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Polls > May/June 2012 poll

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message 1: by Gina (new)

Gina | 319 comments Mod
The poll is ready on the Persephone group homepage!
Here's a summary of the books:
The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow -
Mrs Oliphant (1828-97), one of the outstanding writers of the nineteenth century, was in her time as well-known as Dickens, George Eliot and Mrs Gaskell: ‘the exemplary woman of letters’ is how the literary critic Queenie Leavis described the author of Persephone Book No. 89, The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow. And the novelist Penelope Fitzgerald's claim was that ‘Mrs Oliphant is at her very best in novellas and short stories.’ She suggested that two of them, The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow (1890) and Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond (1886), might well be reprinted together, which is what we have now done, and pointed out that the strongest theme running through all the books is that of the helpless man and the strong woman.
Both novellas are about women left on their own to run their own households. In one, Penelope Fitzgerald continues, ‘Mrs Blencarrow, a conventional widow with a large estate, falls in love with her coarse-mannered steward, and in the other the wife, Mrs Lycett-Landon, finds out that her husband has made a bigamous marriage. She has the other woman's address and resolutely sets out for the distant suburb, the street, the house. What follows is “tragifarce”, as the author calls it, “the most terrible of all,” and she risks a conclusion that dies away into silence and echoes.’
In one respect Mrs Oliphant's subjects were ‘the staples of Victorian women's fiction – money, wills, marriages, church and chapel, disgraceful relatives, family power struggles, quarrels, deathbeds, ghosts.’ Yet, writes Dr Merryn Williams, who published a critical biography of Mrs Oliphant and has now written the Persephone Afterword for us: ‘The two novellas in this volume… written in the late 1880s… are surprisingly un-Victorian. Each ends, not with a marriage as is usual, but with the break-up of a marriage. Each is about the terribly destructive effects of middle-aged passion.’ As Mrs Oliphant herself said about the husband in Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond, Mr Lycett-Landon: ‘It seems as if they [men] must break out – as if common life and duty become insupportable.’ And as JM Barrie wrote of this novella, ‘It is as terrible and grim a picture of a man tired of fifty years of respectability as was ever written’, adding, ‘Mrs Oliphant wrote so many short stories that she forgot their names and what they were about, but readers, I think, will not soon forget this one’, written by a woman who ‘was of an intellect so
alert that one wondered she ever fell asleep.’

In 1946 the theme of Doreen was, alas, horrifyingly topical - whether parents should have sent their children away from cities that might be bombed; and if they had done so, whether they could hope to maintain their relationship with them. 'The experience of this long separation, very difficult for all concerned at the time, often proved traumatic over a lifetime' comments Jessica Mann.

Barbara Noble writes with great insight about the mind of a child torn between her mother, whom she leaves behind in London, and the couple who take her in. Everyone wants only the best for Doreen yet, in the end, what is being explored is a clash of values: those looking after her will eventually realise that Doreen will go back 'to a world where most of the things you've taught her will be drawbacks rather than advantages.'

This is a deeply involving book, fascinating for the portrayal of the child torn between mother and temporary mother, and for its understanding of the tyrannies of the English class system. 'The manner of telling this poignant, subtle tragedy is beyond admiration, restrained, penetrating, deeply moving,' wrote Dorothy Canfield Fisher; and the Spectator reviewer described 'a gentle, serious story in which...the author's argument is scrupulously fair ; she is observant, sensitive and intellligent.'

Dimanche and Other Stories- (this title is also available as a ebook on Amazon or the Persephone website)
Irène Némirovsky, b.1903, has become one of France’s most famous writers. But after her death in 1942 she was virtually forgotten. It was only with the rediscovery of the manuscript of Suite Française in a suitcase and its publication in France in 2004 and in the UK and USA in 2006 that her name started to become as well-known as it is today.
Némirovsky was brought up in Tsarist Russia, but after the Revolution her family escaped to France, where they lived a comfortable bourgeois life in Paris and in Biarritz. Her first novel, David Golder, came out when she was 26 and she became instantly famous. The book was a penetrating glimpse of a world she knew well, the circle of successful or not-so successful Russian Jewish businessmen, speculating ruthlessly in oil and minerals. David Golder is appallingly treated by his wife: she owes something to Némirovsky’s mother (from whom she was estranged most of her adult life). The book’s enormous success was based on the directness of its language, including crudities unusual in good literature.
None of the later novels were as successful as David Golder and the short stories were written in large part because Némirovsky and her husband had two daughters and both needed to earn in order to help support what was by now quite a lavish way of life. Yet the ten pieces in Dimanche are everything that a short story should be: beautifully written, novels in miniature, fascinating, profound, all this and more. As in a Chekhov short story, little happens but everything happens. Whether describing the impatience of a girl waiting for her lover, the tortured relationships of a large family, or the emotions of someone fleeing the Nazis, Némirovsky is always an extremely astute observer, delicate, perceptive and ironic. In The Times. Kate Saunders said about Dimanche and other stories: ‘These short stories are finished down to the last full stop – and form the most ravishing collection I have read for years. The title story describes a mother and daughter, and their experiences of love, on one perfect Sunday in spring. In “The Spell” Némirovsky revisits a chaotic neighbour from her Ukrainian childhood. Best of all is “Fraternité”, about the meeting between a thoroughly assimilated upper-class Jewish man and a poor Jew who has spent a lifetime being driven away from one home after another. Exquisite.’ In the US, Publishers Weekly said: ‘Ten luminous stories by Némirovsky expose the miseries that undermine happy families. Set mostly in France, these accomplished tales create worlds full of secrets and treacheries. In this superlative translation, Némirovsky’s characters emerge fully-fleshed, and her voice remains timeless and relevant.’ And Booklist wrote: ‘The reclamation and translation of Némirovsky’s fiction continues with this gorgeous collection of short stories. One can appreciate why the tale that carries the book’s title was so designated: “Dimanche” is a jewel, refracting so much of human experience through the prism of one interminable and heartbreaking Sunday in the life of a French family whose ties are growing frayed. Némirovsky was an empathetic, prescient and boldly clinical dramatist in the mode of Chekhov, Maupassant and Colette.’

The Blank Wall - (this title is also available as a ebook on Amazon or the Persephone website)
'A suburban matron, harassed by wartime domestic problems - her husband is overseas - finds herself implicated in the murder of her young daughter's extremely unattractive beau' (The New Yorker). An outstanding example of the psychological thriller genre, 'worthy of the great Patricia Highsmith herself,' as Lady Antonia Fraser said in the Spectator. The Blank Wall (1947) was filmed as The Reckless Moment in 1949 and as The Deep End in 2001, starring Tilda Swinton. In 1950 Raymond Chandler asked his English publisher, 'Does anybody in England publish Elisabeth Sanxay Holding? For my money she's the top suspense writer of them all. She doesn't pour it on and make you feel irritated. Her characters are wonderful; and she has a sort of inner calm which I find very attractive.'
This tense and fast-paced novel is about maternal love and about the heroine's relationship with those around her, especially her children and her maid. The Daily Telegraph said that 'the mix of the everyday and the extraordinary is deft... A most welcome return to print' and the Observer called it 'a classic of suspense fiction.'

message 2: by Laura (new)

Laura (digifish_books) | 41 comments Thanks, Gina :)

message 3: by Gina (new)

Gina | 319 comments Mod
Oops, forgot to mention - the poll closes at midnight on Monday, March 5th.

message 4: by Gina (new)

Gina | 319 comments Mod
All right, we had a pretty even response on all of the selections, so we'll read all of them! We'll do Dimanche in May, The Blank Wall in June, Doreen in July, and The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow in August.

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