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review 2020-03-18 11:03
American Notes
American Notes For General Circulation - Charles Dickens,Patricia Ingham

by Charles Dickens


Reading Dickens can be tedious at times and this has its moments, but overall I found it interesting to read the nineteenth century author's impressions of his trip to America.


His experience of the long voyage across the Atlantic and the differences in culture when he lands in America are known to have contributed to his background knowledge for writing his novel, Martin Chuzzelwitt, which describes shipboard life and the discovery of American culture in similar terms.


One of the observations that stands out is his experience of train travel in America and the way that women are treated politely when traveling alone, even having women only coaches. He contrasts the clean dress and polite mannerisms of poorer women in America with the grottier poorer classes at home, perceiving a vast difference.


Not all of his observations of America are complimentary though. His commentaries about slavery and chewing tobacco paint Americans as little more than savages in a civilized world and his reaction to what he found in those early, inhumane prisons was scandalous. Towards the end, he quotes some newspaper ads for help in capturing runaway slaves that highlight just how badly these slaves had been treated.


The contrast between American culture and Dickens' British experience is interesting in view of the fact that it had only been an independent country for a little over 50 years at the time, yet some of what he described sounds like a Western novel.


This is not the most riveting read, but it's interesting in a historical context.

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review 2018-09-01 22:07
The De-fanging of Menfolk: "The Woodlanders" by Thomas Hardy
The Woodlanders - Patricia Ingham,Thomas Hardy

Another Hardy character to rival Sue Bridehead in emotional complexity is, I feel, Grace Melbury in The Woodlanders. Grace is the young country girl sent away by her vain and ambitious father to be educated and refined and when she returns we see how the natural order of a small rural community is irrevocably turned upside down as a result. Hardy explores the impact of education and money on Grace and the way these influences affect those around her. Grace is forced by her control-freak of a father to marry the middle-class philanderer Edred Fitzpiers, and thus reject the young local man whom she had expected to marry - the taciturn woodlander, Giles Winterbourne, who 'looked and smelt like Autumn's very brother'. Grace's marriage to Fitzpiers is a disaster which leads to the normal order being drastically altered. 



If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2017-06-12 00:00
Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell,Patricia Ingham

'Cranford' is more a series of recollections and trains-of-thoughts than a properly structured novel, and yet I couldn't ask for a more satisfying story. Mary Smith's visits to the village of Cranford, which "[i]n the first place, is in possession of the Amazons...", are full of affection and rife with detail of how genteel women of modest means lived in the mid-19th century and, by extension, gives a lot of insight into how people behave, which is as relevant today as it was 150 odd years ago.

I especially enjoyed the digression about favorite economies, how Mary Smith says she is endlessly saving and hoarding string, even pieces which can't possibly have a use. We all have something, and reading that part aloud to my husband made us both immediately launch into each other's foibles, and consequently those of our family and acquaintances. All in all a profitable evening.

There is no doubt in my mind that the characters of Cranford were largely drawn from life, the turns of phrase, the way the ladies behaved, the topics of discussion, with some alterations this could be about the regular meetings of my own small village. A fantastic achievement. I'll be back for more.

Previous: 'Mr. Harrison's Confessions'

Next: 'My Lady Ludlow'

From: 'The Cranford Chronicles'

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-16 16:55
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy
The Woodlanders - Patricia Ingham,Thomas Hardy

As part of one of my Goodreads groups, I am doing a Hardy project this summer. The Woodlanders isn't the first Hardy I've read - in 2015, I read Far from the Madding Crowd and I read The Mayor of Casterbridge some time prior to 2011. As is my custom, I saved the scholarly introduction for my edition until after I read the book.


The Woodlanders is one of Hardy's later books, published in 1887, and is set in the woodland village of Little Hintock. It explores many of the usual Hardy themes: marriages (not good), sexuality (unrestrained), and social class (snobbery), especially class mobility (resulting in misery). It wouldn't be Hardy without a fair amount of melodrama, including several assaults, a man who dies because he is deathly afraid of a tree, and attempted maiming with something called a "man-trap," an off-screen murder, and a lingering death from typhoid. I don't think that Hardy hits the melodrama meter quite as aggressively as he did with Far from the Madding Crowd, but since that book was basically bat shit, that's damning with faint praise.


The primary plot revolves around a young woman, Grace Melbury, and her romantic travails. She is in love with a young man, Giles Winterbourne, who is a "woodlander," by which I mean that he works in the woods cutting down trees and pressing cider and the like. Grace is the only daughter of Mr. Melbury, who is a bit more affluent than most of the citizens of Little Hintock, and he has made substantial financial sacrifices to send Grace away from her home to a school. She returns after completing her education, and, as a result, is "neither fish, nor flesh, nor fine red herring," as the old expression goes.


From her father's perspective, she has been elevated above Giles, and he encourages to look a bit higher in marriage than an impoverished woodlander who doesn't even have a house. Along with Giles & Grace, we have Edred Fitzpiers, a young doctor who comes to Little Hintock to practice medicine, and Felice Charmond, the wealthy and beautiful young widow who owns a nearby estate. Notice that on the one hand, we have two very staid British names - Giles & Grace - and on the other hand, we have two poncy French names - Edred & Felice. This is not a coincidence.


Edred falls hard for the lovely Grace, who is persuaded by her father to let him pursue her. Initially, it seems that Edred has less than honorable intentions, but he ultimately marries her. It's unclear if this is because he knows that she won't engage in a dalliance with him, or if he actually falls in love with her. 


Once Grace & Fitzpiers are married, the book grows much darker. Fitzpiers strikes up an affair with Felice, which Grace learns of from her father. Winterbourne mopes around like Bella after her sparkly vampire abandoned Forks, going into a decline. It's sort of fun to see the Victorian male version of a decline, since it's usually the Victorian woman who fall into a decline for no apparent reason whatsoever. It involves typhoid and a cider press because a man's got to eat, even if he is desperately unhappy over the loss of his beloved. There is weeping, gnashing of teeth, a spot of assault, and a flight to the continent. Things end badly for Felice - who is murdered by a stalker that she has bewitched with her saucy flirtations - and Giles - who expires in noble sacrifice, nursed by Grace, clearing the road for a reconciliation of the miserable couple.


The Woodlanders explores the unhappy impact of unwise marriage. Victorian society was moribund, and social mobility was out of the reach of most people. The single exception to that rule was really marriage - through marriage, partners reach one another's level. It pulls up lower classes and pulls down upper classes. We are left with the impression that it was Mr. Melbury, by educating Grace above her station, put into motion a series of events that resulted in misery pretty much across the board. As a well-educated woman from the twenty-first century, this sort of irritates me. On the other hand, I get his point.


This book has a semi-happy ending, with Edred and Grace finding some equilibrium. It was apparently one of Hardy's favorites of his own books, which makes me pity his wife. A lot of people find Hardy very difficult to read because he is so grim. I can't take him seriously, however. There is just too much drama.

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review 2015-11-14 20:22
North & South de Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell,Patricia Ingham

Sin previo aviso, la vida de Margaret Hale da un giro de 180 grados y debe dejar el pueblo de Helstone para mudarse con su familia a Milton, en el otro extremo de Inglaterra. En el sur, la vida rural es simple y tranquila, adecuándose a su personalidad y dejando que los días pasen sin apuro, complementando a cualquier espíritu religioso.

En el norte se lleva a cabo una revolución de máquinas y algodón, donde el tiempo se escapa y la ansiedad llega a cada uno, y todos deben adaptarse para estar a la cabeza de los cambios o aprender las consecuencias que lleva vivir en desventaja.


Elizabeth Gaskell es una de las escritoras más interesantes del siglo XVIII y si no es considerada de las más importantes es debido a su sexo, pues su trabajo tiene una sensibilidad que puede acercarse a Dickens, su contemporáneo, y tal vez con una mejor apreciación de los temas sociales de la época.


La puja entre el sur y el norte llevan al crecimiento de la protagonista, lo que deriva en romance, como en muchas novelas femeninas (Austen, Brontë), pero también permiten que a través de sus ojos se pueda hacer un estudio de las clases sociales que existían por medio de sus ellos. Y es por esto que tuvo críticas negativas: no hay buenos o malos en sus historias, y hay momentos para ver lo que cada lado piensa y siente, más que una idea moral que se nos imponga. Entendemos el punto de vista de John Thorton, un “nuevo rico” dueño de la fábrica; el de Nicholas Higgins, un trabajador cansado que sigue luchando por lo que merecen; el de Boucher, quien será apodado de traidor pero cuyos motivos y ansiedades representan los de muchos que no podían mantenerse apegados a sus principios. Tales matices llevaron a una devaluación del trabajo de la autora hasta la década de 1950, cuando resurgió gracias al movimiento marxista, y a las dos adaptaciones televisivas que ha tenidos en los últimos cuarenta años.


Gaskell habla aquí de muchos temas y eso puede hacer el libro un poco pesado. Es también debido a que las novelas victorianas solían aparecer en revistas mensuales de a un capítulo por número, y no era la intención leer toda la obra de manera fluida. Pero también permite una lectura más profunda, aunque no tan rápida. Y, como toda obra alejada de nuestra época, algunos temas son obviados o tratados con ingenuidad, pero el texto logra recuperarse: la idea de Margaret sobre los trabajadores es muy ingenua pero de a poco aprende a buscar opiniones, valorar ambos diálogos y crear una idea más madura e informada.


La importancia de mostrar los personajes y la realidad social puede dejar el romance para un segundo plano, pero resulta bastante realista, con una buena progresión. Es más un resultado de las circunstancias que el principal hilo conductor, aunque resulta esencial en determinados momentos. También Thorton logra un progresión que permite que los personajes se encuentren a medio camino, con una mentalidad más afín para dar un final feliz, y la importancia que puso la autora en dar detalle y sentido al final se ve y se agradece.


Hay muchos paralelos que pueden hacerse (y se han hecho) entre la heroína y las heroínas de las hermanas Brontë así como Jane Austen, pero considero que refieren más a una conciencia femenina. La necesidad de Hale de establecerse como una persona autosuficiente y reconocida como tal entre sus pares, sin necesidad de títulos o familiares que conduzcan llena solo la segunda parte de la novela, pero en la primera encontramos un perfil que se va marcando por las circunstancias y que llevan a la determinación de la protagonista. Éste es el rasgo más valioso que tiene y que permite una conexión con ella.


Reitero, es un texto pesado y que tal vez tarde un poco en conseguir un ritmo ameno en la lectura, pero es una muy buena historia que retrata una época vista varias veces de una manera diferente, fresca, compleja y atrapante.

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