Thursday, July 31, 2014

Have A Wonderful Weekend!

Worthington Whittredge. Second Beach, Newport, ca. 1878/1880.
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Confession of a Child of the Century

For my final post for Paris in July at Thyme for Tea, I'm reviewing The Confession of a Child of the Century by Alfred de Musset, first published in 1836. I read the Penguin Classics edition, published in 2013, and translated by David Coward.

The Confession of a Child of the Century is the melancholy story of Octave, a young man of twenty years old, when the novel begins. He learns that his mistress has been unfaithful to him, not with one man but three. He is disillusioned and flees Paris and what he considers to be a life of debauchery to experience life in the countryside. 

When Octave meets Brigitte, a beautiful woman who is a widow, a writer, and several years older than Octave, everything changes for him. He becomes obsessed with getting Brigitte to love him and does everything he can think of to get her attention. Then, when he finally does win her heart, is it really what he wants?

A sudden change comes over Brigitte, and Octave imagines that she must be having an affair. The jealousy and despair he experiences almost drive him to madness. But then everything is not as it appears, and Octave learns how little he understands about his relationship with Brigitte.

While this novel has been called an excellent example of Romanticism, that's not why I wanted to read The Confession of a Child of the Century. What interested me about this novel is that it is based on de Musset's affair with George Sand. The novel became celebrated in Paris because of this, and Sand herself even liked the novel.

The novel is written in a style popular in Romantic literature of the nineteenth century. Octave spends a good bit of the book in self reflection, questioning everything from love to death to religion. He spends time pontificating on his relationship with Brigitte, and at times, he loves her to distraction. Other times, he can't stand the thought of being with her one minute longer. While this is helpful in understanding Octave's motivations in the story, it slows the plot somewhat and made reading it a bit of a slog in some parts.  

I would recommend this book for someone who has an interest in French literature.

Have you read The Confession of a Child of the Century or any novels by Alfred de Musset?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

For the Broke and the Bookish Top Ten Tuesday, I'm listing the top ten authors whose books I own the most of in my book collection. If I really like a book, I want to see everything that author has done. It's the same for me with music and films.

My list of authors:

Agatha Christie
I've been reading Agatha Christie's books for years. I still have a ways to go to get through all her books, but it is a fun reading goal.

Daphne du Maurier
I read Rebecca for the first time when I was in high school, and I've read it several times since then. To be honest, I enjoy reading her books, but nothing has compared to Rebecca.

Carolyn Keene
Because I just can't bear to part with my old Nancy Drew books!

Marian Keyes
She tells a great story. Rachel's Holiday was the first book of hers that I read.

Wallace Stegner
Crossing to Safety is one of my all time favorite books. I have a way of returning to this and several of Stegner's novels and short stories.

Mary Stewart
Stewart's work is a new interest of mine. Last year, I read The Ivy Tree and loved it. She's another author whose novels I keep coming across at book sales, so I have collected a fair number of them.

Eudora Welty
Whether it's novels or short stories, I love everything she has written.

Mary Wesley
She was more popular probably twenty years ago, and she wrote interesting World War II era fiction. There are still a few I haven't read. I love that she found success when she was in her seventies.

Edith Wharton
She does what all good writers can do--make me feel like I've stepped back into another place and time.

Virginia Woolf
The first book of hers that I read was To the Lighthouse, and I was hooked.

Who is on your list of authors?

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall

Not long ago, I watched the film, "Once More with Feeling!," a comedy and and what was the last film of the beautiful, glamorous and funny Kay Kendall (1926-1959). The film made me curious about her life. The only things I knew about her were that she married Rex Harrison, and that she died very young. I tracked down the only biography about her, The Brief, Madcap Life of Kay Kendall by Eve Golden with Kim Kendall (Kay's sister), published in 2002.

What the book does well is present interesting and funny anecdotes from many of Kendall's friends and family about her early life in Yorkshire as well as her life in London and America. Kendall had many friends including Noel Coward, Gladys Cooper, Vivien Leigh, Lauren Bacall, Dirk Bogarde, and others. 

While she had a love life exciting as any film, she married Rex Harrison. He doesn't come off particularly well in the book. Harrison and Kendall were in the midst of a passionate love affair when she fell ill in 1957. It seems incomprehensible that her doctor talked to Harrison about her condition rather than Kendall. (The prognosis was not good--leukemia with two years to live.) Harrison swore Kendall's friends and family to secrecy, and he told Kendall that she suffered from a vitamin deficiency and anemia. He divorced his then wife Lilli Palmer to marry Kendall and take care of her. Some people saw this as romantic devotion while others felt he was trying to repair his less than stellar reputation in Hollywood.

Kendall's acting style has been compared to Carole Lombard, and she had that knack for being funny and glamorous at the same time. It was unfortunate that Kendall was under contract to the Rank Organisation, a British film company, that didn't value her talent and only offered her mediocre parts in films. It wasn't until the last few years of her life that she had the opportunity to showcase her comedic talent.

Although I haven't seen all her films, the ones I have seen that I recommend are "Genevieve" (1953), "Simon and Laura" (1955), "Les Girls" (1957) for which she won a Golden Globe, "The Reluctant Debutante" (1958), and "Once More with Feeling!" (1960).

If you like classic films or biographies about classic Hollywood stars, you'll like this book.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Saturday Well Spent

I hope you had a good weekend! My husband and I took advantage of the great weather and spent Saturday in Washington, DC, where we had the opportunity to see two great exhibits.

It 's always fun to spend time at the National Gallery of Art. We saw the Degas/Cassatt exhibit which was excellent. Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas were friends for forty years, first meeting in 1877 in Paris. They inspired, helped, and challenged one another. The exhibit is made up of art works Degas and Cassatt created during the course of their friendship.

The star of the exhibit is one of Mary Cassatt's paintings that Degas also worked on, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, 1878.

Across the National Mall at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, we saw the work of James McNeill Whistler in the exhibit, An American in London: Whistler and the Thames. What was interesting about this exhibit was the influence of Japanese painting on Whistler's work. Also, Whistler lived in London for many years, and his paintings reflect the changes that London was going through with the the Industrial Revolution. 

One of Whistler's paintings featured in the exhibit, Wapping, 1860-1864.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Have A Wonderful Weekend!

Camille Pissarro. The Artist's Garden at Eragny, 1898.
National Gallery, Washington, D.C.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Tapestry of Love

I'm back again, ending the week with a Paris in July post with a review of a 2010 novel that has a French theme.

Tapestry of Love by British author Rosy Thornton is the story of Catherine Parkstone, a British woman, who is divorced with a grown son and daughter. As the story begins, Catherine has left England to live in her new home, Les Fenils, a farmhouse in the Cévannes mountains of France. The story centers around Catherine's transition to her new French life and the challenges she faces in France and from her family in England.

Parts of the plot are fairly predictable such as Catherine's love interest in the form of the mysterious Patrick Castagnol. The love story is thwarted by the appearance of Bryony, Catherine's high powered attorney sister.

Catherine starts a business of making slip covers for chairs and sofas as well as making curtains. Soon, there is the question of whether Catherine will succeed in registering her new business, as the law requires, despite the local government's attempt to stall her efforts. 

What I liked about this novel had nothing to do with the plot as much as Thornton's ability to write in an eloquent way about those solitary moments of Catherine's life. And there are many since Catherine spends a lot of time alone. Thornton writes about Catherine's long walks in the woods as she observes nature, her method of creating a tapestry, or even something as simple as having a cup of tea in the middle of a summer night. One of Catherine's neighbors gives her a gift of bees. It is fascinating how Catherine locates beekeeping equipment in her barn, does her research, and after a time (and a bit of trial and error with the bees) is able to harvest honey. 

I recommend Tapestry of Love if you're looking for a quiet, elegant story. I liked it, too, because the novel satisfied my own fantasy of moving to France!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Literary Quotes About Paris

I'm participating again this week in the Paris in July Challenge over at Thyme for Tea. Today, I'm including some literary quotes about Paris:

"Fair, fantastic Paris."
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh. Bk. vi, 1. 81.

"The cafe of Europe."
Abbé Galiani, Epigram.

"Paris is nothing but an immense hospitality."
Victor Hugo, Appeal to German Army to Spare Paris, 1870.

"All Paris goes to see it. (Tout Paris va voir.)"
Molière, L'Impromptu de Versailles, Sc. 5, 1. 75.

"You who have ever been to Paris, know;
And you who have not been to Paris--go!"
John Ruskin, A Tour Through France, St. 12.

One of my favorite quotes about Paris isn't a literary quote, but it makes so much sense to me:

"Paris is always a good idea."
Audrey Hepburn (from the film "Sabrina")

I'm including Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in the 1963 film "Charade," set in Paris because Cary Grant is always a good idea.

Do you have a favorite quote about Paris?

Monday, July 21, 2014


Euphoria by Lily King takes place in New Guinea in the 1930s. British anthropologist Andrew Bankson experiences ambivalence about his work and has loneliness so profound that he is in despair and is suicidal. When fellow anthropologists Nell Stone and her husband, Australian Fenwick Schuyler (known as Fen) appear, Bankson is elated. 

Nell and Fen have fled the Mumbanyo tribe under questionable circumstances and are looking for a new tribe to study. Bankson is only too happy to help--anything to keep them from leaving. He takes them several miles down the Sepik river to the Tam tribe that intrigues Nell and Fen, and they decide to stay.

The novel alternates between Bankson's narration and Nell's journal entries. The relationship between Nell and the volatile Fen is strained, and in the course of events, a complicated love triangle develops. In the end, Fen's jealousy of Nell's success and his own greed are the undoing of the three and put their lives in danger.

I liked reading about the different ways the three anthropologists approached their work. King offers insights about the study of anthropology in this compelling story. Also interesting is the depiction of the Tam tribe that Nell and Fen study and the customs of the tribe. 

Euphoria is loosely based on the experiences of Margaret Mead, her second husband, anthropologist Reo Fortune, and her third husband, British anthropologist Gregory Bateson. Reading the novel makes me want to learn more about Margaret Mead and her work.

Euphoria is a novel that would be a great choice for a book club.   

Friday, July 18, 2014

Have A Wonderful Weekend!

Auguste Renoir, Pont Neuf, Paris, ca. 1872
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan

The month is getting away from me! This is my first post for the Paris in July challenge, and I'm reviewing Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan, published in 1954. 

Cécile is seventeen years old and spending a lazy summer at a villa on the French Riviera with her playboy father, Raymond, and his young girlfriend, Elsa. Cécile has seen her father's girlfriends come and go, and she knows Elsa will be no different.

Soon, Cécile begins a relationship with Cyril, a local young man in his 20's who is a law student. She spends her days doing what she pleases and not much is required of her--until Anne Larsen arrives. (Anne was a good friend of Cécile's now deceased mother.)

Unlike the vapid young women who drift in and out of Raymond's life, Anne is closer to his age, and she is more sophisticated. Her presence means that Elsa must leave. But what Cécile can't abide is that Anne wants to make changes. For example, she talks to Cécile about her studies and insists that Cécile spend a significant amount of her time reading and preparing for school.

Raymond soon makes clear his intention to marry Anne, and this begins a power struggle between Anne and Cécile. Coming up with a way to reunite Elsa and her father, Cécile involves Cyril in her plan. No one could have anticipated what Cécile's actions would set into motion and what the consequences would be.

What amazed me was that Françoise Sagan was eighteen when she wrote this book. She was an effective writer. I felt sympathetic at times with all the characters and at times exasperated with their actions. It wasn't hard to believe that Cécile would be so spoiled, fickle and manipulative. The book is a fast read, and I recommend it.

Reading Bonjour Tristesse makes me want to read more of Françoise Sagan's books. Do you have a recommendation? What are your thoughts on Bonjour Tristesse?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday

I'm participating in Top Ten Tuesday at The Broke and the Bookish, and today's list is about favorite movies or television shows. I love old films, and as you'll see from my list, I also love Cary Grant and comedies!

Here is my list of top ten favorite classic movies:

39 Steps (1935) is an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. Robert Donat is Richard Hannay who is falsely accused of murdering an agent. The agent was trying to uncover information about a ring of spies known as the 39 Steps. Hannay flees London and is on the run across Scotland with Pamela (Madeleine Carroll). 

42nd Street (1933) is about a stage production with backstage intrigue, lots of dancing and great songs. There is plenty of innuendo since this is a pre-code film. While I'm not a big fan of Ruby Keeler, Ginger Rogers and Una Merkel are hilarious.

The Awful Truth (1937) stars Cary Grant and Irene Dunne as a husband and wife in the process of getting a divorce but who spend lots of energy trying to thwart each one's love life. 

Ball of Fire (1941) Gary Cooper is Professor Bertram Potts, who lives in relative seclusion with seven other bachelor professors, while they are in the process of writing an encyclopedia of human knowledge. Professor Potts ventures out to conduct research on the use of slang and encounters Sugarpuss O'Shea, a burlesque dancer, played by Barbara Stanwyck. She's on the lam from the Mob and needs a place to stay.

Merrily We Live (1938) is a screwball comedy that includes mistaken identity, a bit of romance and all kinds of things that add up to a comedy of errors. The cast is excellent and includes Brian Ahearne and Constance Bennett.

Notorious (1946) is a Hitchcock thriller which stars Ingrid Bergman who is the daughter of a former Nazi. She and FBI Agent T.R. Devlin (Cary Grant) work to break up a Nazi spy ring in Brazil. The only trouble is, she marries a member of the ring, Alex Sebastian (Claude Rains), even though she loves Cary Grant. Cary Grant is the best looking g-man in his tailored suits, and Ingrid Bergman is glamorous and sophisticated. 

Philadelphia Story (1940) is the story of Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) who is about to be the bride in the society wedding of the year. Her ex-husband C.K. Dexter Haven (Cary Grant) arrives unexpectedly. He tries to pass off reporter Macaulay Conner (James Stewart) and photographer Liz Imbrie (Ruth Hussey) as his friends even though they are there to report on the wedding for a tabloid magazine. I love Cary Grant in this film, but the real star is Virginia Weidler as Tracy's younger sister, Dinah.

Singin' in the Rain (1952) is a musical set against the backdrop of Hollywood as it makes the transition from silent films to talkies. Great dancing by Gene Kelly, Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, and Cyd Charisse. My favorite character is the one who does no singing or dancing--Jean Hagen as Lina Lamonte, the shallow, egotistical leading lady with the nasal voice.

To Kill A Mockingbird (1962) is just as good as the book. Gregory Peck is perfect as Atticus Finch. The moment when Scout meets Boo Radley (Robert Duvall) brings tears to my eyes every time.

Top Hat (1935) is a screwball comedy starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. I chose this film for the list, but I love all the Astaire/Rogers films. The plots don't really matter to me--I love the dancing.

What are your favorite classic films?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Remarks on Recent Reads

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I found it difficult to connect with this novel. Fitzgerald has a lot of balls in the air with this novel, and at times, it felt like he added anything he could think of from his college days. Also, I didn't understand why there was a section in the middle of the novel that reads like a play. I kept hoping the story was going somewhere, and there were flashes of brilliance in the writing, but the story of Amory Blaine somehow left me cold.

The Silent Woman: Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes by Janet Malcolm

This book is not what I expected. Rather than a biography, it is more a book of literary criticism of biographies about Sylvia Plath. The book also deals with issues involving Sylvia Plath's literary estate and the role that Ted Hughes and his sister, Olwyn, have played. This is an interesting book but not one for someone who has never read anything about Sylvia Plath, and not for someone looking for a more traditional biography about Sylvia Plath.

The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty

The Robber Bridegroom, published in 1942, is Welty's retelling of a Grimm's Brothers' fairy tale. She makes the story her own, setting it in Mississippi's Natchez Trace, with a band of outlaws, a naive young girl, and some mysterious goings on. There is beautiful, lyrical language in the storytelling. This is definitely a book for someone interested in Welty's early work. 

Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Since this year is the 100 year anniversary of World War I, I decided to read some works having to do with the Great War. My first selection is Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West. This short novel, first published in 1918, is West's first novel and has the distinction of being the first novel about the Great War written by a woman. The story deals with the return of Chris Baldry, a shell shocked British soldier. Over the course of the story, we see how his condition affects the three women in his life and how he overcomes his condition. I liked this novel and found it a good introduction to literature dealing with World War I.     

Friday, July 11, 2014

Have A Wonderful Weekend!

Eugene Boudin, Beach at Trouville
Courtesy of National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chéri and The Last of Chéri

I'm going to be in the minority with what I have to say about Chéri and The Last of Chéri by Colette. The reviews I've seen of these two novellas have been very positive, but I have issues with some things about the story.

Chéri, published in 1920, is the story of Fred Peloux, known to most everyone as Chéri, and Lea de Lonval, his courtesan. Chéri is 25 and Lea is 49 when the story begins. They have been together for six years. Although Chéri was raised by his mother, it is Lea who teaches him about life and love. But Chéri with his good looks and fortune is of an age to marry, and his mother decides upon a young woman named Edmee to be Chéri's wife. The irony is that once Lea and Chéri part, they realize how much they love one another.

Lea leaves Paris for six months, not telling anyone where she is going, not even her household staff. Chéri finds married life tiresome and longs for Lea's love. When he and Lea meet again, they spend a passionate night together. She thinks Chéri has come back to her, and the next morning, she begins to make plans for their new life together. Chéri, on the other hand, decides Lea looks much too old in the light of morning and decides that the age difference is too great.

The sequel, The Last of Chéri, published in 1926, deals primarily with Chéri's story. It is several years later, and Chéri has returned from his experiences in World War I to a very different life in Paris. His mother and Edmée have taken over the financial affairs that he dealt with before the war. Edmée works at a hospital and has little time for him; they co-exist in a loveless marriage. 

Chéri roams aimlessly around Paris. He tries to recapture the past through a visit to Lea and learns she has sold her home that he loved so much. When he finds her, she is living in a smaller house in a more economical way, and Lea is not as he remembered. She looks older with her short, gray hair, and she has gained a considerable amount of weight. Lea has moved on from Chéri and lives a busy life without him. Chéri mourns for his past life, spending his days pouring over old photos of a more youthful Lea, before he kills himself.

Of the two novellas, I liked Chéri the best. Lea's story was the more interesting--how her life had depended upon her looks, how that was starting to change as she got older, and how she made her plans for a future both with and without Chéri. Also, I liked reading about life in Paris toward the end of the Belle Epoque era.

While Chéri was superficial and immature in the first novella, this continues in The Last of Chéri. His inability to move on from the past is a bit frustrating. We are led to believe that he was a hero when he returned from the war, and I couldn't understand how he was unchanged. (Not much is revealed about Chéri's war experiences.) I wanted to be sympathetic to Chéri, but I didn't like his attitude toward women, especially his cruelty toward Edmée. 

Have you read Chéri or The Last of Chéri? What translation do you recommend? 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Her by Harriet Lane

Her is a psychological thriller by Harriet Lane. The novel tells the story of two women, Emma and Nina, who meet seemingly by chance on a London street after twenty years.  Emma doesn't recognize Nina, but Nina remembers everything about Emma from one summer when they were teenagers. She hasn't forgotten what Emma did.

Emma is in a vulnerable place in her life. She had a successful career in television, but now she's a stay at home mother with two small children. She and her husband, Ben, rely on his income, and it's not working out well. Those things that she took for granted--a cleaning woman, new clothes, vacations, home repairs--have been put on the back burner. Instead, her days are spent trying to keep two little ones happy and manage a home with no time for herself.

Nina, on the other hand, spends her days painting in her studio and is a successful artist. To Emma, Nina is sophisticated and stylish with her lovely clothes and even has a vacation home in France. Emma, short on self-esteem, is drawn to Nina despite the people around Emma who question why Nina is so intent on being friends. 

As with much of this story, things are not what they seem. Nina has a difficult and distant seventeen year old daughter from a previous marriage and longs for the days when her daughter was younger and needed her. Nina also has an older husband who has little interest in her. Life hasn't worked out the way she planned, and for this, she blames Emma.

As the novel unfolds, the chapters alternate between Nina's and Emma's telling of the story. What kept me reading was the real reason Nina is so intent on revenge. Emma is very likable, and I wondered if something would be revealed to change my mind.

Lane's writing is subtle. She scatters information about the past like little crumbs, never revealing exactly what we need to know until the end, when it all comes together with a powerful shocker of an ending.

Her would be a good choice for a book club because there are many elements of the story that would generate lively discussion.