Of Attics and Rediscovering Books

I didn’t mean to disappear for so long, but I’ve been up in the attic. Not for the duration of course, but for a good few hours. Since I moved home to look after my mother a good few of my books – mainly the ones I’ve read – live up there for lack of space downstairs.

I went up to pull of my Du Maurier collection, for Discovering Daphne, but I got pulled in other directions. It was time to have a good sort out, and to bring my records on LibraryThing bang up to date.

I got rather dusty, but it was wonderful to get a bit more organised and to meet some lovely books I hadn’t seen for a while.

Now – with a few honourable exceptions – I never used to be a re-reader. I used to think that there were so many great books still to be read that I shouldn’t waste valuable reading time going over old ground. But things have changed – I’ve changed – I want to revisit books, to enjoy the familiarity, to see if my responses change …

And so it was time to make a list of the books I most wanted to read again:

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Growing up in Cornwall, when Daphne Du Maurier was still alive and living a few miles up the road, meant that I discovered her books very young. I fell in love and have read most of them more than once over the years. After reading a couple of modern takes on Rebecca it’s time to re-read the original, and remind myself why it’s so special.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The sequels have just been reissued, but I think I should reacquaint myself with Cold Comfort Farm before I order them from the library.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

The BBC adaptation of the first three Jackson Brodie books reminded me just how good they are, and made me want to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Lifetime Reader wrote about this a while back, and reminded me how much I love Hardy. Actually, I want to re-read all his books, but this feels like the place to start.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

The first historical novel I read, and finding it again was a joy.

Mullion by Mabel Esther Allen

The perfect Cornish set children’s book. Sadly though re-reading is a pipe-dream. My copy was passed on, the book is now out of print and selling at ridiculous prices, and the library doesn’t have a copy. But I can dream, and hope for a reissue from some enterprising publisher …

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Lydia Gwilt! Another author I love, and I want to re-read everything Wilkie Collins ever wrote.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

I picked up a book by J I M Stewart, whose praise Karyn has been singing, and it mentioned a gaudy dinner. That made me want to pull out Gaudy Night, though I had been planning to re-read DLS in chronological order. What to do?!

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

I read this one on holiday last year, when I was on a blogging break. I loved it, and I would like to write about it, but I need to re-read first.

Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Sarah Caudwell’s name was mentioned in a LibraryThing discussion a while back, and I thought I must look out for her books. Then I realised I’d already read her books but the details eluded me …

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I only read North and South earlier this year, but I could so easily go back to the beginning and start reading all over again.

Women in the Wall by Julia O’Faolain

I read this years ago, and I was stunned. I’ve never read anything else by Julia O’Faolain, because I thought nothing could live up to the expectations set by this book.

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

I saw the film a while back, and I remembered just how much I love the book.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

I don’t know what it is about this book, but I know that I love it.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

My mother was watching this when Briar and I came in from a walk a little while ago. I remembered how clever the plot was and thought that I really should read it again.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I inherited my mother’s copy as a child and I have read it so many times, but it’s been a while and it’s time to meet the March girls all over again.

There are others too.

But, tell me, what are your feelings about re-reading? Are any books calling you back?

A Classics Circuit Tour: Dickens versus Austen

 Jane Austen versus Charles Dickens?

Not a fair fight!

The two have very different attributes and most definitely would fight in different divisions, indeed in very disciplines.

I learned to love Jane Austen at a very young age, and with the passing of the years I have come to appreciate her writing even more.

It took me longer to learn to love Charles Dickens, but in time that love came. When I started treating his books as serials to be read over an extended period something finally clicked.

I have much unread Dickens but no unread Austen, and so it was Dickens I chose to read for the Classic Circuit.

And I chose The Pickwick Papers.

Why?

“Gardening, walks, rows on the river, and flower hunts employed the fine days, and for rainy ones, they had house diversions, some old, some new, all more or less original. One of these was the ‘P.C.’, for as secret societies were the fashion, it was thought proper to have one, and as all of the girls admired Dickens, they called themselves the Pickwick Club. With a few interruptions, they had kept this up for a year, and met every Saturday evening in the big garret, on which occasions the ceremonies were as follows: Three chairs were arranged in a row before a table on which was a lamp, also four white badges, with a big ‘P.C.’ in different colors on each, and the weekly newspaper called, The Pickwick Portfolio, to which all contributed something, while Jo, who reveled in pens and ink, was the editor. At seven o’clock, the four members ascended to the clubroom, tied their badges round their heads, and took their seats with great solemnity. Meg, as the eldest, was Samuel Pickwick, Jo, being of a literary turn, Augustus Snodgrass, Beth, because she was round and rosy, Tracy Tupman, and Amy, who was always trying to do what she couldn’t, was Nathaniel Winkle. Pickwick, the president, read the paper, which was filled with original tales, poetry, local news, funny advertisements, and hints, in which they good-naturedly reminded each other of their faults and short comings.”

(from Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)

It’s been quietly calling me ever since I first read those words.

But I must confess that I have read very little of The Pickwick Papers.

The time just hasn’t been right, and I have been trying to fit too many things into not quite enough time.

But the little I have read has already given me an inkling of just how it so inspired the March girls.

I’ll progress through The Pickwick Papers slowly, when the time is right, and I am quite sure that I will enjoy the journey.

But that may not be for a while. Now that I have picked up Little Women to pull up that quote I am very, very tempted to reread the whole book…

Victorian Musings

Since I gave up on Trollope for the Classics Circuit a strange thing has happened. I thought that I would veer away from Victorian novels and towards something else. But that hasn’t happened. The great Victorian authors are calling me loudly.

It’s strange because the eight books I read this year for Our Mutual Read weren’t typical Victorian classics.

I read two wonderful travelogues by Victorian novelists who toured Cornwall: Rambles Beyond Railways by Wilkie Collins and an Unsentimental Journey Through Cornwall by Mrs Craik.

My third Victorian travelogue was an account of Thomas Cook’s first tour to Switzerland that was rediscovered after being lost for many years: Miss Jemima’s Swiss Journal.

Back with fiction I met two gentlemen – Mr Tress and Mr Pugh – with extraordinary stories to tell in Curios by Richard Marsh.

I read two wonderful French works from the Victorian era: The Child by Jules Vallès and One Thousand and One Ghosts by Alexandre Dumas.

And I read two works by Louisa May Alcott for Margot’s All Things Alcott  Challenge. Thank you Margot, for inspiring me! I read Eight Cousins and A Long and Fatal Love Chase. I had intended to read Harriet Reisen’s  biography too, but the year is winding down and it’s not a book I want to rush. Next year, definitely.

Eight wonderful Victorian books and two challenges completed.

But I dropped Trollope and drifted away from Dickens, and now they are calling me back.

This year life got a little too busy and so I think I rushed a little too much at my reading. And now I realise that what I need is to immerse myself in a long slow-paced book, the kind of the books that Victorian Authors did so well.

I’m looking forward to reading some Dickens over Christmas, and in the new year I’m going to pick up The Old Curiosity Shop again. I have learned that one of the great things about reading Dickens is his stickability: I can put his books down for ages but I still remember everything when I pick them up again.

And I’m signing up for The Victorian Literature Challenge at Words Words Words.

I’m not reading from a fixed list, I’m going to read the books that call and the books that I discover along the way.

But a few authors and books are calling particularly loudly:

I’m going to try Trollope again: I just need to pick the right book at the right time, and not go wrong as I did this year.

Lifetime Reader has inspired me to reread Thomas Hardy.

And this might just be my year to read Vanity Fair. My mother had been telling me to read it for years, and she’s generally right about these things.

Mrs Gaskell is one of her favourites, and that’s part of the reason why I’m signing up for the Gaskell Reading Challenge at Gaskell Blog too. I’ve only read Cranford, so I have a good number still to choose my two books from.

My mother is quite frail now and she doesn’t have the concentration or the short-term memory to do much reading, yet she remembers details of books like Cranford and Vanity Fair that she read st school more than fifty years ago.

She will be pleased to see me reading the books that she loves, and she remembers enough details for us to be able to talk about them.

It’s a tribute to the skills of many Victorian novelists, and to the power of a wonderful teacher whose words my mother can still quote too.

A Long and Fatal Love Chase by Louisa May Alcott

“I tell you I cannot bear it. I shall do something desperate if this life is not changed soon. It gets worse and worse and I often feel as if I’d gladly sell my soul to Satan for a year of freedom.”

A dramatic opening certainly, but those are the sort of words that I’d never expect to hear from the mouth of a Louisa May Alcott heroine.

As the pages turned though I realised that the speaker, Rosamond Vivian was a young woman driven to extremes by her situation. An orphan, she lives alone with her grandfather in an island mansion, and, however much she tries, she cannot touch her grandfather’s heart.

“I’ll go as soon as I can find a refuge and never be a burden to you any more. But when I’m gone, remember I wanted to be a child to you and you set your heart against me. Some day you’ll feel the need of love and regret that you threw mine away; then send for me grandfather, and I’ll come back and prove that I can forgive.”

An enthralling conversation, but it is interrupted by the arrival of a stranger. A dark, mysterious, and charming stranger.

Phillip Tempest sweeps Rosamond off her feet and takes her away as his bride.

Yes, this is a melodrama, and a very entertaining one. The feeling never quite left me that I was watching characters acting, maybe overacting a little, on a stage rather than reading a book.

Rosamond and Phillip live together, blissfully happy for some time. But then, a very different mysterious stranger arrives and Rosamond discovers that she has been cruelly deceived. She decides that she must flee.

Rosamond never stops loving Phillip but she will not live with him.

Phillip never stops loving Rosamond and will not live without her. Whatever the cost.

And the drama darkens, and the chase begins.

Rosamond soon showed herself to be a resourceful woman, with spirit, compassion and a strong moral core.

Her story may be contrived and a little overloaded with symbolism, but it is never less than entertaining and it makes its points about the position of women in Victorian society well.

The chase maybe runs on a little too long, but its ending is sudden, dramatic, and right.

The curtain falls.

A Long and Fatal Love Chase is an early and immature work, but it is very readable and it is easy to pick up elements of the style, themes and concerns that would appear in Louisa May Alcott’s later works.

It even made me think a little of Northanger Abbey. Of Catherine and Isabella and their “horrid books.” Oh how they would have loved this one!

Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott

Have you ever loved a book so much that you read it over, and yet you didn’t think to find out if the author had written anything else?

That’s exactly what happened to my mother and I with Louisa May Alcott. Between us we have worn out a hardback edition from the forties. Worn out with love you understand! The sequels have seen a fair bit of wear too, but neither of us ever thought to find out what else our beloved author had written.

But a few years ago now I downloaded a numerical list of Virago Modern Classics, and I spotted a familiar name that I really hadn’t expected to see

336 Dust Falls on Eugene Schlumberger by Shena Mackay
337 Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott
338 A Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott
339 Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

Those two books went straight on to my wishlist. I tracked down lovely green Virago editions, and now I have met Rose.

On first introduction she wasn’t what I had expected at all.

“Rose sat all alone in the big best parlor, with her little handkerchief laid ready to catch the first tear, for she was thinking of her troubles, and a shower was expected.”

To be fair, Rose had good reasons to cry. She was an only child who never knew her mother. And then she lost her father two, and was taken away from the only home she ever knew to live with her great aunts. They did their best, but they couldn’t quite understand the little girl.

I would have cried too, and so I felt for Rose from the start.

I realised then just how lucky the March girl had been to have each other, and I recalled how much I had longed for a sister as a child.

But those thoughts were soon left behind, and I became caught up in Rose’s story.

Hope arrived for Rose in the shape of Uncle Alec, her father’s bachelor brother, who was Rose’s legal guardian. She warmed to him immediately – he was so like her beloved father.

Alec had plans for his niece’s upbringing. And it would be an upbringing that was, to say the very least, atypical of the age.

“This is part of the cure Rose, and I put it to you that you might take my three great remedies in the best and easiest way. Plenty of sun, fresh air, and cold water, also cheerful surroundings and some work; for phebe is to show you how to take care of this room, and be your little maid as well as your friend and teacher…”

Uncle Alec even tears up Rose’s corsets!

Louisa May Alcott spins a lovely tale, and I loved her storytelling as much as I ever did, as I watched Rose growing up in the company of her seven cousins. All boys!

I loved watching the author dismiss so many silly and repressive Victorian notions in a story with such a warm heart, while holding on to what was wise and sensible.

Rose grew into a lovely young woman: warm, compassionate and intelligent. A credit to her uncle and his new fangled ideas!

And she became part of a bigger, more unusual family, than the one she lost.

I’m looking forward to meeting that family again when I read Rose in Bloom.

And I’m looking forward to seeing another side of the author: A Long and Fatal Love Chase is in my library pile.

Then there’s Harriet Reisen’s acclaimed biography of the Louisa May alcott. I so want to read it, but I promised myself that I read more of the subject’s work first so that I can get the best from it.

Is there anything else you can recommend?

And isn’t it wonderful how one book can lead you to others?!

In which Margot says, “Louisa May Alcott?” … and I say,”How Lovely!”

Or, in other words, I am signing up for the All Things Alcott Challenge!

I couldn’t possibly resist. I inherited Little Women from my mother and have loved it all my life. And last year I read Behind a Mask, which was very different and made me want to read more about the author, and more of her work.

The challenge is hosted by Margot at Joyfully Retired.

She was one of the first people I met when I started blogging and I have been keeping an eye on her ever since. And if you haven’t met her yet then it really is time you did. She has a lovely blog reflecting her love of family, books, films, travel … and chickens.

The challenge is simple: take in at least one thing related to Louisa May Alcott before the year ends.

Now what might that be …

I have  heard great things about The Woman Behind Little Women, a biography by Harriet Reisen, and I really must pick up my copy soon.

Eight Cousins and Rose In Bloom are waiting in my Virago bookcase. And I have a copy of An Old Fashioned Girl that I uncovered in a secondhand bookshop quite recently.

I know that the library has a copy of A Long and Fatal Love Chase, and a quick search through the catalogue shows that there is a copy of The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott that I can order from reserve stock.

A re-read isn’t out of the question either, and I’m looking forward to discovering new books along the way.

Lots of lovely possibilities!

Another town, a new bookshop … and now I need more bookshelves …

If you have ever visited Cornwall, or if you ever plan on visiting Cornwall, there are a lot of places you might want to see. St Michael’s Mount, The Eden Project, The Minack Theatre, Jamaica Inn, Tintagel, Lanhydrock House, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, The Tate St Ives, The National Seal Sanctuary….

But, unless you have a particular interest in mining history you probably wouldn’t choose to visit Redruth. It’s a grey, inland, impoverished former mining town. But you really, really should go there.

Why? To visit The Redruth Bookshop. I read a while back that it was Cornwall’s largest secondhand bookshop and realised I needed to investigate. Last week I did. It looked unremarkable from outside, but when we went in we discovered that it went, back and back and back, and that it was packed full of wonderful books. I could have brought home a car full, but I was restrained and settled for these:

Recent paperback fiction was at the front of the shop. I picked up Devil by the Sea by Nina Bawden to add to my Virago bookcase, plus the first three novels by Salley Vickers. I knew as soon as I discovered her not so long ago that I would want to read and own all of her work so it was lovely to find three lined up. And older editions with lovely covers. 

And as I went further back in the shop I found the older books. 

Back at the beginning of the year everyone seemed to be reading Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster. The library had a copy, but I was in the middle of an ordering ban, and virtuously stuck too it. And maybe virtue was rewarded, because I found a very pretty edition from the 1930s. 

I have an unread copy of Peyton Place tucked away. I remembered Verity writing warmly about it not so long ago, and mentioning that Grace Metalious had written a sequel that was now out of print. So when I spotted a copy of that sequel I had to pick it up. 

And then there was a trio of books by Virago authors that Virago has not seen fit to reissue. The Bridge by Pamela Frankau (in a very pretty 1950s dust jacket), Alone We Embark by Maura Laverty (a wartime economy edition) and Potterism by Rose MacCaulay (a tragi- farcical tract!). All look wonderful. 

I recognised the name Norman Collins, because Penguin reissued his book London Belongs To Me last year. So I picked up Bond Street Story, and the opening paragraphs painted such a wonderful picture of the rush hour in London (I love Cornwall, but sometimes I miss my old London life) that I really couldn’t put it down again. 

Now it probably won’t come as news that I love Margery Sharp‘s writing. So imagine my delight at finding THREE of her books to add to my collection – The Foolish Gentlewoman, Britannia Mews and Cluny Brown. 

Now here is where I was really restrained. There were six books by Monica Dickens that I hadn’t come across before, but I made myself select just one. The Heart of London was the winner and looks absolutely wonderful. 

And finally there was an elderly copy of An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott. It was only 50p, so of course it came home. It missed the photocall because my mother pounced on it. She says that it is lovely – and I hope to get it back one day! 

That’s it! And I shall be looking for an excuse to visit Redruth again very soon…