Consequences is quite different in tone from the Provincial Lady books, much more somber, yet it also deals with women's constricted lives and how the...moreConsequences is quite different in tone from the Provincial Lady books, much more somber, yet it also deals with women's constricted lives and how they deal with them. It's not a cheerful read, as Alex, the heroine, goes through much suffering, but a thoughtful and perceptive one. She's hard to like, being rather a neurotic wimp, but it's equally hard not to feel sympathy and pity for her, trapped in a society she's unsuited for. I've read reviews wishing for a more spirited heroine, but surely part of Delafield's point is that it's women like Alex, without the spirit to do anything about their constricted lives, who most need help and opportunities they simply weren't given in the late Victorian/early Edwardian time period in which Consequences is set.(less)
Like so many of Persephone's books, The Crowded Street tells of a woman whose life is constricted by the role she must play in the society of her time...moreLike so many of Persephone's books, The Crowded Street tells of a woman whose life is constricted by the role she must play in the society of her time. Muriel Hammond's story starts at a dance in 1900, when she's in her early teens; already she feels the pressure to be attractive to boys, so that she may make a good marriage someday. Muriel is quiet and shy, yearning for a career or some way to be of service to others, but the only opportunities she's given are to marry (a chance which never seems to come her way) or to stay home and help her mother, who doesn't really need her help.
This was Holtby's second novel, and it does show some immaturity of style and plot: one section, dealing with Muriel's sister Connie, is overly melodramatic, and Muriel's final transformation is too much told and not shown. But Holtby's depiction of Muriel's plight is sympathetic to Muriel, yet biting to her family and society, and her clear wish for better opportunities for women shines through the novel.(less)
The foreword to this book is an excerpt from R.C. Sherriff's autobiography, wherein he discusses how he wrote The Fortnight in September. He had had a...moreThe foreword to this book is an excerpt from R.C. Sherriff's autobiography, wherein he discusses how he wrote The Fortnight in September. He had had a marvelous success as a playwright with Journey's End: Play, but then he had an idea which he could only turn into a novel: the simple story of a family on their annual seaside holiday. Sherriff groped for the right style, finding that "flowery stuff and highfalutin words" weren't right and seeking a more down-to-earth style which would match his characters. He found that he had to learn to know the Stevens family before he could write about them without looking down or up to them, instead to "walk with them easily, side by side."
And the wonderful thing about the book is that he does exactly that. The story is full of seemingly inconsequential details -- the family doesn't even get on the train to the seaside for about sixty pages -- but because Sherriff describes everything so precisely and simply, everything is absorbing. It would be terribly easy for him to have devolved into syrupy sentimentality, but he just doesn't. I think the only thing which falters a little is that he's better with his male characters than his female characters, but the characterization is generally so good that I didn't mind. This is really a lovely little peaceful book and would probably be an excellent vacation read.(less)
Louise's husband has recently died, leaving her nearly destitute and having to cast herself on the tender mercies of her three daughters, with whom sh...moreLouise's husband has recently died, leaving her nearly destitute and having to cast herself on the tender mercies of her three daughters, with whom she lives turn and turn-about. Unfortunately, none of the daughters really wants Louise, though they feel morally obliged to have her, and so she feels that she doesn't belong anywhere. Although I appreciated Dickens' deft and sympathetic characterization and very readable writing, the plot slogged a bit and wound up in a rather melodramatic way.(less)
Written in the sixties, these poems are inevitably a little dated, but they're still amusing and full of satirical character sketches of types one sti...moreWritten in the sixties, these poems are inevitably a little dated, but they're still amusing and full of satirical character sketches of types one still recognizes.(less)
Fisher is best known today for the children's book Understood Betsy, which I read and liked a few years ago, but she also wrote many novels for adults...moreFisher is best known today for the children's book Understood Betsy, which I read and liked a few years ago, but she also wrote many novels for adults. This one is a Persephone reprint -- I should just eventually buy everything they've reprinted, as I haven't disliked one yet.
Evangeline Knapp is a smart, organized, determined woman, stuck at home in a role she despises; she loves her children, but she can't seem to sympathize with them, and her passion for cleanliness and organization has become an obsession in her house. Her husband Lester, on the other hand, is a dreamy, empathetic man who would love to write poetry but who is instead stuck in the role of earner, in a dreary job at a department store. When Lester is injured in an accident, the chance comes for the two to switch roles. The Home-Maker is a perceptive and often searing exploration of "traditional" family roles; Fisher is sympathetic to the characters and their dilemmas, but not at all to the society which forces them into the gender roles which make them miserable. (less)
Here's another adult novel by an author much better known for her children's books. The only other adult novel by Burnett I've read is A Lady of Quali...moreHere's another adult novel by an author much better known for her children's books. The only other adult novel by Burnett I've read is A Lady of Quality, which I didn't like; I tried The Making of a Marchioness and liked it quite a bit more. The book is divided into two parts. The first is a simple Cinderella tale, akin to Burnett's other books; simple Emily Fox-Seton is raised into the nobility when she marries the Marquis of Walderhurst. In the second part, the book becomes a melodrama as Emily falls prey to the machinations of Alec Osborn, heir to the title unless Emily produces a son. Under the surface of the fairy tale and the melodrama, though, there's a fascinating commentary on late Victorian marriage: Emily and Lord Walderhurst, Alec Osborn and his wife Hester, and the beautiful Lady Agatha, who must soon marry well or step aside for her younger sisters and face the grim fate of a spinster. (less)
Monica Dickens was the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens. Of her novels, I've only read Mariana, which I like very much; I would also recommend h...moreMonica Dickens was the great-granddaughter of Charles Dickens. Of her novels, I've only read Mariana, which I like very much; I would also recommend her non-fiction, particularly the very funny One Pair of Hands, about her work as a cook and the households she worked in.
Mariana was Dickens' first novel, published originally in 1940. It begins with Mary, the heroine, learning that her husband's destroyer has been sunk with only a few survivors. While she waits to find out whether her husband is one of them, she takes refuge in thinking of her past: the vivacious mother and actor uncle who brought her up, the beautiful Elizabethan house belonging to her father's family, her education at a strict girls' school and a drama school, and her love affairs in England and Paris.
Just as One Pair of Hands and her other autobiographical works do, Mariana draws on Dickens' personal experiences: she too spent her holidays at an ancestral house, she too went to drama school, she too spent time in Paris after leaving school. Perhaps partly because it's based on her own life, the book is full of the small domestic details Dickens is so good at, of clothes, food, gardens, and houses, which I find so fascinating. I've only read this twice, but it's quickly turning into a perfect comfort read. (less)
Here's one of the rare Persephone reprints that wasn't entirely to my taste. It's a Victorian children's book, about two children who are taken to liv...moreHere's one of the rare Persephone reprints that wasn't entirely to my taste. It's a Victorian children's book, about two children who are taken to live with their uncle and aunt while their parents are in India. Although it does generally manage not to be too soppily sentimental, I found myself all too often agreeing with something Charlotte Mitchell notes in her introduction: "There was definitely a fashion for baby talk in late Victorian children's books, and not all of it appeals to the modern reader." However, baby talk aside, the children are realistic and believable, and Fowler shows things from their point of view without much moralizing.(less)
Fidelity is a forgotten classic, an early 20th-century novel (reprinted by the marvelous Persephone Books) about a Midwest woman who defies the rules...moreFidelity is a forgotten classic, an early 20th-century novel (reprinted by the marvelous Persephone Books) about a Midwest woman who defies the rules of society to run away with her lover. The structure is intricate yet easily followed, beginning as Ruth comes home to be with her sick father and then using flashbacks to show how events unfolded in the past. Though her sympathies (and thus the reader's) are clearly with Ruth, Glaspell is careful to show every side of the story, how Ruth's decision affected her family and friends as well as herself; there are no easy answers here. (less)
Hamilton's hero and heroine are ordinary English people, William and Griselda. They meet in the course of pursuing their various idealistic causes (pa...moreHamilton's hero and heroine are ordinary English people, William and Griselda. They meet in the course of pursuing their various idealistic causes (pacifism, women's suffrage), get married, and go to a secluded cottage in the Ardennes for their honeymoon. While they're there, cut off from communication with the rest of the world, the war starts, and very soon they are swept into it, with tragic consequences.
Hamilton gently mocks their activism and idealism, how they speak of their "war" for Progress; yet when William and Griselda are caught up in the real war, she ceases to mock, and instead one feels her great sympathy for the victims of war and a great rage against the makers of it. This is a stunning, harrowing book and well deserves to have been the first book Persephone reprinted. (less)
Etty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew from Amsterdam; she studied Russian, gave Russian lessons, and kept a diary, focusing mainly on her love affair with psy...moreEtty Hillesum was a Dutch Jew from Amsterdam; she studied Russian, gave Russian lessons, and kept a diary, focusing mainly on her love affair with psychologist Julius Spier and her efforts to deal personally with the effects of the Nazis taking control of the Netherlands. In 1942, she went to Westerbork, the camp where Dutch Jews were assembled for deportation to other concentration camps; she wrote letters to friends back in Amsterdam, before she was eventually sent to Auschwitz, where she died.
She was a natural writer, and her diaries and letters are very vivid (particularly the letters, when she describes Westerbork in great detail) and moving, often almost unbearably so. She had a great gift for self-analysis, and her writings show the remarkable emotional journey she made in the course of mastering her own unruly emotions, coming to a point of equilibrium which allowed her to face the destruction of her friends, her family, and her own life with calm resolve.(less)
In spite of the title, this small book is really more about Jane than Thomas. Holme traces the Carlyles' life in London from their installation at the...moreIn spite of the title, this small book is really more about Jane than Thomas. Holme traces the Carlyles' life in London from their installation at their house in Cheyne Row until Jane's death more than 30 years later. She doesn't go much into their relationship, preferring to concentrate on the details of their domestic lives and more particularly Jane's occupations and health. It's far from exhaustive, but I think it does a nice job portraying the couple, their home, and the other people in their lives (especially their succession of sometimes eccentric household help). (less)