What a wonderful and charming book this is. Written in 1932, Greenbanks tells the story of the Ashton family spanning from around 1910 to 1925. It isWhat a wonderful and charming book this is. Written in 1932, Greenbanks tells the story of the Ashton family spanning from around 1910 to 1925. It is centered around the house, Greenbanks, in the Lancashire village of Elton, and revolves mainly around Louisa Ashton, Mother and Grandmother. Louisa has five (very different) children who have all started to make their own way in the world too and so Louisa dotes on her 4 year old Granddaughter, Rachel. Greenbanks may be a lovely, beautifully written book about a family in a grand old house but there is plenty of room for sibling rivalry, illegitimate births, divorce, tyranical fathers and heartache. In fact all these are done so well that I was in awe of how well Whipple understood human emotion such as depression, jealousy, shame and love.
The book is set at during the early part of the last century when ideas and ideals are shifting and in particular Whipple explores the changing roles of women at this time. Louisa is the gentle, kind head of Greenbanks (after her philandering husband dies) but her daughters are exploring new territories that are still thought of as a huge embarassment to the gossiping folks of Elton. Daughters Letty and Laura both carving out new paths for themselves and lodger Kate Barlow still lives the shame and stigma of having an illegitimate child all those years ago. Granddaughter Rachel, much to her Father Ambrose’s profound disappointment, is intelligent and is desperate to continue her studies at University when she grows up, but Ambrose wants a dutiful daughter who will greet him at the door and “take his hat”.
The character of Ambrose Harding is actually one of my favourite characters despite his prigishness and I found him (unintentionally on his part) very amusing: he is so old-fashioned and is constantly baffled as to why people don’t behave the way he expects and wants them to.
“And he did not believe in all this education for women; in fact, he considered knowledge definitely unbecoming to them. It destroyed their charm; they did not listen so well if they knew too much.”
“That’s what this modern education did for them. These modern girls, smoking, riding motor-bicycles, flying airplanes, breaking speed records; they would do anything for notice. What else could it be for? Men did these things for the love of them, to try them out, or to advance knowledge, experience, but women did them for notice, just to get into the papers, to be made a fuss of.”
The quotes made me laugh, especially when I think of how times have changed now. But even with Ambroses sexist rants I could still sympathise with him to a degree as he was born in an age where men were head of the house and no one (especially a wife or daughter) would ever question him. His three other children (all boys) were a huge disappointment to him also as they didn’t follow the direction he wanted them to follow and went their own way; Ambrose felt unloved and and couldn’t understand why. Such a brilliantly drawn character.
A final quote that made me laugh (because it could have been me saying it) Iwas when Letty who in frustration cries:
“”Is there something wrong with me?” she asked in alarm. “This is no more than other women have to put up with. Why don’t I like housekeeping?”"
Verdict: I highly recommend this gorgeous book. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea (or in the bath, or in the postoffice queue….pretty much anywhere really). Loved it!
When I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In faWhen I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it's the worst book she's ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the "don't bother" part of my brain. So then, just before Christmas I saw or heard something about this book and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did - The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!
Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make enquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.
The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modelled on Dorchester in Dorset). It's difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don't want to give it away - this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around - Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.
Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy's understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.
What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far - they're like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all - love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentence. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians - and those before them - used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.
Verdict: I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your pre-conceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature - this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point. ...more
Who would have thought that such a little book (just 202 pages) could incite so many different emotions (on the part of the reader as well as the charWho would have thought that such a little book (just 202 pages) could incite so many different emotions (on the part of the reader as well as the characters). One minutes I was swooning over landscape and seascape and melting in Maupassants prose, and the next I was wanting to ring the protagonists neck!
The book starts with a young Jeanne who is on her last ever day at the convent school in 1819 and who is desperate to taste freedom and start her life after being cooped up for so long, only being able to stare out of windows and dream what her life will be like when she is finally out in the world. Jeanne’s daydreams are filled with longing and a restless spirit that is aching to see far away lands and nature and finally breathe after all these years at school. Jeanne’s parents (a Baron and Baroness) pick her up on her last day and drive her to Poplars which is to become her home by the sea. Maupassants narrative is so beautiful in parts that I longed to be there too; to experience what Jeanne was experiencing.
“First of all facing her was a broad lawn as yellow as butter under the night sky. Two tall trees rose up like steeples in front of the hous, a plane to the north and a linden to the south.”
“Jeanne gazed at the broad surface of the sea, which looked like watered silk, sleeping peacefully under the stars. In the quiet of the sunless sky all the scents of the earth rose up into the air. A jessamine climbing round the downstairs windows gave a penetrating scent, which mingled with the fainter smell of the young leaves. Gentle gusts of wind were blowing, laden with the sharp tang of the salt and the heavy sticky reek of seaweed. At first the girl was happy just breathing the night air; the peace of the countryside had the calming effect of a cool bath.”
Jeanne’s first few months are spent getting to know her new surroundings and enjoying her freedom and soon she is introduced to a young man by the name of Julien who is a count and after a breif and all-consuming romance they marry. Jeanne starts to pick up clues that all is not what it seemed as early as the wedding night when he forces himself on his new bride but desperately wanting to believe that she has married the right man and stay happy she puts it to one side. I feel the need to note here (for amusements sake) that Julien calls his wifes breasts Mr Sleeper-out and Mr Kiss-me-quick and certain other part of her womanly anatomy The road to Damascus. Fortunatley these aren’t mentioned more than once.
The story is very much about the downward spiral of one woman’s life. We watch Jeanne’s hopes and desires and dreams turn into boredom and frustration and self-pity.
“Suddenly she realised that she had nothing to do and never would have anything.”
“But now the magic reality of those first days was about to become the every day reality, which closed the door on those hopes and delightful enigmas of the unknown.”
“Habit spread over her life like a layer of resignation like the chalky deposit left on the ground by certain kinds of of water.”
“Sometimes she would spend the whole afternoon sitting looking at the sea; sometimes she went down to Yport through the wood, repeating the walks of old days which she could not forget. What a long time it was since she had wondered through the countryside as a young girl intoxicated with dreams!”
Maupassant has such a way with words that he drew me into Jeanne’s world and I felt the same longing she felt. It took me back to days when I had the world at my feet too and thought I could do anything, had no cares in the world – OK so my carefree days were a little different to Jeanne’s as in rather than floating round some big mansion by the sea, it was made up of nights out on the town, no mortgage to pay and a feeling of being able accountable to nobody except myself (ahh, to be so naive once more!). I do sometimes wonder how I would have coped in those days – one part of me thinks how lovely to do nothing all day other than read my books and take little walks round the garden with my parasol in hand, and the other part thinks but what would happen when you got bored of that? A woman didn’t have a choice then. In those particular circles they were there to look pretty and be seen but not so much heard. How dull!
Despite my sympathy towards Jeanne, not just because of her longing for something else but also because of her brutish husband and selfish son, I still found myself wanting to grab her shoulders and give her a good shake! My God, this woman can make a fuss. Her level of self-pity knows no bounds – we have hysterics, weeping, falling on someones breast and weeping, collapsing on a chair and weeping, we have fainting, panic attacks and wailing. There were times when I wanted to yell “get a grip, love!” at the pages.
“She continually repeated: ‘I have no luck in life.’ But Rosalie would retort: ‘What would you say if you had to earn your living and had to get up at six every morning and go out to work? There are plenty of women who have to do that, and when they are too old to work, they starve to death.’”
This book, I believe, should have been translated as One Woman’s Life rather than A Woman’s Life as it is very much about Jeanne and her personal story.
I read quite a few Maupassant books when I was at school (we studied Boule de Suife and some of his other shorter stories) but it’s far too long since I have read anything else of his. I’m glad I did – it reminded me why I liked him. Recommended. ...more