Sunday, August 2, 2015

Rough-Hewn, by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

That proverb about not judging a book by its cover proved itself true once again with the beautiful, moving story inside these plain brown boards.

It's one of the best books I've read all year, and I kept putting it down to marvel at Dorothy Canfield Fisher's characters and their story.  I found my battered old copy on the shelves of Becker's Books, which almost overflows an old house on Houston's west side.  It's the kind of bookstore that rewards patient trolling through the shelves, particularly in the dimly-lit alcoves.  As I moved slowly along, it was of course Dorothy Canfield's name that caught my eye.  I knew nothing about this 1922 novel, not even the title, which naturally didn't stop me from buying it, since her books turn up so rarely.  I was very pleased later to find that this is a first edition.

With no dust-jacket and no cover copy, I truly had no idea what the story was about when I started it.  I was reminded again how rare that is. With new books, I usually know something about them - outlines of plot, details of character, whatever I glean from the covers.  Here I knew nothing, and I had the most delightful feeling of discovering a story, watching it unroll before me with no idea where it was taking me, or the characters.  And I haven't read enough of Dorothy Canfield Fisher's fiction to be certain how it would end.

For those who would like to discover this book for themselves, there will be spoilers below.  I don't think it counts as a spoiler though to say this is a wonderful book, and you should read it!

It opens in 1893, with a young boy, Neale Crittenden, just off to play shinny in the streets with his friends.  He lives in Union Hall, New Jersey, with his parents.  Neale attends a private school, but his whole life is taken up with sports and games.  Though he has loving and attentive parents, he lives very much in and by himself, in his own world.  I was just getting used to Neale and his world, when the next section of the book opened in France, where a young American girl named Marise Allen has arrived with her parents to live in Bayonne, near the Spanish border.  Her father is the sales representative of an American company selling farm machinery.  Really, however, they have come because Marise's mother wants to escape her provincial American life.  Having read a lot of novels and poetry, Mrs. Allen has come to Europe to find Culture and Life - and perhaps Love.  Too busy with these great things to care for her child, she leaves Marise to the Basque servants.  Old Jeanne in particular loves Marise like her own daughter, but she and the others despise Mrs. Allen.  Like her neighbors, they laugh at her behind her back for her laziness and for her too-obvious flirtations.  Marise, alone and vulnerable, picks up some very unfortunate ideas from them about men and relations between the sexes.  When her mother's imprudence leads to a great tragedy for the family, no one realizes how deeply it affects her young daughter, least of all Marise herself.

The story then moves back and forth between Neale and Marise.  In America, Neale moves through school and into college at Columbia, where he for a time finds his life's purpose in football.  His summers are spent in West Adams, Massachusetts, where his grandfather runs the family lumber mill.  Drawn to the work from childhood, Neale joins the lumber company where his father works after graduation.  He quickly becomes one of its rising stars, but suddenly he finds himself facing the question: what is he working for?  What is he meant to be doing with his life?  He gives up his job to travel, hoping to find an answer.  Meanwhile, Marise has sought refuge in music, studying the piano and hoping to make a career as a professional musician.  Eventually, her studies take her to Rome, where she meets Neale one fateful morning.

I loved so many things about this book.  At first I worried about Neale, whom I thought neglected by his parents.  Their close loving marriage seemed to leave little room for him.  It was only later in the book that I realized his parents, in best Dorothy Canfield Fisher fashion, were leaving Neale room to grow and develop, to find his own way.  The chapter where Neale discovers his parents' library and falls in love with books, starting with Great Expectations, was a complete delight.  Among his other attractions as a hero, he is a wonderful bookworm.  The senior Crittendens also give Neale the example of a happy, balanced partnership.  Once Neale is old enough, his father accepts a position in Central America, and his parents joyfully set off on their travels.  This is what they always wanted to do, they explain to their son, and now they can - leaving the conventional Yankee grandfather aghast, and blaming Neale's mother for this flightiness.

I thought Neale's story was much more interesting than Marise's, but then I realized that's because Marise's life is so narrow, hemmed in by her life in a small provincial French town, in a convent school.  I wondered how much Dorothy Canfield Fisher was drawing on her own experiences in writing Marise's.  Like Neale, Marise has to find her way into her own life (a phrase that DCF uses), but her first steps into that life come so much later than his.  I had a good idea where those steps were going to take them, when I learned that both Neale and Marise had roots in Vermont - the Paradise to which Dorothy Canfield Fisher returned again and again in her books.  In fact, Marise has an Aunt Hetty, clear kin to the Putneys in Understood Betsy.  As lovely as the ending of this book is, I do wish there was a sequel, set in Vermont.  I'd love to meet Neale and Marise again.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Fidelis, by Ada Cambridge

When I first heard the term "a curate's egg," I didn't know what it meant.  I did know the curate's line, but in a very different context, spoken by Peter Wimsey in Busman's Honeymoon ("Thank you," said Peter, gravely. "Parts of it were excellent").  For anyone else unfamiliar with it, Wikipedia has an explanation complete with the original Punch cartoon here.

All of that is to say that this 1895 novel by Ada Cambridge feels very much like a curate's egg.  It is the story of Adam Drewe, whose mother rejects him at first sight, such an ugly baby is he.
All its features were down at the bottom of its face, instead of being fairly distributed over it. The eyes, under the great bulging forehead, were large, and the ears enormous; the rudimentary broad nose and mouth were puckered together as if a weight had squeezed them.  He was exactly like a little goblin in a fairy picture book.
But just like in a fairy tale, the goblin child is a prince on the inside.  He grows up, unloved and abused, into a tender, brilliant, big-hearted young man.  This is due partly to his loving grandmother, who takes him in after his father dies and his awful mother remarries a wicked stepfather.  He is sustained too by the friendship of Richard Delavel, which links this to Cambridge's earlier book, A Marked Man. At a dance one fateful evening, Adam meets Fidelia Plunket, who has been temporarily blinded in an accident.  Here is someone who can't see his unfortunate exterior but warms instantly to his heart and mind.  Naturally, the course of true love cannot run smooth, and Adam ends up in Australia, where he meets Richard again, goes into business and makes his fortune.  He also becomes a world-famous and best-selling novelist (writing in the style of "the master," who I think for Ada Cambridge must be Henry James).

I liked Adam's story, with a major exception noted below.  His childhood is such an awful one, portrayed realistically, until he is rescued.  I enjoyed meeting Richard Delavel and his daughter Susan again, filling in some of the gaps in their stories.  It was interesting to read Ada Cambridge's take on a writer's life, and to speculate about how much she was drawing on her own experiences.  One of Adam's most successful novels, The Law Made Flesh, is "the novel with a problem in it - a sex problem, of course..."  I can't decide what kind of "sex problem" Cambridge had in mind, or how her audience would have understood that phrase in 1895.  And as always, Cambridge paints such a beautiful picture of Australia in this book, as in her others, that I want to book a flight there immediately.

Those were the good parts.  What I found least palatable about the book is Adam's love story, on several levels.  First, the idea that Adam chooses a visually-impaired woman to fall in love with, because she won't be repulsed by his ugliness, is just so wrong.  I doubt it bothered readers in 1895, and I suppose Cambridge deserves some credit for featuring a character with a disability as a heroine.  But it still made me very uncomfortable.  I also found their love completely over-the-top and slightly nauseating.  Adam turns out to be one of those idolizing lovers, always ready to fall down and worship.
As she blindly gazed at him, he gazed at her, with reverence unutterable. He would have liked to kneel. For if he was a man, she was all but a woman - the sacred mystery of mysteries, the informing spirit of his new man's world.  And that lovely mouth, that tender throat and chin, that exquisite curve of her young breast!  He stood spell-bound before her, suffocated with emotion.
A little of that goes a very, very long way - and unfortunately, Adam is suffocated with emotion far too often.  He doesn't speak, so Fidelia can't, and things go awry.  But his fidelity to her doesn't stop him from attaching himself to other women, once he settles in Australia.**

I read a modern reprint of this novel, from the Mulini Press in Canberra.  The editors describe it as "Cambridge's most interesting novel of the Williamstown period" (the later years of her writing career).  It was definitely interesting, but nowhere near as satisfying as The Three Miss Kings, which I found good all through - or A Humble Enterprise, despite some caveats.

One of these is the maid in his boarding house, who has no idea that he is courting her and blithely one day announces her impending marriage to him.  He also becomes involved with a married woman, just "as friends," but still ends up in the divorce court.  I felt really badly for the last of these women, abandoned immediately when Adam receives news that Fidelia is free again.  She breaks her heart over him, and Cambridge wallows in the emotion of a protracted farewell between them, where they almost but not quite kiss, tears running down their faces. I wanted to smack Adam at that point.  And write a sequel where Sarah meets a man worthy of her.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The Children of Pride, Robert Manson Myers, ed.

I spent the last week immersed in this book.  At times it felt like I was reading a classic Victorian novel, a family drama in an American setting rather than the more familiar worlds of Anthony Trollope or Charlotte Yonge.  I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading about real people - and that there was a large supporting cast whose voices were rarely heard.

The Children of Pride is a collection of the letters of the family of Rev. Dr. Charles Colcock Jones, written between 1860 and 1868.  A prominent Presbyterian minister, he lived with his wife Mary south of Savannah, Georgia.  The 129 slaves he owned worked the family's three plantations, raising cotton and rice.  One son, Charles, was a lawyer in Savannah.  The first letter in the collection announces his election as mayor of the city, in October of 1860.  A second son, Joseph, was a physician in Augusta, Georgia.  The only daughter Mary was married to a Presbyterian minister herself, who served a church in a small town close by.  All three children were married and had their own children.  They also owned slaves, who worked in their homes and on their own properties.  The letters mention different slaves by name, sending news or greetings between family members separated, echoing the news and messages shared by the white writers.  I was surprised to see older slaves referred to as "Daddy" (Daddy Andrew) and "Mom" (Mom Patience), rather than the more familiar "Aunt" and "Uncle."

This book, at 671 pages, is an abridgement of a much longer book.  The editor Robert Manson Myers chose the letters included here to highlight the Joneses' various experiences in the Civil War.  In one sense, the war dominates the book: the Joneses one and all hated the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln, whom they blamed for the war.  Devout Christians, they saw the North as a godless place filled with evil men who desecrated the sacred soil of the South simply by setting foot on it.  It has been a while since I read anything so virulently pro-Confederate, and I had to put the book down sometimes to get a break.  I eventually printed out Lincoln's second Inaugural Address and stuck it in the book, just for a bit of balance.  I know it is no use arguing with dead people, but I was surprised that the Joneses assigned the lowest possible motives to the North.  They apparently refused to consider that Lincoln and his army were fighting to save the Union.  They understood it only as a war by abolitionists, to crush not just slavery but the entire Southern way of life. Thus they were fighting a holy war, in which they fully expected God to give them the victory. To protect their human property from the Federal troops, the Joneses bought a plantation in northeast Georgia, planning to move their slaves away from the vulnerable coast (the previous owner sold the property so he could move his slaves to Texas).  Rev. Jones wrote indignantly to one son that the slaves were deserting the plantations to cross to the Union troops. "The temptation of cheap goods, freedom, and paid labor cannot be withstood. None may be absolutely depended on."  How dare they, sir!

Yet at the same time, the first three years of the war had little direct effect on the Joneses.  Union naval forces blockaded the coast but landed only a small number of troops.  The oldest son Charles became a lieutenant colonel in an artillery unit, but he was stationed around Savannah for most of war and apparently never fought in a battle.  The second son Joseph became an army surgeon, and he was later sent to investigate the notorious Andersonville prison camp, but he spent much of the war caring for civilians and carrying out medical research.  War came to Georgia with Gen. William Sherman's troops in late 1863.  The daughter Mary was then living in Atlanta, where her husband was pastor of a parish.  They fled Atlanta before it was taken, but by going down to the family's plantations they put themselves in the path of the March to the Sea.  Mary gave birth to her fourth child while Sherman's raiders outside ransacked the place and threatened the family.

Though the violence of the war came late, the war itself was a constant theme in the family's letters.  But they are also full of the events of their own lives.  Children were born, and some died, as did spouses.  The women writing often spoke of "expecting to be sick" at a particular time, estimating when a child was due.  There were constant outbreaks of disease, from "break-bone fever" (which may have been malaria or dengue fever) to scarlet and yellow fever, as well as heart disease and the degenerating health of the elderly.  Everyone wrote constantly about clothing - who was making it for whom, who was wearing what.  Trade and food were other frequent topics, with goods coming from the cities crossing with home delicacies being sent out.  There were also reports on the crops and other work carried out by the slaves (always referred to as "the servants" or "the Negroes").  Of course news was shared, from a large extended family.  And there were constant references to church work, to services and preaching.  Charles Junior was not a member of the church, though a believing Christian.  But his parents worried constantly that he had not been saved, and they wrote regularly about their fears for his soul - apparently to no avail, at least in the letters here.  I did note that no one in the family mentioned reading for pleasure.  The only books mentioned besides the Bible were the spiritual works in Dr. Jones's library.

I found these letters, and the Joneses themselves, fascinating (and sometimes really annoying).  Their personalities come through so clearly in the letters, which are well-written (though often verbose).  The book includes photos of the main writers, which made them even more familiar.  I was initially surprised at the lack of footnotes or of any explanatory notes, given how many people and places are mentioned in the letters.  In his preface, the editor explained that decision, quoting Samuel Johnson: "Notes are often necessary, but they are necessary evils..."  Dr. Myers went on to say, "I have preferred to keep the reader in the nineteenth century rather than force him to shuttle between the nineteenth and twentieth. I have let the story speak for itself."  And it does, very strongly.  I did appreciate his epilogue, where he tells us what happened to each of the family members, including the children born in those nine years.

This is a hefty books, particularly in the hardcover edition I read, but it held my interest to the very last page, because it is such a human story.  The original edition of the letters, which covers six more years (1854-1868), is massive, over 1800 pages.  I am looking for a copy - I want the fuller story.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Victorian Chaise-Longue, by Marghanita Laski

I came across this book on a list of forgotten classics, and I was immediately intrigued by the premise: Melanie in her modern drawing room falls asleep on her antique Victorian chaise-longue one afternoon, and wakes up in a different, frailer body, in a Victorian household.  What really caught my attention was the assertion that this book would cure its female readers of ever wanting to travel back in time to Barsetshire.  I am a sucker for any Trollope connection, and I was glad of an excuse to browse again at Persephone Books.  (Never mind that I already have Marghanita Laski's Little Boy Lost unread on the TBR shelves.)

While this book had no effect on my love for Barsetshire, I can say it was one of the most unsettling and horrifying books I have read in a very long time.  A great part of its effect is I think that so much is left unsaid, unexplained, for the reader and Melanie to figure out.  Yet at the same time, I saw some things more clearly than Melanie, confused and terrified by her experience.  I am on record as a fan of time-travel or time-slip books, but in those I have read, the characters either seek the experience or quickly adapt themselves to it.  I had never considered the horror of waking in someone else's body, not knowing who or where one was - and without the least idea how to get back.

I was very impressed with the ingenuity of Laski's story, the skill with which she slowly reveals Melanie's awakening and discovery.  Because we see through her eyes, we are caught up in her confusion and terror.  Laski links the stories of the two women together in such clever ways, some of which I didn't catch until after I'd finished the book and was thinking back over the story.  I felt Laski evoked a small corner of the Victorian world wonderfully well.  I don't think though that it is any kind of statement on Victorian women in general, but on the experiences of one particular woman and her circumstances.

And all of this in such a short book - only 99 pages in the Persephone edition.  Its impact is all out of proportion to its size.  I really appreciated P.D. James's introduction to this edition, which gave me some background information on Marghanita Laski, as well as the titles of her other books - hopefully also published by Persephone.

I am mortified however to learn that I have for years mistakenly called this particular piece of furniture a "chaise-lounge."  Which made sense in my mind because one lounges upon it.  But still - I blush for my long-ago French minor in college.  And after reading this, I doubt I will ever sit - let alone lounge - on one again.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Light of the World, by Elizabeth Alexander

There was a time, some years ago, when I was drawn to reading memoirs of loss - spouses, partners, parents, children.  My mother was suffering from a debilitating disease that no doctor could diagnose, let alone treat.  I recognize now that on some level I was trying to prepare myself for a loss I couldn't even contemplate.  I realized the futility of that when we lost her, suddenly, between one day and the next.  Nothing had prepared me for that, nothing could.

Elizabeth Alexander lost her husband just as suddenly.  Four days after his 50th birthday, he collapsed on the treadmill in their basement, where their younger son found him.  I read an excerpt from this memoir in The New Yorker, about the events of that night, and put the book on my reading list.  In some ways it follows a familiar pattern: a portrait of a loved one, an account of lives built together, of children and family; then of death, and those left behind trying to cope with that loss.

What sets this book apart for me is the language.  Elizabeth Alexander is a poet and an essayist.  According to, she is currently the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, as well as a Professor of African American Studies at Yale.  She weaves poetry - her own and others - into her story, including a poem of her husband's that she found after his death.  Her beautifully-written chapters move back and forth in time, returning always to the loss at the center of her story, and for a long time, of her life.

Her husband, Ficre Ghebreyesus, was born in Eritrea (a country I couldn't have found on a map before reading this).  A war for independence from Ethiopia cost thousands of lives over thirty years, driving many people into exile.  He was one of them, walking to Sudan, traveling from there to Europe and then the United States.  He worked as a chef, opening restaurants with his brothers, before turning to the study of art.  The book includes some of his recipes, "legendary dishes such as shrimp barka that existed nowhere in Eritrea but rather in his own inventive imagination."  He never exhibited or sold his artwork, photos and paintings that Elizabeth Alexander describes so vividly and movingly.  I was happy to find that it can now be seen on a website she has set up here.  It was also moving to see a photo of this man that I felt I had come to know - and to mourn - through her words.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Sunday miscellany: bookish connections, new books, books delayed

Good morning!  It is another hot summer day here in Houston, perfect for staying inside to read - but then most days are, for one reason or another.  We're supposed to top 95 degrees today, with no break in sight for a while, but at least the tropics are quiet.  We've had enough storms to last us!

I am still working my way through Richard III.  With Shakespeare I often end up reading scenes aloud, which helps me follow the language.  That means that I generally only read Shakespeare at home!  Yesterday evening I finished re-reading Dorothy Dunnett's The Game of Kings, the first of the Lymond Chronicles.  Usually as I turn the last page I am already reaching for the second, Queens' Play, but I put it off for a while to read some other things.  I pulled this book off the TBR shelves, only to realize how it connects my recent reading.

Princess Alice was born Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott, the granddaughter of the Duke of Buccleuch.  The Douglases and the Scotts are major characters in the Lymond Chronicles, particularly Wat Scott of Buccleuch and his son Will Scott of Kincurd in The Game of Kings. This book is filled with late Victorian and early Edwardian photos of the Scott family, and homes that I associate from the Chronicles with the Douglases, like Drumlanrig and Dalkeith.  In fact, I bought this at Half Price Books many years ago primarily for the pictures, and the Scott connection.  I had never made the connection with Richard III's title of Duke of Gloucester, however.  I don't know much yet about this Duke and Duchess, but I'm sure they were happier than Shakespeare's Richard and Anne. I've only read a few pages of the book, the first chapters of which describe a charming Edwardian childhood in a close-knit family, growing up between London and Scotland (Princess Alice was born in 1901).  It's funny (and sad) that I've had this book unread for so many years, but it does fit my theory that books unread "ripen" on the shelves until the right time.  And while I have been toying with the idea of a trip to Ireland next year, after following Somerville and Ross around Connemara, now I'm thinking of the Highlands and the Hebrides.

I don't follow Lois McMaster Bujold on social media, but I belong to an on-line reading group focused on her books.  For some time I've heard via the group that she has had a serious case of writer's block, with nothing published since the latest in the Vorkosigan saga, Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, in late 2012.  Then came the exciting news of a new Vorkosigan book to be published next year - and focused on Cordelia, mother of the manic Miles and one of my favorite heroines.  The news of a novella set in her Five Gods series was a complete and happy surprise.  The three books of this series are set in an AU late-medieval Europe, with a Holy Family of Five Gods that frequently intervene in human events.  I love this series almost as much as the Vorkosigan books, and I have long been hoping for more.  The first, The Curse of Chalion, focused on the Daughter of Spring, and the third, The Hallowed Hunt, on her brother, The Son of Autumn.  The second book belongs to the Bastard, son of the Mother of Sumner, who also plays a big part in the other stories.  I was hoping for a book on the Mother, as well as the Father of Winter, but from this title of this novella, I knew we would be seeing more of the Bastard.

The Bastard, lord of demons and of untimely events, is such fun to read about, and I imagine to write about!  He does tend to take over the story a bit, when he appears, much like DEATH in Terry Pratchett's Discworld.  This novella is only available as an e-book, so I have made just my third purchase, and all novellas (I generally download free older books from Gutenberg and Google Books).  It's lovely to be back in this world, and I can already feel the pull to return to Chalion as well.

With so many good books to read, it feels churlish to whine about books that I can't have (yet).  But Hayley's review of one of the new British Library Crime Classics, Alan Melville's Quick Curtain, gave me that "I want to read this right now" feeling.  Unfortunately, there is a delay with their U.S. release.  I will be good and wait, but it does remind me again how spoiled I have become, with books so easily available.

And finally, our JASNA Houston group met yesterday, to watch Amy Heckerling's "Clueless," which some of our members had never seen.  I did, when it was first released, and I still remember when it burst upon me in the theater that I was watching a very clever adaptation of Emma.  Not having seen it in several years, I enjoyed seeing it again very much.  It certainly has some dated elements, like the massive cell phones the characters carry around, but overall we agreed the story itself doesn't feel too dated.  We were talking afterwards about how the bones of the story are there, even if the details don't always match up. Christian won't end up with a Jane Fairfax, but he turns out to be a much better friend to Cher than Frank to Emma.  And Cher has the kind of friend in Dionne that Emma herself lacks.  We may watch the Bollywood "Bride and Prejudice" another time. This was the first film viewing that I've been to, since I boycott the actual adaptations!

I hope that everyone has a lovely week!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Evil characters in literature

I am currently reading two books, or rather a book and a play: Dorothy Dunnett's The Game of Kings, and William Shakespeare's Richard III. Both readings were inspired by Carola Hicks' book on the Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, which led me to a book on the Paston family (A Medieval Family, by Frances and Joseph Gies).  I've also had Dunnett's Francis Crawford of Lymond in mind since I read an article by Marie Brennan, "Five Things Epic Fantasy Writers Could Learn from Dorothy Dunnett" (it's posted on here).

Reading these two together is a weird experience, because they both include a great literary villain.  Moving from book to play and back again is like being caught in a call and response of evil.  And that got me started thinking about evil characters in literature.  I love making lists, but I can't come up with others who measure up to these two.

I have seen at least one production of Richard III, the 1995 film with Ian McKellan.  I can't remember if I've ever read the play before, though.  As a history major concentrating on British history, I read about the Wars of the Roses, and about Richard's reign, both in historical works and in novels.  Just the other day I was looking through Josephine Tey's The Daughter of Time, because I remembered a reference to the Paston Letters.  Of course I ended up reading through my favorite parts, marveling again at the passion Tey brought to her defense of Richard.  I remember Dorothy Dunnett taking a more measured view of him, when he appears as a character late in the House of Niccolo series.  But the pure evil of Shakespeare's Richard came as a bit of a shock.  When I read his aside on Clarence in Act 1, I felt a chill:
Exit Clarence
Go tread the path that thou shalt ne'er return.
Simple, plain Clarence, I do love thee so
That I will shortly send thy soul to heaven,
If heaven will take the present at our hands.
And then he goes from there to court the Lady Anne, over the body of her father-in-law Henry VI, whom Richard cheerfully admits to having killed, as well as her husband Edward.  All for love of her, he says.  When she accepts his ring, I want to Cher-smack her.

Dorothy Dunnett's villain is a woman, like Richard based on a historical person: Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox, the niece of Henry VIII and eventually the mother-in-law of Mary Queen of Scots.  When we meet her in The Game of Kings, she and Lymond already have a history together, which is only gradually revealed.  Their relationship plays out across the six novels, to the very end of the series. "From her jealous concupiscence at twenty-seven for a boy eleven years younger had come all of the ills that dogged him."  And it's not just Lymond who suffers.  In this first book alone she is responsible for the death of three innocents, and the toll will continue to mount. (Two people that I talking into reading The Game of Kings have never forgiven me [me?] for one of those deaths, and have refused to read any further in the series.)  Margaret Lennox is such fun to loathe, and I always enjoy the last glimpse of her in the final pages of Checkmate.

So those two are my list of not just villains, but literary evils.  I haven't been able to think of any others to add to the list - and I'm not counting serial killers or psychopaths, because I don't read about them by choice.  I was considering Mrs. Norris in Mansfield Park, who I do believe is evil, but she doesn't have as much scope for her talents (appropriating cream cheeses and green baize rather than crowns, and really with only Fanny to torment). Also smaller in scope is Charlotte Mullen, of E.O. Somerville and Martin Ross's The Real Charlotte, but then she is truly an evil woman, unredeemed even by her love of her cats.  Maybe I will complicate my list with a second rank, the lesser of two evils.  In the meantime, I will be keeping my eye out for other villains, and welcome any nominations.