Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

Monday, May 2, 2016

Two Short Stories by Rosamond Lehmann- "The Gipsey's Baby" and "The Red-haired Miss Daintreys" - 1946

1901 to 1990. England

Dusty Answers 1927

A Note in Music 1930

Invitation to the Waltz  1932

The Weather in the Streets  1936

The Ballad and the Source 1944

The Gypsey's Baby and other Stories 1946

The Echoing Grove  1953

The Swan in the Evening 1967

A Seagrape Tree 1976

As far as I can determine, Rosamond Lehmann published five short stories, all published in a collection, The Gipsey's Baby and Other Stories.  Selina Hastings says these stories can stand with the best of her fiction.  Three are about English life during World War Two, one story is Lehmann's rare voyage outside her social comfort zone and one draws on her life experiences.

"The Gipsey's Baby" has been compared to "The Doll House" by Katherine Mansfield.  Both deal with an encounter of an affluent family with poor neighbors.  I was surprised by the very negative descriptions of the poor family in the story.  The family is described as filthy dirty, almost subhuman.  The family first meet when the dog of the rich family kills the cat of poor family and the rich father goes to the poor home to apologize and offers their father some money.  Soon the children of the poor family begin to visit. The poor family live in total squalor.  I wonder what values could be found lurking under this story.   The depiction  of the Gipsey in the story is kind of strange.  It made me sad to read what can only be construed as a racist treatment of the Gypsies.  The descriptive power of Lehmann is very high.  

"The Red-Haired Miss Daintreys" is a very good superbly written story.  It depicts the start and long term development of a forty year friendship.  

Soon I will post on her three WW II short stories 

Mel u

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nancy Mitford a Biography by Selina Hastings. (1985)

Having recently read two wonderful biographies by Selina Hastings of well known British authors, Somerset Maughman and Rosamond Lehmann I was delighted to see there was a Kindle edition of her Nancy Mitford A Biography.  (She also has a biography of Evelyn Waugh I would love to read but there is no Kindle edition.)

Nancy Mitford (1904 to 1973) was the first born of the famous and infamous six Mitford sisters.( Part of my interest in learning more about the Mitford sisters,  there is also one brother,  comes from having three daughters 17, 20, and 22.)  I recently read and posted on a very interesting book  focusing on Diana Mitford's involvement with the British Union of Fascists and her affair with Oswald Mosley, leader of the organization, Mrs Guinness The Decline of Diana Mitford 1930s Socialite by Lyndsy Spence. Both Diana and her younger sister Unity Mitford became obsessed with Hitler and were ardent supports of Nazi ideology.  Diana ended up spending time in prison and Unity tried to kill herself when war broke out between England and Germany.  Nancy became very much in opposition to their views and wrote a novel mocking the political views of her sisters. She did publish an article seemingly supporting fascism, her thinking was that England should be ruled by sensible men of property.

As Hastings details in her book, the father of the girls did not particularly favor formal schooling for them.  Nancy was educated, but for six months in a boarding school in Paris, by a series of governesses.  Her father was a baron, land rich but not hugely so in ready cash so the family sometimes struggled a little to keep up appearances.  Of course once the girls got eighteen or so, they were all tall, blond, and strikingly beautiful, finding them a suitably rich titled husband was a top priority.

                          I think Nancy is sitting next to her father but I am not sure.

Nancy married young but it did not last.  It ended in divorce, a scandal at the time. Nancy's novels were very well received.  Her books on the Sun King and Frederick the Great were best sellers.  Nancy established residency in Paris, a city she came to totally love.  There she began an affair lasting many years with a wealthy Frenchman Gaston Palewski

Palewski was from a very wealthy family, highly cultured and very much a womanizer. Nancy spent much of her life hoping for a few days with him once and a while. The romantic lead in The Pursuit of Love, which is dedicated to Palewski, is said to be based on him.  Hastings tells us that Nancy Mitford very much drew from her life experiences in her fiction.  Sadly we learn that as Mitford's life drew down, she was in terrible pain for the last six months of her life, Mitford who wrote such wonderful novels was not first in the life of anyone. When Palewski was at last free to marry, he married someone else but Mitford never gave up her passion for him.

Her acknowledged by all best works are The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate.

Please share your experience with Nancy Mitford and her sisters with us.

Mel u

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford 1945

This month I read  a very good book on Nancy Mitford Nancy Mitford A Biography by Selina Hastings and an excellent account of her sister Diana Mitford's involvement with British Fascists, Mrs Guinness The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford The 1930s Socialite by Lyndsy Spence.  

Everyone says the best of Nancy Mitford's numerous novels are The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate.  I have  not yet decided if I will try to read all her novels but for sure I wanted to read these two, both centering on a large English family with lots of eccentric characters.

The Pursuit of Love had me laughing out loud with a few pages.  The head of the extended family, Uncle Matthew is a comic masterpiece.  His wife Aunt Sadie is a perfect match for him.  Uncle Matthew is as English as one can be.  He beat eight Germans to death in World War One.  The novel is narrated by his niece who was left in his cafe when her other, called "The Bolter" because of her frequent habit of leaving one man for another.  The prose style of Mitford is just exquisite.

             1904 to 1973

To give an examp,e of the general zaniness of the family, Uncle Matthew has four beloved blood hounds and he and the children stage hunts in which the children, with s good head start, try to hide from the dogs.  It is called "Child Hunting Day".  It so funny and just wonderfully written.

Most of the children are girls.  Of course they are concerned with love.  We see their efforts to figure out how children are conceived and their complete astonishment when a forty year old lady falls in love. I mean what could be the point at that age!

              First Edition Paperback

There are two dominant plot themes.  One concerns a romance with a very interesting Frenchmen who everyone says us modeled on the love of Nancy's life (the book is dedicated to him). The other is the impact of World War Two on the family.  I just loved both of these aspects of the novel.  The depiction of World War Two in London, the bombings, is just brilliant.  The portrayal of life during the rationing years of the war is just so wonderful.  

There are tragic elements in The Pursuit of Love, the minor characters are just marvelous, you will really like the Spanish refugee who joins the family during the war.

I will very shortly read Love in a Cold Climate and I do see a Nancy Mitford read through in the cards.

Mel u

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Mrs Guinness The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford The Thirties Socialite by Lyndsy Spence 2015

Not long ago I read a very good book Nancy Mitford A Biography by Selina Hastings.  This was my first immersion into the world of the famous and infamous Mitford Sisters.  I wanted to learn more about the sisters and the milieu in which they lived.  I am into "faded" aristocrats, relishing the unconventional, savoring the decadent, accepting the fey alongside the forthright.  On a personal note I have three daughters of my own, one just at the age when Diana Mitford destroyed her seemingly fairy tale marriage to a member of the fabulously wealthy Guinness to become the mistress of Oswald Mosley, notorious as the leaders of British Fascist Union and a passionate admirer of Adolph Hitler,  so I had to wonder  how six girls all raised more or less the same can have such different personalities. 

                                1910 to 2003
Diana was born into an affluent aristocratic English family.  She had five sisters, including the novelist Nancy Mitford, and one brother, Tom.  She was the fourth child and the third daughter.  Her father was a baron.  Their maternal grandfather was Thomas Gibson Bowles, the founder of two still in print British Magazines, The Lady and Vanity Fair.  Spence did a great job of making the early years of Diana come to life for me.  But for six months at a Paris boarding school, Diana was home schooled by a frequently changing series of governess.  Their father did not especially believe in education for girls.  Diana's parents were rich land but her father was not a great business man and they did sometimes struggle to maintain a proper life style.  She was a cousin of Clemintime Churchill and a second cousin of Bertrand Russell.

Of course as  anyone who has read Victorian novels knows, the biggest issues on the minds of the sisters and their parents was getting them properly married.  Spence evokes the tension and drama this involves. Of course a suitable husband must come from old money and preferably be in line to inherit a title. Spence talks about the big coming put event for the girls, presentation to the queen, signaling they are "on the market". Diana was an incredible beauty and soon became engaged to Bryan Guinnesses from the hyper-wealthy  beer family.  We can see the manipulative personality of Diana in the opening stages of her relationship with Bryan.  At first her parents thought the couple was too young to marry but Bryan was guaranteed a princely income for life so they were married.  Spence lets us see the real passion Bryan had for Diana and we also are shown perhaps based on practicality her lesser love.  Diana gave birth to sons in 1930 and 1931.  They owned a large estate and beautiful   townhouses in Dublin and London.  Diana hosted parties for high society young and mingled with literary figures like Evelyn Waugh.  I laughed when I learned his wife was also named Evelyn and he was called "he Evelyn".  They, as directed by Diana, socialized with a "campy" sort of crowd.  If it were not for a man Diana was to meet and fall in total love with, as she never did with Bryan, in 1932 she would be remembered mostly as the sister of the novelist, Nancy Mitford.  

           January 30, 1929 - Diana Marries Bryan Guinness 

In February of 1932 Diana met, at a garden party, Oswald Moslsy, leader of the British Union of Fascists, the BUF.  Mosley, a notorious womanizer from a wealthy family was at the time married to a daughter of Lord Curzon, a former Viceroy of India.  His political goal was to turn England into a fascist society allied with the Nazis and Mussolini, with himself as national leader.  At this period in England many of the wealthy feared the growing popularity of the communist party and were drawn to the idea of a strong man leader to keep the masses under control.   Diana at once fell in love with Mosley, whose attitude toward women was almost openly predatory. His wife, who he did not want to divorce because of her much greater than his own wealth, tried to shrug of his relationships as just passing events but it iwas not easy. Mosley had affairs with numerous of her friends and a sister.  Spence does a great job in detecting the dynamics involved.  In the case of Diana his wife was deeply troubled by her great beauty.  To make things all the weirder or worse, Diana's younger sister Unity Mitford, had fallen totally under the spell of Hitler, accepted his full ideology.  She was only nineteen, of course Diana was still in her early twenties, and the appeal of Hitler for Unity seems to be a personal magnetism, almost sexual adoration of Hitler.  Soon Diana told her husband Bryan she wanted a divorce, he was crushed as he very much loved her.  I felt very sad for him as I read Spence's depiction of his emotions.  At the time divorce could be granted only if one party had committed adultery so to save his wife shame Bryan falsely stated in court he had once hade sex with a prostitute while married.  He even paid a woman to back this up in court. Bryan loved Diana so much he wanted to settle a large life time income on her but to her credit she took just £2500 a year.

Unity took her to Germany to go to Rallies to hear Hitler talk. Both sisters, initially knowing no German, felt Hitler was a great man, one who could save the world.  Unity and Diana soon attracted the attention of top Nazi leaders, in apperance, tall and blond, it is said Hirler called them perfect examples of Aryan womanhood.  Diana begins to learn German and does all she can to help Mosley with the BUF.  Mosley has by now about fifty thousand members in the BUF, the most hardcore he forms into a "blackshirt" army which classes with Communist groups.  As England and Germany seemed headed for war, Diana wants her country to side with the Germans, take over Europe and is at least unconcerned about Hitler's plans for the Jews.

Spence's account of Diana's fascination with Hitler and her involvement with high Nazi party members and the BUF was fascinating.  Diana is completely in love with Mosley.  Leaving out a lot of super interesting material you can learn about in Spence's great biography, after the death of Mosley's wife he and Diana are married in the private chambers of Goebbel's with Hitler in attendance.

                             October 6, 1936 Diana Marries Oswald Mosley

Diana's family and friends begin to see her involvement with the BUF as potentially dangerous to the interests of England.  The close of the biography, written as well as a fine literary work, is very dramatic and I will leave it untold.

Not long ago I read a very good biography of Coco Chanel, Mademosille:  Coco Chanel and the Pulse of History by Rhonda Garelick.  In her account of Chanel's involvement with the Nazis and her love affair with a Nazi officer, probably directed by higher ups to draw information they thought she had from her many social contacts, Garelick goes into great depth explaining the inherent fascism in the designs of Chanel and in her fascination with Nazi uniforms and paraphnalia as much of the basis for the appeal of fascism.  If you look at pictures of Diana and Unify, you can see the very strong influence Coco's designs had on their esthetic sensibility.  The fascinating uniforms of the Nazis must have enthralled Diana and Unity, compared to the crumpled tweeds of English aristocratic men like their father, Churchill, or Bryan.   

Mrs Guinness The Rise and Fall of Diana Mitford The Thirties Socialite by Lyndsy Spence is a wonderful  biography and a valuable work of social history.  Spence had access to letters and interviews with family members and associates of Diana to a greater degree than prior biographers.  

Spence does not judge Diana, she presents her as person living in tumultuous times.  I strongly endorse this book based on biographical excellence, social history, human insight as well as style.

Author Bio

Lyndsy Spence founded The Mitford Society, an online community dedicated to the Mitford girls. Her first book, The Mitford Girls' Guide to Life was published by The History Press in 2013, and her forthcoming books are Margaret Lockwood: Queen of the Silver Screen (Fantom Films, June 2016) and The Mistress of Mayfair: The Men, Money and Marriage of Doris Delevingne (The History Press, November 2016). She is the editor of The Mitford Society annuals which are sold on Amazon. She also writes book reviews for The Lady and has written features for BBC News Magazine, Social & Personal, Vintage Life and her local newspaper, the Antrim Guardian in Northern Ireland.   She has a BA honors degree  in Humanities with English Language and Literature, and a Diploma in Literature. She has 2 pets, a cat named Harriet and a dog named Lola, and loves heritage and old world aristocrats. 

         Available on Amazon.

I am very glad I read Lyndsy Spence's finely done biography and I look forward to reading more of her work.

Mel u

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Sea Grape Tree by Rosamond Lehmann 1976. Her Last Novel

1901 to 1990. England

Dusty Answers 1927

A Note in Music 1930

Invitation to the Waltz  1932

The Weather in the Streets  1936

The Ballad and the Source 1944

The Gypsey's Baby and other Stories 1946

The Echoing Grove  1953

The Swan in the Evening 1967

A Sea Grape Tree 1976

Rosamond Lehmann knew that A Sea Grape Tree would be her final novel.  Selina Hastings tells us that the critics were not overall kind to this novel.  The setting is a resort on a Caribbean Island.  The clients are upper class English men and women.  One of the weakness of Lehmann as a writer is her seeming inability to see anyone outside the narrow social range in which she is comfortable as fully developed. I found the opening paragraph of the novel in which she depicts a local woman, twenty with three children and no husband as a black Modanna almost laughably atrocious 

"Every evening, before the hour of sunset, Princess, the young maidservant, starts to light the lamps in the hotel: oil lamps, long glass funnels enclosed in brass containers with handles. Taking one in either hand, swinging them to the rhythm of her languid barefoot gait, she goes down, down the steep spiralling rock path to Captain Cunningham’s bungalow. As darkness falls she is enfolded in soft light, she becomes a lustrous image, a black Madonna with a golden aura, borne through waist-high hibiscus bushes by invisible bearers to the sea. Her black eyes catch a gleam; and moths and fireflies drift to the lamps and hover round her. Sometimes she has set some object or other nonchalantly upon her shapely astrakhan-capped head: a jug or a bowl for instance, or a roll of toilet paper, or the Cunninghams’ clean laundry"

The black Madonna is assumed to have the lowest of sexual morals.  Tell me you did laugh at the image of her walking along with a roll of toilet paper on her head.

The drama in the story is in the interactions of the guests with each other and their reaction to being on the tropical island.  By this point in her life Lehmann was very much into Spiritualusm, the communication with the dead in various ways.  In fact the sinister Mrs Jardin is buried on the island but she communicates nevertheless.  There are scenes of "spirit writings" that let us see how the communication took place.   A man paralyzed from the waist down in the war has a passionate affair with a younger female guest, times have advanced since her first novel and there is a gay English couple.  

The Sea Grape Tree is only half as long as most of her other novels.  It does have some good parts and I am sensitive to what I perceive as the racism and classism of this work.  The return of Mrs Jardin, who we met in The Ballad and the Source is interesting, bordering on weird.  

Only those really into Lehmann will read this novel and that is as it should be.  

I will shortly post on her memoirs The Swan in the Evening and then on five of her short stories.  

Drawing on Selina Hastings' great biography, i learned that  in 1933 Lehmann spent six weeks on the island of Tobago with a wealthy gay man, Paul Cross.  His family owned a house there.  

                                        Rosamond Lehmann and Paul Cross, 1933, on the beach, Tabago         

Mel u

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

History A Novel by Elsa Morante (1974, translated by William Weaver,1977, 720 pages)

I offer my great thanks to Max u for the Amazon Gift Card that allowed me to read this book

History A Novel by Elsa Morante is a fascinating look at life in Rome during World War Two and up to 1947.  Thecentral characters are a mother and her son.  A German soldier on his way to North Africs raped her, fell in love, then left her pregnant and he was never heard from again.  Ida, a teacher does all she can to get her and her son through the terrible war years.  Rome goes through terrible times.  We witness bombing raids, see the norms of morality erode while some rise to heroic actions.

There are lots and lots of interesting minor characters, exciting plot turns.  I as some how really moved when an older lady who feeds stray cats says she notices as the war gets worse that fewer cats come for her food.

At the start of each chapter there are headlines about world events, mostly on the war in Europe . 

This novel was a huge best seller in Italy.  I am glad I read this book.

                                      1912 to 1985, Rome 

Mel u

Monday, April 25, 2016

Learning Not to be First The Life of Christina Rossetti by KathleenJones 2011

Katherine Mansfield is one of my favorite writers.  I discovered her shortly after I began The Reading Life in July, 2009.  After reading and posting on all of the stories in her  collections, I read an absolutely wonderful biography of Mansfield that greatly enhanced my understanding of her work, Katherine Mansfield The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones.  When the biography was published as a Kindle edition I read it again and I often refer to it when I have a Mansfield question or am looking for more insight into one of her stories. 

Learning Not to be First The Life of Christina Rossetti by Kathleen Jones is another exquisite literary biography about a woman very different in her work and her life history from Mansfield.  

       Her Most Famous Work

Christina Rossetti (1830 to 1894, born and died in London) was the daughter of Italian immigrants to England. She was the sister of the Pre-Raphalite poet Dante Rossetti.  Her family expected, as a woman, that she would accept that the work of her brother was naturally more important than her work.  Very much unlike Mansfield, Rossetti never really escaped from the strict control of her very conservative Anglican Church up bringing.  Central to this was the stringent requirement that unmarried women remain chast, even sexual thoughts were a sin.  In her biography Jones shows us how the quite passionate nature of Rossetti combined with her total internalization of the strictures of the religion in which she was raised and her second in the family status produced a tension which gave forth in her soul beautiful poetry about death, unrealized passion, and the natural beauty of the English countryside.  There is a longing for the peace of death in much of her poetry.

      A Painting of Cristina Rossetti by her Brother Dante

Jones does an excellent job placing Rossetti among the other poets of her era, especially writers like Elizabeth Barrett Browning.  PreRaphalite art can be described as ethereal, other worldly, disembodied from our oh to sordid fkesh and Jones helped me see this in Rossetti's poetry.  

Jones tells us that Rossetti was educated at home, reading Italian classics and English novels and poetry.   The family suffered a bad financial set back when her father had a nervous breakdown.  Her mother became a teacher to support the family.  When her sister became a governess Christina feared she might suffer the same fate.  Inspired by her reading, after the death of Elizabeth Barrett Browning she was considerd England's best female poet.  She became a very successful poet.

Christina had three serious suitors, men who wanted to marry her but all the relationships ended and she died unmarried.  She was, as Jones tells us, in correspondence with lots of illustrious literary figures and very involved with her faith.

Learning Not to be First The Life of Christina Rossetti by Kathleen Jones is more than just a very well researched and elegantly styled literary biography it is also a history of late Victorian Poetry and society. 

If you already are a reader of Rossetti, you will enjoy and profit from interacting with her thoughts on the poems, if you are not, upon reading this book, you soon will be.

Official Buography. From

Kathleen Jones was born and brought up on a hill farm in Cumbria and now lives with her partner, sculptor Neil Ferber, on the edge of the Lake District. She has been writing since she was a child and has published fourteen books including eight biographies, a novel and a collection of poetry. She lived for several years in Africa and the Middle East, where she worked for the Qatar Broadcasting Corporation. Since then she has written extensively for BBC radio and contributed to several television documentaries. Her poetry appears regularly in poetry magazines and anthologies in the UK and North America. 
Kathleen was appointed as a Royal Literary Fund Fellow in 2008 and is currently also a Fellow of the English Society. Her two most recent biographies are ‘Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller’ (published by Penguin NZ and Edinburgh University Press) and ‘Norman Nicholson: The Whispering Poet’, (published in 2013 by The Book Mill). She is also the author of two novels, The Sun's Companion and The Centauress

You can learn much more about the work of Kathleen Jones from her home page.  She also maintains a very interesting blog I have been following for years.

Mel u