But it's still wrong. And I just need to accept that, and let it go. Or maybe try writing my own ending. Meanwhile, I'm off to read Mary Stewart, because I still need happy endings (a dolphin has just been rescued, and that dolphin better live happily ever after).

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Bubbly on Your Budget, by Marjorie Hillis

Earlier this year I read Marjorie Hillis's first book, Live Alone and Like It from 1936, and loved it. When Claire wrote about this second book, I rushed to order a copy. It was originally published in 1937 as Orchids on Your Budget. In the last few years it has been reprinted a couple of times. The edition I read is from Chronicle Books in 2011. I suppose somewhere along the line, someone decided that bubbly in the title would appeal more to 21st-century readers than orchids. The subtitle was also changed, from "Live Smartly on What You Have" to "Live Luxuriously With What You Have."

That was an unfortunate change, because this book is not really about living luxuriously. It's about living within your means, and managing to have your bubbly on those terms. As with the first book, some of what Marjorie Hillis wrote now seems dated, but much of her advice is just as applicable today as in 1937. She was writing in the later years of the Great Depression, which by her account had begun to lift. Sometimes this book felt like it could have been written yesterday, given the economic roller-coaster that we have been riding lately (and not just in the United States).

The two books are very similar in approach, and in the tone of the writing. They tackle serious topics, offering practical advice mixed with snarky commentary. As with Live Alone and Like It, one of the main points here is that proper living takes attention and planning.
    As a matter of fact, most of the people who think they're poor are right. For the feeling of poverty isn't a matter of how little money you have - it's a matter of being behind on your bills at the end of the month or not making your income stretch over the things that you want. . . What most people don't concede is that, with a little planning and a dash of ingenuity, they might have what they want. They hate to plan (planning about possibilities and daydreaming about improbabilities are not the same things), they detest the Problem anyway, and they don't want to make the effort needed to Do Anything About It. They want bubbly on their budgets - but that's about as far as they get.
    This isn't very intelligent, because almost anyone with spirit can wangle a bottle of bubbly or two, and have a lot of fun besides. We are all for fun and bubbly. . . 

As Hillis wrote in a later chapter, though, "The point, nowadays, is not merely to know the cost of a thing and whether you have money to pay for it, but to know whether it's worth its price to you." That is a question that I need to ask myself more often.

The chapters that follow deal with practical matters: housing, food, budgeting, savings, and clothes. That last one is a very detailed guide to choosing clothes wisely and dressing well, in 1937, which makes it feel the most dated. I kept trying to think of films from the mid-1930s, to picture the clothes. I was sometimes a bit lost among all the requirements and the rules on color (don't buy a blue dress, brown coat, and black hat to wear together, but you can wear a canary-yellow gilet with a navy-blue suit). At least the "Little Black Dress" sounded familiar, however much its length and lines may have changed in the last 80 years.

I found two chapters particularly entertaining. "Things You Can't Afford" covers the wrong kind of economies, and ends with a quiz, "Are you thrifty or stingy?" (Apparently I am occasionally stingy.) The other is "Can You Afford a Husband?"
Well, can you? A lot of women do, and support them nicely on a small salary at that. And why not, if they want to? It may be an extravagance, but even periods of strict economy should include some extravagances if possible.
Hillis admitted that a husband might be nice to have around, but she did not consider one indispensable. (Which makes me wonder a little about her own marriage.) And with all due respect to Love, a woman still had to consider the practicalities - particularly since, in the author's experience, "the most delightful people are seldom big money-makers." A woman who chooses a "non-money maker" must be prepared to support him as well as herself. In any case, for Hillis marriage didn't automatically mean the wife stayed home. Even if the husband was working, they might need two salaries - particularly if they wanted bubbly in their budget.

I am not that fond of bubbly myself, nor of orchids. I think that books are my bubbly, and this was certainly a fizzy read!