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url 2019-03-06 14:48
Podcast #138 is up!
Charlotte Lennox: An Independent Mind - Susan Carlile

My latest podcast is up on the New Books Network website! In it, I interview Susan Carlile about her recent biography of the 18th century author Charlotte Lennox (which I reviewed here). Enjoy!

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review 2019-02-21 16:25
The struggles of an 18th century author
Charlotte Lennox: An Independent Mind - Susan Carlile
Ask a reasonably well-informed person for a list of famous 18th century English-language authors, and they are likely to respond with names like Jonathan Swift, Daniel Defoe, Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding, or Samuel Johnson. Likely absent from such a list will be Charlotte Lennox, yet in her day her standing as a writer was equal to many of them. Though best known today as the author of the 1752 novel The Female Quixote, her output consisted of a range of poetry, prose, and criticism, all of which won her an admiring audience. One of the many merits of Susan Carlile's biography of Lennox is that she situates her subject squarely within the literary world of her time, fully detailing both her prominence and her literary impact among her contemporaries.
Lennox's journey to that point was a difficult one. The daughter of a Scottish army officer, Lennox was born Charlotte Ramsay in Gibraltar, where she lived until her father's appointment as lieutenant governor of the colony of New York. Though she was accepted in England as a noblewoman's companion and prepared for a position at court, Charlotte's life changed with her marriage to her husband Alexander Lennox, forcing her to look for a livelihood. After an unsuccessful period as an actress Lennox turned to writing, with her novels and translations serving as her family's primary means of financial support. As Carlile demonstrates, though, earning a living from one's pen at that time was no small challenge even for the most successful authors, and despite her literary accomplishments Lennox lived a financially challenging existence until her death as a pensioner in 1804.
Among the challenges Carlile faces in recounting Lennox's life is the paucity of surviving sources about it. To overcome this she draws not just upon Lennox's novels for the insights they provide, but the information available about the times in which she lived, which she weaves into her narrative with authority and understanding. In doing so, Carlile not only highlights the many obstacles Lennox faced throughout her long literary career but how notable her success was in overcoming them. It also makes her book more than just a biography of an accomplished author and an exploration of her many writings but a nuanced examination of the 18th century literary world. The result is a first-rate work of scholarship that should be read not only by people interested in this remarkable woman but by everyone interested in the literature of the era and the world of the authors who produced it.
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review 2019-02-18 01:40
Callander Square (book) by Anne Perry
Callander Square - Anne Perry

Thomas Pitt, a policeman, has been married to his well-born wife, Charlotte, for a relatively short amount of time. Charlotte is pregnant and quite happy with her marriage - she doesn't mind that she and Thomas don't have much money, or that she has to do housework. But that doesn't keep her from meddling in Thomas's work a bit.

Thomas's latest case involves the discovery of two dead infants buried in a wealthy neighborhood. There's no way to tell whether they were stillborn or murdered, although the one that's been dead the longest shows signs of deformities. It's a delicate case: the mother (or mothers?) likely worked or is still working for one of the nearby families. As Thomas questions the various servants, Charlotte and her sister Emily become involved as well.

I haven't read the first book in this series, but it didn't seem to interfere with my enjoyment much. I picked this up during a recent used book shopping trip, due to a recommendation in a comment on a Smart Bitches, Trashy Books post asking for historical romance recommendations involving working class couples. Unfortunately, the first book wasn't available, or I'd have started with that one.

The blog comment indicated that the books were mysteries with romantic elements, which I can sort of see but which set up expectations that Callander Square, at least, didn't fulfill. For example, while Thomas and Charlotte clearly loved each other, they didn't actually spend much on-page time together. I went into this book expecting Charlotte to give Thomas information more regularly than she did. I can't recall if she ever even admitted to Thomas that the "friend" she'd begun helping was actually General Balantyne, who might have had some connection, direct or indirect, to the dead babies. The number of sections from Emily's POV also surprised me.

Also, I didn't remember until after I started reading this that Anne Perry is the mystery author who, when she was 15, participated in the murder of her friend's mother. I'd always previously avoided her books because of that - reading murder mysteries written by someone who has actually committed one seemed...icky. On the plus side, at least there were no explicit on-page murders or "killer POV" scenes.

Anyway, back to the book itself. I really liked the beginning but started to become impatient as I got further in and there seemed to be no progress in the case. True, there were potential scandals galore (exciting!), but if it hadn't been for one particular murder, I doubt the mystery of the buried babies would have ever been solved. One very important detail didn't even come up until the last ten pages or so.

I really wish the book had included a character list/guide, or possibly a set of family trees, because keeping all the names straight was difficult. For a while there, I had a theory about the murderer's identity that involved one character's father, but I couldn't for the life of me remember if his name had ever been mentioned. It didn't help that some of the characters had relatively similar names and/or didn't get mentioned much. I kept on mixing up Carlton and Campbell, for example. And even if I remembered who the characters were and why they were important, I couldn't always remember who their spouses and children were.

Still, I enjoyed all of the various intertwined scandals and was surprised (in a good way?) that things actually worked out fairly well for several of the families, considering. The original mystery, the issue of what happened to the two dead babies, didn't grab me as much, maybe because it tended to be overshadowed by everything else.

One of my favorite things about this book was the way it handled its various female characters. Perry included a whole range of female characters, from annoying and silly to ruthlessly pragmatic. I liked some without reservation, disliked others, and found myself grudgingly respecting a few that I initially thought I'd 100% hate. The one thing nearly all of them had in common was that the men around them underestimated their perceptiveness and the depth of private lives and feelings. Even Thomas occasionally made this mistake, although he was good about listening to and learning from Charlotte, and was never so badly shaken by what he learned as some of the other men.

This was a bit slow for my tastes and didn't have Charlotte and Thomas on-page together as much as I'd expected, but I did enjoy it and plan on reading the next book at some point. I might also go back and read the first one, just to see what I missed.


(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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text 2019-02-13 20:57
Reading progress update: I've read 45 out of 528 pages.
Charlotte Lennox: An Independent Mind - Susan Carlile

I decided to read this after reading a review of it in the TLS, and I'm glad I did. Not only does Susan Carlile draw upon Lennox's novels to fill in the (many) gaps in what we know about her life, she does so more effectively than a lot of more famous biographers have with their studies of other novelists.

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review 2019-02-04 05:28
Charlotte's Web - E.B. White,Garth Williams,Rosemary Wells

This book is a great chapter book for 3rd-5th graders to read. The third graders can get this book on audio and follow along. This amazing book brings farm animals to life as they try their best to save a pig from being slaughtered. The things they do and the words they spell out ends up helping the pig named Wilbur from being killed and eaten. 


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