womens classic literature event

The Classic Club have come up with a new reading challenge – one that makes me want to squeal with glee – it is a challenge that speaks right to the heart of what I love most to read; The Women’s Classic Literature event. Read more about this event here.

The event starts right now – and continues right through to December 2016. Now some of you may say that this is not much of a challenge for me – as I read so many classic women already. So the challenge for me is to read more. To read essays, biographies and memoirs too (as I read far less of those and they all count for this challenge – even modern written biographies if they concern a classic woman writer).

The Classic Club shared a quote from Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own – which is wonderful.

“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would suffer! We might perhaps have most of Othello; and a good deal of Antony; but no Caesar, no Brutus, no Hamlet, no Lear, no Jaques–literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.”

That brings me to the next part of my personal challenge, as well as reading the many books by women already on my list – I want to concentrate particularly on these writers.

virginiawoolfmargaret oliphant

Virginia Woolf – I have talked before about my difficult relationship with her in the past – which I hope I have overcome. I intend to make A Room of One’s Own my first read for this challenge – (if I can fit it in before my 1924 books).

Margaret Oliphant – I have all the books of her Carlingford Chronicles – but I have only read the first one (very good) though as the others are so big I keep passing them by.

willacather3sylvia Townsend warner

Willa Cather – an author I love – I have read many of her books already I want to read the rest and her letters (which I have yet to acquire) and short stories.

Sylvia Townsend Warner – I have read three of her novels to date and want to read the rest, she is someone I used to be daunted by – now she merely impresses and fascinates me.

The Classic Club have also posted a little questionnaire for those of us taking part in the challenge – regular readers please indulge me as I answer them for other classic clubbers.

classicclub meme

1. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event.
I’m Ali (most of you know that) and I am particularly looking forward to this event because quite simply it fits right into what I like to read most.

2. Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?
Lots and lots, too many to count – many I even re-read or intend to re-read. There are so many great women writers of the past many rather over-looked now who I keep discovering.

3. Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.
Virginia Woolf 1882- 1941– To the Lighthouse, Mrs Dalloway, Orlando.  I will be starting soon with A Room of one’s Own. VW is someone I have always thught I should love, but struggled a little with, I didn’t get on that well with The Lighthouse when I first read it many years ago. Since then I read (and quite liked) Mrs Dalloway and then this year finally read and loved two VW novels Orlando and The Voyage Out. Maybe finally I have found my VW mojo I hope to re-read The Lighthouse and move on to some others and maybe some of her essays which I have heard great things about.

4. Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!)
Marian Halcomb – The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. I love her because she’s strong and intelligent, brave and resourceful – unfortunately and perhaps typically for the Victorian period the novel comes from Marian is not allowed to be desirable or attractive – it’s as if she’s an honorary man – the desirable, marriageable women have to be delicate, fluffy and in need of protection. That is irritating.

5. Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?)
Helen Graham from the Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte – I love her and that novel so much, she’s a strong feminist character, and the novel shocked society in 1848.

6. We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list?
Virago Modern Classics are perfect for this challenge and I read many of them. I found this list on Goodreads which have 178 fantastic titles on it.

7. Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event.
1. The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton, a fantastic American classic
2. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte – my favourite ever book
3. South Riding – Winifred Holtby – a favourite modern classic which is very readable and just brilliant.

8. Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?
Oh immediately, of course, why wait?

9. Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list?
I will read mainly as inspiration calls me – though I will concentrate on the books already on my cc list. There are many women already there – so I have enough to keep me busy.

10. Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?)
I mainly read novels, but yes there will be almost certainly be letters, essays and maybe a biography or two – lovely to be able to read across genres for this challenge.

11. Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women?
I do especially love women’s writing from the first half of the twentieth century – although I have enjoyed many nineteenth century works – that is probably where my heart lies.

12. Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!
No plans as yet – but it’s always a possibility.

13. Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer.
I think I would love a Virginia Woolf group read – as she is a writer I want to concentrate on.
14. Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet.

“Do you think I am an automaton? — a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! — I have as much soul as you — and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh: it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal — as we are!”

From Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

15. Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it.
My question: Who are your current favourite classic women writers? Your must read list?
I love Austen and the Brontes, but my other more modern favourites are: Elizabeth Taylor, Willa Cather, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Bowen, Elizabeth von Arnim, Barbara Pym and Rosamond Lehmann.


the sans pareil mystery

Received from the publisher via Netgalley – with thanks.

I really needed to read something of a light and escapist nature this last week, which I knew before I began would be a long a tiring one. The San Pareil Mystery turned out to be a good choice. I don’t often read mysteries written now, I generally reach for more vintage stuff but I used to once rather enjoy historical mysteries if they weren’t too gory. The San Pareil Mystery is in fact the second book in the series – which I hadn’t realised when I downloaded it – but it really doesn’t matter, and certainly my enjoyment of the novel was not spoiled by having not read the first instalment. I was particularly attracted by the idea of the theatrical setting – I always think theatres are wonderful settings for drama and intrigue – although the theatre itself plays quite a small role in this novel.

“There, dangling backwards over the jagged edge of the upper floor, was the body of a young woman. She was on her back. Her lifeless eyes stared up towards the cold February sky. Raven hair, turned grey with dust, cascaded from her head down towards the courtyard below. One arm trailed helplessly and swayed in the breeze. Her lower extremities appeared to be trapped beneath the void of the floorboards of the room.”

London; February 1810 and the body of a young actress is found in an abandoned building in the process of being demolished. The young woman, a baron’s daughter, worked at the Sans Pareil theatre, (now called the Adelphi) a theatre unusually run by a woman. That this theatre was (and still is) a real place and that it was run by a real historical figure, adds a nice little flavour of authenticity to this story. In fact I thought many of the historical details seemed very realistic, and Kate Charlton does a really good job at bringing this fascinating period to life. For me as a reader, I enjoy very much being swept up by a period, in reading The Sans Pareil Mystery the modern world frequently melted away from me as I became immersed in the cold, murky gas lit world of Regency London.

Stephen Lavender is a detective with the Bow Street runners, working out of the famous Bow Street magistrate’s court. In the trusty company of his faithful sidekick constable Woods, Lavender sets out to discover how the young woman who has been identified as April Divine, came to be under the floorboards of a dilapidated building. Also on hand to help – in various and unexpected ways is beautiful Spanish widow Doña Magdalena – who had already saved Lavender’s life on a previous case. Magdalena is tough, but vulnerable, her son is away at school, and Magdelena’s money is running low, she is alone in London, but for her trusty young maid Teresa. It is quickly obvious that Magdalena and Stephen are drawing closer by the day.

With the Napoleonic wars still raging across the channel, Regency London is a place of intrigue, a city full of potential spies in the displaced peoples who have fled the wars in Europe. Lavender and Woods, find the case take several unexpected turns, which leads them from the sprawling, colourful life of Covent Garden, to back stage rooms of a popular theatre to the drawing rooms of the aristocracy.

“Dorothy Jordan and the Duke of Clarence were relaxing in front of the fire in their drawing room when Lavender was ushered into their presence. The duke was reading a daily news-sheet and Mrs Jordan had a novella in one hand and a pair of pince-nez in the other. She hastily pushed her reading glasses down the side of her chair cushions when he entered. He smiled at her vanity.”

We meet Dorothy Jordon, the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, herself a famous comedy actress, and another of the strong female characters in this novel. However, Regency England was a much more male dominated world, and a place of prejudice and suspicion. Magdalena’s Catholicism might yet turn out to be a career limiting problem for Stephen, if he decides to marry her.

As Lavender and Woods delve further into the case they begin to realise that the case, involving matters of national security is much bigger, than they had ever dreamed of when they first began their investigations.

I found The Sans Pareil Mystery to be a very engaging, mystery; I loved the Regency setting and the addition of real historical characters – and the relationship between Lavender and Woods is also lovely. There were a couple of elements that I was able to work out myself – and didn’t come as a surprise when they were revealed – but this is still a well plotted mystery with a dramatic climax to the case at the docks.



leadon hill

Leadon Hill re-issued by Greyladies books turned out to be something of a surprise for me really. To be frank I had put off reading it for ages, after being told it was very light. I expected something like Angela Thirkell with added fluff but without her occasional sharpness. (I find I can only read Angela Thirkell if I ‘m in the right mood). What I found however – was a domestic novel that was certainly written with a lightness of touch – but is deeply engaging with fantastic characterisation. Crompton faithfully recreates the atmosphere of a small English village; Leadon Hill, a place which runs on gossip and spite, and the different factions which trade in it.

“Most of the better houses in Leadon Hill were known by the name of some tree that grew (or failed to grow) in their gardens. Of course there was a higher scale of names. Towers and Granges and Manors and Halls. The inhabitants of Acacia Road did not aspire to those. They knew their place. They were The Laurels and Laburnums and Elms and Limes. But they weren’t numbers. That was the class next below them – houses joined together without any gardens to speak of.”

Miss Mitcham, small and elderly is the power which must be feared in Leadon Hill, she and her band of vicious acolytes decide who is acceptable and who isn’t. She lives on a street which comes to an unexpected dead end, and watches from her window, with some satisfaction, the motorists who turn up the road in error only to re-appear in great confusion. Miss Mitcham employs a maid, aka The Treasure, who listens at keyholes, and reports back anything and everything she hears while out and about the village. Leadon Hill, or certain sections of it, looks always to Miss Mitcham to tell them what they think.

“He looked down in the direction of the village. ‘It’s a beautiful little place, isn’t it? And in the heart of it sits Miss Mitcham like a maggot in an apple, poisoning it. I think that woman will be rather surprised when she finds out, as please God she will one day, how wicked she is. She’s one of the wickedest women in the world.”

village scene2Marcia Faversham and her family are not Leadon Hill born and bred; they have lived in the village for about a year. They live on Acacia Avenue, in The Hawthorns, next door is The Chestnuts, a house also owned by the Favershams and in need of a tenant. Marcia has despatched her husband on a long talked about fishing trip with some old friends, and secretly looks forward to the peace she will enjoy while he is away. John is a man of rather particular, fussy traditions – and little imagination, he revels in his garden and is incapable of picking up on the undercurrents of snobbery and spite that run through the village, he takes everyone at face value. Marcia meanwhile is well aware that she is often the subject of village gossip and disapproval – but she doesn’t let it bother her too much. She has her three children, her golden son Hugo, over confident and sporty, gentle Moyna and little Tim who recovering from Polio struggles to keep up with his boisterous siblings. Marcia also has her allies The Elliotts – a writer and his wife – who also find themselves on the outside of the village cliques. John Faversham’s departure leaves Marcia to attend to the business of finding a tenant for The Chestnuts.

With news soon sweeping the village that The Chestnuts is let at last, speculation about the identity of the new tenant is rife. Miss West is duly installed, a wealthy young woman, who will live alone at The Chestnuts, she has lived her whole life in Italy as part of a bohemian artistic community. Helen West, strangely beautiful with extraordinary poise, makes a great friend of Marcia and young Tim, but with her unconventional upbringing, dark eyes, high cheek bones, not to mention nude figurine in her drawing room, she quickly becomes Miss Mitcham’s next victim. Miss West of course is good, very good, she is everything the horrid folk of the village are incapable of being.

In Leadon Hill Richman Crompton concerned herself in particular with the various lives of the villagers; a large cast of characters most of them deeply unpleasant. It’s difficult to find a redeeming quality among them; superficial Mrs Croombs and her silly equally superficial daughter Freda, who has set her cap at Sir Geoffrey the local gentry’s dissolute son, Miss Martyn stern and unsmiling, her younger ‘simple’ sister, Miss Dulcie who is quick to tears and confusion, knits misshapen garments for charity – that her sister then unravels on the quiet, poor Miss Dulcie is made happy by the thought of those garments..

“which she called ‘vests,’ and imagined as clothing a large class of unfortunates known vaguely and generally as ‘the poor.’ She felt a thrill of joy on a cold morning when she thought of the ‘poor’ warmly clothed in her ‘vests.”

The Miss Martyns’ niece, the sly and self-righteous Olive, has recently come to live with them, and quietly bullies poor Miss Dulcie. The idle vicar, who thinks rather too much of his ‘thrilling’ voice reads detective novels instead of writing sermons, and his wife who used to be a housemaid is desperate that no one should know of her past. Then there is Lady Dewhurst (Sir Geoffrey’s mother) who is content to let her tenants live in squalor, while the Painton sisters who live in such poverty they are slowly starving, are striving hard to hide their ‘shame.’ Gerald Croombs despising his mother, sister and almost everyone else in Leadon Hill allies himself with Olive in joint superiority over the villagers, that is until Helen West appears.

I think I probably enjoyed this novel so much because I wasn’t expecting that much from it – and chose to read it because I am in need of easy type reads at the moment (which it still is). The atmosphere that Richmal Crompton has created in the village of Leadon Hill is horribly oppressive, but makes for utterly compelling reading, I could hardly put the book down. There is more I would like to say about the brilliantly subtle way Richmal Crompton chose to end the novel (which I personally liked but suspect not everyone will), but really don’t want to spoil it for future readers, so I will just shut up.

So yes Leadon Hill is a light read in some ways, unashamedly middlebrow, with domestic village setting, but Richmal Crompton paints her village and its inhabitants very cleverly, she understands her characters and their motivations well, be warned though, future readers, you will want to throttle most of the characters.

richmal crompton

maid in waiting

Maid in Waiting is the first novel in the third and final volume of the Forsyte Saga Chronicles, the seventh of the nine novels.

Following the quite climatic ending to the previous volume, we put the Forsytes to one side and concentrate instead on the Cherrell family, cousins of the Mont’s; the family Fleur Forsyte married into. Fleur and her husband Michael having now been married for about eight years, remain just peripheral characters in this novel.

Hubert Cherrell, son of Sir Conway Cherrell, on sick leave from the R.A.F, joined an expedition to Bolivia, where he got into a whole heap of trouble involving some Bolivian men who Hubert flogged for animal cruelty – one man was shot – and the expedition failed. Now Hubert has had his name linked to the failure of the expedition in the newspapers, by Hallorsen – the American who led the expedition and has had hard words to say about Hubert since. Soon it appears that Hubert may even have to face extradition to Bolivia to answer for the shooting, which Hubert claims was self-defence. Cue, lots of upper class white men saying rather unpleasant things about the trustworthiness of mere Bolivians – we know what to expect I suppose with things written at this time. There are moments however when this all gets a bit wearisome. I wondered however whether Galsworthy wasn’t deliberately highlighting the typical English, white upper class attitude here – and decided he possibly was – as ever he concerns himself with portraying various sections of society – certainly there is a prevalent arrogant attitude toward the non-English.

Hubert’s sister Dinny – one of the best characters in this novel – shows her unswerving support for her brother while at a country house party hosted by Sir Lawrence Mont and his wife –the glorious Lady Emily. Knowing that Lord Saxenden – with his influence in military matters – and Professor Hallosen are to be present Dinny contrives to join the party and go into bat for her beloved brother. Dinny also does a little match making for her brother – which is astoundingly successful. While in Bolivia, Hubert had kept a diary which Dinny reads in order to fully understand her brother’s experiences.

“And so on through a tale of struggle to the end. Dinny laid down the dim and yellowed record and leaned her elbow on the sill. The silence and the coldness of the light out there had chilled her spirit. She no longer felt in fighting mood. Hubert was right. Why show one’s naked soul, one’s sore finger, to the public? No! Better anything than that. Private strings — yes, they should be pulled; and she would pull them for all she was worth.”

Meanwhile one of Dinny’s uncles the rather lovely Adrian is in love with Diana, a woman whose husband is incarcerated voluntarily in a psychiatric hospital – she has spent four years alone with her children. During this time her friendship with Adrian has been entirely appropriate but it is obvious the two are very fond of each other.

“Of the old school in thought and manner, and trained to a coherent view of human history, Adrian accepted life with half-humorous fatalism. He was not of the reforming type, and the position of his lady love did not inspire him with a desire for the scalp of marriage. He wanted her to be happy, but did not see how in the existing circumstances he could make her so. She had at least peace and the sufficient income of him who had been smitten by Fate.”

One day however, her husband Captain Ferse walks out of the home and turns up at the house he once shared with his wife. The servants immediately put locks on their doors, and all of Diana’s friends are very worried for Diana alone with her husband – who at first at least does appear perfectly fine. Dinny proves herself a great friend to Diana, moving in to the house with Diana as a guest, just as Captain Ferse’s behaviour begins to cause concern again. Dinny is a wonderfully brave, resourceful character, she a very different character to Fleur, possibly not quite as vividly brilliant as Fleur, she is much nicer. Lady Emily, Fleur’s mother-law is a rather lovely character, she’s endearing and seems just a little unconventional – a bit distracted she greets her neice in her drawing room with a parakeet on her shoulder.

“Emily, Lady Mont, was standing in her panelled drawing-room flicking a feather brush over a bit of Famille Verte, with her parakeet perched on her shoulder. She lowered the brush, advanced with a far-away look in her eyes, said “Mind, Polly,” and kissed her niece. The parakeet transferred itself to Dinny’s shoulder and bent its head round enquiringly to look in her face. “He’s such a dear,” said Lady Mont; “you won’t mind if he tweaks your ear? I’m so glad you came, Dinny; I’ve been so thinking of funerals. Do tell me your idea about the hereafter.”
“Is there one, Auntie?”
“Dinny! That’s so depressing.”

Hubert finds himself in court – his possible extradition still to be decided, he is remanded in custody meanwhile much to the disgust of his friends and family.

There is naturally enough a dramatic end to the story of Diana and her husband, with Adrian and his brother Hilary (who we met briefly in Swan song) making a desperate dash in pursuit of the poor man.

John Galsworthy writes such stories brilliantly, troubled romances, court cases and scandals set among the English upper classes are familiar territory. Here is great storytelling, and like the novels which preceded it Maid in Waiting is endlessly readable, I actually really enjoyed getting to know a new set of characters. While this doesn’t have quite the same brilliance of some of the earlier Forsyte novels, it is still very enjoyable, and I am looking forward to the last two books in the series.

john galsworthy

the 1924 club
I am sure that there is no one who reads this blog who doesn’t also read Karen’s (kaggsysbookishramblings) and Simon’s (stuckinabook) blogs. Therefore I am equally sure that you all already know about the 1924 club – such a brilliant idea – and really right up my alley. If the 1924 club has passed you by – then the idea is that we read a novel originally published in 1924 – lists of what was published in that year are available on Goodreads and Wikipedia (and you can find links to those lists on Simon and Karen’s original posts. Bloggers will be reviewing the books we’ve read between 19th and 31st of October. My favourite period of literature is probably broadly 1920 – 1960 – so I would be keen to have more of these clubs in the future – such an amazing raft of wonderful books to be explored from this period.

So I am very much throwing my hat into the ring, joining the 1924 club – and although I have said I will be reading very much according to my mood – I have chosen two books which I feel sure I will want to read.

the rector's daughterseducers in ecuador

1. The Rector’s Daughter by F M Mayor – my edition a modern VMC rather than a lovely old green – it’s a book I have wanted to read for a while. I have another F M Mayor novel on my kindle – The Third Miss Symons – which I have seen the word depressing applied to, and keep swerving – so The Rector’s daughter will be my first Mayor novel.

2. Seducers in Ecuador – Vita Sackville West, my edition a Bello books ebook. Seducers in Ecuador is a novella published alongside the 1922 novella The Heir –a stunning little novella itself – if you haven’t come across it.

If you are looking for ideas for things to read from 1924 – dare I suggest?

1 A Passage to India by E M Forster – an absolute classic and an old favourite of mine.

2 The Constant Nymph – Margaret Kennedy, a wonderful novel about the unconventional, bohemian family of a composer.

3 The Crowded Street – Winifred Holtby, a novel in which Holtby explored the expectations imposed upon women by society. The Crowded Street currently available from Persephone books has also been published in the past by Virago.

4 The Home Maker – Dorothy Canfield Fisher – it is seven years since I read this novel – a time when my so called book reviews ( originally from my live journal account) consisted of a copy and pasted synopsis and one hurriedly written paragraph. It is a wonderful novel – available of course from Persephone.

5 The White Monkey – John Galsworthy – the fourth book of the nine novels which make up the Forsyte Chronicles – it would only suit someone who is already reading the series – but I know there are one or two people out there who are doing so.

There are many others of course including Precious Bane, which I read so long ago but remember still – my sister and I were obsessed with it for a while in our late teens – books I haven’t read – or can’t remember if I have. I know there’s at least one Agatha Christie book from 1924 The Man in the Brown Suit – which I am pretty sure I have read many moons ago – I can’t remember it now ( there was a pretty terrible film made of it I think). The Castle by Franz Kafka – again I read it in my late teens early twenties (all details gone), there are P G Wodehouse books, John Buchan, H P Lovecraft, Katharine Mansfield, H G Wells on the lists – so if you’re looking for inspiration check out those lists.

September in review


September has felt like a very long month somehow, and one in which I didn’t read anything like as much as I wanted to. September saw me read just eight and a half books and few short stories from another volume. I can’t adequately describe how exhausted I am at the moment, and thus I am struggling to read as much as I want to – and I am definitely struggling with the blog – but fully intend to keep plodding on the best I can.

Following my exciting Mary Hocking news I began the month with The Climbing Frame, a book which illustrates how a minor incident can be blown out of all proportion by petty officials, newspapers and local gossip. Stranger in the House by Julie Summers, read for one of my book groups, explores the stories of the returning men and their families after World War Two. Next up was The Blackbirder by Dorothy B Hughes, a fantastic piece of vintage noir; I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end. Crome Yellow, by Aldous Huxley was my second book from publisher Vintage of the month – I have realised that I have loads of their books still waiting to be read. They really seem to publish many of the kinds of books that I love. The Lake District murder is a 1930’s police procedural re-issued in the British Library Crime Classics series. Noonday by Pat Barker is the brilliant conclusion to her second war trilogy; I bought it in hardback as I was so keen to read it – not something I do very often. I read The Big Sleep for my other book group, and due to aforementioned exhaustion didn’t make it to the meeting – however I was pretty disappointed in the book, enjoying the beginning and then getting bogged down and bored with the rest. My Career goes Bung by Miles Franklin a classic of Australian literature was the book I got drawn by the Classic Club spin; it was a re-read for me and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I also managed to read a few stories from the Shirley Jackson collection Let Me Tell You, which I will continue to review in bite size chunks, but the first few stories promise great things for the rest. I am finishing the month and beginning October a about two thirds of the way through Maid in Waiting by John Galsworthy, the seventh of the nine Forsyte Saga Chronicles, a whole new set of characters who I am enjoying meeting.

My literary highlights of the month:

the blackbirdernoondaymy career goes bung2

1. The Blackbirder – Dorothy B Hughes – great atmosphere, superb storytelling, with twists at every turn.

2. Noonday – Pat Barker. Barker has generally written about WW1 before, but in this novel she writes about WW2 with great authenticity, laying bare the true nightmare of the London blitz.

3. My Career Goes Bung – Miles Franklin, a superb sequel to her more famous novel My Brilliant Career, by a (then) young Australian feminist.

For October I don’t have any definite plans – I will certainly be just seeing how the wind blows. I simply want to enjoy the little reading I can do, I do have a few review copies waiting, one arrived this week and the others the result of me going a little nuts requesting books on Netgalley (which I usually stay right away from for a good reason), and some of them might be just the kinds of books I need at the moment. My Mother is a River arrived this week, and some of the Netgalley books I am looking forward to include: Trouble on the Thames, Murder at the Manor and The Little Red Chairs. As ever though, no promises as to when I’ll get round to them.

my mother rivertrouble on the thamesmurder at the manorthe little red chairs


My Classic Club spin book – and what a joy it was re-reading this book, thank you Classic Club.

My Career Goes Bung is the sequel to Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career, written in 1902 it wasn’t published until 1946. It is Franklin’s response to the fame and notoriety she received following the publication of her autobiographical novel My Brilliant Career in 1901. In her Foreword to this edition Verna Coleman explains why this second book was not published when it was first written. Miles Franklin had caused quite a stir when My Brilliant Career first appeared, Franklin was an outspoken young woman ahead of her time, an early feminist, who spoke against the accepted way of things, and she shocked her community with what appeared to be very advanced views on the position of women. Her publisher felt unable to publish this second work as several characters were just a little too recognisable as real life members of Sydney society.

The heroine of both books is Sybylla Melvyn, who like her creator, grew up on a bush station as part of the ‘squattocracy’. Life in Possum Gully is often difficult, sometimes the rains don’t come and there is no spare money for luxuries and lots of hard work to be done, writing is easily seen as a silly indulgence. Sybylla’s mother had been born into a rather better family, and has married a little beneath her, Sybylla’s father a former local politician, is not very good at business. Sybylla often incurs her mother’s irritation over her wilful ways, her writing and her outlandish opinions.

“I entered into the life of struggling incompetent selectors. The chief burden of that, for the women, was unrestricted child-bearing, and I was now a woman, as Ma reminded me, a fact which made me rebellious. Ma said I was always a wilful and contradictory imp and that during the throes of rearing me, she was frequently put to such confusion that despite I was her first and last and only child there were times when she could have cheerfully wrung my neck. Ma said most girls felt the way I did at first, but soon settled down. All girls wished that they were men.
At that I flashed out like a tornado, insulted. Never in my life had I a wish to be a man. Such a suggestion fills me with revulsion. What I raged against were the artificial restrictions.”

Sybylla entrusted her manuscript of her autobiographical novel to a famous Australian writer to whom she sent it. The book is published – unknown to Sybylla until she receives a parcel of books with her name on the front. The reaction at home is one of horror, that Sybylla should have written such things about her own young life, her home and a fledgling love affair while she was away visiting her grandmother (the story of My Brilliant Career essentially). Soon it is apparent that other people from their scattered community and the nearby town have read the book – everyone has an opinion, and it generally is not favourable. The first two of Sybylla’s unsuitable suitors rear their heads at this time, one of them a man old enough to be her grandfather and the other a middle aged man whose name is similar enough to the love interest in her book to have – he claims – caused him some embarrassment.

Invited to be a guest of Mrs Crasterton, and chaperoned around Sydney society, Sybylla leaves Possum Gully for her adventure into society. In her simple white muslin dress, cashmere stockings, wearing her hair like a school girl, Sybylla becomes an unexpected literary hit in a society that she often struggles to understand. Sybylla meets those who want to change her, those who want to court her, those who lionise her and those who criticise, but none of them had reckoned on the irrepressible Sybylla Mervyn who is already very sure of who she is. Sybylla wants to experience life, and she has no wish to be constrained by society – she is puzzled how so many of the people who have applauded her book – now seem to seek to change the young woman who wrote it.

“What puzzled me was that my first attempt was praised for its sincerity, and yet every man who wanted to marry me or to help me in my career immediately set out to change me into something entirely different. Why not in the first place seek the writings and the girls they wanted me to be like? There were plenty of them. No one would ever have heard of me had I not been different, but that difference was immediately to be erased.”

Poor Sybylla, falling victim to the society gossip columnist – who accuses her of having cotton stockings – surrounded by a succession of potential suitors, captivated by her new friend the beautifully assured society darling Edmée Actem, has no evening gown to wear. Refusing to have clothes bought for her, Sybylla does accept a pretty blue sash from Mrs Crasterton’s brother Gaddy to wear with her white muslin. Soon Sybylla will have to return to Possum Gully – and what if anything will she have learnt from Sydney society when she does?

This further story of Sybylla Mervyn is fabulously engaging, funny, and with much still to say about the gender roles of men and women and societal expectations. I enjoyed this novel every bit as much as My Brilliant Career.



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