Day 1061: The Baker’s Daughter

Cover for The Baker's DaughterIn the Scottish town of Beilford, the Bullochs are worried about their granddaughter, Sue Pringle. Since her father remarried, Sue has led a tough life with her stepmother. Had she known her grandfather planned to offer her a job in his store, she would not have taken a job as cook for the Darnays to get away from home.

The first morning at work, Sue finds that Mrs. Darnay and her maid have left the house, leaving her alone with Mr. Darnay, an artist. Although for propriety’s sake she should leave him to find an older housekeeper, Sue decides to stay.

Darnay is so wrapped up in his painting that the practicalities of the situation don’t occur to him. He has previously been well paid for his paintings, but since changing his style, he is not making any money. He has a shock when he realizes he owes money in the village and hasn’t paid Sue. To make things worse, his wife has sued for divorce, naming Sue as corespondent, even though she herself created the situation that makes her husband and Sue look bad.

Sue is in love with Darnay but views him as unattainable and above her in class. Once he sends himself off in disgrace, she returns to work for her grandfather. But will she see him again?

It’s interesting to me that the class angle is still such a strong one in 1938, when this novel was written. Stevenson works around it, but this plot point seems even more important than the divorce. In any case, this is a slight but entertaining novel with likable characters.

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Day 1010: The Antiquary

Cover for The AntiquaryThe Antiquary was considered Scott’s gothic novel, but I felt it was more a romance, in the old-fashioned sense of the word. The only gothic elements involve trickery and a ruined abbey. This novel was Scott’s favorite, as well. It is not mine, but it does have a good deal of humor.

The antiquary is Mr. Oldbuck, loquacious to a fault, a man who likes to lecture others on the history of every object that he sees and every subject in conversation. He befriends a young man he meets on a journey, Mr. Lovel, who arrives in the area on undisclosed business.

Mr. Oldbuck has a friend, Sir Arthur Wardour. Sir Arthur handles his money poorly and is in the thrall of a German conman, Herr Dousterswivel, who is trying to further deplete him. Mr. Lovel has formerly met Miss Wardour and proposed to her, but she has turned him down because of his lack of birth.

There are several plot lines in The Antiquary—the machinations of the German, the state of Mr. Lovel’s romance, and a terrible secret of the house of Glenallen that begins to emerge upon the death of the countess.

The dialogue for this novel is in Scottish dialect except for the well-born characters, and there is a good deal of humor around the characters of Mr. Oldbuck and of the rustics.  A beggar named Edie Ochiltree acts as a deux ex machina so often that I began to think the novel should have been called The Beggar. I enjoyed this novel, just not as much as I  have some others of Scott’s.

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Day 987: Murder of a Lady

Cover for Murder of a LadyMurder of a Lady is a classic locked door mystery set in a castle in Scotland next to a loch. Amateur sleuth Dr. Eustace Hailey is visiting in the area when he hears of the death of Miss Mary Gregor, whom some regard as a saint, the respected sister of Duchlan, the castle owner. She was found dead in her bedroom of a stab would, but the bedroom door was locked. No one could have entered the window, because men were fishing in the loch, and the window was in plain sight of their boats. Miss Gregor is found to have an old wound in her chest that no one admits to knowing about.

When Dr. Hailey goes to investigate, he is not welcomed by Inspector Dundas, who wants to solve the case himself. An oddity of it was that a herring scale was found on the victim, and this and the report of a splash are enough to start rumors of a selkie among the Highland servants. Dundas is able to make no headway in the case at all, though, and finally asks for Dr. Hailey’s help. But shortly after the doctor arrives, Dundas is himself murdered, in similar circumstances to the original murder, within seconds of Hailey and Dr. McDonald leaving his room.

The new policeman, Inspector Barley, is quick to decide that Miss Gregor was murdered by Oonagh, Duchlan’s son’s wife, and Dr. McGregor, whom he thinks are lovers. He and Dr. Hailey have realized that Oonagh was trapped in a horrible situation at the castle, in a rivalry with Miss Gregor, who was not as saintly as people believe. But Dr. Hailey believes that Oonagh loves her husband Eoghan and is not having an affair. And soon there is another murder.

This novel is certainly a characteristic Golden Ager, focusing most of its attention on the locked room puzzle, although some attention also goes to understanding the psychology of the people living in the house. Still, Dr. Hailey is an enigma, and the story is wrapped up so abruptly after the solution of the murder that it is startling. Still, I mildly enjoyed this novel, especially for its Highland background.

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Day 980: Guy Mannering

Cover for Guy ManneringGuy Mannering is the second of Sir Walter Scott’s Waverly novels, set in Scotland and featuring Scottish dialect and folklore. It is a romping adventure, with smugglers, hidden caves, a kidnapped child, a gypsy queen, a hidden identity, and murder.

The novel begins in the 1760’s with a visit by Mannering as a young man to Ellangowan, an estate on the southwest cost of Scotland. Mannering arrives there on a rambling tour in time for the birth of Harry Bertram, the son of the Laird of Ellangowan. Mannering is an amateur astrologer, and he casts the baby’s horoscope, revealing that he will encounter dangers at the ages of 5 and 21. Then Mannering disappears from the story for 21 years.

The tragedy of the household occurs when Harry is five. He disappears after being the inadvertent witness to the murder of a customs officer. The family assumes he has been murdered. His foolish father being overwrought by grief, the estate is plundered by his agent Glossin, and Bertram is bankrupted.

Mannering comes back on the scene after many years as an army officer in India. He arrives in time to witness the sale of the Bertram estate to Glossin. It cannot be saved from its debtors without a male heir, and there is only Lucy Bertram, born the day her brother disappeared. In his fury at Glossin, Bertram has a fit and dies, leaving Lucy without home or money. Since Mannering’s daughter will be joining him in a nearby manor, he offers Lucy a home.

Mannering has his own troubles with his daughter Julia. In India, he had reason to believe that a young officer, Vanbeest Brown, was courting his wife, so he challenged him to a duel and wounded him. But Brown was actually courting Mannering’s daughter, and her guardian has caught her meeting secretly with him. Mannering summons Julia to join him, but Brown soon follows.

It is when Brown arrives in the locality that the plot heats up, for he begins finding things familiar, and he meets a mysterious gypsy woman named Meg Merrilies who makes some mysterious pronouncements. Of course, it soon obvious that Brown is the long-lost heir to Ellangowan. But he has the enmity of local villains, who are afraid he can accuse them of murder and malfeasance against him, as well as circumstances that appear to convict him of a crime. Moreover, he doesn’t know who he is, and once he knows, how will he prove it?

This is an entertaining adventure novel about the wild borderlands of Scotland. It has some fine villains, upright heroes, and an amusing couple of comic characters, one being the farmer Dandy Dinmont, a terrier breeder, whose name has since been taken for a breed of terriers.

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Day 972: The Scottish Highlands

Cover for The Scottish HighlandsI will frankly admit here that I am a massive Dorothy Dunnett fan, and as such, I am eager to read anything she wrote. In this case, it’s an homage to the Scottish Highlands that she wrote with her husband Alastair, illustrated by photographer David Paterson. Alastair Dunnett was a journalist, novelist, and man of many talents. Dorothy Dunnett was an internationally known historical novelist and portrait painter.

This book is beautifully written and has gorgeous photographs. It is oddly organized for this type of work, though. The photographs and the text are presented independently, even though some overlap occurs. First, there is a section of text by Dorothy Dunnett, divided into areas of the Highlands. After that, the rest of the book is divided into the same areas, with Alastair’s text followed by Paterson’s photos. No attempt has been made to integrate the two Dunnetts’ text with each other, and little attempt has been made to integrate Alastair’s text with the photos.

A contrast to this book’s approach is James Herriot’s Yorkshire, where Herriot’s text and photos about the same places appear together. It’s almost as if the editors of The Scottish Highlands were putting together three different books. Still, it does make me want to visit the Highlands. Of course, I already wanted to.

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Day 944: Checkmate

Cover for CheckmateBest Book of the Week!
I thought I finished reviewing Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles series ages ago, so it was with some surprise that I discovered I never reviewed the last book. Here it is!

* * *

In this last book of the Lymond Chronicles, Francis Crawford of Lymond has returned from Russia to France. Although I have concentrated in my previous reviews on the swashbuckling and intrigue of the novels, I have not mentioned the shadows that haunt Lymond, particularly the question of his parentage. This question was brought forward in an earlier book by the appearance of the mysterious Marthé, who looks exactly like him. These shadows have put him under tremendous pressure in the last couple of novels, culminating in horrendous migraines and even temporary blindness.

Another problem is his marriage to Philippa Somerville in a previous novel. He married her to save her reputation when they were travelling together, but both of them have since found that they are in love with the other. However, he considers his reputation and lineage to be too besmirched to keep her as his wife, so he has not told her of his feelings, and they have been trying to get an annulment. Their marriage has been in name only.

In any case, Lymond is now fighting the English for France in the Hapsburg-Valois war, a position he has taken on to hurry along his annulment from Philippa. As the wife of a Scottish nobleman, Philippa has been ordered to attend Mary Queen of Scots in France as Mary prepares for her marriage to the French Dauphin.

In trying to help Lymond find out the truth about his past, Philippa places herself in horrible danger and subsequently has a breakdown. Lymond leaves his post to care for her, and they discover their feelings for each other. But the result of her trauma is that Philippa feels unable to be more intimate with him, so Lymond eventually asks leave to go back to battle and preferably his own death.

It is much more difficult to review this final book without giving away spoilers. Suffice it to say that Lymond’s questions about the Dame of Doubtance prophecies and his own heritage are answered, there is plenty of action, and a satisfying conclusion. All the tangled knots that appeared in the previous books are untied. In any case, if you’ve been reading the series, you are already hooked, and will be unhappy, like me, to see the series end.

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Day 940: Passages in the Life of Mrs. Margaret Maitland, of Sunnyside

Cover for Passages in the LifeI have mentioned before that Margaret Oliphant was one of the most popular novelists of her time, but only a few of her novels are easily available except in print by demand. So, her complete works was one of the collections I selected from Delphi Classics in e-book form.

I decided to read the works in order of their appearance in the collection, and this novel is the first, published in 1849. Like the others I have read, it is a domestic novel, about events in the lives of ordinary people. It has a few light overtones of a more sensational genre, however.

Margaret Maitland is a spinster when she takes on the charge of raising a young orphan, Grace Maitland. Since her mother’s death, Grace has been in charge of an aunt, but Margaret’s friend thinks she will do better with Margaret, and Grace’s aunt has no objection. So, Margaret takes young Grace and frankly loves her at first sight. Grace lives happily at Mistress Maitland’s home of Sunnyside and spends a lot of her time with Margaret’s niece Mary and nephew Claud. Margaret’s brother Claud is a minister, and Margaret and her family are strict Scottish Presbyterians.

When Grace is a young woman, though, her aunt, Mrs. Lennox, demands that she return to live with her in Edinburgh. Grace does not have fond memories of Mrs. Lennox and does not want to go, but Margaret urges her toward obedience and hopes that things will be better for her than Grace expects. There have been rumors that Grace is an heiress, but no one at Sunnyside has put much store in them.

For some time, all we hear from Grace are her letters. Her family keeps her isolated from other people, never letting her attend events but telling others she is an invalid. When Claud, who is at school in Edinburgh, calls on her, he is first told she is not at home and later treated shamefully.

There is other drama closer to home, because Margaret’s niece Mary is being courted by Allan Elphinstone, young Lilliesleaf. His mother is looking higher for him than Mary, though, and encourages him to associate with the nearby gentry, where he gets into bad company. Mary won’t have him, therefore, and Margaret can only agree, for a similar situation in her youth brought her to her solitary state. Margaret thinks Allan can improve, though, and he sets out to try to do so. A subtitle on some editions of “Lilliesleaf” leads me to suppose that the plot about Mary and Allan was supposed to be the main story, but I was more interested in Grace’s predicament.

This is an enjoyable novel with likable characters, even though some of its attitudes seem very dated. One difficulty I had with it, though, is that it is written in Scots dialect. The narration by Mistress Maitland isn’t difficult to understand, but some of the country folk use expressions with which I am unfamiliar, so I think I missed most of the humor of the novel. In addition, this e-book was almost certainly machine read from an old manuscript and there are many mistakes, especially in words where old-style typography had ligatures, or connected letters. The combination of the dialect, which had words I didn’t understand, with the many typos made the text difficult. If you want to read this, you might try finding an old used book instead of an e-book or print on demand edition (which I assume would have the same problems).

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