Friday, March 31, 2017

Lisa Vale, by Olive Higgins Prouty

This is the second in the series of novels that Olive Higgins Prouty wrote about the Boston Brahmin family the Vales. The titular character, Lisa Vale, is married to the oldest Vale son Rupert, and the sister-in-law of Charlotte (of Now, Voyager, the third in the series). I haven't come across too many heroines named Lisa!

Like Now, Voyager, this story opens on board a ship. Lisa is returning from an extended stay in Europe with her two daughters, Fabia and June. Fabia is secretly engaged to a young doctor, Dan Regan, who is socially and economically far beneath one of the "Boston Vales." Lisa has a secret of her own (this isn't a spoiler, it's explained in the first chapter - and it's not quite so secret as Lisa thinks it is). Her marriage to Rupert has never been a happy one, and she has been in love for years with Barry Firth, a partner in her husband's firm. Though their affair is an emotional one, not a physical one, Lisa is careful to keep everything in the proper bounds. She recently helped get Barry promoted to the Chicago office and away from Boston, but they still write to each other.

As if worry for her daughter and about Barry weren't enough, Lisa receives word that her elder son Rupert Junior (known as Windy in the family) has been arrested for drunk driving. There was a young woman in the car with him (like Dan Regan, she is not of their class). His father is apoplectic, particularly since Windy has just failed to get into Harvard. She is also worried about her second son, Murray, a frail boy who is struggling in school. At least her daughter June, about to make her debut, is enjoying it all and causing her mother no qualms.

Someone commented on my post about Dorothy Whipple's Greenbanks that it is "A very satisfying, a bit old-fashioned family story." I think the same could be said of this book. I had met most of these characters already in Now, Voyager. I already liked Lisa, who was such a good friend to her sister-in-law Charlotte. Here she is trying to balance her role as wife and mother with her own needs. I think she is a good mother, who loves her children and tries to support and help them, even when she disagrees with the choices they are making. While she plays her expected part as a wife, she stands up both to Rupert and his overbearing mother, Grandmother Vale. And she is very resourceful, in helping Windy out in his situation and in handling a financial setback with an unexpected pragmatism that I found charming. She deals with what is, rather than wasting time worrying or whining about what can't be helped.

As much as I liked Lisa, I found this book less satisfying than Now, Voyager. It didn't have the same impact as Charlotte's re-birth and growth into her own life. The story spends quite a bit of time with Fabia's romance, which I thought rather boring despite the drama (and then I knew from the later book how it turned out). I did enjoy this book though. Charlotte made several cameos - at one point Fabia declares that she won't be another Charlotte. I was glad to know how much happiness is ahead for her.

The fourth book in the series, Home Port, focuses on Lisa's younger son Murray (who seems to be the proverbial ninety-eight pound weakling). The library has already found me an inter-library loan of the fifth and last book, the elusive and expensive Fabia. I want to read them in order, and the ILL period is short, so I will be spending more time with the Vales in the near future.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Greenbanks, by Dorothy Whipple

Dorothy Whipple is an author whose books I enjoy very much, but I have the hardest time writing about them! I think it is in part because I feel like I am late in discovering her - that everyone must have read her books already. That's true of other authors that I read, yet I don't have such a block in writing about them. Here again with Greenbanks (as with High Wages and The Priory) I'm struggling with what to say about this story of a home and three generations of the family that owns it, other than I liked it very much. I am still thinking about how the characters' lives carried on after the story ended, and wishing that Dorothy Whipple had written a sequel, set say five or six years later.
So I thought I'd share some of my favorite passages. I loved Louisa Ashton, the kind and patient matriarch of the family. She has a special bond with her granddaughter Rachel, who spends a lot of her time at Greenbanks. I think Rachel and her uncle Charles, Louisa's son, are the only people who truly appreciate her. Charles tells her one day, "The only person I find completely satisfying, Mother, is you."
     'Me?' asked Louisa, going quite pink.
     'Mmmm,' said Charles. 'The French have an expression "Bon comme le pain." When I heard it, I thought of you. You're good, like bread; you're essential, you know, Mother. The world couldn't get on without people like you.'
     'Nay, nay,' protested Louisa. 'I'm not half clever enough. Not clever enough for your father, not half clever enough for you children. I've always felt that drawback.'
     'It's better to be wise than clever, and that's what you are, darling. But don't look so bothered. I won't praise you any more.'

One day Rachel wants something to dress her dolls, and Louisa opens up the ottoman in her bedroom.
It was long and stiff, with a high rolled end; no one dreamed of accepting its invitation to recline. . . When Louisa opened it, it let out a smell of time, a faded, shut-up smell of prints and silks and flannels that had been there for years. Rachel leaned into it, drumming her toes on the side, entirely unaware that the ottoman contained an almost complete record of her grandmother's life.
Rachel asks to hold a little box, which belonged to Louisa in her own childhood. She steps over to
a little water-colour drawing of Louisa as a child in short black boots and royal blue frock, clasping the very box Rachel now held in her hands. It gave Rachel a queer feeling to hold the box and look at it in the picture. She felt the little girl with a round face and curls so fair you could hardly see them on the paper could not possibly be her grandmother, but the box was the very same box still. She looked from the box in her hands to the box in the picture for several minutes. Then she handed it back to her grandmother and leaned into the ottoman once more.
I've had that same feeling, looking at a photo of my grandmother as a child in the 1910s. There was no box to connect us across the years, just the family likeness.

Louisa rummages through the layers of her life and her memories, while Rachel watches, unaware of what is passing through her grandmother's mind. Eventually Louisa finds a piece of red bombazine, which satisfies Rachel. This scene reminded me of Louisa May Alcott's An Old-Fashioned Girl,  where Polly and the Shaw children spend an afternoon with Grandmother Shaw, digging through her cabinets of treasures. But Mrs. Shaw tells the children stories about what they discover, and her memories are happy ones. Louisa's aren't, for the most part. And in the end, she puts back "a beautifully stitched night-gown and a night-cap with a frilled edge. These were her death clothes..."

Finally, it's always lovely to meet a fellow reader, even a fictional one:
Rachel had a passion for reading, shared by no member of her family . . . But Rachel, surreptitiously visiting the book-cases where her father had all the best books on show, extracted volume after volume of Shakespeare, Sterne, Fielding, Goldsmith, Dickens, Scott, Jane Austen, bound Cornhills, bound Punches . . . She skimmed over what she did not understand and got what she wanted from the rest . . . She read the classics with avidity, not knowing them to be classics, but she read with equal avidity St. Hilda's, Brenda Shows the Way, The Hockey Heroine and other school tales lent to her by Judy, who always had books of this kind given to her at Christmas. She read, too, the penny novelettes she found in the kitchen at Greenbanks and at Beech Crescent. She made no discrimination between these literatures; she read and enjoyed them all.
I finally redeemed a book token from Persephone that I have been hoarding, so I'll soon have a copy of Because of the Lockwoods to add to my Dorothy Whipple collection (all in the lovely grey spines).

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Three Brides, by Charlotte M. Yonge

Charlotte M. Yonge really puts her characters - and her readers - to the test. The last book of hers I read, The Pillars of the House, began with a poverty-stricken family of eleven children (one crippled with a "diseased ancle-joint"), a tubercular father, and a frail mother (pregnant, as it turns out, with twins, her second set). I knew from the first page I was in for serious drama (if not melodrama), but also for a good story. Her strong characters and easy narration make her books so very readable.

This book, published in 1876, opens at the home of Julia Charnock Poynsett, a widowed mother of five sons (and two more lost in infancy). She is confined to her room after a riding accident some years ago. Her three eldest sons have recently married, one after the other, and the brides of the title are coming to meet their new family for the first time. Raymond, the eldest and heir to his mother's property, has married his second cousin Cecil Charnock, the only child of the head of the senior branch of the family. Julius, recently named rector of the parish, has married Lady Rosamond, the daughter of a impoverished Irish earl, an army officer whose family has traveled the globe with him. The third son, Miles, is a sailor who has sent Anne, the wife he met and married in the South African bush, home while he completes his tour of duty. Two unmarried sons are at home, preparing for careers, Frank in business and Charlie in the army. Though they will soon be gone, the other sons and their wives will be living together with their mother, who is "lady of Compton Poynsett in her own right," holding the property and the purse strings. Now, isn't that a perfect recipe for family drama? Add in a missing cousin accused of embezzlement, a young curate who'd rather be playing cricket, a thwarted young romance, and an epidemic, and you've got a real page-turner.

Julius, the third son, and the rector, is introduced matter-of-factly as an albino. It is mentioned in passing, as a family trait, with a cousin sharing his white hair but not his "coral" eyes. I have noted before that Charlotte Yonge is the first Victorian novelist I have read to include characters with disabilities so fully in her stories. In The Pillars of the House, the young woman with the diseased ankle decides to have her foot amputated and gets fitted with a cork foot, giving her much more freedom of movement. That really surprised me - I always think of surgery as a last resort for the Victorians, and I hope to heaven she had chloroform - though it made sense to and for the character. Here Julius is a strong, virtuous, spiritual character, as one would expect a parson to be in Yonge's novels. He has married a woman of rank, who is also beautiful and kind - and it's clearly a love match on both sides. She doesn't seem to have boggled at his appearance, and neither does anyone else, except his new sister-in-law Anne - but she has the excuse of being ill after a long voyage. I find this simple acceptance and integration of people with disabilities into families and communities really interesting.

If Charlotte Yonge seems progressive in that area, she is certainly of her time when it comes to women's roles. The story of the three brides isn't just of their adjustment to marriage or their new family. Each also has to change, to grow in her proper womanly role. Cecil is spoiled and too caught up in family pride. She also resents her mother-in-law's control of the household (however lightly exercised), and the close relationship she has with her sons. Rosamond is too frivolous and lazy for a rector's wife, though her warm heart makes up for almost everything. Poor Anne comes off the worst initially. Sickly, terrified of everything new, she is also rigid in her church doctrine and very judgmental of the family. She even asks if Julius the model rector is really a Christian. I started to wonder if Miles just married her because she was the first woman he'd seen after a long voyage! But eventually she relaxes a bit and becomes much more human.

The question of the proper role and place of women plays a big part in the book. Cecil, bored with playing second fiddle to her mother-in-law, takes up with the local black sheep of the neighborhood (without knowing the lady was previously engaged to her husband, a fact the reader learns in the first few pages). Lady Tyrrell has gathered some very dubious people around her, including an American woman who lectures on The Equality of the Sexes and Women's Rights. Charlotte Yonge has no time for either. Like the saintly Mrs. Poynsett, she would probably say that she had all the rights she needed. Several characters, women as well as men, argue for role of women as Angel in the House, secluded away lest any corruption of the world touch them to make them unfit for the sacred duties of wives and mothers. There is a lot of talk of women's "pure" spirits. The American Mrs. Tallboys, from "the other Cambridge," with her complacent and largely silent husband, is clearly set up as a straw-woman here.

A second major plot element involves the evils of horse-racing. An annual race-meeting is held in the neighborhood. As the local Member of Parliament, Raymond is a subscriber. Julius sets himself against it from the first, though Rosamond loves the excitement of a meet. The right-minded characters discuss the problems, not so much with racing itself, but with the betting, and with the low-life characters that are drawn to it. Several characters are addicted to gambling, and family fortunes have been lost. Despite these examples, and all the well-reasoned arguments Yonge's characters present, it takes a large-scale tragedy to finally convince at least the upper classes to give up the races.

Actions have consequences, in Charlotte Yonge's stories, and people pay for their mistakes and bad choices. Sometimes they pay with their lives. Sometimes it is innocent bystanders who pay. I never start one of her books without wondering which character - or how many - will be dead by the book's end. Someone always will - and she usually presents that as a "happy" ending, a reward. Here at least she spares one attractive young man, though she takes him to the very brink of death. I peeked ahead to the end of that chapter, because I was so sure he wasn't going to make it.

Despite my occasional frustrations with Yonge's books, I enjoy them very much. (Heartsease was my least favorite, of those I have read so far.) She is more earnest, less fun, less satirical, than Anthony Trollope or Margaret Oliphant, but I do find her books addictive. I've been lucky finding reprints on-line, particularly in "three-and-sixpenny" Macmillan editions from the 1880s and 1890s, which are surprisingly affordable. My copy of The Pillars of the House came in two volumes, a genuine "double-decker"! Somehow these escaped the general purge of Victorian literature in World War II that seems to have struck the women authors particularly hard. It's a joy to hold and read these old books.

Edited to add: I had almost forgotten about my Century of Books! Now I can fill in another year.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Silence in Court, by Patricia Wentworth

Ever since I learned that Patricia Wentworth wrote mystery novels that don't feature her detective Miss Maud Silver (I think first from Jane at Beyond Eden Rock), I have been keeping an eye out for them. When I stopped in at my beloved Murder by the Book the other day, I was thrilled to find several shelves of the recent reprints from Dean Street Press. This was the first time I have seen any of them in print, and I was glad to see a list of all the titles. I hadn't realized that some of them feature Miss Silver's frequent collaborators Frank Abbott and Ernest Lamb of Scotland Yard. Nor did I know just how many stand-alone books Patricia Wentworth wrote!

Jennifer at Holds Upon Happiness recently wrote about one of them, Who Pays the Piper?, which sounds like a good one. But it wasn't on the shelves - not that I wasn't spoiled for choice. I was trying to restrain myself, so I only bought two to start with, this one from 1945 and The Dower House Mystery (published in 1925). I didn't remember at the time that this was the very book that Jane had written about.

As it turns out, it was a lucky choice. I think it's one of the best I've read by Patricia Wentworth, and an excellent example of a Golden Age mystery. It opens as Carey Silence steps up into the dock, to face the charge of murdering her relative Honoria Maquisten. The story then moves back to introduce us to Carey, a young woman just out of the hospital, recovering from a German air attack that killed her employer. She hasn't fully recovered, and with no job and no resources, the offer of a place to stay from her distant relative Mrs. Maquisten is very welcome. Carey isn't the only family connection living in the old house at Maitland Square, nor the only one dependent on the old lady's generosity. Mrs. Maquisten is generous, but she also enjoys holding her money over her young relatives' heads, re-writing her will on a regular basis. The arrival of an anonymous letter one day puts her in a rage. A summons to her solicitor follows, and an announcement to the family that one of them will be finally cut out the next day. Instead, the next day finds her dead, and Carey Silence accused of her murder.

I realized part-way through the book that I was subconsciously waiting for Miss Silver to arrive. I know just how she would have insinuated herself into the house and made herself at home. I did worry for a bit how the case would be solved without her. And then I realized that while I had some idea how the story would turn out, if Miss Silver were on the case, Patricia Wentworth might have written an entirely different type of story here. In none of the Miss Silver stories I have read so far has the main protagonist been the criminal (or the victim, for that matter).

One of the main differences I found in this story was how much of it focused on the trial itself. We experience it from Carey's point of view, standing in the dock, realizing that her life is at stake, in the hands of twelve men and women. I thought this part was very well done. It reminded me of one of my favorite Peter Wimsey stories, Strong Poison. Carey is as lucky as Harriet Vane in having a strong advocate at hand, a large American cousin named Jefferson Stewart. It's too bad she couldn't have Sir Impey Biggs for the defense!

I also enjoyed the brief biographical sketch of Patricia Wentworth that introduces the book. It mentions the historical fiction that she published before turning to crime. It might be interesting to find those books. I know I'll be adding more of these new reprints to my shelves before too long.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Shadow on the Wall, by H.C. Bailey

Lady Rosnay has insisted that Reginald Fortune attend her fancy dress ball, but the merriment is disrupted when the old lady takes a tumble down the stairs and loses her diamond tiara. She is strangely unruffled by the incident, which intrigues Reggie, who is almost certain she was pushed. But the mischief is just getting under way. Two murders follow, and Reggie, along with his friend Lomas, head of Scotland Yard's C.I.D., begin investigating in earnest. Their suspects include Simon Osmond, a rising young politician whose plans to marry Lady Rosnay's niece, Alix Lynn, have been vetoed by the imperious old lady, as well as the headstrong Alix herself. (Back cover blurb from Rue Morgue Press edition.)
[Alix is actually Lady Rosnay's granddaughter, not that it matters to the plot.]
This is the first of two Reggie Fortune novels that have been reissued by Rue Morgue Press. Originally published in 1934, it was also the first full-length Fortune novel that H.C. Bailey wrote, after several books of short stories. The Rue Morgue edition includes a brief biographical sketch of H.C. Bailey, from which I learned that he wrote thirty historical and adventure novels, as well as at least twenty-five mysteries - most while working full-time as a journalist!

I have seen Bailey's mysteries described as "fair-play" stories, along with Dorothy L. Sayers' and Agatha Christie's. I'm guessing that means the authors don't withhold evidence from the readers, or suddenly introduce suspects at the last minute, though Sayers and Christie at least weren't above misdirecting their readers. And I remember a point in Sayers' Nine Red Herrings where something is missing from a crime scene, and the author tells her readers that of course we know what it was missing and why it was important (not being a painter, I of course had no idea). Reggie Fortune certainly stresses the importance of collecting all the evidence and seeing it clearly - and of not reasoning ahead of the evidence, or jumping to conclusions. As his author says of him, "His own successes he attributes to the simple method of believing evidence, which he sees very rarely practiced by clever creatures." The Golden Age authors don't stint on the evidence their detectives turn up, though. Part of the puzzle is sorting out what's important, and also understanding the conclusions that the police or the detective draws from it.

The back cover blurb is a little misleading. What sets the case in motion is actually the suicide of a young mother, and a nasty anonymous letter sent to her daughter at boarding school. It's really the letter that catches Reggie's attention. He is always concerned for the children that are involved or get caught up in his cases, and in the stories that I've read, threats to children bring out an avenging side to him. Lady Rosnay makes a point of speaking to  him about the suicide, before inviting him to her ball - which certainly comes to a smashing close! The story that follows is rather complicated, and I wasn't always sure where it was going - but then neither was Reggie. What he is sure of in the end is "the fundamental decency of people...That's why I'm not melancholy. Look at 'em. Something ultimately decent in 'em, however far they'd gone wrong. That's the force that broke the [villains]." There's something appealing in a hero who recognizes and values that.

The authors of the biographical sketch write that "Reggie Fortune was, for the most part, more successful with readers when taken in short doses," as in H.C. Bailey's many short stories. I'm not sure I agree. I have two more of the Fortune novels on the TBR shelves, so I'll see. But I don't think I'll be collecting the complete works - and not just because so many are out of print. Eleven of his mystery novels have a different detective, Joshua Clunk: "a coarse, hymn-quoting attorney who is not above employing extralegal means to clear his own client and suss out the real murderer." Mr. Clunk made a cameo in this book, representing one of the suspects, but I didn't realize he was a regular character until I read the introduction.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Silence Fallen, by Patricia Briggs

My friend Margaret gave me the first three books in Patricia Briggs' Mercedes Thompson series for my birthday last year. She had recommended them to me in part because they are set in the Tri-Cities of eastern Washington State (Richland, Pasco, and Kennewick). I grew up in that area, in Walla Walla, about thirty miles down the highway. The Tri-Cities was our big city. It was an event to drive those thirty miles, to go to the Columbia Center Mall, or to the movies. I remember cramming a bunch of people in my parents' Volkswagen Bug to go see "Amadeus," which wasn't going to make it to our one small theater in Walla Walla.

Margaret and I have a lot of books in common, starting with Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and Dorothy Dunnett. It was Margaret who introduced me to Margaret Maron's books. I trusted her recommendation, but I admit that I judged the books from the covers. Here's the first book:

(The stories don't quite match the covers. Mercy wears more clothes & fewer tattoos, for starters.)
I was already wondering how to diplomatically explain to Margaret that I just hadn't clicked with them. I sat down with this first book one morning when I had a few minutes to spare, and I nearly didn't make it in to work that day. I was hooked from the first page, and by the end of the book I was more than a little obsessed with the series. I went on to read the next seven books in the series, four books in a related series, and a book of short stories set in the same world. Mind you, this was while I was negotiating to buy a house, and while I was supposed to be packing to move. I actually packed the books away at one point, because they were so distracting - and then unpacked them the next day, and continued to ignore the rest of the boxes waiting to be filled.

The main character in the series, Mercedes Thompson, is a VW mechanic with her own shop in the Tri-Cities. She is also a shapeshifter who turns into a coyote, an inheritance from her Native American father. Mercy's teen-aged mother was unable to cope with her changeling child and found a pack of werewolves to raise her. What Mercy learned there helps her deal with the local pack in the Tri-Cities, led by the charismatic (and gorgeous) Alpha wolf Adam. She also has a connection to the local vampire seethe through her friend Stefan; and to the fae community through Zee, a grumpy old fae who gave Mercy a job at his garage and later sold it to her. Many of the fae have retired to reservations, one of which is located near Walla Walla. (I wish there had been a fae reservation in Walla Walla when I lived there.)

I enjoy science fiction and fantasy, but I haven't read a lot of books with shapeshifters, let alone werewolves or fae. I've avoided vampires ever since a so-called "children's" edition of Dracula scared me out of my wits in elementary school. But these books really hooked me in. They are written mainly from Mercy's point of view, and she is a great character, strong and snarky - and very sneaky when she needs to be (and not just in her coyote form). She is a loyal friend, and it's that loyalty that draws her into her adventures, often to solve a mystery. She moves between the mundane world of her garage and the supernatural communities, sometimes as the liaison between them. I find the politics of the werewolves, the vampires and the fae very interesting, particularly watching Mercy negotiate (and often get the better of) them.

Silence Fallen is the tenth book in the series. It's a series that really needs to be read in order, as more of Mercy's history is revealed through the stories, and as relationships are built and broken. There is also a large cast of characters to get to know - this book even has a helpful list in the back (a first). I won't say much about the plot, but this is the first book set mostly outside Washington State. It takes place mainly in Milan and Prague. It introduces some new characters, one of whom is a real Trojan Horse. That part of the story, which caught me completely by surprise, had me frantically flicking back to re-read.

Patricia Briggs has already announced that the next book will be in her second series, set mainly around the werewolf pack where Mercy was raised. I like those books, except for the third (Fair Game), which has a serial sadistic sex killer. I really hate stories with serial killers. But that series does have my favorite secondary characters, a blind witch named Moira and her werewolf mate Tom. Ms. Briggs has said she has a story in mind for them someday, and I will be in line to buy that one whenever she gets around to writing it.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Now, Voyager, by Olive Higgins Prouty

This was a serendipitous find on the library sale shelves. I recognized the title, having seen the 1942 film. It stars several of my favorite actors: Claude Rains, Bette Davis, Gladys Cooper (the perfect imperial matriarch), and Mary Wickes as a sassy nurse. I learned from Turner Classic Movies that Paul Henreid made his film debut in this, and that he always credited Bette Davis for his success.

I was curious to see how the book compared to the film, particularly the ending, which (in the film) I found rather sentimental and implausible. As I discovered, the film is a pretty faithful adaptation, right down to the ending. As I expected, I enjoyed the book more. It felt deeper and richer than the film, despite its stellar cast.

Now, Voyager is the story of Charlotte Vale (of "the Boston Vales"). She is a "caboose" child, born long after her three brothers. She has heard all her life that her arrival brought her mother no joy. Mrs. Vale has been equally frank about expecting her unwanted daughter to stay at home and care for her. She has dominated Charlotte her whole life, down to her hairstyle, the clothes she wears, and the food she eats. Under this treatment, Charlotte has become the complete spinster aunt, with a bun of hair and steel spectacles. When she finally suffers a nervous breakdown, her sympathetic sister-in-law Lisa gets her admitted to Cascade, a sanitarium run by Dr. Jacquith. Once Charlotte is well enough, Lisa helps her to escape again by arranging for her to take a cruise to Europe. The story opens with Charlotte sitting on a terrace in Gibraltar, watching her ship at anchor and waiting for a fellow-passenger with whom she is touring the island. It follows her as she reclaims her own life, growing out of the constrictions her mother imposed on her, finding friends and love and a new purpose in life.

I really enjoyed her story, watching her re-birth - which isn't an easy one. Eventually she returns home to her mother, but not to her old life. I loved that part of the story, despite knowing (from the film) how it turned out. I have read that Olive Higgins Prouty was considered something of a pioneer in writing about mental illness and its treatment. I liked Claude Rains' portrayal of Dr. Jacquith in the film, and he's an even more attractive character in the book. I feel like I could benefit from a stay at Cascade, particularly these days.

I still have an issue with the ending. Charlotte takes on a project that I find rather implausible and pretty problematic (Dr. Jacquith has some serious reservations about it as well). But it takes up less space in Book-Charlotte's story, and I feel like she is better-suited to deal with it than Film-Charlotte. I do understand why she does it. And as with Lily Dale, I accept that I have to accept the character's choices. (Now that I think about it, there are some distinct parallels with Lily Dale.)

In looking for information about Olive Higgins Prouty, about whom I knew nothing at all, I discovered that she wrote a series of five novels about the Vale family. This is the third. The second book focuses on Charlotte's sister-in-law Lisa. The first and fifth are about Lisa's daughter Fabia, who becomes a nurse in part to recover from an unhappy love affair. Anyone who follows this blog knows that I am a sucker for a series, particularly a family saga. I immediately went looking for copies of the other books. The "Fabia" books are rare and shockingly expensive, even in later paperback editions. I have requested the second, called simply Fabia, from inter-library loan. The "Lisa" novel (and how could I resist a sympathetic heroine named Lisa) is also in short supply, and unfortunately none of the three is available as an ebook. But Now, Voyager has been reprinted many times and is easily available. I also found inexpensive copies of the fourth book in the series, Homeport. In all of this browsing, I discovered that Prouty wrote Stella Dallas, a title I recognize from the film with Barbara Stanwyck (which I haven't seen). It too was considered ground-breaking, in its treatment of motherhood. Virago has reprinted this one, a copy of which will soon be on the TBR shelves.

I had just been congratulating myself on my bookish restraint this year. Then I found the Patricia Wentworth reprints at Murder by the Book, and now I have a literary crush on Olive Higgins Prouty. Verily pride goeth before a fall.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Day of Glory, Dorothy Canfield

These days, I seem to lose the ability to write coherent sentences after about 7.30 in the evening. It is really cutting into my blogging time, particularly when my weekends get busy. Maybe the time change this weekend will help, with the longer light in the evenings.

I ordered my copy of this book back in January. I had pretty much given up hope of it, figuring it was lost in the mail, when it turned up in my mailbox on Friday. I was immediately intrigued, because it is a small book, only six chapters, less than 150 pages in my Henry Holt edition. I was also intrigued by the 1919 publication date, which suggested a connection to the Great War - as did the title of one of the pieces, "France's Fighting Woman Doctor." It turns out that the entire book is about France in the war years. It felt like a companion to DCF's 1918 book, Home Fires in France.

But this book felt different than most of the collections of her short stories that I have read.  Except for the first chapter, "On the Edge," these pieces read more like magazine articles than fiction. Most have authorial comments in the first person. The second chapter, "France's Fighting Woman Doctor," is a profile of a real person, Dr. Nicole Girard-Mangin, whom DCF seems to have known personally. According to DCF, the authorities who called her to military service didn't realize she was a woman until she arrived at the front (according to Wikipedia, she volunteered for service). I loved learning about her. And having read a bit about medical service from British and American nurses, it was so interesting to see it from the French side.

"Some Confused Impressions" describes a day spent "Near Château-Thierry, July, 1918," where the author meets French troops and civilians, as well as United States soldiers recently arrived in France. The last chapter, "The Day of Glory," is an account of the November 11th armistice in Paris. Only one chapter doesn't deal directly with the war, "Lourdes," focusing instead a day at the shrine among the pilgrims.

There are authors whose work I enjoy, whose books I buy, that I read and re-read. Then there are the authors whose work so resonates with me that I want to read - and own - everything that they have written. Dorothy Canfield is one of those authors, though I haven't really looked for her children's books yet (other than Understood Betsy). I think of them as the "complete" authors, and the list includes Jane Austen, Dorothy Dunnett, Kate O'Brien, Maura Laverty, E.O. Somerville & Martin Ross, even Laura Ingalls Wilder. It doesn't include Georgette Heyer (because I don't want to read her medieval historical novels), Dorothy L. Sayers (I feel no call to read her Dante translation), or even Anthony Trollope (ditto his book on Cicero or his biography of Thackeray). Do you have authors like that?

It's 7.24, and I feel my brain turning into a pumpkin!