Cheerful Weather For A Wedding by Julia Strachey

Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward.

She was aware of this; but it was as if she were reading about it in a book from the circulating library, instead of herself living through it.

Cheerful Weather for A Wedding, by Julia Strachly, is an irony. With a mother ecstatically proclaiming at every turn how pretty! how cheerful! something is, how can her daughter argue? The weather is most certainly not cheerful for a wedding, not with its icy blasts tearing at the guests:

Out in the drive there, standing about round the motor-car, in the furious March gale, everyone felt as though they were being beaten on the back of the head and on the nose with heavy carpets, and having cold steel knives thrust up inside their nostrils, and when they opened their mouths to avoid the pain of this, big wads of iced cotton-wool seemed to be forced against the insides of their throats immediately, so that they choked, and could not draw any breath in.

An apt description of the weather, to be sure, but even more applicable for the way that Dolly cannot speak her mind, any more than her cheerless husband speaks his. Duty bound they are, bound by some inexplicable force which pulled them to the church before being pulled away from the wedding party.

They leave behind a most abject friend of Dolly’s named Joseph, whose tongue becoming suddenly loosed lets fly horrendous news of Dolly’s past which may or may not be true. Everyone seems to have his own agenda, one which is immune to the circumstances in which the characters find themselves.

Perhaps the most interesting quote in the whole novella is this: “Neither youth nor loveliness makes people happy. It takes something utterly different to do that.” (p. 65) What might that be? Upon further contemplation, I can’t help but wonder if honesty is the missing ingredient for true cheerfulness here.

The endpapers are a 1932 design for a printed dress fabric by Madeleine Lawrence.

Persephone Secret Santa Revealed

The person to whom I sent a Persephone book is Rose of Rose’s Year. The person from whom I am pleased to be the recepient of a Persephone book is Jeannie of Sam Still Reading.
As so often happens at Christmas time, I feel a bit of “The Gift of The Magi” at work. In November, I sent Jeannie the book Dewey’s Nine Lives for the Literary Blog Hop Give-away; in December she turns it around and gifts me for the Persephone Secret Santa.

Not only did I send Rose the newly published Persephone book Greenbanks, that is the very title I received.
Funny how Santa works, sometimes, in the book blogging world.
A heartfelt thank you to Verity and Claire, our hosts for Persephone Secret Santa, and to Persephone publishers themselves for making such lovely books available (I’ll visit your store, some day I hope!) and of course to Jeannie for such a thoughtful gift sent from across so many miles. Thank you all for helping to make my Christmas bright.

Persephone Bianually and Secret Santa 2011

So thrilled to see The Persphone Bianually delivered to my house this week. Above is the No. 10 edition which introduced new books for Autumn/Winter 2011-12: No Surrender by Constance Maud (Book No. 94), Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple (Book No. 95 which I long for), and Dinners for Beginners by Rachel and Margaret Ryan (Book No. 96). It also had a short story by Mollie Panter-Downes entitled “Susan and Father Christmas”, a short story entitled “Last Laugh” by Dorothy Whipple, an article by Adele Geras on Whipple, and an article by Adam Fergusson on Bath. Near the end of the magazine is a feature called Our Bloggers Write; so pleased to be included in this along with fellow blogging friends such as A Book Sanctuary, Col Reads and Coffee and a Book Chick

I also want to bring to your attention the Persephone Secret Santa 2011 which is being hosted again this year by Claire of Paperback Reader and Verity. You have until November 6 (um, that would be tomorrow) to email Claire of your intention to join should you decide to do so. Details can be found on her post here.
If you do join in? It just might be one of your favorite bookish parts of the season…

Persephone Reading Weekend: Update for Sunday

My son caught Minou reading Susan Glaspell’s Fidelity with me as we waited for dinner to finish roasting.

So many thoughts about this novel, especially in light of Book Snob’s post on To Bed With Grand Music.

Is there ever a point where having an affair can be excused? At what point do those who judge overlook their own faults? Is there a difference between one who sleeps with her married lover because their passion is consuming, and one who sleeps with many because she is unfulfilled with her life?

As these thoughts swirl through my mind, and I complete this novel, I hope to have a review of Fidelity up by the end of the evening. The end, sadly, of Persephone Reading Weekend.

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski (Persephone Reading Weekend Book 1)

“We have thought for years in terms of movements and groups,” she said, “never of individuals. We have accepted the judgment of groups and we have subordinated our morality to them.” And she said, “I know now that that was wrong. The only good thing we can do, the only goodness we can be sure of, is our own goodness as individuals and the good that we can do individually. As groups we often do evil that good may come and very often the good does not come and all that is left is the evil we have pointlessly done.”

I was so afraid as I neared the end of Little Boy Lost that when I finally came to the conclusion, I wept.

“What?!” asked my husband. “What?” He was quite alarmed, and I was surprised myself, that a book should make me cry.

There are so many ways of being lost, especially when it comes to children. The eight year old students in my class often write with vivid description the times that they were separated from their parents, in a Target store, perhaps, or the local market.

But, Hilary has truly lost his son. When his wife, Lisa, gave their baby boy to her friend, Jeanne, before the Gestapo came for her, Jeanne in turn gave the baby to a curé for its safety. No one knew for sure where the baby was when Hilary accepts the help of Philip to find him.

The search takes Hilary to a desolate town in France, to the local convent, where a little, ragged boy, with red hands, huge eyes, and clothes which do not fit, lives. Hilary is not sure throughout the novel if the boy is indeed his, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if they are related by blood or not. For, in his own way, each is a lost boy.

“No monsieur, I am sure that either this is your son, or that your son is beyond human reach. ‘And since I am assured that he would be brought up in the faith, I should be very content if you wished to recognise this child as yours.”

“Why?” asked Hilary sharply, “Why are you so anxious that I should take him?”

She looked at him steadily for a moment and then said, “There are many reasons. One is that I am deeply sorry for you. You seem to me lost and in need of comfort. I would not wish to withhold that comfort from you.”

In this incredibly moving novel, Laski explores not only the relationship between father and son, but also that between tenderness and selfishness. She shows us the power we have as individuals for doing good, and in so doing, to redeem not only others but ourselves. I loved it with all my heart.

I have now read all three of Marghanita Laski’s novels: To Bed With Grand Music, The Victorian Chaise-Longue, and Little Boy Lost. The later is by far my favorite, for not only its story, but its message; something I’m always searching for in what I read. The Victorian Chaise-Longue was a wonderful, mind-bending book, which still terrifies me when I recall it. What a pleasure it has been to read these three very different novels by the same author; a special thanks to Persephone books for making them available, and to Claire and Verity for hosting this reading weekend.

The Persephone Biannually

It’s always a delight to come home to the mail and find it contains The Persephone Biannually. Inside are lots of treasures:

So, excuse me while I go peruse my catalogue…perhaps you may like to visit the Persephone site if you didn’t receive one?

Also, be sure to sign up for the Persephone Secret Santa  for Christmas 2010 hosted by Claire.

The Victorian Chaise Longue

What did I say, she asked herself when the effort had been made, something about machines that fly, or was it aeronautic machines? Wireless, she screamed in her mind, television, penicillin, gramophone-records and vaccum-cleaners, but none of these words could be framed by her lips. I can think them, why can’t I say them? she begged; can I introduce nothing into this real past?–and if I cannot, then even these thoughts I am thinking, has Milly thought them before? But things can’t happen twice, she told herself wearily, closing her eyes, the momentary relaxation over, the racking torture established again, I must always have been Milly and Milly me. It is now that is present reality and the future is still to come. But if I have to wait for the future, if it is only in time to come that I shall be Melanie again, then that time must come again too when Sister Smith leaves me to sleep on the chaise-longue, and I wake up in the past. I shall never escape-and the eternal prison she imagined consumed her mind, and she fainted or dozed off into a nightmare of chase and pursuit and loss. 

What is frightening? Not the typical lore of Halloween: ghosts, goblins, ghouls.

To me, what is most frightening is real life gone awry. Just a little twist, a little tweak, a little shade off center. We experience this in those dreams from which we cannot run away fast enough. We cannot scream loudly enough for someone to hear us. We cannot wake up from a nightmare which appears to be reality.

In The Victorian Chaise Longue, Melanie Langdon, who is recovering not only from the birth of her baby but from a terrible disease which troubles her lungs, decides to rest on the Victorian chaise longue she bought in an antique store. It is upholstered in red wool and tapestry, a sturdy and comfortable piece of furniture which appears to be the perfect thing for her to lie upon.

Only, it isn’t.

When she wakes, it is not to any life she knows. It is to inhabit the body of Milly Baines, also suffering from consumption, in 1864. In a kind of virtual time travel, Melly experiences Milly’s life, which weaves in and out of similarity to her own. No one believes her when she tells them who she really is, nor when she tells the doctor how she could recover with fresh air and sunlight. She is trapped within her own life and another’s, the two of which are difficult to separate. Even if she could.

This was an immensely satisfying read of pure terror and suspense. It reminds me too closely of dreams and experiences I’ve suffered in which I’ve wondered, “What if this is my real life, and what I thought was real is not?” I read it for Carl’s RIP V, and I highly recommend it for you.

Find other reviews from Nymeth, Claire, Tracey, Novel Insights, and Isabella.

Which Persephone Was Wrapped in Pink Tissue, Bellezza?

Remember this package? The one I showed next to Lidia’s Italy the day that Persephone Week began? It’s time to reveal the contents…

Several people had guesses. Claire of kiss a cloud thought perhaps it was Family Roundabout, while Claire of Paperback Reader thought it might be Little Boy Lost. Worthy choices, dear readers, but…

it’s How To Run Your Home Without Help. Because, as much as Mother’s Day is about flowers and brunch, cards and gifts, it’s also about scrubbing the bathroom, getting one’s family’s towels white, and preparing meals which are nutritionally sound as well as pleasing to the palate.

I love the pictures and advice in this book. From diagrams, clearly labelled…

to chapters entitled “Doing The Washing”…

the “lady of the house” can find advice on any subject for which she may require help. My personal favorite ties in to Greenery Street (which I was hoping to finish tonight but chances are slim…)  It’s titled Keeping Household Accounts and Budgeting.

Consider dear Felicity, in Greenery Street, at the beginning of Chapter Four:

Felicity Foster sat at her writing-table in the white-walled drawing-room of her new house, utterly absorbed in her still newer account-book. The French windows were open, and the pulsations from the traffic in the main road-a couple of hundred yards away-came drifting in with soothing irregularity…and now we’d better go back to where we were before.

Felicity’s accounts. Oh, yes; of course. Possibly you have heard of Double Entry, but-like Mr Duke’s ‘usual forms’-Felicity’s accounts were one better than that, and were entered in triplicate. One set was kept on the counterfoils of her new and still rather alarming cheque-book; one in her diary, where the hour of a luncheon or dinner engagement had more than once become entangled with the daily expenditure; and the third set was in her pass-book, and therefore more or less out of her control. Naturally enough, none of these different records agreed, but as Felicity could never understand the pass-book she was principally concerned with reconciling the other two. This she achieved by the very equitable method of altering each of the in turn so to adjust it to the other; and though she was conscious that this system led to occasional inaccuracies, the main thing was-of course-to be keeping accounts at all. (p. 61)

Isn’t that a charming vignette? Can’t you see the tolerance the author shows of Felicity’s bumbling efforts as a new wife? Greenery Street has got to be one of the most delightful books I’ve read, and How To Run Your Home Without Help? Something that perhaps both Felicity and I could use from time to time.

Persephone Week

I’ve been looking forward to Persephone Week since I saw it on Paperback Reader‘s blog a month ago. It officially begins tomorrow, May 3, but I began last night by opening To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to finish a few more on my shelf before the week ends.

Tucked between Dorothy Whipple’s Someone At a Distance and Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s Lidia’s Italy is a present I bought for myself from Persephone on Mothering Sunday. I’ll open it on our Mother’s Day, but would you care to hazard a guess at the title?

Until then, expect lots of thoughts about Persephone books around the blog-o-sphere this week. What will you be reading for it?

Mothering Sunday and Persephone Books

 

“What is Mothering Sunday?” you may ask, as well you might if you’re living in America as I am.

 

Apparently, it’s Mother’s Day for our lovely British friends! And, Persephone books is honoring us mothers with this delightful offer:

It is Mothering Sunday this weekend.

 

If you order two Persephone Classics by midnight on Wednesday, we will send you a third Classic of your choice free of charge. Please note that the offer does not apply to the grey books.

 

When ordering online you should only pay for two books, and then write in the Additional Information box: Mothering Sunday Offer and the title of the third Classic you would like. In the same box please let us know whether the books are going to you or whether they should be sent directly to your mother with a card, and if so what the card should say.

 

(Apologies to readers in North America, where Mothering Sunday is in May: however this does not stop you from taking advantage of our special offer well in advance!)

 

Here are the Persephone Classics to choose from:

 
  • Cheerful Weather For A Wedding
  • Good Evening Mrs. Craven
  • Kitchen Essays
  • Little Boy Lost
  • Making of A Marchioness
  • Mariana
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day
  • Saplings
  • Someone At A Distance
  • The World That Was Ours
 

Which will you choose?!