osprey_archer: (books)
I finished reading A. T. Dudley’s At the Home Plate, which is one of a series of sports stories that I inherited from my great-great-uncles. (In fact I believe it’s the last of the series. I am not sure why I read it first.)

It’s moderately amusing if you’re interested in books from the early twentieth century, but in the end I think my great-great-aunts had better taste in literature: they received the Little Colonel series for their Christmas presents, and not only can I reliably tell all the characters apart (by no means an assured feat in A. T. Dudley), but I have strong feelings about many of them. My mother and I once got into a shipping argument about Lloyd’s eventual paramour, who is eminently suitable - I cannot argue that he’s not suitable - but it’s just so bloodless: she chooses him by gazing at him and totting up all his virtues that would make him a good husband.

But at the same time there is not really another contender - they have been knocked out by going on a gambling spree, falling in with Demon Alcohol, or being kind of controlling - and Lloyd’s vocation is clearly to be a great hostess and leader of society, for which one needs a husband, so there you are.

This idea of vocation is actually quite important in these books; the main characters discuss it seriously, and they end up with a wide range: Lloyd is a hostess, but there’s also an illustrator, a writer (Johnston’s readers seem to have identified her, semi-correctly, as a self-insert), a social worker, and a homemaker (which is a distinct calling from hostess: it implies less wider responsibility). I liked the range, and the fact that all these vocations are treated as fine and noble callings (not all women need to follow the same life path!), and the fact that many of them don’t get married and that’s just fine. In fact there are important single women throughout the books - and important married women - plenty of female mentors for these girls all round.

I could have written so much more about these books in my senior thesis had I but thought of it at the time.

I really think the Little Colonel series might have the same kind of continued popularity as the Anne of Green Gables books - except that they’re so darn racist. And not in the way where the author used a racial slur or two but the book would be fine if you cut a couple lines. The racism is baked into the premise: there are scenes and thematic points that revolve around it. The glowingly patriotic take on the Spanish-American War is irremovable.

It’s a crying shame that Johnston could be so thoughtful and compassionate about some things and so completely wrong on others, but so it goes, I suppose.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished Gene Stratton-Porter’s A Girl of the Limberlost, which I actually quite enjoyed! Given that my last experience with Stratton-Porter was Her Father’s Daughter, this surprised me, but I think Stratton-Porter didn’t get on her racist eugenicist hobbyhorse until she moved to California.

A Girl of the Limberlost is quite a bit pre-California. Our heroine Elnora Comstock lives on the edge of the Limberlost Swamp with her mother, who is still wildly pining for her husband who drowned in the swamp soon after Elnora’s birth (sinking into the bottomless deeps of a pool while Mrs. Comstock stood on the edge, watching but unable to help - there is a certain melodramatic pulpy quality to all this, it’s great) and resents Elnora because she believes Elnora, I am not certain how, prevented her from saving her husband.

Mrs. Comstock is an arrestingly terrible mother. She is an unpredictably terrible mother, so sometimes she makes Elnora a delicious lunch with spice cake and cured ham and Elnora peeks at it repeatedly on the way to school because she believes that here at last is some concrete proof that her mother loves her at least a little (ELNORA I WANT TO HUG YOU), and sometimes she sends her daughter to her first day of high school in an outdated calico dress without warning her in advance that she’ll have to pay fees for her classes and school books, because she figures that humiliating herself in front of her classmates will teach Elnora a good life lesson about... I don’t know. Not trusting her mother?

Fortunately, Elnora is a budding young naturalist who has been collecting moths for years, which she sells to a local collector - the Bird Woman - and thereby funds herself through high school. The naturalist sections are really well done (Stratton-Porter herself wrote natural history articles for magazines); I kind of want to read a book about moths now.

What I’m Reading Now

Still working on Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Anne, which looks even worse in light of A Girl of the Limberlost. Stratton-Porter is sufficiently confident in Elnora’s excellence that she can surround her with interesting female characters; she even has sympathy for Elnora’s eventual romantic rival. Woolson has so little faith in Anne (who, poor child, is not allowed to have opinions or faults or much emotion at all) that she seems to believe she can only sell her as a heroine if she constantly runs down every other woman in the story and also women in general.

Women, it seems, are essentially creatures of vanity and whim: “A man, however mild, demands in a home at least a pretense of fixed hours and regularity; only a household of women is capable of no regularity at all, of changing the serious dinner hour capriciously, and even giving up dinner altogether.”

I strongly suspect that the reason men invariably demanded a fixed dinner hour, at least in houses with women present, is that the dinner hour was not their responsibility. They just had to wave a hand and demand it, and huff and puff and blow the house down if it wasn’t done.

I’ve also continued Black Dove, White Raven; it turns out (of course) that I quit right before it got interesting the first time I tried it. War looms with the Italians! And I am really enjoying all the detail about Ethiopia - it’s sort of humbling to realize how absolutely nothing I know about it.

Plus, Elizabeth Wein always has gorgeous descriptions of flying.

What I Plan to Read Next

Oh my God, ALL MY HOLDS came in at the library all at the same time. Carney’s House Party (a Betsy-Tacy companion novel), A Tangle of Gold (Jaclyn Moriarty’s latest book), In the Labyrinth of Drakes (the latest Isabella Trent novel), AND it turns out the library has Glimpses of the Devil, which is the book where M. Scott Peck finally reveals all the details of the exorcisms that he alluded to with cruel vagueness in People of the Lie!

I WANT TO READ ALL THESE BOOKS SO MUCH THAT I CAN’T DECIDE WHERE TO START. Although probably it should be Carney’s House Party because that’s an interlibrary loan and therefore really needs to go back on time.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Betsy and Tacy Go Over the Big Hill and Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. You know, every once in a while I will read a children’s book and get disheartened, because it’s not grabbing me and I feel like maybe I’ve outgrown children’s books and that’s just sad… but rereading the Betsy-Tacy books has reminded me that while it’s possible to outgrow particular children’s books (just as it’s possible to outgrow particular adult books), the best ones are always worth reading.

I particularly enjoyed Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, because there is an entire chapter devoted to Betsy going to the library, all by herself, to spend a whole day there, with fifteen cents so she can have lunch at the cafe across the street. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? That would have been my dream when I was twelve.

Also Depression 101, because the library didn't have "My life is a disaster and I have failed at everything that matters."

I nearly threw the book at the wall when it suggested accepting invitations when I receive them - it would be nice to live in that alternate universe where my friends invited me to things, now wouldn't it? - but, well. I've read mental health memoirs; I know there's always a section about If Only I Had Sought Help Sooner, I Could Have Started Water-Skiing on the French Riviera That Much Earlier, I Would Say Woe Is Me But My Therapist Recommended That I Not Dwell on Past Mistakes.

What I’m Reading Now

Sara Jeannette Duncan's A Daughter of To-day. Why is The Imperialist her most famous work (for very low values of "most famous")? The Imperialist is super boring. (The imperialist in a lengthy rumination about Canada's colonial ties to Britain, thinly disguised as a novel.) A Daughter of To-day is totally charming. The heroine Elfrida is studying painting in the Latin Quarter in Paris! Just look at her breakfast:

There was the egg, and there was some apricot-jam - the egg in a slender-stemmed Arabian silver cup, the jam golden in a little round dish of wonderful old blue. She set it forth, with the milk-bread and the butter and the coffee, on a bit of much mended damask with a pattern of roses and a coronet in one corner. Her breakfast gave her several sorts of pleasure.

Don't you want to have that breakfast?

What I Plan to Read Next

It was going to be Heaven to Betsy, except… the library doesn’t have it! I’ve requested it by interlibrary loan, of course, but I’m just boggled that they have every book in the series except one of the middle ones. Who does that??

The Betsy-Tacy books hitherto have all been rereads; this is the first one that I’ll be reading for the first time.
osprey_archer: (art)
[livejournal.com profile] littlerhymes commented in my post on Pat of Silver Bush that L. M. Montgomery Gothic should be a thing, and the more I think about it, the more I like it. Her books are already halfway there, after all. (More like three-quarters in the case of Emily of New Moon. What could be a more gothic house name than New Moon?)

A few thoughts:

There is a house. It has always been there. It will always be there.

The house is full of beautiful and broken things.

There is a car somewhere in the distance. The sound of its motor is the hum of a terrible encroaching future, full of shiny new things. The very words shiny and new send a shiver down your spine.

You will grow up someday. This is a great tragedy.

The trees with their blossoms are like ghosts in the evening.

The trees talk to you.

The house is on fire.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished reading L. M. Montgomery’s Mistress Pat, which I - enjoyed might be the wrong word for a book where I kept cringing in recognition as the heroine enacted all my greatest faults: aversion to change, intense grudge-holding over petty things, clinging to old relationships long after it is obvious that those relationships have changed beyond recognition.

Pat clings to the idea that she and her brother Sid might grow old and single together, like Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, long after it becomes clear that Sid's definitely going to marry someone someday. I think Sid's portrayal is one of the weakest parts of the book: I never could see what Pat sees in him, which left me with the impression that she was clinging to a halcyon period of companionship that happened when she was about seven.

She's a vivid portrayal of that kind of person, though.

The book gave me a bit of whiplash at the end. It sails along its smoothly domestic round for most of the book - Pat and her sister Rae and their housekeeper Judy Plum, with some help from other family members, care for their beautiful home, Silver Bush - and then ends with “Rocks fall, everybody dies!” abruptness.

Not literally. One one person dies, and that’s actually before the super-abrupt ending. But I definitely got the sense that Montgomery realized that she had no idea how to draw this to a close, having firmly established that Pat was never going to leave Silver Bush ever, even if she kind of maybe sort of has feelings for her childhood friend Hilary. I was already sick of Pat/Hilary hundreds of pages before Pat and Hilary ever got together, just because it was so telegraphed.

Then at the end of the book they did get together, not long at all after Pat’s beloved home Silver Bush burns down - beloved doesn’t fully encompass Pat’s obsession with this house; it is her reason for living and the succor of her soul and when it burns, she feels that all light has gone out of the world.

And then Hilary shows up and kisses her and Pat, who has been firmly convinced that Hilary is nothing but a friend, instantly realizes that actually there is some light in the world and that light is LOVE, and Hilary is love, and they’re going to get married and move across the continent to a house that Hilary already built for them both, back before Pat agreed to marry him and was in fact pretty much wedded to Silver Bush.

I don’t think the book means for us to believe that Hilary burned Silver Bush down, having realized that the house was his only true rival (and hiding his hatred of it behind protestations that it was the most beautiful house ever, because of course if he didn’t pretend to love it, Pat would never love him), but certainly the timing feels suspicious.

I’m just imagining the first years of their married life consisting of a lot of sitting in front of the fire in their house on the other side of the continent, with Pat reminiscing about the lost beautiful days of Silver Bush and blinking back tears, and Hilary silently grinding his teeth because even now that his rival is dead, it still occupies all of Pat’s thoughts, god damn it.

But of course out loud he can only say, “Yes, dear, Silver Bush was quite wonderful. Let’s spend yet another five fucking hours reminiscing about your lost home, which you will always love more than me,” even though really he’d rather stab his eyes out.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I haven’t finished anything this week. :(

What I’m Reading Now

L. M. Montgomery’s Pat of Silver Bush, which I’m enjoying a lot, although I do think the narrator could be a little bit less sledgehammer-y about Pat’s hatred of change. It’s so clearly shown in her behavior that there’s really no reason for the narrator to pop up and tell us how much Pat hates change every other chapter (I exaggerate slightly, and this does get less frequent as the book goes on).

Pat actually reminds me a lot of myself, especially the instinctive balking from new clothes, new furniture, new furniture arrangements, and change in general. I also hate throwing things out - although not, unlike Pat, because I think my old shirts have feelings that might be hurt; it’s just that I’d have to get new shirts. Or new shorts. Or new anything.

That makes this a somewhat ironic pairing with the other book I’ve been reading this week, Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing (which has a misleading title, because it makes it sound like this is an Ancient Japanese Art when actually it’s Kondo’s own method). I was a bit skeptical - I remain a bit skeptical about some of her more sweeping claims - but on the other hand I used her method to go through my clothes and ended up with five grocery bags of stuff to lug over to Goodwill and a couple of plastic bags of trash too far gone for Goodwill, so as a method of getting rid of stuff, A++ would recommend.

Basically her method is to get out all your clothes - or, rather, all your clothes of a particular type; shirts, socks, whatever - and ask yourself, “Do I love this?” And if you don’t, chuck it. (Within reason, obviously. I feel no great affection for my work shirts, but I need them.) Presumably this would work with other classes of object, too: books or kitchenware or whatever it is that you have too much of.

I’m not sure why this works so well. A few theories:

- It’s easier to see everything once it’s all out

- Also, once you’ve gotten it out, it’s just as easy to chuck it as put it back. There’s a lot less inertia toward keeping it

- Throwing out a lot of stuff at once is easier than throwing out one thing at a time. You sort of get into a groove with it.

What I Plan to Read Next

Charles Finch’s Home by Nightfall is in at the library. YESSSSSS! Most comfortable man in London with his seriously comfortable friends, here I come!
osprey_archer: (books)
What I've Just Finished Reading

L. M. Montgomery's The Golden Road, the sequel to The Story Girl, which I actually ended up preferring to the original; I'm not sure if it's because it seems less episodic, with the Story Girl's stories better folded into the narrative, or if it's because I read it on vacation and that adds a charm to everything.

Also - drumroll, please! - I finished Margaret Oliphaunt's Miss Marjoribanks! Which I still think was a bit padded, and rather oddly shaped (the first two thirds of the book are about Miss Marjoribanks triumphant return to her hometown, and then abruptly there's a jump ten years into the future), but it was nonetheless enjoyable if you like this sort of thing, which I do.

Miss Marjoribanks herself is, IMO, the crowning achievement of the book: a formidable woman, self-assured, insightful, with a firm sense of her own importance; quite certain of her goals and how to reach them, but also willing to bend her plans as the need arises. The narrative notes repeatedly that if she had been a boy, she would have made a capital lawyer or doctor or member of Parliament. But she's a girl, and an exceptionally conventional one at that, and although she occasionally sighs about the narrow sphere for her ambitions, she's not in any kind of revolt against it.

I don't think I've read of another character who combined all those traits into one person before, and given how much I've read, that's rare in itself. The combination is both novel and fascinating.

I also read Elizabeth Gaskell's Lizzie Leigh, and I'm beginning to think that Cranford is the only Gaskell book for me, because I don't seem to enjoy any of her more "let's take on this social problem" works, and that seems to be most of her other stories. Lizzie Leigh is in many ways a reaction against early Victorian moralism: the heroine was a servant who lost her position after having sex and, it is heavily implied, fell into prostitution, and rather than die horribly as anyone might expect, she ends up going home to live with her loving mother in a bucolic cottage. (Her illegitimate daughter still bites the dust, though.)

But it's a very early Victorian rejection of early Victorian moralism, more like a tract than a story, and it wasn't to my taste.

What I'm Reading Now

The Martian, which I'm actually enjoying a lot. I suspect that seeing it after the movie actually enhances it a bit: I've brought the movie characterization to the experience, so I don't so much notice the flatness to the characterization that is the most common criticism I've seen of the book, and the book fleshes out a lot of the technical details in the movie.

What I Plan to Read Next

Marie Brennan's Voyage of the Basilisk.
osprey_archer: (books)
What I've Finished Reading

Eugenia Ginzburg's Within the Whirldwind, the far-less-harrowing sequel to Journey into the Whirlwind. It's less harrowing both because a good half of the book takes place after Ginzburg's release (being released from the gulags came with its own problems, mind, but it's still better than actually being in a gulag), and also because in the first half of the book, she meets the man who becomes her second husband, whose presence irradiates her life.

I guess love really can bring light to the darkest of places. Or perhaps not the darkest - they meet when Ginzburg becomes a nurse at a gulag tuberculosis hospital, which in gulag terms is a pretty cushy position, although by any ordinary standard it's horrifying - but certainly in places much darker than one might imagine.

What I'm Reading Now

L. M. Montgomery's The Story Girl, which is fun but rather slight. All of her books are pretty clair, but there's often a half-hidden darker edge (not so hidden in the Emily books) which doesn't seem to exist so much in The Story Girl.

I've also just started Sarah Vowell's Lafayette in the Somewhat United States, which is about... well, the Marquis de Lafayette and the American Revolution and the French Revolution and also, possibly, just about revolutions in general, although we'll see how that develops. I enjoy Vowell's work because she has this tendency to bounce all over the place, drawing in things that are perhaps only tangentially related to her main subject but fascinating in their own right.

What I Plan to Read Next

I'm thinking about going on a bit of an L. M. Montgomery binge: the sequel to The Story Girl, The Golden Road, and perhaps also the two Pat books. There are still a few others that I haven't read, but I don't want to go and read them all at once.
osprey_archer: (books)
I didn't actually write, in my project about turn-of-the-twentieth century girls' fiction, that I liked reading these books in part because they are sometimes very, very gay, but sometimes they really really really are. My current case in point is Annie Fellowes Johnston’s Georgina’s Service Stories, which is filled with the glory, GLORY in Georgina’s giant ridiculous crush on Esther.

Naturally it ends badly, because Johnston is of the opinion that one should fall in love slowly and deliberately, after due consideration of the other party’s character, and preferably to a childhood friend. But before that we get oceans of Georgina’s crush and afterward there is lots of WALLOWING IN ANGST, and it is basically like crack for me, CRACK.

When Georgina first meets Esther, she rhapsodizes that the other girl is “a blonde with the most exquisite hair, the color of amber of honey, with little gold crinkles in it. And her eyes - well, they make you think of clear blue sapphires. I loved her from the moment Judith introduced us. Loved her smile, the way it lights up her face, and her voice, soft and slow...”

Georgina is inspired. Why not write a poem for this seraph of beauty? "At that, a whole list of lovely words went slipping through my mind like beads along a string: lily... pearl... snow-crystal... amber... blue-of-deep-waters... blue-of-sapphire-skies... heart of gold. She makes me think of such fair and shining things."

Naturally, Georgina nicknames this fair and shining girl "Star." “She is so wonderful that it is a privilege just to be in the same town with her,” Georgina sighs, and she tries “to live each hour in a way that is good for my character, so as to make myself as worthy as possible of her friendship. For instance, I dust the hind legs of the piano and the backs of the picture frames as conscientiously as the parts that show.”

Even when storm clouds begin to gather, Georgina holds fast to her love. "It is simply that love gives me a clearer vision than the others have - the power to see the halo of charm which encircles her," Georgina reflects, clinging desperately to her vision of Esther's high and shining soul.

But it all comes to nought! Esther is already engaged to someone else and is flirting with all the boys in town just to amuse herself by breaking their hearts. "I wished I could have died before I found out that she wasn't all I believed her to be," Georgina sobs - and I mean really sobs; she goes home, falls down on a couch, can't cry for a while because her heart is so absolutely wrung, but then weeps till she gets a sick headache.

And then World War I happens and Georgina learns important lessons about Patriotism etc. etc., and it's much less breathlessly gushing - even the part where she falls in love with her childhood BFF Richard is less gushing than her rhapsodies about Esther. (Incidentally, Georgina first noticed that her childhood BFF had grown into a hunk when Esther mentioned it. I am just saying.) So I kind of lost interest after Esther broke Georgina's heart, but the first third of the book is GLORIOUS.
osprey_archer: (books)
My reading binge has continued! Sadly I did not stumble upon any gems of ancestral hilarity, although there was a certain amount of WTF?ness to be found.

First, I read Laura Elizabeth Richards Howe’s 1894 Marie, a slender book about the French fiddler Marie who, accompanied by her beloved violin, escapes from the evil circus master and wanders into a charming little Maine village. She is playing her violin, to the delight of the village children...only to be interrupted by the thundering rage of Jacques De’Arthenay (whose name, after centuries in the new world, has been mangled into “Jakes”), a man whose religious rejection of music is so hardcore that he “harbored in the depths of his soul thoughts about the probably frivolity of David.” (13)

You know. Because of the harping.

Of course Jacques falls madly in love with Marie. And Marie, of course, finds him terrifying. So naturally when the circus master shows up in town intent on dragging Marie away with the circus again, Jacques saves her - on the condition that she will marry him, and never play her devilish fiddle again!

By the end of the book Jacques has Seen the Light (or rather Heard the Birdsong) about music. But still, least romantic relationship ever, especially considering how very insistent the book is that Marie is still a child in her heart: “a child among children” (14); “not a fool, only a child” (63); “the child you wedded whether she would or no, and from whom you are taking the joy of childhood, the light of youth.” (84) Ooookay then.

On the other hand, Maria Thompson Daviess’ 1918 The Golden Bird is rather charming, although clearly suffering the early stages of war fever: Daviess has tucked into her novel an agricultural tract on the importance of growing enough food to feed ourselves and our troops in the upcoming struggle.

Following her feckless father’s loss of his fortune (because he was too distracted by Thucydides to keep track of his investments), Ann moves to her ancestral dwelling in the Harpeth Valley, accompanied by a bevy of chickens that she hopes will lay her a fortune. (The Golden Bird in question is the rooster.)

Ann’s beau Matthew is horrified by this turn into henwifery. Horrified. He attempts to talk her around - “ ‘Now, Ann,’ began Matthew, in the soothing tone of the voice he had seen fail on me many times” (33) - but of course it is all for naught.

Poor Matthew. He is so completely ineffectual at bossing Ann around, he was clearly doomed as a romantic prospect from the start. (Naturally I liked him better than the man Ann does end up with.)

But never fear! The author has a consolation prize for Matthew. As Matthew helps Ann set up her chicken boxes in the barn, “an apple blossom in the shape of a girl drifted into the late afternoon sunlight from the direction of the feed-room.” (35) This apparition with eyes “as shy and blue as violets were before they became a large commercial product,” (35) and she is so enchanting that Ann cannot resist temptation: Ann’s “lips met the rosy ones that were held up to me. I felt sorry for Matthew, and I couldn’t restrain a glance of mischief at him that crossed his that were fixed on the yellow braids.” (36)

Yes. Ann just snogged the apple-blossom to tease Matthew. Like you do!
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I began with The Red Cross Girls in Belgium, which opens with a capsule summary of Eugenia’s courtship with Captain Castaigne, and you guys, its all missed opportunities all the time. Eugenia aids French soldiers in escaping from the Germans and ends up in jail and nearly dies of some kind of disease...and all the time Captain Castaigne is a million miles away and not involved at all! He doesn’t show up at all till it’s all over! WHAT. What a waste of possible hurt/comfort! But for books about nursing these books are notably low on that.

I was also disappointed by Angela Brazil’s Bosom Friends: A Seaside Story, because the title seemed to promise an epic Anne of Green Gablesian friendship, but in fact it’s about a chance friendship that eventually breaks because one of the friends is actually shallow and silly and abandons her supposed bosom buddy as soon as a more fashionable friend shows up at their seaside resort. For what it is, it’s actually rather charming - the description of the beach hut that the group of children build is delightful - but the title is totally false advertising!

On the other hand, I also read Courtney Milan’s The Governess Affair, on [livejournal.com profile] egelantier’s suggestion, and it is exactly as charming and well done as she said. Unfortunately the library doesn’t seem to have the rest of them (so frustrating!), so I probably won’t continue the series.

Finally, I read Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men and a Boat, which I also enjoyed in the end, although it took me a bit to get into the swing of things. Victorian comic writing works quite differently than modern comic writing. It’s not so much a matter of one-liners, but rather the cumulative effect of everything building up together. Like this:

Harris proposed that we should have scrambled eggs for breakfast. He said he would cook them. It seemed, from his account, that he was very good at doing scrambled eggs. He often did them at picnics and when out on yachts. He was quite famous for them. People who had once tasted his scrambled eggs, so we gathered from his conversation, never cared for any other food afterwards, but pined away and died when they could not get them.

What I’m Reading Now

E. L. Voynich’s The Gadfly, again on [livejournal.com profile] egelantier’s recommendation, because how can you go wrong with a book about a young man whose one true love is REVOLUTION? He’s just been arrested. On Good Friday. This book, it is not so much with the subtlety, I love it.

Also, if I ever become an evil dictator, I am going to outlaw arrests on Good Friday and possibly the entirety of Passion Week. Why hand the revolutionaries symbols like that? I mean really. This is Evil Dictatorship 101 here.

What I Plan to Read Next

So many books! So many books to choose from! I have one last Angela Brazil, The Princess of the School; I am growing rather tired of her fondness for saddling her school stories with unnecessary mysteries about mysterious foundlings, lost inheritances, etc. I just want school hijinks, damn it!

Alternatively, perhaps Leave It to Psmith. There are entire walls of Wodehouse in bookstores all across England (seriously. WALLS), so I figured I should give him another go.

And I got a whole stack of books at Persephone Books, which specializes in reprinting beautiful editions of unjustly forgotten British women writers of the twentieth (and occasionally nineteenth) centuries. So basically it’s my dream bookstore and I feel rather wistful that I didn’t think of this brilliant idea first. Then again, no one seems to have done this for American writers yet...
osprey_archer: (books)
I am so excited about all my free Kindle books from the days of yore that I could not restrain myself and made a whole post about them. I did my undergrad thesis project about girls’ books from 1890-1915, and I’ve simply had marvellous luck finding books I like in that time period. Recently I even branched out and read a boys’ book from the time period, William Heyliger’s Don Strong, Patrol Leader, which I all but live-blogged at [livejournal.com profile] sineala as I read it.

IT IS SO EARNEST. SO EARNEST. It is about boy scouts and it shimmers and shines with earnest, upright scoutliness. “The patrol leader, [Don] thought, should be a fellow who was heart and soul in scouting - a fellow who could encourage, and urge, and lend a willing hand; not a fellow who wanted to drive and show authority.” It’s as if Steve Rogers committed mitosis and became an entire boy scout troop.

Except! Except there is one bad scout, Tim, who is always destroying unit cohesion because he yearns to impress his authority on everyone rather than working as part of the team. Obviously it is Don’s duty as patrol leader to help Tim get in touch with his best self, so he can contribute to the troop! Naturally it ends with a treasure hunt in the woods where they beat each other up and then finally begin to work together.

None of Heyliger’s other books are on Kindle for free. I am so sad about this.

But it’s not like I’m going to run out of reading material. I’ve got like fifteen books stocked, and I have particularly high hopes for these three:

1. Rose of Old Harpeth, by Maria Thompson Daviess. I loved her book Phyllis (you have to scroll down past the Lost Prince review to get to Phyllis), and all Daviess' books, evidently, are set in the same imaginary southern town - a precursor to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpa County, except infinitely kinder and gentler and with much more emphasis on female friendship and lovely nature descriptions.

2. Georgina’s Service Stars, by Annie Fellows Johnston. I keep meaning to write something about Johnston’s Little Colonel books - suffice it to say that I am sufficiently invested that my mom and I got into a shipping debate about the Little Colonel’s romantic prospects - so I have high hopes for Johnston’s later Georgina duology. Especially because I am pretty sure that Georgina’s Service Stars is a World War I book, and I am so curious to see how Johnson will handle it.

And by curious, I mean that I hope Georgina has ridiculous adventures being a nurse on the Western Front or something like that. In the Little Colonel books Johnston made a twelve-year-old a captain in the American army in the Philippines during the aftermath of the Spanish-American War, otherwise known as pretty much the worst war for a twelve-year-old to join the American army ever. Mostly he spends the books standing around silently. I think Johnson meant his silence to show how manly and stoic he was, but in fact I’m pretty sure he was just way too traumatized to speak ever again.

(The Little Colonel herself, I feel compelled to add, is not actually colonel of anything. Her nickname comes from the fact that she’s just as stubborn and temperamental as her grandfather, a crotchety Confederate colonel who lost an arm in the Civil War. They make friends when she hurls mud on his suit.)

3. I’ve also acquired a couple of Margaret Vandercook’s Red Cross Girls books, although sadly not the direct sequel to The Red Cross Girls on the French Firing Line, so probably I will still be unable to fulfill my desire to learn about the further adventures of Eugenia and the dashing young French captain Castaigne. Eugenia saved his life when they got stuck behind enemy lines together because of his dire wounds.

This book was like crack, crack for me. The hurt/comfort! The delirium! The scene where Eugenia hides Captain Castaigne under a pile of clothes when showing the German troopers through the house. (Captain Castaigne is kind of shrimpy. This is one of his many charms.)

They get rescued! He reveals that he is in love with her! She is all, “What you really feel is gratitude, you’ll get over it and realize you never really loved me, I totally love you but I will never never say it because I don’t believe you really love me back, because how could you when you are so awesome in every way and I am me?

WILL THESE CRAZY KIDS WORK OUT THEIR FEELINGS? Of course they will, it is that kind of book. BUT I WANT TO SEE IT HAPPEN. I WANT THE GLORIOUS MOMENT WHEN EUGENIA REALIZES CAPTAIN CASTAIGNE’S FEELINGS ARE TRUE.

...Anyway. Vandercook also wrote series about the Camp Fire Girls, the Girl Scouts, and the Ranch Girls, all of which sound like things I need to check out. I can only hope her girl scouts are half as earnest as Heyliger’s boy scouts!
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Elizabeth George Speare’s The Bronze Bow. I loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond so much as a child, why did I fail to read all the rest of Speare’s work? But perhaps it’s as well that I didn’t. The Bronze Bow is about Judaea in the first century AD and therefore unavoidably about Jesus.

Our hero is a young fellow named Daniel, who hates Romans so much (for reasons that are slowly revealed and suitable devastating) that he spits whenever he sees a Roman soldier, and dreams of the day when he can take part in a rebellion to drive the Roman usurpers into the sea. Naturally he is pretty much horrified when he realizes that Jesus is not going to lead an armed rebellion of any kind.

Also naturally - and this is a spoiler, although if you’ve read anything ever I bet you can see it coming from a mile away - In the end )

A fanciful corner of my mind is convinced that Elizabeth George Speare, Elizabeth Marie Pope, and Rosemary Sutcliff have a weekly tea party in the Great Reading Room in the sky, where all good authors go after death. They are all three children’s historical fiction writers with a slight mystical bent who wrote between 1950 and 1980, clearly that is enough to be getting on with! I bet they come up with five amazing book ideas per tea party.

What I’m Reading Now

Louisa May Alcott’s Under the Lilacs. I’ve always thought it was kind of embarrassing that I wrote my senior thesis about nineteenth century literature for American girls without having read Alcott’s entire oeuvre.

What I Plan to Read Next

My bookshelf tells me Eleaner Estes’s Ginger Pye and Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. Yes! The author of the Animorphs and Everworld series (serieses? serii?) won a Newbery medal just this year! Maybe this means we’ll finally get an ending for Everworld...

I’ve always thought it was odd that Applegate, having set up a golden opportunity for the quartet to return permanently to Earth (and thus have a conclusion that actually concluded), proceeded to leave them in Everworld at the end of the last book. Maybe she wanted to leave it open to our imagination that our intrepid young explorers were traipsing around Everworld having adventures?

But frankly, staying in Everworld forever seemed totally unappealing - it was so bloody and dangerous and full of mean hyper-powered beings! So the ending seemed inconclusive and untidy to me.
osprey_archer: (downton abbey)
A few memes ago, [livejournal.com profile] ladyherenya asked me which characters I wanted to save from their narratives, a question that it took me basically forever to answer because I kept getting distracted and writing BASICALLY AN ESSAY about Elsie Dinsmore. So I decided that I should share, because when I read this book for my nineteenth-century girls' literature project it basically exploded my brain.

Martha Finley’s Elsie Dinsmore books are a series about an evangelical Protestant girl, first written in the 1870s. They basically focus on her relationship with her terrible, terrible father, who is simultaneously antagonist and hero, which is screamingly painful.

So Elsie’s mom died soon after Elsie was born, and in his grief Elsie’s father (who incidentally was super young and hot, the book informs us repeatedly) ran away to Europe and didn’t see his daughter till his return when she was eight. Eight-year-old Elsie, as Finley likes to remind us, is “not yet perfect,” because she does terrible things like allowing “her friend to accuse her [Elsie’s] father of cruelty and injustice without offering any remonstrance.”

You know, because he does little things like give her bread and water for lunch, and then, when she’s crying too hard to eat it, force her to choke it down because he thinks she’s refusing to eat out of stubbornness. Not cruel or unjust at all, am I right?

Poor abused Elsie spends the first few books yearning hopelessly for her father’s love, which he keeps withdrawing whenever she disobeys him. In Mr. Dinsmore’s mind, anything less than cheerful and instantaneous submission to his will is disobedience, so even saintly and self-effacing Elsie can’t please him.

And that’s before he asks her to flout her Calvinist convictions. Not, you know, because he doesn’t know about her convictions, but because he thinks that her convictions are ridiclous and wants to break them once and for all. So he gets sick, and he takes the opportunity to be all, "Elsie, I know it's the Sabbath, but you should read me this secular book."

Elsie refuses! Mr. Dinsmore is so vexed by her disobedience that he almost dies. Elsie’s hitherto kindly aunt tells her, “we all know that it is nothing but your misconduct that has caused this relapse.” Go ahead, Aunt Adelaide, twist that knife.

But then! But then! He gets better! NOOOOO. And Mr. Dinsmore is SUPER MAD. His daughter disobeyed him, and clearly the only proper response to this is SHUNNING. He tells her, “Elsie, I expect from my daughter entire, unquestioning obedience, and until you are ready to render it, I shall cease to treat you as my child. I shall banish you from my presence, and my affections.”

Elsie of course feels no anger about that. She tells him, “I know you have a right to do it, papa; I know I belong to you, and you have a right to do as you will with me, and I will try to submit without murmuring, but I cannot help feeling sad.”

(Is this the proper time to comment on the creepy incestuous vibes from their relationship? Lest you think this is my twenty-first century perversity talking, no, the other characters comment on it too: “Really, if a body didn’t know your relationship, he or she might almost imagine you a pair of lovers,” Elsie’s Aunt Enna scoffs.

And in a later book, after Elsie almost got engaged to a vile speculator Elsie’s father is all “DID HE KISS YOU?” Elsie assures her father that he did not, and Elsie’s father reacts thus: “ ‘I am truly thankful for that!’ he exclaimed in a tone of relief; ‘to know that he had – that these sweet lips had been polluted by contact with his – would be worse to me than the loss of half my fortune.’ And lifting her face as he spoke, he pressed his own to them again and again.”

People in the nineteenth century had different standards about physical contact than we do, but I am pretty sure that a father basically making out with his daughter was never okay.)

BUT BACK TO THE SHUNNING. Elsie’s father shuns her for six months. He convinces most of the extended family to shun her too. He takes away her nanny, who is basically her mother figure. Elsie begins to pine away and die. He builds a giant plantation house that they can live in together, if only Elsie will give up on her whole wicked “having a conscience” thing and apologize, and tells her that “all your friends will soon cease to love you, if you continue to show such a willful temper.”

Because apparently Mr. Dinsmore’s main goal in life is to destroy the last ragged shreds of Elsie’s self-esteem. The narrative is forever noting Elsie’s self-loathing with great approval: “I don’t deserve that he should love me or be kind and indulgent, when I am so rebellious,” she tells herself sorrowfully.

(This is, incidentally, the part of the book where Elsie begins to fantasize about dying. “I am afraid it isn’t right, but sometimes I am so sad and weary that I cannot help longing very much to die, and go to be with her [mother] and with Jesus; for they would always love me, and I should never be lonely any more,” she says wistfully.)

But despite her self-hatred, Elsie refuses to apologize! Her father, baffled and infuriated, is all, "If you don't obey me I will send you to a CONVENT SCHOOL." Elsie has been raised on terrible stories about wicked Papists torturing Protestants, and therefore promptly falls into a fatal decline, which so alarms her father that he comes to see her. Elsie, who is delirious, sees him and is like, “IT IS THE INQUISITOR AAAAAAH.”

I cannot disagree with you there, Elsie.

And then Elsie dies! Except not really, because there are going to be twenty-something more books about her. But her father thinks she dies, and is Saved, and then he never asks her to go against her conscience again, and they live together happily ever after despite the fact that he is a terrible, terrible man.

And these books have been recently reprinted. What is this I don’t even WHAT WERE THEY THINKING.
osprey_archer: (books)
As part of my quest to find a fandom beginning with U (still looking for X and Z too, if anyone has thoughts on those), I remembered Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Understood Betsy, a 1910 children’s book I adored as a child.

It occurs to me that almost all the books that my mother read to me - the Little House books, Caddie Woodlawn, Understood Betsy - were some variety of historical. Clearly I was marked from the beginning for an interest in history.

Unfortunately I’m not quite sure what I would write for a fic for Understood Betsy. Betsy Does Something Quaintly New England? Possibly involving cider doughnuts? Mmm. I might have to make cider doughnuts as research.

But fic aside! It’s such an interesting book, quite worth a review: it’s fun both in itself, and in its reflection of its time.

Probably my favorite scene is the one where Betsy starts school at the one-room school house, and the teacher puts third-grade Betsy into seventh-grade reading and second-grade math. Betsy is so confused, because until now she had thought grades were immutable facts and the whole point of school to pass from one to another, and now suddenly she has her first inkling that no, school is about learning.

My memory is too hazy to tell me if this book was also the first time I realized that. But I was enchanted by the idea of being able to just skip a few grades into an appropriately difficult reading class, just like that.

Another great scene: Betsy and her adopted little sister Molly are forgotten at the county fair, and ten-year-old Betsy - just turned ten that day - has to think fast how to earn enough money to get them the fare to take the train home.

One of the main themes of the book, actually, it’s Betsy learning how to take care of herself. At the beginning of the book she lives with her Aunt Frances, who is extremely overprotective (but nonetheless quite sympathetically portrayed: Fisher has a talent for showing different sides of characters).

But then Aunt Frances takes ill, and Betsy has to move out to the Putney farm, in New England - the dreaded Putneys! - who make children do chores! The Putneys pretty much assume that Betsy, who has never been expected to do anything, is capable of doing everything, and Betsy discovers that she is - that, in cases like the fair, she can even go beyond their expectations.

The author, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, was active in both the Montessori and the child study movements. I suspect she saw the early version of the helicopter parent (dirigible parent?), because child study particularly allowed middle- and upper-class white women (this was when middle-class was still a pretty specific class description in the US, not a catch-all category including everyone who doesn’t live in a shack in the Appalachians), many of whom were college-educated, to basically make a career out of their own children.

Despite her sympathy for Aunt Frances, who is trying her best according to the latest research - Fisher notes that she read stacks of child-rearing books when Betsy landed at her doorstep - you can sense Fisher’s exasperation with this sort of hand-holding. None of that when Betsy is about to start school at the Putneys! They basically say, “Off to school! It’s thataway!”

No, seriously. Betsy has no idea where the school is beyond “thataway”; she almost walks right past it. Such independence they reposed in her: such trust! I found that exhilarating when I was a child.

I suspect it is no longer considered good child-rearing practice to be quite that cavalier, though.
osprey_archer: (books)
Yesterday, after I completed my list of favorite child characters, I realized that all the characters I’d listed were girls. It’s not that I avoided male protagonists as a child - I read pretty much everything - but clearly I imprinted on the girls.

Every so often I’ll stumble on someone bemoaning the fact that there’s nothing for girls to read that has good role models, and, okay, have you looked at children’s literature recently? And by recently I mean “within the last two decades.” Because for most of my childhood I did nothing but read and I never had a problem finding books with heroines I enjoyed.

If you’re looking specifically for books about Girls Who Fight, then yes, the pickings are rather slim. There’s all of Tamora Pierce’s books. And Crown Duel. And The Hunger Games and Graceling and, oh, the Narnia books, and the Fearless series which is admittedly a bit out of date, and the Gallagher Girls series - they spy, I’m assuming they fight? - and the Samurai Girl books and, oh wait, I lied, there are PILES of books about girls who can probably beat you into the floor.

Which is great! But frankly, if Girl with Sword is the only kind of character who falls under your “good role model” rubric, then you - and I say this as someone who loves Girls Who Kick Ass books! - are doing this wrong.

There’s a huge selection of awesome girl characters, and moreover, there has been basically since Jo March in Little Women proved that awesomeness sold. Early twentieth century fiction teems with amazing heroines! I am an expert in the field. Brave girls (with swords and without!), smart girls, funny girls, artsy girls, imaginative dreamy shy girls, and any one of these characters can be a good role model.

Which is not to say that girls’ fiction is totally perfect in every way and we ought to stop fretting about it; but we should fret about things that are actually problems. Sheer quantity is not an issue in Anglophone fiction and hasn’t been for over a century.

Old Books

Aug. 9th, 2012 01:33 am
osprey_archer: (books)
I’ve been reading stacks of old books recently, because when they’re off-copyright I can get them for FREEEEEEEEEEEEEE on my Kindle. You would think I would get used to the part where I get them for FREEEEEEEEEEE, but so far it still makes me do a little happy dance.

I found Phyllis through [livejournal.com profile] freelancerrh’s series of posts about 100 Books by Women, Courtesy of Gutenberg.org, which is a great resource if you’re looking for recommendations for off-copyright books to read. Her reviews are excellent: thoughtful and comprehensive, capturing the feel of the book.

The Lost Prince, by Frances Hodgson Burnett )

Phyllis, by Maria Thompson Daviess )
osprey_archer: (books)
I got a Kindle for my birthday! Which means I finally get to read the last two Molly Brown books!

I've written about the Molly Brown stories before: they were written in the 1910s and feature the exciting adventures of Molly Brown and her multitudinous college friends, of whom my favorite is Judy Keane, a dashing young artist whose "greatest fear was to appear commonplace." And the book I'm reading now, Molly Brown of Kentucky, is all about Judy and her awesome World War I adventures!

Judy is in Giverny, studying art in the company of a short-haired female painter Jo Bill and her long-haired cubist husband Polly Perkins. (I wrote about these books in my honors project and it killed me that there wasn't more space to talk about Jo and Polly.) But then! World War I breaks out! Polly enlists! Jo decides to disguise herself as a man and become a pilot!

I was hoping Judy would also disguise herself and become a pilot, but alas after brief consideration of the prospect she decides against it. She figures that her family is in enough trouble at the moment, as her mother and father are stuck in Berlin because her father was designing a road in Turkey. (Naturally, designing a road in Turkey meant he needed to be in Germany.) The Prussian authorities are concerned that he might know military secrets so he can't leave Berlin.

I WANT JUDY TO SMUGGLE OUT MILITARY SECRETS SO BAD, YOU GUYS. And she might! At the moment, she's in Paris, where she befriended a French family that runs a delicatessen. Judy has become a sort of delicatessen apprentice, the way you do in wartime.

Meanwhile, Judy's paramour Kent is stuck in Kentucky, fretting about her endlessly. "Judy always lands on her feet, like a cat," his sister Molly points out soothingly. But Kent decides that he must sail for France. He will rescue Judy from the Hun! Except! His ship sinks! Taking most of the passengers with it, except for two who are taken prisoner on a German U-boat! Exclamation points times a thousand!

I'm not even sure being taken prisoner on a U-boat makes sense - what, did the U-boat surface just to pick them up? - but OH WELL, who cares about plausibility when there's high drama to be had!

MAYBE WHILE JUDY IS SMUGGLING MILITARY SECRETS OUT OF BERLIN SHE WILL RESCUE KENT.
osprey_archer: (books)
I just read an awesomely awesome ridiculous book from 1916. It's called The Red Cross Girls on the French Firing Line and is about the adventures of four young women who go to France to be Red Cross nurses, although there's much more sightseeing in Paris, touring the rear trenches (where the soldiers have somehow managed to grow a garden!), and living in an awesome little house on the grounds of a tumbledown chateau than actual nursing.

And naturally there are ridiculous, ridiculous romances. My personal favorite was between the stern Bostonian Eugenia (things I've learned from early twentieth century fiction: do not name your daughter Eugenia. It never helps) and the dashing young French captain Castaigne.

The first time they meet Captain Castaigne thinks Eugenia is the most disagreeable girl he ever met, which naturally means he will be madly in love with her ere long.

The second time they meet, it's on a dark road at night and Captain Castaigne thinks Eugenia is a deserter or possibly a German spy and sends his trusty hound to knock her over so he can interrogate her.

The third time they meet, Eugenia has just been knocked on the head with a bit of shrapnel which knocks her unconscious for five hours or so but otherwise evidences no ill effects, only to wake up to find Captain Castaigne's trusty hound pacing anxiously around. He fetches - drumroll! - the grievously injured Captain Castaigne!

And they are STUCK BEHIND ENEMY LINES!!!

So Eugenia takes him back to the little house on the grounds of the chateau (to which chateau, incidentally, Captain Castaigne is heir, although he never mentions it because he stands firmly behind republican France and therefore is a suitable spouse for a strictly raised Bostonian girl), where she nurses him back to health until the Germans retreat and Captain Castaigne's mother, who is the current owner of the chateau and possessed of awesome dignity, takes charge of his care.

And then Eugenia and Captain Castaigne meet a fourth time, by a pool that one of Eugenia's companions has named The Pool of Melisande, and he confesses his love and Eugenia is all "It's just GRATITUDE you're feeling, you'll forget about me in six months because you are WAY out of my league of attraction."

"Never!" cries Captain Castaigne.

And thus the book ends. And I CAN'T FIND THE SEQUEL ONLINE ANYWHERE WOE.
osprey_archer: (musing)
Since last June I’ve been meaning to write some mini-reviews of books I used for my honors project ("The New Girl: Reconciling Femininity and Independence in American Girls' Fiction, 1895-1915"). But better late than never!

1. Shirley Marchalonis’s College Girls: A Century in Fiction, which is about fiction written about women’s colleges between the 1870s and 1940s or so and must have been the most fun EVER to research. I actually ended up reading two of the series she mentioned. The Betty Wales books were clear winners in terms of quality, but the Molly Brown books blew them out of the water for sheer cracktasticness.

Aside from Molly, a red-headed Kentucky belle with a talent for poetry and occasional bursts of telepathy, they feature:
  • A Japanese exchange student (in 1914! This may be surprising but it’s historically plausible; the first female Japanese exchange student attended college in the US, at I believe Bryn Mawr, in the 1870s)
  • A famous suffragette’s daughter
  • A mean rich girl who is eventually saved by the love of a good woman (I am so not making that up)
  • A Florentine kleptomaniac classmate who works silver. (Kleptomania was apparently the hot new mental disorder. The Betty Wales books, generally much soberer than the Molly Brown, also contain one.)
  • An Appalachian mountain girl who is attending college because all her male relations were killed in a mountain feud
  • A female painter named Jo, who lives in Paris and wears Turkish trousers
  • And Jo’s buddy/boyfriend/whatever, Polly, a long-haired Cubist painter.
And this is just the tip of the iceberg. I could write a whole paper purely on the Molly Brown books and their epic weirdnesses.

2. My favorite favorite FAVORITE book from my project is Christine Stansell’s American Moderns: Bohemian New York and the Creation of a New Century, which I loved so much that I’m applying to U Chicago purely because she works there.

The research is exhaustive and broad-ranging, and the subjects encompassed – bohemians! Emma Goldman! modern art! the invention of heterosexuality as we know it! – are fascinating But more than anything, the writing is phenomenal: clear but nuanced, possessed of the narrative drive of a good novel, but never taking liberties with history. If I wrote a book like this I could die happy.

Damn, I miss being a student.

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