Novels of 1928

I have read several novels for class which were published in 1928, all of which are diverse, and the majority of which have made a great impression upon me.  I thought that I would draw your attention to the four most diverse books from this year, all of which I would recommend.

  1. Orlando by Virginia Woolf 9781853262395
    ”The longest and most charming love letter in literature’, playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf’s close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Spanning three centuries, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth’s England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces his experience with first love as England under James I lies locked in the embrace of the Great Frost. At the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Costantinople, awakes to find that he is a woman, and the novel indulges in farce and irony to consider the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the novel ends in 1928, a year consonant with full suffrage for women. Orlando, now a wife and mother, stands poised at the brink of a future that holds new hope and promise for women.’
  2. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
    ‘With its four-letter words and its explicit descriptions of sexual intercourse, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the novel with which D.H. Lawrence is most often associated. First published privately in Florence in 1928, it only became a world-wide best-seller after Penguin Books had successfully resisted an attempt by the British Director of Public Prosecutions to prevent them offering an unexpurgated edition. The famous ‘Lady Chatterley trial’ heralded the sexual revolution of the coming decades and signalled the defeat of Establishment prudery. Yet Lawrence himself was hardly a liberationist and the conservativism of many aspects of his novel would later lay it open to attacks from the political avant-garde and from feminists. The story of how the wife of Sir Clifford Chatterley responds when her husband returns from the war paralysed from the waist down, and of the tender love which then develops between her and her husband’s gamekeeper, is a complex one open to a variety of conflicting interpretations. This edition of the novel offers an occasion for a new generation of readers to discover what all the fuss was about; to appraise Lawrence’s bitter indictment of modern industrial society, and to ask themselves what lessons there might be for the 21st century in his intense exploration of the complicated relations between love and sex.’
  3. 9780141187488Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
    ‘Sent down from Oxford in outrageous circumstances, Paul Pennyfeather is oddly surprised to find himself qualifying for the position of schoolmaster at Llanabba Castle. His colleagues are an assortment of misfits, rascals and fools, including Prendy (plagued by doubts) and Captain Grimes, who is always in the soup (or just plain drunk). Then Sports Day arrives, and with it the delectable Margot Beste-Chetwynde, floating on a scented breeze. As the farce unfolds and the young run riot, no one is safe, least of all Paul.’
  4. The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall
    ‘A powerful novel of love between women, The Well of Loneliness brought about the most famous legal trial for obscenity in the history of British law. Banned on publication in 1928, it then went on to become a classic bestseller. Stephen Gordon (named by a father desperate for a son) is not like other girls: she hunts, she fences, she reads books, wears trousers and longs to cut her hair. As she grows up amidst the stifling grandeur of Morton Hall, the locals begin to draw away from her, aware of some indefinable thing that sets her apart. And when Stephen Gordon reaches maturity, she falls passionately in love – with another woman.’

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Classics Club #88: ‘Black Mischief’ by Evelyn Waugh

In the past, I have very much enjoyed the novels of Evelyn Waugh;s that I have read, of which A Handful of Dust and Scoop are my favourites.  I picked Black Mischief at random to add to my list for two reasons – I had not yet read it, and my local library had a copy in stock.

Waugh wrote Black Mischief after spending a winter in East and Central Africa – ‘The scene of the novel was a fanciful confusion of many territories’ – and he immediately sets out his imagined local history of the region.   First published in 1932, the storyline of Black Mischief is an interesting one, both socially and politically: ‘When Oxford-educated Emperor Seth succeeds to the throne of the African state of Azania, he has a tough job on his hands.  His subjects are ill-informed and unruly, and corruption, double-dealing and bloodshed are rife.  However, with the aid of the Minister of Modernisation, Basil Seal, Seth plans to introduce his people to the civilised ways of the West – but will it be as simple as that?’  I was most interested to see what Waugh would do with such a story and where he would take it, and found myself expecting something rather amusing and quite risque.

In the introductory paragraph of the novel, the following occurs: ‘Seth paused in his dictation and gazed out across the harbour where in the fresh breeze of early morning the last dhow was setting sail for the open sea.  “Rats,” he said, “stinking curs.  They are all running away.”‘  Both the scene and tone of the whole are set immediately: ‘War drums could often be heard inland and sometimes the whole hillside would be aflame with burning villages.  On the coast a prosperous town arose: great houses of Arab merchants with intricate latticed windows and brass-studded doors, courtyards planted with dense mango trees, streets heavy with the reek of cloves and pineapple, so narrow that two mules could not pass without altercation between their drivers’.  The environment which Waugh has evoked is rather brutal, and those within it are incredibly set in their ways for the most part.  Almost all of the characters whom we are introduced to have fundamental problems, many of which are related to their environment – for example, they live in dire poverty, or members of their family have been unjustly killed.

As one could probably guess, given the time in which it was written, Black Mischief is rather heavily prejudiced, and descriptions of the country’s ‘natives’ are more often than not incredibly stereotypical, to the extent that they tend to make the modern reader a little uncomfortable.  The fact that the novel was not very engaging surprised me.  There was nothing within it which captivated me, as there always tends to be in Waugh’s work.  Black Mischief felt decidedly different to the other novels of his which I am familiar with, and I simply could not get into it.  Waugh’s writing here does not feel very strong, and some of his perceptions bordered on the cruel rather than funny; a sign of the times, most certainly, but even so, I found myself putting the book down after the first eighty pages or so.

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Five Great… Novels (T-Z)

I thought that I would make a series which lists five beautifully written and thought-provoking novels.  All have been picked at random, and are sorted by the initial of the author.  For each, I have copied the official blurb.  I’m sure that everyone will find something here that interests them.

1. A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor
“During summer games of hide and seek Harriet falls in love with Vesey and his elusive, teasing ways. When he goes to Oxford she cherishes his photograph and waits for the letter that never comes. Years pass, and Harriet stifles her imaginings; with a husband and daughter, she excels at respectability. But then Vesey reappears, and her marriage seems to melt away. Harriet is older, it is much too late, but she is still in love with him.”

2. N.P. by Banana Yoshimoto
“A powerful story of passion and friendship, the nature of love and the taboos surrounding it. “N.P.” is the last collection of stories by a celebrated Japanese writer, written in English while she was living in Boston.”

3. A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh
“Taking its title from T.S. Eliot’s modernist poem “The Waste Land”, Evelyn Waugh’s “A Handful of Dust” is a chronicle of Britain’s decadence and social disintegration between the First and Second World Wars. This “Penguin Modern Classics” edition is edited with an introduction and notes by Robert Murray Davis. After seven years of marriage, the beautiful Lady Brenda Last is bored with life at Hetton Abbey, the Gothic mansion that is the pride and joy of her husband, Tony. She drifts into an affair with the shallow socialite John Beaver and forsakes Tony for the Belgravia set. Brilliantly combining tragedy, comedy and savage irony, “A Handful of Dust” captures the irresponsible mood of the ‘crazy and sterile generation’ between the wars. This breakdown of the Last marriage is a painful, comic re-working of Waugh’s own divorce, and a symbol of the disintegration of society.”

4. Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin
“A novel about love, married love, and the love of literature, Summer in Baden-Baden is set partly in the present as the narrator crosses Russia in wintertime on a train to Leningrad (the once and future St. Petersburg) and partly in the past as he reimagines the passionate summer of 1867 when Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his young wife Anna travelled across Europe towards Baden-Baden. Dostoyevsky’s reckless passions for gambling, for his literary vocation, for his wife, are matched by her all-forgiving love, which is in turn reflected by the love of Leonid Tsypkin for Dostoyevsky.”

5. Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida
“When Clarissa Iverton was fourteen years old, her mother disappeared leaving Clarissa to be raised by her father. Upon his death, Clarissa, now twenty-eight, discovers he wasn’t her father at all. Abandoning her fiance, Clarissa travels from New York to Helsinki, and then north of the Arctic Circle – to Lapland. There, under the northern lights, Clarissa not only unearths her family’s secrets, but also the truth about herself.”

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