Posts Tagged ‘womenwriters’

Elsie’s Widowhood (book #118)

24 October 2011

Martha Finley. No date in my edition, wch looks as if it might be 1920s, but the book was first published in 1880. It’s online.

There is a frontispiece, wch is graphically very dull I think but amusingly and interestingly* shows Elsie sitting on the beach in full mourning. Presumably people did have to do this. I can’t scan it at the moment but will do. *I have Show-not-Tell Fail.

Here’s a description of tea-time before Elsie’s husband dies:

It had been wont to be a time of glad, free, cheerful, often mirthful intercourse between parents and children; no rude and noisy hilarity, but the most enjoyable social converse and interchange of thought and feeling, in which the young people, while showing the most perfect respect and deference to their parents, and un-selfish consideration for each other, were yet under no galling constraint, but might ask questions and give free expression to their opinions, if they wished ; and were indeed encouraged to do so.

Doesn’t it sound terrible?

Here’s Elsie’s son Edward before going to college:

Mother,” he said, ” I think I have a pretty clear idea of some of the temptations of college life: doubtless there are always a good many idle, profane, drinking, dissolute fellows among the students, but it does not seem possible that I shall ever find pleasure in the society of such.

Impossible not to think Prig. When he comes back from college, you’ll be glad to hear that Elsie takes one look at him and knows “that I can believe my boy has come back to me as pure and innocent as he went!”.

I like Mr Embury falling for Molly Percival (who I think is Elsie’s father’s half-brother’s daughter, but I may be wrong) because she is a “cripple”:

“Your very helplessness draws me to you and makes you doubly dear. I want to take care of you, my poor child. I want to make up your loss to you as far as my love and sympathy can; to make your life bright and happy in spite of your terrible trial. … Your love, dear girl, and the blessed privilege of taking care of you, are all I ask, all I want … “

Can we say co-dependency? Also I think it’s odd that he brings his daughters to the proposal, but keeps them out of sight (behind a bush?) until she’s accepted:

“You will be mine? my own dear wife? a sweet mother to my darlings. I have brought them with me, that their beauty and sweetness, their pretty innocent ways, may plead my cause with you, for I know that you love little children.” He was gone before she could reply, and the next moment was at her side again, bearing in his arms two lovely little creatures of three and five.

Speaking of children, this is random, though admittedly from a non-Christian (=bad person): ‘”the heat and threats of yellow fever drove us North. I scattered the younger children about among other relatives, leaving several at your house, Adelaide”‘.

In the second half of the book Elsie’s son and daughter live in a cottage with some friends and do their own housekeeping. There are some interesting menus. Violet is planning

“potatoes, (sweet)corn, beans, tomats (sic – this is dialect from a boy bringing the groceries), cabbage, lettuce, and young beets … ” … “There’s a chicken all ready for the oven – cousin showed me how to make the stuffing and all that. I’ve engaged fresh fish and oysters – they’ll be coming in directly. I shall make an oyster pie and broil the fish. I mean to make a boiled pudding and sauce for dessert, and have bought nuts, raisins and almonds, oranges, bananas and candies besides, and engaged ice cream and cake.” … (they also have) the lettuce, the cold-slaw and bread and butter … the tarts

It turns out that Vi can’t cook well enough, her timings all go wrong (I sympathise) and some of the food is inedible. Elsie has foreseen this (you would have to kill her) and sent a hamper of “a pair of cold roast fowls, a boiled tongue, pickles, jellies, pies and cakes in variety”.


Jessie Phillips: A Tale of the Present Day (book #95)

23 February 2011

Frances Trollope, 1843.

What a muddle, but powerful despite that.

Tells the story of a brother and sister, Frederic and Ellen, and a village girl, Jessie Phillips. Frederic is unredeemably evil and seduces Jessie. When her mother does, she has to go into the workhouse. She absconds from the workhouse to confront Frederic, who repudiates her (the book leads me to use words like unredeemably and repudiates). She then has the baby in a barn. Whilst she is unconscious after the birth, a woman who is a “natural,” Silly Sally, takes the baby away. She brings it back after Jessie has been discovered and taken back to the workhouse. Frederic then finds the baby and murders it, in a nasty few lines:

In an instant the thought suggested itself to Frederic Dalton that Jessie has abandoned her child, with the certainty that a few hours of such abandonment would cause its wished-for death, and his heart leaped with mingled agitation and joy as he thought that he should be thus saved from all future danger of discovery or inconvenience. … but … the infant’s piercing cry again smote his ear, and the wretch paused to curse it, as he remembered the probability that it might live till noonday brought wanderers, either for pleasure or for business, through the lane, who might, and must discover its existence, if it repeated such cries as it was then uttering. “Confound her idiot folly!” he exclaimed; “if she had common sense enough to determine that it should perish, why could she not silence this confounded cry?” He had turned as he muttered these words, and was again standing over the spot where the child lay. Again it uttered a sharp piercing cry. He raised his booted foot, and made a movement as if in sudden rage, and the piercing cry was heard no more.

The body is discovered some days later, and Jessie is tried for infanticide. Ellen discovers her brother’s guilt and tells him to leave the country. Instead he recklessly falls into a river and is drowned. As she stands in the dock at the end of her trial, Jessie hears this mentioned. The verdict is then announced, not guilty on the grounds of temporary insanity, and Jessie is found dead in the dock.

There are two subplots. The first concerns Ellen, who is in love with the local nobleman, who has decided on his parents’ advice that he can’t afford to marry her because of their joint poverty. At the end of the book they do in fact marry. The other, slighter, subplot concerns Ellen’s friend Martha, who falls in love with a lawyer whom she persuades to work on Jessie’s behalf. Although these are strictly subplots and the main business of the novel is with Jessie, in fact Ellen’s story, in particular, takes up a good deal of space, probably more than Jessie’s. Elsie B Michie writes that “The juxtaposition of these plots makes the novel a strange hybrid that combines the dark concerns of reformist prose with the romantic brightness of earlier nineteenth-century fiction”.

As you can see from the quotation, Trollope can’t leave well alone. For goodness sake, why qualify the text with the stuff about why the wanderers might be there? And the first sentence could be cut off after “mingled agitation and joy”.

Trollope has two political targets in the book. The first is the workhouse system brought about by the amendment to the Poor Law in 1834. Trollope shows it as abusive, humiliating and pointless. Although Jessie is perfectly able to work, she can’t work whilst she’s in the workhouse, she has to associate with women who are “of that wretched class of females which a seaport town is sure to produce … prostitutes,” and when she wants spiritual advice the visiting minister refuses to talk to her. Trollope’s second target is the Bastardy Clause in the same Act. This made mothers of illegitimate children solely responsible for their support; the fathers had no duties.

There is a longer summary here.

And here’s Mr Mortimer, the new Commissioner:

Mr. Mortimer … committed one or two sad blunders … he had enforced the legal necessity of coming into the [work]house upon a widow woman, who had maintained herself and three children by working like a horse at any labour that was proposed to her, because he did not happen to know that she stuttered dreadfully, and could not pronounce the word “yes,” which would have been the satisfactory answer to a question he had very attentively put to her when enquiring the reason of her present want of help …

The Gay Seducer 1, 2 and 3:

The Gay Seducer 1

The Gay Seducer 2

The Gay Seducer 3

Much leg-play throughout.

Jessie in prison:

Jessie in prison

Pollyanna’s Western Adventure (book #69)

4 April 2010

Harriet Loomis Smith, 1929.

“Listen, everybody. I’m going to start a circulating library [having discovered there are no books on the ranch]. Spots on the tablecloth will be subject to a fine of one cent for children and five for adults. And we’ll use the money for buying books. And then we’ll all ask our friends to send us the books they are through with.”

“I’ll present you with the text-books I used in college,” offered Dorothy generously. “I’ve finished with them, I hope.”

“They’d be useful to somebody, I don’t doubt, but they don’t fit in with this plan. I want the most interesting books that have ever been written. I know lots of people that will help. Aunt Ruth and Lorraine and Anne and – ”

You’ll have to appoint a censor, won’t you?” interrupted Jimmy. “It won’t do to corrupt the morals of this valley.”

Pollyanna’s hesitation was momentary. “I’ll tell them to send only nice books, of course. There really are plenty of them, though they’re not talked about as much as the others. It’s like the happy marriages. The people who quarrel and fight and sue for divorce get into the newspapers, and the happy couples are never mentioned.”

Divided in Death (book #68)

21 March 2010

JD Robb, 2004.

I’m interested in the ways Nora Roberts manages to write (and publish) so much. One strategy, I think, is rather like that uses in oral storytelling. I read Walter Ong’s book on this when I was studying Beowulf, and I’ve thought about it a lot since then. The Wikipedia article on orality quotes him:

To solve effectively the problem of retaining and retrieving carefully articulated thought, you have to do your thinking in mnemonic patterns, shaped for ready oral recurrence. Your thoughts must come into being in heavily rhythmic, balanced patterns, in repetitions or antithesis, in alliterations or assonances, in epithetic and other formulary expressions … Serious thought is intertwined with memory systems.

See also h2g2’s article about the hero on the beach trope.

Two things to note about this. Firstly, saying that Robb / Roberts uses tropes, recurring situations etc, doesn’t necessarily dimish her literary value. Secondly, repeating patterns can be at any kind of scale – from repeating phrases like Homer’s “wine-dark sea” to the pattern that equates to a particular genre (crime fiction: crime happens, investigator usually as hero finds out what happens, crime is solved, criminal [usually] brought to justice).

It seems to me that in the In Death books Robb uses food and sex as ways to structure her main character’s day, and therefore to make it easier to write. I looked at Eve’s patterns of eating, drinking and sex in Divided in Death:

Day 1.
2am – sex
5am – two coffees
9am – “hoagies” (pork sandwiches), drinks, soy chips, dried apricots, chocolate cookies, all as take-out.
2pm – coffee, cookies
Evening – two coffees, steak, cabernet (wine), coffee, wine, chocolate

Day 2.
5am – sex
Soy burger
Chocolate cookie
Grilled pepper

Day 3.
Coffee and cookies
Soy dog (take-out)

Day 4.
Eggs and bacon, toast, coffee

(Not always possible to identify time of day.)

Food is a pretty big thing in In Death: Roarke is always trying to feed Eve; Peabody is always talking about food and wanting to stop for some (and a particular trope is Eve and Peabody offered drinks by suspects; Eve always refuses and Peabody is always annoyed about this); Feeney is identified by the bag of nuts he always has with him. Sex is also important, particularly as a demonstration of Eve and Roarke’s feelings for each other. I think it would also be worth logging sleep and showers in the same way.

Robb uses food and sex as way of structuring the days of her book. She doesn’t so rigorously use other details of mundanity in the same way (she could use visits to the loo, for instance, or the daily commute).

The Happiness Project (book #65)

31 January 2010

Gretchen Rubin, 2009.

The author’s blog. Excerpt.

Ben Franklin’s resolutions included less “Prattling, Punning and Joking”.

She uses the Authentic Happiness Inventory (registration necessary) at the start of her project and scores 3.92. She doesn’t take it again at the end of her project.

Often sounds like Sims – eg she sets herself a goal of making three new friends.

Worth reading. Main points are the list of resolutions and the “act how you want to feel,” wch I associate with Elizabeth Goudge.

Witness in Death (book #63) – contains spoilers for this and other books

10 January 2010

JD Robb (Nora Roberts), 2004.

2009 was the year of Nora Roberts, among other things, for me.

This particular one is interesting because it references the great British 1920s-1950s detective novels, and in particular the murder-within-a-play trope – as in Innes’s Hamlet, Revenge!, for instance. The identity of the murderer also follows these patterns, paralleling texts like Ngaio Marsh’s Artists in Crime (the murder in this doesn’t take place on stage but is set-up theatrically), Enter a Murderer and one of Innes’s short stories in which an actor playing Othello murders the actor playing Desdemona. It’s as if the guilt has to be completely in the hands of the person who “acts” the murder.

In my tradition of finding words to live by in non-literary fiction, I liked this at the end:

“‘You can’t go back. Can’t fix what broke. But you can go forward. And every step matters. Every one makes a difference.'”

Nora Roberts is incredibly prolific. Her Wikipedia page links to a list of 186 books (excluding novellas, short stories and compilations).

I liked this from Wikipedia, given our current weather: “She began to write during a blizzard in February, 1979 while housebound with her two small boys. Roberts states that with three feet of snow, a dwindling supply of chocolate, and no morning kindergarten she had little else to do”.

Heroes Adrift (book #45)

1 May 2008

Moira Moore, 2008.

Quite gripping – better than her last one.

Sequestered Hearts (book #37)

16 March 2008

2007, Erin Dutton.

 A romance. Terrible title, but otherwise not too bad.

The Unfinished Clue (book #36)

16 March 2008

Georgette Heyer, 1933.

Busman’s Honeymoon (book #35)

16 March 2008

Dorothy Sayers, 1937

Re-read to look at the quotations used – I thought there might be a disproportionate number from the Merchant of Venice, but was wrong.