Posts Tagged ‘england’

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The Seven Conundrums

August 19, 2019

I’ve been reading a lot of E. Phillips Oppenheim lately. This is a thing that happens to me sometimes. It’s kind of like getting a cold.

I’m afraid of running out of Oppenheim short stories at some point, so I’ve mostly been reading ones I’ve already read. One of those is The Seven Conundrums, a series of seven stories–and an intro–about three young entertainers working for a mysterious epicure. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Philippa

January 18, 2019

I’m always so impressed by Mrs. Molesworth. Not so much by her fantasy-tinged stuff for younger readers — the same grounded-ness that makes her other books so good drags her down there. But her more realistic books — mostly the ones for older girls — are so smart in such a light-handed, careful way, and even when I think I’m expecting it, I’m always a little surprised. They’re didactic — they’re very straightforwardly about learning to exist as a woman in the world — but not in the pejorative sense. They feel like very kind and human instruction manuals. And I have a lot of affection for instruction manuals. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Violet Vereker’s Vanity

February 9, 2018

Hey, so: Violet Vereker’s Vanity, by Annie Emma Challice. I liked it a lot. And I think probably Annie Emma Challice was before her marriage the Annie Emma Armstrong who wrote Three Bright Girls, which I have owned since childhood and haven’t read in many years.

Violet is the middle daughter in a very nice family, and also she’s a bit of a snob, encouraged by her friend Amy Lawrence. The Lawrences are ostentatious and a little vulgar where the Verekers are quietly well-bred. When the Sugden family moves to the neighborhood and Violet hears that they made their fortune manufacturing soap, she resolves not to mix with them any more than necessary, and certainly never to go to their house.

But the Sugdens turn out to be really nice–especially the eldest son, Marmaduke. Violet, to her credit, realizes this immediately, and feels pretty stupid. But she also feels bound by her promise not to visit the Sugdens, and things become increasingly awkward. And that’s the plot, aside from a series of convenient injuries.

The whole thing is one big lesson about pride, and cutting off your nose to spite your face, and Challice never tries not to be obvious about that, but her writing never really feels didactic. Violet is super relatable, an awkward teenager who feels like she has no choice in doing what she’s doing, even though her situation is entirely of her own making. This is just a good, solid, wholesome, late 19th century book for girls. I approve.

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The Story Book Girls

January 12, 2018

I’m having an absurdly good run of book luck to start the year: first The Wings of Youth and the less-good-but-not-bad Girl in the Mirror, then Meg’s Friend, and now The Story Book Girls, by Christina Gowans Whyte. I can’t imagine it getting any better than The Story Book Girls, though. I tried to write about the book while I was reading it, but my notes are mostly things like “Elma! and Mabel!” and “I am wildly in love with the whole Leighton family.”

This is one of those books that I liked too much to be able to write about easily. I am at the best of times mostly a seething mass of emotion, and this book had my eyes welling up with (good) tears about twice a chapter. So, where to start? Read the rest of this entry ?

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My New Home

October 13, 2017

My second Mrs. Molesworth was My New Home, which was nice, but never really felt like it got started. The narrative conceit (a young girl telling the story of her own life) is good in theory, but in practice the entire book feels like exposition.

Helena Wingfield (she thinks her middle names are also important, but I do not) was orphaned at a very young age and lives with her grandmother. She doesn’t really interact with other kids, until a nice family nearby starts sending their kids over to learn French from Mrs. Wingfield. Which would be fun to read about, if Mrs. Molesworth wasn’t in full-on tell-don’t-show mode.

The first person narration isn’t the problem. First person usually makes things more immediate, not more distant. An excess of realism might be part of the problem: this could in fact be how a girl in her early teens would tell the story of her childhood, but that doesn’t make it a good way to tell a fictional child’s story. An excess of foreshadowing, plus immediately stopping when you reach the foreshadowed events, is definitely a problem. But you know what? I’m not mad at it. I just think Mrs. Molesworth was capable of writing a version of this book I would have enjoyed much more.

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The Third Miss St. Quentin

October 5, 2017

I’ve been avoiding Mary Louisa Molesworth’s books for years, for no reason I can explain, but sometimes I go looking for something Cinderella-y and this time her The Third Miss St. Quentin was the thing that I found. And I’m glad of that, because it’s really good.

When I go looking for Cinderella stories, it’s because I don’t have a better way to look for what I really want: stories about people who are treated badly for a while and then get to have lots of nice things. The Third Miss St. Quentin isn’t that at all. Instead, it’s sort of a riff on the plot of Cinderella, but with a completely different emotional arc. The keynote of the story is that the Cinderella character is actually treated really well by almost everyone, almost all of the time. Read the rest of this entry ?

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The Career of Claudia

April 19, 2017

I raced through Frances Mary Peard’s The Career of Claudia, but not because I liked it. Actually, I can only think of one scene I’m fairly sure I enjoyed.

Claudia is a wealthy young woman who’s just graduated from college. She’s emerged a Socialist and a landscape gardener, and those are the only things she wants to talk about. When she moves in with some spinster cousins, she expects to use their house mostly as a home base between landscaping jobs. She meets a nice young man named Harry Hilton at her cousins’ house, and he invites her to come do some landscaping at his estate, mostly because he’s falling in love with her. Read the rest of this entry ?