Frenchman’s Creek

In the court of Charles II, Lady Dona St Columb bored and fed up with her superficial world, is involved in every scandal. Beautiful, careless, insolent and deliberately indifferent she aims to shock. But secretly she’s disgusted with herself and so sets out with her children and their nurse for Navron, the isolated Cornish Estate that belongs to her husband.

Free from her drunken sop of a husband and his grisly friends, she runs barefoot through the grass with flowers in her disheveled ringlets and basks in the peace.

But not for long. She sees a sail on the horizon and hears from Lord Godolphin, a local landowner that there are pirates about, led by an elusive Frenchman.

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Pride and Prejudice

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in
possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’

Lizzy and Jane, Darcy and Bingley, Longbourn and Pemberley – the characters and locations are so seeped into my consciousness they could be real. Mrs Bennet finding husbands for her 5 daughters, Mr. Bingley arriving at Netherfield with his sisters and proud friend, Mr Darcy. Ridiculous Mr Collins who’s to inherit Longbourn and smarmy Wickham, inveigling himself into their affections. I’ve seen so many screen adaptations that I thought I already knew the story and wondered what I would gain from actually reading the book. And maybe for the first 50 or so pages that was true as the characters and locations are put in place and the story really rattles along, by page 39 we already know that Darcy has noticed a ‘pair of fine eyes‘!

But then the book came into its own and I realised how wrong I was. This is very much the story of Elizabeth Bennet (rather than the family and neighbours), who despite the constraints of society is assertive and strident, she holds her own strong opinions and with the added characteristic of insight manages to be herself.

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Death Makes A Prophet

Welworth Garden City is a rarefied little town with a plethora of litter baskets and flowering shrubs, and absolutely no bill-boards or pubs. Among its elite it boasts a high percentage of vegetarians, non-smokers and non-drinkers and is the home of the Children of Osiris, usually referred to as the Cult of Coo or Cooism. Founded by Eustace Mildmann, and originally based on the mythology of Ancient Egypt, it has adapted and modernised to include any number of dogmas, until now in 1947, it finds itself ‘an obliging religion because one could find in it pretty well anything one looked for.’

Eustace the High Prophet is a dreamy, softly spoken widower who lives with his son Terence in the mockest of mock-Tudor mansions on Almond Avenue and Peta Penpeti a man with the manners of ‘a French count’ is Prophet-in-Waiting. There are six High Priests of the Inmost Temple but the force behind the movement and the financial prop is the Hon. Alicia Hagge-Smith who manages to increase the numbers from a select few to several thousand. Banded together by a common faith maybe but one that conceals emerging jealousies, intrigue and hostility.

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A Film for April: Sweet Bean

Based on the novel Sweet Bean Paste by Durian Sukegawa this 2015 film directed by Naomi Kawase is a slow and gentle story about three people on the margins of society bought together by cooking.

Sentaro (Masatoshi Nagase) is a middle aged man weighed down by his past. He runs a small bakery selling dorayaki to locals, getting up early to make the pancakes. An elderly lady, Tokue (Kirin Kiki), responds to his advertisement for help and after a while he grudgingly accepts her offer, while noticing her crippled hands. She is overjoyed at the prospect of working but horrified by the offensively large plastic bucket of wholesale bean paste he uses for the filling. Carefully she shows him how to make it himself, listening to the beans and watching, watching. Word soon gets around about the new dorayaki recipe and the shop becomes a destination. But when rumours spread that Tokue’s hands have been disfigured by leprosy, Sentaro has to let her go.

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Classics Club Spin #26

The spin has been spun and my number 11 was The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Published in 1851 the back cover blurb says:

In the final years of the seventeenth century in a small town in New England, the venerable Colonel Pyncheon decides to erect a ponderously oak-framed and spacious family mansion. It occupies the spot where Matthew Maule, ‘an obscure man’, had lived in a log hut, until his execution for witchcraft. From the scaffold, Maule points his finger at the presiding Colonel and cries ‘God will give him blood to drink!’ The fate of Colonel Pyncheon exerts a heavy influence on his descendants in the crumbling mansion for the next century and a half.

Crikey, this does sound thrilling! I’ve got until the end of May to read it and on flicking through I see there’s a character called Hepzibah, which is another good sign. And to add to all the good news, I was able to buy my copy in an actual bookshop so it really was cheer up Tuesday!

Classics Club Spin #26

Time for another spin and it’s just the inspiration I need! I don’t have 20 titles still to be read from my original classics club list so I’ve duplicated the few remaining and numbered them 1-20. The numbers will be spun on Sunday, April 18th and whichever number comes out I need to read the corresponding title before May 31st. I’m hoping for Maurice. . .

  1. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  2. Eugine Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  3. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  4. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  5. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  6. Maurice by E.M Forster
  7. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  8. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  9. Eugine Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
  10. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne
  11. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  12. Maurice by E.M Forster
  13. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  14. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
  15. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  16. Old Goriot by Honore de Balzac
  17. Maurice by E.M Forster
  18. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  19. The Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
  20. Maurice by E.M Forster

Seize the Day

New York 1956. Wilhelm Adler a 44 year old living temporarily in the Hotel Gloriana is on his way to breakfast with his father, a permanant resident of the hotel that is home too many elderly retirees. As the elevator sank and sank and the great carpet billowed and the curtains drape like sails, Wilhelm can sense that this is a day like no other. ‘The waters of the earth are going to roll over me.’

Told in the third person by an omniscient narrator and through Wilhem’s own thoughts and flashbacks, Bellow deftly interweaves pathos and humour to track Wilhelm’s fall from a respectable middle management lifestyle. He’s been fired from his job, is separated from his wife and children and is now on the brink of financial disaster, this is his day of reckoning before he drowns in despair.

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The House of Mirth

New York 1905. Lily Bart is unfathomably beautiful. Elegant and graceful she’s welcomed at all the fashionable parties. but while she’s from a good family, her father was ‘ruined’ and now an orphan she must live with her aunt who gives her just enough pocket money to keep up appearances but doesn’t quite cover the expenses of her social calendar. At 29 Lily knows the only answer is to marry well.

The society in which Lily moves is an aristocracy that owes as much to European culture as to wealth, a society that mirrors the world of Edith Wharton’s. And it’s through Lily’s eyes and experience that Wharton sets out to satirise the world in which she felt so trapped. The tight knit group of friends that form Lily’s set, are governed by rules. The year is divided between town and country with weekend house parties de rigueur. Husbands provide the money and their wives adorn and delight, with an edge of malicious indifference.

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A Film for March: Portrait of a Lady on Fire

At the end of the 18th century a countess (Valeria Golino) asks a young artist to paint a portrait of her daughter Héloïse, (Adèle Haenel), which is to be shown to a wealthy, prospective husband living in Milan.

When Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives at the remote island near Brittany she’s told that she needs to paint in secret, pretending that she’s come as a companion to Héloïse; to watch and study her closely as they spend their days together, and then paint at night. Written and directed by Céline Sciamma, this is a simple story about women’s friendship and the unfolding romance between the two main characters, told with pared back elegance.

When I think about this film the first thing I think of is the sound of it. There’s no background music, all the sounds are made by the characters. The sea and the waves breaking, the scratching of charcoal, a canvas being prepared, wooden shoes on floor boards and the hollow clunk of a door being shut. Héloïse has been in a convent and has never heard an orchestra play. The only music we hear, she hears too; tentatively produced by Marianne on a harpsichord and then joyfully by a chorus of women singing and clapping traditional Breton folk songs; until at the end, back in Paris, we hear and see a full orchestra together.

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The Portrait of a Lady

Lydia Touchett is a wealthy American who divides her year between homes in Italy and England and every now and then visits her old family home in Albany; which is where she finds her orphaned niece, sitting reading a book amongst a jumble of old furniture, and asks her if she would like to accompany her to Europe.

So, in 1870, Isabel Archer arrives at Gardencourt, the Tudor house set some 40 miles outside of London, with lawns sloping down to the River Thames at ‘the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon’. There she meets her uncle, cousin Ralph and his friend Lord Warburton.

Isabel is sensible and kind, full of enthusiasm and fun – all in all she’s a hit. Young men fall in love with her and their sisters adore her, her erstwhile suitor Caspar Greenwood follows her over from America in hope, but Isabel values her independence and has no time for marriage, at least not until she’s travelled and seen some of the world. Gentle Ralph is one of those who love her and before his father dies persuades him to leave a part of his fortune to Isabel. He wants to see what such a spirited character will do given financial security and that action provides the catalyst. Now a wealthy young women Isabel is able to make her own choices.

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