My October guest post is up at Edwardian Promenade: The Lightning Conductor, by everyone’s favorite husband-and-wife novel-writing team, A.M. and C.N. Williamson.
Archive for the ‘Vintage Fiction’ Category
From The Bookman.
It occurred to me this morning that probably a lot of you haven’t read Trilby. This, it seems to me, is a problem, and should be rectified. Trilby was published in 1894, but set in the 1840′s or ’50s, and it was massively popular — Wikipedia says Dracula was more popular, but I don’t think Dracula inspired hats, and I’m quite sure it didn’t inspire foot-shaped ice cream.
It’s hard to explain what makes Trilby so special, but it undoubtedly is. Part of it is probably George Du Maurier’s illustrations — he was a staff member at Punch before he was a novelist, and the characters in Trilby are as much visual creations as literary ones. The book is also full of songs and bits of poetry, so it’s sort of a multimedia experience in a way that’s only beginning to be discussed again now with the advent of ebooks. Actually, some kind of enhanced ebook version of Trilby would probably work really well.
Anyway. Read the rest of this entry ?
Well, I’ve found something I like, and it is terrible.
I suspect Miss Million’s Maid is the kind of book written for servant girls and such, although my only reason for thinking that is that the writing feels sort of cheap somehow. And then, Berta Ruck’s portrayal of the actual servant girl character isn’t terribly flattering. But hey, I have no idea what I’m talking about, so whatever.
Beatrice Lovelace and her Aunt Anastasia are the descendants of a ridiculously aristocratic family, but they have no money. And Aunt Anastasia is the snobbiest of snobs, so, because they can’t afford to associate with their own class, she won’t allow Beatrice to associate with anyone at all. The only people Beatrice speaks to are the maid, Million, and the attractive man who lives next door, who Aunt Anastasia insists must be a bounder and a cad, mainly because he lives in their neighborhood. Beatrice really wants someone to die and leave her a lot of money, but when someone in the house does inherit a fortune, it’s Nellie Million.
Million — Beatrice keeps forgetting to add “Miss” a the beginning — has no idea what to do with her money, so Beatrice becomes her lady’s maid, to the horror of Aunt Anastasia. She helps Million buy the right clothes. move to the right hotel, etc., but she can’t stop her from quickly falling in with a bad crowd — vulgar comedienne Vi Vassity, impoverished Irish younger son James Burke, a Jew (horrors!) and various other inappropriate people.
The Honorable James Burke, in particular, is very obviously a fortune hunter, although his personal inclination is more towards Beatrice than her employer. Beatrice, though, has another suitor to worry about — Reginald Brace, her boy next door, turns out to be the manager of the bank where Miss Million has opened an account. He quickly loses the sense of humor I thought he had and develops a passionate desire to take Beatrice away from her offensive surroundings.
Additional complications arrive in the form of a jewel robbery — Miss Million and Beatrice are the main suspects for fairly inadequate reasons — and Miss Million’s American cousin Hiram Jessup — he has come to England either to marry Miss Million, or, if that doesn’t work, to attempt to legally deprive her of her fortune. Meanwhile, Miss Million has fallen in love with Jim Burke, who continues to flirt with Beatrice whenever possible. It’s hard to blame her, though — Miss Million, I mean — because it’s very difficult not to like Jim Burke.
It’s a fun read, although the writing seemed lazy at times, and I still don’t understand why a Cockney girl brought up in an orphanage is so much more naive than a girl who has been reared in near-seclusion by a spinster aunt. I have other quibbles, too, but none of them really got in the way of my enjoyment of the book. It’s fluffy and silly, and one of those books that pretend to be enlightened about class issues but aren’t at all, and everyone ends up pretty happy, except for a rejected suitor and some people standing inconveniently in the way of a title.
I’m pretty sure Miss Million’s Maid has no literary merit whatsoever, but that’s no reason not to read it.
This was supposed to be a post on Seven Keys to Baldpate, but Seven Keys to Baldpate started out as possibly the best thing ever, and ended up being kind of disappointing, and I can’t think of anything else to say about it. A brief synopsis: first it was a kind of metacommentary on storytelling. Then it was not.
Other books that I don’t, at the moment, have a whole lot to say about: Read the rest of this entry ?
So, you can thank Earl Derr Biggers for my meditations on racism yesterday. Reading up on Charlie Chan before I started The House Without a Key, I found an incredibly wide range of opinions on whether or not the depiction of Chan was racist, from “of course it isn’t; he’s a good guy,” to “the broken English and the servility are both kind of massively offensive.” So of course I read the book with the intention of forming my own opinion. And I did. I formed two, actually. One is that any depiction of a Chinese-American as a main character and a good person in the mid-1920s is a really good thing. The other is that consistently having the point-of-view characters be shocked and skeptical that a Chinese man could be a detective is kind of upsetting — and kept interrupting the flow of the story for me. Also I have issues with the way Biggers has the central character duplicate all of Chan’s work.
That said, I’m really enjoying Biggers’ books. I like his plots. I like his atmosphere. I like his characters, even when they think thoughts along the lines of “I seem to be involved with three different women. Huh.” Read the rest of this entry ?
It’s really hot in London, and Geoffrey West is coping by going to the Carlton for breakfast every morning, partly because it’s a bit cooler there, and partly because it’s the only place where you can still get strawberries. The American girl who comes in with her father one morning has the bad taste to prefer grapefruit to strawberries, but she shares West’s fondness for the Personal Notices section of the Daily Mail, AKA the agony column. People use it to discreetly send messages, whether they be love letters, “fly at one; all is discovered,” or cryptic remarks about fish. And so it seems perfectly reasonable, if a little unconventional, for West to use it to communicate with the girl, with whom he has fallen in love at first sight. Read the rest of this entry ?
Note: I’m not trying to criticize authors for views that were widely accepted at the time in which they were writing. Or, at least, not much. Mostly I’m trying to take a semi-critical view of my feelings on the subject.
I think I’ve talked about this here before, but I’m still not sure how to deal with racism and xenophobia when they show up in the books I talk about here. And they show up a lot.
Every time all the black characters are stupid, or the author talks about the whites of their eyes a lot, or Chinese people are conniving opium addicts, or the entire Italian population of New York lives for the opportunity to steal a white man’s job, it’s offensive. It’s never not going to be offensive. And if I’m already not really liking a book, an instance of blatant xenophobia will probably make me stop reading it.
But what about the books that have a lot going for them until the narrator takes a trip through his local Chinatown and shudders with disgust at the population?
You can’t judge an author writing in 1900 for their racism the same way you could if they were writing now. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they get a free pass, either. Read the rest of this entry ?
Sometimes I read a book and know exactly what I want to say about it, and writing about it is easy and fun. Other times, it’s a struggle. I don’t know what I think of the book, and I write about five half-posts before I come up with something that says about half of what I wanted to say.
I think David Blaize falls into the latter group. So, things:
- I think the real problem here is the structure. There’s pretty much no plot. In the first half of the book, David goes to a school called Helmsworth. In the second half he goes to a school called Marchester. He has some friends. He gets into trouble a couple of times. He plays some cricket. At the end, he gets horribly injured, and the whole chapter feels like it ought to be in a different book. It’s like E.F. Benson just wrote whatever he wanted about his main character, without really bothering to make sure all the parts were related in any significant way. And somehow there’s almost no narrative tension to be found anywhere. Read the rest of this entry ?
I doubt anyone has been reading this blog for that long, but if you’ve poked around in the archives, you may remember Charlotte M. Brame and her less than aptly titled Everyday Life series. I really will finish reading it some day, and I am now one book closer to that goal.
The Tragedy of the Chain Pier is actually a little less ridiculously removed from everyday life than The Coquette’s Victim and Coralie. There’s only one wealthy young aristocrat and one unexpected succession to an estate, and both are fairly peripheral. Read the rest of this entry ?
Happy Captain Blood Day! This, as you may remember, is my fairly arbitrarily designated Rafael Sabatini-centric holiday.
I’m not doing anything special to celebrate — although if you want to discuss how awesome Peter Blood is in the comments section I would be happy to join you — but I do want to set something up for next year. Namely this:
Let’s have a contest. Anyone who wishes to enter can write a piece on Captain Blood — a review, the story of how you first read it, whatever — and email it to me anytime within the next year. On September 19th 2011, they will be posted, and one will win a prize. I’ve only just thought of this, so I’m still working out the details, but I can promise that the prize will be worth having.
I want this to be super low pressure. You don’t have to write an essay. I don’t care whether I get a book review, a memoir, or a haiku. Have fun. My email address is in the sidebar.
My guest post at Edwardian Promenade this month is on Edna Ferber’s first novel, Dawn O’Hara, the Girl Who Laughed.
Elinor Glyn published Three Weeks in 1907. Anonymous published High Noon in 1911. Anonymous — the same Anonymous, I’ve just found — published One Day in 1909. So, yeah, I went and read them in the wrong order. I’m not sorry, though; awful as High Noon was, I’m glad it wasn’t tainted for me by the total horror that is One Day.
What do I even say about One Day? Everything I can think of entails a level of profanity you don’t normally see on this blog. Read the rest of this entry ?