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review 2019-11-19 17:31
The Life of Charlotte Brontë (Gaskell)
The Life of Charlotte Brontë - Elizabeth Gaskell,Elisabeth Jay

I'm sure I'm not saying anything very original when I write that the principal virtue of Mrs. Gaskell's Life of her friend Charlotte Bronte is the immediacy, both chronological and, to a degree, personal, between the life and the writing of the life; while, on the other hand, the principal drawback of the work is a tendency to suppress uncomfortable or unflattering details, not just because of Victorian prudery (though there's some of that at work) but also because the biography was written when Charlotte's one remaining close relative, her father, was still alive and was in fact the one who asked for the book to be written.

I find it interesting, though it perhaps says as much about me as about Bronte, that the passages I have chosen to highlight as I read almost all refer to her opinions on other authors. It also, I think, says quite a lot about Mrs. Gaskell's choice of materials from the reasonably large amount of correspondence (most of it from one close friend, though) she had at her disposal.


Here's a passage that I find in equal measure fascinating and irritating (the latter because the entire set of recommendations, to a female friend, are premised on what is "safe"):

You ask me to recommend you some books for your perusal. I will do so in as few words as I can. If you like poetry, let it be first-rate; Milton, Shakspeare, Thomson, Goldsmith, Pope (if you will, though I don't admire him), Scott, Byron, Campbell, Wordsworth, and Southey. Now don't be startled at the names of Shakspeare and Byron. Both these were great men, and their works are like themselves. You will know how to choose the good, and to avoid the evil; the finest passages are always the purest, the bad are invariably revolting; you will never wish to read them over twice. Omit the comedies of Shakspeare, and the Don Juan, perhaps the Cain, of Byron, though the latter is a magnificent poem, and read the rest fearlessly; that must indeed be a depraved mind which can gather evil from Henry VIII., from Richard III., from Macbeth, and Hamlet, and Julius Caesar. Scott's sweet, wild, romantic poetry can do you no harm. Nor can Wordsworth's, nor Campbell's, nor Southey's--the greatest part at least of his; some is certainly objectionable. For history, read Hume, Rollin, and the Universal History, if you can; I never did. For fiction, read Scott alone; all novels after his are worthless. For biography, read Johnson's Lives of the Poets, Boswell's Life of Johnson, Southey's Life of Nelson, Lockhart's Life of Burns, Moore's Life of Sheridan, Moore's Life of Byron, Wolfe's Remains. For natural history, read Bewick and Audubon, and Goldsmith and White's history of Selborne. For divinity, your brother will advise you there. I can only say, adhere to standard authors, and avoid novelty."


(The casual admission that she didn't bother with reading history made me smile).


And here, although no doubt quoted to death in the critical literature, are her thoughts on Austen:


Why do you like Miss Austen so very much? I am puzzled on that point. What induced you to say that you would have rather written "Pride and Prejudice,' or 'Tom Jones,' than any of the 'Waverley Novels'? I had not seen 'Pride and Prejudice' till I read that sentence of yours, and then I got the book. And what did I find? An accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face; a carefully-fenced, highly-cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses. These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk.


The liking for Scott appears to be genuine: on her one trip north to Scotland, she made a point of spending time in Scott country & at Abbotsford, and she also mentions elsewhere the Scott monument as one of the highlights of Edinburgh.


Gaskell leaves us with a rather sad portrait of a highly intelligent woman, bedevilled by lack of self-esteem and recurrent depression, and trapped by circumstance (unhealthy surroundings and susceptibility to an infectious disease). It's amazing, in fact, that she produced three high-quality novels before her untimely death (four, if you count the first-written but only posthumously published The Professor), although it's less amazing that the first-published, Jane Eyre, which propelled her to a most uncomfortable celebrity status, is still generally acknowledged to be the best.


Inevitably, a biography of Charlotte will by default also be a primary source on her siblings. Some of the details about Emily, especially one violent incident with her dog, remain uncomfortably in the memory. One can sense that Mrs. Gaskell has to exert herself to temper what was probably a fairly common reaction to the most unsociable of the Brontës - sheer dislike. Here is her summary of the relationship between the sisters, as she saw it:


Emily was impervious to influence; she never came in contact with public opinion, and her own decision of what was right and fitting was a law for her conduct and appearance, with which she allowed no one to interfere. Her love was poured out on Anne, as Charlotte's was on her. But the affection among all the three was stronger than either death or life.


Mrs. Gaskell was a better contemporary biographer than Charlotte Bronte would have had reason to expect: she consulted widely instead of just making the work a memoir of her own association with Bronte, and as another woman writer, she had a particular sensitivity to the motives and circumstances under which Bronte wrote, or didn't write. Different though they were, in personality and in politics, Mrs. Gaskell had strong grounds for understanding and sympathizing with her subject, and she shapes her narrative well. If a modern reader grinds her teeth at one of the sympathetic motives of that narrative - to defend Charlotte Bronte against contemporary accusations that she was coarse, vulgar, unfeminine, etc, accusations that we now see as absurd - still, there was enough detail and enough intelligent analysis brought to the shaping of that argument that after all these years, we can still see this biography as a primary source on a very interesting writer.


As with all contemporary sources, too, reading this book was a motivation for me to seek out a more recent biography, with all the promise of perspective and (possibly) wider-ranging sources that such a work will have. In particular, I look forward to exploring the one obviously gaping hole in this biography, the nature of Bronte's relationship with her teacher/employer Constantin Héger, in Belgium, who leaves his mark so heavily on her novels.

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text 2019-08-12 14:00
Pre-Party Prompts - Day 12 The Classics (Recommendations)
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (Graphic Novel) - Bo Hampton,Tracey Hampton,Washington Irving
The Tell-Tale Heart and Other Writings - Edgar Allan Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher - Edgar Allan Poe
Doctor Jekyll and Mr.Hyde - Robert Louis Stevenson
Frankenstein - Mary Shelley,Maurice Hindle
Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Tales - Kate Hebblethwaite,Bram Stoker
Tales of Mystery & the Macabre (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural) - Elizabeth Gaskell


The last of my pre-written posts. 


I prefer classic horror because it deals with ghost stories being told at a holiday party or other ways to distance the story from the reader enough so I can enjoy the story without putting myself into nightmare situations.


Some favorites include The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Fall of the House of Usher. I read two Great Illustration of the Classics versions of classic horrors that work with my brain (Frankenstein and Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). Last year's pick, The Turn of the Screw, was much too wordy for me to enjoy the story. I have tried to read Dracula in the past, but I made it all of 25 pages and noped out of it.This year I am reading Tales of Mystery & the Macabre by Elizabeth Gaskell.



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text 2019-08-03 00:03
Birthday Book Haul
Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City - Kate Winkler Dawson
They Called Us Enemy - Steven Scott,Justin Eisinger,George Takei,Harmony Becker
Daughters of the Night Sky - Aimie K. Runyan
1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire - Rebecca Rideal
Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 - Madeleine Albright,Bill Woodward
The Final Days - Carl Bernstein,Bob Woodward
Tales of Mystery & the Macabre (Tales of Mystery & the Supernatural) - Elizabeth Gaskell
Feed - Mira Grant

We did lunch, we did B&N, and then my husband decides to go with me to Half Price Books...and he fell in love. The kids got a book at each place, Adam got a bunch of movies, a board game, and books, and here is my haul:


Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Winkler Dawson

             - True Historical Crime + Natural Disaster = my catnip


They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker

                    - Graphic novel of Takei's time in the internment camps


Daughters of the Night Sky by Aimie K. Runyan

                       - Fiction based on the real Soviet Union "Night Witches"


1666: Plague, War, and Hellfire by Rebecca Rideal

                         - The worst year England ever experienced prior to 2016 (nonfiction)


Prague Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright

                        - Memoirs of a former Secretary of State; wanted to read this since TA put it on the Freedom lists


The Final Days: The Classic, Behind-the-Scenes Account of Richard Nixon's Dramatic Last Days in the White House by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein

                        - I was so happy to find this book, as All the President's Men seemed to abruptly end. Another one for the Nixon Reading List, which I will read for August and sets up for me taking September through the rest of the year to read Shadow.


Tales of Mystery & the Macabre by Elizabeth Gaskell

                          - No I didn't know Elizabeth "I wrote Mary Burton and North and South" Gaskell also wrote supernatural stories. Picked it up in anticipation of Halloween Bingo.


Feed by Mira Grant

                         - Another possible Halloween Bingo book.






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review 2019-07-15 01:02
Cousin Phillis ★★★☆☆
Cousin Phillis - Elizabeth Gaskell,Joe Marsh

The first part of this short novel is a sweet story about a naive young woman who all the menfolks agree is pretty but a little too brainy to make an attractive mate. After all, what man wants a wife who is better read, knows more languages, and asks business, engineering, and farming questions? Plus is half a head taller? If this sounds like a modern day bodice-ripper, never fear. Phillis is not a feisty 21st century heroine improbably crammed into a Victorian setting. This is an actual Victorian novel and Phillis is sweet and modest and passive, and the man of her dreams does fall in love with her a little, but she's still just a forgettable pretty country mouse.


The second part of the novel? Meh. It follows the formula, then it... just stops. I'm not sure if this is an unfinished novel, or if Gaskell just ran out of steam and decided to tack on a "The End" when she was ready to move on to her next writing project, but I did double check to be sure that there wasn't a missing section that I didn't download. 


Audiobook, via Librivox, which is a free service where volunteer/amateur readers narrate public domain stories from Project Gutenberg. The reader for this one, Elizabeth Klett, does a really good job with it - as good as some of the professional narrators I've heard from books that I actually paid for. 

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text 2019-03-20 21:23
Reading progress update: I've read 185 out of 452 pages.
North and South - Angus Easson,Elizabeth Gaskell,Sally Shuttleworth


There is only so much I can read of this on one day without causing myself an injury from all the eye-rolling at the characters. 


I'm not a fan.


But I will probably finish the book ... unless I decide to just switch to the tv adaptation because reading this overdramatised twaddle just makes me picture the characters as really, really bad amateur actors...which is a shame because Gaskell obviously tried to make a few valid points with respect to the social issues of her time. Sadly, they are lost on me because the packaging these issues come in makes me cringe rather than contemplate.

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