December 2015, Book Wrap Up

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Here is a round up of book related favourites for the month of December, 2015. For a glimpse into November, 2015’s Bookish Favourites please see here.

1. Books

 I  read a total of five books in December.

1) The Sweet Dove Died (4/5*) by Barbara Pym.

#currentlyreading 'The Sweet Love Died' by the inimitable Barbara Pym. (By the way, could we have a vote for the ugliest book cover ever?!😀) ——————————————– 'How do you think of me, then?' Leonora asked. 'Just living in your perfect house, leading a gracious and elegant life,' said Meg. 'It's hard to explain,' she said, seeing a shadow of displeasure cross Leonora's face. 'You make me sound hardly human, like a kind of fossil,' Leonora protested. ———————————- Leonora Eyre, a middle-aged woman of independent means, finds herself confronted with the unusual predicament of becoming romantically entangled with a uncle and nephew pair. Both the uncle and nephew vie for her attention and when she chooses to bestow her affection on the young nephew, she is confronted with the unhappy truth that she may not be in a position to have a future with him.

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2) The Thirty Nine Steps (4.5/5*) by John Buchan.

3) Emma- A Modern Retelling (3.5/5*) by Alexander McCall Smith.

4) Mystery in White (4/5*) by J. Jefferson Farjeon .

The gloaming hour is upon us. Time to light up those golden candles, forsake the 'to do list', sip the warming honey green tea and slip into that delicious mystery novel that is set on the eve of Christmas. Several passengers are stuck on a train that gets trapped in the snow on Christmas Eve. Some passengers, rather foolishly, decide to venture out into the blizzard enveloping the immediate countryside. They stumble upon an empty country house and decide to seek shelter there. The fire is lit, the tea table set and the kettle is on the boil. But the owner of the house is nowhere to be seen. Trapped in the house due to the deep, all encompassing snow, there is an eerie sense of impending doom surrounding the house and it's inhabitants. What will happen next? ——————————————– 'Mystery in White' by J Jefferson Farjeon is a terrific, atmospheric read. Reading this as a buddy read with my dear friend @louised_1987 and so far, I think we both agree it is a terrific book!

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5) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp.

2. Blogposts

 I published nine blogposts excluding this round-up post this month. Two were reviews of  children’s books: The Story of Babar and Miss Rumphius. The rest included reviews of the books-  Family Roundabout and Illyrian Spring. I also published bookish list posts: 12 New Authors I Would Like to Read in 2016Top 10 books of 201512 Classics I Want to Read in 20165 Endearing Christmastime Scenes from the Best Children’s Books and 2015: A Diary of Reading in 30 Instagram Pictures.

I wrote a blogpost for Mustlovefestivals.com interviewing the Latvian Tourism Board regarding the best upcoming Latvian Festivals in 2016. It was lovely chatting to Lelde Benke and learning about the Staro Riga Festival of Lights and the Cesis Town Fair.

3. Movies

The whole family sat down to watch ‘Home Alone‘ and the recent Disney adaptation of ‘Cinderella‘ during Christmas time. We adults watched ‘Brief Encounter‘ directed by David Lean. I highly recommend this movie, adapted from a minor play by Noel Coward. After reading Buchan’s ‘Thirty-nine Steps‘ we also watched the Hitchcock film by the same name. The story has been slightly modified for the big screen but both the book and film are exceptional.

4. Audiobooks

 I listened to the excellent BBC dramatization of Dodie Smith’s ‘Dear Octopus’ on BBC radio this month. I also listened to the BBC dramatization of a ‘Brief Encounter‘.

5. Miscellaneous

I purchased a number of Noel Coward plays on audible this month.

I did a few paintings for my art journal on Instagram.  It is my favourite social media platform!

Wish you all a very happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year!

Have you been reading/listening or watching anything nice this month?

2015: A Diary of Reading in 30 Instagram Pictures

I’ve really enjoyed being part of the bookish Instagram community or ‘Bookstagram’ as its popularly called in 2015. Here is a peek at my year in Instagram pictures; set in chronological order.

A day well spent photographing some sheep (art work adapted from the book cover 'Dying in the Wool'). Happy Sunday 🎈 #inktober

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Have you read 84 Charing Cross Road? This is an account of the correspondence between Helene Hanff, a freelance writer in New York and Frank Doel, an employee of a used antiquarian bookstore in London. The correspondence is spread over the years 1949 to 1969, documenting the lively dialogue between two people, with nothing in common but a knowledge and love of good books. Set in the years after World War II, the reader is treated to an insight of the reality of what it was like to live in the aftermath of the war. The book is funny and poignant and shows how people separated by great distance and circumstances can nonetheless, touch each others lives and create the most beautiful of relationships. Full Review in Blogpost. Link in profile.

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I reviewed Inspector French's Greatest Case by Freeman Wills Crofts as part of @simondavidthomas 's #the1924club . In the second half of October everyone is asked to review books published in 1924. The link to the review is in my profile. ——————————————– In 'Inspector French's Greatest Case' we are introduced to a case of murder that occurs at the offices of Duke and Peabody, a diamond merchant located at Hatton Garden in London. On a cold night in the middle of November, the body of an employee, by the name of Mr. Charles Gething is discovered prostrate on the floor in the inner office of Mr. Duke. Mr. Duke's large Milner safe has been ransacked with the loss of thirty-three thousand pounds worth of diamonds and a thousand pounds in bank notes. Mr. Gething has undoubtedly been murdered as evidenced from the ugly wound made to the back of the skull by a blunt instrument. The theft of the diamonds and money previously secured in the safe are the motive behind the murder. To investigate the case, Inspector French of the Criminal Investigation Department of New Scotland Yard is called in.

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Martha in Paris is the funny, quirky story of the relationship between an artistic English girl and a lonely Englishman in Paris. ———————————- Martha in Paris recounts Martha's student years in Paris. Whilst in Paris, Martha meets an Englishman by the name of Eric Taylor. Eric invites her to dinner to meet his mother on Friday night and Martha accepts when she hears of the Taylors' recent bathroom renovations and their abundance of hot water. The weekly Friday visits and baths become a ritual and Martha and Eric find themselves in a situation which is too close for Martha's comfort. How Martha deals with the resultant circumstances of her relationship with Eric forms the theme of the remainder of this novel. Link to the full review in my profile. Happy Tuesday friends!

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'Cheerful Weather for the Wedding' by Julia Strachey is the story of a day in the life of the Thatcham family, in their English country house. It is, however, no ordinary day in their lives. The eldest daughter of the family, Dolly, is to be married that morning. The house is inundated with quirky guests who say and do the most unusual things. A ex-beau, Joseph, is plucking up the courage to speak to Dolly. The bride is upstairs, liberally drinking from a tall bottle of Jamaica Rum while adjusting her toilette. As the time for leaving the house for the wedding ceremony approaches, we wonder what else might occur on this unusual wedding day. Will Dolly make it to her wedding in one piece? Will Joseph be able to unburden his heart to Dolly? Full review in the link in profile. This was one of my favourite books from this year. Highly recommend it!

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"Oh, Charles, must we go now?" Ma said. The weather was so cold and the snug house was so comfortable. "If we are going this year, we must go now," said Pa. "We can't get across the Mississippi after the ice breaks." ———————————- Reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House on the Prairie'. I am simply amazed at the spirit of intrepid exploration as a man, his wife and family make it across Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas in nothing but a horse drawn cart filled with their belongings. They cross frozen lakes, almost drown in a water-logged creek, wash their clothes in the river and lay them out on the sweet smelling prairie grass to dry. Laura's Pa builds their log cabin in Kansas with his own hands. I cannot but admire the self-reliance and adventurous nature of this family. Have you read the book?

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Watching Charlotte, Lucy was sad. She had loved Geoffrey with all her heart. Too much. "You shouldn't love as much as that," thought Lucy. It's a bit abject. You should keep something of yourself." ——————————————– 'They Were Sisters' by Dorothy Whipple is the story of three sisters who marry three very different men. Lucy, the eldest is happily married to William. Charlotte, is besotted with Geoffrey who is a cruel, dominating husband and Vera, the beautiful youngest sister marries caring, wealthy Brian, whom she marries for security. The story deals with the fact that choosing a life partner can have far-reaching consequences, and that this decision can dictate to a large extent a person’s individual happiness and the happiness of their families. Whipple delivers a masterful plot and powerful cast of characters. She creates extraordinary drama and turbulence within the boundaries of everyday domestic occurrences. Full review on the blog. Link in profile. Happy Friday friends!

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#currentlyreading 'The Sweet Love Died' by the inimitable Barbara Pym. (By the way, could we have a vote for the ugliest book cover ever?!😀) ——————————————– 'How do you think of me, then?' Leonora asked. 'Just living in your perfect house, leading a gracious and elegant life,' said Meg. 'It's hard to explain,' she said, seeing a shadow of displeasure cross Leonora's face. 'You make me sound hardly human, like a kind of fossil,' Leonora protested. ———————————- Leonora Eyre, a middle-aged woman of independent means, finds herself confronted with the unusual predicament of becoming romantically entangled with a uncle and nephew pair. Both the uncle and nephew vie for her attention and when she chooses to bestow her affection on the young nephew, she is confronted with the unhappy truth that she may not be in a position to have a future with him.

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Review of 'Family Roundabout' by Richmal Crompton on the blog today. Wish everyone a very happy Friday! ——————————————– This Persephone book looks at the complex relationship between two neighbouring families, the Fowlers and the Willoughbys, whose outlooks on life, are on one hand in opposition to one another, but on the other hand, find their paths unavoidably intertwined. Both the matriarch’s of the families, keep a close eye on the fates of their beloved families, but employ different styles in guiding them. Mrs Willoughby, has control of the family fortune, and dictates the actions of her family members by way of controlling the money she endows them. Benevolent Mrs Fowler, watches silently, as her children fall in and out of their individual problems. Most of her children appeal for her help when they require it. But despite, however much the mothers’ try to resolve their children’s problems, new troubles, recur in cyclical events, almost like a roundabout. To read more click on the link in the profile ☝🏼️

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The gloaming hour is upon us. Time to light up those golden candles, forsake the 'to do list', sip the warming honey green tea and slip into that delicious mystery novel that is set on the eve of Christmas. Several passengers are stuck on a train that gets trapped in the snow on Christmas Eve. Some passengers, rather foolishly, decide to venture out into the blizzard enveloping the immediate countryside. They stumble upon an empty country house and decide to seek shelter there. The fire is lit, the tea table set and the kettle is on the boil. But the owner of the house is nowhere to be seen. Trapped in the house due to the deep, all encompassing snow, there is an eerie sense of impending doom surrounding the house and it's inhabitants. What will happen next? ——————————————– 'Mystery in White' by J Jefferson Farjeon is a terrific, atmospheric read. Reading this as a buddy read with my dear friend @louised_1987 and so far, I think we both agree it is a terrific book!

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"Good heavens!" said Grace;and dropping down upon a rock, she stared incredulously about her. The white rocks, the flowers, their blade like silvered leaves, all glowed in the strong sunshine with an effect that was quite literally dazzling. Nicholas sat down beside her…Grace was aware of the strong current of feeling set flowing within him at the sight. And this time, with a curious precision and certainty, she was aware of something more-how her own presence increased and heightened his delight, his response. Unspoken and unexpressed, this awareness grew and deepened, and with it her own pleasure in the sight. And for a short space of time, forgetting everything else, she gave herself up to this wordless sympathy, this peculiar accord between them, which made of the shared moment something more delicate and wonderful than it could have been for either alone. ———————————- 'Illyrian Spring' by Ann Bridge is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930's Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmichael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia's remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other's company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart. Full review of this beautiful travelogue on the blog. Link in profile. Happy Friday friends!

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Are you an Instagrammer? The ‘Bookstagram’ community is such a friendly, wonderful community to be part of: there are tags you can participate in, photo challenges, ‘shelfies’ and monthly reading round-ups to follow. You can be sure that your ‘to be read’ list will get higher and higher and higher…

Lastly, here is a snapshot of my nine most popular Instagram pictures of 2015.

200th Anniversary of Austen’s Emma

Just a quick little post. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and received lots of bookish favours. A gift from my husband included the 200th anniversary edition of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, which I am excited to re-read as part of my classics challenge next year. I will see you again in a few days with what will most likely be the last post of this year.

Emma was first published in December of 1815. This month marks its 200th anniversary. On Christmas Eve, my husband took me to our local bookshop to choose a book and I plumped for this anniversary edition. Besides having a gorgeous cover, it has beautiful deckled edge pages, contextual essays, maps of Austen's England, tips for reading the book, along with photographs of the first edition. Emma is not my most endearing Austen heroine; she annoys me with her meddling ways. But so many people have been discussing Emma recently and it has shed new light on the way I view the novel. After twenty five years I will read it more objectively and hope it will improve upon renewed acquaintance. This book marks the first book in my classics challenge for next year.

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5 Endearing Christmastime Scenes from the Best Children’s Books

I love to give and receive the gift of books at Christmastime. One particular Christmas, my mother gave me four beautiful new Puffin Classics books. They included the titles ‘Little Women’, ‘What Katy Did’, ‘The Children of the New Forest’ and ‘The Water Babies’. I will always associate the memory of Christmas with these books. Here are some endearing Christmastime scenes, taken from five of my favourite childhood books.

Little Women

 

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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

Can anyone forget the first New England Christmas that the March girls spend  during the American Civil War? They are gathered around the fire, feeling very sorry for themselves, because their mother has said that there will be no gift giving this particular Christmas, when so many people are facing extreme hardship. Each of the sisters is grievously planning what they will do with their own personal funds. Amy means to buy pencils for herself, Beth some sheet music, Jo a new book and Meg yearns for pretty little trifles. Then they observe their beloved Marmee’s worn slippers and it has a sobering effect on them. They resolve to sacrifice their own happiness to buy something for their mother.


Anne of Green Gables

Do you the remember the Christmas when Matthew insists on puffed sleeves for Anne? One grey December evening Matthew notices a bevy of small girls practicing  for a play in Green Gable’s sitting room. As he observes them from a distance he notices that Anne looks different from her friends. After a while he realizes that it is due to the fact that Marilla dresses Anne in very plain, unattractive clothing. Matthew decides that a Christmas present is a good excuse to give Anne a dress with puffed sleeves.

He arrives at the store, but he is so embarrassed to enquire about the dress that he walks away with several garden rakes and many pounds of coarse brown sugar instead! In the end, Mrs Lynde helps him, by agreeing to make a dress for Anne and the following scene ensues on Christmas morning at Green Gables.

Christmas morning broke on a beautiful white world. It had been a very mild December and people had looked forward to a green Christmas; but just enough snow fell softly in the night to transfigure Avonlea. Anne peeped out from her frosted gable window with delighted eyes. The firs in the Haunted Wood were all feathery and wonderful; the birches and wild cherry trees were outlined in pearl; the plowed fields were stretches of snowy dimples; and there was a crisp tang in the air that was glorious. Anne ran downstairs singing until her voice reechoed through Green Gables. “Merry Christmas, Marilla! Merry Christmas, Matthew! Isn’t it a lovely Christmas? I’m so glad it’s white. Any other kind of Christmas doesn’t seem real, does it? I don’t like green Christmases. They’re not green—they’re just nasty faded browns and grays. What makes people call them green? Why—why—Matthew, is that for me? Oh, Matthew!” Matthew had sheepishly unfolded the dress from its paper swathings and held it out with a deprecatory glance at Marilla, who feigned to be contemptuously filling the teapot, but nevertheless watched the scene out of the corner of her eye with a rather interested air. Anne took the dress and looked at it in reverent silence. Oh, how pretty it was—a lovely soft brown gloria with all the gloss of silk; a skirt with dainty frills and shirrings; a waist elaborately pintucked in the most fashionable way, with a little ruffle of filmy lace at the neck. But the sleeves—they were the crowning glory! Long elbow cuffs, and above them two beautiful puffs divided by rows of shirring and bows of brown-silk ribbon. “That’s a Christmas present for you, Anne,” said Matthew shyly. “Why—why—Anne, don’t you like it? Well now—well now.” For Anne’s eyes had suddenly filled with tears.

“Like it! Oh, Matthew!” Anne laid the dress over a chair and clasped her hands. “Matthew, it’s perfectly exquisite. Oh, I can never thank you enough. Look at those sleeves! Oh, it seems to me this must be a happy dream.”

 

 

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What Katy Did at School

The two sisters, Katy and Clover Carr, whom we first met in the book, ‘What Katy Did’, have been sent off to boarding school in the book ‘What Katy Did at School’. On Christmas Day, the entire school is snowed in. Only Katy and Clover’s Christmas box magically arrives, laden with Christmas goodies from home. It is a delightful box, holding such wonderful treasures. When I was little, I read and re-read the contents of the box several times. Here is an excerpt that describes part of the contents of the box.

The top of the box was mostly taken up with four square paper boxes, round which parcels of all shapes and sized were wedged and fitted. The whole was a miracle of packing. It had taken Miss Finch three mornings, with assistance from old Mary, and much advice from Elsie, to do it so beautifully. Each box held a different kind of cake. One was of jumbles, another of ginger-snaps, a third of crullers, and the fourth contained a big square loaf of frosted plum-cake, with a circle of sugar almonds set in the frosting. How the trio exclaimed at this!”I never imagined any thing so nice,” declared Rose, with her mouth full of jumble. “As for those snaps, they’re simply perfect. What can be in all those fascinating bundles? Do hurry and open one, Katy.” Dear little Elsie! The first two bundles opened were hers, a white hood for Katy, and a blue one for Clover, both of her own knitting, and so nicely done. The girls were enchanted. “How she has improved!” said Katy. “She knits better than either of us, Clover.”

…Never was such a wonderful box. It appeared to have no bottom whatever. Under the presents were parcels of figs,prunes, almonds, raisins, candy; under those, apples and pears. There seemed no end to the surprises.

 

 

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The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Pevensie children, Peter, Susan and Lucy are on their journey across the Narnian countryside in search of Aslan, after they discover their brother Edmund has betrayed them to the White Witch. They are accompanied by Mr and Mrs Beaver. Narnia is a country, which under the magic of the White Witch is assailed by a constant Winter, but never Christmas. Slowly, the Witch’s magic is broken because Aslan is on the move. Quite unexpectedly, the children come face to face with Father Christmas who bestows them with important gifts. It is moment of great joy and hope for change, that might shape the future of the country.

“Didn’t I tell you,” answered Mr. Beaver, “that she’d made it always winter and never Christmas? Didn’t I tell you? Well, just come and see!”
And then they were all at the top and did see.
It was a sledge, and it was reindeer with bells on their harness. But they were far bigger than the Witch’s reindeer, and they were not white but brown. And on the sledge sat a person whom everyone knew the moment they set eyes on him. He was a huge man in a bright red robe (bright as holly-berries) with a hood that had fur inside it and a great white beard that fell like a foamy waterfall over his chest. Everyone knew him because, though you see people of his sort only in Narnia, you see pictures of them and hear them talked about even in our world—the world on this side of the wardrobe door. But when you really see them in Narnia it is rather different. Some of the pictures of Father Christmas in our world make him look only funny and jolly. But now that the children actually stood looking at him they didn’t find it quite like that. He was so big, and so glad, and so real, that they all became quite still. They felt very glad, but also solemn. “I’ve come at last,” said he. “She has kept me out for a long time, but I have got in at last. Aslan is on the move. The Witch’s magic is weakening.”

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Little House on the Prairie

Laura Ingalls Wilder provides the best descriptions of Christmas. These are not the Christmases of extravagant gifts and yuletide excesses. The Christmases are plain, heartfelt and filled with simple joys.

The children’s stockings are stuffed with peppermint candy cane, a tin cup (because the children had to share from the same cup before this), a heart shaped cake sprinkled with white sugar and a shining penny, wedged into the toe of the stocking. Their requirements are so simple and the children are so grateful. It is a wonderful reminder to me, that receiving a lot does not always equal greater happiness.

 

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And in the very toe of each stocking was a shining bright, new penny!

They had never even thought of such a thing as having a penny.Think of having a whole penny for your very own. Think of having a cup and a cake and a stick of candy and a penny.

There never had been such a Christmas.


 

Which books are your favourite Christmas time reads?

I like to read a little Miss Read, this time of year and of course there is always the quintessential ‘A Christmas Carol’. For a look at my Holiday Booklist for the Booklovers in your life please click here.

I wish you all a peaceful and very happy holiday season!

 

12 Classics I Want to Read in 2016

I love making lists, especially end of the year lists. A new year provides a subtle pause, a moment of reflection, a chance to redirect and reboot. I always look upon this time, to reflect upon on how I can enrich my life. One of the ways I thought of, was to read more classics. Sadly neglected for a few decades, I did most of my classic reading in my adolescence and youth.

My mother always urged me to read the classics before I read other books because she said it was easy to fall out of the habit of reading them, and how right she was.

So, 2016 will be a year of revisiting some classics (I want to re-read Emma) and reading some classics by some venerable names: Dickens, Trollope, Eliot and Wharton. Since, Charlotte Bronte’s writing is my favorite of the Bronte sisters, I look forward to picking up ‘Villete’ and also reading Hardy’s ‘Tess’, as Far From the Madding Crowd is a personal favourite.

Throughout, the year, as I finish the books, I will report back and hold myself accountable.

If you would like to read more about the book lists I have made for 2016, please see my list of 12 New Authors I would Like to Read in 2016.

These covers are so beautiful, I will let them speak for themselves

cranford book

The Warden

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What do you think of my list?

What are some of your favourite classics or books you plan to read in the New Year?

 

Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge

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‘Illyrian Spring’ is the first in the series of novels I am reviewing as part of the series -‘Books that take me to faraway places’. 

Excerpt: This book is a part travelogue, part love story set in 1930’s Croatia, along the picturesque Dalmatian Coast. World-renowned artist, thirty-eight year old Lady Kilmichael, the wife of an eminent economist and mother to three grown-up children, leaves her family and all that she holds dear and escapes to Venice and Croatia’s remote Dalmatian Coast. She fears for her marriage, suspecting her husband of embarking on a possible affair and also is saddened by the strained relationship she has with her daughter. In Venice she meets a disillusioned young man, Nicholas, a man on the verge of being coerced into an architectural career by his parents but desperately yearning to paint. By chance, Grace and Nicholas find themselves on the same cruise to the Dalmatian Coast. Grace is persuaded to guide and train Nicholas in his artistic endeavours and together they spend several idyllic weeks together painting and enjoying each other’s company. However, when young Nicholas falls in love with Grace, she finds she must choose between following her better judgement or her heart.

  • Title: Illyrian Spring
  • Author: Ann Bridge
  • Published: 1935 by Little, Brown, and Company
  • Location of the story: Illyria or Croatia in the 1930s
  • Main Characters: Lady Grace Kilmichael, Nicholas, Walter Kilmichael

At the start of the novel, beautiful thirty-eight year old Grace Kilmichael has taken the quite drastic step of leaving her family and has embarked on a solo trip to Venice and thereon to the remote Dalmatian Coast. Unsure of her intellectual husband’s regard for her and suspecting him of being attached to another woman, she decides that rather than confront him, it is wiser to leave him for a while to make his own decisions.

Lady Kilmichael, though she did not realize it, was beginning (rather late in the day) to feel the pressure of one of the more peculiar aspects of English life-the moral and intellectual subordination of women to their husbands.

Lady Grace is mother to twin boys who are away at college and a younger débutante daughter and part of her unhappiness is linked to the fact that she has become estranged from her daughter and doesn’t know how to communicate with her.

Grace is a painter of quite considerable international repute although members of her family do not give her art as much respect as is due. Armed with a painting contract for several American newspapers, Grace takes her sketchbook, art supplies and her grievous heart and arrives in Venice.

One day while visiting the off shore island of Torcello, Grace meets a personable young man named Nicholas who is a little older than her sons. They begin to talk to one another and start studying a set of ancient stone stone slabs that have a unique scribe that Grace feels will be of interest to her archaeology studying son. Nicholas misses his boat from Torcello and Grace offers to share her boat ride back to Venice. On the night time boat ride, Grace and Nicholas talk companiably about music and literature among other things.

For the remainder of the time spent in Venice, their paths do not cross. However, as luck would have it, they find themselves on the same boat that is cruising down the Dalmatian Coast. As Grace starts to learn more about Nicholas’s background and character, she discovers that he is being coerced, by his family, into a career as an architect, although he yearns to paint. Grace, without revealing the famous name that she is known by in art circles, promises that she will take a look at Nicholas’s paintings and guide him, wherever possible.

Grace receives a letter from her husband Walter, informing her of her foolishness and telling her to return home to her family. The highhanded tone of the letter and the lack of tenderness, convinces Grace that she must continue on her solo endeavour and somehow ‘find herself’ again after many years of moulding herself  to suit the needs of her family.

Grace and Nicholas disembark in the ancient town of Spalato (Split), and seek accommodation in a boarding house. What follows is an idyllic period where Grace and Nicholas, paint the beautiful scenes and countryside of the Dalmatian Coast. They fall into a pleasant companionable routine of painting, eating leisurely lunches together and exploring the countryside.

Whether working or sight-seeing, of course she and Nicholas talked. It is surprising the amount of talk that two people will get through during a week of solid tete-a-tete. Now in modern life it is an extreme rarity, outside marriage, to get a week of uninterrupted companionship with any human being.

Nicholas shows incredible skill in his painting and Grace is happy to find herself useful to someone and appreciated after a long time. During her long discourses with Nicholas, she questions him about the peculiar characteristics of the youth of his age so that she might gain insight into where she is going wrong in her relationship with her daughter.

A few weeks into her sojourn with Nicholas, Grace is appalled to discover that Nicholas, a man young enough to be her son, has fallen in love with her. Conversations with a common friend, a Philosophy Professor,  who lives locally confirms this fact, as he has upon independent observation, arrived at the same conclusion.

The remainder of the novel deals with how Grace deals with this circumstance, how she reciprocates Nicholas’s love and the repercussions of these romantic feelings.

Illyrian Spring is an in depth look at the romantic relationship between an older woman and a younger man. At the start of the novel, when the reader has an inkling of what may follow, it seems absurd that a man and woman, severely  separated in years, might have a romantic relationship. We witness, however, a burgeoning of Nicholas’s soul through his discovery of painting and he remains highly indebted to Grace and in many ways, highly dependent on her. Their compatibility is undeniable. Grace also finds herself, gaining in confidence, feeling happier than she has felt in many years, in her beautiful surroundings and a newly developed appreciation of her own self. The idea of ‘ amour propre’ or self-love as a means of appreciating oneself, independent of how others see one is a recurring theme in the book.

We are privy to Grace’s emotions and feelings at every step of her relationship with Nicholas. Therefore, towards the end of the novel it does not seem so absurd that Grace should find herself  capable of loving Nicholas.

The  conclusion of the novel is managed quite be beautifully. We walk away feeling, that in Ann Bridge, we have found a writer, not only of considerable skill but that of infinite sense and sensibility.

The Travelogue Embedded in Illyrian Spring

Ann Bridge was the wife of a diplomat and travelled widely with her husband. Her several books, therefore, have a strong sense of place.

Illyria, was historically considered from Greek antiquity, to constitute the western part of the Balkan peninsula.

It is also known as Dalmatia or the Dalmatian coast and forms one of the four historically separated regions of Croatia, the others being Slavonia, Istria and Croatia proper. The coast extends from the island of Rab in the north to the Bay of Kotor in the south. The largest city of the region is Split, followed by Zadar, Dubrovnik and Sibenik.

Places mentioned in the book include the Italian city of Venice and then Spalato or Split  where Lady Grace and Nicholas visit the ancient palace of the Emperor Diocletian, the little medieval town of Traü, the hill fortress of Clissa with its abundance of flowers and the hilly town of Ragusa- where the majority of the novel is set.

Modes of travel mentioned in the book include the Channel steamer,  the Simplon Orient Express and the Adriatica Steamer boats taking the traveller down the Dalmatian coast.

Illyrian Spring is a beautifully written book that will appeal not only for its romantic story line but also its detailed travelogue. There are quite lovely descriptions of nature and the flora and fauna native to the Dalmatian Coast. After reading it one feels compelled to add Croatia to the never-ending travel bucket list.

“Good heavens!” said Grace;and dropping down upon a rock, she stared incredulously about her. The white rocks, the flowers, their blade like silvered leaves, all glowed in the strong sunshine with an effect that was quite literally dazzling. Nicholas sat down beside her…Grace was aware of the strong current of feeling set flowing within him at the sight. And this time, with a curious precision and certainty, she was aware of something more-how her own presence increased and heightened his delight, his response. Unspoken and unexpressed, this awareness grew and deepened, and with it her own pleasure in the sight. And for a short space of time, forgetting everything else, she gave herself up to this wordless sympathy, this peculiar accord between them, which made of the shared moment something more delicate and wonderful than it could have been for either alone.

 

Miss Rumphius

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  • Title: Miss Rumphius
  • Author and Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
  • Published: 1982
  • Main Characters: Miss Rumphius. Miss Rumphius’s grandfather, Miss Rumphius’s great niece Alice.

 Synopsis of the Story: The story is told through the eyes of young Alice, the great niece of Miss Alice Rumphius. Alice relates how her great aunt, Miss Rumphius grew up in a town by the sea. Miss Rumphius used to visit her grandfather’s art studio where he painted. Her grandfather had come to the town where they now lived many years ago on a big ship. In the evenings Miss Rumphius’s grandfather would sit her on his knee and tell of her of the grand adventures he had experienced when he was sailing around the world. Greatly influenced by her grandfather’s spirit of discovery Miss Rumphius declared:

“When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.”

What Alice’s grandfather told her next was to stay with her the rest of her life:

“That is all very well, little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.”

“What is that?” asked Alice?

“You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather.

Though Alice paid heed to her grandfather’s advice she did not know what she could do to make the world more beautiful.

Miss Rumphius gradually grew up to be a young woman. She worked in a library in a big city, helping people to find books. The library contained books that spoke of faraway places. But she was impatient to see the world with her own eyes. Miss Rumphius travelled far and wide: she climbed to the top of snow-clad mountains, to tropical isles, though jungles and across deserts. Finally she arrived at the land of the Lotus-Eaters and it was here that Miss Rumphius hurt her back while dismounting from a camel.

Miss Rumphius decided that she had travelled enough and that it was time for her to find a place to live beside the sea.

Miss Rumphius found herself a house by the sea. From her porch she could see the sun rising and setting in all its glory. Beside the rocky ground in her garden, Miss Rumphius planted some flower seeds. But she realized she still had one task to complete in her life: that of making the world more beautiful.

That spring Miss Rumphius, who was growing older was taken quite ill. From her bedroom window, she could look upon the cheery sight of the lupines she had planted in the previous summer.

Miss Rumphius made a note to herself to plant more lupines that summer but her health prevented it.

The next spring Miss Rumphius was recovered but she regretted the fact that she had not been able to plant lupines the previous summer. While Miss Rumphius was walking she discovered with great joy a patch of lupines that were growing in a spot a little distance away from her house. Miss Rumphius realized that the birds and wind must have carried the seeds to a distant place and planted them.

It was then that Miss Rumphius had the wonderful idea of planting lupine seeds far and wide across the neighbouring countryside that summer.

The next spring there were lupines growing everywhere and their cheery sight made all the people so very happy to see them.

At long last Miss Rumphius had complete the third and most difficult task of all.

Little Alice, Miss Rumphius’s niece was also inspired to travel to far away places like her great-aunt and also live by the sea.

Needless to say that Miss Rumphius advised her that she must also do a third and very important thing…but little Alice does not know yet how she will fulfill this task.

Notes: This story with its gorgeous acrylic painted illustrations and sweet story line with an important moral are a joy to behold for children and adults alike. I will let the illustrations speak for themselves!

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