Archive for April, 2015

Trollope Bicentenary

The Eustace DiamondsToday marks 200 years since Anthony Trollope was born.  Trollope has been a relatively recent discovery for me (I only started reading him back in 2011) but he has quickly become one of my very favourite authors – so much so that I am currently reading two fabulous Trollope-related books: his wonderful novel The Eustace Diamonds and Victoria Glendinning’s excellent biography of him.

Here’s a quick recap of some of my encounters with Trollope so far:

The American Senator

Ayala’s Angel

The Warden

Barchester Towers

Doctor Thorne

Framley Parsonage

The Small House at Allington *my favourite (so far)

I’ve enjoyed all of these (plus The Three Clerks, which I read but never managed to review) and look forward to reading and rereading many more of Trollope’s books in years to come!

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

An Infinity of GracesJust the one book for me this week, a biography of the architect and garden designer Cecil Pinsent: An Infinity of Graces by Ethne Clarke.  This has been on my to-be-read list for ages but, after reading Caroline Moorehead’s biography of Iris Origo recently and hearing much of Pinsent through that, I am even more interested to learn more about him and the Italian gardens he helped create.

What did you pick up this week?

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A Life in Pictures

UntitledLuddite that I am, it always takes me a while to try “new” (we are definitely stretching the meaning of that word here) things – particularly when it comes to social media.  But try them I will: I’ve now joined Instagram.  You can find me there as thecaptivereader.

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Library Lust

Source: Lonny

Source: Lonny

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Library Lust

Library at La Foce

Library at La Foce

After a week of reading about Iris Origo (and blogging about her not once but twice), I (not surprisingly) turned to Google to look at La Foce, the estate Iris and her husband purchased in the 1920s.  And you know what I discovered?  A stunning library in a beautifully maintained home.  Not only that: you can stay there.  This is definitely going onto my dream vacation list.

La Foce Library 2

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Iris and Virginia

Iris Origo at La Foce in the 1930s (via www.lafoce.com)

Iris Origo at La Foce in the 1930s (via http://www.lafoce.com)

One of the great delights of reading Iris Origo by Caroline Moorehead this week has been discovering how well connected Origo was. Born to an American father and an Anglo-Irish mother, Origo grew up outside Florence in the vibrant Anglo-Florentine community. In her early twenties, she married Antonio Origo and together they bought La Foce, the estate in Southern Tuscany that remains famous for both its garden (designed by Cecil Pinsent, who had known Iris since childhood) and for the work Iris and Antonio did there during the war, recorded in Iris’s famous war diaries (War in Val D’Orcia).  But, particularly before the war, Iris travelled widely and in the 1930s she stumbled across the Bloomsbury set.  Iris was used to the company of intellectuals and writers from childhood (Edith Wharton, among others, was a family friend and Iris’ stepfather had an affair with Vita Sackville-West) but as a young married woman she had been isolated from the rich intellectual world she grew up in.  Bloomsbury was a welcome change from the more prosaic concerns of her life in Tuscany:

In Florence, she [Iris] had pined for the company of intelligent women friends; in London there was everything that attracted and amused her, particularly people who talked her language and read the same books. Iris called at the Hogarth Press offices to see if Leonard Woolf had accepted Allegra [Iris’ book about Byron’s daughter], as she was leaving, she heard Virginia’s voice from upstairs, shouting to Leonard to bring Iris up to see her. Iris found this first encounter extremely disconcerting. ‘What does it feel like,’ Virginia immediately asked, ‘to wake up in the morning in a Tuscan farmhouse?’ Iris was too confused to answer, not knowing that this was the sort of question Virginia put to everyone. (She was reputed to have asked a seller of apples: ‘What do you feel, in the dark, in fog, selling apples?’) All Iris was able to say was: ‘Come and see’. At the time, as Iris wrote many years later, ‘Virginia was writing an essay on Highbrows and Lowbrows, saying “Look what a mess the Highbrows make of their lives; when I sit in a bus I always sit next to the conductor. I try to find out what it is like to be a prostitute, a working class woman with seven children…All the things, in short, that I am not able to do for myself.”’ Iris came away impressed by what she considered to be Virginia Woolf’s ‘intense desire to enter into the minds of others, but often as if looking down a microscope, through glass.’

Virginia called Iris ‘a gifted, sincere and I think rather charming young woman’ and through her Iris met T.S. Eliot, Elizabeth Bowen, and, most significantly, her future lover Leo Myers.

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief 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.

Having already read or at least dipped into my books for this week, it is easily to slip them into two groups: the Good and the Bad.

Library Loot 1
The Good:

The War That Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan – MacMillan’s excellent history of the lead up to the First World War

Happy City by Charles Montgomery – a look at the ways urban design impacts the quality of life for people who live in cities

Sushi For Beginners by Marian Keyes – an old favourite

Library Loot 2
The Bad:

The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy by Julia Quinn – utterly forgettable.  Quinn has always been a bit hit or miss for me but most of her recent books have been misses.

A Vintage Wedding by Katie Fforde – awful.  One of Fforde’s laziest efforts by far, with atrociously dull dialogue, an uninteresting plot, and so many jarringly unrealistic moments that I spent half the book caught up puzzling over them: 20-somethings who find it difficult to text in moving cars?  An architect in his late twenties who has not only bought and is renovating a Georgian house in the Cotswolds but apparently never has to work anywhere but at home?  Shock and applause from her friends every time it seems like a woman might be about to form an opinion on an entirely insignificant issue or topic? (frequently accompanied by the phrase “you have obviously thought a lot about this” even before the person explains their thoughts – after they are expressed you can only worry that it took her this long to come up with something so obvious).  I will say one good thing: if it really is as easy to start a small business in Britain as Fforde makes it sound (the central characters start a sloppily-run and doomed to be unprofitable wedding business and one of them goes a step further, starting her own B&B), then the government is clearly doing a magnificent job.

What did you pick up this week?

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Shiny New Books

SNB-logo-small-e1393871908245A new issue of Shiny New Books was released today, with a bumper crop of fantastic reviews.  Shiny New Books is celebrating its first anniversary and with every issue they’ve brought us dozens of intriguing articles.  It is always a pleasure to read through a new issue and I’m particularly thankful that I’m on vacation this week so I can do full justice to the two-dozen or so articles that I’ve tagged to read!

Here are a few of the pieces from this issue that have caught my eye already:

Books for Spring

Reading in Translation

The Reluctant Hostess by Ethelind Fearon

Basil Street Blues by Michael Holroyd (recently reissued by Slightly Foxed)

Lives of Girls and Women by Alice Munro

A Curious Friendship by Anna Thomasson

Portrait Inside My Head by Phillip Lopate

Five Came Back; A Story of Hollywood and the Second World War by Mark Harris

Billie by Anna Gavalda

I could go on and on but instead I will get back to reading!

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Tuscan Living

Fiesole.  Villa Medici by Joseph Pennell

Fiesole. Villa Medici by Joseph Pennell

I am on vacation this week and while I am basking in warm desert sun, surrounded by mountains and palm trees, my mind is on the hills around Florence and the fascinating Anglo-Florentine community who made their homes there in the early part of the 20th Century.  I am reading Caroline Moorehead’s excellent biography of Iris Origio, who, following her father’s early death, grew up with her mother in the Villa Medici in Fiesole.  They were part of a vibrant intellectual ex-pat community, which was also riddled with gossip, adultery and vicious feuds (all of which makes for excellent reading).  It is easy to understand why they were drawn to Italy: they had freedom unheard of in Britain and America, a stunning climate, extravagant accommodations, and it all came wonderfully cheap.

Living was cheap, as were servants, who could soon be taught to produce a mixture of Italian and English food, with all the advantages of vegetables that were not overcooked, and who were strangers to the English plague of “Sunday evenings out”.  Houses, villas, palazzi and even flats could all be rented cheaply, although they seemed disconcertingly under-furnished to people more accustomed to velvet curtains and fringed sofas.  Some took long leases for low rents, in exchange for repairing properties which were often primitive and long neglected by their owners.  And since it was possible to find small apartments, Florence in 1911 continued to attract single women, who swapped suburban lodgings in English seaside towns for top-floor flats with marvellous views over the city.

Florence or Bexhill?  Fiesole or Eastbourne?  Not a difficult choice, I suspect.

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