10% Report: 100 Years of Books

100 Years of Books

I’m ten years into 100 Years of Books project and so I think it’s time to take stock.

I’d hoped to be at this point a little sooner, but I’ve had a busy couple of months and I’ve been a little distracted by The Count of Monte Cristo – I’m 33 hours in and I have 19 hours to go!

But I’m not going to worry about it – I’m going to read what I want to read, keeping an eye on the years in need of books, and it will be done when it’s done.

Here are the first ten.

(It wasn’t planned but I’m pleased I’ve read five books from the 19th century and five books from the 20th century)

1854 – Ruth Hall by Fanny Fern

“It begins beautifully, with Ruth, our heroine, looking out at the night sky on the eve of her wedding. Her mother had died when she was very young and her father, a man who was both wealthy and parsimonious, had sent her away to boarding school. He would be glad to have his daughter off his hands. And she was happy, because she was in love and the future seemed full of promise.”

1863 – The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley

“Tom had to learn to live with the other water creatures. He had to learn not to tease, he had to learn to make friends, and he had to learn what to do when there was conflicts between his friends. I think that this was my favourite part of the story; everything was so nicely described, but not over described, and the characters of the creatures – some real and some fantastic – were drawn subtly and well.”

1879 – Wired Love by Ella Cheever Thayer

“She was trying to take down a message that was being sent far too quickly for her to transcribe, she was being interrupted by  a customer asking foolish questions, and then she upsets a bottle of ink all over herself. Of course she had to ask “C” – who was sending that message from another telegraph office – to stop and repeat quite a  few times. “C” lost patience with her , but when “N” stood up for herself and explained exactly what she was having to deal with  “C”  understood. The pair went on chatting over the wire – in Morse code – whenever things were quiet in their respective offices.”

1886 – A World of Girls by L T Meade

“My sympathies shifted as the story unfolded. It took in  practical jokes, midnight feasts, competition for honours, an adventure with gypsies, and though I had an idea how things would work out I was never sure quite how the story would get there, and I always wanted to keep reading.”

1894 – Esther Waters by George Moore

“Esther’s story began as she left her home and family to take up a new position, as a kitchen maid in a big house on a country estate. She was apprehensive, but her pride made her hold her head up, and her spirit made her stand up for herself when the cook suggested she get straight to work without changing her dress, which might have been shabby but it was the best that she had.”

1907 – The Twelfth Hour by Ada Leverson

“Ada Leverson wrote with such wit and such humour; she laughed at her characters, their foibles, their situations, and it was lovely because it was the laughter of a friend. I never doubted that she knew them well, that she understood them completely, and that she cared about what happened to them.”

1924 – Still She Wished for Company by Margaret Irwin

“Lucian recognised Juliana’s description of Jane; he knew that she was the intriguing woman she had seen, maybe in a dream, maybe in an altered state, maybe though some supernatural power. He realises that Juliana might be offering his only chance of seeing her again. And he is desperate to seize that chance …..”

1926 – Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

“As her nieces and nephews grew up Laura began to feel the gap in her life, and the country and its traditions began to call her back. All she could do though was fill the house with flowers. Until one magical day when the stars aligned, and Laura realised that she could have the life she wanted, a life of her own.”

1930 – The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

“I loved the way the diary seemed to capture her thoughts almost as she thought them, almost as she might have reported events on her own head. And I loved that it was witty and funny in the friendliest of ways. I never doubted that the Provincial Lady understood, that she cared, and that she poked fun at herself just as much as she did at others. “

1949 – The Auction Sale by C. H. B. Kitchin

“Miss Alice Elton was attending the sale, because she had many happy memories of Ashleigh Place, just ou
Accept-Encoding: gzip, deflatem. She had been secretary to Mr Durrant, and she had become companion and dear friend to his wife. That part of her life was over, but she remembered it with such love. For the people for she knew, and for the timeless beauty of the house itself. She just wanted to see it again, to remember, and to bid on one of two lots that held particular memories.”

Next up – 1932!

Ruth Hall: a Domestic tale of the Present Time by Fanny Fern

Oh what a maddening books. There’s a lovely story, drawn from the author’s own experiences, a story with something to say, and at times it’s wonderful, but there are too many times when it is spoiled by the author pushing her point, her side of the story, a little too hard.

Of course I should make some allowance for the fact that Fanny Fern’s ‘Present Time’ was in America in the middle of the 19th century, but that isn’t quite enough.

Fortunately I could see the heart of the story, and I am glad that I read it.

It begins beautifully, with Ruth, our heroine, looking out at the night sky on the eve of her wedding. Her mother had died when she was very young and her father, a man who was both wealthy and parsimonious, had sent her away to boarding school. He would be glad to have his daughter off his hands. And she was happy, because she was in love and the future seemed full of promise.

Ruth Hall

The story is told in a series of vignettes, looking at Ruth through many different pairs of eyes. It’s very effective.

Ruth and Harry are blissfully happy together. He works hard, he is very successful, and they move up in the world. They have just one problem: his mother. She thinks that Ruth is flighty. She thinks that she is a spendthrift. She thinks that she lets her children run wild. She can’t – or won’t – accept that the young couple have struck out on their own, and chosen how they want to live. For the moment.

Ruth’s world came crashing down when Harry was taken ill and died. She was nearly destitute, and neither her father nor her in-laws were prepared to help. They disagreed about much, but on one thing they were agreed – Ruth had made her bed and she must lie in it! And so Ruth moved to a cheap boarding house, where she struggled to support her daughters, struggled to keep going as wealthier friends snubbed her.

Ruth fell so low that she had to let one of her daughters to her mother-in law, to be brought up her way, because he just couldn’t support them all.

It was then that Ruth hit on the idea of becoming a newspaper columnist. She wrote late into the night, as her younger daughter, and she sent samples of her work to her brother, a successful publisher. He sent them back with a note saying that she had no talent, and that if she persisted in trying to get into print she would embarrass them both.

But Ruth did persist. She persuaded an editor to hire her, and her column – written under a pseudonym – was a huge hit. Ruth learned on her feet; she became a canny businesswoman, she found a publisher who believed in her and supported her, she brought her family back together, and she made all of those who had doubted her, snubbed her, criticised her, eat their words.

I loved the arc of the story: the happy marriage, the tragic loss, the struggle, the triumph against the odds. I loved the emotions that Ruth’s story provoked. And some of the vignettes were quite lovely.

But I couldn’t quite believe that the tired woman, plagued by terrible headaches became so competent quite so quickly. I know that grief can do terrible things, I know that mother love is so very powerful, I know that one small success can be a springboard, but a little more subtlety really would have made this a much better story.

I know that this is an autobiographical work, but I couldn’t help feeling that it lacked maturity, and a willingness to see different points of view. The author could see no fault in Ruth – and she spent far too much time in the later part of the book having all and sundry singing her praises – and she could find no understanding for the ‘villains’ in her life. Her mother in-law may have been a horror, but she turned into too much of a monster.

Few things in life are as black and white as this story paints them.

But not many novels from the middle of the 19th century allowed a woman to triumph over adversity by her own efforts, and to be standing alone on her own two feet on the end. That was lovely to see – especially with the knowledge that this was a roman a clef – the story was very readable, and so I’m glad that I read it, even though I was infuriated by it at times.