children's books, fiction, genres, iconic characters, joys of reading, just for fun

Our love affair with magical nannies.

mary poppins

There was a nanny debate the other night in our house. No, we’re not considering getting a nanny! The debate centered upon which is the most magical magical Nanny. Is it Nanny McPhee  (originally Nurse Matilda) or Mary Poppins? After this post at Of Maria Antonia recently reminded me of the similarly delightful Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, I came away wondering about our love affair with magical nannies, and began Googling in an earnest search for others I may have forgotten.

Including the delightful dog Nanna in J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan,  it was clear that the magical nanny trope extends beyond my original limited imagination of what a magical nanny is. She’s not only characterized by the possession of literal magical powers, but also has a magical effect on the entire family as she serves. The literary blog Slap Happy Larry outlines the general story arc of children’s books which employ the magical nanny trope:

  • The parents are colourless and unremarkable except for their utter cluelessness.
  • The nanny might be actually magic, or seems to work magic due to being a ‘child whisperer’
  • The children are highly spirited tricksters
  • The nanny sees right through the children and although she may have a harsh exterior, has a heart of gold
  • The children are at least upper middle class
  • Nanny stories of the old-fashioned kind, set in large houses, are probably from an earlier era such as the Edwardian
  • The plots tend to be episodic rather than dramatic, with each day bringing a new adventure which is over and solved by bedtime. But there is still a character arc whereby the children become better behaved (or more morally upstanding) by the end of the story.

Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, an American story, necessarily demands a slightly different twist on the notion than we find in the the other renown stories, typically written by British authors. In contrast to Nurse Matilda, Mary Poppins, or even Nanna, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle doesn’t live with her charges. Instead, she is a kindly neighborhood lady whom all the children love and all the parents trust to know just the trick to rectify their children’s bad or detrimental behavior.

This short exploration doesn’t even begin to address the numerous nannies and nursemaids to be found in adult literature, who are far more likely to have a significant effect than magical powers. The unrefined but devoted Mrs. Wix from Henry James’ What Maisie Knew springs to mind here. I’m not sure I could even exhaust the list in a short post as short as this one. This leads  me to the question:

What is it about the magical nannies that grabs hold of our imaginations and makes us enjoy them so? I have my own hypothesis, but I’d much rather hear yours first!

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
fiction, marriage and relationships, short stories

Short Story Review: The Bachelor

The Bachelor, by Joseph Epstein. Posted at Standpoint Magazine Online, July/August 2018 edition. Read the story in its entirety here.

One of the literature and arts websites I subscribe to is Prufrock, which is published by the Weekly Standard. This short story was included in the latest edition sent to my inbox. Because it is a short story, easily read in 20 minutes, it would be really enjoyable to me if any of you inclined to click over and read it would come back here and share your thoughts.

The Bachelor is written as a first person narrative whose titular character is of course, a bachelor; a lifelong one. At 52-years of age, he is a successful attorney thoroughly enjoying his freedom. The minor things that most of us marrieds have concluded are well worth sacrificing for our beloveds and the families we’ve built are no longer minor sacrifices to the bachelor, and life is good.

Despite the fact that he genuinely enjoys women, he simply hasn’t found one worth the trouble of giving up his autonomy. That is, until he meets Laura Ross.

That’s as much as I can offer without spoiling the story, so click over and read it.

I liked it.

Content advisory: It’s a clean story in so far as it is free of any gratuitous sex or language, but it’s a very adult story and our bachelor is living the life of a healthy, red-blooded, secular bachelor. It’s not a Christian morality tale.

children's books, fiction, Uncategorized

Nurse Matilda

nurse matilda

Nurse Matilda, from Nanny McPhee, the collected tales of Nurse Matilda, by Christianna Brand. Originally published in 1964. I read the first story in the book, which was 132 pages. The entire volume (published in 2005) is 384 pages.

The past couple of weeks have been a little hectic. How hectic? I haven’t even made it to the library hectic. When coupled with the fact that I was spending far too much time imbibing the sensational, depressing and slightly infuriating news of the day, I decided what I needed was a good, funny children’s book. I don’t really need to go to the library to find a book, since I haven’t even read all of these yet:

wp-1470260885827.jpg

Given that there are shelves and shelves of books here, many that I haven’t ever read, I decided to poke around and find something cute and funny, and landed on this collection of beloved stories by Christianna Brand. They  are the stories on which the Nanny McPhee movies our family enjoys were based on.

Nurse Matilda is an ugly nanny with a magic stick who is called in by parents whose children are naughty beyond anything anyone else has been able handle, and the Brown children are the worst the nannies of their town have ever seen. Every group of nannies and nurses who run screaming from the Brown house after little more than one day on the job offers the Browns this advice: “You need Nurse Matilda!”

The Browns not only have children who are naughtier than most, they also have more children than most other families which makes their plight all the more lamentable. They don’t know who this Nurse Matilda is or how to reach her, but thankfully she mysteriously shows up at their door one day ready to tackle the task.

The children try as they might to rattle Nurse Matilda, but to no avail. They are no match for her, as she is able to handle all of their hysterical antics with aplomb, emerging victorious as she helps the children learn to be more obedient and mannerly. Along the way, the formerly ugly nanny becomes more and more beautiful to everyone in her midst as the children become better behaved.

I enjoyed this story’s slight twist on the ending that most people are familiar with from the movie, as it did surprise me, and I fully appreciate why Nurse Matilda is a beloved character. She was just what the doctor ordered for me this week.

4 out of 5 Stars

Reading level: This book can be quite enjoyable at the 3-4 grade independent reading level. As a read aloud, children as young as 1st grade would find it quite funny. Especially the baby.

Classics, fiction, short stories

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories.

my man jeeves early stories

My Man Jeeves and Other Early Jeeves Stories [with biographical introduction], Kindle Edition, by P.G. Wodehouse.Short story collection contains stories of varied publishing dates between 1912 and 1919.

My familiarity with P.G. Wodehouse is limited and quite recent, after reading Krysta’s review of My Man Jeeves at Pages Unbound. I only realized after starting it that the volume I purchased contains a few stories which don’t include Jeeves -or his boss Bertie Wooster- at all, but were among Wodehouse’s early work featuring the narrator Reggie Pepper.

The basic gist of the stories is that of a young wealthy man living well in the big city. Some stories are set in London, while others are set in New York City. This is a book I turned to specifically in the hope that it would make me laugh. And it did. I actually laughed out loud several times while reading Wodehouse’s short stories featuring the genius valet, the narrator’s “man, Jeeves”.

Our narrator, employer of the titular valet, finds himself endlessly involved in the near constant dramas and dilemmas that befall his male friends. Most of these problems which require a unique solution fall in the categories of money crises and romantic hi jinks. Wodehouse is a master at one liners and while I find Jeeves brilliantly entertaining, the narrator and supporting casts are equally engaging and funny.

The great thing about these books is that because they are short stories, they can be enjoyed in bits and pieces without the pressure of trying to complete the whole book. That’s what I intend to do with the additional volumes I’ve purchased since reading this one. The original My Man Jeeves is available on Kindle right now for free.

I’ll round this one out with some of my favorite lines from the stories (all quotes copied from Goodreads).

From My Man Jeeves:

“…there occurred to me the simple epitaph which, when I am no more, I intend to have inscribed on my tombstone. It was this:
“He was a man who acted from the best motives. There is one born every minute.”
From Right Ho, Jeeves:
“You know how it is with some girls. They seem to take the stuffing right out of you. I mean to say, there is something about their personality that paralyses the vocal cords and reduces the contents of the brain to cauliflower.”
From How Right You Are, Jeeves:
“The snag in this business of falling in love, aged relative, is that the parties of the first part so often get mixed up with the wrong parties of the second part, robbed of their cooler judgement by the party of the second part’s glamour. Put it like this: the male sex is divided into rabbits and non-rabbits and the female sex into dashers and dormice, and the trouble is that the male rabbit has a way of getting attracted by the female dasher (who would be fine for the non-rabbit) and realizing too late that he ought to have been concentrating on some mild, gentle dormouse with whom he could settle down peacefully and nibble lettuce.”
From My Man Jeeves:
“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.”
From Leave it to Jeeves, which you can read free online here:
“Oh, Jeeves,’ I said; ‘about that check suit.’
Yes, sir?’
Is it really a frost?’
A trifle too bizarre, sir, in my opinion.’
But lots of fellows have asked me who my tailor is.’
Doubtless in order to avoid him, sir.’
He’s supposed to be one of the best men in London.’
I am saying nothing against his moral character, sir.”
From Carry On, Jeeves:
“What’s the use of a great city having temptations if fellows don’t yield to them?”
These stories are full of pith, humorous one liners tinged with truths about life and human nature. I highly suggest them.

4 out of 5 stars.

Content advisory: This is another instance where clean does not equal child friendly. These clean, funny stories are clearly written with an adult audience as the target audience.

fiction, novels

Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion

wentworth's persuasionCaptain Wentworth’s Persuasion: Jane Austen’s Classic Retold through His Eyes, by Regina Jeffers. Published in 2010. Kindle edition.

A few years ago a bibliophile blog friend recommended that I check out this book, but I forgot about it until recently when I had occasion to re-read the post where she made the recommendation. As I was on the lookout for a light summer read, I decided to give it a look.

Captain Wentworth’s Persuasion is exactly as its title describes: a retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion from the perspective of the Captain Frederick Wentworth, the man whom Austen’s heroine Ann Elliot eventually weds eight years after they first fell in love and were separated by Anne’s family.

I went into this book with measured, but hopeful expectations. Captain Wentworth is, after all, one of my favorite of Austen’s lead male characters and I was curious to see what this shift of focus from Anne to the captain might look like.

There were parts of the book that were very believable and engaging, though I suspect the best parts were those the author lifted out of Persuasion for the purpose of keeping the stories parallel. The tone, timing, and value systems of the two books simply didn’t line up at other points. As I considered the reasons for that, I concluded that Jeffers simply couldn’t resist imputing postmodern values and sensibilities onto Austen’s characters.

While Jane Austen was certainly sometimes romantic in her delivery, her male characters were rarely as openly rapturous as Jeffers paints them. Austen also had a hearty respect for English social stations and respectability. Her characters did as well, as even her books’ most mismatched pairings were presented as reasonable concessions due to extreme circumstances. The only notable detour that Austen took from this principle was in the case of Lizzy Bennett and Mr. Darcy. It is also the most unrealistic pairings of all Austen’s books, in my opinion.

In this retelling, the author seemed to trounce all over these social status realities by having Frederick and Anne disdain these traditions in a way that Austen never would have had them do. She respected the limitations and boundaries of English society even when they seemed in some way oppressive to her characters.

I was pleasantly surprised that this author refrained from graphic sexuality in the book. Since Anne and Frederick were married, I expected her to take licenses that were unwarranted. She didn’t go quite that far, but the book was still far more sensual than anything Jane Austen would have written. This is not Austen’s book of course, but these are Austen’s characters, and given the author’s clear efforts to make the language somewhat similar -with mixed success- I thought she should have also done the same with regard to the sensuality.

The next fiction book in my queue is in fact, Persuasion. I haven’t read it in a few years and an honest comparison demands that I refresh my memory of it mainly because of the way Wentworth is presented here. He is sentimental, sappy and not a little bit petty. None of these traits are present in our original introduction to Captain Wentworth. Granted, given that this story is told from his perspective and in the aftermath of the deep pain Anne caused him in Persuasion, it possible that I am miffed at having my image of him shattered by Jeffers’ attempt to lay bare the  depth of his love for Anne and extent of his pain at being kept from marrying her and the 8 years they were separated.

The ending chapters were quite bizarre and unnecessary. It was almost as if Jeffers suddenly decided to start writing another book: Frederick the Spy. I am still not quite sure what to make of it. Nevertheless, I wasn’t bored, and it was an easy read. Not high praise, but enough to keep it out my “below average” grading.

3 out of 5 stars.

 

fiction, iconic characters, joy of reading, novels, Uncategorized

Engrossing Governesses.

Image result for emma movie images
Gwyneth Paltrow as Emma

A few days ago, I got a sudden desire to watch the 1996 Hollywood adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. As I watched it, the trajectory of Mrs. Weston, the titular character’s former governess, had me musing about the governesses I’ve encountered in my literary travels. Specifically, I wondered what would be the modern day equivalent of the young to not so young governess who, whether by stroke of luck, true love, or mercenary social climbing, finds herself the unlikely mistress of a house.

In addition to Mrs. Weston, I was reminded of Jane Eyre, the heroine of one of my favorite books. Despite the rather dismal plight that Jane suffers from one season of life to the next, she still manages to hold her character and convictions in the highest state, and at the end of it all, marries the man she loves and even has a son.

The last governess turned mistress I thought of was the mercenary Becky Sharp, from the novel Vanity Fair. A beautiful yet vicious social climber who can both blush and cry at will, the only bit of raw emotion we ever get from her is when she realizes her folly in marrying one wealthy man when she actually could have married his even more wealthy (and definitely more powerful) father. She is without question, of a different mold than the governesses mentioned above.

I’m interested in whether or not anyone reading here has a favorite or memorable literary governess I should investigate along my literary journey.

Related- Iconic Characters: Mr. Knightley

*I was torn between watching the PBS adaptation of Emma or the big budget adaptation. The quandary was based on the fact that although I preferred Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance in the title role of the feature film, I preferred Johnnie Lee Miler’s  PBS interpretation of Mr. Knightley light year’s more than the actor who portrayed Knightley in the feature film. I feel strongly about Mr. Knightley, as you may remember from the post linked above. You may not also notice that I never had much use for Mr. Darcy.

 

fiction, Mystery, novels, Uncategorized

Miss Maitland, Private Secretary

Miss Maitland, Private Secretary, by Geraldine Bonner. Kindle edition. A Public Domain book. Originally published in 1919.

Plot synopsis: This is the story of a very affluent New York couple who, beginning with the divorce of their irresponsible daughter, find themselves embroiled in one crisis after another. The hits keep coming, culminating with the abduction of their only and beloved granddaughter, whom they  go to extraordinary lengths to find and bring home unharmed. In the middle of it is their trusted, reserved, private, and beautiful social secretary, the titular character Miss Esther Maitland.

Since the vast majority of the books I read are nonfiction, I was a little restless for something fun to read. Even though I don’t summarily dismiss books due to racy content, I do make a conscious effort to avoid books with gratuitous racy content, and I’ve found that the best way to get a book that is both a great romp and good clean fun is to look for books written during a certain time frame. I stumbled on this Geraldine Bonner classic perusing Amazon, and I am very glad that I did.

This book has it all:  intrigue, mystery, unrequited love, and nearly every manifestation of human nature is on display. In other words, Miss Maitland, Private Secretary is both a great romp and good clean fun.

It was intriguing to me that Miss Maitland both loomed large and hovered in the periphery of the action throughout most of the book. Indeed, the book’s title seemed increasingly strange to me as I read the book. However, as the story unfolded, it became clear that despite the character’s absence from the center of all the action, she was the impetus -whether because envy, malice, justice or love- which drove many of the characters and their actions from the beginning of the story to the end of it.

The best part of the book for me was that in the case of one of the mysteries, I had no idea whodunnit until the very end. That doesn’t happen very often, and alone is worth a recommendation.

If you want a fun, quick summer read, you won’t go wrong with Miss Maitland, Private Secretary by Geraldine Bonner. If you have a Kindle, you can even read it for free.

Grade: B+ for fun factor and good writing.

Content: It’s clean, but it’s not a kid book. There’s divorce, adultery, and peril. The entire book runs from beginning to end with adult themes.