‘Free Air’ by Sinclair Lewis

‘Free Air’ by Sinclair Lewis

Written in 1919, this story is one of the first in the tradition of road trip books. Jaunty with the verbal slapstick comedy and slang, it is a great little piece of the era. Lewis has as his hero the working man Milt, who is in love – maybe – with the upper class Claire. They meet on on a cross country journey on the New American Road, he in his inexpensive flivver car, and she and her father in their deluxe import.

The art of driving and how travelers spend the nights, meals and other accommodations is the biggest draw to the story to modern readers, I suppose, and it was very successful on publication to a a public who were embracing the merits of the automobile. Lewis envisions the automobile as a great equalizer of the classes, and that is reflected in so much of this book. In the show Boardwalk Empire, this is the book which Jimmy and Pearl spend days reading and dreaming of traveling west, so it is a nice nod to a little book that hopefully will keep resurfacing every now and then.

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Marzie’s Novella Series: ‘The Moorland Cottage’ by Elizabeth Gaskell

In this Victorian novella we have a very early piece of Elizabeth Gaskell’s works. Our heroine Maggie Browne is

‘The Moorland Cottage’ by Elizabeth Gaskell

a familiar in Victorian works, poor with a mother who is overly critical and a mean-spirited brother who of course is doted upon by the mother. The father has passed away, having been a clergyman, and the family has nothing but itself to get along. Gaskell uses the down-trodden frequently as characters in her work. Maggie comes to fall in love with the son of the wealthy estate owner and, of course, not all receive that development happily, his father in particular. What follows are the twists and turns the couple endure and the caprices of Maggie’s errant brother.

This is Gaskell at an early age, yet her writing is lyrical, and you see what she will hone to perfection in her later novels. Being a novella, there is fast plot development and the ending comes together nicely. If the story seems familiar, it may be because George Eliot used it virtually as a template ten years later in writing The Mill on the Floss, even so far as to use the name Maggie as her heroine. A very nice read to add to those who enjoy Gaskell. This is re-printed by Hesperus Classics as part of their large catalog of out of print stories now available as novellas.

Rating: 4 stars

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Saying Hello

I want to take time to thank Kirsty for inviting me here to The Literary Sisters and to introduce myself. I’ve been a reader since I was a kid and reading is still my first and foremost hobby. I say hobby because I am not a professional in any way – my reviews are simply my personal reaction to a book and not formal in construct. My choices in books lean heavily toward authors from the inter-war years, stories centered around the changes in society and the prevailing culture, some Regency and Victorian and a really great mystery on occasion. Finding publishers that are re-printing works that haven’t been seen in years is a challenge I love and putting together collections of some of my favorite presses keeps my wish list out of control. Please feel free to leave a comment on anything I post, it is great to meet others who are readers. So, thank you again Kirsty and hello to all fellow book lovers!

Marzie

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‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters

‘Fingersmith’ by Sarah Waters

This is an amazing tale set in Victorian London and its surrounding villages. Waters’ structure of the novel owes to Dickens et al., but through her exquisite writing she gives it fresh appeal. The story revolves around a convoluted long con perpetuated by a group of fingersmiths (thieves), and eventually a host of characters that propel the plot.

Throughout, there is great character development and a stunning portrayal of the era. Her realism of the life of the poor and the grit of city and life are perfect, and worth five stars on their own. I have read The Little Stranger and enjoyed it, but with Fingersmith, the author is at the top in her writing.

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‘A Charmed Life: Growing Up in Macbeth’s Castle’ by Liza Campbell

This is a gem of a book! Liza Campbell has written a beautifully composed book of her growing up in Scotland’s

‘A Charmed Life’ by Liza Campbell

Cawdor castle (the setting for Macbeth), and the the downward spiral of her father the 25th Thane. This memoir is several years removed from the year of her father’s death, which lends a mature aspect to her writing.

I usually don’t read much memoir, because sometimes it seems too rushed or lacking in retrospection. Not in this, though. The father and his wide appetites – for alcohol, women, self-absorption, etc. – make for one hell of a story and for the author, one hell of a way to grow up.  Along with her to the point writing style, she has an amazing dry wit, with passages that made me laugh out loud.

Woven through the family story are descriptions of Scotland’s beauty, legends, history and lore. One underlying theme seems to be that despite having a castle and wealth, this family was encased in solitude and distance, created by the rules of title and the parents’ aloof attitudes to the children. I think anyone could enjoy this book –  the time period is mid 1960s (her musings about this era and her father are great) and her writing style flows steadily and is a pleasure to read.

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‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

‘The Marriage Plot’ by Jeffrey Eugenides

Eugenides writes yet again a novel with sublime language and insight on the very personal level. Yes, this in general starts as a book on literature with with the focus of the “marriage plot” as a relevant or viable plot device in literary fiction.

As a reader, this seems to be more a frame of reference to the story setting (Brown) year (1982-pre high tech communication) and the age of the three characters (graduating college seniors with serious academic achievements). Our characters are leaving the comfort of university life with its comforts of random discourse, trends, deconstructing and reconstructing every subject studied, trends, music, etc. Life as theory and theory as life, as such.

They are essentially leaving the nicely feathered nest to begin living life and making choices, and learning what they are really capable of. Leonard is genius and tragic, Mitchell unsure about his spiritual path, and Madeline is the love interest of both men and she is the most unremarkable and least sympathetic. What follows is a brilliant look at coming to terms with the life we have been dealt, and how it often leads us in circumstances we cannot control, or where we are unable to go despite our desire, aptitude and education or the luck of living in the feathered nest of theory forever.

Rating: 5 stars

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Women of The Jazz Age

I have a slight obsession with inter-war novels and the lives of those people who culturally helped shape the Jazz Age. There are some amazing women who played public and literary roles whose stories I have enjoyed greatly and in honor of International Women’s day in March I thought I would list some of my forever favorite bios.

Zelda by Nancy Milford

If there was ever a muse to an author, it was surely Zelda to Scott. She was the idealized flapper to the pubic and for a while they were the enchanted couple. Hadley Hemingway once said that to watch Scott and Zelda dance the Charleston in Paris was to see it done to perfection and not to be forgotten. From the early years to the glory years and the decline of her mental health, this book has her story wonderfully compiled, and is the most complete of anything I’ve read yet on Zelda.

Rating: 5 stars

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Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s critical approval was years long in coming, despite her first piece’s success. To say she lived life on her own terms doesn’t even apply. She was a terrific and wild force. Her exploits sexually are legendary, but her relationships with her mother and anyone strong enough to get close to her, are complicated to extremes.  This is a must read for Jazz Age enthusiasts.

Rating: 5 stars

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‘Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin’ by Marion Meade

Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin by Marion Meade

Not technically biography, but more a chronicle of the lives of four pillars of the Jazz Age woman. Dorothy Parker, Edna Thurber, Zelda Fitzgerald and Edna St. Vincent Millay are followed yearly from 1920 through 1929. This is a mixture of social history, biography, gossip and overview of their lives. I did like how it was done one year at a time. It was a nice way to show parallels in their lives and careers. A fun addition to full biographies, it is less formal and is a quick read.

Rating: 4 stars

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Marzie’s Novella Series: ‘Lady Susan’ by Jane Austen

From the manuscript of ‘Lady Susan’

Jane Austen was in inspired by Les Liaisons Dangereuses in her concept for this epistolary novella. Lady Susan may have begun as an innocent in scandal, but she progresses to being no lady in any sense. She is cunning and seduces at any chance to further her position in life.

Austen is at her caustic best in this, and one can image her disapproving eye regarding her character. The entanglements that arise are comical and loaded with Austen’s dry wit. This was written at an early age, one of many stories she wrote to read aloud to entertain her family. This is an essential addition to a Jane Austen completist. Re-print by Hesperus Classics novellas.

Rating: 4 stars

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Marzie’s Novella Series: ‘Lois The Witch’ by Elizabeth Gaskell

‘Lois the Witch’ by Elizabeth Gaskell

What I found most appealing in this novella was Gaskell’s sense of realism. Her descriptive style in comparing 1600s Salem and its surrounds as an almost medieval land, wild and untamed, ties in well with the Puritan harshness of the witch fervency.

Lois is an innocent, come to live in the New Colonies with an unknown uncle and his family after the death of her parents. Her Anglican faith is viewed suspiciously, and it is not long until we see she is being suspected of being a witch. The story moves rapidly along these lines due to the unwelcoming and hypocritical family she lives with.

Gaskell was acutely interested in the history of the Salem witch trials, corresponding with authors from the U.S. who had written about them. It is difficult to lay out more plot as this is novella length, but I found it to be one of my favorite Gaskell stories I have read. Her usual beautiful use of language is there of course, but again, her sense of realism is the real draw. Originally published in a periodical in the mid 1800s, this is now offered as a re-print through Hesperus Classics.

Rating: 5 stars

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