Happy winter! We had an ice storm Sunday night, and I only hope you have had better weather. This is the last post on winter reading recommendations from bloggers, commenters and friends. Thank you to all who participated!
Diana Birchall, author of Mrs. Darcy’s Dilemma: A Sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the blog Light, Bright, and Sparkling, and a contributor at Jane Austen Variations, writes,
Anything about the life of Elizabeth Robins, actress, suffragette, novelist, playwright, early Alaskan adventuress and much more, makes compelling reading. Born in 1862, she was an actress in New York and in London, where she was the first to produce Ibsen plays, and became famous for her roles in Hedda Gabler and A Doll’s House. Always progressive and committed to women’s rights, she wrote the feminist novel The Convert, and adapted it for the stage as Votes for Women in 1907. It was in 1900 that her brother Raymond went missing in Gold Rush Alaska, and she took the long arduous journey to search for him in Yukon Territory. The story of her adventures is described in her books The Magnetic North and The Alaska-Klondike Journals of Elizabeth Robins. Her search for Raymond, the hard conditions they endure together, and the fascinating characters they meet, are all vividly described: I can highly recommend her breathless tales of the Far North for winter reading.
Ellen Moody, editor of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde (Valancourt Press, 2016) and author of the blogs Ellen and Jim Have a Blog, Two, Reveries under the Sign of Austen, and Under the Sign of Sylvia II, writes,
In the last week of last year I read a novel I enjoyed more than I have any other in a long time. It may sound odd to say this but because I read so much I become jaded, and no matter how much I like a book, I usually have no problem putting it down. I’ve also trained myself to read several books at once so I can read with others online, teach different groups of people, work at reviews and papers. But Susan Sontag’s Volcano Lover I sat down and read straight through, for quite a number of hours, day after day. I love historical fiction when well done but this went beyond or was different from the usual: Sontag took a wholly unexpected angle: instead of telling say Emma Lady Hamilton’s story or Nelson’s as a dual romance, her center was Sir William Hamilton, the collector-husband of Emma, and we saw the later 18th century from a highly corrupt marginalized cityscape: Naples where he was ambassador. The book was a meditation on why people collect, on art, on obsessions, and the fun was how the narrator was sometimes your conventional implied presence hovering between 1992 or so and the later 18th century, but then she would become more distinct, as herself, almost the scholar-essayist, and move in time to just after WW2 – because part of her story was the disastrous rebellion by a small enlightened and artisan group in Naples, savagely murdered. Eventually the perspective turned and you also realized it was about the collector’s (her way of referring to Sir Wm) wife (whom I felt so for) before Emma, Emma herself, Emma’s mother (who Emma never left behind), and a remarkable journalist-poet, Eleanor de Fonseco-Pimentel (hung). Deeply feminist, parallels among women, exploding any notions of human beings as responsive to morality, reasonableness, the very foundations of the enlightenment. The gargantuan corruption, the asinine king, all seemed so relevant to that week in December. It was worth reading almost for that last sentence by Eleanor as she waits to be taken away to be senselessly (from her point of view) humiliated and killed: “Damn them all.”
For those who love paintings, the first part of the text (remember Sr Wm is the collector) are real, and when the intertextuality of the talk is over, you have learned much more about them. Part of the fascination is how she brings in through allusion biographies as well as other historical fiction as part of history. It’s anti-genre, also anti-foundational, to take the term from another book I recommend which I’ve not finished as yet as I’m using it to explore its terrain, and it was from its citations I took down Volcano Lover from my shelf where it had been since 1993: Martha Bowden’s Descendants of Waverley. This has been my companion, director of reading for a couple of months on and off now. What counts as history and what doesn’t: Graham Swift played with this in his Waterlands: why is the person executed on the guillotine more history than a pro-revolutionary teacher in a counter-revolutionary village. From Bowden I’ve been led to re-think about Walter Scott, read a book on The Winter Queen (Elizabeth of Bohemia), a whole group of historical romances featuring historical woman, and a little later tonight I’ll watch the movie, Restoration based on Rose Tremain’s novel of the same name which I loved so long ago because it is about a very marginal figure (invented) who opted after much experience of the “world” and an asylum, and the Stuart court.
Oh yes just finished after about five months Hermione Lee’s massive masterpiece of literary biography Virgina Woolf, read with a few people on a small listserv at Yahoo. You cannot do better if you want to get close to this writer if as you go along you follow Lee up on many of the shorter pieces of life-writing, the same kind of original historical fiction and biography and books called novels (for after all how sell them) by Woolf.
Ali of Heaven Ali writes,
I have just finished reading The Girl in Winter by Philip Larkin, a superb novel, from a man best known for his poetry, it was his second novel. I am just off to bed, with a brand new old book The Indian Woman by Diana Gardner. I took a chance on it paying more I usually do for old second hand books.
I wasn’t sure if I really have winter books and summer books until I stopped to think about it, and realised that sometimes I do. From around late October until December I have in the past enjoyed reading some classics which are perfect for long dark, cosy nights in The Woman in White, Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Sherlock Holmes stories and the like. Around Christmas time I often read one or two books with a vaguely Christmassy theme or setting. Once we are into January however, I like to comfort myself with reading books I really want to read, have looked forward to perhaps. In the past I have usually had a new year long challenge to get to grips with so the first book of the year has often been for that. This year I am not doing any big challenges – I have a lovely, relaxed, free feeling. I try to avoid review copies in January as I like to start the year on a high and avoid a disappointment (this year though, I had two review copies, but they were fine) and often read VMCs, Golden Age crime, or Persephone books or something with a slightly positive, perhaps nostalgic air about it, something I can feel sure of and at home with. I feel that Miss Buncle type books, Miss Pettigrew or I Capture the Castle would suit me in January (if I hadn’t already read them) – or if you want something a little darker perhaps Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca – or her short stories Don’t Look Now – one of my books of 2016. I had so much planned to read this January I already know I won’t manage them all. Last year I read Cider with Rosie in January which I would definitely recommend for winter reading. I would like to read a Vita Sackville West after the Gardner and perhaps a Margery Sharp, and I have another Mary Hocking planned to read with some other readers on a Mary Hocking Facebook group I started.
Lyn of I Prefer Reading writes,
I’ve just finished reading The Mysteries of Paris by Eugène Sue, a big, sprawling melodrama about life in Paris, the low-life & the high-life. Originally serialised in a newspaper, it’s plot-driven, has cliffhangers galore & a dizzying cast of characters. It was the bestseller of 19th century France & influenced other writers like Victor Hugo.
I’ve also been tempted to start another big book, Samuel Richardon’s Clarissa. The blogger Ivebeenreadinglately has started a group read. As it’s an epistolary novel & the first letter arrives on January 10, the plan is to read the novel through the year on the dates the letters are received.
I also have a review copy of The Chalk Pit, the new Ruth Galloway mystery by Elly Griffiths. Love this series & can’t wait to dive in to this one.