10% Report: Reading the 20th Century

Finally I’ve reached the point when the end of my 20th Century Reading Project looks a lot nearer than the beginning!

And I know it can be done. Thomas has just finished, and Simon is already planning his second century.

But back to mine.

First there were ten, then twenty, then thirty, then forty, then fifty, then sixty, and now there are seventy books.

And the full list is here.

I’ve done a lot of rambling on past reports, but this time I’m going to just make a few points:

  • I can and will finish this thing by the end of the year.
  • I have a plan.
  • I’m very pleased to have a decade (the 1950s) dispatched.
  • I particularly like this set of ten books:
      • Six Virago Modern Classics
      • Two more books by Virago authors
      • Two more books with wonderful heroines.

So here are the books:

1904 – In The Bishop’s Carriage by Miriam Michelson

Yes, she was a thief, but she let things go as easily as she took them. She was drawn to lovely things, and the security they offered, and she wanted to give the same thing to others. And as the story progressed she learned, she grew, and she fulfilled every bit of potential that she had. And she did it by herself: others may have given her chances, but it was Nance who seized them. She was her own woman from start to finish.

1908 – The Fly on the Wheel – Katherine Cecil Thurston

The story was compelling, and I really didn’t know what was going to happen, or what I wanted to happen, until the very end. Katherine Cecil Thurston pulled so much drama from the situation, without ever compromising the honesty at its centre. I grew to realise that she didn’t just know and understand; she cared, deeply and passionately.

1914 – The Three Sisters by May Sinclair

May Sinclair spins a compelling story, full of rich descriptions of people and places, and with a wonderful understanding of her characters and their relationships. Her writing was clear, lucid, and terribly, terribly readable. The three sisters and their world came to life, and I turned the pages quickly because I so wanted to find out what would happen, what would become of them.

1915 – The Rose-Garden Husband by Margaret Widdemer

Phyllis was alone in the world. She had a good job, as a librarian, and she rented a single room in a boarding house, but it was difficult to makes ends meet. Fortunately, Phyllis was a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl. She enjoyed her work as the children’s librarian, and she was very good at it. Phyllis was what my mother would call ‘a people person,’ and when she was at work I saw many things that I know would strike a chord with the librarians of today.

1927 – The Land of Green Ginger by Winifred Holtby

I admired Joanna’s spirit, her willingness to do everything she could for her family. I understood her frustration with her husband, with their situation. And I loved that she held on to her hope for the future. But the best thing of all was that she was a real, fallible, three-dimensional human being, so very vividly painted.

1928 – Cullum by E Arnot Robertson

It was no wonder she was smitten when she met Cullum Hayes, a twenty-four year old writer who had already met with success at a dinner party. And it was no wonder that he was intrigued by the confident, outspoken young woman, who said things not usually said – by young or old – at the dinner table. Esther told her own story, looking back at time when she had gained wisdom but lost none of her passion. And she acknowledged at the very beginning that this story would not have a happy ending.

1941 – The Rich House by Stella Gibbons

There were some lovely scenes, observed fondly but with a knowing eye: an excruciating tea party; Pauline visiting Mrs Pask, who is so pleased to have a visitor, and had gone to some trouble to procure something she knows young people like without her rather controlling companion finding out; Marjorie, Pauline’s sister, establishing her place in the local repertory company; conversations in the library, where  a few serious- minded individuals seemed to be the only ones concerned about events in Europe; Mavis settling happily into a new home with new friend, and then realising that they were the doting parents of a young man she rather liked ….

1944 – No More Than Human by Maura Laverty

She set off for Madrid,  to become a ‘professora’ – a free-lance tutor and  chaperone. It was an independent lifestyle that suited Delia very well, but it wasn’t easy to establish herself when she was so young, and maybe her reputation would follow her.But Delia was determined, and soon she was setting her sights even higher. She would do what no other Irish governess had done: she would work in an office, in the kind of job that was usually reserved for young Englishwomen.

1949 – The Willow Cabin by Pamela Frankau

This the story of Caroline Seward, a young actress who had just had her first taste of success on the stage. Wonderful possibilities opened up for her, but she didn’t take them. Because she had fallen in love – with Michael Knowles, a successful, middle-aged doctor – and she built her life around him.

1951 – Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy

There was no wedding: Lucy was jilted, and of course she was devastated. She knew she had to carry on, and she knew she had to get away. She hated watching people being tactful, knowing she was being talked about, seeing reminders everywhere. And so, when she saw on opening for  a drama teacher at an arts institute, she grabbed it with both hands.

3 responses

  1. What a great project and congrats on the success you’ve had with it. So many great books that have been overlooked with the passage of time. Once my Classics Club list is done, I might choose to do something similar!

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