5 Years/50 Books-My Completed Classics Club List

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I found the Classics Club soon after publishing my first blog post on Relevant Obscurity. I remember the excitement as I made my list of never-before read classics. It seemed like an easy task to finish in five years. O those days of naiveté!

I am not going to lie…I struggled through a fair amount and truth be told, this final list looks nothing like the original. I made many decisions to ‘dnf’ as well as to add books newly discovered. Due to how I chose to do high school–emphasis on theater and band, academics only done well enough to get me through–my experience with classic literature when starting this blog was minimal. Beyond Jane Eyre, The Scarlet Letter, a little Poe and some Shakespeare, I don’t remember much about high school literature. In college I was a more serious student, but as a history major I tended to read nonfiction.

When I made up the list I had no idea what I would  like and what I wouldn’t. And I surely never thought a few writers would affect me so deeply that I had to read more of them than others.

I don’t know if this is a common feeling of other list finishers, but though I know I accomplished a lot in terms of reading a great deal–and so many titles I read are not on this list–a part of me feels like I have only just skimmed the surface of classic literature, which just feels really daunting. I suppose that means there will be more lists!

I decided to create some ‘best of’ categories to mark this achievement.

Awards

Favorite Book: Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell/The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton

Most Surprising Likes: Dracula, Bram Stoker/The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, HP Lovecraft

To Read Again: Mansfield Park, Jane Austen/The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton

Most Challenging: The Island of Dr. Moreau, HG Wells/The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton

What I Expected To Like, But Didn’t: Rilla of Ingleside, LM Montgomery

What I Expected to Dislike, But Didn’t: Emma, Jane Austen

Favorite Character: Molly Gibson (Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell)

Least Favorite Character: Undine (The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton)

What do I want more of in the next list? Classics in translation and nonfiction.

My Completed List

 Louisa May Alcott
Little Women (1868)

Jane Austen
Mansfield Park (1814)
Northanger Abbey (1817)
Emma (1815)

Mary Austin
The Land of Little Rain (1905)

Edward Bellamy
Looking Backward (1888)

Anne Bronte
Agnes Grey (1847)
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848)

Charlotte Bronte
Villette (1853)

Willa Cather
O Pioneers! (1913)

Daniel Defoe

Roxana (1724)

Charles Dickens
A Christmas Carol (1843)

Mrs. George Sheldon Downs
Gertrude Elliot’s Crucible (1908)

Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca (1938)

Fanny Fern
Ruth Hall (1855)

E.M. Forster
Room with a View (1908)
Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905)

Elizabeth Gaskell
Ruth (1853)
Wives and Daughters
(1866)

Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Herland (1915)

Nathaniel Hawthorne
The Scarlet Letter (1850)
House of Seven Gables (1851)
The Blithedale Romance (1852)

Shirley Jackson
The Haunting of Hill House
(1959)

Henry James
The Bostonians (1886)

Sarah Orne Jewett
The Country of the Pointed Firs (1896)

Carolyn Keene
The Moonstone Castle Mystery (1963)

John Knowles
A Separate Peace (1959)
Peace Breaks Out
(1981)

L.M. Montgomery
Rilla of Ingleside (1921)
The Blue Castle (1926)

Mary Shelley
Frankenstein (1818)

Betty A. Smith
Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943)

Elizabeth George Speare
The Witch of Blackbird Pond (1958)
The Bronze Bow (1961)

Bram Stoker
Dracula
(1897)

Jan Struther
Mrs. Miniver (1939)

H. G. Wells
The Time Machine (1895)
The Island of Dr. Moreau  (1896)
The War of the Worlds (1898)

Edith Wharton
House of Mirth (1905)
Age of Innocence (1920)
Ethan Frome
(1911)
Summer
(1917)
The Custom of the Country
(1913)
Glimpses of the Moon (1922)
The Bunner Sisters (1916)

OscarWilde
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

Thornton Wilder
Our Town (1938)

Virginia Woolf
Night and Day (1919)

The Bunner Sisters, Edith Wharton (1916)

The Bunner sisters were proud of the neatness of their shop and content with its humble prosperity. It was not what they had once imagined it would be…and it was long since their hopes had soared higher.

 

Bunner

Edith Wharton is known for her sharp observations about the excesses of the upper classes and expats of New York during the turn of the last century, but in the Bunner Sisters she turns her attention to working class shop owners and their day to day survival.

In novella form, this is a story about two sisters who are just scraping by with their small hat shop on a side street in a fading area of New York City. Ann Eliza, the oldest and Evelina the younger are loving and supportive of each other until Herman Ramy, who owns a clock repair shop, comes on the scene. As he gets to know the sisters he settles on Ann Eliza and proposes, but she tells him she has vowed never to marry. It is an easy switch for him to the younger sister, who does not know about the previous proposal.  They marry quickly and he spirits her off to St. Louis where he has been offered a job.

Ann Eliza has given Evelina her share of the money they had saved up when her sister tells her how expensive St. Louis is and that Ramy will not get a raise until he’s been on the job for many months. Alone for the first time in her life Ann Eliza does the best she can, but without another person to run to other shops for supplies and food, it becomes challenging.

When her sister’s letters stop coming she fears the worst. Spending the little money she has she goes to St. Louis. Remembering the name of the shop in which Ramy was supposed to be working she finds he was fired for opium addiction and the owner has no idea where he is now. So Ramy wasn’t sick, which was one of the reasons the sisters felt sorry for him; he was addicted to opium even them. Ann Eliza returns to New York City fearing her sister is lost forever. When Evelina finally shows up alone, she has a harrowing story to tell.

Wharton packs such an emotional punch in her novellas that I always feel like I have been put through a ringer! This affected me similarly.

_______________________

Title: The Bunner Sisters
Author: Edith Wharton
Publisher: Unknown
Device: Kindle
Year: written c1892; published 1916

 

July Wrap-Up

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This was a nice reading month for me. I am still a little slow on blogging, but my reading pace has picked up and I am pleased with the variety of books I read this month, which included mostly new releases of fiction and nonfiction. I am also finding my short reviews on Instagram and Goodreads to be satisfying when I can’t write up a longer blog post. Summer is a great excuse for being lazy!

Blog Post, yes…just one blog post in July

6117068What Maisie Knew, Henry James, 1897
Young Maise Farange is caught between her parents in a bitter divorce.  Their meanness is not lost on the child, who with a touching candor sees she is in the way of her parents and is well aware they don’t love her. James really gets into the head of this little girl in a sad, but ultimately triumphal, situation.

 

Books Read

43883862The Ancestor
by Danielle Trussoni, 2020. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

“A transformation was taking place inside me. I knew it; I could feel it on a cellular level I was becoming a new person, one who would have the strength to face my inheritance.”

Bert Monte’s surprise inheritance is not just material; the finances, the castle, the jewels are nothing compared to the genetic revelation she receives. This is a modern-day gothic novel about a woman’s quest to discover her family’s legacy and the part she must play. With added anthropological adventures and cryptozoologic discoveries I could not put this down!

17699853Chain of Gold (The Last Hours #1)
by Cassandra Clare 2020

This is the kind of fantasy novel I like: it takes place during a historical time period (Edwardian England) with enough realism to ground it’s fantastic elements. In this case, a segment of society of demon-fighters that span generations of families.

The only drawback is there are a lot of characters in this novel, emphasis on A LOT, who are introduced within the first 15-20 pages making it a challenge to remember everyone. But it was worth it to get them all straight and I will patiently wait for #2.

45015676._SY475_The Illness Lesson, by Clare Beams, 2020
Lovely writing in this historical novel about the mysterious symptoms that plague young women at a progressive school that seem to coincide with a mysterious flock of red birds. The treatment is controversial and traumatic and speaks to the vulnerability and powerless of women against male authority in the medical establishment.

33516728._SY475_The Lady’s Handbook for Her Mysterious Illness
by Sarah Ramey, 2020

This book paired sadly well with the Illness Lesson as it’s a real life quest to find the cause and cure of Sarah Ramey’s ailments that doctors can’t define as a disease. She documents not only her own experience, but those of hundreds of women for whom these ‘female’ complaints are devastating, debilitating and presumed to be “all in your head.”

43557477The Jane Austen Society
By Natalie Jenner, 2020

This is incredibly good. Very character driven with a cast of people drawn to Austen and each other while they try to save her last home. They discuss, quote and debate her books which reflect their life experiences and why saving the cottage at Chawton is both personal as well as for the good of Austen lovers everywhere.

 

51951587._SX318_SY475_Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains
by Cassie Chambers, 2020

Chambers grew up in the poverty of Appalachia and was raised and encouraged by strong women, who survived on the barest minimum in a county that is one of the poorest in the country. She goes to college and becomes a lawyer and returns to offer free legal services to these women and documents the story of the rural women taken advantage of by a system they don’t understand.

44224476Information Hunters: When Librarians, Soldiers, and Spies Banded Together in World War II Europe
by Kathy Peiss, 2020

This is the story of the WWII information gathering program developed by US Intelligence that recruited librarians to go behind enemy lines to find and save German documents, books and texts to aid in the war zone as well as at home after the war. The book is based on the life of Peiss’s own uncle who she discovers was a librarian at Harvard when he was recruited by the US Office of Strategic Services during WWII.

157421Emma
by Jane Austen
In The Jane Austen Society, Emma is quoted and debated throughout the book. It is the only Austen I’ve yet to read, so it was an obvious next reading choice. I am about half way through and enjoying Emma’s busy body-ness immensely!

 

 

Happy August…May all be well in your neck of the woods, city, suburb, village or town.

 

mtlaurie
#GetOutside!

 

What Maisie Knew, Henry James (1897)

The mother had wished to prevent the father,…from ‘so much as looking at the child;’ the father’s plea was that the mother’s lightest touch was ‘simply contamination.’ These were the opposed principles in which Maisie was to be educated….Nothing could have been more touching at first than her failure to suspect the ordeal that awaited her little unspotted soul.

6117068In What Maisie Knew, Henry James captures the plight of a child caught between her parents in a bitter divorce. The settlement decides Maisie must be split from each parent for 6 months out of the year, but their hatred for each other keeps her from the other for longer periods of time. Beale and Ida Farange are selfish, neglectful and indifferent toward their daughter. Their meanness is not lost on the child, who with a touching candor sees she is in the way of her parents as they look for other partners and is well aware they don’t love her.

Her parents remarry, her father to Maisie’s governess, the beautiful Miss Overmore. Ida marries the kind, but weak Sir Claude. While at her mother’s she is given a new governess, the plain, gossipy, but devoted Mrs. Wix.

After her parents cheat on their spouses, Sir Claude and the new Mrs. Farange begin an affair. With her parents having abandoned her, Sir Claude decides he wants to be responsible for Maisie and to the best of his ability tries to parent her, along with Mrs. Farange. But with her parent’s relationship in mind, Maisie fears this new ‘family’ will not last either. She loves Sir Claude, but is afraid her stepmother will make their life unstable. With Mrs. Wix also vying for her charge, Sir Claude gives Maisie an ultimatum to choose between himself and Mrs. Farange and Mrs. Wix. She chooses security and stability, even though the package it comes in would probably not, unless the players were known, be obvious to others.

My Thoughts

As the book progresses, the passage of time is a little fuzzy; Maisie grows far too mature to be only a child of six or seven as she is when the book opens and by the end the reader is not at all sure of Maisie’s age. I believe this is deliberate to show that it is not her age that matters as much as the story in general, which is an “every girls’” story of divorce or at least one where the circumstances are this dire. James wants to show the selfishness and immorality of parents who put themselves first over the safety and welfare of their child.

James gives Maisie an awareness of her circumstances as seen through the immorality and narcissism of her parents. While her tale is harrowing, James manages to get into the head of this little girl and make her strong, bright and full of wonder regardless of the insecurity of her childhood. Many entirely inappropriate conversations are said in Maisie’s presence, but she hasn’t the age or life experience to fully understand their meaning. And while the reader knows the nightmare, Maisie sees only the present moment with her innocence intact.

_______________

Title: What Maisie Knew
Author: Henry James
Publisher: Oxford World’s Classics
Device: Paperback
Year: 1897
Pages: 275

Challenges: Classics Club

 

July Projections

Jazzagejuneposter

Thanks to all who participated in #JazzAgeJune, including those who commented on posts. And thank you to Fanda for her support and her wonderful design of the poster. I very much enjoyed the discussion on my blog of The Great Gatsby and the varied responses toward the book. I wonder how those in 2120 will respond to it and if it will hold up as the quintessential book of the Jazz Age? Fiction Fan is hosting a readalong of Tender is the Night for later in the year and I am thinking of joining.

June was a slow blogging month, but I was busy reading. Along with reading and reviewing The Great Gatsby, I finished The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, The Ancestor by Danielle Trussoni and started The Chain of Gold by Cassandra Clare. I am pleased that I am reading more contemporary novels, fantasy and nonfiction this month as my two trips to the library for curbside pickup reflect:

Novels

The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
The City we Became by N.K. Jemisin
The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley
The Illness Lesson by Clare Beams

Nonfiction

The Lady’s Handbook for her Mysterious Illness by Sarah Ramey
The Monk Within by Beverly Lanzetta
Hill Women by Cassie Chambers

And the big question: Will I finish the last of my Classics Club selections before September 13th?

Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Middlemarch by George Eliot
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

I am also doing a slow read through G. de Purucker’s, The Esoteric Tradition.

Reading Events

A foreign language challenge hosted by Lory at The Emerald City Book Review. Although I am still so new at Spanish studies I am going to try the Spanish translation of Abel’s Island–La Isla de Abel, by William Steig.

That’s a lot of reading! Wishing you all a safe summer full of books and bikes and whatever you likes….sorry….🤭

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The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)

They were careless people…they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made…. 

 

gatsbyIf I didn’t feel obligated to read this book for Jazz Age June, I probably would have stopped reading it at some point–not because it was boring, badly written or uninteresting. It’s because it made me feel empty, just like the characters the book portrays. I am a visceral reader and an emotionally affected reader. I just didn’t want to feel so void of the life force as I turned page after page. But The Great Gatsby is so well-regarded as an anthem to the Jazz Age, the quintessential look at the Roaring Twenties, that I felt it right to finish. And I suppose, in the end, I am glad I did.

The book is narrated by Nick Carraway, who moves into the house next door to Jay Gatsby in West Egg, Long Island, New York. Gatsby is a mystery, both as to his present life and his past. Almost everything anyone knows of him can be contradicted by what the next person thinks he knows. Is he an Oxford man or not? Did he fight in the war or was he really a German spy? “He’s a murderer, you know.” “No, he could never have killed anyone.” His car is huge, his house is huge, his Saturday night parties fill his home to the brim with people he doesn’t know and he feeds them only the best food. But his business dealings are shady and probably illegal and no one really knows how he makes so much money.

Nick has a cousin, Daisy who lives with her husband Tom across the bay in East Egg. Tom is having an affair with Myrtle Wilson, whose husband owns the gas station in West Egg. Gatsby and Daisy were in love with each other five years ago, before he went off to war and so she married Tom, but both have carried a flame for each other ever since. Some of the more touching moments of the novel have to do with Gatsby’s nervousness in seeing Daisy for the first time in all these years, but their affair ends with a tragedy that almost feels like karma.

It’s funny how reading has gone for me this year. Several times I have read books back to back with main characters with the same first name, similar themes or similar odd word usage. This book and recently The Glimpses of the Moon have much in common theme-wise (and first name-wise) when it comes to relationships. I am not a prude and am all for finding true love, but in both these books the idea that marriage vows have meaning is certainly put to the adultery-test. And the bit of comical hypocrisy when Tom, who is having an affair with Myrtle, becomes incensed when he suspects Daisy is seeing Gatsby, is not lost on me.

There isn’t much narrative to the novel, except for the narrator, Carroway. He’s come to New York after college to start his accounting career and finds himself involved in the myriad dramas of the people around him. He is the moral one, the “good man,” the voice of the adult while the adolescents break the rules to their peril. They act like they’ve been shut up for years and finally found the way out of the chains of the straight and narrow prison that held their thoughts and feelings in check. Without restraints everything they do is in excess and through a restless lens. I couldn’t help but feel this emptiness in their motivations and that their hearts were devoid of the spark of life.

This novel supposedly illustrates the effect of the new found prosperity and personal freedom of post-war America in its loosening of boundaries between people in all aspects of life; the notion of the self-made and re-made “man” that is grander than anything before it. But with this freedom Fitzgerald shows that people can act with incredible selfishness and indecency leaving human wreckage in their wake.

I found this a profoundly depressing book. Even though Nick is the shining light in an otherwise morally bankrupt universe, I am still left with a void. I find it hard to believe this book is the ‘quintessential social commentary’ of America in the 1920s. If that were really true how did we survive the decade!

__________________________

Title: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Publisher: Scribner Classic
Device: Paperback
Year: 1925
Pages: 182

#JazzAgeJune! Link Post

Jazzagejuneposter

Welcome to this very special June where we celebrate the Flappers, Art Deco, silent movies and ‘talkies,’ brilliant books and maybe a gangster or two during that crazy decade, the 1920s.

Participation is easy–this event is not strictly about books: films, plays, music, sports, pop culture and anything else you can think of that happened in the 1920s is game. Then post on your blog, Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #JazzAgeJune and we’ll retweet or like you. In the comment section below you can also share links to your social media posts.

Thanks for joining in and have fun!

Laurie and Fanda

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If you need some suggestions, try these:

Goodreads, books published in the 1920s

Stylist, 50 best books of the 1920s

Penguin, books that defined the 1920s

UC Berkeley, Nonfiction

Plays, written or performed in the 1920s (click top of page for succeeding years)

Pulitzer winners

The Newbery Medal for children’s books

The Glimpses of the Moon, Edith Wharton (1922)

He knew on how frail a thread the popularity of the penniless hangs, and how miserable a girl like Susy was the sport of other people’s moods and whims. It was a part of his difficulty and of hers that to get what they liked they so often had to do what they disliked.

 

glimpsesNick Lansing and Susy Branch of The Glimpses of the Moon are the answer key to Lawrence Selden and Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, whose motivations and actions often confused me. Where the problems exist in Edith Wharton’s, The House of Mirth, The Glimpses of the Moon is its “redo.”

Wharton, who was born in New York City to a wealthy and prominent family, writes realistically of upper class society in the early 20th century piercing its contradictions and exposing its hypocrisy. She is also masterful at portraying another part of this society: the dependents, the bright, pretty things of wit and intelligence hoping to break into the community of the wealthy and achieve some level of stability and status.

When Nick and Susy meet they recognize kindred spirits. Both are charming, beautiful and likeable; the kind the wealthy enjoy having around to enliven parties and animate conversations. They live off the good graces of their rich friends and all expenses are paid whether for a weekend in the country or a 3-month tour of Europe. They first see each other at their mutual friends, the Fulmer’s, where Susy is staying. Nick has come to visit and after several days of conversation they realize they are in the same position in society, but might do much better as a couple. “I don’t know how you feel; a man’s popularity is so much less precarious than a girl’s–but I know it would furbish me up tremendously to reappear as a married woman.” They both know the ropes, can spot opportunities and will be a novelty as a married couple. “We’re both rather unusually popular–why not be frank?–and it’s such a blessing for dinner-givers to be able to count on a couple of whom neither one is a blank.” So they make a bargain that they will marry with the understanding that if either finds a better situation the other will release them.

And it works. Due to Susy’s calculations she has figured out they could honeymoon for a year all over Europe on the invitations of friends for whom lending their homes to the newlyweds is a happy prospect. And so their life together begins with their first stay in a villa in Italy owned by a close friend of Susy’s, Charlie Strefford. They entertain the wealthy of their set who pop by in their boats or buggies to spend afternoons at home or evenings out.

Next, they move on to the home of Nelson and Ellie Vanderlyn where on the first night Susy finds an unexpected complication to their stay. Not expecting either to be home, she assumed their daughter would be with them. But in a letter left by Ellie to Susy she apologizes for leaving their 8 year-old daughter Clarissa and hopes Susy will be a good friend and care for her. Then Ellie asks for another favor. There are several letters to her husband she would like to have mailed, one each week. The post-mark is from the house, which Susy realizes means Ellie and Nelson are not together and Nelson thinks Ellie is home…Susy is sick with worry, disgust and fear all night going back and forth as to what to do. Should she participate in this deception against Nelson, should she aid in Ellie’s adultery, should she tell Nick even though Ellie begs her not to?

In the morning, she is resigned to play the game: in order for her and Nick to live this luxurious life as guests of other people they will always have to do something distasteful in return and this won’t be the last time. She and Nick, as a matter of course, will always have to do the dirty work of others.

However, this is a revelation to Nick who is stunned when by accident he finds out about Susy’s part in Ellie Vanderlyn’s affair.

Well–doesn’t our being together depend on what we can get out of people? And hasn’t there always got to be some give-and-take?…You’ve lived among these people as long as I have; I suppose it’s not the first time–”

By God, but it is….I have never in my life done people’s dirty work for them–least of all for favours in return. I suppose you guessed it, or you wouldn’t have hidden this beastly business from me.”

And Nick’s final blow against Susy:

“You knew I wouldn’t have stayed here another day if I’d known.”

“Yes: and then where in the world should we have gone?”

“You mean that–in one way or another–what you call give-and-take is the price of our remaining together?

As if Nick had forgotten their bargain and the compromises and concessions they’d have to make, he tells her they must part.

The two separate and continue to live at their various friends’ homes continuing to miss each other yet too proud to confess. It is many months since they have seen each other and Nick has taken a position as a secretary to their mutual friends, the Hicks’ aboard their yacht and cruises the Mediterranean. It is assumed he will marry their daughter, Coral.  Susy finds herself receiving attention from her old friend Strefford whose wealthy relatives have died leaving him a wealthier man than when she stayed at his villa. It is assumed she will marry him.

The manner in which the newly married, now separated Lansings are treated among their friends is almost matter of fact. At this period, divorce is not the stain on a woman’s reputation as it was only a decade or so earlier. Both are free to marry when the divorce is final. Some of the characters, though, are very puzzled by the decision to divorce, and in a not so very subtle way tell Susy she can stay married and find love elsewhere.

Because everyone is doing it….having affairs, that is. For their upper class friends cheating on your spouse is practically an obligation or at least usual. Nelson Vanderlyn eventually finds out about Ellie and though devastated, it is short-lasting. At one point, Susy hears that Nelson, Ellie and her new man are all dining “cheerfully together.” In this world of wealth, position and family ties marriage is to secure riches and status, not because of love. And to be married for many decades to someone you may not particularly like is a tedious prospect. So spouses cheat, and if discovered let it go, because they are doing it themselves.

When Nick and Susy reunite, it is not to live as their friends do. The parting has forced them to give up their pride and say they love each other. They will not cheat as their friends do to keep the family fortune, as they know they will have no fortune. The difference between Nick and Susy and their friends is that they married for love. If only Lawrence and Lily could have said it….

__________________________

Title: The Glimpses of the Moon
Author: Edith Wharton
Publisher: Scribner Paperback Fiction
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 1922
Pages: 297

Challenges: CCSpin #23, Classics Club

#JazzAgeJune A Reading Event!

Jazzagejuneposter

 

“The restlessness approached hysteria. The parties were bigger. The shows were bigger. The pace was faster,…the buildings higher, the morals looser.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am teaming up with Fanda of Fanda Classiclit (and creator of the wonderful poster above) for Jazz Age June, a reading event from June 1-30, that explores the 1920s through literature and other arts.

While 2020 has certainly taken a turn no one could have expected, the 1920s began eerily similar as it recovered from its own pandemic. But as the decade progressed it boasted some of the best in worldwide literature, poetry, dance, theater, women’s fashion and new technologies that revolutionized home and community.

This is an easy event to participate in…just read! Or watch a film, read a play, listen to music or watch a dance performance, then write about it on the social media of your choice. Anything published, produced on stage, opened in a gallery or museum or film released from 1920-1929 qualifies.

With the hashtag #JazzAgeJune we will retweet you or repost from your blog, Instagram or other social media, just tag me. And on June 1st I will put up a blog post where you can link your post or other social media in the comment section.

I am starting out the month with my Classic Club Spin, Edith Wharton’s, The Glimpses of the Moon (1922) and later in the month I’ll post my impressions of The Great Gatsby.

If you need help getting started, some of these lists might help.

Goodreads, books published in the 1920s

Stylist, 50 best books of the 1920s

Penguin, books that defined the 1920s

UC Berkeley, Nonfiction

Plays, written or performed in the 1920s (click top of page for succeeding years)

Pulitzer winners

The Newbery Medal for children’s books

Hope to see you in June!

 

 

“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.” — George Gershwin

“You are all a lost generation,” Gertrude Stein quoted in Ernest Hemingway’s, The Sun Also Rises

“I don’t want no drummer. I set the tempo.” — Bessie Smith

A Room With A View, E.M. Forster (1908)

For Italy was offering her the most priceless of all possessions–her own soul.

 

roomviewI enjoyed this story very much, but had a bit of an issue with Forster’s writing style. He starts paragraphs with allusions to culture or history; off-hand phrases that seem to come out of nowhere and are hard to see how they follow. However confused this made me, oddly, it fit into the story of Lucy Honeychurch and the eccentric characters who made up the tale.

Lucy and her cousin Charlotte Bartlett have just arrived at a pension in Florence, Italy and are very unhappy, because they were promised a room with a view of the Arno River. Instead, their rooms open up onto a courtyard. So disappointed and agitated are they, their unhappiness with what was promised spills into dinner-time conversation, where the guests-all English, like themselves-give them their unasked for opinions, including the father and son Emersons, who insist they take their rooms, which do, indeed, look upon the Arno. From here begins the twists and turns of adventures, attractions and attachments that will change Lucy’s provincial outlook on life irreparably.florence2

But, in Italy, where any one who chooses may warm himself in equality, as in the sun, this conception of life vanished. Her senses expanded; she felt that there was no one whom she might not get to like, that social barriers were irremovable, doubtless, but not particularly high. You jump over them just as you jump into a peasant’s olive-yard in the Apennines, and he is glad to see you. She returned with new eyes.

florence3Forster has collected a wonderful group of English adventurers who expand Lucy’s notion of herself. As a young, beautiful, eligible young woman everyone wants to protect her, but Lucy is impulsive and wants to go out and see the sights. Besides, she has the indispensable Baedeker to guide her, so how can she go wrong? And though she witnesses a murder, gets lost (when she loses the Baedeker!), receives a stolen kiss from George Emerson, rather than folding into the protection of others, she returns from Italy emboldened and confident.

She is being courted by Cyril Vyse, who is considered a perfect match. But he is snobby and narrow-minded and does not treat the people Lucy has come to love very kindly and at the end, she cannot dismiss his arrogance.

When we were only acquaintances, you let me be myself, but now you’re always protecting me. I won’t be protected. I will choose for myself what is ladylike and right. To shield me is an insult. Can’t I be trusted to face the truth but I must get it second-hand through you?…I won’t be stifled, not by the most glorious music, for people are more glorious, and you hide them from me.

She is also unable to let go of the passion she felt when George kissed her in Italy, even though by society standards he is unsuitable. But she loves him and is attracted to the freedom in which he lives life.

Forster understands the society in which these characters live and especially the social conventions that designate a person’s class and what is expected in the way one lives or moves between them. He is witty and satirical and surprises the reader with the development of certain characters, not only Lucy, but with her cousin, Charlotte. Charlotte is set up as a roadblock to Lucy’s happiness, but in the end George has an amazing revelation about the true meaning of her actions, which Lucy comes to realize is true. And is Mr. Emerson really as uncouth and eccentric as people think or is his crazy thinking just misunderstood wisdom? And then there is George—tortured soul or a man with deep awareness of life that has, until Lucy, found no home?

In a book like this, where two people who love each other, but find all sorts of ways not to admit it, the ending is rather obvious. And I was not disappointed….

Some Personal Details
baedeker
A 1903 Baedeker, the most essential item for the traveler.

For years early in my working life I was a bookstore clerk. I had many a conversation around travel guides. Fodor’s, Frommer’s or Baedeker? The Baedeker, a German company, had the best photos, but Fodor’s or Frommer’s was almost always chosen. I suspected it was because Baedeker is harder to pronounce. At any rate, I loved this reference in A Room with a View and how much the characters relied on it. Memories!

The word empyrean came up as a very important description for Lucy when she plays the piano. I mention this here because I had just read JM Barrie’s play, Mary Rose, which is where I heard the word for the first time. What are the odds you’d come across the same new word two books in a row?!! Empyrean: Heaven, specifically the highest part of heaven.

It so happened that Lucy, who found daily life rather chaotic, entered a more solid world when she opened the piano. She was then no longer either deferential or patronizing; no longer either a rebel or a slave. The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected. The commonplace person begins to play, and shoots into the empyrean without effort….

Though the prose at times was a little difficult for me, this was still a very satisfying reading experience. I think the biggest takeaway might be a warning based on the beginning quote at the top of this post: What happens in Italy, stays in Italy!
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Title: A Room with a View
Author: EM Forster
Publisher: Dover Thrift Edition
Device: Paperback
Year: 1908
Pages: 172

Challenges: Classics Club, Back to the Classics