Archive for July, 2011


The Tale of Triona

July 29, 2011

So, there’s this girl named Olivia Gale. Her mother married beneath her, her father and two older brothers died in World War I, and now her mother’s died too, so Olivia lets the house to Blaise Olifant, a scientist who lost an arm in the war and wants a quiet place to work, and moves to London. There she meets up with her old friend Lydia, who owns a fashionable millinery. Lydia introduces Olivia to her glamorous friends, and for a while Olivia has fun running around with them and dancing all night and doing whatever else idle young people with disposable incomes do in the aftermath of World War I. But Olivia is our heroine, so she eventually gets fed up with being shallow, and it’s around that time that Olifant comes to London for a visit and introduces her to his friend Alexis Triona. Read the rest of this entry ?


Now, Voyager

July 29, 2011

I’ve read it now. It’s lovely. Why do people use “women’s fiction” as a derogatory term?

I was lucky enough not to remember the movie very well when I read the book, so I came to it with only a vague idea of the plot. Not that the movie isn’t good — I went and found it streaming online as soon as I’d finished the book–but the book is better, as books often are.

Now, Voyager is the story of Charlotte Vale — a dumpy, unattractive, unhappy spinster under the thumb of a wealthy and autocratic mother — and her transformation into a well-liked and attractive woman who has a lot to offer, and knows it. First an extremely intelligent psychiatrist shows her how to change, and then a cruise ticket unwanted by its owner gives her the opportunity to do it. Add a weight-reducing illness and her sister-in-law’s cast-off (but still fashionable) wardrobe, and Charlotte has as much of a clean slate as one could realistically expect. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Contrast, and other stories

July 17, 2011

The Contrast is the first book of Elinor Glyn’s short stories I’ve read, and it’s a pretty mixed bag. There are five stories in all; “Fragments” is the shortest and “The Point of View” by far the longest.

In no particular order, except that I saved the best for last (and by best I mean worst): Read the rest of this entry ?


American Cloth

July 16, 2011

A thing I neglected to add to the end of my post on The Silver Dress:

I found myself wondering, as I read The Silver Dress, what “American cloth” might be. And apparently I wasn’t the only one, as you can see from this 1913 inquiry in The New York Times. But these days, we have the internet, so I was able to find an answer here, from an 1892 Complete Dictionary of Dry Goods.


The Silver Dress

July 15, 2011

The Silver Dress felt like it was a very different book when it ended than when it started, but both were books I like, so I don’t really feel like complaining.

I’m tempted to compare the first part of the book to Cinderella, or the Ugly Duckling, but Eve Martindale isn’t really either. She’s wealthy, attractive, and well-bred, and she lives with a much-loved elderly aunt. She’s thirty-five and unmarried, and she doesn’t know any men socially, but she hasn’t got a problem with that. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Career of Katherine Bush

July 13, 2011

As if I needed another reason to think Elinor Glyn was awesome.

As usual, Glyn writes about the moneyed British upper class. Less usually, her heroine is a stranger to it. Katherine Bush is one of six children in a middle class family. Her father was an auctioneer, her mother’s father was a butcher, and her siblings are kind of embarrassingly unrefined, but Katherine is smart and driven, and she’s determined to raise herself to a better position.

We know she’s going to manage it, because Elinor Glyn wouldn’t have written the kind of book where she doesn’t, and it’s not like this is a totally unfamiliar plot, but The Career of Katherine Bush manages to be pretty exciting. It’s got that trademark Glyn combination: the gooiest possible romance mixed with total ruthlessness. And a bit more politics than you wanted. Read the rest of this entry ?


Dr. Ellen

July 11, 2011

I really don’t know what to say about Dr. Ellen. Except this: if you read Pleasures and Palaces, also by Juliet Wilbor Tompkins, you will not find it to be anything like that.

Structurally, Dr. Ellen is centered around three women: there’s Ellen Roderick, who lost a husband and a child in quick succession, used her period of mourning to study to become a doctor, and then moved into a mountain cabin and set up as a physician for the locals. Then there’s her younger sister, Ruth Chantry, who lives with Ellen, but doesn’t share her ideals or sense of purpose. Ruth is young and vibrant and wants to be around people all the time, and she’s increasingly resentful  about the way Ellen keeps her in isolation. The third woman is Ruth’s friend Christine O’Hara, shallow, easygoing, and flirtatious, who provides Ruth with a brief respite from her exile when she invites her for a visit.

It’s on that visit that Ruth and Philip Amsden meet. Philip is in his thirties, and architect, and not so much stuck-up as aloof. Also, he’s the person the book is about, really. He’s captivated by Ruth’s enthusiasm, and her naive enjoyment of everything, and lets himself be drawn into the various activities Christine has scheduled for Ruth’s amusement. Read the rest of this entry ?


The Dull Miss Archinard

July 10, 2011

So, there’s this really wonderful book that I found at the New York Public Library a few weeks ago. I mean, I don’t even know how to describe how special it is.

The Dull Miss Archinard is not that book. But I probably never would have come accross it on my own.

The book is called Toward a feminist tradition: an annotated bibliography of novels in English by women, 1891-1920, by Diva Daims and Janet Grimes, and it is a list of books by women that have a bit of a feminist bent (or an older-than-average heroine, or a heroine with a career), with blurbs compiled from contemporary reviews. It is the reading list of my dreams. I mean, aside from all the descriptions of books about how having children out of wedlock will inevitably lead to everyone involved dying the most miserable deaths possible, whether for moral reasons or because of the state of society, depending on the political inclinations of the author. But the books that delight in wretchedness seem to be counteracted by books about women founding salons, or farming coconuts. It’s pretty great. Read the rest of this entry ?


Reviews at EP: The Clue

July 10, 2011

Several weeks ago, I followed up my reread of Vicky Van with my first ever reading of The Clue, Carolyn Wells’ first mystery novel. It’s possible that it’s also her best mystery novel, although I also kind of think it’s her worst ever use of Fleming Stone.


Unrelatedly, I’m so fond of recieving recommendations from readers that I’ve put up a page specifically for that purpose. You can find it here or in the sidebar.


The Fifth Wheel

July 8, 2011

Hello, all. Since I last posted, I’ve moved and started a new job. Things have been, as you might expect, a bit crazy, and I don’t really know what my posting schedule is going to look like going forward. But I’ve got several posts in the pipeline, a pretty exciting TBR list, and I’ve bought a few really entertaining-looking books. And I’m almost as enthusiastic about Olive Higgins Prouty as I was at the beginning of June.

One of the things I liked about Bobbie, General Manager was that each of the Vars siblings had their own divergent  paths. They were recognizably a family, but they were also recognizably individuals. The bits of their stories that we saw tended to underline how much of what went on with Bobbie/Lucy passed under everyone else’s radar, which implied that the opposite was happening as well.

That’s confirmed in The Fifth Wheel. Of all the non-Lucy siblings, we got the most of Ruth’s story, and Bobbie ended with her engagement to Lucy’s professor friend, Bob Jennings. The Fifth Wheel shows us how little of Ruth’s story that actually was. And, perhaps, just how much of a misfit a seemingly well-adjusted person can be. Read the rest of this entry ?