Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: interwar-period
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2019-09-03 12:01
An accurate look at the lot of a woman in England between the wars, recommended to lovers of historical fiction, needlework, and cathedrals.
A Single Thread - Tracy Chevalier

I thank NetGally and The Borough Press (Harper Collins) for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely decided to review.

I only came to Chevalier’s books quite late (I hadn’t read any of her novels until I caught up with At the Edge of the Orchard, which I loved), but I’m fast becoming a fan of her way of bringing history to life and immersing us in worlds that many of us might know little or nothing of and managing to grab our attention and to teach us invaluable facts at the same time. This novel is no different. Although we revisit a historical period that is much closer than those she has visited in other books (the story takes place in the UK the early part of the XX century, in between wars), once we get into the story, we soon discover that things have changed more than we might realise. The social mores of the era seem light years away from ours (although perhaps not everywhere and not for everybody), and, although told in the third person through the eyes of the narrator, Violet Speedwell, we learn what being a single woman (‘a surplus woman’ as the novel explains) was like at the time.

Violet, the protagonist, is not the most glamorous and exciting character I’ve come across. She is not special in any way, and that is what makes her story particularly representative of the period. As she often observes, there were many women who had lost male relatives, husbands or fiancées (she lost her older brother and her fiancée) during the Great War, and this generation of women are struggling to find a place for themselves. Some might go on to marry, but others… what kind of life awaits them? Although the style of writing is completely different, the sharp social observations put me in mind of Jane Austen and her novels. (Of course, Jane Austen is buried at Winchester Cathedral, so it all seems to fit). Violet leads a life where she is always conscious of other people’s opinion, of what her mother will think, of what will happen to her in the future (will she end up having to go to live with her younger brother and become the spinster aunt to his children?), of whose company she keeps… And once she leaves her mother’s house and goes to work and live in Winchester, she even has to be careful of how much she eats, as her salary won’t allow for any luxuries or even a hot meal per day. She is far from a conformist and has her moments of rebellion (she has her sherry men), but she is not open-minded or up in arms, at least not when we first meet her. By chance (and due to her love for Winchester Cathedral, inherited from her father, the most significant person in her life) she discovers the broderers, a group of women dedicated to enhancing the cathedral with their embroidery (when you read the author’s note you discover that the group existed and its main character, Louisa Pestel, was a historical figure whose archives are now at the University of Leeds), and although she knows little of embroidery, the thought of making a contribution to such a building and leaving her mark drives her to join in. Although not all is goodwill and camaraderie in the group, it changes Violet’s life, and she and us, readers, meet many other characters that give the story its depth and a strong sense of place and historical truth.

I love the way the author introduces details of embroidery (needlepoint), bell ringing, the history of Winchester Cathedral, and even the landscape of the city and the surrounding area, into the novel seamlessly, without making us feel as if we were reading a touristic guide or a history book. (She brings together all the threads like a skilled embroiderer herself). She is also proficient at descriptions that enlighten without becoming repetitive or overbearing. I get the feeling that she would be an incredible teacher and she’s hold her students enraptured by her words, the same as she does her readers.

The characters are recognisable as types, but they manage to surprise us as well, and the little details she mentions about them and about their behaviours and reactions make them true and genuine, even those who don’t feature prominently in the story. As the story is told from Violet’s point of view we sometimes get biased opinions about the characters, but we also get to see how she changes her perspective when she gains a new understanding of what life might be like for others, and we share in her progressive enlightenment and her new (and more generous) view of things. By the end of the novel, Violet is a totally new person and her life has changed beyond all recognition. Is it a happy ending? Well, I guess it depends on your definition of happiness, but she’s sure come into her own, and I enjoyed it. Do read it and see what you think!

I thought I’d share a few quotes from the book, to give you an idea of what you might find. (I recommend you check a sample of the novel to see if it’s a good fit, and remind you that I accessed an ARC copy, so there might be some changes in the final published version).

Women always studied other women, and did so far more critically than men ever did.

An invisible web ran amongst the women, binding them fast to their common cause, whatever that might be.

It was expected of women like her —unwed and unlikely to— to look after their parents.

She was from an era when daughters were dutiful and deferential to their mothers, at least until they married and deferred to their husbands —not that Mrs Speedwell had ever deferred much to hers.

This is neither a page turner, nor a book for those who love non-stop action. There are adventures and surprises, but those are not earth-shattering but rather in keeping with the main character and her milieu. This is a story centred on the everyday life of a woman in the early 1930s in England, at a time when the country was starting to recover from a war, and people were already worried about the events taking place in Germany. It is a novel about how far women have come (at least in the West) or not, about how some things don’t change easily, about the small acts of rebellion and about finding your own place, about being creative in your own way (both the broderers and the bell ringers made me think of Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mother’s Garden), and about ensuring your voice is heard. It is a novel of manners for the XXI Century, and much, much more. I was enchanted and entranced by it, and I recommend it to people interested in Women’s History, UK recent history, the social history of the interwar period, embroidery, bell-ringing, Winchester Cathedral, and good writing.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-02-17 11:00
The Powerful Heritage of a Woman: The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier
The Loving Spirit - Daphne du Maurier

In spite of its title, the novel The Loving Spirit isn’t just another one of those shallow romances set in the picturesque landscape of Cornwall that swamp the book market. Much rather the English novel from 1931 is a family saga with obvious echoes of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and poetry.


Spanning a hundred years, it shows the fate of four generations of the Coombie family starting in 1830 with wild Janet whose boundless love not only marks her own life but also that of her descendants... including that of her unloved son who makes a fortune to gain power and have his revenge to the very last. But he can't destroy the strong seed that Janet planted.


Please click here to read my long review on Edith’s Miscellany!

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
Like Reblog Comment
review 2016-01-30 11:00
A Scotsman In Enemy England: Midwinter by John Buchan
MIDWINTER - John Buchan

Midwinter by John Buchan is a historical spy novel and it's a good book.


The story is set in the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie, more precisely during the Jacobite rising of 1745/46, and its protagonist is a captain of the Scottish army travelling through England to join his Prince in Scotland. On his way he realises that his assumed friends are actually his foes trying to get rid of him with all means because they betray the Jacobite cause. He is helped by a not yet famous Samuel Johnson and a mysterious man called "Midwinter" rescues him ever again from almost certain death.


I wrote a long review of the novel on my main book blog which you can find following the link to Edith's Miscellany.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
Like Reblog Comment
url 2014-05-16 14:07
Spotlight on a Largely Overlooked Hungarian Writer: Dezső Kosztolányi

Authors writing in English have the edge on those tied to other tongues by their origins. They are more in number, their market is larger, they get more global attention and they are more likely to be translated into other languages. For writers from small language communities, on the other hand, it can be almost impossible to get noticed outside their own countries – it always was. Hungary with her comparatively exotic language is a good example: Dezső Kosztolányi was a writer of certain renown in his country during the Interwar Period and some of his works have even been published abroad, notably in Germany and France, but still he happens to be widely unknown to the world.


Dezső Kosztolányi was above all a journalist, a literary translator and a poet, but the prolific writer also produced several novels and many short stories, particularly from the 1920s until his death in 1936. Up to this day he is considered as one of the great masters of short prose because of the purity and lucidity of his style. In his narratives he mixes humour and melancholy displaying subtle irony as well as tenderness. Moreover, his literary work is marked by a deep insight into the human soul torn between conscious decisions and unconscious urges as well as by a precise analysis of human relations. In a nutshell: it’s high time to bring some attention to his life and his work!


Click here to read my portrait of this Hungarian writer.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
Like Reblog Comment
review 2013-10-13 08:04
Fallen for a Gambler in Monaco: Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman by Stefan Zweig
Twenty Four Hours in the Life of a Woman & The Royal Game - Stefan Zweig,Anthea Bell

Monaco is a tiny principality at the Riviera, a modern city state attracting the rich and the glamorous as well as social climbers and tourists who just want to taste high life. Well-to-do people always loved the place and had the habit of spending money lavishly there – not least in the casinos of Monte Carlo. Since 1856 the country has been a gamblers’ paradise which easily turns into a hell for those who become addicted and lose more than they can afford. Such doomed characters have also found their way into literature. One of them is a young Polish-Austrian aristocrat whose presence at the roulette table accounts for special Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman which Stefan Zweig tells in his novella.


The protagonist of Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman is a distinguished Englishwoman of sixty-seven who one night in 1904 tells the young narrator an embarrassing episode from her life hoping that this confession of a sort will ease her conscience. He listens to her story which took place in Monte Carlo sometime around 1880. In the casino she passed her time observing the hands of the gamblers at the roulette table as her late husband had taught her. One night the eloquent hands of a young man scarcely older than her own two sons attracted her attention and she couldn’t let go of them anymore. She didn’t know then that the gambler they belonged to was a Polish-Austrian aristocrat, nor could she imagine that the encounter would put her life upside-down for twenty-four hours and make her jeopardize her good reputation in order to save him from himself. She couldn't help plunging into the adventure, but as it turned out it isn't as easy to reform a gambler as she had thought.


Twenty-Four Hours in the Life of a Woman is written in the typical style of its time of origin in the late 1920s. In German the diction of Stefan Zweig is characteristic of the Interwar Period and sounds slightly antiquated today, but the writer definitely succeeds in drawing the reader into his story with much ease as well as skill. It may not be the best of Stefan Zweig’s works, but definitely worth the time reading it!


For the full review please click here to visit my literature blog Edith's Miscellany.

Source: edith-lagraziana.blogspot.com
More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?