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review 2018-01-20 11:00
Abused and Shunned by Society: The Diary of a Lost Girl by Margarete Böhme
The Diary of a Lost Girl (Louise Brooks edition) - Thomas Gladysz;Margarete Bohme
Tagebuch einer Verlorenen - Margarete Böhme

This forgotten classic from Germany was a best-selling novel in 1905 and translated into many languages.

 

It was also widely read for nearly three decades – until the story of a fallen girl from a bourgeois family who sees no other way to survive but prostitution was pushed into the abyss of oblivion because it didn’t fit into the ideal and virtuous image of Germans that Nazi propaganda created. Mute films made of it had the same fate although the 1929 film of G. W. Pabst starring Louise Brooks is much appreciated by enthusiasts like the editor of the again available English edition of the book.

 

Please click here to read the full review on my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany!

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2018-01-13 11:00
Promoting Modern Art in Tehran: Softcore by Tirdad Zolghadr
Softcore - Tirdad Zolghadr,Tirdad Zolghadr

A young man of Iranian descent moves to the country of his ancestors to open a place for modern art in the centre of Tehran, but he is one of those who don't take life too seriously. There are only eight weeks until the planned great opening and he drifts through his days mixing with the guests of his ancient grand-aunt Zsa Zsa or partying with his artist friends. Before long his carefree behaviour gets him into trouble with the Iranian police as well as with his friends abroad supporting the art project...

 

Please follow the link here to read the long review on my main book blog Edith's Miscellany to know more about this novel!

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
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review 2017-10-04 11:00
The Longing for Love: Marie Grubbe by Jens Peter Jacobsen
Marie Grubbe: Seventeenth Century Interi... Marie Grubbe: Seventeenth Century Interiors (Dedalus European Classics) - Jens Peter Jacobsen,Mikka Haugaard

In the nineteenth century the discoveries of Charles Darwin not only revolutionised science and introduced the idea of evolution into human thinking, they also changed literature inspiring authors to a new approach to fiction writing. One of the first in Northern Europe to break with Romantic narrative tradition and to begin telling stories in a naturalistic style that showed man as a beast driven by instincts and urges was Danish botanist and writer Jens Peter Jacobsen (»»» read my author’s portrait). After his successful literary debut with a short story, he published in 1876 the historical novel Marie Grubbe. A Lady of the Seventeenth Century (Fru Marie Grubbe. Interieurer fra det syttende Aarhundrede). It is loosely based on the true story of a Danish noblewoman who died in 1718.

 

Jens Peter Jacobsen introduces Marie Grubbe as a slim and delicate girl with luxuriant hair of dull gold strolling in the gardens of her father’s estate in Tjele in Jutland. She is fourteen years old, motherless and according to the housekeeper, who is also the mother of her illegitmate baby half-sister, she is stubborn and bad. When war with Sweden breaks out, her father takes Marie with him to Copenhagen wishing her to stay with her wealthy aunt there. In fact, the widowed aunt is well-connected with the Royal Court and men like Ulrik Frederik, the favourite illegitimate son of the King, frenquent her house. Marie, however, is a romanitc child and has a crush on the King’s brave half-brother who successfully defended the city against Swedish attack. By the age of seventeen Marie has turned into a pretty young woman with many courtiers and Ulrik Frederik is one of them. Since he is a handsome and very promising young man, Marie agrees to marry him although she loves him only “after a fashion”. After a quiet wedding they pass passably happy months together until the King calls Ulrik Frederik to arms against Spain and he gladly departs to prove himself in combat. Upon his return he is a different man. His violent behaviour, his heavy drinking and philandering repulse her, so she refuses herself to him. What follows are nearly ten years of constant fight that after many tribulations and interference of their families end in divorce after all. And Marie sets out on a journey to Paris with her brother-in-law and lover who leaves her as soon as he realises that she has used up all her money. Grudgingly she returns to live with her father on his estate in Tjele in 1773. After six years her father persuades her through different threats to marry Palle Dyre, a counsellor of justice to the King whom she despises. For ten years their lives are eventless except for “endless quarrelling and bickering, mutual sullenness and fault-finding”. Then the coachman Soren Sorensen Moller commonly known as Soren Overseer enters into her life. She is forty-six and he twenty-two years old…

 

The wild and headstrong Marie Grubbe who isn’t willing to content herself with being well provided for by just any suitable husband higher or equal in social status as her surroundings expect is sometimes called the Danish Madame Bovary, but having read both novels, I can make out only one similarity, namely the fact that the protagonists are women who driven by their longing for romantic love and happiness break social conventions. The plot isn’t particularly complex, the psychological depth, on the other hand, that Jens Peter Jacobsen lends his leading character is remarkable and outdoes even Gustave Flaubert in my opinion. In fact, much of the book’s charm lies in the skilful and meticulous depiction of the thoughts, emotions and unconscious urges of Marie Grubbe. Together with the precise and detailed illustration of scene, society and history it makes a gorgeous novel. To my great relief, Jens Peter Jacobsen’s writing style isn’t longwinded and flowery as that of many of his precursors and contemporaries which made the read very pleasant for me and amazingly modern too considering that the novel first appeared in 1876.

 

It goes without saying that the works of Jens Peter Jacobsen are all in the public domain by now although there may be newer translations that aren’t. Nonetheless, an English edition of Marie Grubbe can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg for instance.

 

Marie Grubbe: Seventeenth Century Interiors (Dedalus European Classics) - Jens Peter Jacobsen,Mikka Haugaard 

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review 2017-09-06 11:00
A Young Woman’s Flight: The Adventure of the Black Lady by Aphra Behn
The Adventure of the Black Lady, and the Lucky Mistake (Dodo Press) - Aphra Behn

The English prose novel as we know it today is an amazingly recent invention. Its rise began only in the seventeenth century thanks to writers like Daniel Defoe (c.1660-1731), Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)… and Aphra Behn (1640-1689) whose work was rediscovered only in the early twentieth century (»»» read my author’s portrait). Although in her time Aphra Behn was first of all a renowned playwright, she also wrote several novels in her later years. By modern standards, however, these novels are hardly more than novelettes or even short stories.  One of these little known prose works from the pen of the first Englishwoman who was able make her living as a writer is The Adventure of the Black Lady first published in 1684. It’s the story of a young woman called Bellamora who has come from Hampshire to Covent Garden in the hope to find refuge and help with a cousin of hers.

 

In her story Aphra Behn skilfully portrays Bellamora as a very naïve and foolish young woman who got herself into serious trouble and sees her only chance in flight. Both her parents are dead and she left her uncle’s estate pretending to visit a recently married cousin living not far away, while in reality she headed for town right away and with the intention to hide for a while in the “populous and public place” where she had another relation who would surly help her out. When Bellamora arrives in Covent Garden, however, she finds that her cousin doesn’t live there anymore and, even worse, that nobody there seems ever to have heard of her. Understandably, the young woman is desperate and uncertain what to do. The author makes her wander aimlessly through the parish in a hired coach and ask people if they know her cousin and her whereabouts. And surprise, surprise, an impoverished gentlewoman who lets lodgings for a living tells Bellamora that her cousin and her husband have been living with her for more than a year, but that they went out and she didn’t expect them back before the night. Greatly relieved Bellamora asks to be allowed to wait for the couple and, trusting as she is, she soon pours out her sorrowful heart to the friendly gentlewoman. When the Lady and her husband return at last, Bellamora is again plunged into despair because she isn’t her cousin after all. Luck would have it, though, that the Lady is an old acquaintance whom Bellamora doesn’t recognise at first, but who recalls the young woman at once and bids her welcome. And again Bellamora pours out her heart and this time she reveals the whole truth to the almost stranger, namely that she is eight months pregnant and fled from the advances of the child’s father whom she doesn’t want to marry for fear that after the wedding he will love her no longer. As befits a romantic “novel” of the time, with a few other lucky – and unlikely – twists brought about by both the gentlewoman and the Lady who is not the sought for cousin, Aphra Behn drives Bellamora’s story towards a happy ending.

 

Instead of the dodo press book that contains also a novelette titled The Lucky Mistake, I read the free web edition of The Adventure of the Black Lady published by eBooks@Adelaide and found it an entertaining and very quick read about Romantic love and the desperation of a fallen young woman in England of the Restoration. Although Ernest A. Baker included it in his 1905 collection of The Novels of Mrs. Aphra Behn, it’s really a short story filling no more than a couple of pages. If it weren’t for the spelling and some peculiarities of language, the story would feel very modern almost like historical fiction written in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. I warmly recommend it!

 

The Adventure of the Black Lady, and the Lucky Mistake (Dodo Press) - Aphra Behn 

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review 2017-07-05 11:00
A Suffocating Village: Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda
Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent

Less than a year ago I reviewed a novel by Catalan author Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) who is much celebrated in her country but virtually unknown elsewhere. I was so impressed by the book that I felt like reading also others of her works and from the two novels published posthumously, both of them unfinished, I eventually picked the one available in English translation, namely Death in Spring or in the original Catalan La mort i la primavera, i.e. Death and Spring. At first the title seems a bit strange, if not contradictory because it links death with nature’s rebirth after winter, but given that the novel flows over with powerful as well as poetical symbols and metaphors of life and death it’s quite appropriate. It’s a complex and well-constructed story about society that reminds me a lot of the works of Franz Kafka although it’s different in style.

 

The nameless I-narrator and protagonist makes his first appearance as a fourteen-year-old boy who enters the river passing under his mountain village built generations earlier on the debris of a huge rock-slip. He inhales the beauty of nature surrounding him and realises that he is “being followed by a bee, as well as by the stench of manure and the honey scent of blooming wisteria” representing the village with its pink houses that is always on his mind. As it turns out people there have many rituals to keep misfortune at bay. On the other side of the river is the forest of the dead with a tree dedicated to every inhabitant living or already dead with a plaque and a ring. During funerals all children are locked away into the stifling wooden kitchen cupboards, a custom that clearly mirrors the cruel death ritual practiced by the villagers for generations that requires to force pink cement down the throats of the dying in order to keep their souls from escaping and turning into shadows creeping “among the shrubs, always threatening to attack the village”. At the same time, and less obviously, it reflects the oppressive atmosphere in the village where everybody has to follow strict rules and not even the children are allowed to breathe freely in the literal as well as in the figurative sense. For being a boy the narrator doesn’t understand why the man whom he watches from behind a shrub hollows out a tree and enters it to die. As it turns out the man is his father, but instead of showing himself and talking to him, the boy returns to the village and tells the blacksmith. Everybody rushes out to give the already half-dead father the necessary cement treatment. With his teenage stepmother whom everybody considers retarded and strange he roams the village and its surroundings by night taking fun in vandalising the forest of the dead and using the pink powder of the cave to find out where its waters flow – thus defying the old village rituals that don’t make sense to them. Before long their adolescent urges take over and they have a daughter, but the community doesn’t accept them neither as individuals nor as a family because they are just too different, too free, too alive…

 

Many reviewers argue that Death in Spring represents life during the Spanish Civil War and in the rigid regime of General Franco that followed and that forced the author into exile, but in my opinion this is too limited an interpretation. I think that the author more generally portrayed the workings of human society where conservative forces use to be the stronger ones except in times of deepest discontent and misery. Even in our modern western civilisation that holds individual freedom in such high esteem, those who aren’t like all others or behave in a different, maybe even revolutionary way are marginalised, excluded and eventually crushed, i.e. driven to suicide or madness like in the novel although more subtly than in a totalitarian regime. In a nutshell: this is another great work of literature that would deserve much more attention. Highly recommended!

 

Death in Spring - Mercè Rodoreda,Martha Tennent 

 

»»» read also my review of In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda.

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