I have read some excellent bookish pieces online lately! Here are the links:
1. I love L. M. Montgomery‘s Anne of Green Gables series, but did not read her other books. And so I was intrigued by this excellent essay at Tor on Montgomery’s adult novel, The Blue Castle.
Mari Ness writes,
The Blue Castle is the story of Valancy, who lives a life that makes the word “repressed” sound positively liberated. In her late 20s, she lives with her mother and her aunt in a life of relentless sameness and repression, unable even to read novels, choose the decorations for her own room, purchase her own clothing or attend a church of her choosing. Part of this stems from her family, who as individuals and en masse shredded her self-confidence, but part of this is also her society: a society that sees only one fate for women, marriage. And Valancy does not have the money or education or self-confidence to escape this.
This was a reality that Montgomery knew well from her own experience—apart from the self-confidence part. Well aware that she would inherit little or nothing from her own extended family and financially shiftless father, Montgomery realized early on that she had very few financial options other than marriage. Her extended family paid for full educations (and the occasional trip to Europe) for sons, but not for the ambitious Montgomery, who paid for her one year at college by saving up money by staying in terrible boarding houses while teaching and with a small sum from her grandmother, who apparently wanted to help equip her then-unmarried granddaughter for later life.
I will check this out.
2 Do you love George Eliot? I enjoyed Rachel Vorona Cote’s essay at Literary Hub, “Justice for Maggie: On George Eliot’s Most Underrated Heroine.”
In this plug for the heroine of The Mill on the Floss, Cote writes,
I’m always on the watch for Too Much Heroines—women who, in the face of patriarchal dictates, cannot or will not contain themselves emotionally, sexually, physically, or intellectually. A heroine like Maggie Tulliver, one who, over the course of her life, is considered too clever and impetuous and exuberant, commits the gravest of crimes: she occupies space explicitly denied to her. Maggie emotes with lavish immoderation; reads everything her brother does, and exponentially more; and, as a child, thwarts attempts to render her a dainty specimen of girlhood. In other words, she demonstrates a fundamental aversion to gender conventions. You might reasonably compare her to Catherine Earnshaw, minus the sociopathy, or to Anne Shirley, sans the preoccupation with storybook romance, or even call her a Victorian Ramona Quimby.
My favorite Eliot heroine is the difficult, proud Gwendolen Harleth in Daniel Deronda. Who is yours?
3 One of my favorite books, Rachel Ingalls’ Mrs. Caliban, has been reissued by New Directions. The heroine of this sad, witty, moving novel is Dorothy Caliban, a desolate housewife who falls in love with a monster, Larry. Wouldn’t you have given refuge to an amphibious monster on the run from a research lab, too, if your child had died and your husband was cheating? Poor Dorothy!
Jean Zimmerman writes at NPR:
This season’s secret weapon in literary cocktail banter will be Mrs. Caliban, a peculiar but wonderful and long-overlooked novella by Rachel Ingalls. Originally published in 1983 and seemingly doomed to a dead end ride on the oblivion express, Mrs. Caliban was briefly rescued by an unlikely deus ex machina: The British Book Marketing Council, which in 1986 named it “one of the 20 greatest American novels since World War II.” Its 15 minutes in the public eye ended quickly enough, and this strange, unlikely fable once again sank into obscurity.
Read it as a monster novel, or as a parable. We Are All Mrs. Caliban! (That makes no sense, but I can imagine the words on a sign on a protest march.)
4 Did you know that 2018 is the bicentenary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein? At NPR I read a fascinating review of Christopher Frayling’s new book, Frankenstein: The First Two Hundred Years.
Genevieve Valentine writes,
Half scholarly study, half art book, The First Two Hundred Years offers some great details about the story’s blockbuster success on the stage, and you-know-this-one glimpses of the movie versions of everyone’s favorite monster. But it spends the bulk of its energy on the moving pieces behind the novel itself. Mary Shelley introduced her tale in the famous story contest with Lord Byron and her husband Percy in a villa outside Geneva one dark and stormy night, but beneath it was a sea of contributing factors: Her research into galvanism, her parents’ social views, the landscape of their journey, and her own inner strain (as big a demon, Frayling suggests, as anything in their horror stories).
I do love Shelley’s Frankenstein and this book sounds fascinating. The cover of Grayling’s book is so hideous, though, that I went with an image of Shelley’s novel.