Review 1364: Madame de Treymes

If you have read Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, the situation in her novella, Madame de Treymes, will seem familiar. As Madame de Treymes was written before The Age of Innocence, perhaps Wharton was trying out some ideas in this novella that she developed more fully in the later novel.

John Durham is in love with Madame de Malrive. He knew her as Fanny Frisbee in their younger days in New York, but now she is separated from her husband and has a young child. He proposes to her, expressing himself willing to adapt to any conditions she may make, but she says her husband’s family will never agree to a divorce. She has used her leverage because of her husband’s dissolute life to keep her son and does not want to jeopardize her custody.

Fanny says that the family never explicitly states its intentions, and she never knows what they are going to do. Her sister-in-law, Madame de Treymes, seems to be sympathetic, however, and she asks John to try to discover from her the family’s intentions.

Durham arranges a meeting with Madame and is first inclined not to believe the stories he’s heard about her. However, the meeting goes badly wrong.

This novella is about the inability of the aristocratic French and the Americans of the same class to comprehend each other. A misunderstanding on both sides results in unforeseen circumstances. This novella is subtle and more of a character study than a plotted piece, about the gulf between two very different cultures. I read this interesting novella for my Classics Club list.

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Review 1343: The Expedition of Humphry Clinker

Cover for Humphry ClinkerWhen I was making up my latest Classics Club list, I looked for some 18th century fiction to add to it. The result was this peculiar novel by the Scottish author and poet, Tobias Smollett.

Smollett was known for picaresque novels, but I wouldn’t exactly call this novel that. In fact, I don’t know what to call it. The novel it reminds me most of is The Pickwick Papers,  because it is about a group of amusing people on a road trip.

Written in letter form, it starts out as a social satire. Matthew Bramble is a middle-aged hypochondriac who sets off with his family for a tour of the watering holes of England. His travelling companions are his nephew, Jeremy Melford, an Oxonian; his frippery niece, Lydia Melford; and his sister, Tabitha, who is on the hunt for a husband.

The novel begins by poking fun at the characters and the eccentric people they meet as they do the rounds of the watering holes. When they reach London, this becomes political and literary satire as well as social satire, as Jeremy visits literary salons and Matthew looks into politics.

However, the novel changes character when they travel north to Scotland. Through the polemics of a Scots lieutenant they befriend, Mr. Lismahago, we learn about the condition of the Scots peasantry and industry. These letters read almost like textbooks. Meanwhile, Smollett even introduces himself as a very minor character. Later, as the group travels south again, humor returns.

The novel is virtually plotless, the only continuing thread the fate of Lydia’s love affair with a travelling player. Humphry Clinker doesn’t even appear until 100 pages in. It was the contention of an essay I read that this novel is an example of the kind where the servant knows more than the master, but I don’t agree. Actually Humphry is pretty much an idiot.

I had a hard time finishing this novel. The humor didn’t appeal to me, nor was I enough informed about the time and place to understand some of the satire, for example, against certain literary figures who were probably recognizable at the time. The introduction calls the novel a snapshot of the whole of Britain at a time when everything was beginning to change with the onset of the Industrial Age. I have also read it is a commentary about Colonialism, but that only seems to apply to the Scottish section. I guess both of these topics might be interesting to some more informed readers.

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Classics Club Spin #20!

Classics Club has announced another spin, in which we post 20 books from our Classics Club lists. On April 22, the club will pick a number, and that will determine the book we read for our spin by May 31. So, with no further ado, here is the list for my spin.

  1. The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf
  2. Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton
  3. The Prince by Machievelli
  4. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett
  5. Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  6. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  7. The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
  8. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
  9. Mary Lavelle by Kate O’Brien
  10. Titus Andronicus by William Shakespeare
  11. The Viscounte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
  12. The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini
  13. Edward II by Christopher Marlowe
  14. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  15. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  16. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  17. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
  18. The Winged Horse by Pamela Frankau
  19. Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi
  20. August Folly by Angela Thirkell

Classics Club Spin #19

CC spin logoThe Classics Club has announced a spin for the end of this month. If you post a numbered list of 20 of your Classics Club books by November 27th, the club will spin to pick the number of your next read for the club. The deadline for reading the book and posting a review is January 31, 2019, so the club has challenged us all to put our biggest tomes on the list because of the extra reading time.

So, with no further ado, here is my list. I will say ahead of time that I have no idea whether some of these books are tomes are not:

  1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  2. The Expedition of Humphry Clinker by Tobias Smollett
  3. Challenge by Vita Sackville-West
  4. Aurora Floyd by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
  5. The Viscount de Braggalone by Alexandre Dumas
  6. Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton
  7. The Old Man’s Birthday by Richmal Crompton
  8. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford
  9. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
  10. Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame
  11. Evelina by Frances Burney
  12. The Lady and the Unicorn by Rumer Godden
  13. Joanna Godden by Sheila Kay-Smith
  14. Mary Lavelle by Kate O’Brien
  15. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  16. The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
  17. The Prince by Machievelli
  18. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  19. Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi
  20. The Winged Horse by Pamela Frankau

Happy reading to everyone, and I hope the spin selects a good book for you.

As it is Thanksgiving Day here in the U. S., Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

 

 

 

Day 1269: Greenery Street

Cover for Greenery StreetThe way I work my blog is that, as I finish a novel, I write up my notes in a book diary. Every five reviews, I pick out my next five books from those notes, and generally speaking, I run about six months behind what I have read.

Obviously, there’s room for error in this system, and I have made one with Greenery Street. I kept expecting my review to turn up, and finally, the other day, I looked the novel up on Goodreads to see when I finished reading it. More than a year ago! I looked back in my journals to see if I inadvertently skipped it, only to find that I apparently forgot to write it up. What a shame for this delightful novel!

Greenery Street is a story of ordinary life in a couple’s first home, written in 1925. It begins on a day in April when newly engaged Felicity Hamilton and Ian Foster wander into Greenery Street in search of a house and find a very small and pleasant one. Then it jumps back to cover their meeting and engagement.

The novel details the everyday life of this newly married couple. There is nothing particularly unusual about their lives (well, not for their time—not too many young wives spend their days shopping, socializing, and supervising the help anymore), but they are rendered in interesting detail and humor, small disagreements and the normal ups and downs of a new marriage. The end of the book is telegraphed from the beginning, when we’re told the house would be too small for three. However, the journey is delightful.

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Day 1258: Classics Club Spin #18! The Heir of Redclyffe

Frontispiece for The Heir of RedclyffeIt’s a quirk of mine that, while I research the books for my Classics Club list, when I finally get to them, I don’t remind myself what they are about before reading them. So, when I got The Heir of Redclyffe in the Classics Club spin, I vaguely guessed from the title that it might be a gothic thriller. Boy, was I wrong.

In fact, in tone and attention to right behavior and emphasis on everyday family life, the novel reminds me more of works by Jane Austen than anything else I’ve read, although it lacks the Austen humor and sense of the absurd. In addition, it perhaps doesn’t translate as well to modern times because of its sense of piety.

The Heir of Redclyffe is the story of two cousins, the branches of whose families have long held a feud. Guy Morville is the heir, at the beginning of the novel a 17-year-old who comes under the guardianship of Mr. Edmonstone. Guy is a stranger to the Edmonstone family when he comes to stay. He has been strictly brought up out of his grandfather’s fear of his family’s violent tendencies. The Edmonstones find him charismatic and full of the joy of life but quick to temper, always attempting to control his darker impulses.

Philip Morville, Guy’s cousin from the other side of the feud, is long a friend of the Edmonstone family. He is a captain in the army, and the young Edmonstones have been used to think of him as a pattern of well-bred, right behavior. Charlie Edmonstone, an invalid, thinks him patronizing and sententious, and Amabel, who is shy, is a little afraid of him, but Laura, the oldest daughter, thinks he can do no wrong, and her parents rely on his advice.

Unfortunately, Philip takes a dislike to Guy that he does not recognize himself. Instead, he thinks he is concerned for Guy’s welfare when he interferes in Guy’s life and misconstrues his actions. Although Guy forms an excellent relationship with the Edmonstones, Philip creates serious trouble for him by almost willfully assuming the worst about him.

The latter part of this novel is  full of sentimentality and pathos similar to Dickens at his “worst,” but the characters seem believable and interesting, and we care what happens to them. Perhaps modern readers won’t find the quiet and delicate but determined Amy to be the most interesting heroine, but in contemporary times she was considered a pattern of womanhood, as Guy was the epitome of the Romantic hero.

I was interested to read that in her time, Charlotte M. Yonge’s books were as popular as Dickens’s and she wrote to the service of the Oxford Movement, yet these days we don’t know her name. Like many other women writers, she was probably pushed aside by editors and academics as not as worthy to be remembered as her male counterparts.

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Day 1253: Because of the Lockwoods

Best of Five!
I just have to say, Dorothy Whipple keeps getting better and better. I am so thankful to Persephone Press for reprinting her books and am sorry that I only see a few more in their catalog.

Because of the Lockwoods is about the complex relationships between two families, the Hunters and the Lockwoods. The families used to be neighbors and social equals, but Mr. Hunter died unexpectedly, leaving the Hunters in financial straits. When the novel opens, Mrs. Lockwood is preparing to patronize the Hunters by inviting them on New Year’s Eve to witness a production by her girls that she would not inflict on more important people and to dine on leftover treats from Christmas Day.

The youngest Hunter, Thea, has grown to hate the Lockwoods for the way they treat her mother—Mrs. Lockwood patronizing her and Mr. Lockwood being irritable when Mrs. Hunter turns to him for advice. The Lockwood twins are bullies who continually ridicule Thea. What the Hunters don’t know, though, is that Mr. Lockwood cheated Mrs. Hunter just days into her widowhood.

The Lockwoods are not without their good qualities, just as Thea is not without bad ones, and it is this nuanced approach that makes the novel interesting. Mr. Lockwood adores his family, and Mrs. Lockwood is one of the few old friends who continues to visit Mrs. Hunter after the family’s move to a less salubrious neighborhood. Thea, on the other hand, is difficult, stubborn, and unforgiving. While despising the Lockwoods’ middle class values, she has adopted some of them herself, and is at first snobbish when she meets a new neighbor, Oliver Reade.

This novel is a long one, but it swept me up. I watched Thea suffer one humiliation after another at the hands of the Lockwood family and was interested to see how she handles her opportunity for comeuppance.

One feature of Whipple’s novels is how readable they are. Once you start reading, you don’t want to stop.

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