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Archive for October, 2011

Written in 1913 (and published in 1914), Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton is the original Jane Austen sequel, though not a particularly memorable one (but, really, are any of them? Though I know we all have high hopes for P.D. James’s Death Comes to Pemberley). From Bath to London to, of course, Pemberley, Brinton focuses on the love lives of Colonel Fitzwilliam, Kitty Bennet, and Georgiana Darcy, matching them all up with familiar minor characters from other novels (and, not content with just these six, also busies herself pairing off extraneous others in the background).

As happy as I usually am to encounter Austen characters in sequels, Brinton over populates her novel, including people from all six novels. While it is satisfying as a fan to encounter all of these well-remembered characters again, it is also distracting, making it difficult for the reader to ever grow fond of one hero or heroine. And while some of Brinton’s pairing are delightfully intriguing (a marriage between Tom Bertram and Isabella Thorpe is an enchanting idea, sadly played off out of the reader’s sight), and others blandly inoffensive (James Morland and a subdued, much improved Kitty Bennet), the central romance between William Price and Georgiana Darcy is absurd. He has goodness and good looks, yes, but really nothing else to offer, certainly no position or fortune. Frankly, I cannot imagine a world where either Darcy or Jane Austen would condone such a match.

Generally, the characterization was surprisingly loyal, particularly for the Bingleys. Brinton’s Elizabeth Darcy has none of the wit of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet but I’ve come to expect that from most sequels. Our former heroes are almost entirely ignored or granted a few unmemorable remarks to prove they are still alive, except for Mr. Knightley who is apparently still energetically chiding Emma over her attempts at matchmaking. But there were some truly upsetting liberties taken with the character of Mary Crawford, robbing her of her energy and spark, leaving her as a virtuous but sad young woman, forced to put up with the advances of Sir Walter Elliot even though she has fallen in love with the (here) stupidly useless Colonel Fitzwilliam. I loved Mary as she was and this destruction of her spirits is unforgivable.

I was also frustrated by the scarcity of scenes with Kitty in them. We gets lots and lots of Georgiana (so much, people, so much) but Kitty, who appears charming and enthusiastic and generally quite winsome, is shafted into a corner with her naïve hopes and misguided dreams while Georgiana has a very trying romance awakening. If you’re going to steal Austen’s characters, why would you make them so dull and uninteresting and then centre the book around them? Why?

Despite my complaints, the book itself is actually not that bad (high praise indeed). Brinton obviously was trying to keep her writing style vaguely in line with Austen’s but no one before or since has ever written in quite the same eccentric style as Austen. Still, Brinton’s style of writing works, though she can be overlong. For the most part, the characters are as we know and love them and, even when they are not, most of the pleasure in these sequels comes from encountering familiar faces, regardless of how they may now behave. Certainly, if you’re looking for a sequel that offers a stunning volume of Austen characters, this is the one for you. Emma is the most under-represented book, with only the Knightleys appearing, but the other five all lend multiple characters. It’s fun, it’s silly but not too silly, and, if you’re the kind of person who reads Austen sequels, it’s a definite must-read if only because it is so thoroughly devoted to matching off every unmarried character Austen left behind.

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Europe Trip: Amsterdam

I love Amsterdam.  It is one of those city that, when I visit, I immediately feel comfortable in, which made it the perfect place to end our vacation.  When we arrived, we’d been on the road for more than two weeks, I was pathetically sick with my cold, and we were just generally exhausted.  Amsterdam was planned as our ‘free’ time, the place we tagged on to the trip because we had to go through Schiphol to get home anyway, so why not take a day or two there?  We had no agenda, no ‘must see’ places, and absolutely no commitments.  So, for the short time we were there, we wandered around, enjoyed the beautiful, crisp autumn weather, and took many, many photos.  We lounged in Vondelpark, cruised along the canals, browsed the flower market, peered through windows on residential streets at bookcase-lined sitting rooms, admired stylish bicyclists while contemplating what horrors would befall us if we tried to cycle those crowded lanes…it was bliss.

And that brings us to the end of the trip!  Obviously, I had an amazing time and I’ve loved sharing these photos with you all.  Thanks so much for all your comments, I’ve loved reading them.  But most importantly, thanks to my amazing travel companion/translator/partner-in-crime, my mom.  We live in the same house but, with both of us working, we don’t always get to spend the time together we’d like to.  Travelling, just the two of us, has become our tradition and it’s been an amazing way to get to know one another as individuals and adults, to become closer as friends as well as mother and daughter.  And as with any good tradition, I hope it’s one we’ll repeat for years to come.  We’ve already started planning for 2012!

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Library Lust

Malmo, Sweden

As much as I really do not miss living in a snowy climate, there are few feelings more perfect than being tucked up warm inside a library, surrounded by books, while the snow piles up outside.

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The Penelopiad, Margaret Atwood’s female-centred retelling of the Odysseus myth, began its run at a local theatre this week and tonight my mother and I went to see it.  I was enthralled while my mother was a bit uncertain about the whole thing.  I read The Penelopiad as a book when it first came out and admired its echoing of classical Greek drama structures with Penelope’s monologues and her wronged handmaidens’ as the chorus.  This made it the perfect book to adapt for the stage but, at the same time, it was those classical conventions that my mother found too experimental.  She missed the dialogue and interaction between characters, considered the staging excessively minimal, and just thought everything was rather odd (which, to be fair, it kind of is and I was much better prepared for that than she).  But I loved, loved, loved it.  I loved Penelope’s wry sense of humour, the actress’ excellent delivery, the haunting repetitions by the handmaidens, and, most of all, the incorporation of beautiful songs into a number of the scenes.  Penelope singing to her son or with her handmaidens, sailors telling of Odysseus’s adventures…all the songs were excellent and cleverly incorporated into the show.  I had no idea there was going to be any music at all so it was a delightful surprise. 

And what made it all even better was overhearing people say, as we were leaving the theatre, ‘I can’t wait to get home and start rereading The Odyssey.’

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Europe Trip: London

My visit to London was amazing but also, looking back, exhausting.  When we arrived, I was already starting to get sick and, after two weeks of incessant travelling, also a bit tired of being constantly on the go.  But it was my first visit to London in three years and there was so much I wanted to fit in to my few days there that I decided to just ignore my tiredness, drug myself to deal with my cold, and soldier on, knowing that in a few days I’d be on a plane home and could be as sick and tired then as I liked.  Generally not the smartest strategy but one that worked nonetheless.

We arrived into London on a sunny afternoon and, for once, I was on a plane that didn’t end up doing endless loops in a holding pattern over the city and which actually arrived at Heathrow on time.  I can still hardly believe that happened.  After finding our way to Pimlico and checking into our hotel, my mother and I hit the streets.  After the grey, cement-bound streets of Vienna it was such a pleasure to walk along tree-lined roads and through shaded parks.  We walked past Buckingham Palace, through Green Park, and then wandered through the residential streets of Knightsbridge and South Kensington.  After a few hours, we wound our way back towards our hotel, searching for somewhere that would feed us and provide my mother with copious, well-earned amounts of white wine.  Our delight when we walked into the dining room at The Queen’s Arms was immense.  Cozy and comfortable, it was the perfect place to relax after a long day of travelling.  We walked the few blocks back to our hotel arm-in-arm, the very picture of contentment.  Except when my mother had to figure out which way to look when crossing the street.  She gets stressed about that at the best of times in the UK, never mind after a long day and three glasses of wine. 

 

Our second day in London was the only one I’d actually planned.  And by ‘planned’, I mean that weeks before I wrote out an agenda that set out our movements from seven in the morning until six at night, accounting for every minute in between.  But, to justify my insanity, it did all go perfectly.  Neither my mother nor I had ever visitedSt. Paul’s on any of our previous trips, so we decided to start the day there, walking over to the City from our hotel.  We, of course, walked along the Embankment most of the way and I got to have a nostalgic moment at Cleopatra’s Needle, which was the meeting point when I used to come up to London on school trips from East Sussex.  Ah, such happy memories of a hundred exchange students waiting in the rain for our coach buses to arrive. 

St. Paul’s was absolutely amazing.  We spent several hours there and were thrilled the entire time (except when we went up to the whispering gallery.  Then I was just terrified).  Having done A LOT of gallery, museum, church and abbey touring recently, I was also incredibly impressed by the quality of audio guide St. Paul’s offers.  It incorporates videos and pictures as well as the normal audio tracks and was remarkably thorough – very important for history buffs like me!  And, after using the public washrooms in the crypt many times on previous trips, it was rather exciting to finally see the rest of that floor. 

From St. Paul’s, we took the underground to Charing Cross and made our way to St. Martin in the Fields.  We had lunch in the café in the crypt (surprisingly excellent) before heading up to the church for a beautiful lunchtime concert.  Afterward, refreshed, we walked across the street to the National Gallery and plunged into those amazing rooms.  We concentrated on the post-1750s works, particularly the Impressionists.  My mother is mad for Monet and I am just as enchanted by Renoir’s At the Theatre (La Première Sortie) as I was when I saw it for the first time when I was twelve.  After several hours of art appreciation, we reached the end of the plan for the day, walked back to the hotel through St James park (where photos were taken, including an amusing one of birds terrifying a woman on a bench), and promptly collapsed.

 

The following morning, after heavily drugging myself with cold medication, we set off for Bloomsbury and the British Museum.  Mummies, the Rosetta Stone, the Lindow bog Man, even a few Haidi totem poles to remind us of home…there was so much, all of it so amazing.  It is a place I definitely plan to revisit on future trips.  And then, after downing some orange juice in the vain hope that vitamin C would suppress my cold for a few hours, I went to the London Review Bookshop to meet Simon!  We spent a lovely afternoon trolling through bookstores and I learned what inadequate book buying skills I have, though I did pick up four that day.  We were both fighting colds so I can only imagine what damage we could have done had we been at full strength!  And then we met up with my fellow Canadian Darlene for dinner inBloomsbury.  Having only ever met one other blogger in person before, it was surreal to get to meet two of my favourites on the same day, together!  It was a wonderful day and definitely one of the highlights of myLondon trip.  And my mother was very happy when I came back to the hotel, thrilled to be proved incorrect in her suspicions that my online friends were in fact white slavers. 

And, gratuitous library shot, look where my mom went while I was off buying books.  It’s a corner of the member’s library at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair.  Isn’t it lovely and cozy?

 

On our last day in London, we shopped.  We walked from our hotel up to Oxford Street and played around in Marks and Spencer for several hours, buying lovely coats but also trying on impractical hats for no reason other than to laugh at ourselves.  Further walking lead us to Bloomsbury and bookstores.  The patience of my non-bookish mother throughout this exercise was amazing.  Persephone Books was actually closed when we first went past with something go on inside so, taking that as a sign, we headed for Bea’s of Bloomsbury.  The sweet tea was delicious and very generous (and pretty).  Definitely sufficient fuel for my very satisfying browsing at Persephone!  (If you missed it the first time, you can find out what I picked up here.)

And then the next morning we left for Amsterdam.  Whew.  It was a busy couple of days and only reminded me of all the amazing things London has to offer that I didn’t get to see.  Just think of all the bookstores that went unvisited!  Time to go back, obviously.

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I bought Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple back in May 2010, infected by other bloggers’ enthusiasm for Whipple.  Since then, I’ve added The Priory and They Were Sisters to my Persephone collection but I’d never actually read a word Whipple had written.  Until now.

I stared Someone at a Distance last night and am now halfway through and loving it.  I was so terrified that I was going to be disappointed, as is always the case when I start reading a much-praised author, but that is absolutely not the case and I needed to share my relief and excitement with those who would understand it best.  And the best thing is knowing that, once I’ve finished this, I still have two more Whipple novels already waiting on my shelves.

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Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Marg and myself that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries!

Marg has the Mr Linky this week!

Why Shoot a Butler? by Georgette Heyer – Despite being a huge fan of Heyer’s Regency novels, I’ve never read any of her mysteries.  In fact, I generally don’t read mysteries at all but for Heyer I will, obviously, make an exception. 

Gertrude Jekyll and the Country House Garden by Judith B. Tankard – I’ve had this on hold for months – since it first showed up in the library catalogue ahead of publication – and I’m so excited to finally have it and to be able to flip through it at will.

The Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeymi – I’ve heard great things about Oyeymi and though I’m honestly more interested in reading her most recent book, this was the one that was available.

And then we have the cook books, since I do love to spend a cool autumn night curled up in front of the fire reading recipes:

Essentials of Baking (Williams-Sonoma)

Real Food by Nigel Slater

The Vicar’s Wife’s Cook Book by Elisa Beynon

What did you pick up this week?

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