Tag Archives: books

Friday Flashback: Reading Gaskell’s North & South

This post is a continuation of my Friday Favorites post on North & South (2004) and perhaps will only be interesting to those who are already fans of the mini-series. (Or maybe it will inspire potential new fans? One can hope.) In 2006 I read the novel and had great fun comparing it to the series in two Livejournal posts.

Jan 11, 2006

If you’ve listened to the commentary for N&S, you already have a good idea of what they’ve changed, added, or deleted in order to adapt the novel into a film. The main differences I see so far:

— Mrs. Hale was not happy in Helstone. She’s just generally malcontented. You learn that her sister married for status & money (and hated her husband), but Mrs. Hale married a poor clergyman for love, and has always mildly resented her lowered standard of living. (And Dixon is very sympathetic to this, of course.)

— Mr. Thornton is NOT beating the crap out of people in the sight of young ladies

— There are no union meetings with Higgins rallying the workers. This makes me sad. I found those scenes very moving in the film.

— Bessie isn’t quite as sassy and snarky — more the typical lower class Victorian invalid.

Various interesting passages:

Henry Lennox to Margaret:

Well, I suppose you are all in the depths of business — ladies’ business, I mean. Very different to my business, which is the real true law business. Playing with shawls is very different work to drawing up settlements. (10)

What a self-important prig! Do you think Gaskell’s female contemporary readers would have been equally irked by that? Or would they just have accepted it as “separate sphere” sort of bantering? I have to believe that this is Gaskell telling her readers “Sure, this would be a socially appropriate partner for Margaret BUT TRULY HE’S JUST THE PRACTICE ROUND!”

Margaret’s physical description:

Sometimes people wondered that parents so handsome should have a daughter who was so far from regularly beautiful; not beautiful at all, was occasionally said. Her mouth was wide; no rosebud that could only open just enough to let out a “yes” and “no,” and “an’t please you, sir.” But the wide mouth was one soft curve of rich red lips; and the skin, if not white and fair, was of ivory smoothness and delicacy. If the look on her face was, in general, too dignified and reserved for one so young, now, talking to her father, it was bright as the morning, — full of dimples, and glances that spoke of childish gladness, and boundless hope in the future. (17)

And then there’s the scene of Mr. Thornton having tea with the Hales. This passage, in which he contemplates Margaret, seems almost erotic to me:

It appeared to Mr. Thornton that all these graceful cares were habitual to the family; and especially of a piece with Margaret. She stood by the tea-table in a light-colored muslin gown, which had a good deal of pink about it. She looked as if she was not attending to the conversation, but solely busy with the tea-cups, among which her round ivory hands moved with pretty, noiseless, daintiness. She had a bracelet on one taper arm, which would fall down over her round wrist. Mr. Thornton watched the re-placing of this troublesome ornament with far more attention than he listened to her father. It seemed as if it fascinated him to see her push it up impatiently, until it tightened her soft flesh; and then to mark the loosening — the fall. He could almost have exclaimed — “There it goes, again!” There was so little left to be done after he arrived at the preparation of tea, that he was almost sorry the obligation of eating and drinking came so soon to prevent his watching Margaret. She handed him his cup of tea with the proud air of an unwilling slave; but her eye caught the moment when he was ready for another cup; and he almost longed to ask her to do for him what he saw her compelled to do for her father, who took her little finger and thumb in his masculine hand, and made them serve as sugar-tongs. (79)

Margaret’s perception of Thornton:

Now, in Mr. Thornton’s face the straight brows fell low over the clear deep-set earnest eyes, which, without being unpleasantly sharp, seemed intent enough to penetrate into the very heart and core of what he was looking at. The lines in the face were few but firm, as if they were carved in marble, and lay principally about the lips, which were slightly compressed over a set of teeth so faultless and beautiful as to give the effect of sudden sunlight when the rare bright smile, coming in an instant and shining out of the eyes, changed the whole look from the severe and resolved expression of a man ready to do and dare everything, to the keen honest enjoyment of the moment, which is seldom shown so fearlessly and instantaneously except by children. Margaret liked this smile; it was the first thing she had admired in this new friend of her father’s . . . (80)

Now, the first bit agrees quite nicely with the film version, but I don’t think Richard Armitage ever smiles so much that all his teeth show. And I’m rather glad of that. It’s much more powerful when he lets slip those rare wee smiles.

Jan 18, 2006

Over the weekend I told a friend that the most illuminating thing about the novel was the opportunity to get into Thornton’s head. In the film he’s quite enigmatic in his brooding, glaring silences. I suppose we see his vulnerability in the scenes with his mother, but as with Pride and Prejudice (book AND film versions) we usually don’t comprehend the pain suffered by the hero during his difficult moments with the heroine. But in Gaskell’s novel, we get both viewpoints during the scenes that involve Margaret and Thornton interacting with each other — AND we get their private assessments of the interaction later on. What delights!

As he waits to propose to Margaret:

Mr Thornton stood by one of the windows, with his back to the door, apparently absorbed in watching something in the street. But, in truth, he was afraid of himself. His heart beat thick at the thought of her coming. He could not forget the touch of her arms around his neck, impatiently felt as it had been at the time; but now the recollection of her clinging defense of him, seemed to thrill him through and through, — to melt away every resolution, all power of self-control, as if it were wax before a fire. He dreaded lest he should go forwards to meet her, with his arms held out in mute entreaty that she would come and nestle there, as she had done, all unheeded, the day before, but never unheeded again. His heart throbbed loud and quick. (193)

Oh! It kills me when he imagines holding out his arms to her in “mute entreaty” and thinks of her “nestling” there. Such tenderness. And doubly touching because we know what’s about to happen!

After the proposal:

When Mr. Thornton had left the house that morning he was almost blinded by his baffled passion. . . He had positive bodily pain, — a violent headache, and a throbbing intermittent pulse. He could not bear the noise, the garish light, the continued rumble and movement in the street. He called himself a fool for suffering so; and yet could not, at the moment, recollect the cause of his suffering, and whether it was adequate to the consequences it had produced. It would have been a relief to him, if he could have sat down and cried on a door-step by a little child, who was raging and storming, through his passionate tears, at some injury he had received. He said to himself, that he hated Margaret, but a wild, sharp sensation of love cleft his dull, thundering feeling like lightning, even as he shaped the words expressive of hatred. His greatest comfort was in hugging his torment; and in feeling, as he had indeed said to her , that though she might despise him, contemn him, treat him with her proud sovereign indifference, he did not change one whit. She could not make him change. He loved her, and would love her; and defy her, and this miserable bodily pain. (207)

Why do I love to read about Thornton’s torture and angst? There are many similar passages after this, particularly after he sees Margaret with Frederick at the train station. Oh, how he does work himself into a mental frenzy over that! I won’t quote it here — you simply MUST read the book!

I’ll conclude with this funny little moment — I think we can all relate to Thornton here:

They found Margaret with a letter open before her, eagerly discussing its contents with her father. On the entrance of the gentlemen, it was immediately put aside; but Mr. Thornton’s eager senses caught some few words of Mr. Hale’s to Mr. Bell.

“A letter from Henry Lennox. It makes Margaret very hopeful.”

Mr. Bell nodded. Margaret was as red as a rose when Mr. Thornton looked at her. He had the greatest mind in the world to get up and go out of the room that very instant, and never set foot in the house again. (332)

Ballet Fangirling

This past Saturday we saw the OKC Ballet Company’s production of La Sylphide!


Principals Miki Kawamura and Alvin Tovstogray / Photo by Shevaun Williams

The evening was particularly special because it was Miki Kawamura’s final performance. Though she has retired from the stage, she will continue to work with the company as a Ballet Master.

La Sylphide is a very traditional ballet — Bournonville’s choreography dates back to 1836 — and perhaps it was the 19th century vibe that revived my dormant teen obsession. Watching it inspired a ravenous hunger for ALL the best ballet movies, TV shows, and books.

I have a few favorites already…

Ballet films I have loved:

The Turning Point (1977–seen above): I know this film is more about Shirley MacLaine and Anne Bancroft’s characters, but as a kid I totally fell for ballet after watching Mikhail Baryshnikov and Leslie Browne dance (and canoodle) together.

Black Swan (2010): Yeah, it’s weird as all heck, but I was caught in the spell of this film. That said, I’m not dying to re-watch just yet.

Ballet TV shows:

Breaking Pointe (2012): Very compelling reality tv, even if they force-fed the romantic turmoil a bit. Castmember Ronnie Underwood has danced for several years with the OKC company, where he is now Principal Dancer and Ballet Master.

A Nutcracker Christmas (2016): if you know me at all, you know I have a weakness for Hallmark movies. I’m also quite fond of Amy Acker, who is convincing as a retired ballet dancer in this movie — she studied ballet/dance for 13 years, after all. Sascha Radetsky, another dancer-turned-actor, is quite good, too.

[NOT a favorite: Flesh and Bone. WAY too dark. Sascha Radetsky couldn’t save this one for me, sadly.]

Ballet novels:

A Company of Swans, by Eva Ibbotson. I love all of Ibbotson’s historical romances and this one deserves a re-read very soon.

Ballet Shoes, by Noel Streatfield. Another classic that begs to be read again. (Yes, this book was referenced in You’ve Got Mail.)

What have I missed?

I’m thinking of watching Robert Altman and Neve Campbell’s The Company and reading Bunheads, by Sophie Flack (not the inspiration for the TV show?). WHAT ELSE? If you have recommendations, please share in the comments!

Friday Flashback — a new “mini-series”

I’m introducing a new feature here on the blog in which I revisit my oldest blog posts from the archaic platform known as Livejournal. (Shout out if you started the whole blogging thing on LJ. I know you’re out there! Do you ever miss those days?)

Not so long ago, I sat down and manually copied/pasted my favorite posts from Livejournal into a Word document before deleting the account entirely. Not all of the posts are worth sharing here (perhaps none of them are), but I hope you’ll indulge me if, every month or so, I share an old favorite.

I’ll start with an early offering from 2014, back when I was still teaching. At this point I was teaching half-time and trying to finish that first (terrible) novel. Oh, how I struggled!

Thursday natterings
DEC. 9TH, 2004 AT 8:44 AM

I’ve been out-of-sorts for a day now. Was very crabby with my students yesterday. I’ve just been feeling mopey. So this morning I picked up Madeleine L’Engle’s Circle of Quiet in hopes of shaking myself out of the doldrums.

I’d read this ages ago, but forgotten most of it. Now I see where my fantasies of the perfect house originated. Crosswicks, the L’Engle summer home in New England, is the ultimate artist’s retreat–a two hundred year old farm house surrounded by meandering paths, stone bridges, babbling brooks, rocky outcroppings, etc. AND, best of all, it has a Private Workroom above the garage. (I’ve always wanted a little room of my own for writing–not necessarily in the Woolfian sense, just a room separate from the “office”. That way I could have my stuff strewn all about and not have to worry about my husband frowning and sighing when it’s time to do something mundane, like pay bills.)

But anyway, here’s my favorite quote from the book so far:

When we are self-conscious, we cannot be wholly aware; we must throw ourselves out first. This throwing ourselves away is the act of creativity. So, when we wholly concentrate, like a child in play, or an artist at work, then we share in the act of creating. We not only escape time, we also escape our self-conscious selves.

She says “a writer may be self-conscious about his work before and after but not during the writing.” I know this, but I still have difficulty pushing that self-consciousness out of the way as I write a first draft. Now I will endeavor to “throw myself out” the next time I sit down to write!

I feel a little better now.

I do think it’s about time to revisit A Circle of Quiet. L’Engle fans–what’s your favorite non-fiction book by her? How about your favorite book (by anyone) about writing or creativity?

Favorite books read in 2018

I read 54 novels in 2018, five of them re-reads (which I count because my memory is terrible and subsequent readings still manage to surprise and delight). Last year I was determined to raise my overall count and I managed to do that by 6 books!

Here are my favorites (excluding re-reads). Blurbs are excerpted from Goodreads, as are most of my quick takes.

Fiction

To the Bright Edge of the World, by Eowyn Ivey. Blurb: Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret. My take: I enjoyed Ivey’s debut, The Snow Child, but this epistolary tale captivated me even more. The characters were so vividly realized, and the epic scope of Allen’s adventure is beautifully balanced by Sophie’s artistic journey. In a starred review, Kirkus praises it as “an exceptionally well-turned adventure tale…Heartfelt, rip-snorting storytelling,” and I agree.

A Month in the Country, by J.L. Carr. Blurb: Tom Birkin, a veteran of the Great War and a broken marriage, arrives in the remote Yorkshire village of Oxgodby where he is to restore a recently discovered medieval mural in the local church. My take: This seemed a perfect read for Thanksgiving week — such a lovely story of healing through art and friendship. (The 1987 film adaptation, starring Colin Firth and Kenneth Branagh, is quite good, as well.)

YA/MG Fiction

A Sky Painted Gold, by Laura Wood. Blurb: Growing up in her sleepy Cornish village dreaming of being a writer, seventeen-year-old Lou has always wondered about the grand Cardew house which has stood empty for years. And when the owners arrive for the summer – a handsome, dashing brother and sister – Lou is quite swept off her feet. My take: A very appealing Young Adult story set in 1929 Cornwall and reminiscent of I CAPTURE THE CASTLE.

Elizabeth & Zenobia, by Jessica Miller. Blurb: When Elizabeth and her unusual and fearless friend Zenobia arrive at Witheringe House, peculiar things begin to happen. Especially in the forbidden East Wing. My take: A deliciously Gothic story with a conclusion that defied my expectations. Looking forward to more from this author.

Non-fiction

Take Courage, by Samantha Ellis. Blurb: [a] personal, poignant and surprising journey into the life and work of a woman sidelined by history. My take: A pure delight! This is NOT a straightforward/scholarly/detached biography of Anne Bronte by any means–more a personal account of Ellis’ interactions with the novels and subsequent revelations about Anne’s life, talent, and vision.

Manderley Forever, by Tatiana de Rosnay. Blurb: a vividly compelling portrait and celebration of an intriguing, hugely popular and (at the time) critically underrated writer. My take: This is such an unconventional biography, and yet so compelling. What kept me glued to the page was the way de Rosnay portrayed Daphne’s passion for history, her obsession with place, and her fascination with dark secrets and twisted psychology.

I offer these “Best of 2018” links for your perusal:

Top Ten Books of 2018 from The Captive Reader.
A Box of Books for 2018 from Beyond Eden Rock.
My Favorite Books of 2018 from Modern Mrs. Darcy.
My Favourite Books of 2018 from Michelle Cooper

What were your favorite reads from 2018? I’d love to read (and share) your list!

Tea and Books for Christmas

I come to you with tidings of tea and holiday reads!

For young (and young-at-heart) readers:


Christmas with the Savages, by Mary Clive: Seen through the eyes of a prim little eight-year-old, and based on real events and people, this novel perfectly recaptures a Christmas holiday of 100 years ago, and is effortlessly funny.

This delightful story, first published in 1955, brings to mind a “Downton Abbey” Christmas, only from the perspective of the nursery children. It’s episodic, lighthearted, and lots of fun! I purchased a used hardcover, but there’s a very pretty paperback available from Amazon and other places.

The Night Before the Night Before Christmas, by Richard Scary: It’s the night before the night before Christmas, and Mr. Frumble wants to be helpful. When he stumbles into Santa Bear’s workshop and mixes up the dates, everyone thinks it’s the night before Christmas! Santa dashes off to deliver the presents, but then gets stuck in Mr. Frumble’s chimney! Find out how Mr. Frumble saves the day in this funny, topsy-turvy Christmas story.

I adored Richard Scarry as a kid and loved reading the books to my little siblings later on. I’m not sure how much Scarry actually had to do with this book considering when he died, but the characters are familiar and the story will entertain your young ones.

For fans of romance:


A Holiday by Gaslight, by Mimi Matthews: Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion–or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things. But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned…

This is just perfect for the holidays, particularly if you’re in the mood for a heart-fluttering yet chaste Victorian romance. The author is well-versed in the era, having published various non-fiction books and scholarly articles. Bottom line: this novella is fun, romantic, and free of cringe-worthy anachronisms.

For fans of “Literary” Christmas fiction:


Mr. Dickens and his Carol, by Samantha Silva: Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in…

I’m right in the middle of this story and enjoying it even more than I’d expected. Samantha Silva brings to life the people and places of Victorian London and makes Dickens appealing even as she draws attention to his personal failings. It’s quite an absorbing read.

(I’d wondered if the book had anything to do with the recent film, The Man Who Invented Christmas, but that was based on a novel by Les Standiford. Anyone read that one or seen the film? Apparently there are several novels dealing with the creation of A Christmas Carol.)

And now for tea:


I made my usual ginger cookies and frosted sugar cookies, but perhaps you notice another item on the plate above. Yes, it’s a mince pie! Steve and I love indulging in these when we’re in England over Christmas, but they’re not ubiquitous here in the States. One year I made crusts from scratch and filled them with mincemeat I’d purchased at Chatsworth. This year, however, I found orange & cranberry mince pies from Walkers on Amazon! All you need do is warm them up in the oven (one at a time or all at once), and voila! Scrumptious.

As for the tea blend, I learned of Chado Tea’s Noel while reading the Holiday issue of Teatime Magazine. If you like black tea blended with cinnamon, orange zest, vanilla and almond, you’ll no doubt find this tea delicious and festive. Check out all the offerings from Chado Tea here.

***Remember that you can click the Christmas tag below for past recommendations for holiday reading, drinking, and eating!

What are you reading/brewing/baking for the holidays this year? I do love recommendations!