I hope you are enjoying the beginning of spring! Here in Los Angeles the temperatures are rising and everyone seems to have spring fever. When I'm not outside in the garden, I have been inside doing a lot of reading, writing, and watching some great television. Here are a few treasures I have discovered that I want to share with you. They are all connected to some of my favorite writers.
A Rediscovered Classic
I just finished reading The Mayor of Casterbridge for the second time, though it felt like the first since its been so many years. This may be Hardy's masterpiece. I was struck by the power of his writing to capture the shocking incident that opens the book: a man sells his wife and a daughter to a stranger. An incredible event. I was also struck by Hardy's ability to depict this man's character. The man in question is Michael Henchard, the "Mayor of Casterbridge," who spends much of the book battling his inner demons. I don't think I've ever read a book that so thoroughly depicted a man unable to escape his character flaws. It's heartbreaking in a way to watch this man sabotage his own personal happiness. I was also struck by Hardy's incredible talent at capturing a time and a place. We're deep in rural England in the 1800's, a place that seems very far away. The customs, manner of speaking, types of people, class differences, farming practises, and town life are all vividly brought to life. The only other writer I can think of that matches Hardy in capturing the quaintness, nuances and minutiae of that other life would be George Eliot, especially in "Middlemarch." These two writers are masters at world-building. I can't recommend this book highly enough!
House Style: Five Centuries of Fashion at Chatsworth
Thanks to a couple of friends who alerted me to this fabulous fashion exhibition at Chatsworth House in England, it is now on my wish list for my upcoming trip. I have never been to Chatsworth House and have always wanted to go. A big fan of of Nancy Mitford's books, I was excited to learn about her youngest sister Deborah Mitford. After reading Deborah's fabulous memoir Wait for Me I found another Mitford to love. Deborah was the youngest of the Mitford sisters and often felt overlooked. Her life took a glamorous turn when she became Duchess of Devonshire after marrying Andrew Cavendish. They lived at Chatsworth House, one of the great treasure houses of England. It is set amid the rolling green hills of the Derbyshire Dales. The Duke and Duchess hosted many celebrities and dignitaries here over the years and their stories will be told as part of this fashion exhibition which is curated by Hamish Bowles of "Vogue." Keeping my fingers crossed I make it there!
This Article on Jane Austen in "The New Yorker"
After reading Anthony Lane's fascinating article about "Sanditon," Jane Austen's last and unfinished book, I now want to read it. As he writes, "Although--or precisely because--"Sanditon" was composed by a dying woman, the result is robust, unsparing, and alert to all the latest fashions of human foolishness. It brims with life." I learned some interesting facts about Jane Austen from Lane's article. Did you know that of her six mature novels, four were published in her lifetime and none have her name on the title page? Her nephew, who wrote her biography, claimed that she was always sweet of temper. Lane tells us that wasn't always the case and quotes Austen in a letter saying "Pictures of perfection as you know make me sick & wicked." He goes on to give a fascinating review of "Sanditon." Any Jane Austen fan will want to read this excellent article about Austen's last book written when she knew she was dying. That fact gives "Sanditon" an intensity not found in her other novels.
"To Walk Invisible"
"To Walk Invisible" is the two-hour film about the Bronte sisters made by British filmmaker Sally Wainwright. It aired on Sunday night as part of Masterpiece Theatre. I loved it and thought it was brilliant. I don't want to give away any spoilers in case you haven't seen it, but there is a fabulous short video on the Masterpiece website that tells what the filmmaker was trying to accomplish. Here are some highlights:
Sally's intention was to tell the true story of the lives of the Bronte sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) and to bust some of the myths that have grown up around them. She lived near Haworth as a child and was always taken there. Consequently she grew up knowing all about the Brontes. Her film is about the family, rather than the individual sisters, and the dynamics of that family. They were not at all well-off and the idea of publishing comes about because they are worried about the future. The actor who plays Branwell, the alcoholic, tragic brother, says that although the time covered in the film is a very painful three years it is also hopeful and magical. I agree after seeing the film. The director talks about the fact that people who get hooked on the Brontes get passionate about them and interested in their lives as much as their books. (very true for me!) She goes on to say how remarkable it was to have three geniuses in one family, three separate brilliant people any one of whom would have become famous for what they accomplished. Go here to learn more. I absolutely adored this poignant and beautiful production. My favorite line? When Anne Bronte says, "I feel most alive when I am writing."
I would love to know if you have read "The Mayor of Casterbridge" and how you liked it. Are you a fan of Nancy and Deborah Mitford and have you been to Chatsworth? And please let me know if you watched "To Walk Invisible."