Review 2111: #ThirkellBar! The Duke’s Daughter

This entry in the Barsetshire series opens with characters’ realization that Lucy Adams is carrying a child, but then it jumps forward. Around about the same time, Tom Grantly meets the dreadful Geoffrey Harvey and begins to have doubts about his farm work. He has been happy working on Martin Leslie’s farm with Emmy Graham, but he doesn’t think there’s a career in it. So, he takes a job working for Harvey in the Red Tape and Sealing Wax Department. However, Harvey is known for making his underlings’ lives miserable, and within a year, Tom is ready to quit but doesn’t know how to explain to his father that he wants to change his career yet again.

Commander Cecil Waring has returned to the Priory to take up residence in his part of the house after taking in some shrapnel that the Navy doctors couldn’t find. It is floating around in his body and will either emerge or kill him. In the other part of the house, Philip White and his wife Leslie, Cecil’s sister, are having such success with their prep school that they are looking around for a bigger building.

Cecil meets Lady Cora Palliser, the Duke of Omnium’s daughter, and is much struck by her. However, he thinks she’s paying too much attention to Tom.

The new Lord Lufton makes everyone’s acquaintance. He is young, shy, and overwhelmed by his new responsibilities. He is also very kind and is at first attracted by Clarissa Graham until he sees her behaving rudely to Charles Belton.

Fans of the series may be pleased to find that this novel features the reappearance of almost every character who has ever appeared, with the added attraction of no less than four betrothals. Mrs. Morland, the author of a popular series of novels, always says they are all alike. Perhaps the Barsetshire novels are, too, but their charm is in finding out what happens to characters we know and in meeting new ones.

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Review 2110: Classic Club Spin Result! The Saga of Gösta Berling

The Saga of Gösta Berling begins with the story of a young minister. He has been so depressed by his difficult job and his gloomy house in a remote region of Sweden that he has begun drinking, going so far as to miss some Sunday services. His parishioners have complained, so the bishop and other senior clergymen have come to his parish to attend Sunday service and dismiss him. However, that morning he is sober and gives a passionate and inspiring sermon. The clergymen question the parishioners and they suddenly have no complaints. So, the clergymen give the minister a talking-to and depart. The young minister is Gösta Berling, and now he resolves to reform, to stop drinking and dedicate his life to others. But then one of his old drinking buddies, who drove away with the clergymen, tells him they won’t bother him again. He has given them a terrifying sleigh ride to the station and then threatened them. Gösta knows they won’t believe he didn’t have a hand in it. So, off he goes to become a defrocked priest, a vagrant wandering in the wilderness.

This bit is typical of what we find in this episodic novel, situations apparently resolved for the good, only to end in some ironic twist. It is an unusual novel, and the only thing I can think of that it reminds me of is Peer Gynt, except that Peer Gynt didn’t seem to have good intentions.

Years later, we find Gösta at Ekeby, the home of the majoress. She has a sad past but for years now has ruled Ekeby and its iron mines and farms through having married the major. She has given free room and board, indeed a wing of her house, to 12 cavaliers, who are required to do nothing except enjoy themselves and raise hell. The only catch is that each year, one of them dies. Gösta is one of the cavaliers.

On Christmas Eve, a “black gentleman” emerges from the chimney during the cavaliers’ party and convinces them that everything wrong with their lives is the fault of the majoress, that she has made a pact with the devil to get power. He particularly convinces Gösta even though the majoress rescued him from poverty. They make a pact with him to have control of Ekeby for one year, and if one of them acts unlike a cavalier in that time, he will have all their souls. So, on Christmas Day the cavaliers drive the majoress out of her house to wander the countryside.

This event is only two or three chapters into the book, but by this time there had already been several episodes in which Gösta proved himself charismatic but mercurial and unreliable. I was getting disgusted with him and took a break from the novel.

But coming back to it, I began to appreciate Lagerlöf’s extravagant prose style and vivid descriptions. It’s clear that she loves the Värmland area of Sweden, which was her home and the setting of the novel. Plus, I got more involved in the action of the novel, which has the feel of stories of the past being told around a fire.

Still, I found Lagerlöf’s idea of a fitting ending as well as the religious overtones fairly off-putting. So, a so-so for Gösta. I read this novel for my Classics Club list.

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Review 2101: A House in Bloomsbury

Dora Mannering is a little brat when we first meet her at 16. She and her father are tenants of a house in Bloomsbury. They are not wealthy—he is a scientist who works at a museum—and they occupy three rooms although the rooms are well-appointed. Dora has no understanding of what it means to be very poor and disdains thoughts of money.

Dora doesn’t remember her mother, and her father never speaks of her. Someone sends her a box of gifts once a year, anonymously, and he is not happy when it arrives.

Dora’s father becomes very ill, which throws Dora more into the company of others in the household. Miss Bethune is one, a wealthy Scottish spinster who lives with her maid. Dr. Roland, who believes he could treat Mr. Mannering’s illness better than the expensive society doctor called in, is another.

Then a strange lady appears, or rather, her envoy, a young man, who approaches Miss Bethune with a request that she receive the lady and invite Dora over at the same time. It’s not too hard to guess who the lady is, but the circumstances of the original separation also come out.

Miss Bethune also has a secret.

I’m not sure if this novel would have been considered a sensation novel in its time, because the secrets don’t turn out to be that shocking, but there are a few emotional scenes and two different women who are hysterical at times. However, the novel features likable characters and has a satisfying ending. The heroine grows up, and people are kind to each other.

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Review 2099: The Eustace Diamonds

The Eustace Diamonds is the third of Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series and the least political so far. In fact, although it contains a few political discussions, it is really a social commentary and satire.

The beautiful Lizzie married Florian Eustace for money, while Florian married for love. Lizzie, being mercenary, deceitful, and immoral, broke his heart, and he, being very ill, died before Lizzie was even 21, leaving her with the Eustace heir, her son.

Lizzie is left very well off, with a yearly income and Portray Castle for life. However, the Eustace’s upright solicitor, Mr. Camperdown, notices that Lizzie has not returned the Eustace family diamonds to the estate. Repeated requests for the return of the diamonds meet with no reply.

Lizzie has recently engaged herself to Lord Fawn, an engagement his family is not really happy about, because they think Lizzie is a woman of few morals—and they are right. But Lord Fawn is attracted to her beauty and is also not very well off. However, when Lord Fawn hears rumors that Lizzie is keeping family jewelry that doesn’t belong to her, he begins to back off. His position in the government doesn’t warrant any scandal.

The Fawn’s governess, whom they dearly love, is Lucy Morris, a childhood friend of Lizzie’s. Around this time, Lizzie’s cousin, Frank Greystock, proposes to Lucy despite his family’s disapproval. They have nothing against Lucy but wish Frank, for the sake of his profession, would marry a girl with some money.

When Lizzie begins having trouble about the diamonds, she turns to Frank. Although he knows on some level that she is a liar, she is able to charm him and make him sympathetic to her. She lies about the circumstances in which she received the necklace from her husband—circumstances that make a legal difference—and he begins to think Lord Fawn is a dastard for trying to back out of the engagement. Lizzie wonders if she wouldn’t rather marry Frank.

In many ways, this novel resembles Vanity Fair, as Lizzie tries to make her way in society, although with ultimately less success and less sympathy from me. Lizzie gets involved with some dubious characters and eventually there are not one but two robberies. A very interesting and unusual side plot for this age involves Lizzie’s friend Mrs. Carbuncle, who is trying to marry off her niece, Lucinda, to Sir Griffin Tewett before she completely runs out of money. Lucinda doesn’t want to marry any man at all and certainly not Sir Griffin, who appears to only want her when she is rejecting him. It’s sad that in his time the only way Trollope can resolve this plot is to have Lucinda run mad, almost but not quite like the Bride of Lammermoor, to whom there are references in the text. Still, it was interesting to me that at this period of literature, Trollope includes an attractive young woman who doesn’t want to marry as one of his characters.

Trollope skillfully engages us with lots of questions. Will Lizzie keep the diamonds? Will Frank keep his engagement? Which of eventually four men with Lizzie marry?

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Review 2098: Yoked with a Lamb

After reading several Clavering books, I’ve decided that one of her strengths is in depicting a warm family and village life. It comes slowly in Yoked with a Lamb.

The village of Haystown in Southern Scotland is shocked and excited to learn that the Lockharts are returning to the area—all of them, including Andrew, who ran off with another woman several years ago. Andrew and Lucy are trying again and moving back to his beloved home. Lucy Lockhart has asked Andrew’s cousin, Kate Heron, to oversee preparations to open the house.

Although Lucy and the children are supposed to arrive there before Andrew, one day he stops by on his way north. Kate spends some time with him and his good friend Robin Anstruther. She begins to be attracted to Robin when she learns that he also was madly in love with the woman Andrew ran off with.

Kate thinks Andrew has treated Lucy abominably, but as the family gathers, she sees that Lucy constantly finds fault with him and throws his past in his face. She also tends to boss her children around and deprive them of small pleasures for no apparent reason. As Andrew and Lucy try to work out their problems, Kate tries to deal with her feelings for Robin.

I am enjoying the Furrowed Middlebrow reprints of Molly Clavering’s work very much. She was a neighbor and friend of the better-known D. E. Stevenson, but I have found Clavering’s books slightly more substantial.

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Review 2095: We

I am pretty well up on the 19th century Russian novelists, so when I was making my Classics Club list, I asked my husband to recommend someone more recent. He mentioned We.

The introduction calls Zamyatin an inconvenient citizen of both the czarist and Communist regimes, because he believed in complete freedom for the individual. His novel We is the granddaddy of dystopian novels and an inspiration to Orwell.

D-50 is a good citizen of the OneWorld, where everyone eats, sleeps, and works in unison. He is also the creator of INTEGRAL, which is going to be shot off into space to make the entire universe uniformly happy. He is writing a record to explain to the citizens of the universe why they should want to be uniform.

He thinks he is happy with O-90, whom he periodically requests for sex (the one time when they’re allowed to close the blinds of their glass apartments) until he meets I-330. There’s something mocking about her, and he thinks she’s up to something. Then she begins dragging him into situations that he should report her for to the Guardians. But he doesn’t, and soon he is madly in love with her and behaving strangely.

This novel is both dystopian fiction and a satire of some of the beliefs of Communism. At times, it is quite fevered in tone, and I wasn’t always sure what was going on. Characterization doesn’t even make sense in such a novel, so Zamyatin picks out weird facial features to identify people. Not my genre, but interesting.

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Review 2093: #ThirkellBar! County Chronicle

In introducing County Chronicle, I find it impossible to avoid spoilers for those who have not read the previous book, The Old Bank House. So, beware.

The novel begins where the previous one left off, if not slightly before that, with Lucy Marling wondering how her parents are going to take her engagement to Sam Adams, the wealthy older ironmonger who is not from her class. They take it comparatively well. It is her beloved brother Oliver who tries to flatten her excitement with his disapproval, so that Lucy realizes for the first time how selfish he is.

Speaking of selfish men, Francis Brandon is now happily married, but he’s been taking his mother for granted and is even rude to her. His mild-mannered wife Peggy is distressed by it but doesn’t have the courage to say anything. Others are beginning to notice, and Mrs. Brandon realizes it was a mistake for them all to live together.

Isabel Dale, a cousin of Robin Dale, takes a job with Mrs. Marling to help her with Lucy’s wedding and stays on to help her with her correspondence. She also sometimes helps Oliver with his book.

Although the Barsetshire set have tended to stay away from the Omnium Castle crowd, Francis and Peggy Brandon have been spending time there doing amateur theatrics with Lady Cora and Lord Silverbridge, the Duke’s heir. We find the ducal family impoverished but very nice. Eventually, Isabel and Oliver are introduced to the family by Roddy Wickham.

Although I didn’t like this one quite so much as The Old Bank House, it was still good. Several characters’ problems are resolved in a satisfying way, and the two romances are as sweet as they are understated.

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Review 2092: The Fair Jilt

I know that Aphra Behn wrote some bawdy comedies, and that’s what I was hoping The Fair Jilt would be. However, this prose work from 1688, which I read for my Classics Club list, is anything but funny.

Behn starts out with a long dissertation about foppishness, although it’s hard to say what that has to do with her story. She does not approve. Then she tells a story about a very beautiful woman named Miranda. She seems to like to pose her prose writing as if she is telling a true story with the names changed, as she did with Oroonoko.

Miranda starts out her career by flirting with all the men but never granting them favor. She lives in a sort of convent in Antwerp for women who have not made vows, but it seems to be full of her suitors. It is this kind of female aggression in her characters that has gotten Behn praise from feminists, but I’m not sure they understand her message. (Of course, she earns it for being a woman writer in the 17th century, as well as a spy.)

Miranda, who is as wealthy as she is beautiful, is living a gay and carefree life until she meets a beautiful young friar who is a prince with an unhappy past. She falls madly in love with him, but he is not interested. This fact enrages her and things go from bad to worse—for him.

Her continued career gets deeper into depravity after she marries handsome Prince Tarquin, even though he adores her. Her crimes include taking her husband’s ward’s fortune, lying, and incitement to murder.

So, you can imagine what a jolly tale this is. It even includes a man living after he is halfway decapitated. The biggest disappointment of this very unfunny work is that Miranda has a better fate than she deserves.

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Review 2090: A Pin To See a Peepshow

A Pin to See a Peepshow is a fictionalized retelling of a famous British true crime. Jesse, who was a contributor to the Notable British Trials series, chose to make the life of her main character and the details of the crime slightly different from the actual events.

Julia Almond is an unusual girl who projects the assurance that her life is going to be different from that of the others around her. She has a sense of style and after finishing schooling, is able to find work at a small dressmakers.

Julia has lived mostly in a daze of romantic daydreams except for her work at the shop, where she thrives and is promoted. But she finds her real life boring and seems to care only for her dog, Bobbie. She is waiting for a great love.

What she gets is Mr. Starling, a friend of her father’s. During the First World War, her father dies. Her mother can’t afford the house even with Julia’s small salary, so her uncle, aunt, and cousin move in and begin to order things as they want. Julia’s bedroom, which has been her sanctuary, is invaded by her cousin Elsa. Julia is told that Bobbie can’t sleep in her room. She kicks up enough of a fuss to get that changed but finds Elsa trying to lure Bobbie away from her. When Julia finds living at home unbearable, she decides at twenty to marry Mr. Starling, whose wife has died and who looks a lot more handsome in his uniform. This, of course, does not work out well, but she gets along for years until she meets Leonard Carr, a sailor seven years younger, who begins pursing her.

Jesse’s message is that Julia would not have ended up as she does if she had not been lower class and financially insecure. Any poorer and she would have just left with her lover. Richer and divorce would have been commonplace, but to her it was a scandal. Further, although she was innocent of murder, she was convicted because of her adultery and the difference in age between her and her lover.

Jesse paints an open-eyed but sympathetic picture of Julia. Although I could have done without some of the sections at the end where others reflect on the execution, it is a powerful and affecting piece of writing.

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Review 2088: Mrs. Tim Flies Home

I intended to read the Mrs. Tim books in order, but that hasn’t quite worked out, and I received this one just in time for Dean Street Press in December.

Hester Christie (Mrs. Tim) reluctantly leaves her husband in Kenya, where he is now posted, to form a household in England that her children can return to for the summer holidays. But en route she stops for two days in Rome. There she is unexpectedly met by family friend Tony Morley. Her couple days of sightseeing with him create a misunderstanding that travels all the way back to England to cause trouble for her through the person of Mrs. Alston, whom she met on the plane from Kenya to Rome.

Mrs. Tim has found a house in Old Quinings called the Small House. Although she loves the house, she finds she has a troublesome back neighbor and a landlady who isn’t to be trusted. She also meets some pleasant neighbors and helps out a young man in his romance with a nice young girl. She solves a mystery and finds out why some of the villagers are treating her oddly.

This book is another breezy entry in the Mrs. Tim series, written in the form of letters to her husband. It gets a little patronizing toward the ancient Romans (conveniently forgetting about the Inquisition), but they’re dead so they won’t mind. Otherwise, it’s an entertaining read.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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