Friday, April 28, 2017

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Frank Weston Benson, Margaret (Gretchen) Strong, 1909
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham

I first came across the name of Southern heiress Henrietta Bingham in my reading about the Bloomsbury Group, and I became curious about this woman who had become friends with many in Bloomsbury and also a heart breaker of men and women. I was excited to find Emily Bingham's biography of her great aunt, Irrepressible: The Jazz Age Life of Henrietta Bingham (2015).

Henrietta Bingham (1901-1968), the daughter of a judge in the wealthy and powerful family that once owned the newspapers in Louisville, Kentucky, had a tragic childhood. Her mother died in a horrific car accident involving a train, and young Henrietta was in the car. It was a tragedy from which Henrietta, her father, and two brothers would never recover. Henrietta then found herself in the unenviable position of being the emotional support of a domineering father (despite his remarrying twice), a role that Henrietta struggled with for most of her life to balance with her fierce independence.

Henrietta began studying at Smith College, but she most likely had dyslexia which prevented her college career from progressing. She became friends and more with a young professor, Mina Kirstein, who traveled with Henrietta to London. Mina introduced Henrietta to David Garnett, who became Henrietta's introduction to the Bloomsbury Group.

Soon Henrietta divided her time between Louisville, New York City, and England. Although she was no intellectual, Henrietta had more than her share of charm and glamour. She dazzled men and women, leaving them intoxicated by her presence or in despair when she wasn't there. Henrietta loved the adoration of both sexes although she preferred women. 

Her violet eyes were stunning, and she had a long southern drawl that captivated everyone. Henrietta knew how to mix drinks and she loved to drink. She also loved to dance. She adored jazz and liked to sing jazz songs, and she even played the saxophone. Henrietta also liked speed in her cars and in her horses. Fox hunting appealed to her, not for the hunting, but for going fast on horseback, crossing ravines and jumping over fences.

Henrietta was someone that everyone wanted to know. She broke Dora Carrington's heart, and was in a relationship with sculptor Stephen Tomlin. For a time, she was engaged to actor and director John Houseman (a.k.a. Professor Kingsfield in The Paper Chase). She had an affair with Beatrix Lehmann, the noted British actress and sister of writer Rosamund Lehmann. Henrietta's most long term relationship of three years was with the tennis player Helen Hull Jacobs, but Henrietta needed the adoration of more than just one person.

While living a freewheeling existence was fine for Henrietta in the 1920s and 1930s, she faced struggles with the changing mores in society in which being a lesbian was frowned upon, especially with the advent of World War II. Henrietta returned to Louisville and raised thoroughbreds. World War II saw many of her friends, especially women, in important posts. Meanwhile, Henrietta had moved into farming and raised hemp for the war effort. 

Henrietta's life turned into a cycle of depression, nervous breakdowns, doctors, stays in sanatoriums, and a greater dependence on prescription drugs (lots of them, including narcotics) as well as alcohol. The medical community failed Henrietta. Instead of trying to find a way to treat her depression, there was more of an emphasis on controlling her behavior. Henrietta became the family outcast, not welcome at family events because of her unpredictable behavior, and was never to be spoken of. What a sad end for someone who had been so vibrant. 

The story of how Emily Bingham came to write Irrepressible is fascinating. Having found two old trunks in the attic of the family home which contained Henrietta's clothes, mementos, and letters, Emily Bingham began collecting information in what is a well-researched and passionate biography. Henrietta was a troubled woman but never boring. At times, I felt like I was reading a novel and kept thinking what a great movie Henietta's life would make. 

I highly recommend Irrepressible. I started reading the book and couldn't put it down.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Whole Town's Talking

Happy Tuesday! I hope that you're having a good week so far. The weather has been really nice in the evenings, so I've finally gotten around to working on my garden. I love Spring and being able to get my hands in the dirt. 

In looking over my bookshelves and wanting to read something with a little humor, The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg has gotten my attention. The novel was a Christmas gift and has taken the top spot on my TBR pile. 

As part of First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Bibliophile by the Sea, where bloggers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read soon, I'd like to share the Prologue of The Whole Town's Talking:

"What can I tell you about the town? I suppose if you had driven through it back then, it might have looked like just another ordinary small town . . . but it wasn't. I was born and raised there, so I know exactly what I'm talking about. It wasn't a wealthy town either but we all stuck together. And when we heard what had happened to Hanna Marie, everybody was upset. We all talked about it. Everybody vowed to do something about it. But never, in our wildest dreams, would anybody have guessed who would actually be the one to do it. Or, more importantly, how they would do it. But to tell you any more at this point would spoil the surprise. And who doesn't like a good surprise? I know I do.

A Friend"

What to you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Have A Lovely Weekend.

Edmund Tarbell, In the Orchard, 1891
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The 1951 Club: They Came To Baghdad by Agatha Christie

I'm excited to take part in the The 1951 Club, the creation of Simon over at Stuck in a Book, where bloggers read a book published in the year 1951. I chose They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie. Rather than a straight murder mystery, this novel is more of a thriller and reminded me of an action packed film.

In They Came to Baghdad, the city is the site of an upcoming secret meeting of superpowers. A group of anti-capitalists is trying to prevent the meeting and will stop at nothing.

They Came to Baghdad is not the usual type of detective story I'm used to from Christie. Instead of a detective, the protagonist is the intrepid and impetuous Victoria Jones, a beautiful young woman who has lost her job. She has a happenstance meeting with Edward in a London park and from this one meeting, Victoria decides that it must be love. She decides to follow Edward to Baghdad where he is beginning a new job.

While Victoria longs for love and adventure, once she's in Baghdad, she doesn't count on a dying man, known as Carmichael, bursting into her hotel room, demanding a place to hide from the police. Before he dies, Carmichael tells Victoria a message which seems to make no sense but actually contains clues that will save Anna Scheele whose very life is threatened by her knowledge of financial affairs and her important role in the upcoming secret meeting. 

The plot of They Came to Baghdad is quite intricate, and there are lots of characters to keep track of from spies to archaeologists. I love the setting, and Christie's writing is so evocative. Her love of Baghdad is obvious. Although the plot is quite intense, there are also moments of humor. The pacing of the story is excellent and kept me turning the pages.

They Came to Baghdad has a little something for everyone--action, romance, adventure, a plucky heroine who has to use her wits to save herself, a great twist that only Agatha Christie can deliver, and a happy ending.

I really enjoyed They Came to Baghdad, and I recommend this novel.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: The Last September

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 about to read soon.

In my mountainous TBR pile, there are several novels by Elizabeth Bowen, and I'm looking forward to reading The Last September (originally published in 1929).

From the back cover:

"The ambushes and burnings of the Irish Troubles of 1920 seem far removed as up at the 'Great House' tennis parties and dances continue to divert, and flirtations with English officers from the local garrison amuse. Yet a sense of brooding, nostalgic melancholy pervades--the sense of a tragedy coming to its climax in the calm, opulent sunlight of an Irish autumn."

The opening:

"About six o'clock the sound of a motor, collected out of the wide country and narrowed under the trees of the avenue, brought the household out in excitement on to the steps. Up among the beeches, a thin iron gate twanged; the car slid out from a net of shadow, down the slope to the house. Behind the flashing windscreen Mr. and Mrs. Montmorency produced--arms waving and a wild escape to the wind of her mauve motor-veil--an agitation of greeting. They were long-promised visitors. They exclaimed, Sir Richard and Lady Naylor exclaimed and signalled: no one spoke yet. It was a moment of happiness, of perfection."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, April 7, 2017

Wishing You A Lovely Weekend.

Thomas Wilmer Dewing, Spring, 1890
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: An Experiment in Love

Happy Tuesday and Happy April to you! I hope your reading is going well. 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 about to read.

An Experiment in Love is a novel I've been reading, and it's the first novel I've read by Hilary Mantel. It's turned out to be complex, witty, tragic, and so much more than I thought it would be.

From the back cover:

"It was the year after Chappaquiddick, and all spring Carmel McBain had watery dreams about the disaster. Now she, Karina, and Julianne are escaping the dreary English countryside for a London University hall of residence. Interspersing accounts of her life as a university student with recollections of her childhood and a difficult relationship with her longtime schoolmate Karina, Carmel reflects on a generation of girls desiring the power of men, yet fearful of abandoning what is expected and proper. But in late-1960s London, they are confronted with a slew of new preoccupations--sex, politics, food and fertility--and a pointless, grotesque tragedy of their own."

The opening:

"This morning in the newspaper I saw a picture of Julia. She was standing on the threshold of her house in Highgate, where she receives her patients: a tall woman, wrapped in some kind of Indian shawl. There was a blur where her face should be, and yet I noted the confident set of her arms, and I could imagine her expression: professionally watchful, maternal, with that broad cold smile which I have known since I was eleven years old. In the foreground, a skeletal teenaged child tottered towards her, from a limousine parked at the kerb: Miss Linzi Simon, well-loved family entertainer and junior megastar, victim of the Slimmer's Disease."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?