Posts Tagged ‘1860s’


Darkness and Daylight

March 31, 2011

It’s Mary Jane Holmes time again, and if you like her, you’ll like this. Darkness and Daylight has a special claim on my affections, because it features a Secret Insane Wife, and obviously that is my favorite, favorite thing. But this is a book for connoisseurs of fictional coincidence as well as connoisseurs of fictional insane wives, and I like to think that I’m both. I mean, I suppose it’s not too strange that the Massachusetts estate Grace Atherton inherits from her elderly husband is next door to the childhood home of Richard Harrington, the man she jilted when she was a teenager in England. Or that Harrington reencounters the little Swedish girl he saved from drowning in Germany that one time. Or that Arthur St. Claire falls in love with his wife’s long-lost half-sister who is supposed to be dead, although that’s pushing it a little. But that all three should be true in one book? Or that the Swedish girl (Eloise Temple) and the long-lost sister (Marguerite Bernard) are one and the same, and that Grace Atherton adopts her from an orphanage in New York under the name of Edith Hastings? That’s almost more than I can deal with. Although, to be fair, “almost more than I can deal with” is Mrs. Holmes’ specialty. Read the rest of this entry ?


Under Two Flags

February 17, 2009

Under Two Flags, by Ouida, is the mother of all books about running off to join the foreign legion, although technically when Bertie Cecil leaves England for Algeria, he joins the Chasseurs d’Afrique, a cavalry regiment.

Bertie is an officer in the Life Guards, which seems to mean that he gets to hang out with other aristocrats a lot and never has to fight, unless some jealous husband challenges him to a duel. Bertie is languid and elegant and perfectly suited to this lifestyle, but his family, although excessively aristocratic, is not well-off, and Bertie is the second of three sons. The elder brother is the heir to Royallieu, the family estate, and the younger, Berkeley, is their father’s favorite. Berkeley has a gambling problem, and, what’s worse, a weak mouth or chin or something, which is how novelists indicate that someone is going to turn out to be evil in books like this. Yes, it’s another inexplicably evil younger brother.

Bertie manages to float along on absolutely no money at all for a while, winning horse races, hanging out with his friend the Seraph, and and coming up with sneaky ways to spend time with his mistress, Lady Guenevere.Meanwhile, Berkeley is getting ever deeper into debt, and he somehow thinks it’s a good idea to try to borrow money from Bertie at the same time as he whines about how Bertie is even more extravagant and deeper in debt that he is. He also — horror of horrors — asks Bertie to borrow money from Seraph for him, because he has no inborn sense of honor. Whatever. Bertie might be better off if he had less of an inborn sense of honor. Read the rest of this entry ?


A Romance of the Republic

March 7, 2008

I recently finished a book by Lydia Maria Child called A Romance of the Republic. Child was a well-known children’s author before the Civil War, but she made herself unpopular by openly espousing abolitionist views. She wrote this novel after the war, but according to the professor who recommended that I read it, it didn’t go over very well.

I wrote a summary of it, but it’s ridiculously long, so I’m going to talk about it a little here and provide a link to the longer summary at the end.

This book is about octoroons. An octoroon was the technical term for the child of a white person and a quadroon. A quadroon was the offspring of a white person and a mulatto. And so on. In other words, the two protagonists are one eighth black, but the word ‘octoroon’ is far more fun. Say it out loud. Doesn’t it kind of sound like ‘nectarine’?

I think octoroons must’ve been used to criticize slavery often. One of the characters, a Mr. Bright, says that he was converted to abolitionism by seeing an advertisement about an escaped slave who was described as having sandy hair, blue eyes, and a ruddy complexion. You get the idea.

The two octoroons of this novel are young women, not sandy-hired and blue-eyed, but Italian-looking, and very beautiful. Their names are Rosabella and Floracita, and they’ve been brought up not knowing that their mother was a slave. Their father’s death, and the plans of his creditors to sell the girls in order to pay his debts, sends them off on a series of adventures, which end up separating them for over twenty years.

It’s a typical, melodramatic sentimental novel: there’s a false marriage with a man named Gerald Fitzgerald, babies switched at birth, hints of incest, estranged relatives, narrow escapes, and lots of instances where the two sisters just miss being reunited — pretty much everything one could possibly want. Rosa even has a short but successful career as an opera singer. And there end up being three Gerald Fitzgeralds.

So. Which is more fun to say? ‘Octoroon’ or ‘Gerald Fitzgerald’?

Full summary and family tree here.


Elsie Dinsmore and Holidays at Roselands

January 31, 2008

Okay, I should really be working on this week’s assignment for my thesis class, but first I need to talk a little about Elsie Dinsmore.

It should come as a surprise to no one that I’m writing my thesis on old children’s books — girls’ series, mostly from the early 20th century — and this week I’ve been reading the first couple of Elsie Dinsmore books. The Elsie books were written my Martha Finley and ran from 1867 to 1905. There are 28 books, but Elsie is a grandmother by book eight. Actually a grandmother, as opposed to behaving like a grandmother, which she does right from the beginning.
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Alger-related ramblings

May 23, 2007

I major in history at school, and I really like it. I don’t think I’d want to be an English major, and yet when I find myself trying to come up with topics for my thesis, all I can think about are books.

That’s why I spent my shower this morning thinking about an imaginary paper that I would barely need to do any additional research for about money and capitalism in Horatio Alger.

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