Saturday, November 29, 2008
It's a great series of books, that has a "new and improved" Jane who lives the true life of a detective. The attraction clearly resides in the biographical details perfectly digested by the author and the writing style that mimics Jane's own (without the humour though, which is a shame because that's definitely what I like best about Jane. Can't have it all I guess). The plots are gripping and realistic, the characters sound very familiar. Stephanie Barron has really managed to immerse herself into the atmosphere of the period during which Jane's books were written to lead us to another dimension, the one depicted in such studies as Jane Austen and Crime by Susannah Fullerton (published by Jones Books in 2006) in which the focus is the subtext, in which the author tries, all in all, to gather the most mundane, workaday, trivial, or even frightening in Jane's books (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, go rereading them, they're anything but cosy). That the wealth of entire families should depend on an economy of slavery is not nice. That a father should die leaving his wife and his daughters without a penny for themselves isn't nice either. It doesn't take much imagination to believe in the fact that Jane's friends and family could be great preys in a very unhealthy and dangerous 19th century. A murder has been committed and Jane investigates. The pattern might seem repetitive but it's actually not the case : as I said, the author does not betray Jane's biography and the protagonist evolves carried by her travels in new cities (the second novel opens in Bath). We meet Cassandra, the Reverend Austen, Jane gets down to the writing of The Watsons while focusing on her diary, true record of her macabre discoveries, her hunt for clues, her questionings, of her doubts and of her fears also. It's an amazing work the author has done on this series. Besides, I can only applaud the illustrator's job on the paperback covers : they are particularly clever. I have never really enjoyed the genre of the detective novel but I loved these Mysteries. They contain a great twist and are really beautifully done.
3 novels by Marcel Proust 1
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Lily Bart is a social climber, she evolves in circles of people who have way more money than she does. We meet a variety of different men and women in this book : wealthy men want to buy their trophy wives as soon as possible to show off on Fifth Avenue, women wait to be chosen and Lily is no exception, money plays first fiddle and Lily loses at the game. Strokes of genius appear here and there, as is the case in this passage where Mrs Fisher talks to Lily :
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
2) Do you buy second-hand ?
I don't. I know lots of people find it suprising so I'm going to explain : I like to be the first person to meet a book. The smell of second-hand books is not always the best and as I read everywhere including in my bed I need new books that don't carry germs. I sometimes give in and buy second-hand but the last time I did that I couldn't read the book as I was disgusted by it and ended up tossing it, so I guess I'll stick to new books. I just buy less.
3) Where do you buy your DVDs/CDs ?
Now I know lots of people still buy books in bookshops and that's totally fine, but I don't think as many people still insist on buying DVDs/CDs in shops. Perhaps I'm wrong, it's just a feeling, after all. I buy my British DVDs on Play and my American DVDs on DVDPacific. Once again, the only criteria I take into account is the price. I buy most if not all of my CDs on CDPacific. I say most because I've just bought five Loreena McKennitt CDs directly from her website. Best prices.
4) Where do you find recommendations for books/DVDs ?
My lists are so huge I can't even remember when I entered this vicious circle. My family doesn't read at all - when I bought my shelves everybody smiled, said nothing but smiled. Sounds ludicrous that I should have close to 200 books when I've never seen my mother open a book in all my life. My friends don't read much, except for school. The Internet has proven to be an excellent source of recommendations. I read blogs and forums, try to get as much information as I can about an author before adding his or her book to my list, then I read an excerpt on Amazon. If I loved the book, the vicious circle begins : has the author written any other book (if so, proceed to buy them all, which takes an awful lot of time), I go back to the websites I visited to know more about the author and check recommendations, I go to LibraryThing and try to find a group that corresponds to that and usually there's a thread somewhere about books that one should read after this author. Then another circle begins. I suppose it's the same for everybody, really. I also rely on school very much : I discovered Toni Morrison, Angela Carter and Virginia Woolf at school, all three are amazing writers and I'll forever be grateful to my teachers for these discoveries. Movie adaptations of books are usually a pretty good opportunity for me to read the original source material : The Hours by Michael Cunningham, for example (but really the examples are so numerous) is one of my very favourite books which I discovered through the just as breathtaking movie. I discovered Atonement by Ian McEwan, a true gem, because I perused (on the Internet) a list of the most awarded novels of the last ten years.
It's different when it comes to DVDs and CDs : I absolutely need to have watched or listened to those before buying any of them. Some I just trust at some point because I've heard enough (I haven't listened to every single song Billie Holiday has recorded but I have a compilation I've listened to so many times I feel the need to buy complete recordings and will do so just after the December holidays when my postal office goes back to normal) : this is the case for my favourite singers and composers (Billie Holiday, Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra, Madeleine Peyroux, The Andrews Sisters, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters, Son House, Amalia Rodrigues, Loreena McKennitt, Sarah McLachlan, Thomas Newman, Claude Debussy, Frédéric Chopin, Joan Baez, early Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel) but for every new artist I need to listen to complete albums, I don't buy blindly.
Same goes for DVDs : I watch what I want to discover on the Internet first (streaming) if it doesn't have any release date for France (and the ones I want to see often don't) and then buy if I like it. For some directors I don't need to watch before buying (I'd buy anything directed by Ernst Lubitsch or Frank Borzage). More recently, I've really liked Pedro Almodovar's, Sofia Coppola's and Joe Wright's and Quentin Tarantino's work. I don't buy movies just to discover them, it'd be hurting my bank account too much. Those I truly want to own are already costing me so much. Plus it disturbs me to find things I don't like in my libraries.
Now that I'm at it and to make this more complete, my favourite actors and actresses are Gael Garcia Bernal, Myrna Loy, Lauren Graham, Tom Hollander, Toby Stephens, Margaret Sullavan, Kate Winslet, Meryl Streep, Emma Thompson, Anna Maxwell Martin, Carey Mulligan, Keeley Hawes, Felicity Jones and Amber Tamblyn.
Angels in America is the miniseries that has had the biggest impact on me, it's amazing and you don't know what I would give to see the play. The BBC produces quality TV from time to time : I think North and South (2005), Bleak House (2005), Cambridge Spies and Cranford are outstanding. As for movies made for TV, I absolutely loved Northanger Abbey (2007), A Room With a View (2007) and Persuasion (2007).
My favourite TV shows are Gilmore Girls, closely followed by The West Wing. Then come Once and Again, Dead Like Me, American Dreams and My So-Called Life. These shows rule my life and I constantly make references to them.
You can find my list of favourite authors on my LibraryThing profile.
Monday, November 24, 2008
The Virago Modern Classics printed by the excellent company Virago Press contains some little gems destined to expand and even redefine the notion of classic by adding to it female writers who wrote at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century and who, by the very act of writing, take pains to study women's roles in society, try to understand the relationship women have with the world (domestic or broader) that surrounds them. This year proved to be a great one for me as I discovered several Virago writers, including some of my very favourites : Sarah Waters, Rosamond Lehmann, Miles Franklin, Rebecca West, Angela Carter, Pat Barker, Charlotte Gilman, Kate Chopin.
E.M. Delafield, whose real name was Edmée Elizabeth Monica de la Pasture, was, besides a journalist (she was one of the first to visit concentration camps after the Second World War) was a successful writer and published several collections of short stories. At the very beginning of the 30s, the editor of the feminist magazine Time and Tide, Lady Rhondda (who, just like her magazine, became more and more conservative as time went by), asked her to write a series of texts she would publish. The result didn't take long to come : Diary of a Provincial Lady was crowned with success and was followed, in 1932, by The Provincial Lady Goes Further. The following year, the humorous magazine Punch published her Provincial Lady in America, and in 1940 she wrote The Provincial Lady in Wartime. These short books, full of faultless humour, left people desperate to get hold of more by E.M. Delafield and somehow this is still true (Diary of a Provincial Lady has never been out of print). Even the British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan personally wrote to the author to encourage her to publish a sequel.
I own this omnibus which is a collection of all these fictional diaries and I spent hours savouring them : the humour is scathing, very detached. The narrator, who owns a lot to the author, comments on her life which so much irony that we can't read one book right after the other. One page was taking me forever to finish as I spent my time bursting with laughter. It's a very caustic, deadpan sense of humour. E.M. Delafield's writing style can be compared to Grossmith's, the author of the Diary of a Nobody or to that of Nancy Mitford or P.G. Wodehouse. What is depicted is the conformist everyday life of Britain's good society, where husbands are forever asleep behind The Times, where the wife is constantly dealing with her servants (the portrait of Mademoiselle, the French governess, is particularly spot-on) and with her circle of friends. The problem with this kind of book is that it can be only be appreciated when you put aside some personal convictions : the Provincial Lady's ideas of class are particularly despicable and conversative. "The servant problem" made me feel ill-at-ease for several pages, but she tries to bury that with some more humour. Also, the fact that she seemed completely oblivious to the world around her, to any kind of world, really, that would go beyond her parish, had me sigh as well. My issues with this kind of books that focus on British middle-class in the first half of the 20th century are well developed and explained in The Feminine Middlebrow Novel by Nicola Humble and I already talked about it. I didn't identify with the main protagonist to say the least, but it was entertaining. I can't help typing a random passage, just to whet your appetite :
(Query : Have not the French sometimes a very strange way of expressing themselves ?)
E.M. Delafield has also published other works : I Visit the Soviets is an account of her 6-month visit in the USSR in 1935 and Consequences, reprinted by Persephone is worth reading although I wouldn't recommend buying it, I found it quite odd.
E.M. Delafield's daughter, R.M. Dashwood, who appears under the name of Vicky in her mother's books, has also written a book and apparently it's just as good as the Ladies ones (and it's already in my TBR pile). It is entitled, quite smartly, The Provincial Daughter. I highly recommend this website dedicated to E.M. Delafield if you're interested in reading some more about her.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
In which we can find the following paintings (among many others) :
Oil on canvas, 81x 64 cm, 1767, Wallace Collection, London, UK
It is fortunate that exhibitions of his paintings (and of his drawings in the Louvre Museum) are frequent here in Paris : they would require a lot of traveling !
Saturday, November 22, 2008
The movie will be released next year. Beautiful discovery, I highly recommend it to all.
"Shall I tell you a Cranfordism? An old lady, a Mrs Frances Wright, said to one of my cousins, " I have never been able to spell since I lost my teeth "
The humour of Cranford is another instance in a long tradition of comedies of manners. However, if we and the author laugh at this little community, we do realize throughout that this essentially feminine community which slowly tries to break free from conventions and find happiness is what makes the UK great. The narrative of Cranford is episodic : the narrator, Mary Smith, tells us the events that occured when she visited Miss Matty and Deborah Jenkins : under her pen, it's of course Mrs Gaskell who depicts the coups de théâtre, the micro revolutions, the decisions, the smiles of Cranford. It is, no more no less, an excellent chronicle. With the text of Dr Harrison's Confession, we become privy to a quidproquo when Dr Harrison arrives in town. This young single doctor freshly coming from London has all the women of the town fall head over heels for him and yet - because of his awkardness and because of the particularity of Cranford that makes even the smallest gesture feel like an invitation – finds himself promised to four different women and will almost lose the one he loves.
As for Lady Ludlow, she is a reactionary aristocrat who refuses any education to young women and to the poor because «knowing how to read is not what maid ought to know » : her opinions are extreme and completely unsurprising in an aristocrary that has just witnessed the Terror following the French Revolution. It is precisely when remembering this Terror that Lady Ludlow will describe the escape from France of several of her aristocrat friends who will not reach Callais and will lose their lives. The advantages of the Revolution are never adressed : the narrative perhaps didn't invite for this but even though it was told from the point of view of an aristocrat, the fact is that the French Revolution was not and is still not understood by the surrounding European regimes : when in France we do know the golden legend (which is based on true facts : the battle for true equality for all, also for the abolition of slavery), the UK only remembers the regicide and the hunt for nobles than accompanied it and slowed down the realisation of ideals on the verge of becoming laws. It was interesting to have Lady Ludlow's partial point of view and the narrative of the escape of two of her relatives was very gripping but this particular aspect worried me.
Do read Cranford and these short texts by Elizabeth Gaskell : it is an entire period that is depicted under our very eyes. It seems to me that this Omnibus would make a perfect introduction to a class on the Industrial Revolution and more generally to the transition 1850 symbolised. The miniseries produced by the BBC has an exceptional cast and is a little gem of television, I highly recommend it.
Hermione Lee's biography of Edith Wharton is now part of my TBR pile as I borrowed it from the library yesterday. I wish I didn't, it's so heavy I can barely lift it, I should have bought it instead but when you're a poor student, you tend to rely on the library more than the average person. I didn't check it out on purpose but I realised later that it might be good to read it in parallel with Wharton's The House of Mirth which I bought earlier this year. I've started it on the bus and it's already my favourite Wharton so far. I haven't read that much by her, only The Age of Innocence and The Custom of the Country and as much as I absolutely loved the details of her perfect prose and her sharp criticism of American society, I thought the stories - although excellent too from a feminist point of view - read too much like melodrama, even like soap operas, especially the end of The Age of Innocence. I hope The House of Mirth will change my mind.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Marianne Dashwood, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen (1811) - Chapter 3
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
This blog is dedicated to all the people who inspire me, to all the people who make me want to read.