Review: Consequences

I decided to break-in my new Kindle with E. M. Delafield’s Consequences, available as a free e-book from girlebooks. Reading on the train made me aware that e-readers still attract a lot of attention and without a cover to hide the text, I think at least three other people joined me in reading Consequences 😀 Does that happen to a lot of you, too? I should probably soon invest in a sleeve or cover. But my worst shared reading experience on the train was a psycho porn scene in American Psycho and the older very conservative looking woman reading over my shoulder seemed to understand English, unfortunately. I suppose it’s very vexing for a lot of people that with e-readers you can’t tell from the cover what book someone is reading.

Now Consequences is my third Delafield book and as I found even Diary of a Provincial Lady a little depressing, you can imagine what this novel did to me. We meet our heroine Alex Clare in 1889 when she is twelve years old and apparently the terror and black sheep of the nursery. She is soon send away to a Belgian convent and when she returns is prepared for her entrance into society and the marriage market. Failing to make a marriage and fleeing from parental disappointment, Alex joins a convent. But even this decision proves to have dire consequences.

Let me say that this is an incredibly powerful novel and that I enjoyed it as much as is possible, considering how tragic it is. And that is a huge compliment to Delafield’s talent as Alex is the sort of character I have a lot of problems with. Throughout the novel she is described as weak and passive, making the wrong decisions when she does assert herself and so desperate for love that she completely suppresses her self in an effort to please another person. As readers we bring our own experiences and personality to every text and that can be problematic. I have a low tolerance for people who always require a helping hand, it’s always been “get it together” in my family (but also “you can do everything”). So characters like Alex ask a lot of me in terms of patience and understanding but I’m hoping that it’s a testament to my growth as a reader (and person) that I am getting better at putting myself in the position of for example Alex and don’t dismiss her and characters like her from the start. But I also think that being very different from Alex, I could relate better to the people around here.

It’s easier to relate to Alex and not simply dismiss her when one looks at the society that produced her. As the daughter of a family of standing, she has only been prepared for one path in life, namely marriage. However difficult her life might have been before her entrance into society, Alex has been led to believe that her real life and fun and happiness will begin there. Imagine her disappointment and confusion when she is still herself and nothing has changed. No one around her understands her, least of all Alex herself, and although pretty she does not attract that great love for which she desperately yearns. Instead, she develops an infatuation for a nun and abandoning herself enters the convent. Convent life is just a smaller version of the world from which Alex has fled, her life is completely dictated by rules and makes it impossible for Alex to develop any independence. Also, the life of a nun asks for Alex to give up any human, earthly ties and thus the last  place Alex can be happy.

The most difficult thing about Alex is probably that she does not know what she wants, this is not the story of a heroine who bravely goes against every social convention to achieve her impossible dream. Alex is not heroic like that, her depression and “tragedy queen” demeanor is a thorn in everyone’s side. But then her environment is the very reason she does not even know what she wants, she has never been given the chance to think of exploring other possibilities than being pretty and attracting a husband and when that promise is not realized, she cannot imagine an alternative and flees into the only other option she is offered, life a in a convent.

I love heroic woman rebels against patriarchal society stories as much as anyone, but the sheer hopelessness and impossibility of that for Alex are exactly what makes Consequences such a powerful novel.

Other thoughts:

Things Mean A Lot

Iris on Books

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Mini reviews: Oldies, Classics and Cozies II

On with the mini reviews. I read Mrs Harris Goes to New York sometime in July so let’s see what I can remember about it. I enjoyed it a lot and I think I read it because it’s a Bloomsbury book and their books all sound delightful. My libraries don’t have any books of that series but I found another edition of this one in my uni library. Mrs Harris Goes to New York is the second book, I found the first one, Flowers for Mrs Harris, at my library yesterday and finished it already. It’s very short and absolutely delightful. In the first book, Mrs Harris a London char woman sets her mind on acquiring a Dior dress in Paris and finds much more than that. In the second book, she goes to New York, to find the father of the mistreated boy next door. Both stories are completely unlikely, they make wonderful fairy tales though. Mrs Harris is an open and warm person, quite optimistic despite her lot in life. It is wonderful to see how she touches the people she meet on her adventures, and there are  little ups and downs in the stories that have you hope and wish for the success of Mrs Harris’ missions.

 

Miss Buncle’s Book is apparently a Persephone, but my uni library had this wonderful old edition, which smelled like old book. This one is definitely a cozy read, and I spent a wonderful Sunday with this one.

Barbara Buncle is an unmarried woman who decides to write a novel to increase her small income. Deciding to write what she knows, she makes her village the setting of her novel and her neighbours, with very thinly disguised names, her characters, exposing their meanness and secrets. The book is a huge success but the villagers recognize themselves and are furious. They set out to discover who this ‘John Smith’ is.The great fun of this is that everyone views her book as a biting satire, when Miss Buncle is really charmingly naive and kind. It’s not amazing writing, but the story is wonderful. It’s really perfect if you want to escape the complexities of reality and hide in a world where there’s good people and bad people, and the good ones get a happy ending. No need to trouble yourself with these vexing shades of gray and ambiguous characters 😉

 

Ah Wodehouse, I can never resist the lure of your barmy books! I haven’t read that many of his works because despite being such a prolific author, I’m fearing the day when there will be no new-to-me Wodehouse for me to turn to.

Money in the Bank is a completely nutty story about Lord Uffenham who has let his country place to Mrs Cork, a vegetarian big-game huntress who turns it into a health farm. Unfortunately he is rather absent-minded and has forgotten where he has hidden his diamonds, so he returns to his home as the butler Cakebread to look for them and his niece returns as Mrs Corks secretary to look after her uncle. This also features the Molloys and Chimp twist who are after the diamonds as well. And Jeff Miller, a typical Wodehousian hero, is involved in all sorts of goings-on but has no idea how that happened. There’s no Jeeves to save him, but Lord Uffenham’s niece comes to the rescue.

Is it possible to not enjoy Wodehouse’s works? Between the language and the fun lunacy, I think I’m incapable of not adoring every single one of them.

Review: The Making of a Marchioness

I´m terribly behind on reviews, and they are probably going to be shorter and shorter if I do write them. I´m only typing this one now to delay getting started on my uni workload. Also, my brain doesn´t seem to produce coherent thoughts over 30°C.

Enough with the complaining 😉 The Making of a Marchioness was my first Persephone book, and I enjoyed it a lot. When I started reading, I had no idea that this edition actually combines two parts, and so was very surprised how after a Cinderella-esque first part, the story turned very melodramatic.

Emily Fox-Seton is a spinster in her thirties (just writing this is weird!), and although she is from a good family, she is quite poor. To support herself she acts as a companion to rich ladies and helps them with whatever needs to be done. Because Emily is not very clever but very good, she does not realize that she is basically being exploited. At a party of Lady Maria´s, which she is only attending because she is to help with preparations and whatnot, Emily meets the Marquis, Lord Walderhurst. Every woman at the party is after becoming his Marchioness, except for selfless Emily who is busy wishing this good fortune on someone else. So when the Marquis proposes to her, it´s really like a fairy tale ending, except that this is not the end. Although Emily really isn´t my kind of heroine, I also couldn´t resist the charm of this story and wishing Emily well. My favorite part were the detailed descriptions of the clothes, her room and tea. I really can´t help it, but I adore descriptions of the English taking tea, it´s so cosy and almost sacred. It also reminds me of home and relaxed evenings in the garden or watching Midsomer Murders in the living room with my parents (can you tell I´m excited to go home in August? 😉 ).

Now the second part, originally called The Methods of Lady Walderhurst, describes Emily´s married life as a Marchioness. Contrary to the fairy tale style used before, this one is much darker and complicated. Emily makes a good wife in that she is so devoted and selfless that her husband can live his life almost unchanged although he is now married. I suppose from his position, it was an excellent choice. But I can´t imagine a more boring marriage. Still, Emily does now not have to worry about money and her future anymore, and surely she deserves this security. However, Lord Walderhurst´s nearest relative is not happy about the marriage and fears that Emily will produce an heir and he will not inherent the title and fortune as a result. The situation becomes more and more likely to end in catastrophe. This second part is very melodramatic, but at the same time very suspenseful, and although this melodrama made me shudder at times, I also  couldn´t put the book down, I wanted to know how it was all going to end. More interesting is Frances Burnett Hodgson´s commentary on marriage, the two central ones in this novel are the one of Emily and Lord Walderhurst, and the one of the current heir (I seem to have forgotten his name) and his wife Hester.

I don´t want to give it all away but if you´re interested in women´s position and possibilities at that time, you´re going to like this book for more than the charming first part and the sensationalist story of the second part.

Other thoughts:

The Captive Reader

The Literary Stew

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