Book Review: The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

marchinessThe Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Emily Fox-Seton is a single, well bred woman of 35, with some education but absolutely no money. She lives in one room of a boarding house, and with the help of the daughter of the house, is able to work her limited wardrobe as best they can.

She therefore works for a living, surviving by running errands for various wealthy people around London. When one of her employers invites her for a summer holiday at a country estate, Emily is ecstatically grateful and accepts. One of the guests is the Marquis of Walderhurst, an older, very rich but not someone Emily considers to be particularly attractive. With three younger, more attractive (but not necessarily richer) single women in the house party, there is immense speculation as to who the Marquis is going to select as his second wife (his first wife having died not long after giving birth to the now dead first child).

To her surprise the Marquis (he’s in his late 50s) proposes and they are married. Soon afterwards the Osborns – the heir presumptive to the Marquis’ title and estate if he hadn’t married again with another chance of having an heir – returns to England with his pregnant wife. Emily, being a naive innocent women, befriends both of them and Hester in particular.

Emily realises she is pregnant when Edward is away on business in India, and it takes a while for others to realise that the Osborns wish her and her unborn baby harm. She escapes to London where she is protected. She gives birth to the wanted boy but is on her death bed when Edward returns from India (he’s been ill himself and Emily has been warned not to tell of the pregnancy).

It later transpires that the Osborns have had a girl (who would never have inherited no matter what happened with Emily), and that Alec had died after “accidentally” shooting himself in the head whilst drunk.

This book is a surprise in several different ways. First that Burnett had written a book for adults, as she is better known for writing for children. Second, that she has includes alcoholism and domestic abuse (in the Osborns). The last chapter in particular is not a “happily ever after” rather a “here’s how an abusive husband has been managed and I have to live with the result”.

The Marquis appears little in the story – it is primarily about her after all, and how people react to someone who is essentially good and innocent (a desire to protect and look after being the uppermost wants). The only people who want to damage her really are The Osborns – Alec because he is a drunk who sees his escape from debts and India being taken away from him by this healthy decent woman, Hester because she’s scared of Alec and Hester’s amah because she’ll do anything for her mistress.

As a reader Emily not an annoying character – Burnett travels a fine line between an attractive innocent and someone you want to shake to bring her to her senses.

If compared to “The Secret Garden”, “Marchioness” is a more subtle, less “playing outside is good for you” patronising – although Emily does have a favourite place outside away from everyone and beside a quiet pool, where she gets to mediate, so there is a certain amount of showing Burnett’s interest in gardening.

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Book Journals biased towards Men – Year of Reading Women 2014

A recent article in the Guardian Newspaper continues their ongoing commentary on the bias of both US and UK book journals towards male writers and reviewers.  This ties in with my recent post on Equality, as well as previous posts on the same subject here and here

From a small American literary journal’s vow to dedicate a year’s coverage to women writers and writers of colour to author and artist Joanna Walsh’s burgeoning  #readwomen2014 project, readers – and publishers – around the world are starting to take their own small steps to address male writers’ dominance in the literary universe.

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At American journal the Critical Flame, editor Daniel Pritchard has just announced a year dedicated to women writers and writers of colour, citing the Vida figures as part of the reason for the move and saying that “nothing will change if people do not act morally within their sphere of control”.

Personally I already read what I believe is a suitable balance of authors – I dont plan on changing my reading over the next year and read female authors exclusively this year.  I will continue to blog about the books that interest me (and some of those that dont!) no matter who wrote the book.  Whilst the plan to read female authors is a good idea, it’s the need for reviewers, journals, newspapers etc to be talking about works by female authors that I see as more important.  One of the other things noticed by Vida last year is the lack of women getting their reviews published – of works written by women OR men.  The implication being that womens’ writing is less important than mens’, both in terms of

So, are you aware of your the split in the authors you read? Do you already favour female or male authors (or vice versa)? Are you actively going to change your focus of reading, or are you going to continue as you were? Do you think it’s important to have an aparent balance in the authors you read?

Book Review: High Wages by Dorothy Whipple

highwages

At the beginning of this book, Jane finds herself in her late teens, working in a small time draper’s shop. Her father has died before the book starts, leaving Jane living with her step mother and stepsiblings, and Jane is now self aware enough to know that she needs to leave as soon as she can.

She gets a new job working in a larger drapers than before, and through her youth and determination brings change and more business to her stuffy old boss. Finally she sets up shop for herself with the financial backing of one of her clients. Again through hard work and determination she makes a success of things which proves to be useful to those closest to her in the end.

This seems a fairly straight forward story, but as usual the devil is in the detail. Jane has to face the opposition of men – who cant believe that a woman could be better at business than a man – as well as women – who dont want to be seen mixing with people in “trade”. The War also makes an appearance (with the book being written in 1930, this can only really be WWI), changing the lives of many people, including Jane’s friend Wilfred, who has always been in love with her and who goes to war when he realises she doesnt love him. Jane also has a brief affair with a married man, and in the end has to make a decision that will affect everyone around her.

Meanwhile, despite the prevailing attitude that men are better than women in business, it’s the “lord of the manor” who becomes embroiled in a financial crises which reduces his partner to a bankrupt – meanwhile Jane and Mrs Briggs, having set up as a limited company, are not only making a success of the business but Jane will not be putting Mrs Briggs into the same situation as her husband finds herself in. Meanwhile Wilfred remains in the background and it is now that he shows his use to Jane…….

Book Review: Miss Buncle’s Book by D. E. Stevenson

bunclebookMiss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

The storyline of Miss Buncle’s Book (1934) is a simple one: Barbara Buncle, who is unmarried and perhaps in her late 30s, lives in a small village and writes a novel about it in order to try and supplement her meagre income.

Miss Buncle, now on reduced means, writes a book about the village she lives in. It gets published under the nom du plume “John Smith”, and to her surprise is a publishing sensation, turning her fortunes around.

However, not all of the villagers are happy. Miss Buncle has portrayed them as they are, and some take offence, particularly those who are not portrayed in a particularly good light. (“It’s not me, I’m not like that, but it’s clearly me and I declare it libel!”).

Months are then spent trying to find out who John Smith is and when incorrectly identified, the woman is persecuted, snubbed and her children kidnapped. Meanwhile other more positive outcomes occur as a result of the book – the Colonel and his next door neighbour get married, and the vicar escapes the clutches of a gold digger who thinks he has more money than he does.

So many lives are changed, and Barbara Buncle gets more than she ever imagined…..

A book within a book, within a book, it is a lovely afternoon read, well worth the republish by Persephone in one of their classic grey covers – not like the image above!.

Book Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

misspettigrewMiss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

Miss Pettigrew, an approaching-middle-age governess, was accustomed to a household of unruly English children. When her employment agency sends her to the wrong address, her life takes an unexpected turn. The alluring nightclub singer, Delysia LaFosse, becomes her new employer, and Miss Pettigrew encounters a kind of glamour that she had only met before at the movies. Over the course of a single day, both women are changed forever.

I got this just as the film had been announced (although I have still to see it). This is the tale of the Miss Pettigrew, a middle aged spinster who is treated to an experience of how the other half live when she is accidentally sent to apply for a job at the wrong address. She is then adopted by beautiful nightclub singer Miss LaFosse and this book covers the 24 hours after her arrival at the flat.

Miss Pettigrew is somewhat out of her depth, being presented with situations that she has no experience of or able to give advice. However, her silence and stoic behaviour make other people make their own decisions (which should had been made years before had they simply had the nerve).

This is a book that shows two sides of society at the time: day verses night dwellers; naive or experienced; restrained versus decadent and it does it in a short and delightful book

State of TBR (Pictures)

Just cos other people do it, here’s a photo of my TBR pile. with the top 3 shelves being ones ready to be released to someone else once read – remember, the shelves are stacked double deep! On the bottom are the growing Graphic Novel collection.  Naturally, this does not include my ebooks (approx another 100 or so)!

TBR

And here are the books on the other side of the fireplace, which are “Permanent Collection”. As you can see it consists of hardbacks and Persephone books – in other words the books that will remain with me!

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Book Review: The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

victorian
The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The charming, childish wife of a successful lawyer, falls asleep one afternoon on her Victorian chaise longue, recently purchased in an antique shop, and awakes in the fetid atmosphere of an ugly, over-furnished room she has never seen before. This is the story of a trip backward in time in which a nostalgia for the quaint turns into a hideous nightmare.

This is a short and surprising book, about a woman transported back in time.

Melanie is a 1950s housewife who is recovering both from giving birth and then a fit of TB. After being confined to bed for several months, she is allowed to have a change of scene – lying down on the Chaise Longue she had picked up on a whim in a second hand shop.

After a nap, she wakes up to find herself in a room she doesn’t recognise, wearing clothes she doesn;t own and being called a different name. It seems she has travelled back to the 1860s. She has no idea how she got there and how she can get back to her own time and place.

Is she dreaming? Has she actually travelled back in time? Millie’s restricted life (she’s very ill and incapable of much movement) and Melanie never sees anything beyond the one room. She is courted by someone she doesnt really trust and finally comes to believe that she is dying – either in this timeline or in her “real” timeline of the 1950s. The book leaves it where you can then decide what was real and whether you believe she actually dies (and from what). If she dies in 1846, does she die in the 1950s? Who will miss her?