There’s not much new to say by about this Jane Austen novel except that like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey still, on...moreThere’s not much new to say by about this Jane Austen novel except that like Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, Northanger Abbey still, on the third or fourth reading has something to offer. The main character, Catherine Morland, and the man she falls in love with at first sight, Henry Tilney, are just as fresh and charming now as they were in 1817 when they first met the public.
The book was written between the years 1789 and 1799 and after revisions was sold to a bookseller, Crosby & Co, in 1803. They decided not to publish it (thus missing out on the chance to go down in history as the first to publish an author who is selling better in 2011 than she did at the time of her death.) In 1817 Austen’s brother bought the novel back from Crosby for the same amount they paid for it, 10 pounds. And it was finally published shortly after the author’s death.
In this reading I was interested to notice how many titles of other novels of the time are mentioned. The book is a satire on the Gothic novels of the day, including most prominently The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Also mentioned are three novels by Frances Burney, Camilla, Cecilia, and The Wanderer. Burney’s best known novel is Evelina.
There are two characters in this book who are terrible people, with no redeeming social value: General Tilney, whose selfishness and self-indulgence make the lives of his children miserable and who is rude to the point of cruelty to our heroine; and John Thorpe, an arrogant and lying young man who leads Catherine into difficulties that might have ruined her friendship with the Tilneys. Jane Austen doesn’t usually create characters who are evil; they tend to be silly and however wrong their behavior we can normally laugh at them. Not these two.
Although perhaps Jane Austen’s weakest novel (there are centuries-long conflicts about these matters), Northanger Abbey is certainly worth re-reading.
2011 No 52 Coming soon: An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin (less)
Not having read Treasure Island since I was a child I wasn't sure I would be quite so enchanted with it now as I was then. But we had tickets to the S...moreNot having read Treasure Island since I was a child I wasn't sure I would be quite so enchanted with it now as I was then. But we had tickets to the Spokane Civic Theater production of the play of that name and I wanted to refresh my memory of the plot. Finding that the library had the 1981 edition that contains the original N C Wyeth illustrations, I came home and sat down with a cup of tea to look at the pictures. And the whole package was irresistible. So once again I had the total immersion experience for about 24 hours. And believe me, the book has not only not lost anything over the years. It has become richer and more entertaining. (And the play was very good,too.)(less)
Over at the dovegreyreader blog a year-long reading of George Eliot's masterpiece is underway. The idea is to read the part of the book that would hav...moreOver at the dovegreyreader blog a year-long reading of George Eliot's masterpiece is underway. The idea is to read the part of the book that would have been published back in 1871 and 1872. Would our reading experience change when we had only a small part of the book before? Would we, like the reeaders of the 19th century, wait eagerly for the next section of the novel to be published?
The reading began with part I on 1 December 2011. And yes, having only that small part of the enormous novel in front of me slowed me down and helped me to pay closer attention to the structure of the narrative, the way the characterization of Dorothea and Casaubon developed, and the hitherto overlooked (by me, probably not by other readers) perceptiveness and indeed wisdom of Dorothea's sister, Celia.
And yes, I'm restless thinking about when the next part of the serialization will be available.
If you Google "Ephrussi netsuke" (it’s pronounced something like net-skay, with no accented syllable) and then click on Images you will find some asto...moreIf you Google "Ephrussi netsuke" (it’s pronounced something like net-skay, with no accented syllable) and then click on Images you will find some astounding treasures. These little carvings, these netsuke, once served a practical purpose; they were sliding beads on a cord holding closed the purse-like inro that Japanese men wore on their obi, or belt. If you go to http://blogs.getty.edu/iris/objects-a... you will find some information about the Ephrussi family art objects and a particularly fine photo of the little white hare which provides the title for this extraordinary book.
In The Hare with Amber Eyes the author documents a pilgrimage of sorts. Having inherited a collection of netsuke originally owned by his great-great-uncle, Charles Ephrussi, he is eager to learn more about them and about his family, the Ephrussi. His search takes him to Paris, Vienna, Tokyo, and Odessa.
If you have read Proust you already know Charles Ephrussi, who was transposed into Charles Swann in The Search for Lost Time. You have seen him, a strangely out-of-place figure all in black with a silk top hat in Renoir’s The Boating Party. You have almost undoubtedly seen pictures of the paintings he collected in fin-de-siecle Paris that were later given to the state.
It sounds so boring, an author looks back at his family and narrates how his relative acquired art works. He gave them to relatives for a wedding present. The children of that couple played with them when they were small. The collection was nearly lost – but wasn’t. It ended up in Japan in the apartment of the author’s uncle and it finally came to him.
Indeed, I thought the book started out a bit slowly and I didn't really grasp at first that the author was laying a broad foundation for the rest of the story. Once I caught on to the Charles Ephrussi/Charles Swann connection things began to look up. And once the collection made its way to Vienna the story became so gripping, so heartbreaking, it was difficult to read while at the same time impossiblle to put down.
De Waal asserts that he does not want sentimentality; he does not want the thin story but the deep one, the real one. This requires great subtlety, and De Waal is subtle. He details the family’s rise and it’s golden day in the sun when they had banks in St Petersburg, Berlin, London, Paris, Odessa, and Viennaa, when their houses were palatial and their riches seemingly never-ending. Then they came upon hard times and De Waal has done extensive research tracing their downfall and their suffering. But he remains subtle and indeed as I suffered with the Ephrussi family I never was reduced to tears, although the author admits he finally found evidence of one attempt to degrade them that made him weep.
The book is beautifully written, full of information, and tells an important and alas all too frequently repeated story. It’s the best book I’ve read since Wolf Hall.
One complaint: de Waal compares the American occupation of Japan with the German occupation of Vienna in the Anschluss I was offended. He knows better than to make that comparison. (less)