Friday, October 31, 2014

The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

I've read a novel for the Halloween season, and it's The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle (1889-1958). My edition was published in 1942.

Roddy, a journalist, and his sister, Pamela, have fled the fast pace of London life for their dream home in the country. The house, known as Cliff End, is on the Devonshire coast. Despite warnings and gossip from the locals about the house being haunted, Roddy and Pamela decide to move in and fix up the place. They learn the hard way that Cliff End is haunted by an unhappy spirit, but they decide to solve the mystery of who the spirit might be.

The Uninvited is not a blood and gore supernatural thriller. What Macardle has created is an intriguing mystery about what happened in the house in the past, and resolving this mystery ultimately comes down to good versus evil. The novel has a spooky and genuinely creepy and suspenseful atmosphere.

The things that happen, while not scary by today's standards, are still otherworldly like several appearances of a white ghostly figure that likes to float down the stairs, a room that is always cold and sometimes has the strong smell of mimosa, and a seance, just to name a few. Along with the goings on, there is a love story between Roddy and Stella, the beautiful young woman who is the granddaughter of the previous owner of Cliff End. The spirit haunting the house might be Stella's mother who died when she was a child, or is it? And was Stella's mother the lovely person everyone thought her to be? 

This was a fun read, and I recommend The Uninvited to anyone who loves Daphne du Maurier. Unfortunately, the book is no longer in print, but if you come across it as I did at a book sale or perhaps in a library, The Uninvited is worth a read.

I also recommend the stylish 1944 film starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey, based on the book. It's a great film that stays true to Dorothy Macardle's story.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--The Custom of the Country

Happy Tuesday! Today I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers share a bit about what they are reading or planning to read.

My choice is a book that has been on my shelf for far too long--The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I have the 1997 Scribner paperback edition.

From the back cover:

"First published in 1913 and regarded by many critics as her most substantial novel, The Custom of the Country is Edith Wharton's powerful saga about the beautiful, ruthless Undine Spragg. A woman of extraordinary ambition and exuberant vitality, Undine is consigned by virtue of her sex to the shadow world of the drawing room and boudoir. Marriage remains the one institution through which she can exercise her will as she entrances man after man, marrying one after the other with protean facility and almost monstrous avidity. A novel that ranges from New York to Paris, from Apex City, Kansas, to Reno, Nevada, The Custom of the Country stands as a dark satire of American business, society, and the nouveaux riches, and as Edith Wharton's contribution to the tradition of the American epic."

The first few chapters:

"Undine Spragg--how can you?" her mother wailed, raising a prematurely-wrinkled hand heavy with rings to defend the note which a languid "bell-boy" had just brought in.

But her defence was as feeble as her protest, and she continued to smile on her visitor while Miss Spragg, with a turn of her quick young fingers, possessed herself of the missive and withdrew to the window to read it.

"I guess it's meant for me," she merely threw over the shoulder at her mother.

What do you think? Should I keep reading?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

In a Summer Season by British novelist Elizabeth Taylor

Known as an underrated writer and contemporary of Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Bowen and Rosamond Lehmann, among others, British novelist Elizabeth Taylor wrote several short story collections and twelve novels. Thanks to Virago, her work is widely available today. Recently, I read her eighth novel, In a Summer Season, published in 1961.

The story takes place in an English village during the early 1960s. Taylor uses the first section of the book to introduce the characters. Kate Heron is in her forties with two children. Her son, Sam, is in his early twenties and working for his grandfather, while her daughter, Louisa, is sixteen and home from boarding school for the summer. Kate is married to her second husband, Dermot, ten years younger than she, and who is adrift in his life, not able to latch on to a career or even a job, for that matter. Also living in the house is cello playing Aunt Ethel, who is an interested observer of events, especially the state of Kate's marriage. Aunt Ethel relays all to her friend, Gertrude. Mrs. Meacock is the cook who loves preparing American meals.

The action takes place in the second part of the book when Charles and his daughter, Araminta, move back to their old house in the village. When Kate's first husband was alive, he and Kate were good friends with Charles and his wife, Dorothea, but Dorothea has recently passed away. 

The presence of Charles and Araminta sets certain events in motion. Tom, accustomed to girls pursuing him, becomes love struck over the quirky yet sexy aspiring model, Araminta. She enjoys being aloof. She is also noticed by Dermot. Meanwhile, with Charles in her life again, Kate is reminded of old feelings and realizes that she has more in common with Charles than Dermot. As Aunt Ethel and Gertrude predicted, Kate needs more than a physical relationship with a man.

What I liked about In a Summer Season was how the story takes place against the backdrop of Taylor's subtle comedy where she has a light touch. She creates believable characters and gets inside their hearts and minds in a way that made me enjoy getting to know them. Even Dermot, who I was prepared to dislike, is someone I couldn't help feeling a little sorry for. The story is resolved in a way I had not anticipated with a real surprise of an ending.

I recommend In a Summer Season and look forward to reading more by Elizabeth Taylor.

While I was reading this book, I wondered about Taylor's life and if having the name Elizabeth Taylor was a hindrance to her writing career. Then I discovered a biography, The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman, from 2009, which is going on my TBR pile:

Have you read In a Summer Season or any of Elizabeth Taylor's work?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--The Wedding by Dorothy West

Happy Tuesday! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros over at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers share a little something about the books they are reading or about to read.

I'm thinking about reading The Wedding (1995) by Harlem Renaissance writer Dorothy West (1907-1998). This is another book I picked up at a recent used book sale. It caught my eye because I haven't read anything by Dorothy West, and I haven't read much by writers of the Harlem Renaissance period. 

Here is information about The Wedding from Amazon:

"Set on bucolic Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s, The Wedding tells the story of life in the Oval, a proud, insular community made up of the best and the brightest of the East Coast black bourgeoisie. Within this inner circle of 'blue-vein society' we witness the prominent Coles family gather for the wedding of the loveliest daughter, Shelby, who could have chosen from a 'whole area of eligible men of the right colors and the right professions.' Instead, she has fallen in love with and is about to to be married to Meade Wyler, a white jazz musician from New York. A shock wave breaks out over the Oval as its longtime members grapple with the changing face of its community. "

I've included the first three paragraphs of the first chapter:

"One morning in late August, the morning before the wedding, the sun rising out of the quiet sea stirred the Oval from its shapeless sleep and gave dimension and design to the ring of summer cottages.

The islanders were already astir. There was milk to deliver to the summer visitors, stores to open for their spending sprees, grass to cut for them, cars to wash for them, an endless chain of petty jobs demanding preference, particularly in the Oval, whose occupants were colored, and inclined to expect special treatment. 

The Oval was a rustic stretch of flowering shrubs and fall trees, designated on the old town maps as Highland Park. The narrow dirt road that circled it was Highland Avenue. But since in no islander's memory had there ever been signposts to bring these ambitious titles to life, the area had long ago been assigned the descriptive name that better suited it."

Should I keep reading?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Autumn in Words and Pictures

Fruit bearing autumn (Pomifer autumnus.)
Horace, Odes. Bk. iv, ode 7, 1.11.

The tints of autumn--a mighty flower garden blossoming under the spell of the enchanter. Frost.
Whittier, Patucket Falls.

Behold, congenial Autumn comes,
The Sabbath of the year!
John Logan, Ode Written on a Visit to the Country in Autumn.

It was Autumn, and incessant
Piped the quails from shocks and sheaves, 
And, like living coals, the apples
Burned among the withering leaves.
Longfellow, Pegasus in Pound.

I saw old Autumn in the misty morn 
Stand shadowless like Silence, listening
To silence, for no lonely bird would sing
Into his hollow ear from woods forlorn.
Thomas Hood, Ode to Autumn, l. 1.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Have A Lovely Weekend!

Alfred Sisley, Banks of the Oise, ca. 1877/1878
Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier, part Gothic romance and part psychological thriller, is set in Cornwall in the nineteenth century. The narrator is Phillip Ashley. Orphaned as a child, Phillip was raised by his cousin, the wealthy landowner, Ambrose Ashley. Ambrose, confirmed bachelor that he was, distrusted women so much that his household staff was made up completely of men. The only young woman in Phillip's life is Louise, the daughter of Phillip's godfather, Nick Kendall.

Ambrose spends part of his year in Italy due to health problems to escape the dampness of the Cornwall winter while Phillip runs the estate in his absence. Phillip doesn't hear from Ambrose for a long time. When he finally receives a letter, he learns that Ambrose has married Rachel, a distant cousin, whom Ambrose met in Florence.

The couple has no plans to return to Cornwall, and Phillip feels that something is amiss. His fears are confirmed when a letter from Ambrose arrives revealing that Ambrose thinks Rachel is trying to kill him. Phillip mentions this to Nick Kendall who considers the possibility that Ambrose has suffered from a breakdown or from the same kind of brain tumor that killed Ambrose's father.

After imagining the worst and building up a great amount of hatred and resentment for Rachel, Phillip goes to Italy and finds that Ambrose has died. Rachel is not there, but Phillip meets the manager of Rachel's money and her advisor, Rainaldi. Phillip recognizes the name from one of Ambrose's letters as someone who cannot be trusted. It is later in the story that Phillip learns that a doctor of Rainaldi's issued the death certificate stating that Ambrose died of a brain tumor.

Rachel appears in Cornwall at the estate and stays long enough to be considered in charge of the house. She charms the staff as well as the people of the village. At first wary of Rachel, in time, Phillip's hatred of Rachel changes to something else entirely. Conveniently for Rachel, Phillip's feelings change around the time he comes of age to inherit the estate. Since Ambrose did not change the will when he married Rachel, she has been left with nothing, and Phillip wants to provide an allowance for her and more. What unfolds next in the story is obsession, perhaps madness and perhaps murder.

I liked Phillip in the beginning of the story and wanted to believe him, but something happens to show that he is an unreliable narrator. Because of this, I found myself asking all kinds of questions. Was Rachel guilty of murdering Ambrose, or did he really have a brain tumor? Was Rachel trying to poison Phillip as well? Is Phillip telling the story from prison? Was Rachel the lovely person the staff and people of the village found her to be, or was she a conniving murderess only after Phillip's inheritance?

While I didn't love this book as much as Rebecca, reading My Cousin Rachel proved to me once more how effective du Maurier was at weaving a story with atmosphere and danger that can keep the reader guessing. This was one of those books I had to keep reading even though it felt a bit frustrating not to have all my questions answered. 

Even with my questions about My Cousin Rachel, I still recommend the book. The novel was originally published in 1951; I read the Virago reprint edition from 2011.

Have you read My Cousin Rachel? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

Happy Tuesday! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros over at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers reveal the first chapter (or more) of a book they are reading or thinking about reading.

Since Halloween is approaching, I'm in the mood for a ghostly story with atmosphere and good writing. I'm thinking about reading The Uninvited by Irish novelist Dorothy Macardle (1889-1958). This is a classic story of the supernatural about Roderick Fitzgerald, a London writer, and Pamela, his sister, who leave London for a home in the country. They enthusiastically decide upon Cliff End on the coast of Devonshire. The house is in disrepair when they discover it, but Roderick and Pamela are taken with the sea view as well as the challenge of restoring Cliff End to its former glory. But the house has secrets. One of them is that the house is haunted by a woman.

My edition is from 1942, and I got it several years ago at a book sale. The book was made into the 1944 film of the same name starring Ray Milland and Ruth Hussey. I'm interested to see how the book compares to the film.

The Uninvited opens with an epilogue in the form of a letter:

"Dear Garry,

Here is your book. It was you who insisted on my writing it.

I understand your pertinacity. The extraordinary events of that summer will never be credited--we shall even doubt our own memories, unless the facts are recorded without more delay.

I know you understand my reluctance. The occurrences which you regard as of "evidential and scientific significance" were inextricably bound up with matters of a personal character. Every effort that I made to separate them from this intimate story failed. I have been able to do as you wish only by forcing myself to forget that what I was writing would ever be read.

I have not spared either you or myself--your legalistic scepticism or my own ill-considered acts and slow-witted refusals to face the truth.

I wonder whether, when you have read this circumstantial narrative through, you will feel as acutely as I do that

Our indiscretions sometimes serve us well,
When our deep plots do pall.

What strange interweaving of destinies began with the reckless mood of that April morning when Pamela and I first saw Cliff End!


Here are the first two chapters:

"The car seemed to share the buoyancy of the morning, humming along over the moorland roads and taking the twisting hills in top.

I was glad we had taken down the hood. There was a heady exuberance in the air. The sky was a high, light haze; the trees and hedges were sprayed with young colour; the birds were busy and lambs ran lolloping and bleating about the hills. Pamela pulled her hat off, otherwise the breeze would have sent if flying. It was her doing that we were on the road before nine in the morning and heading for the sea."

Should I keep reading?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Saturday Autumn Sights

I hope that you had a nice weekend. Even though there was some rain where I am, we still managed to make it a great day on Saturday. There's nothing better this time of year than a trip to an orchard for some apples, pumpkins, and my husband's favorite, apple cider!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Have A Lovely Weekend!

Vincent Van Gogh, Green Wheat Fields, Auvers, 1890.
Courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Wait for Me! by Deborah Mitford, Duchess of Devonshire

It made me sad to learn of the recent passing of Deborah Mitford, the Duchess of Devonshire (1920-2014). She was the last of the famous Mitford sisters, and she had quite a life.

In her 2010 memoir Wait for Me! (the title came from a childhood of always trying to keep up with her sisters since she was the youngest), I looked forward to what she'd have to say about growing up with such vivacious, beautiful, and at times, controversial sisters. Although what she revealed made for great reading, it surprised me to know that she was more interested in her London season of the 1930's and the goings on in her own life.

Deborah Mitford, March 30, 1938
Courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, London

I came away from the book with a real admiration for Deborah Mitford and what she accomplished in her life. At 21, she married Andrew Cavendish, but when she was 30, the two of them found themselves Duke and Duchess of Devonshire. Andrew's older brother (and husband of Kick Kennedy, sister of John F. Kennedy) was killed in action in World War II, and Andrew's father died in 1950.

Her life took a drastic turn as she and Andrew found themselves in charge of Chatsworth and an Irish castle as well as the inheritors of an astounding debt because of death duties. With her husband's alcoholism, the overhauling and redecorating of the crumbling 175 room Chatsworth House and the running of the 35,000 acre estate became her responsibility. Her ingenuity turned Chatsworth into a self-sustaining family business when other families were selling their stately homes.

Bridge over the River Derwent and the House at Chatsworth, Derbyshire, England
Photo by Robin Bendall

Another View of Chatsworth House
Photo by Robin Bendall

She had other challenges as well--among them the blow of dealing with the the loved ones and friends who died in the war, the deaths of three of her six children who died not long after they were born, and outliving her sisters and so many of her friends. She emerged from these experiences as someone who spoke of her life in a frank and forthright way.

Deborah Mitford was in the company of some of the best known people of the twentieth century. For example, she had tea with Hitler because of her sisters, Diana and Unity, and their admiration of the Fuhrer. She was part of Queen Elizabeth II's coronation and became good friends with JFK and Prince Charles, just to name a few. I was impressed that she knew member of the Bloomsbury Group and painter Duncan Grant, the writer Evelyn Waugh, and even Adele Astaire (sister of Fred Astaire). Adele was a relative by marriage, but that's another story.

In this world where people clamor for celebrity, there is something refreshing about this memoir where Deborah Mitford tells her remarkable story in her wise, down to earth and sometimes witty way, without feeling the need to reveal all. There is so much more to her amazing life than what I've mentioned here, and I couldn't put the book down.

Needless to say, I highly recommend Wait for Me!

Have you read this memoir or any of Deborah Mitford's other books?

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--In a Summer Season

Happy Tuesday! Today I am participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros at Bibliophile by the Sea where readers share the first paragraph (or more) of a book they are reading or considering reading.

My selection is a book that has been in my TBR pile for a long time--In a Summer Season by the British writer Elizabeth Taylor (1912-1975). Originally published in 1961, I have the a reprint edition from Virago Modern Classics from 2012. 

From the book jacket:

"Kate Heron is a wealthy, charming widow who marries, much to the disapproval of friends and neighbours, a man ten years her junior: the attractive, feckless Dermot. Then comes the return of Kate's old friend Charles - intelligent, kind and now widowed - with his beautiful young daughter. Kate watches happily as their two families are drawn together, finding Charles's presence reassuringly familiar, but slowly she becomes aware of subtle undercurrents that begin to disturb the calm surface of their friendship. Before long, even she cannot ignore the gathering storm . . ."

Here are the first two chapters of the book:

"'After all, I am not a young girl to be intimidated by her,' Kate decided, as she waited outside her mother-in-law's house. When she had reached the stage of thinking that if there were any intimidating to be done she might even do it herself, one of Edwina's foreign girls opened the door.

The house was in a terrace, leading off from a tree-filled London square, and Kate was always surprised to find how much quieter it was than the country. She followed the girl upstairs to the drawing-room. Facing her, as she turned the stairs, was a trompe-l'oeil panel, designed to lengthen the passage into an endless arcade with recurring statues of Roman emperors set on a black and white chessboard pavement. 'Only it doesn't trompe my oeil,' she thought."

What do you think?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Have A Lovely Weekend!

William Merritt Chase, Gathering Autumn Flowers, 1894/1895
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, October 2, 2014

An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym

This was my first time out reading a novel by Barbara Pym. I chose An Unsuitable Attachment which has the distinction of being published posthumously in 1982, even though it was written in the early 1960s. An Unsuitable Attachment was rejected by publishers and began a dry spell for Pym that lasted until her next novel was published in the late 1970s.

The novel takes place in London during the early 1960s where the story revolves around a group of friends at St. Basil's parish. There is Ianthe Broome, a librarian and daughter of a canon. She is an only child who has used her inheritance to buy a home in North London where she attends church. She becomes friends with the vicar, the good looking Mark Ainger, and his wife, Sophia, who is very devoted to her cat, Faustina.

When an anthropologist, Rupert Stonebird, moves into the neighborhood, he develops feelings for Ianthe, but Sophia feels Rupert is better matched to her sister, the mod Penelope. Sophia moves into action, trying in her way to direct others' lives to ensure that Penelope and Rupert get together. Of course, Sophia's plans don't run as smoothly as she anticipates.

Meanwhile, at the library, Ianthe has a new co-worker. The new library assistant, John Challow, has never worked in a library before and has a background in acting. Even though John is five years younger than Ianthe and in a different social class, he falls in love with Ianthe. She feels an attraction to him but hesitates because people would view their relationship as scandalous.

A group of women from the parish travel to Rome with comical results. It is there that Rupert Stonebird appears which has repercussions for Penelope. Being in Italy helps Ianthe decide what she really wants.

I found this book an enjoyable read. Barbara Pym does a great job of writing about those everyday moments and how people interact with one another. She shows how misunderstandings can easily come about and how tenuous the course of true love can sometimes be. Also, the interesting and funny personalities are familiar.

In reading about An Unsuitable Attachment, others have viewed this novel as one of Pym's weaker attempts. If this is the case, I look forward to reading her other work.

I would recommend An Unsuitable Attachment, especially for those readers who enjoy Jane Austen's books.

Have you read this book or any of Barbara Pym's novels?

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Welcome, October

October turned my maple's leaves to gold;
The most are gone now; here and there one lingers;
Soon these will slip from out the twig's weak hold,
Like coins between a dying miser's fingers.
--Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Maple Leaves.

And suns grow meek, and the meek suns grow brief,
And the year smiles as it draws near its death.
--William Cullen Bryant, October: A Sonnet.

There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.
--Nathaniel Hawthorne, American Note-Books, 7 Oct., 1841.

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere--
The leaves they were withering and sere; 
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year.
--Edgar Allan Poe, Ulalume.

October's foliage yellows with his cold.
--John Ruskin, The Months.

October in New England,
And I not there to see
The glamour of the goldenrod,
The flame of the maple tree!
October in my own land . . .
I know what glory fills
The mountain of New Hampshire
And Massachusetts hills.
--Odell Shepard, Home Thoughts