Review 1412: Classics Club Spin Review! The Wise Virgins

The novel selected for me by the latest Classics Club Spin is The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf. This semi-autobiographical novel is partially about the courtship of Leonard and Virginia Woolf, in the characters of Harry Davis and Camilla Lawrence.

Harry and his family have just moved to the London suburb of Richstead and are shortly befriended by the Garland family, which has four unmarried daughters. Harry is disdainful of life in Richstead and of the fates of the spinster daughters, given up to good works or golf and tennis. The youngest daughter, Gwen, is naïve and gives undue weight to his discontented utterances. He amuses himself by giving her books and plays to read of Dostoevsky and Shaw.

In his art class, Harry is drawn to Camilla Lawrence, a cool beauty. When she invites him home, he finds it one of ideas and stimulating conversation. Camilla has suitors, but she is less interested in marriage than in a quest for self-fulfillment. She is repeatedly alleged to be passionless.

This novel was considered somewhat shocking in its time but was notable for examining the fates of conventional young women in Edwardian England. Harry is not a likable hero nor is Camilla very knowable. I personally did not like their glib and superior dismissal of whole classes of people. I always imagine the Bloomsbury circle snidely sniping at everyone else (and behind each other’s backs), and this novel didn’t make me rethink that idea.

This is probably taking the novel out of its time, but simply the continual reference to unmarried women by Harry as virgins irritated me to no end. He is so superior and supercilious. The introduction to the book says that “virgin” was synonymous with unmarried woman to Edwardians, but clearly for Harry there’s a sneer involved. One article I read calls Harry a truth-teller, but some of the things he says seem only designed to stir people up and make him seem more like eighteen than twenty-eight. Also uncomfortable for modern readers is the antisemitism that is accepted unquestioned by Harry and his family, who are Jewish.

Finally, there are lots of references to talking in this book, and for people who are looking for a purpose in life besides marriage and other predictable fates, they aren’t doing much actual acting. I think Woolf is pointing that out, though, by the chapter headings.

Related Posts

Mrs. Dalloway

To the Lighthouse

Flush: A Biography

Another Classics Club Spin

The Classics Club is having another spin. For that, we post a list of twenty of the books from our Classics Club lists, and then Classics Club picks a number, and that’s the book we read next. The goal is to read the book by October 31st.

So, here is my list for Spin #21:

  1. I Go by Land, I Go by Sea by P. L. Travers
  2. The Old Man’s Birthday by Richmal Crompton
  3. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
  4. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn
  5. The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf
  6. The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster
  7. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  8. The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
  9. Edward II by Christopher Marlowe
  10. The Viscounte de Bragelonne by Alexandre Dumas
  11. The Winged Horse by Pamela Frankau
  12. August Folly by Angela Thirkell
  13. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
  14. Evelina by Frances Burney
  15. The Prince by Machievelli
  16. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  17. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  18. Challenge by Vita Sackville-West
  19. The Sea Hawk by Rafael Sabatini
  20. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

 

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.

Related Posts

The Age of Innocence

Obscure Destinies

Someone At a Distance

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.

Related Posts

The Vicar of Wakefield

Robinson Crusoe

Guy Mannering

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.

Related Posts

Greengates

Family Roundabout

Mrs. Dalloway