RSS

Tag Archives: Victorian-era

Book Review: “The Woman in White,” by Wilkie Collins

Genre: classic; romance; gothic; mystery; thriller; suspense

Playlist… 

Plot Summary: Walter Hartright, a young drawing teacher, is employed by a wealthy Cumbrian benefactor to teach his two wards painting.  Over the course of a pleasant summer, he falls in love with the beautiful heiress Laura Fairlie.  But she is engaged to another man.  A stranger arrives with a note containing warnings about Miss Fairlie’s intended.  Who is telling the truth?  Who is the young woman in white who looks like Laura?  And who will emerge from this story sane?

My Book Review: This is my third book by Wilkie Collins, and by now he is at the top of my list of favorite authors and I am quite a fan.  I loved “The Moonstone” when I first read it over twelve years ago and now that I’ve finished WiW I realize I love this one even more!  It is a very thick novel, and switches first person accounts as Moonstone did, and which I love.  It gives the story more of an air of authenticity.  There are three very distinct seasons within the story (or epochs, as Hartright calls it): 1) Limmeridge House; 2) Blackwater Park; 3) investigations from London.

Geniuses are ahead of their time, and that’s what makes this book so riveting.  It covers the themes of mental illness, women’s rights and narcissism.  But it also upholds the “old-fashioned” values of honor, faithfulness and compassion.

One of the best characters of the book, Marian Halcombe, is a strong heroine.  She is not beautiful but she has a capable mind and is a match for the villainous Count.  I loved reading about her standing firm on principles.  She makes mistakes anyone could have made in her discernment but they were honest ones and she had good intentions.  If it weren’t for her physical weakness and loyalty to her half-sister Laura, she could have beaten Count Fosco at Blackwater Park.  I was on the edge of my seat throughout that ordeal!  I felt like I was about ready to go crazy myself, so bizarre were some of the happenings.  Not all perceptions by all good characters are correct, because they only have half the tale.  Neither are all antagonists what they fully appear.  What a great storyteller Collins was!

SPOILER: Walter’s restraint from pursuing Laura when he could have had her was touching.  He could have overpowered her, influenced her, manipulated her just as easily as Sir Percival or the Count could have.  But he is aware of her unavailability (maritally and mentally).  END OF SPOILER.  Love is patient.  Love is kind.  It is not self-seeking… and that is the picture we see in this hero, aptly named.

Wow, these characters were so developed.  You could make a psychological study of almost all of them.  Skipping past the “goodies”, let’s look at some “baddies”.  Count Fosco is definitely the strong evil one of the piece.  He had the hold on people somewhat like a cult leader.  His extreme narcissism and magnetism with which he controlled others were apparent.  But looking at the symptoms his wife exhibited were even more telling.  She worshiped and served him without question.  She is described as having had a completely different personality before her marriage to him.  She had no thought of her own (only programmed by the Count), and would go into a paranoia if she thought his position threatened.  I was doing some interesting reading on this.  Her cold, motionless staring, even her repetitive “busywork”– endlessly rolling the Count’s cigarettes—seemed indicative of a classic textbook Geschwind syndrome or temporal lobe epilepsy, similar to the brains of long-term cult victims.  And Wilkie Collins wrote this in 1859??  Fascinating!

It was interesting that not everything that happened was part of the scheme of the villains.  Certain things backfired on them.  Part of me was disappointed in finding this out in the end because I liked thinking the Count was a Complete Mastermind Evil Being.  But it actually served to make it more realistic and believable.  The ending was not entirely explained [SPOILER: Who was the assassin? END OF SPOILER], but then not everything in life is.  The character Pesca sort of fizzled out at the end for me and he needed a stronger ending.

But really, this has been one of my favorite reads of the year.  I can see why it is such a classic.  There’s so much depth for analyzing and going deeper and I would love to hear/read/discuss more of it!  I’m also looking forward to watching different film versions.

I also recommend:

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 17, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: “Ashenden,” by Elizabeth Wilhide

Genre: historical fiction

Playlist…

Plot Summary: The history of an old English manor house is told from the point of view of successive generations of owners, servants, and occupants.

My Book Review: I think I might have discovered this book on the shelf at the library, or among goodreads recommendations.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that wasn’t a classic or by a Christian author.  I think it’s time I start investigating other books out there and this looked like an interesting place to start.

Split narratives between past and present are it’s own genre now and its nothing new.  But this book looked interesting to me because the main character is really about a house, and how history treats it.  From the time it is built in the late 1700’s through to present day inheritors Charlie and his sister Ros, we are swept through history chapter by chapter.  In one way this kept me from growing close to the characters.  In another it kept my interest in what happened next.  We know a few things from the first chapter about how the house is in it’s present state, but then we are taken back to the beginning and are clued in as to how it happened.  And then the overall question at stake is, what will be its future?

Despite the interesting plot, there were a lot of things that kept me from liking this book.  There is a small amount of foul language and ‘observations’ I could have done without.  Around chapter 2 I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue with it, but it takes a lot to deter me from finishing something once I start.  There are several characters who have mistresses or sleep around and have affairs.  In one instance, a man stumbles across a couple having sex which is briefly but graphically described.  So yeah, there are content issues.

However, I liked the conclusion the book makes [SPOILER] in that it doesn’t matter if there is a long uninterrupted line in a single family that owns a place so much as it does if the people who live there are happy and love it and can care for it.   [END OF SPOILER]

I would have to say that my favorite time era depicted was probably when the original architect James Woods goes back twenty years later with his two nieces to visit the house he built.  I liked the idea of Maria carving her initials for Reggie and Bunny to find more than a hundred years later.  They have no idea the context for it, but they appreciate it as being a part of the history of the place as indeed it is.  I wish there were more “easter eggs” like that throughout the book.

You might like this if you enjoy the manor house genre, and especially if you are into Downton Abbey.  Enjoy with a good cup of tea!

I’ve heard that Ashenden Park is based on real-life Basildon Park in Berkshire, but I don’t know this to be 100% certain.  It certainly sounds very similar, featuring honey-color stone and an octagonal room to boot:

I also recommend…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 28, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Book Review: “The Marquis’ Secret,” by George Macdonald

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; classic

Playlist…

Plot Summary: A year has elapsed since the Lord of Lossie passed away and still Malcolm has not claimed his identity as rightful heir.  Lady Florimel has been spending her time in London with friends, but their bad influence is rubbing off on her and it has Malcolm worried. How can he best protect her while in her employ as groom?  Meanwhile, will the steward of the House of Lossie succeed in ruining the fisherfolk’s village?

My Book Review: I enjoyed reading the first in this series by George Macdonald, The Fisherman’s Lady (see book review here).  I loved the Gothic atmosphere set in Scotland– full of ghosts, superstition, crackling fires, and fresh landscapes.  I was looking forward to more of that.

This book had its strengths and weaknesses.  I appreciate short chapters, so that was a plus.  But I definitely did not find it on a par with TFL.  Probably the thing I missed most was the above mentioned atmosphere.  Half the book is set in London and the south of England.  While the rest does take place in Scotland, it just didn’t have the same gothic appeal.

However, the book did contain some of its own sweetness.

It takes a lot for me to label a book “preachy”.  I would love to write a post later on this topic if I ever get around to it!  I don’t fall into the same camp as a lot of folks who eschew spiritual conversations in books as though that made for a literary downfall.  However, when the characters themselves seek to turn every spare moment into an opportunity for a sermon… yes, I take issue with that just as I would if they were real life characters.  I admired Malcolm for his honest living before God and others, and he had intentions for good all along.  But one can easily turn a person away from the Gospel when they’re a one-note johnny.  There’s no room for the Holy Spirit to do His work.  This was an irksome element for me.

But as I said, I respected Malcolm and he was hard not to like.  I loved his looking at a situation straight on and shining God’s light on all around him.

“Malcolm was one of the few who understood the shelter of light, the protection to be gained by the open presentation of the truth.”

He lived out the Book of Proverbs in a refreshing way.  He believed that if you’re right with God and man, there’s no need to fear anything.  He is a novelty in the world around him, and to us living in our world today.  “But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.” (Isa. 32:8)   Because of this, I would recommend George Macdonald’s books especially for young people.  They’re entirely safe, wholesome stories that I would have enjoyed reading growing up.

An example of Malcolm’s good character qualities is his showing his sister some tough love.  SPOILER ALERT: He held out hope that he would not have to go to extremes to protect her but as she kept pushing him away, he eventually came to the decision that claiming his authority, dealing her an intervention and giving her an alternative was the best thing to do for her, even if she completely rejected his love.  On the flip side, Macdonald wraps everything up too quickly and neatly all in the same chapter, and Florimel does a complete 180 in about a second and a half which was not believable (unfortunately, one of the book’s weaknesses).  END OF SPOILER.

Another one of the book’s downsides is Macdonald frequently skipping over essential plot parts that seemed to bore him or that he forgot to write about so he went back and stuck it in quickly by saying, “I’ll just mention here that Malcolm did xyz…” End of Chapter.  Felt a bit lame and lazy to me.

There were quite a few good quotes out of this one, popping up in those spiritual conversations Malcolm has with Lady Florimel, Lady Clementina and other characters.  But my favorite thing about the story was the unsaid parable that wove itself throughout and culminated in a fairytale-like ending, which is maybe what Macdonald is best at.  I’ve been reading in the book of Isaiah lately for my devotions and came across this verse.  With what’s been going on in the news, I’ve been longing for Jesus to come back and put things right.  When every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord and “the Lord Almighty will be exalted by His justice, and the holy God will show Himself holy by His righteousness.” (Isa. 5:16)  He will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line (Isa. 28:17).  “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness.  The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.  No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there.  But only the redeemed will walk there…  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (Isa. 35)  Doesn’t that sound wonderful?  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

How does that apply to us living in today?  As God’s children, we are to be carriers of justice and beautiful holiness as well.  And that is just what Malcolm illustrates when he comes back to Portlossie.  He fellowships with even the humblest of his tenants; the faithful are rewarded; fairness is set in order; the wicked are castigated and the repentant are encouraged.  Although—a bone to pick here: SPOILER ALERT: As the “ruler” of Lossie, I don’t believe the punishment Malcolm meted out to Mrs. Catanach and Caley was a just example to other citizens of law and order; I believe he let them off too lightly.  I know the point was his trying to demonstrate mercy but the biblical illustration of the kingdom of heaven falls short here.  This is because of one of Macdonald’s fundamental beliefs (see below) END OF SPOILER.

As much as I enjoyed the scriptural truths played out in this fiction, there were some holes from Macdonald’s own faulty theology also present.  I could have written them down but honestly I don’t have time for that and don’t feel like being more of a watchdog here than what I am already.  So I’ll spare you the point by point analysis.  Besides, I can’t remember what they all were anyway.  🙂  I did find it interesting that Master Graham was ousted by the church for being ‘heretical’ but we are not told what his unorthodox teachings were.  George Macdonald didn’t believe in the concept of hell; he believed it was not in God’s nature.  Yet the justice of God (as already described, a major theme in The Marquis’ Secret) demands a dealing with unrepentant sin.  There is also quite an emphasis on being good, yet not exactly receiving Christ’s work on the cross for us.  The reason for this is because Macdonald also didn’t accept the orthodox view of Christ’s atonement for sin.  To him, salvation was only a process of evolution toward Christ-likeness.  I believe it is both and am disappointed Macdonald erred on such major points of doctrine.

However, one of the things Macdonald did well was teach the concept of “God as Father, and sought to encourage an intuitive response to God and Christ through quickening his readers’ spirits in their reading of the Bible and their perception of nature.”

This probably wasn’t George Macdonald’s best, but it did fully demonstrate his core beliefs.  And that won’t keep me from enjoying more of his books in the future.

A closing quote from the book:

“…in the kingdom of heaven to rule is to raise; a man’s rank is in his power to uplift.”

 

I also recommend…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on April 10, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: “Mrs. Lincoln’s Dressmaker,” by Jennifer Chiaverini

Genre: historical fiction; Inspirational; Civil War

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Elizabeth Keckley, a former slave woman living in 1860’s Washington DC, is hired by many of the city’s female elite for her superior dressmaking skills.  While serving many congressmen’s wives, as well as Varina Davis, Mrs. Keckley also receives an opportunity to sew for Mrs. Lincoln as her husband prepares to enter the White House.  For the duration of the Civil War, Elizabeth is employed by Mary Lincoln as her personal modiste and she witnesses history in the making first hand.  When tragedy strikes, what will become of the bond of friendship between these two very different women?

My Book Review: Jennifer Chiaverini is known for her fictional “quilt genre” books.  Those haven’t really piqued my interest, but I have a few of her other historical fiction on my TBR.  This is the first I’ve read by her, and I was impressed.  Although it felt a little slow-reading for me at times, I came away from it being glad I learned a lot about the people on whom this story is based.

Elizabeth Keckley was a real person who was born into slavery in 1818.  She was able to buy her and her son’s freedom at the age of 37 and eventually moved to the capitol and established a successful dressmaking business for herself.  This lady was so interesting to learn about.  I would relate more, but it would spoil the book.

We’ve heard about Antietam, Gettysburg, the Emancipation Proclamation, 13th Amendment, the fall of Richmond and John Wilkes Booth.  But this is told from a friend of the First Lady’s point of view which makes the story unique.  The most interesting part for me was the time related after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.  I had no idea what happened to Mrs. Lincoln after the White House years.  It was fascinating, but if you’re hoping this story ends in a grand fashion with fireworks you would be wrong.  In some ways, it was heartbreaking.

In this story, we learn the kindness of a true friend in Keckley.  She was a fashionable, dignified, self-educated woman with common sense and whom Mrs. Lincoln needed and turned to in times of trouble.  Sometimes, Elizabeth could be too over-giving in a codependent sort of way.  Mary Lincoln wasn’t the easiest person to get along with.  But reading of Keckley’s love and loyalty was beautiful.

I was thinking about our modern era of social media.  How easily one’s text can be misconstrued and before you know it there is a facebook battle or twitter backlash.  We think our troubles are unique to our time, but in reading Mrs. Keckley’s story we find that is not true.  How does she handle the media outrage against her?  As a heroine– with perseverance, honesty, and right living despite not everything being made just this side of heaven.

If we think we have a terrible time of it in politics, it is maybe slightly comforting to learn that nothing new is under the sun.  Lincoln was not elected by the majority of the population, and many Republicans tried to run against him during his second presidential campaign.  Many “friends” deserted them and the news was full of criticism, slander and lies.  But the country made it through, and history remembers Abraham Lincoln as one of our greatest presidents.

I think Chiaverini was pretty methodical in her historical research.  I felt like the characters leapt off the page and it’s been fun to look up their photographs and feel like I know them.  If you are a history buff, I think you will appreciate this one.

PS- As you can tell from my review of Lincoln here, it is one of my favorites.  I was interested to know that Elizabeth puts in a cameo appearance as Mrs. Lincoln’s attendant in some key scenes!

The video below sums up her life in brief, but does contain spoilers:

I also recommend…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 9, 2020 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Book Review: “The Fisherman’s Lady,” by George Macdonald

Genre: classic; mystery; Victorian; Gothic

Plot Summary: Malcolm MacPhail has lived all his life by the sea with his grandfather, waking early each morning to fire the village’s ritual canon, and earning his living by fishing.  He knows the water and all the people of his little town.  But something changes in his life when he is introduced to a new calling—that of serving the marquis as captain of his yacht.  He also encounters the marquis’ young and pretty daughter, Florimel.  Secrets surround around him…  His grandfather has a secret, the manor house holds a secret, and so does a neighboring noblewoman.  But who holds the truth, and what does the truth mean for young Malcolm?

My Book Review:  I think every Christian needs to try reading at least one George Macdonald story.  Whether one of his children’s books or one of his romance novels, a lot of theology gets packed into the story and characters and it does good for one’s soul.  I appreciated the old-fashioned sense and virtues found in the character of Malcolm.  I recommend the edited version by Michael Phillips if you cannot slog your way through archaic Scots dialect.

So… a Christian gothic romance?  Hmmm, interesting combination.  Christian, –or at least Inspirational genre,– yes.  Gothic, most certainly.  Very little romance.  Big plot twist.  Yes, I saw part of the twist coming, but not the half of it!!

I got some very good quotes and I definitely plan on finishing the sequel, and reading even more by Macdonald.  However, I would not say I agree with his all of his theology –even as respected as he is.  It is very surprising once you read about it.  Christian writers Michael Phillips and Madeleine L’Engle also subscribe to similar beliefs.  However, I would not say that they surface so much in the story for a person to recognize such a big difference between it and orthodox Christianity.

I mostly just loved the atmosphere.  The crackly, firelit, Scottish countryside; shadows, leaves, and forest; spooky attics.  It is such sensory fodder for a vivid imagination!  And, I had fun brushing up on my best Scottish accent.  🙂

Wanting to travel far away to another time and place while sitting in your armchair safe at home?  Grab a cozy blanket and this novel… I’m sure it will be just the thing for you!  (*Side note: please ignore the popular book cover that’s out there of a watercolor painting featuring boy and a very mature Florimel.  It makes it look so outdated and uninteresting.  Which is why I am not featuring it on my blog post as I usually do with my book reviews.)

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on November 17, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Book Review: “King Solomon’s Mines,” by H. Rider Haggard

Genre: classic; adventure

Playlist…

Plot Summary: Experienced hunter Allan Quartermain is approached by two gentlemen proposing a search party/treasure hunt into unexplored deepest Africa.  Though he is skeptical about their success, he agrees to accompany them in hopes of leaving a legacy for his son.  Setting out, the trio encounter extremely hazardous conditions in the form of natural phenomenon, climate, and native hostility.  Will they even find what is rumored to have been Solomon’s ancient diamond mines?  Or will they succumb to the dangers along the way?

My Book Review: Oh my.  This is an oldie I’ve had on my list since way back as a mid teenager.  It’s always had this appeal for me as an armchair adventurer.  Ancient treasure, connected to true-life history while at the same time mysterious and mythical, including drama in far-off lands…!  I was finally able to read it this summer and hoped that my thirst for excitement would be fulfilled.

Although the actual story is fictitious, many of the characteristics of the novel are closer to the reality of the time period of which it was written.  It was not uncommon for adventurers to explore Africa in the latter part of the 1800’s, and many ancient secrets and geological treasures were discovered.  Haggard loosely based his characters on people he had met.  I would also like to further read on the topic of Solomon’s mines in particular and have added “In Search of King Solomon’s Mines,” by Tahir Shah to my TBR.

The thing I loved most about this exciting, atmospheric novel was the poetic descriptions of the land and people.  Africa has never been my favorite place to read about, but this book awoke more interest in it for me.  So many curious observations are made by the travelers that it gives the story a feeling of authenticity.  The battle scenes were also most exciting and it was easy to picture Chris Helmsworth as Sir Henry Curtis, standing his ground in battle clothed in ancient chain mail armor and wielding a battle-axe.

I also wondered how much this book might have influenced J. R. R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy.  I could see many similarities between the two.  For instance, SPOILER ALERT: the story starts out with a band of men coming together to start a quest, — a fellowship, if you will.  There is no doubting the three individuals’ sincerity and their implicit trust in each other from the beginning.  The adventurers eventually encounter ‘The Silent Ones’– three gigantic statues that had been carved long ago and set before the entrance to the treasure cave.  Is anybody seeing the Argonath here?  After this, they enter the “Place of Death” (so called by the natives) where they are awed by the enormous cathedral-like caverns underneath the mountain Suliman’s Berg.  I couldn’t help but picture the mines of Moriah.  At last they meet a table surrounded by dead kings of the past.  At this moment I began to picture Dwimorberg and the Paths of the Dead.  Or, Lewis fans might think of the sleeping lords on the island of Ramandu.  Another Narnian similarity I spotted was the underground diggings (of course, common to mines) and the underground lake they fell into while escaping from the treasure cave.  They eventually came to an animal hole in the earth where they popped through.  Reminded me so much of The Silver Chair!  END OF SPOILER

Although there is some sense of ‘white superiority’ on the part of our narrator Quartermain, I was actually surprised at how progressive he was for that time period in how he and his friends came to view the local natives as dear friends, comrades in arms, brothers, and noble people.

This was a book I finished at 12:30 in the morning, so you know I was pretty happy with my reading experience.  I think I will even say it surpassed my hopes!  I can’t wait to watch some film adaptations, although I doubt they’ll be faithful.   If you like your PCness, this won’t be the book for you.  But as I’ve just learned, Haggard was highly respected by the Oxford Inklings after all and one of them (Roger Lancelyn Green) is quoted as praising him “with the highest level of skill and sheer imaginative power.”  Need I say more?  I’m delighted to know there are 14 more books in the series!  What more bizarre situations can Quartermain find himself in?

*One note of caution for parents- a pair of mountains are described by Quartermain as “Sheba’s Breasts” because of their shape.  At times, it seems to go into unnecessary description over it.

Listen to King Solomon’s Mines for free!

 

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 1, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Book Review: “Doctor Thorne,” by Anthony Trollope

Genre: classic; romance

Playlist…

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com] “…Doctor Thorne is the compelling story in which rank, wealth, and personal feeling are pitted against one another.  The squire of Greshamsbury has fallen on hard times, and it is incumbent on his son Frank to make a good marriage. But Frank loves the doctor’s niece, Mary Thorne, a girl with no money and mysterious parentage. He faces a terrible dilemma: should he save the estate, or marry the girl he loves? Mary, too, has to battle her feelings, knowing that marrying Frank would ruin his family and fly in the face of his mother’s opposition. Her pride is matched by that of her uncle, Dr Thorne, who has to decide whether to reveal a secret that would resolve Frank’s difficulty, or to uphold the innate merits of his own family heritage.”

My Book Review: I highly enjoyed the second in the Barchester Chronicles series (“Barchester Towers”) about ten years ago, and always meant to return there.  But I wasn’t sure if the characters would be the same and I wasn’t ready for more of Mrs. Proudie!  It turns out, this book isn’t connected very much to the first two Barchester books, except by way of general vicinity.  It could easily be read as a standalone novel.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a book over 400 pages and I was afraid of getting stuck halfway through this one.  However, I have been experiencing somewhat of a revival in my reading life and didn’t have a problem, though it took me longer to get through.  Nevermind,– I was just proud of myself for completing it!

Fortunately, Mrs. Proudie stars in only a small cameo appearance.  But we meet other interesting characters, and Lady Arabella and her sister Lady de Courcy take the place as “women who rule the roost”.

I was looking forward to some great Trollope quotes, but alas this story wasn’t as peppered with the same wit as BT.  This story features a sweet love story between two young characters, but the suspense wasn’t enough to really hold fast my attention.  I felt it dragged on a bit too long and I started to become antsy to finish and be on to another book.

Although, I have to say that it makes for wholesome reading, especially in a day and age when couples often prove fickle, take no thought for each other’s future or well being, and do not prove constant.   I think readers will find a wonderful role model for young ladies (or anybody) in the character of Miss Mary Thorne.  Virtues such as faithfulness, sacrifice, and genuine love never go out of style.

I cannot wait to watch the Julian Fellowes’ new film version of the book!  Has anyone watched it yet and what were your thoughts?

 

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 2, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , ,

Book Review: “Cranford,” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Genre: classic

Plot Summary: [from goodreads:] “A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.”

My Book Review: I am one of those who likes to read the book first before they watch the movie.  However, there are some exceptions to the rule, especially if I think I have no interest in reading the book but might bare to find out what it’s about through watching it’s screen adaptation.  Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, and am inspired to go on to read the original.  And that is exactly what happened with “Cranford.”

How interesting could a story be about a small town filled with elderly women? No—I’d loved Elizabeth Gaskell’s “Wives and Daughters,” (both book & film), and I’d planned to read and watch “North and South” (which I did), but Cranford looked too boring.  But I was hard up for a costume drama and had heard good reviews, so I finally caved and immediately fell in love with the movie’s charm.  The music, the characters, the humor… all was to be found in this beautifully directed film, starring Judi Dench and Eileen Atkins.  It was completely darling* and I was converted, determined to read the book.

I realize that the film series is actually based on a collection of Mrs. Gaskell’s smaller works of literature, and I intend to go on to read Mr. Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow.  But in Cranford, I enjoyed reading about the many characters portrayed on screen and all of their eccentricities and habits of living.

“’…as Deborah used to say, we have always lived genteelly, even if circumstances have compelled us to simplicity.’”

One of my favorite parts was reading about Miss Matty’s visit to an old suitor, Mr. Holbrook. The description of his favorite comfortable room is a pleasant takeaway:

“The rest of the pretty sitting-room—looking into the orchard, and all covered over with dancing tree-shadows—was filled with books. They lay on the ground, they covered the walls, they strewed the table.  He was evidently half ashamed and half proud of his extravagance in this respect.  They were of all kinds—poetry and wild weird tales prevailing.  He evidently chose his books in accordance with his own tastes, not because such and such were classical or established favorites.”

SPOILER ALERT: It’s a shame Miss Matty never married him. END OF SPOILER. Obviously the poor lady suffered from a lot of codependence throughout her life, dependent on her parents and her strong-willed sister to make all decisions for her.  She is stretched beyond her comfort zone in an early plot twist that I’ve always regretted as I loved one of the characters who dies unexpectedly.

There are some discrepancies between book and movie. And fortunately in most of them, the movie’s changed elements were for the better.  For example, early on in the book the character of Captain Brown dies whereas in the movie he is a lovable, solid, male character that anchors the episodes.  I was sad to be deprived of him in the book.

However, many of the book’s details (even minute ones) remained intact throughout the series, as indeed much of what makes up Cranford is the beautiful, charming, small events of life. Sucking oranges, lace, and the conservation of candles are recognized and honored.  In fact, I believe I am glad I watched Cranford first before reading the book because it helped me understand some of the historical aspects that I would not have understood from just reading alone.  Conversely, reading about why the ladies went to their individual rooms to eat their oranges made much more sense in the book than watching it.

I mentioned I haven’t read the other two books in the Cranford Chronicles, and since I haven’t I do not know how much of the movie was added to with other characters and plot situations. But it certainly was in keeping with the spirit of Gaskell.  So much so that I can positively say I enjoyed the movie over the book.  Whenever anyone asks me what my favorite movie is, my answer is “Cranford.”

*However, it can always be possible to milk too much of a good thing which is what I believed happened to the second series and I didn’t enjoy it half so much.

Have you seen/read “Cranford”?  What did you think?

If you liked this book, I also recommend…

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 5, 2019 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

Book Review: “John Jago’s Ghost,” by Wilkie Collins

Genre: classic; mystery

*Playlist…

Plot Summary: In need of a vacation, a young English attorney (the narrator of the story) decides to visit extended relations in America.  But upon arriving at the little farm in the countryside, he discovers that all is not right in this tense environment.  There is an all-out war between the elder farmer, his hired hand, and the younger generation of sons.  And a pretty American girl caught in the middle of the drama…

My Book Review: I immensely enjoyed The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins.  So, as often is the result of something I love, I went in search of more books by same author.  This is my next foray into the Collins canon.  A novella really, this took no time at all for me to finish; it was a pretty easy read.

I found it moderately interesting, could predict some of what would happen, but novellas and short stories are not really my thing.  I did not realize it was so short when I ordered it through my library system.  But, I read it and was glad to add another title to last year’s list of books read.

Collins paints a good descriptive atmosphere that one could feel.  I like that in a book.  I might forget the details of what happened, but I carry the feel of a story around with me.  I also thought the content gave some fodder for the brain.  SPOILER: Even though the brothers did not commit murder as the town believed, their actions of hatred leading up to the dramatic episode in question reaped hard consequences.  Jago was not physically dead, yet they had ‘murdered him in their hearts’ and were paying the price.  One man lost his fiancé in the whole matter… to another man much more deserving.  END OF SPOILER.

If you want to stretch yourself to read something a little deeper but are not used to thick tomes or heavy vocabulary, I would recommend this book to you.  As an added bonus, the story is loosely based on a true story.  There is benefit to be gained by it, and will not require much time.  Another score in my book for Collins!

*This story also goes by the title, “The Dead Alive.”

I also recommend:

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 28, 2018 in Book Reviews

 

Tags: , , , , ,

More Barchester… Doctor Thorne on BBC

How ironic!  I am just finishing up the Anthony Trollope novel, “Doctor Thorne” and BBC is airing their dramatized version of it!  To listen to it free for a limited time, you can click here.  “Doctor Thorne” is #3 in the Barchester Chronicles series, but I found that it stands on its own pretty well.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 26, 2018 in Audio/Radio Dramas

 

Tags: , , , , ,