Gogol’s Dead Souls

dead souls gogol vintage 51JIBDUkuvL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Gogol is one of my favorite Russian writers.  I love his wit and grotesquerie.

And so I have been trying to find a copy of Narezhnyi’s 1814 novel, A Russian Gil Blas, a little-known predecessor of Dead Souls. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be an English translation.

But it doesn’t really matter, because we have Gogol’s absurd tales and his unfinished masterpiece, Dead Souls.

In Gogol’s satiric novel, Dead Souls, the wily hero, Chichikov, has a mission: he travels through the  provinces to buy dead souls, i.e., dead serfs  who have not yet been struck from the tax rolls.  Since the serfs are not officially dead, he can mortgage them or otherwise exploit them for money.  Chichikov, a former government official, believes he can deceive the corrupt government officials, though he himself was fired for corruption and instituting a system of accepting bribes.  When he arrives in the town of N., his obsequiousness to the government officials is hysterically funny.

In conversation with these potentates, he managed very artfully to flatter each of them.  To the governor he hinted, somehow in passing, that one drove into his province as into paradise, that the roads everywhere were like velvet, and that governments which appointed wise dignitaries were worthy of great praise.  To the police chief he said something very flattering about the town sentries…

dead souls gogol everyman 19108Chichilov also flatters the confused landowners from whom he buys dead souls.  Is he joking, wonders Manilov, a sweet but idiotic landowner married to an equally sweet but dim wife. In the end, he sells them out of friendship.   Natasya Petrovna Korobochka believes in ghosts but eventually agrees to sell. Later she goes to town because she worries she has been cheated on the prices, and causes an uproar.   Sobakevich tries to increase the value by giving Chichikov detailed histories of each:   the carriage-maker built carriages “complete with springs,” the carpenter was seven feet hall, and the bricklayer could build a stove in “almost any house!”  There is a riotously funny scene in which Chichikov gloats over his lists and creates still more details about the lives of the dead serfs.  But then he notices that Sobakevich slipped in a woman serf (worthless) and is indignant.

Chichikov’s dead souls scheme is so preposterous that we have to laugh, but the plot was taken from real life.   His Uncle Pivinsky, a vodka distiller, exchanged vodka for fifty dead peasants after he was told he needed fifty souls to continue distilling vodka.

But the comedy goes deeper than that.  Early Russian critics read the novel as a realistic portrait of  Russian types and traditional Russian life, while radicals thought it attacked the ruling classes and government bureaucracy . In the introduction to the translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, Pevear rejects Gogol’s alleged “realism”; instead, he talks about “inverted realism”.  Vladimir Nabokov in  Lectures on Russian Literature also debunked political and moral interpretations.  He says,

But when the legendary… Chichikov is considered as he ought to be, i.e., as a creature of Gogol’s special brand moving in a special kind of Gogolian coil, the abstract notion of swindling in this serf-pawning business takes on strange flesh and begins to mean much more than it did when we considered it in the light of social conditions peculiar to Russia a hundred years ago.  The dead souls he is buying are not merely names on a slip of paper.  They are the dead souls that fill the air of Gogol’s world with their leathery flutter, the clumsy animula of Manilov or Korobochka, of the housewives of the town of N., of countless other little people bobbing through the book.  Chichikov himself is merely the ill-paid representative of the Devil, a traveling salesman from Hades.

In 1841, Gogol had trouble getting the first volume of Dead Souls past the censors.  The title offended them:  they thought he was saying the soul was not immortal, and when they learned it referred to serfs, they thought he was condemning serfdom.  And so the title was changed to Chichikov’s Adventures.  Published in  1842, it established him as a great Russian writer, the first (or one of the first) who was not using European models for his work.   He spent the next 10 years struggling to write  the second and third volumes.  And he grandiosely believed the novel as a whole would save Russia, because Chichikov would reform.  But before his death, he burned the manuscript.  The second volume was composed from fragments and published in 1852.  I very much enjoyed it:  Chichikov finally goes to jail.  But does he reform?  I didn’t see it!  Poor Gogol either burned a good manuscript or didn’t finish. (The latter!)

Even if you don’t know much about nineteenth-century Russia, Dead Souls will make you laugh.  Gogol’s characters are hysterically funny, the dialogue is sharp and witty, and even the digressions are meaningful and necessary to the text.    And Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation is magnificent.  Is there such a thing as a bad translation of Dead Souls?

Hostess for the Holiday: You’re Gonna Need Somethin’ to Read!

faith bladwin skyscraper-400x400-imadgv59ac7hqgpm

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. If you’re lucky, you persuade your husband to splurge on a big organic turkey, you make your side dishes in advance, and you sign up all your relatives to volunteer at the Free Thanksgiving Dinner at your church. (They will eat your dinner later.)   Now you can read in the kitchen while you occasionally baste the turkey or stir something on the stove.

But a hostess’s books are the trick for surviving even a quiet holiday. Depending on the hectic-0-meter of the holiday, the hostess will need to dive into  (1) the Dumpster of Trash Reads, (2) the Sanctuary of the  Middlebrow Novel or (3)  a Critically-Acclaimed Possible-Classic to  impress OCD parents who denied you the Nancy Drew books.

skyscraper faith baldwin 51REOFxE9aL._SX297_BO1,204,203,200_CATEGORY ONE:  TRASHY BUT FUN.  If your sister’s dog eats your favorite sweater, there is no question. You need trash.

On my Trash TBR Pile:

Faith Baldwin’s Skyscraper (the Feminist Press:  Femmes Fatales Women Write Pulp).    Wow, does this ever look trashy!  Trashy in a good way.  Published in 1931, it is the story of a career woman, Lynn Harding, a doctor’s daughter who drops out of college because her father can no longer afford the tuition. She moves to  New York City and  loves her office job in a skyscraper, but her boss says she’ll fire anyone who has a working husband.  Laura Hapke writes in the Afterword:  “Beyond the saga of Lynn’s love affairs, what matters is that she can support herself.  In that, she is representative of the one-quarter of women who worked as wage earners, many the sole supports of their families.  Also fairly typical for the time is that Lynn, as the fiancée of a low-level financial analyst, risks losing her job.”

How can you resist dialogue like

“Sure, I mean it.  Personally I’d respect her more if she was paying for whatever influence this bird may have, instead of taking it and giving him a lot of hope that doesn’t mean a damn.  I like to pay on the nail.”

The writing is not what I’d call good, but historically it gives you an idea of the kind of office romance that was published in the Depression.

CATEGORY TWO:  MIDDLEBROW AND FUN.   Sometimes we don’t want to read anything too deep because of the constant interruptions on the holiday.


du maurier scapegoat 41Q7b24xscL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat.  Du Maurier is best known for Rebecca, her Gothic classic, but in recent years feminists  have revived interest in her other books.  The others are solidly middlebrow, in my opinion, but they are entertaining.  The jacket copy of my University of Pennsylvania edition  says, “Two men–one English, the other French–meet by chance in a provincial railroad station and are astonished that they are so much alike that they could easily pass for each other.”  They drink together, and the  next day John wakes up and finds the Frenchman has stolen his identity,.  He takes the Frenchman’s place at the chateau and…. solves the mystery, I imagine!

d. e. stevenson listening valley 51LQWyl4uuL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_D. E. Stevenson’s Listening Valley.  I love D. E. Stevenson’s gentle comedies and romances.  According to the jacket copy on the Sourcebooks paperback, the heroine Tonia moves to London from Scotland at the  beginning of World War II, but a tragedy sends her home to Scotland.  This novel was published in 1944, and  reflects the horrors of war, as well as Tonia’s interrupted romance.

CATEGORY THREE:  CRITICALLY-ACCLAIMED POSSIBLE CLASSICS.  If you have no anxiety about the day or have some quiet time, you can read something more demanding.


some luck f_smiley_someluckJane Smiley’s Some Luck.  The first in a trilogy, this novel covers three decades in the life of an Iowa family, from 1920 to the 1950s.  The trilogy has been well-reviewed, and all three of the books have been published this year.  Perhaps now’s the time to read it.

Delany dhalgren_coverSamuel R. Delany’s DhalgrenThis post-modern SF classic is experimental, disturbing, and difficult.  Set in Bellona, a strange city that has survived an unspecified catastrophe, Dhalgren is the story of Kid, a poet hero who does not remember his name,  and who wears only one sandal. All kinds of people live there:  hippies who share what they have,a  middle-class family trying to hold on to a middle-class life in a skyscraper now  inhabited by squatters, a wealthy man who still occupies a mansion, and gangs of thugs .

William Gibson in the foreword writes,

…[it] is a prose-city, a labyrinth, a vast construct the reader learns to enter by any one of a multiplicity of doors.  Once established in memory, it comes to have the feel of a climate, a season….It is a work of sustained conceptual daring, executed by the most remarkable prose stylist to have emerged from the culture of American science fiction.

All right!  It’s very, very good.  And I do need to finish it.

I hope your holiday reading will be as good as mine!

My Russian Lit 101 Office!

Russian 101 Office (My Bed!)

                      The Russian Lit Office:  My Bed!

My Russian lit office is set up for the winter.  Actually, it’s my  bed.

We had our first snowfall today, so I retired to my warm bed to read a Russian novel. The wintry scenes in Russian novels brace me to endure the cold. I picture myself as Natasha in War and Peace, mischievously dressed up as a Hussar, riding in a sleigh at Christmas with the mummers;  Chichikov in Dead Souls, driving through the provinces in a “rather handsome, smallish spring britzka, of the sort driven around in by bachelors”; or Eugene Onegin (in the Mitchell translation) dealing with winter ennui under his lonely roof because:

What pastime can you find that’s pleasing?
Out in the backwoods? Walking? Try.
For all the countryside is freezing.

Here’s how Russian lit-crazy I go in winter:  this week I’ve reread  three Russian novels, Gogol’s Dead Souls and two by Turgenev, The Home of the Gentry and  First Love.

And I recently found an old college notebook (that tatty green thing in the snapshot above) with my notes for a class in Russian Literature in Translation.  My sketchy  notes are strangely touching–I do like myself as  a young woman discovering Russian literature–and  have also inspired me to go back to the nineteenth century.

fathers and sons turgenev 51FN7Uw7+BL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_We spent a lot of time reading Turgenev. I am very fond of Turgenev.  I recently reread Fathers and Sons.  Turgenev brilliantly personifies the split between humanism and nihilism as a generational conflict.  The hero, Bazarov,  is a nihilist, a recent science graduate who dissects frogs and despises art and literature.  On a  visit to the country home of his nihilist friend  Arkady, Bazarov clashes with Arkady’s uncle and patronizes Arkady’s  father, both humanists.  Bazarov’s father and mother cannot understand his views.  And he comes to a tragic end.  Some of my notes on Turgenev are quite interesting, but I am most impressed by  scribbled questions (perhaps to consider for an essay? Or  class discussion?  God only knows.):

  • Is the novel really about generational split?
  • the use of philosophy and political discussions
  • Integration of love affairs
  • which characters truly similar and dissimilar
  • In what respects is Bazarov a positive hero?
  • Is Bazarov a victim or suicide?

By Dec. 3, near the end of the semester, my notes were mere hieroglyphs.   They reflect a bullet-list undergraduate ennui:

  • Dostoevsky spokesman for conservatives:  THE Christian writer, but also convincingly presents views of radicals.  Polit left to polit right, possibly because of experiences in prison.
  • Question of existence or non-existence of God.
  • intellectual and moral honesty in novels.
  • religion helped him endure his hard life.
  • Belinsky thought D’s works should do for Russia what Dickens did for England.

Could I possibly have elaborated on those topics! What was I thinking?   I can only hope I read the introductions to my Dostovesky books!

To supplement my erratic  notes, I got out Nabokov’s Lectures on Russian Literature.   He did not like Dostoevsky, who was never one of my favorites.

My position in regard to Dostoevski is a curious and difficult one.  In all my courses I approach literature from the only point of view that literature interests me–namely the point of view of enduring art and individual genius.  From this point of view Dostoevski is not a great writer, but a rather mediocre one–with flashes of excellent humor, but, alas, with wastelands of literary platitudes in between.

And here I thought it was just the translations.  Well, perhaps I’ll try the Pevear and Volokhonsky translations.  Or perhaps I’ll skip the rereading of Dostoevsky.

The Fairy Godmother of Books & The Year of Sex in Literature (A Spoof!)

Pile-of-BooksEvery blogger wants to be the Fairy Godmother of Books.

Bloggers love to share their love of books.  I understand that.

What I don’t understand is the yearning to direct the reading of other bloggers in a chain of endless Readalongs and Challenges.

What I call “Bossy Blogger Disorder” dominates the net these days. Bloggers used to have group reads. One book, one discussion.  Nowadays as the canon grows looser (excuse the pun),  trendy “challenges/readalongs” are organized around a genre, category, or publisher.  A blogger designates himself or herself the leader and (hypothetically) declares it Japanese Literature Month. He/she suggests everyone should read a Japanese book:  any Japanese book! The question is: can a group of bloggers really bond over different Japanese books from  different centuries (and read in translation)?  One blogger might post about Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, another about Hiruki Murakami’s 1Q84.   Is there a link between the 11th-century classic and the 21st-century science fiction classic?  No.  Not unless a Japanese literature professor volunteers to spend months teaching us the history of Japanese literature.

Blogging is the homespun flip side of literary criticism.  We’re not James Wood:  we’re gals from the Midwest, the rural South, and Alaska. Most of us are doing our own thing

In recent months, we have survived Virago Month, Persephone Month  Women in Translation Month, R.I.P. Challenge, Witch Week, and the 1924 Club.

And now we are in the middle of German Literature Month.

My husband and I were chatting about this.  We are both foreign language junkies. We are of a generation that read widely in the canon and studied literature in foreign languages. And so all hail German Literature Month!  But here’s the thing.  We have read  the books the German Literature bloggers are posting about!  And so I’m thinking: these Challenges are a generational thing?

lady chatterley's lover chatterley2Do they have meaning for a generation whose canon has become non-canonical?

It is probably an internet phenomenon.  We’re all alone on our phones, and this is how we connect thee days (not closely).

Anyway, I couldn’t resist creating a Spoof challenge.

My cousin the librarian and I together have “come up” (sorry!) with the risque Sex in Literature Spoof Challenge! We challenge you to have sex!  Err, I mean, we challenge you to read about sex!

You get triple points for every menage a trois and twenty-four for an  orgy!

Choose from this list.

  • Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying
  • D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover
  • The Kama Sutra
  • The Joy of Sex
  • Doris Lessing’s Landlocked
  • Elizabeth Tallent’s Mendocino Fire
  • Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones
  • Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus & Little Birds
  • Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series
  • Nicholson Baker’s Vox
  • John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman
  • Aristophanes’ Lysistrata
  • Angela Carter’s The Passion of the New Eve
  • Petronius’s Satyrica

Read ten.  Then add ten more books to the list.

Send the list to ten people.

And you win a free book if you get ten people to read ten!

It’s  a spoof!  It’s a chain letter!

I couldn’t resist.

The 200th Anniversary Penguin Deluxe Classics Edition of Jane Austen’s Emma & a Few Others

The cover of my edition fell apart long ago!

My old Modern Library edition disintegrated long ago, alas!

The summer before ninth grade, I toted a Modern Library edition of The Complete Novels of Jane Austen everywhere. It weighed a ton, but fit in my basket purse.   I read Sense and Sensibility on the steps of MacBride Hall on the Pentacrest in Iowa City, Pride and Prejudice at The Mill, where you could sit for hours over a Diet Coke, and Northanger Abbey after everyone else fell asleep at a slumber party.  One friend’s mother, a Smith alumna,  said “You’re gonna love it.”  I did love it, though at that age I  didn’t differentiate between Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, George Eliot, and Elizabeth Goudge.

jane austen Cover_EmmaFast forward to college and  Emma was the funniest book I’d ever read. I have read Emma many, many times, and my Modern Library edition disintegrated long ago.  And so I could not resist the new 200th Anniversary Annotated Penguin Deluxe Classic edition of Emma. This handsome orange paperback has a cover design that blends the contemporary with traditional illustrations.  (The figures of 19th-century-style men and women are cleverly displayed inside the figure of the heroine, Emma.)  The colors remind me of Klimt’s painting, The Kiss.  And the high-quality paper makes this an excellent reading experience.

Klimt's "The Kiss"

Klimt’s “The Kiss”

This is an edition for the common reader, says Juliet Wells, the editor.  It has an excellent introduction, notes, maps, illustrations from early editions, and contextual essays on dancing, food, health, love etc.

Juliet Wells explains,

It’s a reader’s edition, not a scholarly one.  In other words, the information you’ll find here is intended to support your understanding and appreciation of Emma rather than to instruct you in literary terms, theoretical perspectives, or critical debates.  In choosing what to include, I’ve borne in mind what I’ve heard from students and others over the years about what has intrigued, and frustrated, them in reading this novel.

This is perfect for the common reader: I love reading this well-made paperback.   If you need something more scholarly, the Norton edition includes critical essays as well as basic background.  And I have a copy of The Annotated Emma, annotated and edited by David M. Shapard (Anchor Books).  (I use that for notes rather than reading, though.  I find it distracting to have the long notes on the sides of the pages of text.)

annotated emma shepard 51Vz1rBtWgL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Surprisingly, Emma is controversial.  Readers argue over whether this brilliant comedy is an essentially  conservative novel, reinforcing the values of a classist society, or a satire.  It is both, I think. Not all online Janeites chortle over Emma’s wicked wit, ridiculous misunderstandings, and boredom with the very talented, musical, but prim Jane Fairfax, a young woman she very much dislikes. Some criticize her outrageous observations (who hasn’t had them?) and a strong will they mistake for selfishness.  They overlook Emma’s kindness to her valetudinarian father, the card parties she arranges for him, her devotion to her nephews and nieces, and charity to the poor.   She is the most hated (the only hated?) Austen heroine!

I love Emma.   At the beginning of the novel, after her ex-governess’s wedding to a country squire, she tells Mr. Knightley, her brother-in-law, that she  made the match four years ago.  She says she intends to make more matches.  Knightley is characteristically grim in response to her liveliness, and her hypochondriac father discourages her:  he pities “poor Miss Taylor” for marrying and moving half a mile away.  But Emma continues to tease them:

“I promise to make none for myself, papa; but I must, indeed, for other people.  It is the greatest amusement in the world!  And after such success, you know!–everybody said that Mr. Weston would never marry again.

Emma is half-serious about match-making.  She fantasizes that her new friend Harriet, an orphan awho is the “natural” daughter of no-one-knows-whom, is of gentle birth, and needs a gentleman husband.   The new clergyman Mr. Elton would be an appropriate match, she thinks.  Unfortunately, Emma does not understand men. She misreads Mr. Elton’s sexual signals:  she is horrified when she discovers he is courting her, not Harriet.  Eventually Emma realizes her all-too-human mistakes:  she has hurt feelings without intending to; she has encouraged Harriet to aspire too high  (shame, shame!); and she has not found a husband for herself.  Finally Emma gets Knightley:  of course I loved him as the logical mate when I was very young, but he  is 14 years older and so controlling and critical:  will the strong Emma prevail?

In The Annotated Emma (Anchor Books,) Shapard describes Emma as Austen’s “most flawed heroine.”  He says Emma drives the plot more than any of the heroines of  Austen’s other novels.  And he points out her good points.

A significant reason for Emma’s greater ability to drive the plot is that the other Austen heroines are all in a state of dependence, inhabiting households run by others an dsubjec to tothers’ wills.  furthermore, they all suffere because of people around them sho scorn or neglect or mistreat them in some way.  Emma, while severely restricted geographically by her need to care constantly for her father, is mistress of all she surveys (within her limited field).  She is completely in charge of her household and able to guide her fatehre, restrained only by her own concern for him, in those areas where he retains nominal leadership.  She is also in a supreme  position socially.

I love Emma’s strength, though I am concerned about her future as a wife.

the watefall margaret drabble 6574486-MMargaret Drabble’s narrator, Jane Grey, in The Waterfall, also particularly dislikes Knightley.

How I dislike Jane Austen. How deeply I deplore her desperate wit. Her moral tone dismays me: my heart goes out to the vulgarity of those little card parties that Mrs. Phillips gave at Meryton, to that squalid rowdy hole at Portsmouth where Fanny Price used to live, to Lydia at fifteen gaily flashing her wedding ring through the carriage window, to Frank Churchill, above all to Frank Churchill, lying and deceiving and proffering embarrassing extravagant gifts. Emma got what she deserved, in marrying Mr. Knightley. What can it have like, in bed with Mr. Knightley. Sorrow awaited that woman: she would have done better to steal Frank Churchill, if she could.

I do know exactly what she means about Knightley.

But if this is not a happy ending, what is?  Clearly Austen thinks it is happy.

Richmal Crompton’s Merlin Bay

richmal crompton merlin bay 9781509810192Virago, Persephone, Bloomsbury Reader, the Feminist Press, and now Bello have reissued many great women’s novels.

In 2008 at The Guardian, Rachel Cooke wrote a lovely essay about the 30th anniversary of Virago.  She became a fan of the trademark green books when at 17  she discovered Stevie Smith’s novels.  She went on to read other neglected Virago writers,  including Miles Franklin, Sylvia Ashton Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, and Rosamund Lehmann.

The founder Carmen Calil had high standards in choosing books for Virago, Cooke writes.

But there was a point below which Carmen and her colleagues would not go: they referred to this as ‘the Whipple line’, after Dorothy Whipple, a writer of popular fiction in the Thirties and Forties. (Whipple does, however, have her fans; she is now published by Persephone, which also revives out-of-print work by women.)

I wonder if Persephone fans were upset by the Whipple line.  I  have very much enjoyed Whipple’s novels, though they are what I call middlebrow.  And so  I would draw a different line: the Richmal Crompton line!

Bello has recently reissued Richmal Crompton’s books, which I discovered  when I looked up Pamela Hansford Johnson (not available in the U.S. from Bello, for some reason).  Crompton wrote 38 books for adults.  Maybe I’ll get hooked, I thought.


  Richmal Crompton

And I am hooked!  I very much enjoyed Merlin Bay (1939), a novel about an ordinary family who spend their vacation together in Merlin Bay in Cornwall.  Crompton grapples with the limited affections and understanding of a group of far-flung relatives.  During the trip, they forge or renew difficult relationships.

It opens with the musings of Mrs. Paget, who  spent her honeymoon years ago in Merlin Bay.  She regrets having silenced her late husband when he tried to confide bout his past in Merlin Bay:  she could not bear to know too much.  Now she hopes to learn his secrets.  She travels with her daughter, Florence,  a nervous spinster who believes her purpose in life is to take care of her mother.   (Mrs. Paget finds her wearisome).  They will stay at a hotel near the overcrowded house of Pen, once Mrs. Paget’s most promising child, now a housewife who lives at Merlin Bay year-round and is unhealthily  absorbed in her six children:  she left her husband in London on the pretext of their daughter Rosemary’s health. Last but not least is Mrs. Paget’s son, Martin, who has lived in Malay for years and  hopes to find a wife in England.

I am delighted by Crompton’s portrayal of the honesty of old age.  Mrs. Paget is not looking forward to spending time with her children.

Her own three–Florence, Martin, Pen–had been delightful as babies, but she had to admit that they meant very little to her now.  It isn’t that I’m not fond of them, she assured herself hastily.  I’d do anything in the world for them (at least I think I would), but I don’t really love them.  They’ve grown up so dull….

We do not spend much time with Mrs. Paget, though.  Crompton  frequently changes point of view so that we get to know all the family members, including the grandchildren.  Her daughters Florence and Pen, who seem as different as night and day, somehow cannot bear to look reality in the face.  Florence feels inferior to everyone.  She especially looks up to her friend Violet, an arrogant middle-aged teacher who hopes to entice Martin into marriage and who is staying with them at the hotel. When they look at a view,

Florence preserved a respectful silence.  She liked a nice view herself, but she knew that her feeling was not to be compared with Violet’s.  Violet was quoting poetry now in a deep tremulous voice….

Pen is angry about the intrusion of family in her perfect life. She even hates it that her husband is on the way from London.  She is especially annoyed by Violet.

What was the name of that friend of Florence’s?  Violet Something-or-other.  She remembered that she’d disliked her intensely the only time she’d met her.  She always disliked those charming middle-aged unmarried Women…Pen knew all about schoolmistresses.  Just sitting at a desk for a few hours in the morning and looking on at games in the afternoon….  She’d like them to try her job for a day or two–on her feet and hard at it from first thing in the morning to last thing at night.

We get the feeling that Pen resents Violet because she could have been Violet.  Instead, she’s a wife and mother.

I so much enjoyed this fast-paced, engrossing novel.  Mind you, it is not a great novel, but it is entertaining and fairly well-written.   Crompton writes simply, focusing on plot  and characterization.  Story trumps style.  It is dramatic and a bit soapy.  But it is more than a domestic novel.  She understands the gamut of human emotions, from kindness to compassion,  malice to rage.

I look forward to reading more Crompton, though I haven’t the faintest idea where to begin.

The Gloomy Season: Cheer Up!

The ice palace in Dr. Zhivago

  At least we don’t live in the ice palace in Dr. Zhivago! 

It is the gloomy season.

Sunset:  4:56 p.m.

Full-spectrum lamp:  bring it up from the basement.

Turkey (for high tryptophan content):  Thanksgiving

Dark chocolate (releases serotonin):  please.

Yogurt (another antidepressant):  we’ve got it.

Green tea (for theanine):  yes.

Some people revel in the dark.  They believe in Standard Time. My body needs Daylight Savings Time. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the Seasonal Affective Disorder syndrome (a winter depression) is triggered by the lessening light and lasts four or five months until the days become longer.

As soon as we set the clock back, I am blue.  It’s as if I am a vampire in reverse. Every day at 5 p.m., I am dispirited.


1.Watch Doctor  Zhivago.  David Lean’s dazzling film, starring Julie Christie and Omar Sharif, is set in a dark frozen Russian winter.  There’s balance in realizing winter can be so hard. It’s just not that bad here! And the acting is magnificent.  I defy you to take your eyes off beautiful Lara (Christie) and handsome Yuri Zhivago ( Sharif).  The ice palace scenes are breathtaking (Lara and Yury move into a deserted frozen country house in Varykino when they have no place to go and are on the run).  Filmed in Spain, the ice palace was actually a house filled with frozen beeswax.

Julie Christie and Omar Sharif in

Julie Christie and Omar Sharif in “Doctor Zhivago”

2. Play board games.  If you memorize the dictionary, you’ll win at Scrabble, and what’s not to like about building words on a board out of wooden letters ?   Oxford Dilemma, a trivia and spelling board game, is also entertaining.  Roll the dice, move around the Monopoly-style board, and earn money for answering trivia questions in four categories (Science, Famous, General, and Geography) and then spelling the answer. Despite our literary leanings, we had some glitches:  my husband misspelled “maneuver” as  “manoeuvre”  (later we found out  it is the French spelling!) and I wondered if an Inca city I’d never heard of might be spelled Mazo Pekzu!  Nope, not even close.  It’s Machu Picchu.  (And yet I won.)

Oxford Dilemma pic76303_md3. Read Aristophanes.  He is racy, satiric, poetic, and the best Greek comic dramatist. Laughter is a natural antidepressant.  He is hilarious, but also serious : Athens was at war with Sparta for 27 years of his career, and many of his plays are anti-war. My favorite is Lysistrata :  the heroine, Lysistrata, plots to stop the war:  the women must withhold sex until the men stop fighting.

Lysistrata 51xaUPzM9vLHere is an excerpt from the Paul Roche translation when she first tells a friend women can stop the war:

CALONICE: We’re just household ornaments in flaxen
and negligees you see through,
all nicely made up in pretty come-hither flats.

LYSISTRATA: Precisely, that’s
exactly what we’re going to need to save Greece:
a seductive wardrobe, our rouge, our negligees and our
pretty flats.

4. Listen to old albums:  Cream, Blind Faith, Jefferson Airplane, the Beatles, Lou Reed, the Mamas and the Papas.  You’ll be surprised how cheering you’ll find it, even when the songs are gloomy.



Here’s a stanza from Cream’s “White Room”:

In the white room with black curtains near the station
Blackroof country, no gold pavements, tired starlings
Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes
Dawnlight smiles on you leaving, my contentment
I’ll wait in this place where the sun never shines

Good writing, huh?

5.  Walk,  run, bike, or rake.  Get out!   It’s important to  get that Vitamin D from light, even if it’s not sunlight.  You’ll feel better if you move around,.