Three Virago Novels (4th September 2013)

I am currently making my way through the entirety of the Virago Modern Classics list. Along the way, I have encountered some absolutely marvellous books (Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson and The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim are particular favourites of mine), but as with all book lists, there are some rather mixed entries. Below are three recent VMCs which I’ve read, the reviews of which are rather mixed.

The Life and Death of Harriett Frean by May Sinclair ****
I wasn’t expecting this novel to be so short. What I encountered with The Life and Death of Harriett Frean was a very enjoyable novella, although the overriding sense of melancholy a s the trials which the characters had to go through were a little unsettling at times. I enjoyed the writing style throughout and felt that the characters were constructed well, particularly for such a short piece.

The Rector by Mrs Oliphant **
This was not an awful story by any means, but it was rather nondescript. The descriptions throughout are nice enough, but I felt that all of the protagonists were rather lacklustre, and not one of them stood out from the general melee. In style, The Rector reads rather like a Jane Austen novel, but it is nowhere near as good.

The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim **
I can’t bring myself to give a von Arnim book less than 3 stars, but this is really more of a 2 star read. It wasn’t awful, but by the same token it was disappointing and not very good. The book was witty at times, but von Arnim’s use of a male narrative perspective just didn’t work very well. At times the narrator sounded incredibly effeminate, and at others very camp, for want of a better description. The storyline wasn’t quite developed enough for such a long novel, and neither were the characters. It is a sign of the times, I know, but The Caravaners is almost disgustingly sexist at times. I wouldn’t have thought that a woman, even one writing at the time of this novel’s publication, and from the perspective of a male, would advocate such views.


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