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Review: "The Life of Charlotte Brontë" by Elizabeth Gaskell


First published in 1857, this posthumous biography chronicles Charlotte Brontë’s life through her death in 1855 and immediate legacy. It was written by fellow novelist and friend, Elizabeth Gaskell. Although controversial due to the suppression of certain details of Charlotte’s life that Gaskell deemed too conflicting with contemporary morals, it remains a rich source of information about the Brontë’s today. Continue reading .

Review: "The War Workers" by E.M. Delafield


Originally published in 1918, The War Workers centers around the characters that live and work at an army support institution during WWI. Charmian Vivian (Char), the charismatic Director, runs the Depot like an amateur dictator a la P.G. Wodehouse’s Roderick Spode. She uses tyranny and the cult of personality to overwork her employees and to take over other operations like a café that are not her concern. Enter Grace Jones, an archdeacon’s daughter, who has moved to the area to contribute to the war effort and who is also, upper-class. Continue reading .

Review: "Christopher and Columbus" by Elizabeth von Arnim


When Elizabeth von Arnim (AKA Alice Cholomondeley) published Christine in 1917, an outcry ensued, complainants claiming that the book was loaded with anti-German propaganda. If Von Arnim felt chastened by the perceived slight, she apparently set out to make amends when she wrote Christopher and Columbus. This book was published in 1919, two years after the publication of Christine. The story may also exhibit the yearning the author felt for her daughter, born of English mother and German father, who died in Germany as a teenager. Could she have been salving her grief by recreating that daughter times two? Continue reading .

Review: "Shirley" by Charlotte Brontë


Originally published in 1849, Shirley is the only of Charlotte Brontë’s novels to be set in a historical period before the novel was written. It takes place in Yorkshire, England during 1811–1812 in the midst of an industrial depression resulting from the Napoleonic wars. The story revolves around two heroines, Caroline Helstone and Shirley Keeldar, and their relationships with the Moore brothers. For those who enjoy novels with a bit of social history thrown in, such as works by George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell, then Shirley will definitely satisfy. Continue reading .

Review: "Daddy Long Legs" by Jean Webster


Comprised mostly of letters from orphan Jerusha “Judy” Abbott to her anonymous benefactor whom she has never met, this novel chronicles Judy’s departure from the orphanage through four years of college. Her high spirits get her through many trials, and by the end she turns out a mature (yet energetic) young woman who gets her happy ending. Continue reading .

"Charlotte Temple" by Susanna Rowson

First published in 1791, Charlotte Temple’s story starts out in England, where the fifteen-year-old Charlotte is attending boarding school. Charlotte’s innocence make her an easy target for her more worldly suitor, Montraville. At their supposed “last meeting” Montraville convinces Charlotte go with him to America. It is only when she arrives in America that Charlotte sees the full impact of the predicament she is in. Charlotte’s struggle to survive and the roles played by her three companions in furthering her misery comprise a morality tale with frightening consequences, both for Charlotte and the engineers of her downfall. Continue reading .

The Upas Tree: A Christmas Story for All the Year

The Upas Tree: A Christmas Story for All the Year

The Upas Tree, legend has it, is an African tree that alters the psyche when one sleeps under it, as protagonist Ronnie West did when doing experiential research for his next romance novel. As a result of this indiscretion, Ronnie became somewhat manic, confused, sleepless and, according to his wife, Helen, “utterly, preposterously, altogether selfish.” This strange tree and additional elements, such as 13 foot-tall African grasses, a purloined letter, a Cello with a life of its own and a mirror that doesn’t quite reflect what it observes, turn The Upas Tree into the strangest Christmas story I have yet read. Continue reading .

"Travels in West Africa" by Mary Kingsley

In 1893, Mary Kingsley went alone to West Africa. She traveled to remote areas crawling with cannibal tribes, some of which had never been visited by a white man, much less a white woman. Some would say surprisingly, she lived to come home and documented what she learned and experienced in this fascinating book. As a historical piece, Travels in West Africa is a must-read for anyone remotely interested in the history of West Africa, particularly at this period of encroaching European influence. As a travel book, it is amazing for the fact that this woman did what she did. Continue reading .

"Agnes Grey" by Anne Brontë

First published in 1847, Agnes Grey was Anne Brontë’s first novel and thought to be her most autobiographical. It is the story a young woman who works as a governess to help support her family. Through the course of the novel she is employed in two different families, however her experiences of dealing with spoiled and ignorant children (and employers) is similar in both households. This is a short novel, flawlessly written, and brazenly simple. There are no monsters, castles, or plot twists lurking in dark corners. It is, however, a novel you can’t put down until you know Agnes is safe and happy. Continue reading .

"The Third Miss Symons" by F.M. Mayor

The amazing thing about The Third Miss Symons is that author Mayor could write an attention-getting novel about a woman who did essentially nothing for 63 years. “Nothing” may be too strong a word; however, the heroine never married, never entered the workforce, and showed no concerted interest in academia or philanthropy. She traveled extensively; however her travels took more the form of wandering or avoidance rather than genuine interest in new places. Friends and relatives were happy to see her, but they were just as happy to see her go. And more than one relative breathed a sigh of relief when she declined their offer to come live with them. Continue reading .

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