At Mrs. Lippincote’s: Elizabeth Taylor on the Brontës

One of the creepiest things that Julia, the heroine of Elizabeth Taylor’s superb novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, has ever seen is Emily Brontë’s comb.

She and her cousin-in-law, Eleanor, are talking about the Brontës, because Julia’s son Oliver  is reading Jane Eyre. The nearby school, Sunnybank, reminds Oliver of Lowood.

Julia has read all the Brontës’ books.

Julia lit a cigarette and picked up Oliver’s books from his chair.  “I haven’t read Jane Eyre for years, have you, Eleanor?  There’s something about those girls that gives me the creeps.”

“What girls?  Oh, Brontë girls!”

Julia’s husband Roddy is in the RAF, and the family has recently moved into Mrs. Lippincote’s house to be near his work.  Julia doesn’t have much in common with the soliders, but the Wing Commander is fascinated by Julia. When he drops in, she calls him Mr. Rochester.  She says to Oliver, who has measles, “Dear, it is Mr. Rochester to see you.

Jane Eyre is not the Wing Commander’s favorite.

Jane Eyre is NOTHING to Villette,” he observed.

“No.  Nothing.”  Julia leant forward with her hands clasped on her knee.  “Oliver has not yet been at Villette.”

The Wing Commander has toured Brussels, the scene of Villette, and seen where Charlotte and Emily studied French.

Later in the book, he visits Anne Brontë’s grave.

I loved this charming classic!  And Brontë fans will laugh.

Why read anything but Elizabeth Taylor?

River Biking & The Bronte Bibliomemoir Market

Glum but lovely scene on the trail.

There is a 100-mile linked-trail system in central Iowa:  long stretches and loops of  trails by rivers, through corn fields, soybean fields, prairie, parks, woods, small towns, and Des Moines, the capital.  The scenery is undramatic but gently green after a solid week of rain.  My spirit is decidedly damp.

There are even touristy things to do by bicycling standards.  You can eat disgusting fried food, delicious ice cream, or pie a la mode at diners in Adel, Redfield, and  Panora. You can stop at Angie’s Tea Room in Jefferson or lie down on a bench in a picnic shelter in Linden.  You can go wild in Des Moines or Madrid (pronounced Mad-rid) at pubs on the trail.  You can, under duress from your husband, bike to  Yale (not the university) and camp in a park not far from that tiny town.

Well, today I did none of the above.  I whizzed down hills, rode past lakes and rivers, and took a reading break by the river.

The countryside is ungroomed, but I found a pleasant place to contemplate the river.  I took the  thermos out of my pannier and drank tea while I read a bit of my latest e-book, Miranda K. Pennington’s  A Girl Walks into a Book: What the Brontës Taught Me about Life, Love, and Women’s Work.

This is the Year of the Bronte bibliomemoir:  earlier I read and was disappointed by Samantha Ellis’s Take Courage:  Anne Bronte and the Art of Life,  but I’m not far enough into Pennington’s light book to make a judgment. I will say this:  combining Bronte biography,  criticism, and memoir is a challenge for Ellis and Pennington.

Pennington has a light touch and has read Jane Eyre over and over since childhood.  She informs us:

These days I reread Jane Eyre once a year, and take doses of the others as necessary. Sometimes I consult them like an oracle or a Magic 8 Ball—I open to a random page and see what they have to say; it’s an idiosyncratic art of bibliomancy, a kind of sortes brontënae.

Very funny!


Eventually I put away my book and rode on. I’m always in the zone when the trail is flat.

The river was gushing in the background.

And then I came to the underpass.  Flooded, of course.  I should have known.

I ignored the Trail Closed sign. So many Trail Closed signs, and so often there is no need.  I walked my bike past the sign and looked in dismay.  Well, it was flooded, but the water didn’t look TOO deep.  Surely I’d ridden through worse?

I had not.

It was shallow for a turn of the wheel and then SPLASH!  I was almost swimming.

But a second later, before I had to abandon my bike, I was through.   My stretch pants were soaked four inches above my ankles, but I kept riding, riding, riding.   Once home I jumped into the bathtub and washed off all the pollutants (I hope).

And I’ll never bike through a river again.  Don’t do it!

And now I’m going to read my book!

NOTE TO SELF:  Write nothing about the Brontes in bibliomemoir-in-progress because the Bronte market is saturated.  In fact, scrap the bibliomemoir, because the bibliomemoir market is saturated. Turn the whole thing into an (a) novel, or (b)  imitation of Horace’s Ars Poetica.  Publish it in a spiral at Kinkos and distribute to relatives.  This is how my family published The Kinfolk Cookbook and many other strange family books.

Book Cat Speaks! & Three Literary Links


Salve! (pronounced Sal-way!) That’s “Hi” in Latin.

Yup.  I’m a Book Cat. I’ve picked up a LOT from reading over my bookish PERSON’S shoulder since I left the pound.  I usually enjoy books, except when she’s crying over every other page of The Dollmaker. I did sit on the book for a while to discourage her from reading on.  My colleague cats are so strung out by the emotional roller coaster of Appalchian fiction that  one took a little bite out of the corner of a page.  When will they learn?  I REVERE books, even when they made me sad.  If they allowed domestic shorthairs like me to compete at cat shows, I’d do tricks with books proving I’m way brainier than those Persians and Hairless Cats who win Best in Show!  But I’m frankly too unsedated to sit in a cage and let the judges handle me.  I’m more interested in feline classics than displaying my coat: my favorites books are  Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, The Dover Anthology of Cat Stories, Paul Gallico’s The Three Lives of Thomasina, and T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

I have a lot of book-related jobs.

Sitting on bookcases.  I call it Keeping on Top of Books.

Book Cat!

Sniffing library books.  They do have the oddest smell.


Culling the Persephone collecton. I like Isobel English’a Every Eye, which I’m sitting on. Sorry, the other has to go.

IMG_3407And now I’m also picking out today’s literary links, because my person is colossally bored.


remebmracne of things past proust13387282._SY540_1 Sarah Boxer writes at the Atlantic about reading Proust on a cellphone after her silver paperback fell apart and she experienced reader’s block.

A long time ago I was hopelessly hung up, and not in a good way, on a certain passage in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. The offending passage, obstructing all the rest of Proust for me, lay in the very middle volume, the fourth of seven, which was then called Cities of the Plain (and has since been retranslated, with more accuracy and more filth, as Sodom and Gomorrah)

And she says she finally got past it and finished up on a cell phone.  She claims it was a Proustian experience.  I don’t buy it., but it’s amusing.

2 The Atlantic also published Juliet Shulevitz’s article,“The Brontës’ Secret:  The sisters turned domestic constraints into grist for brilliant books.”

Nelly Dean 25673956She begins,

No body of writing has engendered more other bodies of writing than the Bible, but the Brontë corpus comes alarmingly close. “Since 1857, when Elizabeth Gaskell published her famous Life of Charlotte Brontë, hardly a year has gone by without some form of biographical material on the Brontës appearing—from articles in newspapers to full-length lives, from images on tea towels to plays, films, and novelizations,” wrote Lucasta Miller in The Brontë Myth, her 2001 history of Brontëmania. This year the Brontë literary-industrial complex celebrates the bicentennial of Charlotte’s birth, and British and American publishers have been especially busy. In the U.S., there is a new Charlotte Brontë biography by Claire Harman; a Brontë-themed literary detective novel; a novelistic riff on Jane Eyre whose heroine is a serial killer; a collection of short stories inspired by that novel’s famous last line, “Reader, I married him”; and a fan-fiction-style “autobiography” of Nelly Dean, the servant-narrator of Wuthering Heights. Last year’s highlights included a young-adult novelization of Emily’s adolescence and a book of insightful essays called The Brontë Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Objects, which uses items belonging to Charlotte, Emily, and Anne …

florence_marryatd5c5c1.13 And the blogger Catherine Pope-Victorian Geek wrote a piece on “Miss Maryat vs. Charles Dickens.”She begins,

It’s not often that Florence Marryat makes the national press, so this has been an exciting week. An unpublished letter from 1860 has emerged in which Charles Dickens berates Marryat for requesting advice from him. She offered a short story for inclusion in his journal All the Year Round, hoping that he would also give her a critique. Of course, it’s perfectly usual for authors to solicit feedback from editors, and Dickens was actually a close friend of her father, fellow novelist Captain Frederick Marryat. Poor Florence must’ve been rather miffed to receive a three-page snotgram in response.