Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

It's Not Me It's You by Brian Kirk - 2019

Brian Kirk is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist from Dublin, Ireland. His work has appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Crannog, The Stony Thursday Book, Revival, Boyne Berries, Wordlegs and various anthologies.

I first began reading short stories by Brian Kirk in March of 2013.  This will be the eighth time he has been featured on The Reading Life.  Only writers for whom I have great regard, from any era, are given such treatment. (In the link to the Q and A session you can find links to his stories.) I urge anyone interested in the short story to read his Q and A session.

It's Not Me, It's You features three of Kirk's stories.
I will share enough about two of them to try to convey why I like his work so much.

That New Girl

"That New Girl" will resonate with anyone who has worked in an office with a high rate of employee turn over, especially an office in which a lot of the workers are relatively young.  Whenever a new woman, they call her a girl, starts everybody wonders what she will be like.  Sexual curiosity runs high. The narrator of the story, married a couple of years, sees the girl interested in Dan. He seems a bit jealous of the fact that the girls all seem to like him.

Kirk has a gift for bringing characters to life in a few sentences:

"Anyway, when I was single I was never that popular with the girls, so I can’t see how my being suddenly unavailable would affect anything either way. Sure, I enjoy a night out and used to do my best with the chat up lines when I had a few drinks inside me, but I was never a player; not the way Dan is. All the clich├ęs you hear about women liking a bastard appear to be true in his case. For some reason this bothers me; probably because I consider myself a nice guy. Over the years that he’s been with the company Dan’s dated most of his female co-workers. Some have been one-night stands, some longer, but never for more than a month or two. I don’t mean to judge him or anything, but somehow it doesn’t seem right.
It’s always the new girls he goes for. Fresh meat, he calls them. We laugh, Sara and I, when we talk about it."

As the story progresses we see the strains the narrator's marriage is under.  

Nothing shocking or flabbergasting happens in "That New Girl".  It is simply a great pleasure to read the elegant prose of Kirk while maybe you think back on your days working in an office, either as a young man or as a "new girl" or you contemplate the state of your marriage.

The Shawl

Brian Kirk's story, I will just describe it briefly as I do not want to spoil the experience of reading it for the first time for you, is about a subject few will like to think about.  Among other things, it is about what can happen to a romance when the money runs out.   Robert and Helen have been living together for some time.  Robert is a stock broker, the time of extreme prosperity in Ireland, called the Celtic Tiger, is winding down.   There are murmurs of staff reductions at his office.  He and Helen push these thoughts out of their minds.  

One night they find an almost magic shawl.

"They found the shawl on the back of a chair in a bar, forgotten or discarded by its owner. It was beautiful, golden, with many coloured threads woven into it. Robert saw it first, and showed it to Helen. He imagined an elegant older woman with pale complexion and red lips wearing it, loosely thrown around her shoulders against the chill of a late summer evening. They were about to leave and, rather than hand it in to the barman as she would normally have done, Robert watched as Helen simply folded it neatly and placed it in her bag."

 Soon the shawl takes on, or almost takes over their sex lives.   

" When he was naked he started to undress her slowly, removing each garment methodically, not kissing or even touching her flesh yet. When she was completely naked he reached down to the floor and took up the shawl from where it lay. He coiled it like a rope and bound her two hands loosely to the wrought iron headboard.
          Helen’s eyes opened in surprise as he did this, but she did not attempt to stop him. He felt a rush of excitement, a throb like a dull ache at the back of his skull, and he noticed how she smiled as she lay back on the covers, apparently surrendering herself to the exquisite otherness of restraint. Robert wasn't sure why he had done it. There was something about the shawl, and the way Helen was attracted to it, that told him it was okay. "
Soon they do not go to bed together without using the shawl in a bondage routine.   Both feel much more sexually aroused than without it.

In addition to Robert and Helen we meet some of his work friends.   One of the men is getting married soon and he cannot wait as he says he has found the perfect woman.  Of course his mates give him a hard time about it.   The good times do not last forever and relationships have their ebbs and flows.   I hesitate to tell to much of the story so I won't give away more of the plot.  The denouement of the story is in fact very complicated, not simple norbwill, I think, be the reaction of most people.   

I urge you to read this story.   "The Shawl" by Brian Kirk has a great deal to tell us about how money permeates our relationships and can be too important in determining self esteem if we have no  anchor in life. It is a story to which  anyone who was once riding high on what they thought was an endless wave of prosperity can directly relate.   Women may wonder what they would do if the same thing happened in their relationship and men will wonder what their partner might do. 

 Some time ago I read in a Japanese novel (I cannot recall the name of it) that when a man loses his money, often his relationship with the woman in his life takes a down turn or ends.   The man will quickly think, "OK I am broke so she left me".   In fact it is often the man does not have the strength or the inner resources to live with out his money propping up his ego and he behaves in a way calculated to drive the woman away so he can then tell himself that this shows she never loved him.  Of course then the woman who leaves will also wonder about her own values.   

You can read this wonderful story here.

Here is the story behind this work, from Brian's website

"Last Thursday, 26th October 2019, Southword Editions published their first two Short Fiction Chapbooks: A Middle Eastern No by Jill Widner and It’s Not Me, It’s You by Brian Kirk (that’s me!).
Both publications are now available from Munster Literature Centre and Amazon. I hope both books gain many new readers and also some reviews over the coming weeks and months. I’m very proud of the three stories that appear in my chapbook and want to thank Southword Editions for doing such a great job in publishing them. I’d also like to thank the editors of the magazines and journals who published these stories originally.  That New Girl was published by Steve Moran, Willesden Herald New Short Stories in November 2018; The Shawl was published by Jen Matthews in Long Story Short Literary Journal in March 2013; The Invitation was published by Valerie Sirr in Issue 7 of The Lonely Crowd in June 2017.
I’d also like to acknowledge the support I received from South Dublin County Council Arts Office by way of a bursary in 2017 when I was writing these stories. My final and particular thanks go to John Murphy who has been a first reader and a vital critical eye for me for many years and t0 Dermot Bolger who mentored me during 2018 and 2019 as I prepared my full collection of short stories for which I am now actively seeking a publisher."

I hope to follow the work of Brian Kirk for a long time.

Mel u

Friday, October 25, 2019

By the Sea - A Short Story by Mavis Gallant - 1954

My posts on Mavis Gallant

"By the Sea" by Mavis Gallant

“In terms of character, no man is the slightest match for a horse,” 

Mavis Gallant

April 11, 1922 - Montreal

1950 - moves to Paris

September 1, 1951- publishes, in The New Yorker, her first short story.  She would publish 116 stories in The New Yorker. 

February 18, 2014 - passes away in her beloved Paris

Today's story is set in a pension near Gilbralter, owned by an English woman.  The story very much reminded me of Katherine Mansfield's 1911 collection, In a German Pension.  The guests are a mixture of English, American and German.  The English sort of occupy one area, the French another. The story is structured through the conversations of the guests.  People are not quite what they seem.  No one seems particularly happy.  One woman says the main reason she does not go back to England is the six month dog quarantine rule.  Everyone seems to vaguely wish they were somewhere else but inertia keeps them from acting on their wishes.

This story is included in the collection, In Transit and in The Collected Short Stories of Mavis Gallant. (I could not find it online.)

Buried in Print, a great source of reading life ideas, is doing a read through of all the 200 or so stories of Gallant.  I have access to about half the stories and am trying to follow along as I can. The read through is scheduled to finish in September 2020.  All are invited to participate.

Mel u

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux - 2016

Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux - 2016

March 5, 1840 - Claremont, New Hampshire

1869 - her father dies

1870 - Woolson begins her publishing career

1873 to 1879 - Woolson and her mother live in St. Augustine, Florida. She publishes several short stories set in that area of Florida.  (I have posted on three of the stories.  They are a valuable edition to the early literature of Florida.)

1879 - her mother dies, Woolson is left a modest income.  She moves to Europe, first living in England, then traveling in France, Germany and Switzerland. (She wrote a well received book about her trip down the Nile.) She becomes entranced by Italy, living for a time in Florence before settling in a villa in Venice.

1880 - Anne, her first novel, is published

1880 - She meets Henry James - much of her emotional life will be
 centered on her relationship to James

1881 - Portrait of a Lady by Henry James is published

January 24, 1894 - Venice, Italy -she dies in a three story fall- it is unclear if this was suicide or an accident.

Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist by Anne Boyd Rioux is the first biography of Woolson.  Rioux also published a collection of Woolson's short stories, Miss Grief and other Stories. (I have posted on ten of these Stories.)

Constance Fenimore Woolson, grand niece of James Fenimore Cooper (author of Last of the Mochicans), was during her lifetime one of America's most read novelists, travel writers and short story authors.   The literary world, especially those into American literature, owe a significant debt to Anne Boyd Rioux for bring her person and her work back to life.  Without her, most of us, me for sure, would have missed out on her wonderful short stories and novels.  

Rioux structures her superb biography around two connected mysteries.  Woolson died in Venice, in a three story fall from her villa. Some thought  it was an accident, others suicide.  Woolson had acfourteen year relationship with Henry James.  Rioux expertly, using texts by James and Woolson as well as correspondence, to unravel as much as one can the nature of their relationship.  One thing it was not was sexual but it did, for sure on Woolson's side, transcend friendship and that of iterary mentoring.
Woolson did have a romantic attachment before moving to Europe but the man died young.  She never married or had children.  

There is a profound irony in linking the title of the biography to Portrait of a Lady by Henry James.  (It was written prior to them meeting.) Like the lead character in the novel, Woolson went to Europe.  Being a lady in the late 19th century was a mark of class but also a trap.  Ladies were not supposed to need to work but Woolson depended on her income from publishing. ( I was surprised by the large volume of travel writings she published in American journals.). Woolson had friends and relatives in most of her European stops.  A lady socialized only with peers.  Rioux goes into detail on this.  A lady can have friendships with appropriate men but no sex outside of a marriage.  James was an interesting case, Rioux made me feel Woolson  was in love with Henry James and felt deep emotional frustration due to the still a bit mysterious sexual orientation of James which prevented a development of their relationship. Probably the late Victorian inhibitions of Woolson prevented her from falling deeply in love with James.  My conclusion after reading the bio was that Woolson had no sexual experiences.  Rioux tells us she did develop a close relationship with a man thirty years older than her, based on cultural interests.

Rioux shows how the Woolson family moved frequently during the younger days of Woolson.  She was close to her siblings and kept in touch with them while in Europe.  Woolson started her literary career with stories about the great lakes region.  Then, with her move to Saint Augustine in N. E. Florida, set stories in that region.  Rioux shows us Woolson loved Florida and often talked of moving back there but never left Europe.  She also write short stories about the aftermath of the Cival War in the South.  Rioux connects her travels to her stories.  Once she moved to Europe she set stories in England, Switzerland and Italy.  Rioux beautifully details her living conditions as  she moved.  Woolson was taken over by the art and history of Italy.  I was happy she at least got to live in a villa in Venice.

Rioux goes into detail about the economics of her work and her relationships to American publishers.

At the center of Rioux's narrative of Woolson's life is her relationship to Henry James.  Did she commit suicide over the frustrations of this relationship?  We will never know, there was no note.  It is safe to say this relationship hurt her deeply.  There are short stories,his novel The Wing of the Dovd and a novella by James centering on a man who loved a woman but never advanced the relationship.  Some say these stories were inspaired by his  relationship to Woolson.

I like finding connections between the works I read.  Last month I read Ron Chernow's biography of Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton married into a very wealthy New York family, headed by Philip Schuyler.  Schuyler, father of Edith Hamilton, was a general during the American Revolution and a United States Senator for New York.

I was intrigued when I came on this from Rioux,

"Unlike earlier in Florence, Woolson was the feted literary lion, with no one else’s shadow to hide in. The American consul Eugene Schuyler visited her daily.... A career diplomat, he was also the author of a series of essays on Russian history and literature for Scribner’s Magazine as well as the first English translator of Turgenev and Tolstoy. He hated Egypt, he told Woolson, but he loved spending time with her and talking about writing. Her literary views were a revelation to him. “She has quite set me up,” he wrote to a correspondent. “She cares not about plot, but only for the way things are done, and she puts my little stories way, way up, next to the French, for facture [workmanship]".

Eugene Schuyler did indeed have Phillip Schuyler as an ancestor.
(He had an interesting life. Wikipedia has a good article.) 

Rioux tells us about the many very cultured people Woolson met. Rioux does not explain how Eugene Schuyler came to meet Woolson, maybe it was through his counselor work.  He introduced her to numerous educated Americans in England and did through this enrich her life.  

This is a wonderful biography.  It is a portrait not just of a lady novelist but of her mileu. I highly recommend this book.

I am very much looking forward to this book, forthcoming February 2020.  At 750 pages I'm anticipating it will include all her stories
Constance Fenimore Woolson: Collected Stories (LOA #327) (Library of America) Kindle Edition
by Constance Fenimore Woolson (Author), Anne Boyd Rioux (Editor)

It is available for pre-order and very fairly priced at $12.95

(For bio data on Rioux, see her webpage)

Mel u

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert - 1856 - translated by Lydia Davis - 2010

Gustave Flaubert

December 12, 1821

1856 - Madame Bovary

1869 - Sentimental Education 

May 8, 1880

This is my fourth  reading of Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, the first was decades ago, the second just before I began The Reading Life eleven  years ago. The last prior to this month was five years ago.  My reading of the universally praised translation by Lydia Davis, including her introduction, will not, I hope be my last.

Madame Bovary is as high a canon status work as exists.

Here are some of my thoughts from May, 2014.

"I think I first became aware of the cultural importance of Madame Bovary around 1960 through reading of it in The Life Time Reading Plan by Clifton Fadiman.  I still have, in a newer edition, Fadiman's book (which I endorse strongly to those seeking to be literary autodidacts, especially isolated young readers as I was)so I reread his remarks on the novel.  Admist the obligatory praise, he describes it as "cold and depressing".    Is there anyone in the novel we can admire at all?  The answer seems to be no.  Madame Bovary is a vain, totally self-centered fool, a terrible wife and worse mother.  Dr. Bovary is pretty much a dolt.  The secondary characters are either out to have sex with Emma or trick her into signing promissory notes for merchandise she can use to seem "high society".  Emma is ruined through credit purchases for fancy clothes and such designed to make her appear high society.  The supposed theme of my blog is a focus on books about characters that lead reading centered lives.  It was reading romance novels that made Emma bored with the simple life she lead as the wife of a country doctor.   These books helped to ruin her life, her husband's and that of her daughter.  

So is this Pantheon status work "cold and depressing"?  Ask if the murals of Anghor Wat depicting horrible battles are depressing, if Picasso's Guernica is cold.  Maybe it is chiily on Mount Parnassus but the climb is exhilarating and maybe if one wants to counter Fadiman, to be able to contemplate such works, in which I include Madame Bovary, while knowing we are of the species about which Flaubert writes is an exhilarating experience."

The lengthy depiction of the suicide of Madame Bovary is incredibly powerful, almost overwhelming.  The spiral to an early death of Charles Bovary after this is the work of a master. Davis has produced high art.  

Sentimental Education is perhaps a more "likeable" book.

Aspiring novelist, literary autodidacts must read this Madame Bovary.  If you cannot read French, by all means read the Lydia Davis translation.

I have her translation of Swann's Way and hope to read it soon.

Mel u

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Master and Man - A Short Story by Leo Tolstoy - 1895 -translated 2009 by RICHARD PEVEAR AND LARISSA VOLOKHONSKY

Master and Man - A Short Story by Leo Tolstoy - 1895 -translated 2009 by  Richard  Pevear and Larrisa  Volokohonsky

Leo Tolstoy

September 9, 1828

War and Peace- 1869

Anna Karenina - 1877

"Master and Man" - 1895

November 20, 1910

A few days ago I was watching a very interesting program on YouTube (, Dickens Versus Tolstoy: The Battle of the Great 19th Century Novelists.   Simon Schama is the advocate for Tolstoy, not long ago I read the first two volumes of his History of the Jewish People.  (Volume Three is coming in 2021.)
Schama is deeply into the famous novels of Tolstoy and I was a bit shocked when he suggested one of his short stories, "Master and Man" well might be his best work.  

"Master and Man" is set on a country estate.  Russian serfs were freed in 1861 but most were still tied to estates.  Some serfs had become affluent land owners but most were still dependent on their old masters. (The thinking in Russia in 1895 was that if you want something done, employ a freed serf.)

There are two central characters in the story, the owner of a country estate.  this short story, a land owner named Vasily Andreyevich Brekhunov takes one of his ex-serfs, for a short journey in a one horse sleigh. It is in the middle of the Russian winter. They are traveling to visit another landowner so that Vasily Andreyevivh can purchase a forest. People advise Brekhunov to wait until the snow storm ends but he wants to be the first to bid.

The power of the storm and the foolishness of this trip quickly become clear.  They have lots of problems but luckily stumble on an estate.  Nikita wants to stay the night but his master wants to push on.  The storm gets worse, the poor horse struggles on.

I won't spoil the ending.  

Tolstoy has shown us the social world of the story.

I read this story in The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories, translated by Richard  Pevear and Larrisa  Volokohonsky. This is fairly priced at $4.95 in Kindle format.

If you have read Tolstoy's major novels, these would be a fine edition for you.  If you want to get started in Tolstoy through his shorter works, then this is perfect.

Ambrosia Bousweau

Monday, October 14, 2019

Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow -2010 - 930 pages. - Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography

George Washington:A Life by Ron Chernow

February 22, 1732

1775 to 1783 - Commanded Continental Army during the American Revolution

1789 to 1797 - First President of The United States

December 14, 1799. 

If you love American history and have not yet read Ron Chernow's biographies of Alexander Hamilton and George Washington you have a marvelous experience awaiting you.

Last month I posted on his Alexander Hamilton -, made into a Broadway musical.  Hamilton was Washington's Aide de Camp as well as a military commander during the American Revolution and was the first secretary of the treasury.

I will in this post not recap Washington's life, just talk a bit about some of the many things that struck me.

Chernow brought Washington very much to life for me.  Long long ago my family and I visited his home in Mount Vernon, from Chernow I felt the great sadness Washington experienced during the eight years the Revolution kept him away from his home and his business.  

Chernow faces square on a fundamental issue, one must say, a flaw in the character of a basically highly principled man, Washington's attitude toward slavery.  He did see the contradiction in leading a war for liberty while owning hundreds of slaves.  Washington is portrayed by Chernow as treating his slaves better than most Virginia plantation owners, he respected slave marriages, he did not sell of spouses or children, he did not rape captive women, he made sure older slaves who could not work had food and medical care.  However, he did have slaves whipped and if a slave would not work and obey the rules he did on occasion sell them to West Indian sugar plantations, which was about a three years to death sentence.  Washington thought a slave should want to do their best for his or her master.  He sent slaves out to work in subfreezing weather.  Forty seven slaves attempted to escape from his ownership and he never seemed to understand why.  He did come to see that perhaps it would be better business to free the slaves thus relieving him of the burden of feeding them and just hire  workers.  He freeded about half the Mount Vernon slaves in his will but half were actually owned by the children of Martha from a prior marriage so he could not under Virginia law free them.  He also knew if he opposed slavery, the southern states might not join the union and might in fact side with the British.

We learn how Washington obtained wealth through inheritance and from his marriage.  Washington did enjoy the company of attractive women but seems in all probability never to have cheated on his wife.

We go along during his leadership in the French and Indian War.  His successful experience during this lead to his selection as leader of the Continental Army.  We meet his generals as well as the British leaders.  Chernow explained how the reluctance of British generals to press early advantages was a great break for the rebels.

Chernow goes into detail about the terrible hardships at Valley Forge.  The farmers in the surrounding areas had lots of food for sale but most would not accept American paper money.  Washington would not allow his soldiers to just take supplies, knowing this might turn the population against the 
revolutionary efforts.  We also see that as the war moved to the southern states, Washington's Quarter Master general did confiscate livestock at the point of a gun on occasions.

A big problem in the eight year war was keeping the army in tact.  Soldiers enlisted normally for one year and got very tired of being hungry and not getting paid.  Both the British and the Americans induced slaves to fight with promises of freedom after victory.  The prospect of slaves with guns caused many plantation owners to fear a slave uprising.

Washington went as long as three years without seeing action. He was focused on taking New York State and the Philadelphia area but the British moved the war to Georgia and the Carolinas, taking advantage of their unmatched in the world fleet to move their troops.  The Brotish generals were used to fighting pitched battles on open fields.  American militia volunteers adopted a style of fighting, partially learned fighting Indians, better suited to American terrain. Chernow showed that Washington's best military field commander was Nathaniel Greene. He goes into a lot of fascinating detail about his relationship to Alexander Hamilton.

The entrance of the French in the war was very valuable.  We learn a lot about Lafayette's life, role in the war and his close friendship with Washington.  I loved learning about the probably gay German officer who turned the Continental Army into a professional fighting force. Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben 

After the war ended it seemed like Washington just wanted to get back to Mount Vernon.

This post is long already.  Chernow brilliantly narrates Washington's time as president, many wanted to make him president for life.

Many know Washington as the father of America, he had no children most likely as a consequence of either his small pox or injuries to Martha during childbirth.  He was very close to his step children and lots of nephews and nieces.

Every American schoolchild used to be taught Washington was called the father of his country.

If you want to know why can also be called the father of the American mule, read this book!

I read last year his book on the Warburg banking family.  I have kindly been given a review copy of his latest book, a biography of Grant which I will read next year, I hope.

Mel u

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Katherine Mansfield-A Getting Started Guide - In Obervation of her 131th Birthday

A post in observation of the 132nd  Birthday of Katherine Mansfield

Born: 14 October 1888, Wellington, New Zealand

Katherine Mansfield-A Getting Started Guide

As Irene Nemirovsky went to her death in a cattle car to Auschwitz, she had with her The Notebook of Katherine Mansfield.
Katherine Mansfield died January 9, 1923.   Like many another writer who died far too young (1888 to 1923-New Zealand) we wonder what she might have produced had she lived on another thirty years.    All of Mansfield's stories are now in the public domain so anyone can easily read them online.   I have read and posted on nearly all of her stories (the exceptions being a few very young age stories that I have not yet found online).     I have received number of E-mails asking me where one should start with Mansfield.    (I am a reader not a scholar.    I read a Mansfield story almost by accident ten  ago and fell in love with her work.   I also have read and posted on three great books about her as well.)

In observation of the anniversary of her death I have selected three Katherine Mansfield stories that will get a new reader into her work.   All of these stories are easy to read  and enjoyable.   

"Miss Brill"

Because I have a posting each one of Mansfield's stories, I found I can use my blogger stats to see which of her stories are being most widely read.  People from all over the world (including Bethlehem on Christmas Day!) have come  to my blog to read my post on "Miss Brill".   Most of the visitors were probably students so I can  for sure say "Miss Brill" is the most assigned in universities worldwide of her stories.     "Miss Brill" is my suggestion for your first (and if it comes to it your only) Katherine Mansfield story.   I have read it several times since my first  post and each time get more from my reading and continue to enjoy the experience.   The first time I read this wonderful story (about 5 pages) I was struck by how much Mansfield was able to put in a few pages and by the stunning undercutting of what I thought was my understanding of the plot as the story closes.     It is a very fun, sad, wise story.

from Katherine Mansfield journal

Villa Isola Bella, Menton, France
I mean something though. Its a very queer thing how craft comes into writing. I mean down to details. Par exemple. In Miss Brill I chose not only the length of every sentence, but even the sound of every sentence – I chose the rise and fall of every paragraph to fit her – and to fit her on that day at that very moment. After Id written it I read it aloud – numbers of times – just as one would play over a musical composition, trying to get it nearer and nearer to the expression of Miss Brill – until it fitted her.
Don't think I'm vain about the little sketch. Its the only method I wanted to explain. I often wonder whether other writers do the same. If a thing has really come off it seems to me there mustn't be one single word out of place or one word that could be taken out. Thats how I AIM at writing. It will take some time to get anywhere near there.

"The Doll''s House"

"The Doll's House" is set in the New Zealand of the 1890s.     Mansfield has a great passion for her native New Zealand.      "The Doll's House"  is a very closely observed account of children at play.   It showed me how the play of children reflects what they learn from their lives.    In the smallest of details Mansfield builds a world for us.    

"The Garden Party"

As "The Garden Party" opens Laura Sheridan under the supervision of her mother is planning a garden party.   Readers in the 1920s in England and New Zealand would be aware that a garden party was meant to be a prestigious near formal occasion and an affair that was found only among the upper classes.   One of the most coveted English society invitations was to the annual Garden party at Buckingham Palace.   Laura is supposed to be in charge but we can quickly see her mother is a bit overbearing.  Rather near the home of the Sheridan's there is what the Sheridan family views as a wretched squalid community.   Right before the party is set to begin they learn one of the workers for  their party who lives in that area was killed in an accident.   Laura wants to stop the party but her mother will not hear it.   After the party the mother has a jolly good charitable idea.   Why not pack up all the left over party food and take it to the family of the man that was killed?  (Of course with no thought to the fact that the cottagers had never eaten food like that all their lives.)   Laura goes into the area where the cottages are located.    Mansfield is such an artist that you can feel Laura's fear as she goes into this area.   It all seems dark and evil and ever so wretched.    Laura goes into the cottage and views the body of the deceased.   It is Laura's reaction to the body of the  man and the multiple interpretations that can be made of this that seem to give this story its power and lasting appeal.

"There lay a young man, fast asleep--sleeping so soundly, so deeply, that he was far, far away from them both. Oh, so remote, so peaceful. He was dreaming. Never wake him up again. His head was sunk in the pillow, his eyes were closed; they were blind under the closed eyelids. He was given up to his dream. What did garden-parties and baskets and lace frocks matter to him? He was far from all those things. He was wonderful, beautiful. While they were laughing and while the band was playing, this marvel had come to the lane. Happy...happy...All is well, said that sleeping face. This is just as it should be. I am content."

Mansfield does not tell us what to make of this.   Is Laura just a silly rich girl who did not know that the poor have lives too or does she experience some kind of revelation when she sees the body?   Is this a mockery of  accepted views of death or is it a celebration of  them?   There is a nuch more to the story but I hope some may want to read it so I will not tell more of the plot.

I have read this story several times now and it is a marvelous account of class structures in the 1920s, among many other things.   I quoted a bit from the text so new readers can see her beautiful prose at work.

All these stories can be read at the New Zealand Electronic Text center, a great reading web page.   If you go to you will also find a number of videos relating to Katherine Mansfield.   

Here is a link to all of my Mansfield posts-The Reading Life Katherine Mansfield Project

The best book on her life and work is Katherine Mansfield: The Story Teller by Kathleen Jones

I highly recommend Katherine's Wish by Linda Lappin, a novel based on the last year of Mansfield's Life

The Katherine Mansfield Society website is a very valuable resource

Mel u

Friday, October 11, 2019

"Strike" and "Make I Here" - Two Short Stories by YZ Chin- author of Though I Get Home" - 2018

Website of YZ Chin

Read "Make I Here"

"Strike" and "Make I Here" - Two Short Stories by YZ Chin- author of Though I Get Home" - 2018

I first became aware of the work of YZ Chin in a recent post by Book Riot, Ten Short Story Collections About Race and Culture

I try when posting on short stories by contemporary writers, to spotlight works that can be read online or as part of a Kindle sample edition, thus making it easier for blog readers to experience the  story.    

"Make I Here" is a delightful story told my a woman working for a high tech company.  The company is in the final development stages for an AI program designed to make jokes.  The narrator, Edwina is a QA analyst, a product testerr.  She has reported the program did not make her laugh. Edwina is the only woman at the final meeting and someone says she just has no sense of humour.  The company seems pretty much a boy's club.  I love Chin's presentation of a meeting she had with one of the managers.

" '"Log inspection suggests that AInstein detected I’m a woman, and tried to calibrate its jokes to fit that detection. Unfortunately, we have not trained AIstein on much data that would make it successful in that area, and it did not pick up on my reaction expressing disapproval. I took a look at the code. It should be a quick … ' I trail off when I see his expression.
'Why are you looking through code? That’s not your job,' he says.
'Well, this is really low-hanging fruit, and I have basic coding skills. I thought I could contribute—'
'Your job is to test things. You’re a QA analyst, not an engineer.'
'Yes, I know.' My heart sinks. I won’t be able to bring up my green card sponsorship request today – and if not now, when?
'Do you think it might have something to do with the fact that you’re Asian? Like, foreign Asian, not Asian American?' he asks.
I blink. These days, that is what I do when I sense anger rattling inside me.
He doesn’t say the word "inscrutable", but it vibrates between us like a hard disk drive whirring to life. I blink so much that the borders of my contact lenses harden and cut."

Besides working with sexist xenophobes, Edwina has a legal problem.  To find out about this and more you should read this story, funny, insightful plus Edwina gets her own back. I loved the ending.

"Strike" is the lead story in her collection Though I Get Home.  
"This collection won the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize for women & nonbinary writers of color for Malaysian-born YZ Chin, The political landscape of Malaysia is the backdrop for stories about censorship, culture, independence, art, and protest. The main character, a poet, is the thread between these stories which unfold after she is imprisoned for challenging the government." -from Book Riot

I live next door almost to Malaysia, in the Philippines.  I have thousands of South and South Asian readers who would find this applicable to their lives.  (The story can be read in the Kindle sample.) The story begins in a prison cell.  The lead character is on a hunger strike.  Chin takes us inside the consciousness of the woman.  We see how she tries to deal with this through various mental ploys.

I greatly look forward to reading the full collection.  On her website there are links to an essay about her time working as a programmer/writer as well as an account of what the decision she made to write in English means to her.

From the author's website

"Hi. My debut book of fiction Though I Get Home  (Feminist Press, 2018) is the premier winner of the Louise Meriwether First Book Prize, and an Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Honor Title. 

I am also the author of poetry chapbook deter (dancing girl press, 2013).

Born and raised in Taiping, Malaysia, I now live in New York, where I also work as a software engineer"

Mel u

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Wilde's Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped by the Women He Knew by Eleanor Fitzsimons - 2015

Wilde's Women: How Oscar Wilde was Shaped by the Women he Knew by Eleanor Fitzsimons

"Life is too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it."
- Vera, or The Nihilists -

Last month I read The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit by Eleanor Fitzsimons, a very valuable addition to English literary history.

Here are a few of my thoughts:

"The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit by Eleanor Fitzsimons a portrait of an era as well as a literary biography.  

Nesbit is of significant culture import for her impact on English writers who grew up reading her work.  Her work does not hide from hard times but there is an optimistic spirit in her work, a curiosity and a joy about growing up.

The Life and Loves of E. Nesbit should be read by all who enjoy a first rate literary biography."

I was delighted to learn Fitzsimons has written a book focusing on the women in the life of Oscar Wilde.

" One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art." Oscar Wilde
- Phrases & Philosophies for the Use of the Young. Quoted in Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag

Oscar Wilde

October 16, 1854. - Dublin -born into an affluent family

Attended Trinity College and Oxford - educated in Greek, French and classical literature.

May 29, 1894 - Marries Constance Lloyd, they will have two children

July 1890 - The Picture of Dorian Grey is published

1895 - His highest regarded drama, The Importance of Being Ernest debuts

May 25, 1895 to May 18, 1897 - serves two years hard labour in an English Prison for homosexual acts.  Here he wrote De Profundis.  His health was terribly damaged while imprisoned.  He never fully recovered.

Oscar Wilde is the most sacred iconic LGBTQ figure.  My reading history with Oscar Wilde goes way back.  I am not sure how this happened but when Susan Sontag used quotes from Wilde in landmark essay Notes on Camp in 1964 I had already read The Picture of Dorian Grey.  From this essay I first began to sense varieties of artistic sensibilities, to see literary works as part of a greater culture.  The relationship between camp and homosexuality is complicated, for sure a connection exists.  Oscar Wilde's life as told by Fitzsimons illuminates this.

Wilde's Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped by the Women He Knew  is a fascinating look at the importance of women in the life and work of Wilde, from his mother who was a widely published authority on Irish folklore to his wife Constance Lloyd as well as other less known figures.  Fitzsimons brings everyone to life.

Wilde's father was a highly regarded surgeon, his mother, Lady Jane Wilde was an Irish nationalist, an advocate for expanded rights for women, a multilingual translator and a collector of Irish folktales.  Through her Wilde's was raised in a household where women were both formidable and educated.  Fitzsimons goes into very interesting detail on the formative years of Wilde.  From an early age Wilde was drawn to beauty in art and in persons.

He first fell in love at Trinity College, with a beautiful girl.  He wanted to marry her but took to long and she ended up married to Bram Stoker.  All the while Wilde was publishing poetry.  He embarked on a lecture tour in America.  We are shown how he charmed his largely female audience and met lots of women, including some whose name you will recognize.

Upon returning to Ireland he married a sensible financially secure woman with whom he had two sons.  As far as is known for sure he had not yet had sexual contact with men.  He met actresses through his work as a playwright. He also became close to two famous at the time female writers.  We see through Fitzsimons insights that actresses were adapt  at playing the role of romance partners for a man increasingly unsure of his sexuality.  They were used to playing roles. (In a biographies I have posted upon on Somerset Maugham and J M Barrie we see romances never consumated with actresses.). They also more or less needed to suck up Wilde!

Wilde's down fall is well known.  Fitzsimons takes us into the underground world of Gay Dublin, from high society to rent a boys, While in prison most of his friends forgot about him.  There is a long detailed chapter on his trial.  

Fitzsimons has given us new insights into the life of Oscar Wilde and an insightful account of his mileau.

From website of The author

“Welcome. My name is Eleanor Fitzsimons. I’m a researcher, writer, journalist and occasional broadcaster. I’m represented by and I’ve just published my first book Wilde’s Women: how Oscar Wilde was shaped by the women he knew. My writing has been published in a variety of newspapers and journals including the Sunday Times, the Guardian, the Irish Times, Irish Tatler, the Dubliner Magazine, The Gloss, UCD Connections, Maternity & Infant; History Today and Woman Mean Business. I have also contributed regularly to Irish radio and television programmes. I was the sole researcher on several primetime television programmes for the Irish national broadcaster, RTE including ‘What Have The Brits Ever Done For Us’, an examination of the historic relationship between Britain and Ireland commissioned to coincide with the landmark visit of Queen Elizabeth II to Ireland, and ‘Bullyproof’, an IFTA winning documentary series on bullying.
I have a Bachelor of Commerce degree and a Master of Business Studies degree from UCD and spent many years working at senior management level in the market information sector in both Ireland and the UK. In 2011, I returned to University College Dublin after a twenty-three years absence and graduated twelve months later with an MA (first class honours) in Women Gender and Society. I tweet at @EleanorFitz”

Wilde changed things.  .  Readers of The Picture of Dorian Grey will  see more in it thanks to Fitzsimons.  I really like his fairy tales and can hear the sniggers of the homophobic.  

Oscar Wilde's import way transcends his work.  That being said, everyone needs to read The Picture of Dorian Grey at least twice.

I give my thanks to Eleanor Fitzsimons for this wonderful book and hope to follow her career for years to come.

Mel u