July Reading

In an unprecedented display of efficiency, I’m actually posting my July reads at the end of July instead of sometime in the next month. The reason is that as my cousins are visiting from Friday to Sunday, I won’t get much more reading done, so I might as well do my wrap-up today.

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Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji
I read a few pages this month but not that many. I’ll have to pick up again next month.

Poetry:

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets
I started this anthology for Jane Austen July and am enjoying it very much. I’m about half way though and will continue with it till I’m done. It’s a shame that these poets aren’t more widely known, as they are just as good as male poets.

Short Stories

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments
I didn’t make much progress with this either, but I’ll keep at it.
Also short stories by Laurie R. King listed with the novels.

Non-Fiction

  • Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own
    This was also a round-about Jane Austen July book. It was very good, see my review if you are interested.
  • Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography
    This one I reviewed yesterday. Not bad but only if you are interested in the details of Samuel Johnson’s life. But in that case, you should start with Boswell’s Life, which is great.

Novels

  • Jane Austen, Persuasion
    Read for Jane Austen July – very good.
  • P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley
    Also part of Jane Austen July. I reviewed it and Persuasion here.
  • Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister
    Another excellent (except maybe a bit long) novel for Jane Austen July, reviewed here.
  • Laurie R. King:
    • Mary Russell’s War and Other Stories of Suspense
    • The Language of Bees
    • The God of the Hive
      My ongoing project to read all of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, reviewed here.
  • Elyne Mitchell, The Silver Brumby
    Revisiting my childhood with this lovely book about the adventures of a special wild stallions in the mountains of Australia. I wrote a bit about it in this post and then felt the need to read it once again. It’s very good and available on Kindle. My edition is an old library book which I got second-hand, which has lovely drawings of brumbies and other Australian wildlife (see the photo above).

July was a good reading month – I read a lot and managed to write all the reviews this months, too. I’m not sure if I ever managed this before. I hope you also had a good time reading in July!

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July 3

Another one of my TBRs for Jane Austen July was The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. I read it last weekend; it was very engrossing. It tells the story of Mary Bennet, the annoying middle sister in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, who’s a moralizer and a bore. Hadlow’s novel gives a different view of her.

The novel is divided into five parts. The first one basically retells the events of Pride and Prejudice with a focus on Mary. We learn that she’s basically alone in the family, as Jane and Lizzie are close as are Kitty and Lydia. Mary is deemed ugly by her mother, unlikely to catch the eye of a promising suitor and as such disregarded or actively denigrated.

Only one of her daughters had failed her. Mary had made the mistake of inheriting neither the looks nor the charm shared by all other female members of the Bennet family. This was a sin for which, in Mrs Bennet’s eyes, there could be no forgiveness, as Mary herself had quickly discovered.

Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister, Pan Books, 2020, Kindle Loc 138.

Mrs. Bennet in this novel is even more unlikeable than in the original. Mr. Bennet is also not of much help. In her efforts to gain the love and notice of her parents and others Mary makes a lot of missteps but we see the reasons for her behavior in P&P.

By the time she was fourteen, Mary knew she came first with none of her sisters. She was no one’s special friend or confidante. Neither her mother nor her father looked on her with any particular affection. In the midst of so large a family, she was utterly alone.

Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister, Pan Books, 2020, Kindle Loc 231.

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Part two starts after the death of Mr. Bennet, two years after the end of Pride and Prejudice. The Collins’ have moved into Longbourn, all the Bennet daughters except for Mary are married. At first, Mary lives with her mother at the Bingleys, but she is tormented by Caroline Bingley (who turns into Mary’s nemesis) and therefore goes to stay with the Darcys at Pemberley. In Lizzie’s small family, she feels like the odd one out and escapes to visit Charlotte Collins for an extended stay. This doesn’t turn out well, either, for she becomes too friendly with Mr. Collins, who is lonely in his marriage, as Charlotte completely disregards him. Mary is only taught Greek by Mr. Collins, but Charlotte is jealous and uses underhand tactics to get rid of her, which embarrasses and disappoints Mary, who had considered Charlotte a friend. So Mary has to find yet another place to stay and this time chooses to go to her aunt and uncle, the Gardiners, in London.

Part three describes her life in London, with the Gardiners, who are the best thing that’s ever happened to Mary. At last she’s found a home. The Gardiners encourage her to make something of herself, to become more outgoing, to dress well, to make friends, to gain the interest of two young men.

Part four is all about a romantic trip to the Lake District, following in the footsteps of Wordsworth. Things go wrong with her two love-interests.

Part five bring the resolution, but I don’t want to spoil it by giving details. We get another good look at horrid Mrs. Bennet before the end, but Mary is by now self-assured and doesn’t let herself be bullied anymore. She takes the responsibility for her future happiness into her own hands.

I enjoyed the novel very much and got quite fond of Mary. I’ll never look at her in the same way again. Hadlow wrote in a style that’s reminiscent of Austen’s, it’s very readable. Just a few things struck me that could have been done differently: there was a parallelism between an action by Caroline Bingley in Hadlow’s novel and Catherine de Bourgh in P&P which I found a bit much (you will know it when you come across it). I also felt that the character of Mrs. Bennet was too awful, much worse than in P&P. And, thirdly, I believe the story could have been told more concisely. The retelling of P&P took up a lot of space, and the Mary’s sojourns at Jane’s, Elisabeth’s and Charlotte’s could have been tightened up a bit (it was fairly clear that things wouldn’t go smoothly and one was just kind of waiting for the sticking point to appear that would cause Mary to depart yet again).

The novel can be real quite well without having read Pride and Prejudice, but I believe that there’s a deeper enjoyment if one has read Austen’s novel.

I’ve now read all the books I put on my TBR for Jane Austen July and watched one of two films (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – very amusing). I just need to watch another one film (Emma), then I will be completely done. Not sure when I will get to it, maybe only at the beginning of September, but that’s fine. Jane Austen July was great fun – I’m almost sure that I’ll take part again next year.

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July 1

Last month I came up with a TBR for Jane Austen July. I’ve now read Persuasion and Death Comes to Pemberley, so here’s a short review of both:

Jane Austen, Persuasion

It seems strange to write a review of any of Austen’s novels, because they are so well known. Persuasion was a re-read for me, but I’d forgotten all the details, except for the part where Louisa Musgrove falls down that flight of stairs and bashes her head (which is, of course, narrated much more elegantly by Jane Austen).

Anyway, the novel is about Anne Elliot who broke off her engagement with Captain Frederick Wentworth because all her relatives were against the marriage. Wentworth wasn’t good enough for them, not being titled or rich. Anne was 19 at the time and grew to regret her decision. At the time of the novel, she is 27 and basically and old maid. Captain Wentworth has in the meantime been very successful during the Napoleonic Wars, advancing in his career and gaining a fortune and is on the look-out for a wife. Anne meets him in her social circle, but at first tries to avoid him and he pays his attention to other, younger women at first. The novel shows how they come to care for and love each other again.

I wondered why the novel is called Persuasion. According to Wikipedia, Austen referred to is as “The Elliots” but it was published posthumously as Persuasion. It seems clear that the title refers to Anne’s being persuaded to drop her engagement, but I think it can refer to a lot of other cases as well. Sir Walter Elliot, for example, needs to be carefully handled to prevent him from embarking on stupid enterprises – thus he is persuaded that Bath is a better place to reside than London (where he would probably have lived above his means). Anne’s shady cousin William Elliot tries to persuade her to marry him. Foiled, he persuades one Mrs Clay to set up as his mistress when before she had seemed to angle for a marriage to Sir Walter. A foolish decision on her part, but a safeguard for William Elliot (as he wouldn’t inherit Sir Walter’s title and lands if Sir Walter married again and had a son). Mary Musgrove, Anne’s younger sister, who is an attention-seeking hypochondriac, also often needs to be persuaded out of bad moods. The novel is full of such instances of persuasion.

Anne is the nicest and most intelligent member of her family. Her father, Sir Walter and her oldest sister are arrogant fools and her younger sister Mary is an egotistical whiner. Anne’s motherly friend, Lady Russell, is a sympathetic character, but it was partly her advice that led to Anne’s broken engagement – still it seems that she can be persuaded that this was a wrong decision. Anne now clearly sees that the advice she was given was wrong, and Frederick Wentworth grows to understand the constraints under which Anne broke off the engagement. So eventually we get a satisfying resolution, and, on the way, we get a good look at the pretensions and foibles under which the characters labour. It’s very amusing in places and very insightful of human motivation.

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P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley

P.D. James is probably best known for her Adam Dalgliesh mysteries. I’ve read them all and they are very good – I love P.D. James, she’s one of my favourite writers. I was quite surprised that she had written Death Comes to Pemberley, a sequel to Pride and Prejudice. I expected it to be a crime novel with someone investigating a murder, but that’s not what the novel is about.

There is a dead person and it was murder, but the novel looks at the effects the death has on the inhabitants of Pemberley, Elisabeth and Mr. Darcy, Mr. Darcy’s sister Georgiana, the Bingleys (who often visit), as well as the servants instead of focusing on the search for the culprit. It’s very well done, in the manner (if not quite in the style) of Austen.

The story is set a few years after Elisabeth’s and Darcy’s marriage. They have children and are happy. Elisabeth has grown into her role as mistress of Pemberley and the main things on her mind are the upcoming annual ball and Georgiana’s future (she has two suitors). But then her sister Lydia Wickham brings mayhem into the household. There’s a dead body and Wickham is the main suspect and is taken into custody. We are not shown much investigation, but there’s an inquest and later a trial. The resulting unrest (what with having a murder suspect in the family) makes the characters reconsider some of their long-held assumptions and actions done in the past (some reaching back to the events in Pride and Prejudice). The murder is solved in the end (though not by any brilliant investigation) but the real interest of the novel lies in showing the character’s increased self-knowledge and moral growth (especially for Mr. Darcy).

Although the novel differed from what I expected, I thought it was excellent and well worth a read.

I also read the fanfiction on my TBR (it was fun) and watched the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was also fun (I wrote about it here). So now I have two more books and one film. Not sure if I will manage both books, but I’ll try.

There has been a lot of flooding in parts of Germany, with a lot of destruction and some deaths, but not where I live, for which I am grateful. It’s been raining all day today, but it was a gentle rain (as opposed to the downpours in those other parts of Germany). It looks like the rain will stop by tomorrow, which is fortunate. My Partner is stuck at his place in North Rhine-Westphalia, because he is surrounded by lot of towns and roads in his area that are affected by the floods. Fortunately, no flooding in his immediate surroundings, as his house is up on a hillside. But the road at the bottom of the hill was flooded (but it has already receded). Some of the worst floods are in Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 houses were obliterated and many others badly damaged in one small village. Another horrid manifestation of climate change.

Keep safe, world

Monday Miscellanea

After a lovely weekend a somewhat horrid workday.

We did a lot of homely things on the weekend: gardening, cooking, cleaning, watching films and series, setting up the new work notebook, and, last but not least, reading.

On Saturday Partner and I harvested most of the red currants on our one and only red currant bush. We got at least 2.5 kg from that one bush. I think that last year it was only about 900 g. There’s still some of the red currants on it that we didn’t pick. They weren’t quite ripe yet and I’m not sure if we will harvest them. It’s cool and rainy again for the next few days and then we’ll be off to Bavaria for 10 days again, so we may not get round to those last few berries. Maybe we’ll leave them for the birds. On Sunday we used 900 g of the red currants for a cake. Partner did the baking; I pulled the red currants off their little stems, a quite fiddly task. The rest of them I deposited in our freezer, after Mum and I had de-stemmed (or however you call it) them as well. Mum helped, because it would have taken ages otherwise.

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We meant to have pizza on Sunday, but because we were exhausted from all the baking and de-stemming, we had soup instead. Also, we had some left-over potato salad from Saturday. Vegan potato salad made with a soy-yoghurt sauce (with mustard, a bit of lemon juice, salt, pepper and some broth and some olive oil) – it’s very nice. We had fried tofu to go with it and for dessert, Partner made a mousse from aquafaba, red currants and sugar. We got the aquafaba from a glass of chickpeas and used the chickpeas for hummus. Aquafaba, the liquid in which chickpeas (or beans) are cooked, can be beaten like egg-whites.

Saturday I washed the floors after Partner had vacuumed. That made me hot and borderline annoyed, so afterwards Partner and I watched the next episodes of Loki and Bad Batch as a reward for stupid house cleaning. Both episodes were good. We also watched the penultimate episode of Underground Railroad on Sunday. The subject matter was again very dark. At least that bloody slave hunter got his just deserts, but we still need to see the last episode to find out what will become of Cora, the main character.

Sunday evening, as there are currently no new episodes of the Tatort crime series, I made Partner watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with me. We borrowed it off Amazon Prime and watched it in German (I couldn’t also force him to watch it in English). It was amusing. A lot of heaving bosoms from the women and smoldering looks from the men (especially from Mr. Darcy). The Bennets’ cousin Mr. Collins, the stuffy reverend, was played by Matt Smith (of Doctor Who fame) rather like a court jester. Catherine de Bourgh was a famous zombie-slayer (as was Mr. Darcy). The Bennet girls where all accomplished zombie slayers as well, having learnt the art of self-defense in China at a Shaolin school (they fought together really well). Wickham was an evil traitor, plotting with the zombie army and abducting Lydia without her consent (a major deviation from Austen). The ending was strange: marriage for Jane and Lizzie while the zombie situation wasn’t resolved (leaving things open for a sequel?). It was fun trying to spot the parts still fairly true to Austen’s Pride and Prejudice mixed in with the zombie plot. All in all, we had a blast with this sometimes slightly cheesy movie. You may too if you like zombie films and romances. That’s crossed one of my Jane Austen July to-dos off the list.

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On Sunday afternoon I unpacked my new work notebook and did all the required steps to get it set up. There were some snags where I found the instructions unclear, but I managed to get it up and running. It also installed a lot of updates and needed occasional restarts. Today I installed some more apps and tools, but it went faster than expected and I used it for work today.

The IT problem at work that I talked about in my last blog post wasn’t solved today despite the analysis my colleagues and I did (and why do we have to do this instead of IT?). We groaned and moaned about the situation in our team meeting. We’ve been having such a lot of weird issues with our software tools lately that it’s really impacting our ability to work productively, and tempers are getting frayed. One of these days we won’t be able to meet a deadline and then things will really turn unpleasant.

To return to the weekend: I finished reading Persuasion for Jane Austen July (another to-do off the list). It’s excellent. It was a reread, but I couldn’t remember much of it beforehand, so it was almost like a new read. It deserves a separate review which I will hopefully get to later this week. I also continued reading The Tale of Genji (I’m lagging behind again, but so is my reading buddy so it doesn’t matter – we will catch up this month). And I read a few poems from my anthology of 18th century women poets. So far, a lot of the poems complain about women’s lot in the 18th century. Some of them are excellent, but they are not well known because they didn’t really enter the cannon (reserved as it was for so long to male authors).

On the weekend mornings we did some long walks with Curious Dog, since we have more time than on workdays. We did the long walk through the woods that we hadn’t done for a while. It was still quite muddy in the woods and since it’s raining again today will get muddier. Still, it’s good to have a summer with rain for once. Unfortunately, there were again violent thunderstorms with flooding, but not hereabouts – we had milder storms. Nevertheless, poor Curious Dog didn’t like them at all and hid under Partner’s desk or the living room couch table. I wonder what our garden in Bavaria will look like after all the storms we’ve had recently. We’ll be driving down again on Friday (or maybe Thursday afternoon, but I’ve got so much to do at work that I think it’ll be Friday).

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July: My TBR

Inspired by a favourite BookTuber, Claudia of Spinster’s Library, I want to take part in the Jane Austen themed readathon that’s always such an entertaining production among parts of the BookTube community. Although I won’t do all the challenges exactly as they are probably meant to be done, as some of them don’t suit me at the moment. So here are the prompts and how I plan to fulfill them:

1. Read one of Jane Austen’s six main novels.

I’ve read all of Austen’s main novels, but don’t own all of them. I’m seriously tempted to get the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition of all the novels (including Lady Susan) in one paperback with French flaps and deckled edges – but it’s currently not available with Amazon and I couldn’t find a second-hand version in Germany (there are tons in the UK, but with shipping cost and Brexit uncertainties it’s not worth the hassle). I don’t want to buy a different new copy of a title l don’t already own and have decided to reread Persuasion because I think I haven’t read it as often as any of the others. I don’t remember any details, so it’s time for a reread.

2. Read something by Jane Austen that is not one of her six main novels.

I’m not feeling the vibe to do that. I want to read Lady Susan eventually, but at the moment I kind of want to wait until I can get the special edition (see the point above) that I have my eyes on. So, I had a brainwave and decided to look for a good fanfiction on Archive of Our Own. I used to read a lot of fanfiction in all sorts of fandoms, though never in the Jane Austen fandom. Well, I found one that sounds good: Dragon’s Choice, by vix_spes. It’s Persuasion-inspired and a cross-over with Naomi Novick’s Temeraire series (which I also like). I read the first few paragraphs and it seems well-written, so this is what I’m going for. Not really meeting the prompt, but who cares?

3. Read a non-fiction work about Jane Austen or her time.

I’m extremely not feeling the urge to read anything that fits this prompt. I’ve got a copy of Claire Tomalin’s biography of Jane Austen, which is great, but I don’t want to reread it. But this prompt inspired me to look up Tomalin on Amazon, and I found that she has written an autobiography. I’m going to read that. It’s called A Life of My Own. I’m hoping that someone who writes biographies will have a interesting approach to her own autobiography. It’s not fulfilling the challenge, but it’s inspired by the challenge, as I would otherwise not have come across this autobiography at this moment in time. Rather tenuous a connection with Jane Austen, but it kind of counts, right?

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4. Read a retelling of a Jane Austen book.

I’m not reading one of those either, but something closely related. I’m going to read The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow, which I have wanted to read since last year. I’m also going to read Death Comes to Pemberley, which is a crime novel by P.D. James. I love P.D. James and have read all her novels but found earlier this year that I had never come across this one. It’s been languishing on my bookshelf for a couple of months and I’m really looking forward to it. Both of these books are set in the world of Pride and Prejudice. That should definitively count, don’t you think?

5. Read a book by a contemporary of Jane Austen.

I’m going to pick up the poetry collection Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, edited by Roger Lonsdale. I won’t read the whole collection in July (it’s 600+ pages) but I felt that a bit of poetry would be a great complement to all that prose on my July TBR.

6. Watch a direct screen adaptation of a Jane Austen book.

I know that I’ve seen adaptations of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but not of Emma. I’m going to watch the adaptation of Emma with Kate Beckinsale in the title role mostly because it’s free on Amazon Prime and I currently don’t feel like paying to see the more recent film from last year. Also, the most recent adaptations aren’t necessarily the best ones. I do want to see the other one sometime.

7. Watch a modern screen adaptation/retelling of a Jane Austen book.

I’m going to go with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It sound kind of fun. I like Jane Austen and I like Zombie films – it could be hilarious and thrilling. I also want to watch Clueless, which I have never watched before. It’s currently also free on Amazon Prime (but only for the next five days, so I’m going to have to watch it this weekend).

As you can see, I’m interpreting some of these prompts rather loosely, but that’s part of the charm of the endeavour (that’s my argument if anyone asks). I’m excited about starting the challenge, but I want to finish reading The Iliad by June 30 first (I’m only half-way) and I still have to read 100 pages of The Tale of Genji this month.

Some good news: my Partner has managed to get an appointment for the Biontech/Pfizer vaccine at his place, tomorrow actually. And I have managed to get mine through work and it’s next Tuesday, with the same vaccine. We also have the appointments for our second vaccinations in early August. I’m so happy! Hope it all works out fine, with only mild reactions.

We’ve had a lovely rainy day today. My favourite kind of weather, pleasant temperatures, a bit of rain, a lot of green and thriving plants, no thunderstorms. Curious Dog and I had a pleasant morning walk. I didn’t have to work, as it’s Friday. I didn’t have to cook, because I made a big pot of soup yesterday that lasted for today as well. I’ve done my grocery shopping for the weekend (except that I forgot a couple of vital things that I will need to pick up tomorrow). Tomorrow Partner is returning, after getting his vaccination (unless he feels unwell), so I’m happy for that as well. Today has been a very good day – hope yours was too.

Keep safe, world.