The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

image.jpegStartlingly, ahead  of the time, this is a story dealing with the themes of drunkenness and debauchery and the strong will of a Victorian woman, determined to change her fate.

Anne Brontë’s writing deviates from both her sisters, in having an air of realism in it’s narrative  The style is wonderfully lucid and the storytelling very proficient.

The Plot of the Tenant of Wildfell Hall

The ‘Tenant of Wildfell Hall’ tells of the story of a young mother, Helen Graham and her small son, who quite mysteriously come to live one day at the quite dilapidated Wildfell Hall. The neighborhood is thrown into quite a tumult and everyone is quite curious to know more about Helen Graham’s personal history and how she came to be alone.

Helen’s reclusive air and dislike for company, added to the resemblance of her son Arthur to the local Mr Lawrence, further fuels nasty rumors. The gossip reaches the ears of landowner and farmer Gilbert Markham.

Gilbert forms a close friendship with Helen Graham. The friendship threatens to assume a more romantic turn and Helen tries to discourage Gilbert’s amorous efforts. However, one day she is compelled to reveal the mystery of her past by letting him read her lengthy diary entries.

Upon reading the diary, Gilbert comes to know of her tragic married history. Married to an alcoholic and abusive husband named Arthur Huntingdon, Helen is forced to flee from the persecution of her husband in order to protect her son.

It is quite a modern story and I imagine, must have shocked Victorian audiences when it was published in 1848. To have a woman, openly resisting her husband’s torture, trying to live separately and capable of acquiring an independent means of income, was certainly ground-breaking for the time.

I enjoyed the story overall but had a minor quibble with the weak narrative device- that of a letter written by Markham to a friend describing all events and including the lengthy diary.

One can’t help wondering, with the literary genius that Anne Brontë and her sisters had, what kind of works they would have produced in later life, if they had been permitted to live longer.

  • Title: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall
  • Author: Anne Brontë
  • Date published: 1848
  • Setting: Yorkshire, England, 1827.
  • Characters: Helen Graham, Gilbert Markham, Arthur Huntingdon.

The Constant Nymph by Margaret Kennedy

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This review of Margaret  Kennedy’s ‘The Constant Nymph’ is in celebration of Margaret Kennedy Day, hosted by Jane from Beyond Eden Rock’s Blog.

The Constant Nymph is Kennedy’s most celebrated novel. Published after the First World War, in 1924, it was met with much critical acclaim. It is certainly a well written novel and the storyline is smooth without any stops and gaps. The subject matter is a little sensitive but quite intelligently written.

The story for the most part is set in Austria, in the Tyrolean Alps and I must say that the setting was one of my most favourite things about the book. It tells the story of the Sanger family. The father, the avant-grade composer Albert Sanger, is an unusual man. A gifted but not very successful English composer he has spent most of his life in exile, inhabiting various European towns and cities and simultaneously acquiring a large host of wives, mistresses and children.

Sanger, finally settles down in a remote chalet, high up in the Tyrolean Alps, in a location that can be accessed only by train, boat and a steep climb. Here, he lives with his slovenly mistress and seven children in a lively cohort frequently referred to as ‘Sanger’s circus’. Many of Sanger’s artistic friends, mostly bohemian in temperament, visit and stay with the family.

One of them is the talented composer Lewis Dodd, a young man who is a regular visitor and is so well loved by the family that he almost seems part of it. In particular Lewis and fourteen year old Teresa have a very close relationship. Teresa worships Lewis and Lewis is very tender and loving towards Teresa.

 She was guided by the constant simplicity of her young heart. He was himself the only man who could ever betray it and she had been his, had he known it, as long as she could remember. Her love was as natural and necessary to her as the breath she drew…

The family is considerably disturbed when Sanger quite suddenly dies. The orphaned children look towards their maternal relations for support and are sent to English boarding schools, much to their disgust. Prior to their dismissal, a maternal cousin, Florence visits them up on the alm. Beautiful, sophisticated and well educated, she beguiles Lewis and the two of them decide to marry after a quite short courtship. Teresa, heartbroken, watches as Lewis is swept off his feet.

In England, Florence and Lewis settle down to married life which Lewis quite quickly finds very stifling. He realizes the mistake that he has made and looks again to fifteen year old Teresa, for comfort. Constant in her love for him, Teresa must choose between the calling of her heart and her moral obligation towards her cousin.

One cannot but help draw mental comparisons between Nabokov’s ‘Lolita’ and Kennedy’s ‘The Constant Nymph’. I will not say more, but I do believe that Kennedy has dealt with a very sensitive topic with great skill.

I find the love triangle at the heart of the novel to be quite unique. The different people in the novel have quite unusual, unconventional relationship dynamics amongst themselves. Teresa’s love for Lewis can be likened to that of a teenage infatuation but what makes it unusual is that it remains quite strong and that it is equally reciprocated by Lewis.

 

Lewis and Florence have an unusual relationship as well. Lewis is mesmerized by Florence’s beauty and sophisticated demeanour and Florence is drawn to his passion and talent for music. Lewis holds great power over Florence and knows it all too well.

The story I think is quite modern. Nearly a century later, the bohemian lifestyle of the Sangers’ seems quite unconventional  to say the least.

There are frequent references to the importance of the need of formal education in a person’s life. Though Kennedy advocates it, she also shows us that it is not a requisite for forming a moral sense of right and wrong and steadfastness of character.

I find the title to be quite curious. When I look up the exact definition of nymph in the dictionary it refers to ‘a mythological spirit of nature imagined as a beautiful maiden inhabiting rivers, woods, or other locations’. As I ponder over the meaning I realize that the title is so very apt.

The beauty and spirit of this book lies in the Tyrolean chapters, where the children roamed free and uninhibited in the bosom of nature. Teresa, whilst described as being far from beautiful by Kennedy, is always described in the most loving terms by Lewis. Teresa’s constancy of heart can be witnessed at every step of the story, proving to us that this  blessed trait can be found in the very young too. It is a valuable lesson to be reminded of.

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Barchester Towers and a Spot of #Trolloping

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It all started with Barbara Pym.

You might ask: what relation does Barbara Pym have to Anthony Trollope? You would be right in asking the question.

A few years ago, I read Excellent Women by Pym and immediately fell in love with her style of writing. On discovering she had not written many books, the research scholar in me decided to find ‘Pym-esque’ authors.

The search uncovered Angela Thirkell- described by Alexander McCall Smith as:

“perhaps the most Pym-like of any twentieth-century author, after Barbara Pym herself, of course.”

The setting of Thirkell’s novels, in the rural setting of provincial England, a fictitious place called Barsetshire made me aware of that county’s close relation- the original Barchester of Trollope’s novels.

To put a long story short, I came to Anthony Trollope quite by accident and in a roundabout way but I am very glad that this happy accident occurred.

I purchased the whole gamut of books that comprise the Chronicles of Barchester series and announced my intentions on Bookstagram (Instagram for Book Lovers). I was met with an overwhelming enthusiasm from Bookstagram friends and the Trollope Club (Just a Bunch of Trollopes) was born and along with it much discussion and merriment. We have a hashtag (#trolloping) and are currently reading our third book, Dt Thorne in July 2016.

But now to Barchester Towers, the book, itself.

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Barchester Towers takes us back to the hallowed precincts of the cathedral town of Barchester a few years after where ‘The Warden’ left off.

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.

In short, these three facts set up the series of events that form the majority of the plot of Barchester Towers.

Even before the Bishop has expired, several people are plotting to steal the Bishopric for themselves, even the Bishop’s son-the Archdeacon, Dr Grantly.

The bishopric falls into the hands of a Dr Proudie: a man in good standing with men in high positions in the government and incidentally endowed with an amazon of a wife. Mrs Proudie not only holds the strings of her household in her able hands, she also has first say in all matters related to her husband’s affairs, much to the chagrin of the clergy in Barchester. To add insult to injury, Bishop Proudie’s obnoxious chaplain, Mr Slope, decides to subject his parishioners to a lengthy lecture on various religious matters during his first sermon.

The clergy of Barchester, particularly Archdeacon Grantly, are up in arms against Mr Slope and Bishop Proudie and their combined reforms. Several members of clergy are called back to their religious duties in Barchester. One of them. Dr Stanhope has to return from the idyllic shores of Lake Como to take up his duties in his parish. The Stanhope family and their contingent of exotic characters bring a touch of foreign excitement to the goings-on in Barchester, particularly Dr Stanhope’s married, crippled, seductive daughter who takes up the title of Signora. Her brother, the lazy, good for nothing but charming Bertie Stanhope is looking for an easy way to relieve his debts.

He sets his cap at Eleanor Bold, who has been widowed for over a year due to the untimely demise of John Bold who was introduced to us in The Warden. Eleanor has quite a substantial annual income and though she can live quite comfortably with her infant son and sister-in-law, this income unfortunately enables her to fall prey to several bachelors who are looking for an easy way to acquire money.

Two bachelors, Bertie Stanhope and the slippery Mr Slope woo her to achieve their own ends- financial gain. A third- A Mr Arabin, a clergyman placed newly in charge of the small parish of St Ewolds, a great favourite of Archdeacon Grantly and rival of Mr Slope is also added to the mix and we have the recipe for great entertainment and drama.

However, Barchester Towers is more than just an elaborate marriage plot. We are introduced to a large cast of captivating characters, each with their own very distinct characteristics. For me the highlight of the story was the introduction to the excellent host of characters.

Trollope uses a very unusual form of narrative whilst telling the story. Frequent authorial intrusion led to the disruption of the otherwise smooth narration. However, the dialogue between author and reader led to several instances of comedic comment from Trollope. He also frequently tried to manipulate the reader to adopt his way of thinking. I cannot think of any other novel where I have witnessed so many authorial asides and interjections.

Without giving too much away, we have a very satisfying conclusion to the story, leading me to agree with the author that

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

 

Backstabbing, politics, humour, romance, conversation and  Victorian social etiquette combine very effectively  in this most excellent of novels, Barchester Towers.

I wonder, what will come next in the saga?

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

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I always wanted to taste whiskey,’ said Miss Pettigrew happily. I’ve never had it, ever, even when I’ve had a cold, as medicine.’

‘Where were you brought up?’ commiserated Michael.

‘Sip it slowly,’ begged Miss LaFosse.

‘Bottoms up,’ said Michael.

Miss Pettigrew sipped. She pulled a face. She slipped her class surreptitiously on the table.

‘Ugh!’ thought Miss Pettigrew, disappointed. Not what it’s cracked up to be. Why men waste money getting drunk on that, when they can get a really cheap palatable drink like lemon squash …!’

 

Laughing and thinking about this passage from Winifred Watson’s memorable novel ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ (1938).

I am reviewing this book as part of the #1938club, initiated by Simon David Thomas of Stuck in a Book and Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. To take a look at other books published in the same year, reviewed by other bloggers, please take a look at this blogpost and this one.

 

This Persephone Classic, recounts the events of the most remarkable day in the life of Miss Guinevere Pettigrew.  The day starts quite drearily with Miss Pettigrew desperately seeking a job to avoid being thrown out of her abode. Miss Pettigrew is mistakenly sent by the employment agency, to the apartment of young singer and aspiring actress Miss Delysia LaFosse.  Miss Pettigrew thinks she is applying for the post of a governess and Delysia requires a maid to keep her affairs in order.

In the misunderstanding that ensues, Miss Pettigrew exhibits immense presence of mind and efficiency in helping Miss La Fosse out of several scrapes, most of which involve young men. Miss Pettigrew is called upon to save Delysia from several precarious situations. She lies for the first time in her life, is called upon to show some acting skills (something she had not known that she had within her!) and also drink and socialize with Delysia’s group of friends.

For the first time in her life Miss Pettigrew feels needed, loved and competent. She undergoes a metamorphosis so dramatic and sudden that by the end of the day she is hardly the same person who had timidly knocked upon Mis LaFosse’s front door. It is a day that changes Miss Pettigrew’s life and the lives of several people she touches, forever.

Charming and funny and tinged with the naïveté of Miss Pettigrew’s unimpeachable character, it is a story that is laced with the wistfulness and regret of missed chances and opportunities of forgotten youth. However, there is great hopefulness in the novel. Miss Pettigrew reminds me in little subtle ways of Anne in Jane Austen’s Persuasion and she has the matchmaking tendencies of Austen’s Emma, only she is far wiser and manages situations much better.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day is a charming novel. It is book that will invoke giggles. I will most certainly be reaching out for it in a couple of years for a re-read.

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.

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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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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 .

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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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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?

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

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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?