Day 1198: Consequences

Cover of ConsequencesIf you expect E. M. Delafield’s Consequences to be like her witty Diary of a Provincial Lady, you will be surprised. Although it addresses themes that Diary touched on much more lightly, it is serious, sad, and even bitter.

Alex Clare grows up in the typical environment of a Victorian child of wealthy parents. She and her brothers and sisters are raised by Nanny and only see their parents at specific times. Alex is an aggressive child with her siblings, but her desire is to have someone care about her. Since Nanny dislikes her and Cedric and Barbara band against her, she tries to please her mother.

But a childish game causes a near tragedy. Alex’s part in it is misinterpreted, and she feels too guilty to defend herself, so her parents send her away to a convent school in Belgium.

Here, Alex begins a lifelong pattern of fastening upon someone for whom she will do anything. In school, it is Queenie, for whom she breaks rules to give treats and try to hang around her. These kinds of crushes are forbidden, and Alex is constantly in trouble for breaking rules, while Queenie blithely accepts forbidden treats and gets away with it. Alex does not learn to develop standards of behavior. She just yearns for love and understanding without having the ability to evoke it from others.

This childhood does not prepare her for young womanhood, where the only expectation is that she will marry well. She does not enjoy all the parties and events she must attend and is unable to hide her discontent.

Alex is not an attractive character. She is needy, unprincipled, and depressive. But her small transgressions are magnified by her family until she feels friendless and isolated.

Consequences is Delafield’s indictment of this kind of upbringing and the expectations for women of her class and time. It is also a character study of a woman who feels lost wherever she is. It is quite the feminist statement, published in 1919. The reviews included in the appendix of the Persephone edition show that its message was not well understood or accepted by the (presumably) male literary world of its time.

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Day 1192: The Priory

Cover for The PriorySaunby is an old estate that belongs to Major Marwood. It was once a priory, and the ruins are still there. The major is a poor landlord and manager who cares only for cricket. Although he has hundreds of pounds of unpaid bills and the house is falling to bits, he spends a huge amount of money every year in hosting two weeks of cricket matches.

The major is most unhappy about how the house is being run. His sister, Victoria, who is supposed to be in charge of the house, pays attention to nothing but her art, producing one atrocious painting after another. His two daughters, Christine and Penelope, are happy in their isolation up in the nursery, making odd-looking dresses and ridiculing the neighbors. The servants do what they want. Everyone in the household is completely self-absorbed.

So, the major decides it is time he remarried, principally to get someone to take care of the house and keep expenses in check.  He has his eyes upon Anthea Sumpton, a woman no longer young who he is sure will be sensible.

Unfortunately, Anthea is in love with him and doesn’t understand he is making a marriage of convenience. Soon, she will have a rude awakening.

Everyone in this novel is due for a rude awakening, however, as the focus of the novel moves to Christine and what happens when she falls in love with Nicholas Ashwell. He is one of her father’s cricket players who has been raised to be as selfish as her family is.

This novel is also somewhat an Upstairs/Downstairs novel at first, when the new maid, Bessy, falls in love with Thompson, who helps with the cricket. He returns her feelings but doesn’t reckon with the rejected Bertha.

This novel is the best kind, the type in which characters develop and you change your mind about them. Beginning in the late 1930’s, it is also winding its way slowly toward the war. I found the novel beautifully written, involving, and ultimately touching, as a dysfunctional family learns to become slightly more functional. I have enjoyed all of Whipple’s novels, but I think I liked this one best, so far.

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Day 1185: Landscape in Sunlight

Cover for Landscape in SunlightMrs. Custance, the vicar’s wife, is planning the annual church fête, but she is also wondering what will happen to her daughter. Cassie is currently tutoring Leonard Templar, but Mrs. Custance knows she is contemplating taking a caravan with her bouncing friend Joan and perhaps working at Joan’s school. Mrs. Custance once hoped that Cassie would marry George Brigham, Cassie’s childhood friend, but after the war George got engaged to an Italian countess. The engagement was short-lived, but Mrs. Custance has never forgiven George. George’s father, Sir James, also complains that George is an unsatisfactory son.

George has done nothing worse than go into partnership with a tradesman. Any income in the house belongs to him, but it’s not keeping the house from going to bits under the care of two lazy old servants.

In the meantime, Eustace Templar is trying to think of a way to get the Midges out of Prospect Cottage, his rental home. Eustace thinks it is the perfect home for his brother-in-law, Colonel Ashford, if only the Midges could be persuaded to move.

Landscape in Sunlight is another enjoyable domestic comedy by Elizabeth Fair. It follows the village people through their everyday lives, with just a touch of romance.

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Day 1116: Greengates

Cover for GreengatesBest Biweekly Book!
I knew that Greengates was about a retired couple, but I didn’t know it would strike home with me in several ways. Although it was written in the 1930’s, it has some universal themes.

Tom Baldwin has his last day at work, retiring from an insurance company where he has worked for 30 years. On his way home, he wonders what he will do with his time, but he decides he will have another career in history and work on his garden.

So, he arrives home full of plans, but within a few days, he realizes his plans were overly optimistic. He doesn’t have the background, even, to understand the history books he has, and his plans for the garden are thwarted because of poor soil and a lack of light.

Further, his wife, Edith, had not reckoned on the disruption to her life. He may be retired, but she still has to keep the house. He continually disrupts her routines. As he begins feeling more useless, he questions her comings and goings. For the first time, they begin to argue.

One day Edith remembers how they used to enjoy a walk to the country on autumn weekends. They would take the train out and then walk to the beautiful Welden Valley. She suggests to Tom that they go, and he reluctantly agrees. Little do they know that the walk will change the rest of their lives.

Although I have not so far experienced a loss of purpose since I retired, the activities I’ve been focusing on parallel those that finally give the Baldwins a renewed set of goals. So, that is what chimed with me.

But I think almost anyone could sympathize with the plight of this couple. Even though some of the details are dated, their problems still exist. Tom has spent most of his professional life involved in activities related to work, even to the company sports team. Now he has to find something else to occupy his time, and Edith has to find a way to cope with their altered life patterns.

This was another fine novel from Persephone Press. I really enjoyed it.

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Day 1075: At Home: A Short History of Private Life

One of the most enjoyable features of Bill Bryson’s travel books is his curiosity about everything and his willingness to go off on wild tangents. At Home is his attempt to inform himself and us about the objects of ordinary life, using his own home as a base for his explorations. But really, it’s his excuse to go off on tangent after tangent.

For example, his chapter on the cellar—he organizes his book by the rooms of the house—takes us to the building of the Erie Canal which takes us to the development of hydraulic cement then to the use of building materials in the United States versus England, a short history of Sir John Nash’s career, and so on. In fact, the contents of this particular chapter seem to have little to do with the actual room, except for the cement.

In reference to other rooms he discusses the history of various foodstuffs, the use of certain pieces of furniture, cemeteries, the history of how human mortality is treated, and even the history of gynecology. As always with Bryson, his comments can be amusing and the observations enthralling. If you like learning interesting little facts, this is the book for you. My edition was the illustrated one, which is full of fascinating photos and other pictures.

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Day 1073: Middlemarch

Cover for MiddlemarchBest Book of the Week!
The first section of Middlemarch is concerned with Dorothea Brooke, an ardent but naive young woman who only wants to take part in something good. She thirsts for knowledge and wants to help with something important.

One trait of Dorothea’s that is physical as well as metaphorical is her shortsightedness. As her sister Celia tells her, “I thought it right to tell you because you went on as you always do, never looking just where you are and treading in the wrong place. You always see what no one else sees; it is impossible to satisfy you; yet you never see what is quite plain.”

Dorothea in her youthful ardor and intelligence attracts the attention of Mr. Casaubon, a cleric and scholar in his fifties who has been laboring for years on a work he calls “The Key to All Mythologies.” Dorothea decides it would be an honor to marry Mr. Casaubon and help him with his great work. And she does so, despite the admonitions of her friends and family.

It is while Dorothea is on her honeymoon in Rome that we meet other important characters in the novel, for Eliot subtitled her novel “A Study in Provincial Life.” There are the young Vincys, Fred and Rosamund, who have both been indulged by their wealthy parents. Fred has been raised to expect a fortune from his crusty old uncle, Peter Featherstone. Concerned at first only with leading the life of a gentleman, he has quit his university studies and fritters away his time. He would like to marry his childhood friend Mary Garth, but she won’t have him until he sticks to something.

Mr. Lydgate is a new doctor in town. He hopes to reform medical practices and make some significant discovery in medicine. Although he feels he cannot afford to marry for some years, he has not reckoned with Rosamund Vincy, a beautiful but self-centered young woman.

He also starts out by harming his chances through some outspoken comments and a too close relationship with Mr. Bulstrode. A wealthy businessman, Bulstrode is involved with the local hospital. But he likes to be in control of all his charities and is inflexible in his religious views.

In Rome, Dorothea and Mr. Casaubon re-encounter Will Ladislaw, Mr. Casaubon’s second cousin. Mr. Casaubon has been supporting Will financially through his studies after Will’s grandmother was disinherited from her family because of her choice in husband. Dorothea, in trying to befriend Will, does not see how much Mr. Casaubon dislikes him. That dislike is to have repercussions for Dorothea’s future life.

Eliot masterfully acquaints us with the problems and politics of this provincial area. Her characters are unforgettable, rich and human. There is a strong feminist sensibility, as Dorothea finds that everything she tries to do is balked because she’s a woman. And class is also an important theme. I continue to feel that Middlemarch is one of the best books ever written and was happy to have it chosen for me by the Classics Club spin.

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Day 1062: Today Will Be Different

Cover for Today Will Be DifferentI so much enjoyed Where’d You Go, Bernadette that I was really looking forward to Today Will Be Different. That said, this novel bears many of the same characteristics as the previous one while lacking its originality of expression.

Like Bernadette, Eleanor Flood is also a once-successful professional who is now leading a depressed life as a Seattle housewife and mother. At one time she lived in New York and was the animation director for a successful cartoon series. After the series was cancelled, she agreed to move to Seattle for ten years for her husband’s career as a hand surgeon and sports team doctor. She has been depressed because of her alienation from her sister, Ivy.

The morning of the story, she wakes up determined to do better. Soon she notices that her husband, Joe, is behaving oddly. She thinks she has a lunch appointment with an annoying friend only to realize it’s with a man she once fired from her show. And her eight-year-old son Timby is faking illness to get out of school.

When Eleanor takes Timby to Joe’s office, she finds that he has told his employees the family is on vacation. Where is Joe and what is he up to?

One of my issues with this novel is how most of Eleanor’s problems get solved in one day. Of course, this novel is meant to be light and funny, so something like that has to happen. I guess it’s more my problem with a whole genre of fiction. Still, I felt sympathy with Eleanor and liked most of the characters. I missed the zingers about Seattle from Bernadette, which I understood even though I have only been there a few times. Instead, Semple replaces this kind of thing with Eleanor blaming herself for her New York sense of superiority.

So, a middling review for this one.

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