Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

RIP.X Challenge: The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

I'm finishing off the month with a selection for the RIP.X Challenge.

The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton is a book that's been on my bookshelf for many years, and I'm so glad I finally read it. The book is made up of eleven stories that Wharton wrote at various times in her career. 

The writing is eloquent and subtle, which is what I've come to expect of Wharton, and there's a strong element of psychological suspense at work in these stories. For most of the stories, the setting is a large house where things go bump in the night. Many of the stories occur during autumn or in the dead of winter.  

Of all the stories, two appealed to me the most this week: Afterward and Bewitched. Afterward is the disquieting story of an American couple who take up residence in a country home in England. When the story begins, the husband is missing, and the wife tells of events that have led up to his disappearance and what these events might mean. Is there really a ghost involved in his disappearance, or is something equally sinister at work? How well does she really know her husband?

Bewitched doesn't take place in a big house but on a dreary isolated farm during a snowstorm in Hemlock County. Prudence suspects that her husband Saul is having an affair with the beautiful young Ora Brand, even though Ora died a year ago. Prudence calls three farmers in the community to pay her a visit--Orrin Bosworth, Deacon Hibben, and Sylvester Brand (father of Ora). Prudence explains the situation and that her husband has been meeting Ora in a nearby abandoned shack. At nightfall, when the men leave, they stop by the shack. What happens next is the mystery. Is there ghostly activity there? Is Saul really seeing a dead woman or her sister who is very much alive?

This is a collection of stories that I look forward to reading again. When I do, one of the other stories will probably catch my fancy. I highly recommend The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton, especially on a stormy night. 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The 1924 Club: Distressing Dialogues by Nancy Boyd

I'm taking part in the 1924 Club hosted by Simon over at Stuck in a Book where participants are reading books published in 1924. My 1924 selection is Distressing Dialogues by Nancy Boyd. 

When I read Nancy Milford's biography of the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay earlier this year, I found out about Millay's book of prose, Distressing Dialogues, and became curious. Then, a little over a month ago when I was at Millay's home, Steepletop, I caught a glimpse of Distressing Dialogues on a table in her library. I was told by the guide that Millay chose to write her prose under a pen name because she didn't want to jeopardize her reputation as a poet.

Apparently, Millay didn't try to hide the fact that she was Nancy Boyd. Distressing Dialogues is under the the copyright of Edna St. Vincent Millay. She also wrote a very tongue in cheek introduction to the book as Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Distressing Dialogues is made up of twenty-two pieces that Millay wrote for Vanity Fair magazine. These works are in a variety of forms such as a spoof on agony aunt letters, dialogue with stage directions, free verse and short stories. Often, the subject of her writing deals with the complexities of how men and women relate to one another.

What surprised me about Distressing Dialogues was that each of these pieces had such joie de vivre and at the same time exhibited a biting wit that made me think of Dorothy Parker or Robert Benchley. I liked that she gave great detail about what characters were wearing, and the situations in her dialogues took place on ship voyages or at parties. Then there were vignettes which take place at home between a man and wife. The book is a fun read and like taking a trip to the 1920's. 

Unfortunately, Distressing Dialogues is no longer in print. I'd been on the lookout for the book and finally found it at a decent price on Ebay. But you might get lucky and happen upon Distressing Dialogues at a book sale. If you do, I highly recommend it. 

Do you have a favorite book published in 1924?

Edna St. Vincent Millay 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton

Happy Tuesday! Today I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon.

This past week, I've been reading The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton. This collection is made up of eleven wonderfully written short stories. I wanted to share a little of "Bewitched," one of my favorite the collection:

"The snow was still falling thickly when Orrin Bosworth, who farmed the land south of Lonetop, drove up in his cutter to Saul Rutledge's gate. He was surprised to see two other cutters ahead of him. From them descended two muffled figures. Bosworth, with increasing surprise, recognized Deacon Hibben, from North Ashmore, and Sylvester Brand, the widower, from the old Bearcliff farm on the way to Lonetop.

It was not often that anybody in Hemlock County entered Saul Rutledge's gate, least of all in the dead of winter, and summoned (as Bosworth, at any rate, had been) by Mrs. Rutledge, who passed, even in that unsocial region, for a woman of cold manners and solitary character. The situation was enough to excite the curiosity of a less imaginative man than Orrin Bosworth."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Albert Bierstadt, Indian Sunset: Deer by a Lake, 1880-1890
Yale University Art Gallery

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The End of the Affair

Happy Tuesday! Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros in which bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon. 

As if I didn't have enough books already, I went to a used book sale this past Saturday and couldn't resist coming away with several books to add to my ever growing TBR pile. One of those books was Graham Greene's The End of the Affair.

The opening:

Chapter 1

"A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who--when he has been seriously noted at all--has been praised for his technical ability; but do I in fact of my own will choose that black wet January night on the Common in 1946, the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain, or did these images choose me? It is convenient, it is correct according to the rules of my craft, to begin just there, but if I had believed then in a God, I could also have believed in a hand plucking at my elbow, a suggestion--'Speak to him; he hasn't seen you yet.'"

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge: Broderie Anglais by Violet Trefusis

Several years ago, I visited the UK and got a chance to spend some time at Vita Sackville-West's family home, Knole Castle, in Kent, as well as Sissinghurst, where Vita lived with her husband, Harold Nicholson. Ever since this time, I've had an interest in the life of Vita-Sackville West.

Vita had lots of affairs, mainly with women, most notably with Virginia Woolf and Violet Trefusis. Vita's notorious affair with Violet has been chronicled in Portrait of a Marriage which is really Vita and Harold's story framed by their son, Nigel Nicholson, who published his mother's letters after Vita's death. Vita also wrote a novel, Challenge, based on her account, which I have not read. Virginia Woolf made Violet a character in her book about Vita, Orlando. And then there is Violet's own account in Broderie Anglaise.

In Broderie Anglaise, an introduction by Victoria Glendinning helps set up the story by presenting who the characters represent. The novel is the story of Alexa Harrowby Quince, a plain writer who represents Virginia Woolf, and her lover Lord John Shorne (Vita Sackville-West), heir to the family home, Otterways, based on Knole Castle. Lord Shorne was once in love with a beautiful French writer, Anne (Violet Trefusis). 

Much of the story concerns Alexa's insecurities about meeting Anne, thanks to Lord Shorne's many wistful stories of the past about his lost love. The memory of Anne casts a shadow over Alexa's relationship with Lord Shorne not to mention that Lord Shorne is rather indecisive and ruled by an overbearing mother. When the meeting between Alexa and Anne finally happens, it becomes somewhat of a revelation to Alexa about Lord Shorne's true character.  

Violet Trefusis (1894-1972) by Jacques-Emile Blanche, 1926
National Portrait Gallery, London

I've been curious about this novel for awhile, so I was glad to finally read it. (Violet's been on my mind as she is based on a character in one of Nancy Mitford's books and also mentioned in some of Nancy Mitford's letters that I read earlier this year.) The tone of the writing in Broderie Anglaise is light. The novel would be a good choice for someone with an interest in Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, or Violet Trefusis.

This is a slight novel that was first published in French in 1935. The English translation for this edition is by Barbara Bray. 

I read Broderie Anglaise for the Classic in Translation category of the Back to the Classics Challenge, hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

John Singer Sargent, Street in Venice, 1882
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

RIP.X Challenge: The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill

I've had The Man in the Picture by Susan Hill (2007) on my bookshelf for awhile, having purchased it a couple of years ago at a book sale. The RIP.X Challenge gave me a perfect opportunity to read it.

On a cold wintry night, Oliver visits his old university professor, Theo, at Cambridge. The two relax in front of the fire, reminiscing over old times, when they begin to talk about one of Theo's paintings. The painting is of a Venetian scene with revelers in masks. 

After a long look at the painting, Oliver spots the figure of a man being restrained by two people. Who the man was and how Theo came to be in possession of the painting are part of the mystery. Not content to leave the painting alone, Oliver becomes obsessed with it, not realizing the danger.

Susan Hill knows how to create the perfect setting for a story. Much of the The Man in the Picture takes place on various dark, wintry nights. The writing feels very Victorian although the story takes place later. The novel is a fast read at 140 pages. I really enjoyed this tale and found Hill's portrayal of Venice with its dark mystery even in the midst of a carnival to be genuinely creepy. Eerie, haunting, macabre, things that go bump in the night--all these elements make for a page turner of a story.

Have you read The Man in the Picture?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Wilkie Collins

Happy Tuesday! I've taken a bit of an unplanned break from the blog thanks to a couple of big projects at work and the joys of home renovation projects. As far as reading goes, I've been reading some novellas and short stories lately which brings me to my selection for today for First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea. Bloggers share the first paragraph or more about a book they're reading or thinking of reading soon.

I'm getting into the Halloween spirit, so I've been reading a book of novellas by Wilkie Collins. I've finished Miss or Mrs? which was excellent, and I've started The Haunted Hotel. Here is the opening for The Haunted Hotel:

"In the year 1860, the reputation of Dr. Wybrow as a London physician reached its highest point. It was reported on good authority that he was in receipt of one of the largest incomes derived from the practice of medicine in modern times.

One afternoon, towards the close of the London season, the doctor had just taken his luncheon after a specially hard morning's work in his consulting room, and with a formidable list of visits to patients at their own houses to fill up the rest of his day--when the servant announced that a lady wished to speak to him.

'Who is she?' the Doctor asked. 'A stranger?'

'Yes, sir.'

Amazon describes The Haunted Hotel as "a thrilling tale of mysterious women and blood-drenched conspiracies. Set amidst the picturesque palaces and waterways of 19th century Venice, Collins's suspenseful novelette recounts an obsessed countess's attempts to thwart what she perceives as her fatal destiny."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Monday, October 5, 2015

Looking Back at My Travels

Here are a few photos from the recent journey to the Hudson River Valley in New York state with a quick side trip to Massachusetts to see Edith Wharton's home . . .

Flowers at the FDR Historic Site in Hyde Park. 
Wilderstein, the family home of FDR's cousin and companion, Daisy Suckley (1891-1991).
Wilderstein is out in the country near Rhinebeck, and I found it so peaceful to sit on a bench and listen to the wind rustle the leaves while enjoying this view of the Hudson River.
We took a side trip to the beautiful Berkshires to see The Mount, once the home of one of my favorite writers, Edith Wharton. It's a wonderful home, planned by Wharton herself.
I enjoyed strolling through the gardens at The Mount.
Wise words.
Next, it was on to Austerlitz, New York, to Steepletop, home of Edna St. Vincent Millay.
The front door of the farmhouse where Millay and her husband lived.
 The grounds at Steepletop are so beautiful. It's easy to see how Millay loved her retreat.
A view of Millay's writing shed. She had a white cloth that she'd hang in the window as a signal to her husband that she needed something.
A rear view of the farmhouse from the vegetable garden.
Another view of the farmhouse.
On our last day, we had a chance to visit Olana, in Hudson, New York, the home of Hudson Valley School painter, Frederich Church (1826-1900). Although it was a little hazy that day, the views didn't disappoint. But I'm not sure my camera did the view justice.
The house is a mixture of Victorian and Middle Eastern influences.
I really loved our time in New York state and our quick trip to the Berkshires. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-1683), Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase.
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands