10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I’m so pleased that I picked up my 100 Years of Books project and began again.

I’ve read two and a half books since my last update; I’ve rediscovered the joy of digging up books to fit difficult years; and I already have ten ore books to present to you, because I found a good number of books to match up with years that needed them from my reading in the time between putting down and picking up this project.

Here they are:

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1853 – Bleak House by Charles Dickens

“The stories told by the two narrator overlap and characters move between them. The story of the consequences of the chancery suit and the story of the illegitimate child, a story that had been buried but will be disinterred, work together beautifully, although they are linked only by a small number of characters who are involved in both. I loved the diverse elements, I loved the wealth of detail; and although I can’t sum up the plot and the relationship I had no problem at all understanding all of the implications, and I was always intrigued.”

1878 – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“I might have loved Anna if I had met her when I was younger, but I am afraid that I found her infuriating. I loved her spirit, I loved her vitality, but I could not accept that she was so oblivious to anyone else’s feelings and while it might be wonderful to want everything – to live with your lover, to have your child with you always, to hold a high position in society – it is not always possible to have everything you want; life sometimes demands compromises.”

1884 – Jill by Amy Dillwyn

“Jill was the much loved daughter of a prosperous squire, but her life changed when her mother died and when a gold-digger succeeding in luring her father to the altar. She hated her step-mother’s new regime, especially when she realised she wouldn’t be allowed to come out until her two step-sisters had been found husbands. That was why she decided to run away and to earn her own living in London.”

1887 – The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde

“The Canterville Ghost haunted Canterville Chase for more than three hundred years, but things changed when his home was sold to an American family. Lubricating oil was proffered when he clanked his chains, detergents were deployed when he left bloodstains, and young children aimed their peashooters whenever they caught sight of him. He deployed every trick he had in his armoury, but nothing worked. One final, desperate act had unexpected consequences, and led to exactly the right ending. There’s so much here – gentle but knowing satire of English and American attitudes, real pathos in the plight of the ghost, and a lovely thread of romance – it all works together beautifully.”

 1893 – In the Vine Country by Somerville & Ross

“There is much to be enjoyed here: accounts of travel by train and by boat; observations of people, places and so many things that the ladies see long the way;  time spent at vineyards, where they saw the harvest and the treading of the grapes; visits to chateaux, where they were most impressed by the great barrels that lay maturing. Along the way they sketched, and they were very proud of their Kodak wherever they went.”

1895 – The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler

“It’s heart-breaking, watching two grown-ups – three when the governess arrives – getting things so terribly wrong. Thank goodness that the children had each other, that they were resilient, that in their innocence it didn’t occur to them that anyone could ever have anything other than good intentions, however inexplicable their actions might be. I couldn’t help thinking how wonderful their lives might have been in the hands of the right grown-up; somebody with the wisdom to gently guide them, to tactfully explain things, to understand the magic of childish imagination and play.”

1912 – Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

“I must confess that I didn’t really remember ‘Alexander’s Bridge’, Willa Cather’s first novel, from 1912; but I did remember that she hadn’t written a book that she didn’t like. Now that I’ve read it again I have to sat that it isn’t her finest work. The story is a little underdeveloped, a little contrived; the writing, though lovely, is sometimes a little less than subtle. But it is a very accomplished and very readable first novel. Her understanding of character, her skill in evoking places was there; I could see so many signs of the fine novelist she would quickly become.”

1915 – I Pose by Stella Benson

“At the beginning I felt that Stella Bowen was presenting a puppet show; later I felt that she was staging a production at the theatre, but by the end of the story I had been drawn into a very human story. It was a story that explored the relationship between the poses we present to the world and our real concerns in all of its complexity with wit and with such understanding. I don’t know what Stella Benson did, I don’t know how she did it, but she did it quite brilliantly.”

1937 – Enchanter’s Nightshade by Ann Bridge

“The story is of a family that has grown so big that it has become  a community, spending the summer months in the country. Days drift by as they exchange visits, go on picnics, and make trips to places of especial interest. The young are kept busy with lessons in the mornings before that are given their freedom in the afternoons and evenings. One family has a Swiss governess of many years standing who is wise and capable, and who has tactfully and effectively managed the household since the death of its mistress. Another family is awaiting the arrival of a new governess from England.”

 1938 – The Wild Geese by Bridget Boland

“Britain and Ireland were ruled by the House of Hanover, but the throne was contested by Jacobite rebels, supporters of the descendants of the deposed King James II. Catholics were repressed by their Protestant rulers: they could not own land, enter many trades and professions, educate their children in their faith, or worship as they chose. Many could not live with those laws, and this story tells of the implications of those laws for one family. It’s a story told entirely in letters.”

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The full list of what I’ve read is here and my first three 10% reports are here, here and here.

I’m well on my way to my next 10% already. It may take me a while to get there but that doesn’t matter, I’m enjoying the journey.

Jill by Amy Dillwyn

Victorian author Amy Dillwyn came from a remarkable family. Her father, Lewis Llewelyn Dillwyn, was an industrialist and a member of parliament. Her uncle,  John Dillwyn-Llewelyn, was an early proponent of photography. Her grandfather, Sir Henry Thomas de la Beche, was a geologist. And she was an even more remarkable woman.

After the death of her brother and father she took over her father’s business on the brink of bankrupcy, gave up the family home to run  that business and – as a hands-on manager – turned it right around and became a prominent figure in her local community.

I’m sorry that she isn’t better known, but I’m pleased that Honno has been bringing her novels back into print.

Jill, published in 1884, was the fourth of  Amy Dillwyn’s six novels. Its a coming of age story, it clearly has elements that are autobiographical, and it’s a novel without a hero that’s much more fun than that much better novel with the same sobriquet.

The credit for that must go to Jill, who tells her own story. She’s a wonderful character; an utterly believable, strong-minded, independent woman, who is willing to do whatever she has to do to get where she wants to go. She was far from perfect – she could be manipulative, she could be selfish, she could be horribly insensitive to the feelings of others – but I couldn’t help liking her and wanting the best for her.

I loved her voice and I was always intrigued to see what she would do, what would happen to her next.

Jill was the much loved daughter of a prosperous squire, but her life changed when her mother died and when a gold-digger succeeding in luring her father to the altar. She hated her step-mother’s new regime, especially when she realised she wouldn’t be allowed to come out until her two step-sisters had been found husbands. That was why she decided to run away and to earn her own living in London.

The scheme that Jill thought up to get away undetected and unfollowed was very clever. And her plan for the future was sensible: she would draw on her education to work as a day governess while she learned the things she needed to become a travelling-maid.

She succeeded, and she had a very eventful time, but, because her references were false, things fell apart. She became a maid-cum-kennel maid – a job that nobody else wanted – and her charges made that eventful too. An accident sent her to hospital, her friendship with the head sister makes her start to think about a new direction in life, but then she learns that her father has died and she has inherited the family estate.

The story ends with Jill returning home, to take on the role of a lady squire.

It’s a wonderful story, a great entertainment that makes some very firm points about the divisions of sexes and classes in Victorian Britain. It has things to say about poverty, about housing, about healthcare. And most of all it speaks about just what women can do!

JillThe plotting is very clever, there are lots of diverse details, and Jill’s telling is laced with wit, humour and many, many emotions that she goes through over the courses of her adventures.

There were coincidences, there were places where the story would have been tightened-up a little, but the positive things about this book more than outweighed the few negatives.

The story of Jill’s relationship with Kitty Merryn underpins everything. They meet on holiday with their families and become friends; Jill is disappointed when Kitty doesn’t recognise her on the train to London, and when Kitty drops her purse she picks it up and keep it; Jill become Kitty’s travelling maid, she watches her suitors and wonders about Kitty’s feelings, and they escape from bandits together; the story ends with Jill wondering about what life will hold for Kitty, who she knows has married.

The story of unrequited love for another woman echoes Amy Dillwyn’s life; it’s well done, and it balances the more eventful side of the story. And I must and that it’s more subtly done than the cover image might suggest. Unless I blinked that didn’t happen; nothing like it happened.

But plenty did happen, and it made a great story!


It was Jo’s idea – celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

Not quite as easy as it looks. I’ve tweaked the categories to suit my reading style, and because I wanted to push disappointments to one site and simply celebrate some of the books many I have loved. And I’ve done it!


Six Books that took me on extraordinary journeys

The Harbour by Francesca Brill
A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to the Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh
The City of Beautiful Nonsense by E Temple Thurston
The House on Paradise Street by Sofka Zinovieff


Six books that took me by the hand and led me into the past

The Little Shadows by Marina Endicott
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn
The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd
The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace


Six books from the past that drew me back there

The One I Knew the Best of All by Frances Hodgson-Burnett
A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn
The Frailty of Nature by Angela Du Maurier
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
The New Moon With the Old by Dodie Smith
As It Was & World Without End by Helen Thomas


Six books from authors I know will never let me down

The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
Closed at Dusk by Monica Dickens
Monogram by G B Stern
Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor
In the Mountains by Elizabeth Von Arnim


Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
When Nights Were Cold by Susanna Jones
Alys, Always by Harriet Lane
The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall
Diving Belles by Lucy Wood


Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and was still caught up with in July

The Young Ardizzone by Edward Ardizzone
The Deamstress by Maria Dueñas
Greenery Street by Denis MacKail
Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
White Ladies by Francis Brett Young


Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

A Burglary by Amy Dillwyn

A burglary took place at LLweyn-yr-Allt, a country house not far from the small Welsh town of Cwm-Eithen. The home of Mr Rhys, the local magistrate.

Mr Rhys was hosting a house party, and on the night of the burglary he and all of his guests had were attending a ball in the town.

His two children – children on the verge of adulthood were left alone. Ralph and Imogen were as pleased with that as the adults were with the ball. They raced put into the countryside, to hunt for moths, to go fishing, to picnic …

They had a wonderful time, but when they climbed back into the house in the early hours of the morning, through the kitchen window, they quite forgot to secure it behind them.

That, it seemed was how the burglar got in. He made his way to the bedroom of Ethel Carlton, who was Mr Rhys’s niece and a very wealthy heiress. She woke up, she observed the burglary, but she was quite unable to stop the man who absconded with her jewels.

Suspicion fell upon Ronnie Richards, a local poacher. He was never convicted, but many assumed that he was guilty. And a little poaching is one thing, but burglary is another thing entirely …

Imogen knew, and liked, the Richards family, and she believed that Ronnie Richards was innocent. She was right.

A year after the burglary Mr Rhys took his daughter to London, for her first season. She had many admirers and chief among them was William Sylvester, who had been a guest at Mr Rhys’s house party.

He was smitten with Imogen, but he had to avoid her cousin Ethel. Because she had heard his voice on the night he robbed her of her jewels …

But, of course, he cannot avoid her forever. And when Ethel recognises the voice of her cousin’s beloved she finds that she has a dilemma. She should bring the villain to justice, but how can she face Imogen is she does?

In the end the decision is taken out of her hands. One dramatic event resolves things beautifully.

A wonderful story, made rich by so many things.

The characters are wonderfully well drawn. I loved Imogen, who was bright, who was sociable, who loved the countryside. I admired Ethel, who appreciated how lucky she was, who had strong values, who was good, but not too good. I very nearly liked Sylvester, who had had a difficult life, who was quite genuinely attached to Imogen, though there was no excuse for what he did. And I kept a careful eye on Ethel’s friend, Elise, who cared maybe a little too much for wealth and social standings.

The writing is lovely: clearly Victorian, but with a wonderful lightness of touch that makes it wonderfully readable. A omniescent narrator sometimes stands back and watches events unfold, and sometimes swoops down to explain a character’s background of to emphasise a particular point.

It was beautifully done, it felt completely natural, and it was so very easy to keep turning the pages.

I was thrilled to find an author who could write lovely country scenes, gripping melodrama and social comedy.  And who could make them work so well together.

An author who could thread some very interesting questions about transgressions and how they are judged by society right through her story without ever seeming heavy-handed.

This is a book to enjoy, a book to make you think, and a book to linger in the mind.

(And I must mention that the Honno Books edition is beautiful, and that it comes with an informed and interesting introduction. )