Archive for February, 2011

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A letter from Mary Johnston

February 24, 2011

I know I keep spamming you guys with…things that aren’t book reviews, but I just keep coming across all this nifty stuff.

From Wheeler, Marjorie Spruill. “Mary Johnston, Suffragist.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. 100.1 (1992): 99-118.

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Random fun from The Bookman

February 24, 2011

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On the popularity of historical fiction circa 1900

February 23, 2011

“In progressive discourse, faith in impersonal, agentless, evolutionary progress led, as Lears argues, to bourgeois enervation. And yet, restoring the bourgeois subject’s potency meant eliminating progress and thereby rendering the bourgeois subject’s raison d’être null and void. The historical novel of the Progressive era attempts to resolve this deeply felt contradiction by retreating from and advancing into the past at the same time. The popularity of the historical romance in this period can be explained with reference to the painful contradiction that these novels solve, at least for the moment, through the act of reading them.”

Gripp, Paul. “When Knighthood Was Progressive: Progressive Historicism and the Historical Novel.” The Journal of Narrative Technique 27.3 (1997): 297-328.

I’m not sure how much of that I buy, and I’m getting increasingly annoyed by Gripp’s ssues with sentence structure, but I thought the quote was interesting, and worth sharing.

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When Knighthood Was in Flower

February 22, 2011

When Knighthood Was in Flower, by Charles Major, was the #9 bestselling book of 1900. On one hand that was a relief, because it would have been horrifying to find that it sold better than To Have and To Hold or Janice Meredith, both of which were, you know, good. On the other hand, it’s worrying to think that this book was a bestseller at all, since it’s kind of terrible. Actually, I can’t think of anything I liked about it. Or, I don’t know, the title is okay, I guess. If by “knighthood” you mean “being fickle and selfish.” And there’s one sort of entertaining bit in which Charles Brandon imagines going to New Spain and pining for Mary Tudor: “I shall find the bearing of Paris, and look in her direction until my brain melts in my effort to see her, and then I shall wander in the woods, a suffering imbecile, feeding on roots and nuts.” I don’t know what kind of success he’d have with the roots and nuts, but believe me, he’s got the suffering imbecile part down. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Reviews at EP: The Man in Lower Ten

February 19, 2011

February’s Edwardian Promenade guest post is on Mary Roberts Rinehart’s first mystery novel, The Man in Lower Ten. This is partly because I reread it when I was on that train murder kick earlier this month, and partly because I was just reading a (nonfiction) book in which Rinehart was continually being compared to Mary Higgins Clark, which seemed somewhat unfair.

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The Way of an Eagle

February 7, 2011

I’d been putting off reading Ethel M. Dell’s The Way of an Eagle since early 2006. Partly because it sounded kind of dull, I guess. Partly because I was worried that it would be full of rape fantasies like E.M. Hull’s The Sheik. And, sure, it’s not feminist literature or anything, but I found it charming, in a disturbing kind of way, and I’m sorry I put it off for so long. Yes, there’s a helpless, slightly dithery young woman, but she’s only helpless and dithery in fairly trying situations. Other times, she likes to play hockey. And yes, the hero is powerful and commanding and all that, but he also looks like a monkey and is slightly insane (Dell repeatedly describes him as looking like a monkey. The insanity I figured out on my own.) Also, the heroine is scared of the hero, which is not as sexy as many romance writers seem to think. But when you factor in Nick Ratcliffe’s slight case of insanity, it seems perfectly reasonable. Apparently there’s a new trend in treating Alzheimer’s where the doctors just let the patients do whatever weird thing they want to do, and that calms them down. This book is a little bit like that. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Stranded in Arcady

February 1, 2011

I really owe Dorian for recommending Francis Lynde’s Stranded in Arcady. It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve had the pleasure of reading in ages.

Donald Prime is a writer from New York, Lucetta Millington a teacher in an Ohio boarding school. They become acquainted when they wake up one day on the shore of a Canadian lake. Neither of them has any idea how they got there, but there’s a pile of provisions and signs that an airplane has landed nearby, and from these Prime deduces that his friend Watson Grider is playing an extremely elaborate practical joke. I say ‘deduces,’ but you shouldn’t draw any conclusions from that, or from anything Prime thinks. As far as I could tell, he’s not particularly good at anything, even his chosen profession. Grider certainly doesn’t think so — Prime’s main reason for suspecting him is that Grider once said that if Prime were stranded on a desert island with a woman for a while, perhaps his female characters wouldn’t be so one-dimensional. Presumably having to depend on Lucetta’s superior skill in just about everything is meant to cure that problem, but he manages to be pretty condescending to the “little woman” even after she’s saved his life and proved to be a lot more resilient and level-headed than he is. Read the rest of this entry ?