Set at the beginning of the twentieth century, Maurice follows Maurice Hall through his school days and adolescents, to his time as an undergraduate at Cambridge and into early adulthood. It follows his loneliness and confusion, his sexual awakening and acceptance of his homosexuality and his eventual happiness.
Forster wrote Maurice in 1913 directly after a visit to Milthorpe, the home of Edward Carpenter (who I did a brief post on here) and his ‘comrade’ George Merrill. He calls Carpenter his ‘saviour’ and Milthorpe a ‘shrine’ and says that they ‘combined to make a profound impression on me and to touch a creative spring. . . The general plan, the three characters, the happy ending for two of them, all rushed into my pen.’ I think this is important because I found Maurice the most intensely personal book I think I’ve ever read.
Continue reading “Maurice”
John and Laura are in Venice a city they’ve visited before to try and escape the pain of their young daughters death. One lunchtime they become aware of a couple of elderly women watching them intently. They find out that one of the women has second sight and can see their daughter. As Laura becomes increasingly friendly with the sisters, John becomes increasingly worried.
When a telephone call comes through from their son’s school in England saying that he is ill, Laura takes the first flight to be with him leaving John to follow with the car the next day. But going along the Grand Canal he notices a vaporetto going back to Venice and on board are the elderly sisters and Laura.
He returns to Venice, but Laura is nowhere to be found and John finds himself getting caught up in a train of strange and violent events.
Continue reading “A Film For May: Don’t Look Now”
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.
Continue reading “Frenchman’s Creek”
‘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.
Continue reading “Pride and Prejudice”
‘The family of Dashwood had been long settled in Sussex.’
I love that opening line, the words can’t be read quickly, they seem to have a slow authority that tell us what to expect. That this is a family drama, about an old family and it hints that change is afoot. We know straight away to settle in and allow ourselves to be wrapped up in their story.
The Dashwood sisters, Elinor and Marianne are forced to leave Norland, their family home when their father dies and their brother John inherits the estate. They take up a cottage in Devonshire with their mother and younger sister Margaret and it’s from here that they must navigate their way to matrimony and happiness whilst avoiding the stumbling blocks of Lucy Steele and Willoughby.
Continue reading “Sense and Sensibility”
At the end of the 18th century Robert Walton is a young man inspired to travel by reading The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and writes home to tell his sister about his adventures. But on July 31st a strange thing happens when they become stranded by ice and fog and see a man of gigantic stature on a sledge guided by dogs. The next day they find another sledge being driven by an emaciated man and take him on board. Over the following days as his health improves Victor Frankenstein tells Robert the story of his life so far.
This prosaic structure is so wonderfully everyday and sets the story so firmly on home ground that it adds a chilling factor to an already frightening and exciting tale that at its heart is about abandonment and loneliness.
Continue reading “Frankenstein”
‘You must go back with me to the autumn of 1827’ writes Gilbert Markham to his friend Jack Halford in 1847, ‘I know you like a long story, and are as great a stickler for particularities and circumstantial details as my grandmother, so I will not spare you’ and so he begins to recount the story of his meeting with Helen Graham. Gloomy Wildfell Hall has been shut for years, but word comes to the neighbourhood that a mysterious single lady has been seen occupying a few of the rooms with a young child. The chatter begins amongst the local families as they speculate and vie for information and invitations.
We know that she’s an artist, that she is alone with her son Arthur and one trustworthy servant and we know that there’s a secret and that she’s afraid – but what has happened? Helen takes Gilbert into her confidence and dramatically thrusts her diary into his hands.
‘Bring it back when you have read it; and don’t breathe a word of what it tells you to any living being – I trust to your honour.’
Continue reading “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall”
If reading could make you fat then this is the book to do it, every paragraph is so dense and luscious in its descriptions, we’re as enveloped in a world of marmalade colours as the baby Laurie in his mother’s arms.
Written in 1959 Laurie Lee is remembering his childhood in the Slad Valley in Gloucestershire, where in June 1918 at the age of 3 he is set down by the carriers cart at a cottage on a steep bank above a lake; there are frogs in the cellar, rooks in the chimneys and mushrooms on the ceiling.
One of 8 children he lives with his three older sisters all ‘wrapped in a perpetual bloom’, his three brothers, younger sister and their mother in a chaotic, giggling flurry of activity, while their absent father ‘in his pince-nez up on the wall looked down like a ‘scandalized god’.
‘When the kettle boiled and the toast was made, we gathered and had our tea. we grabbed and dodged and passed and snatched, and packed our mouths like pelicans.’ Continue reading “Cider With Rosie”
At the end of January Jesse at Dwell in Possibility had a mini Persephone readathon and that was the perfect excuse for me to pick up the Dorothy Whipple at the end of my bed, lie on the sofa and have a cosy read.
The first hint that this might not be so cosy came with the title which felt a bit odd and had a slightly sinister ring to it. Who are ‘They’?, why is it in the past tense and is Mr. Knight a knight in shining armour or is he something shady? The second hint was inside the front cover when we’re given the helpful information to multiply all the amounts talked about by 50 so for £2000 read £100,000. Here was the middle class domestic world of Dorothy Whipple but with avarice at its centre and it was clear from the beginning that all was not going to go well. Continue reading “They Knew Mr Knight”
It’s 1946 and ‘You are Going to Germany’ is the official information booklet that Rachael Morgan and her son Edmund are reading on their crossing to Hamburg with other British service wives and children. There are strict instructions to be ‘cold, correct and dignified’ and not to fraternise with the German people. So when Rachael and Edmond are reunited with Colonel Lewis Morgan they are shocked to find that he has arranged for them to share a grand house with its owner, a German widower and his teenage daughter. Continue reading “The Aftermath”