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The Tatty Cover

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Category

Fiction

The Tangled Web of Bloomsbury

vanessa

One thought comes to mind with Priya Parmar’s “Vanessa and Her Sister,” and that is Sir Walter Scott’s all too fitting quote “Oh, what a tangled web we weave.” Parmar’s novel is an unflinching look at sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, their involvement and entanglements within the Bloomsbury Group and the shattering consequences that ensued. For anyone interested in Woolf, or the group as a whole, Parmar’s is an absorbing read.

I became interested in the Bloomsbury Set due to my fixation with George Mallory, who danced around the edges of their lives while at Cambridge. But, the more I learned about the key members of the group, the more appealing they became in and of themselves.

They were a collection of young artists, writers and philosophers who met weekly beginning in 1906 to discuss modern ideas on politics, society, art and philosophy. The Stephen siblings (Thoby, Vanessa, Virginia and Adrian) were at the group’s core, and the Stephen home in Bloomsbury quickly became the group’s nucleus. Notable original members included E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes—Virginia and Vanessa held court as the only two women.

by Unknown photographer, vintage snapshot print, July 1915
Strachey, Grant and Bell

Parmar’s book follows the set mostly through Vanessa’s eyes. It is her journal and letters that chronicle the group’s entanglements as they unfold. “Entanglements,” here, being the operative word. The Bloomsbury Group makes Peyton Place look like child’s play. The only difference being there were no sordid secrets among the Bloomsbury members. The group valued pleasure from their personal relationships first and foremost, and they took a sophisticated view of monogamy. But they also held truthful self-exploration and honesty with one another as guiding principles.

Though Virginia Woolf once said that they had worked out a view of life that kept them grounded as friends, one has to think that some of the exit wounds didn’t fully heal. Parmar’s book examines the consequences of their spurred and spurned love affairs and the hard-hitting brutality of their honesty. The book also gives us a look into Virginia Woolf’s mental illness and its toll on those who loved and cared for her.

While Parmar’s book paints Woolf in a less than favorable light (she comes across as extremely self-centered and greedy), it remains a good read and a fascinating look into the inner workings of this infamous group. Defying convention, they became accomplished and influencial individuals in their own right, with the support of one another, and they did it on their own terms.

No One Says It Like Hardy

Mary-Cassatt-at-the-Louvre-study-Edgar-Degas-Painting-Reproduction

It’s no secret that I love Thomas Hardy. My favorite poem remains his Neutral Tones, which I memorized in high school and have never forgotten. But, Hardy’s verse doesn’t end in his poems. Readers of his other works would be hard pressed not to find beautiful, lyrical passages there as well. For example, this, taken from Tess of the d’Urbervilles, on a woman’s past being brought to light:

“The figure near at hand suffers on such occasion, because it shows up its sorriness without shade; while vague figures afar off are honoured, in that their distance makes artistic virtues of their stains.”

So simple, yet so elegant. Hardy was always on point in observing everyday life. Perhaps that, coupled with his beautiful use of language, is why his work has endured for so long.

Back in the Saddle

I am getting back into the swing of things. After more than a year’s hiatus from my beloved Tatty Cover, I am back. I didn’t stop reading during that time. In fact far from it. I finished all of Shakespeare’s work, which I set out to do at the beginning of last year; finished the WV Reads 150 (again), in honor of the state’s birthday; and am now taking park in a new book club being offered by the Kanawha County Library called the 12×12. The goal is to chose a book based on a prescribed topic every month. My personal goal to to read what I already own–books that have been sitting on my shelves for years–and in doing so kill two birds with one stone. Here’s a look so far at my selections:

January (A book by an author that’s new to you); Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

February (A book someone else loves); White Dog Fell From the Sky, E. Morse

March (A book with a title or name that shares your first or last name); The Gravity of Birds, Tracy Guzeman

April (A book with a one-word title); #GIRLBOSS, S. Amoruso —-LOVED THIS!

May (A book set in a different country); In a Strange Room, D. Galmut

June (A book about an artist or musician); A Rockwell Portrait, D. Walton

July (A book about a hero); Our Daily Bread about Norman Borlaug, N. Vietmayer

August (A book that’s the first in a series new to you); Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock, C. Keene

Here’s the rest if you would like to join along:

September (A book on a subject you know very little)

October (A book with a title or author’s name that begins with O)

November (A book about an animal)

December (A book set at least 25 years in the past)

All Things Irish

irish_literature

“I dreamt I reach’d the Irish shore and felt my heart rebound. From wall to wall within my breast, as I trod that holy ground.”

-Thomas D’Arcy McGee

It’ s no secret that I love Ireland. For as long as I remember, I’ve heavily identified with the land, the people and the culture.  And while I visit as often as I can, it’s not the same as living there (as I one day plan to do–just waiting for the hubby to agree). In the meantime, I do what every other Irish-wannabe American does…read Irish lit and poetry.  Ireland has a rich and robust literary heritage.  Just think, without Irish writers we’d never have Dorian Gray, Leopold Bloom or even Dracula.

Hands down, William Trevor is my favorite Irish writer. His books and short stories are heartbreakingly beautiful.  Other contemporary writers I like include Colum McCann, Sebastian Barry, Frank Delaney and Colm Toibin.

In honor of Paddy’s Day, I encourage you to try an Irish author or poet you’ve not read before. I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

February Shakespeare Wrap-Up

Shakespeare-Plays

“A star danced, and under that I was born.”

One of my favorite of Shakespeare’s lines is Beatrice’s “…a start danced, and under that I was born.” And so began the second month in my Year of the Bard challenge, with ‘Much Ado About Nothing.’ Appropriately for Valentine’s month I chose plays about love: Much Ado and Romeo and Juliet. But, to not entirely wear out Cupid’s bow, I also added Henry XIII to my reading list. Here’s my impressions:

Much Ado About Nothing – Did women not have spines during Shakespeare’s time? I’m not taking about the average, poorer woman–most of whom were dependent on marriage to have a roof over their head and food in their stomach. I mean the more well-off women that Shakespeare wrote about. Case in point: Hero, the governor’s daughter in “Much Ado.” She is falsely slandered (actually called a whore) by her beloved, Claudio, at her wedding. She’s not only left at the alter, but through deception on her father’s part to make Claudio feel some sympathy (which he  doesn’t), she’s left for dead. Yet, she gladly marries him in the end of the play after he realizes he was set up to believe those things of her. On the other hand, the story of Beatrice and Benedick unwillingly falling in love–with their sharp wit and tongues–stole the show. Much Ado is a really fun play and perfect for Valentine’s. It shows that love isn’t always perfect and takes many forms.

Romeo & Juliet – What’s there to say about R&J, except there is a reason it has endured for so long and is Shakespeare’s most well-known play. I picture it as the John Hughes or Cameron Crowe hit of its time. Teenage angst, young love, parental  misunderstanding… It screams “Say Anything, ” but instead of Lloyd Dobler declaring his love for Diane by holding up a boom box outside her window, it’s Romeo declaring himself with sonnet under Juliet’s balcony. It makes you remember what it was like to be a teenager, jumping from one crush to the next as Romeo does, romping around with with friends like Mercutio and Benvolio, thinking no one in the world understands you. Shakespeare could easily have been writing about any teenager in the past 450 years. It’s no wonder R&J has stood the test of time.

Henry XIII – I love reading about King Henry XIII, his many wives and his mischief. But, I have to say, I just didn’t enjoy this play. I was really looking forward to reading it, thinking the subject matter would resonate since I’ve read about this part of English history a lot (as well as seen numerous film productions depicting the king). But, the play seemed allover the place, with too many characters and too much going on. I wonder if this is because the play was written by one or more people, aside from Shakespeare, as historians speculate. The story of how Anne Boleyn came to power and her quick demise was never told. Now, I would have enjoyed reading Shakespeare’s tale of that woe.

Loving The Luminaries

luminaries

I just began Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries,” winner of the 2013 Man Booker prize, and am loving it.  I received it as a Christmas gift and can’t believe its taken me this long to settle into it. Has anyone else read it?

Classic Club Spin–David Copperfield it is

copperfield-01

So, 20 is the magic number, which  means ‘David Copperfield’ is my Classic Club Spin book to read by April 2 (see how it works below). The Classic Club decided on this lucky number today. I’m actually excited about this. I’ve picked it up before, and actually got about 100 pages into it, but had to leave it for something else that was pressing at the time.

Original post below:

I am participating in the Classic Club Spin #5 throughout Feb. & March. The goal is to read a classic that’s been on your to-do list for a while. Simply, you numerically list 20 books and come Feb. 10, CC will throw out a number. That’s the book you read! More detailed rules are below.

And my 20 are:

1.      Oliver Twist

2.      Howard’s End

3.      Watership Down

4.      Rabbit, Run

5.      The Scarlet Letter

6.      The Hound of the Baskervilles

7.      Shakespeare’s Sonnets

8.      Picture of Dorian Gray

9.      Jude the Obscure

10.  Villette

11.  Mayor of Casterbridge

12.  Age of Innocence

13.  The Bride of Lammermoore

14.  Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

15.  Mrs. Dalloway

16.  The Bell Jar

17.  Little Women

18.  Of Mice and Men

19.  For Whom the Bell Tolls

20.  David Copperfield

CC Rules:

It’s easy. At your blog, by next Monday, Feb 10, list your choice of any classic 20 books.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these 20 books in February & March. (Details follow.) So, try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

Next Monday, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 2. We’ll have a check in here in April, to see who made it the whole way and finished the spin book.

Twitter hashtag: #ccspin

Classic Club Spin–What Will You Read?

classicsclub.jpg w=474

I am participating in the Classic Club Spin #5 throughout Feb. & March. The goal is to read a classic that’s been on your to-do list for a while. Simply, you numerically list 20 books and come Feb. 10, CC will throw out a number. That’s the book you read! More detailed rules are below.

And my 20 are:

1.      Oliver Twist

2.      Howard’s End

3.      Watership Down

4.      Rabbit, Run

5.      The Scarlet Letter

6.      The Hound of the Baskervilles

7.      Shakespeare’s Sonnets

8.      Picture of Dorian Gray

9.      Jude the Obscure

10.  Villette

11.  Mayor of Casterbridge

12.  Age of Innocence

13.  The Bride of Lammermoore

14.  Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

15.  Mrs. Dalloway

16.  The Bell Jar

17.  Little Women

18.  Of Mice and Men

19.  For Whom the Bell Tolls

20.  David Copperfield

CC Rules:

It’s easy. At your blog, by next Monday, Feb 10, list your choice of any classic 20 books.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these 20 books in February & March. (Details follow.) So, try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

Next Monday, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 2. We’ll have a check in here in April, to see who made it the whole way and finished the spin book.

Twitter hashtag: #ccspin

Longbourn, but Definitely not Pride & Prejudice

longbourn

“There was so much to be thankful for: there was pleasure in her work, in the rituals and routines of service, the care and conservation of beautiful things, the baking of good bread and the turning of rough, raw foods into savoury and sustaining meals…And yet, and yet, the feeling still could not be quelled…Would she, at some time, have the chance to care for her own things, her own comforts, her own needs, and not just for other people’s? Could she one day have what she wanted, rather than rely on the glow of other people’s happiness to keep her warm?”

And so is the premise of Jo Baker’s ‘Longbourn.’

Baker’s book invites readers into the underbelly workings of the famed Bennet home, Longbourn, and into the daily lives of the servants who kept it running. This is what Jane Austen could not set to paper in ‘Pride and Prejudice’: war, slavery, brutality, homosexuality and illicit affairs between masters and servants. In her book, Baker gives names and lives to the unnamed servants in P&P: Mr. and Mrs. Hill, Sarah, James, Polly and Ptolemy.

It is Downton Abbey meets Pride and Prejudice, and Downton Abbey comes out winning. Not only do readers sympathize with the servants– their longings, frustrations, fears and unrequited loves–but with Mr. Collins and even Mrs. Bennet. On the other hand, the Bennet girls (yes, even Elizabeth) come out looking like the privileged, social brats they likely would have been if the story were real.

Of course there is a love story. And while it doesn’t work out as nicely as the Darcy’s and Bingley’s did (tied up perfectly with ribbon and shoe roses), I wish Baker would have taken a different turn to maintain the grittiness and reality of the book.

I haven’t quite yet made up my mind if Baker’s book takes the magic out of P&P; but for certain, I will never read Austen’s classic again without thinking of the servants in Longbourn.

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