Jane Austen’s juvenilia, unfinished work and extended pieces are just as enjoyable to read as the six great novels. My absolute favourite is Lady Susan but I’m fond of Sanditon, too, and its perceptive but quiet heroine, Charlotte Heywood. Sanditon is full of references to Austen’s own reading and contemporaries, Fanny Burney’s Camilla, Walter Scott’s Marmion and the poetry of William Cowper. It would be an interesting undertaking to read what Austen read. Sadly Sanditon was never finished but Austen’s wit and humour is evident throughout. Continue reading .
Horatio Leavenworth, Esq., a millionaire, is murdered in his library while he is engaged in reviewing a book he plans to publish. He was shot cleanly in the back of the head (with his own pistol), meaning that he did not turn his head when his assassin entered the room. This fact led detective Ebenezer Gryce to conclude that he recognized the footsteps of his assailant and felt he had nothing to fear from this person. Thus begins this first novel in the “Mr. Gryce” series. Continue reading .
Olive Schreiner is a well-known name in South Africa, largely (but not only) thanks to this book. She wrote it while working as a governess on a farm of an Afrikaner or boere family in the arid Great Karoo region of South Africa in the late 19th century. It was an immediate success, yet quite controversial because she wrote critically of the boere for their a-cultural lifestyle without books or other forms of cultural activity. Schreiner was, of course, correct in her criticisms. But for people struggling to survive in hostile natural conditions with very little means and the nearest neighbor 30 kilometers away, cultural activity was a luxury. For most of the time between 1653 and 1949 the focus of the boere was on survival. Continue reading .
While it doesn’t have the concise and perfect plot of Eliot’s Silas Marner, Daniel Deronda is once again proof that she could tell an engrossing story. That is if you make it through the pages upon pages of political speeches and ruminations about character motivations–Eliot is anything but concise in this one. The political element has a reason to be there, however, as at the heart of the novel is a commentary on the budding Zionist movement in British and European society at the time. Continue reading .
In the fourth novel in the Scarlet Pimpernel series (if one counts the prequels), Sir Percy spends much of his time in Choisy, France disguised as the leader of a band of musicians who entertain the French revolutionary masses at a seedy local alehouse. The fact that the French Commissary has placed a considerable price on the head of The Scarlet Pimpernel amuses, rather than deters, Sir Percy. He is in France to spare the aristocratic La Rodiere family, the Abby Edgeworth and Doctor Simon Pradel a trip to the Guillotine. Continue reading .
Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence is a story of Old New York manners and traditions. As always, Wharton writes about people in a pickle. Always they seem to have extraordinarily bad timing. Always they get in the way of their own happiness. The Age of Innocence belongs to a time when societal obligation invariably supersedes personal fulfillment. At times, the novel was a satire; the traditions of the upper crust verged on ridiculous. Although Newland is the protagonist of the story, I found him to be the weakest character. As a man, he had more options than a woman in his place would have. Instead, he caves into the expectations of the family. He gets played, by just about everyone, but especially the women. Continue reading .
The Black Moth, first published in 1921, is Georgette Heyer’s first novel and is also the first novel in a four-part series including These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and An Infamous Army. The Black Moth is set around 1751 during the Georgian era and comes disguised as an amusing but uncomplicated romance. The story appears so straightforward that you may be inclined to read it with half a mind, but that would be a mistake. Continue reading .
This collection of novellas centers around the fictional English town of Cranford and surrounding areas and forms the basis for the 2007 BBC mini-series of the same name. The Cranford Novellas are not page turners, but Gaskell’s format and style provides a readier canvas on which to portray the manias, heartbreak, tragedy and joy of rural England at the time. How lucky we are that Gaskell recorded these tales so that in them we gain insight into a way of life that otherwise would have been lost forever. Continue reading .
Anne and Gilbert finally tie the knot and leave their beloved Avonlea for Four Winds Harbour. There they find Anne’s house of dreams: a little house near the sea with a brook running through the yard. L.M. Montgomery’s story telling is as entertaining as ever in Anne’s House of Dreams. She creates an eccentric cast of characters who colour every page. The series still has it’s down home humour but it has a somber note as well. Anne is an adult now, her problems are much bigger than the small tragedies of her childhood. Continue reading .
First written in 1926, Clouds of Witness is the second in Sayers’ series featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, after Whose Body?. Like Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness also offers up some complications arising from mistaken identity, albeit in a different context. As Sir Peter Wimsey sorts through the evidence, the clues incriminate one person, then another, until all the characters know who is dead, why this person is dead, and who is at fault. Continue reading .