‘Young Anne’ By Dorothy Whipple

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‘Young Anne’ is the eighth and final Dorothy Whipple novel to be published by Persephone Books but in the grand chronology of things, is Whipple’s first and most autobiographical novel.

It is set in the years leading up to the First World War and follows the life and growth of Anne Pritchard, youngest child of a middle-class, Lancastrian family. The ‘Young’ in ‘Young Anne’ not only refers to the tender age of the female protagonist, it also helps to emphasize the extreme naïveté of Anne Pritchard, the mistakes that youth often make and the consequences of immature decision making on adult life.

Anne is the daughter of Henry and Olive Pritchard. They have two other children- Gerald, the eldest and the apple of his father’s eye and the quiet, forgettable middle child- Philip. Henry Pritchard is an unforgiving, strict disciplinarian and his wife Olive is infuriatingly detached from her family. The only person who shows little Anne any love is the long-time maid of the family, Emily.

Anne is a curious, vivacious child, always getting into scrapes much to the consternation of her father. On one occasion she invokes the wrath of her father to such a great extent that she is sent as a day-boarder to the local Catholic school, even though their values do not meet that of the Pritchard families. Anne, blunders her way through school. She does quite well in her studies and manages to leave school with a first in English.

Anne is close friends with Mildred Yates, the Yates being a rich family involved in the cotton industry. George Yates is Mildred’s poor cousin and has been educated relying on the aegis of his rich Uncle, Mildred’s father.

George and Anne’s paths intertwine in their childhood and as two youth, on the brink of adulthood, they meet again and fall in love. Without giving too much of the plot away, the book deals with the unusual relationship that Anne and George have, how their paths continually intersect and diverge from one another. Young love is full of misunderstandings and the pair certainly seem to have a star crossed fate.

Towards the end of the novel, Anne, no longer armed with the excuse of youth and naïveté has an important decision to make: to follow her heart or to listen to the voice of reason and convention for the first time in her life.

The scope of ‘Young Anne’ unlike many of Whipple’s other novels is smaller. It lacks the sexual tension of ‘Someone at a Distance’ or the violence of ‘They Were Sisters’ or even the large country house setting of ‘The Priory’. What it does manage to convey is the immaturity of youth, especially of those growing up in a constrained, repressed society. It also manages to convey the beauty and purity of first love.

Anne and George’s early romance is sweet, heady and intoxicating. The writing is beautiful. Whipple creates dreamy, rural scenes and these chapters are some of my most favourite in the book.

Whipple is brilliant at dispelling the magic of life, especially the feeling of security and complacency that comes with a protected childhood, with a single unnerving incident. In ways she reminds one of Katherine Mansfield.

 

Life, like a cross nurse, had slapped her hands away from every thing she had held, and she was like a child sitting on the floor, blank, bewildered, uncomprehending.

 

Such events, frequently occur in Anne’s life and she is ill-equipped to tackle them. ‘Young Anne’ is a memorable coming of age novel. The characters are flawed, the situations created in the novel are perverse, and like all of Whipple’s most excellent creations, we are on the edge of our seats to find out what happens next.

 

I received a review copy of Dorothy Whipple’s ‘Young Anne’ from Persephone Books but as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.

Photogenic Persephone Books

How could I resist participating in the Persephone Books related fun that is going on over at Jesse’s blog – Dwell in Possibility Blog, where she is hosting an 11 day long Persephone readathon.

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Persephone Books are beautiful, both inside and out. They are perhaps my favourite books to collect and I never tire of photographing them for my Instagram account.

Here are some photos dedicated to the prompt – ‘photogenic Persephones’.

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My Thoughts on Trollope’s Barchester Chronicles Series

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It took me two years, but I’m pleased to say that I’ve finally finished the set of six novels that collectively form the Barchester Chronicles series.

The genre of novels I enjoy, mostly modern classics written by women, tending to focus on matters of home and hearth and human psychology, frequently referred back to this seminal work by Trollope. So, for this reason I was eager to discover his writing. A group of fellow Trollope enthusiasts who decided to readalong with me, enabled me to finally find out what all the fuss was about.

 

The Chronology of the Barchester Novels

The six books in the series, in chronological order consist of The Warden, Barchester Towers, Doctor Thorne, Framley Parsonage, The Small House at Allington and lastly, The Last Chronicle of Barset.

 

Favourite Books in the Barchester Chronicles Series

It’s hard to pick favourites, but if I was compelled to, I would choose The Warden for being memorable and the Last Chronicle of Barset due to its poignant, soul-searching subject.

 

The Subject Matter of the Series

Though the focus of each individual novel differs, on the whole, the series addresses problems within the ecclesiastical system of Victorian England. Trollope pinpoints various gaping defects in church matters in the obvious hope for reform. The clergy are depicted as flawed individuals, sometimes greedy for power, sometimes prone to  earthly pleasures like other mortals. In this sense, the world that Trollope paints is incredibly real and believable.

Trollope’s female characters are no mealy-mouthed individuals. They have plenty of spunk, force of character and show that they can and will marry for love alone. For this reason the names of Lily Dale, Mrs Proudie and Eleanor Bold are memorably penned in the annals of Victorian literature.

In short, without revealing too much of the plot, here is what each individual novel focuses on:

The Warden

‘The Warden’ takes place in a fictional cathedral town in Victorian England-Barchester. It highlights the plight of an elderly man, a church employee. As he is suddenly thrust into the middle of a much publicized national scandal surrounding his (suspected) inflated salary, thereby cheating several bedesman, under his direct care, out of the stipulated income in an old will. It is a story involving several Victorian institutions: the government, the press, the church, the law, and several tiers of society. But at the heart of the matter, it is the story of a man’s desire to quell his conscience.

Barchester Towers

‘Barchester Towers’ takes us back to the hallowed precincts of Barchester, a few years after where ‘The Warden’ left off. The main plot centres around three key events- the position of Warden at Hiram’s Hospital is still unoccupied, the Bishop of Barchester is on his deathbed and John Bold has left for his heavenly abode.

There is a struggle for ecclesiastical power which highlights the power hunger greediness of the clergy.

Another plot line is that of the love interests of newly widowed Eleanor Bold- who unfortunately falls prey to several bachelors, some of who are interested in acquiring Eleanor’s substantial private income.

Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne is one of the most romantic books in the series and deals with the story of Frank Gresham and Mary Thorne. Frank Gresham is the son of a bankrupt landowner, so it is highly derrière by his family that he marry for money to revive the family’s fortunes. However, he falls in love with a lovely girl, Mary Thorne, said to be illegitimate and certainly with no claims to fortune. The story has an excellent twist and is highly readable.

Framley Parsonage

This, the fourth book in the series deals with the ambitions of a young clergyman, Mark Robarts, who quite naively strives to climb the social ladder and lands himself in woeful monetary trouble due to the dubious company he keeps.

The Small House at Allington

The main issue that the novel deals with is the question of whether or not a person should marry solely for the purpose of money. The two sisters in the novel have two very distinct personas. There is Lily Dale- a Victorian version of Elizabeth Bennet/Marianne Dashwood (bubbly and impetuous) and we have the more cautious figure of her sister Bell. Each of the sisters is part of a unique love triangle. The novel largely deals with the love interests of each sister.

Virginia Woolf describes ‘The Small House at Allington’ as perhaps ‘the most perfect of English novels’ alongside Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

The Last Chronicle of Barset

The last book in the Barchester Chronicles and Trollope’s most soul-searching, heart-rending book about a man’s effort to preserve his integrity in the face of extreme adversity.

 

Who Should Read This Series?

Readers Who Love a Good Love Story

Trollope is surprisingly eloquent when he expresses the feelings of love between men and women. Nearly each novel has a central love theme and Trollope waxes quite lyrically during the innumerable love scenes.

Readers Who Enjoy Long Detailed Novels

The Victorians loved their long novels, many of which were published in serial format in many reputed newspapers and journals of the time. Trollope is no exception to the rule. The Warden is the only slim volume in the pack.

Readers Who Love Cozy, Comforting Books

People might be taken aback by the length and breadth of Trollope’s bibliography, but fear not! Trollope’s writing is incredibly comforting and cosy. Once you get used to the Victorian language, the writing is very easy to follow,

Readers Who Love Learning About Details of Victorian Living

How Victorians dressed, what they ate, their education and most importantly, how they managed their money, are all subjects of interest in these novels.

 

Favourite Quotes

What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?…Was ever anything so civil?” – The Warden

 

“Don’t let love interfere with your appetite. It never does with mine.”- Barchester Towers

 

“There is no happiness in love, except at the end of an English novel.”- Barchester Towers

 

“Rest and quiet are the comforts of those who have been content to remain in obscurity.”- Doctor Thorne

“And, above all things, never think that you’re not good enough yourself. A man should never think that. My belief is that in life people will take you very much at your own reckoning.”- Small House at Allington

Further Reading

If you enjoyed Trollope’s ‘Barchester Chronicles’, the good news is that he wrote lots, lots more novels- over and above 50 novels! Other Victorian writers who come to mind who remind me of Trollope are Mrs Gaskell and Dickens- although Trollope’s characters ate more middle-class than Dickens’ poor people. The novelist who perhaps was the most influenced by Trollope was George Eliot.

Later Angela Thirkell set her series of loosely linked novels in the fictitious county of Barsetshire. Several Trollopian characters reappear in different avatars in her books, Great fun!

 

Trollope was one of the most prolific of Victorian writers. Her wrote exactingly and untiringly about the quotidian details of provincial life. And he sought to highlight some glaring flaws in ecclesiastical order. He deserves to be read more widely by modern audiences.

Top 10 Books of 2017

 

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Looking back on 2017, I see a wonderful list of books and honestly I can’t say that I regret reading a single one of them. In this particularly good year of reading (52 books in the year) a few stood out to me.

 

These are the ten books that left the most indelible impression on me in 2017:

1. Mariana by Monica Dickens

A coming of age novel dealing with a young girl’s quest to find the perfect love. Though the body of the novel is well written and engaging, it is the beginning and ending of the novel that elevate the quality of the story in my opinion, making it truly memorable. There are echoes of Tennyson’s poem ‘Mariana’ in this book.

2. Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

What a delight of a novel. The characters are excellent, the plot immaculately constructed and the writing is very funny.

A young woman, Miss Barbara Buncle opts to become a novel writer when her annual dividends are not as lucrative as usual. As the young lady has no imagination whatsoever, she writes completely from experience, portraying the people and incidents occurring in her rural corner of England. When the village people read the book and discover themselves (in an unflattering light) in the pages of the story, they determinedly set out to uncover the identity of the perpetrator of the village crime.

3. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

This might be my new favourite du Maurier novel alongside Rebecca. It kept our book club continually guessing (we are still unsure to this day). Apart from the suspenseful aspect of the novel, I enjoyed the Cornish setting and the gothic feel of the story.

4. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

This was such a quiet, wistful novel, spanning the events of one particular day. It deals with the struggles of the post-WW2 upper-middle class, coming to terms with the loss of their glorious past and changing domestic situations.

5. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

A suspenseful, fast-paced Victorian novel and a pre-decessor of the modern day thriller, although in my opinion, much better written than most of the modern-day bestsellers.

6. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Hard to describe Mrs Dalloway. Perhaps to me- it strikes as a poem of a novel talking about deep-seated issues – some of them related to mental health. The descriptions of  London in the novel are glorious.

7. Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

Set in Toronto during World War 2, Earth and High Heaven deals with the then frowned upon love affair between a Canadian English woman and a Canadian Jewish man. The book is an elaborate social commentary on racial prejudice. It shows how people born into a fixed social pattern can overcome centuries of difference, in an overwhelming desire to embrace the most unifying emotion of all- love.

8. The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope

The last book in the Barsetshire Chronicles and Trollope’s most soul searching, heart-rending book about a man’s quest to preserve his integrity in the face of extreme adversity.

9. My Grandmothers and I by Diana Holman-Hunt

A memoir written by the grand daughter of the eminent pre-raphaelite painter William Holman-Hunt. It tells of her unusual upbringing, alternating in the homes of her paternal and maternal grandmothers. It is a wonderful chance to glimpse into the eccentric lifestyle of Holman-Hunt. It’s also a rather poignant memoir written in a cheerful way, from the viewpoint of a young girl, who was essentially an orphan and who never knew the comfort of a stable home.

10. Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell

The subject of this Victorian novel had quite a modern tone. It dealt with illegitimacy and the strictures of Victorian society and religion. However, what I appreciated the most about this novel was the fact that the pain and suffering, the vulnerability of a young orphan girl was highlighted, thus painting her plight in a very sympathetic way.

Please leave me a comment sharing your favourite book of the year.

Here’s to many more books in 2018.

10 Books Set in the English Countryside

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Give me a story set in an English village, inundated with curious characters and gentle descriptions of nature and musings about life- and you have me sold. Here in no particular order are some of my most favorite books set in rural idylls. I go to them, for comfort…

1) One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes

This is the story of a day in the life of a woman, set in the small coastal English village of Wealding. In the aftermath of the Second World War the English middle class are struggling to come to terms with their new life, less dependent on domestic help and trying to let go of the grandeur of the old days. This is a quiet contemplative novel which captures the beauty of the location. Despite not having much plot the story conveys a sense of longing and melancholy hard to capture in words.

 

2) Fairacre Festival by Miss Read

Dora Jessie Saint who wrote under the pen name of Miss Read captured the bucolic beauty of Cotswold villages and penned wonderfully human, simple stories that conveyed a sense of calm and goodwill. Tinged with a wry wit and the most wonderful characters, Miss Read’s ‘Fairacre‘ and ‘Thrush Green’ series are the height of comfort reading.

 

3) Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope

Tolstoy freely admitted that one of the influences in his writing were the novels of Victorian author Anthony Trollope. One of Trollope’s most famous series are the Barchester Chronicles– a set of six books set in the fictional rural county of Barsetshire. Apart from writing about nature and characters set in small towns and villages, Trollope wrote remarkably about money, social prejudice, politics and women with the most humane touch.

 

4) If Only They Could Talk by James Herriot

James Alfred Wight wrote semi-autobiographical novels under the name of James Herriot. A veterinary surgeon, he wrote about his work and personal life in the rolling hills and dales of Yorkshire. Though the work was often back breaking and hard, Herriot’s love for the location and the Yorkshire people freely emanate from each page. His books are a sheer delight.

 

5) Portrait of Elmbury by John Moore

Portrait of Elmbury published by Slightly Foxed is the first book in the rural trilogy, recounting the history of a small market town in England, named Elmbury. In this first book, the author John Moore describes his childhood and youth in the market village. How the village was hit by the aftermath of war, the poverty and declining conditions of the Depression era. The rural descriptions are particularly evocative of time and place.

 

6) Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell

Freely borrowing from Trollope’s fictional county of Barsetshire, nearly a century later Angela Thirkell wrote a long series of loosely linked novels that mapped the social history of a generation destabilized by the Second World War. Thirkell’s books are light and frothy but they capture a slice of history that is interesting to witness as a reader.

 

7) Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Though some of Gaskell’s works are set in the city and beautifully depict the Industrial Revolution of Victorian times, Cranford is set in a rural location. The small country town of Cranford supposedly corresponds to Knutsford in Cheshire. Small country customs and the portrayal of wonderful human characters cover the scope of this novel.

 

8)Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson

Miss Buncle’s Book is delightful not only due to the unique plot but also the brilliant cast of characters set in a small country village. 30 something unmarried Barbara Buncle resorts to novel writing as a source of income. As she has no imagination whatsoever her book draws heavily upon the characters and incidents occurring in her village. And when the villagers discover the book and their own unmistakable, unflattering portrayal they are determined to hunt down the secret author.

 

9)A Month in the Country by JL Carr

In this story a young war veteran seeks occupation in the form of the restoration of a church mural in a sleepy, English village. Recovering from shell shock, the restoration of the religious mural is accompanied by the artist’s own reparation of spirit and sense of well being.

10) Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Sailing holidays in the English Lake District, hunting for stolen treasure and camping on deserted islands- Ransome’s books abound with the charm of a time that was much safer and secure. The descriptions of the lake country will simply mesmerize you.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim, Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge, Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons receive honourable mentions. Before I finish it would be remiss of me to omit the works of Thomas Hardy- the ultimate guru of pastoral literature.

Books that I intend to add to this list are George Eliot’s Middlemarch and the novels of Tolstoy. Let me know of your favourite books set in rural locations. I’d love to hear about them.

Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

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‘Earth and High Heaven’ is the love story of Marc Reiser and Erica Drake, set against the social and political backdrop of a segregated Montreal, in the midst of the turmoil of the Second World War.

The social milieu of Montreal is very important in the context of the story. Montreal, at the time, consisted of a majority of English Canadians and a minority of French Canadians and Canadian Jews.

The English and French Canadians were collectively referred to as the ‘Gentiles’ – forming the upper crust of Quebec society, although intermarrying within these communities was still frowned upon. The Canadian Jews formed a more isolated corner of society- exempt from holding select jobs of privilege, disallowed from occupying certain hostelries, eating at various restaurants- generally treated abjectly.

It is in this social context that Erica Drake- an English Canadian from one of the best Montreal families meets Marc Reiser- a Canadian Jewish lawyer, at a house party held at the Drake residence. Erica and Marc fall helplessly  in love at first sight. Outwardly he is perfect in every regard for Erica- except for the racial tag that he is associated with.

Erica’s father, Charles Drake, president of the once flourishing Drake Importing Company refuses to acknowledge Marc at his own house party due to his Jewish background, much to the ire and embarrassment of his daughter.

Many weeks later Erica and Marc, meet by chance on a railway platform and both of them realize that they have much more in common than the sum of their differences.

Their love affair grows in intensity, and when Erica announces her relationship to her father she is met with a wall of prejudice. Determined to change Erica’s mind, her parents treat her with indifference in the hope that her ‘infatuation’ will disappear. For the first time in their lives father and daughter reach an impasse. Charles refuses to acknowledge Marc, refuses him entry to their house, and Erica resorts to meeting him in restaurants and street corners – all the while hoping that her father’s prejudice will dissolve in time.

With Marc having enlisted for the war, Erica knows her days are numbered with him. She realizes that Marc may or may not return from the War, and that even if he does, there is no guarantee that they will stay together for the rest of their lives. For Marc is reluctant to indoctrinate Erica in the Jewish way of life and to have social prejudice be heaped on her shoulders as well. And even though Erica is willing to sacrifice everything, her family, her religion, her social status for Marc, it may not be enough to convince Marc that she is making a decision that they she will not regret later in life.

‘Earth and High Heaven’ is a very elaborate social commentary on racial prejudice. It shows how people born into a fixed social pattern can overcome centuries of difference, in an overwhelming desire to embrace the most unifying emotion of all- love.

There were many moments that made me well up with emotion while reading the book. The issues that the book explores are relevant today and have been relevant during every stage of human history. ‘Earth and High Heaven’ is also a book about soul-searching decisions. The decisions one makes for oneself- in opposition to societal demands and familial expectations.

 

The Fairacre Festival by Miss Read

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On a stormy night in October, calamity strikes the placid, Cotswold village of Fairacre. High winds fell some ancient elm trees, which in turn damage the roof of St. Patrick’s Church.

The entire village, especially the vicar Mr Partridge, witness the damage done to their beloved church in the aftermath of the storm. Estimates to repair the roof and restore the church to its former glory, come in at the huge sum of two thousand pounds.

Even the most optimistic villager can foresee that innumerable jumble sales, weekly raffles and whist drives will not be able to meet that amount.

An emergency meeting of the Parochial Church Council is called, at which Mr Willett, the church sexton, comes up with the marvellous idea of hosting a Fairacre Festival in the summer- a sort of Edinburgh Festival on a smaller scale.

A number of smaller events like a fête, a jumble sale, whist drives, bingo and dances are planned around the main event- a Son et Lumiére with St. Patrick’s as the backdrop. A famous opera singer, Jean Cole’s performance is added to the roster of events, but will these collected efforts be enough to raise the entire sum of money or will the village’s Queen Anne’s reign silver chalice have to be sold to save the roof?

As usual, this is a slow, quiet, amusing book that has some lovely moments. The stories though very simple have an underlying message. This book emphasizes the importance of community and the strength of collective endeavour to achieve a single purpose.

The more I read of Miss Read, the greater appreciation I develop for her knack of appreciating the small things in life and imparting wit to small everyday instances.