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.

 

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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.

 

joys of reading, nonfiction, novels

Celebrate the Classics!

Celebrate the Classics: Why You Can and Should Read the Great Books (Xist Classics) by [Lee, Calee M.]

Celebrate the Classics: Why You Can and Should Read the Great Books, by Calee M. Lee. Free on Kindle.

I realize this isn’t on my list of books in the queue. What can I say? Old habits die hard. In any event, it isn’t really a book. It’s more accurately categorized as an essay, as I was able to read the whole thing in about 45 minutes last night. The lion’s share of its remaining pages are composed of book lists and potential book club discussion pages, most of which I skipped. The author begins with a funny quote attributed to Mark Twain:

“Classic” is a book which people praise but don’t read.

With that in mind, Calee Lee sets out to make the case that the praise of  certain books, which has lasted for generations, is exactly the reason why we need to consider picking one up. The essay lists several reasons why we should read (or in many cases re-read) classic books. Among them:

Classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.

Anyone who has re-read a classic and loved it despite having found it a drudgery and a torture in high school can attest to the validiy of this.

Classic books give the sense of re-reading something we have read before even if we are reading it for the first time.

This was my experience when I recently read the excellent J.M. Barrie classic, Peter Pan. This happens of course because one of the marks of a classic is that it’s imprinted indelibly in the narrative of a people and culture, being remade and referenced so often that we already know the story. Or at least, we think we do.

Classic books never exahust all that they has to say to their readers.

The Bible, of course, is the ultimate illustration of this truism. It is also true of classic novels as well, albeit to a lesser degree. The nuances, quirks, and familiar foibles of human nature spring anew from the pages of Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility every time I read them.

Those are just a few of the points made in the e-book, Celebrate the Classics. I also think it’s wonderful that the author’s independent publishing company has an entire promotional push to encourage and invite readers to recapture, or in some cases discover, the beauty of classic literature.

I appreciate the fact that she kept it succinct and to the point rather than filling hundreded of pages with exemporaneous words when a short exposition would do.

Grade: B+

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.

 

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, novels, Uncategorized

A Wrinkle in Time

wrinkle in time

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeliene L’Engle. Originally published in 1962. 228 pages.

While Peter Pan was our 4th grader’s latest literature class assigned book, this was our 6th grader’s most recently assigned literature book. I think I was the only mother in the class who hadn’t read it as a girl, but I’ve read it now and I’m glad I did.

While the dominant motif of this story is quite familiar, Madeliene L’Engle presented it in a fresh way that was sure to appeal to her young readers in 1962. It was a time of domestic and international political tensions paralleled with a transformation of cultural norms and mores aimed specifically at the youth of that era. As I read it I wondered how the younglings of that time viewed it compared to the young readers today. It is a book with timeless themes, like any one still worth reading 56 years after it was originally introduced to the public.

A Wrinkle in Time is the story of the Murry family, whose father has disappeared for the last two years. No one knows exactly where he is or when he will return. His wife, Mrs. Murry, along with their four children: Meg, twins Sandy and Dennys, and the younest and most exceptional Charles Wallace, are an oddity and source of gossip in their community for a variety of reasons.

Meg, the Murry’s teenage daughter, is the central character through whose lens the reader views most of what occurs. Charles Wallace, largely regarded by the townspeople as a dunce due to his self-imposed silence, is exceptionally intelligent and insightful but keeps this knowledge between himself and his family. Until the nearly equally exceptional Calvin O’Keefe joins him and Meg on an adventure to save the world from a darkness which trying to absorb everyone into itself and make the world a place of one consciousness and “unity”, but void of uniqueness.

They get a little help along the way from three immortal beings known only as Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. These are three colorful, quirky characters whom only Charles Wallace really understand. You’ll have to read the book for more lest I spoil the plot and the ending.

One of my favorite passages, which captures the heart of the story, is this:

“But a planet can also become dark because of “too strong a desire for security … the greatest evil there is.” Meg resists her father’s analysis. What’s wrong with wanting to be safe? Mr. Murry insists that “lust for security” forces false choices and a panicked search for safety and conformity. This reminded me that my grandmother would get very annoyed when anyone would talk about “the power of love.” Love, she insisted, is not power, which she considered always coercive. To love is to be vulnerable; and it is only in vulnerability and risk—not safety and security—that we overcome darkness.”

Grade: A-

Age level: 10+, though as usual, I am open to a different take. These books are a part of a series, and as I read the next two, I hope to review them here.

 

 

 

children's books, fiction, homeschool, novels

Captains Courageous

Captains Courageous, by Rudyard Kipling. Orignally published in 1897. 144 pages.

Our 11-year-old had to read this book for her middle school literature class, so I read it also. It was at times a hard read, as dialect heavy books tend to be for me, and this one was heavy with various dialects of both the American seamen from the northeast and foreigners from various points around the globe.

However, I make a point of not being dissuaded by dialects when reading a book and pushed forward. Our daughter tackled this problem by listening to several of the chapters on Librivox as she read it, and it helped her grasp Kipling’s style -in this book- much better.

Captains Courageous is a very masculine book. In fact, if I have to answer the question, “What is Captains Courageous about?” my answer is manhood.  In fact I was asked this question. It’s about a boy, coddled, spoiled and entitled by his mother:

“Like many other unfortunate young people, Harvey had never in all his life received a direct order—never, at least, without long, and sometimes tearful, explanations of the advantages of obedience and the reasons for the request. Mrs. Cheyne lived in fear of breaking his spirit, which, perhaps, was the reason that she herself walked on the edge of nervous prostration.”

One day, as Harvey and his mother (his father is busy managing and increasing their multi-million dollar fortune) are sailing from America to Europe, he falls off the boat and is believed to be lost at sea. He isn’t lost but instead is rescued by a pasing fishing boat filled with men based on the New England coast. Men who are not scheduled to return to the east coast (where Harvey can be reunited with his parents) for another four months. He is eventually presumed dead..

Stuck on the fishing vessel with a crew of sea-hardened sailors from all over the globe, away from his father’s money and his mother’s coddling, Harvey has to work for his keep. He initially balks, but it doesn’t take long before the ship’s captain, Disko Troop, literally beats it into his head that he isn’t in New York anymore, he won’t be for several months, and that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

This book is ultimately about a boy coming of age, and becoming a man of character as he is influenced by the crew of the We’re Here. The rather obvious dichotomy between the understanding the two fathers represented (Disko Troop and Harvey Sr.) and the two mothers represented drove home to me how much Kipling was driving home the reality that there are things about manhood that women will never quite be able to grasp.

Lots of seafarer terminology is here and I had to look most of it up, and there Kipling spends pages describing the experience of ocean life. So much so, our daughter thought it would be valid to categorize the sea as a legitimate character, which I found very interesting and insightful.

This… This is a good book. It may have been a children’s book in 1897, but given the decline in most American’s level of reading, I feel completely comfortable recommending to anyone from age 12 to 92. Besides, what was it that C.S. Lewis said:

No book is really worth reading at the age of 10 which is not equally- and often far more- worth reading at the age of 50 and beyond.

Grade: A

Content advisory: Some racial slurs and religious slurs. Some murkiness on matters of faith that would probebly be best explored with children under 12. Death, violence, and peril are included as well.

Age recommendation: 12 +

 

 

 

children's books, Florida History, novels

Strawberry Girl

strawberry-girl

Strawberry Girl, by Lois Lenski. Originally published in 1945. 194 pages. Winner of the 1946  Newberry Award for Children’s literature.

We’re reading this to my 4th and 5th grade Florida history  co-op class and they seem to be enjoying it a great deal. Readers may recall that last semester we read The Lion’s Paw, another Florida classic children’s novel built on the life and topography of 1940’s Florida.

Strawberry Girl is probably one of the least childlike children’s book I have ever read (by post modern standards), but it’s a good book and not too heavy for children to read and enjoy.

Lois Lenski put a lot of time and research into the lives and culture of what are known as Florida Crackers. That is, native Floridians whose roots go much deeper than World War II. As described by Florida Backroads Travel:

He or she is from a family that was here long before the huge population explosions in Florida after World War Two. He or she is almost always Caucasian.

They and their ancestors lived in Florida and prospered before the days of cars, highways, mosquito control, air conditioning, medicare, social security and government welfare.

It is with this backdrop that Lois Lenski wrote Strawberry Girl, a tale of two Central Florida families whose heads bump heads. The new family in town, the Boyers, are farmers while the Slaters, who had lived on the neighboring property for generations, were cattlemen.

Before the Florida legislature passed a fencing law in 1949, cattlemen let their cows and other livestock roam pastures unhindered to graze wherever they desired. Florida was  very active cattle country at the turn of the century and is still a big cattle raising state. These free roaming cattle often proved to be quite a nuisance to adjacent homesteaders whose income was derived primarily from agriculture.

When the Boyers, wearied by the Slaters cows and hogs trampling their strawberries and eating their other crops, decide to build a fence around their property, a feud breaks out between the two families. Since the Slaters found the Boyers’ “biggety’ ways distasteful from the very beginning, it was a long simmering fight which boils over when Bihu Boyer puts a sound whipping on Sam Slater after Slater poisons his mule. Things escalate even further after that, until Lenski wraps up the book with a neat and tidy religious conversion at the end leaving the reader to surmise that afterwards, the families will live side by side in peace.

One of the first hurdles to get over when reading books set in the old South, is the dialect. I mentioned this when I reviewed Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was written in black dialect not long after Reconstruction. Even though this particular book explores Cracker culture which is white, it was still poorer people speaking in a Southern dialect, which takes some getting used to. However, it is well worth getting over that hurdle:

“Thar goes our cow, Pa!” said the little girl.
“Shore ‘nough, that do look like one of our cows, now don’t it?”
The man tipped his slat-backed chair against the wall of the house. He spat
across the porch floor onto the sandy yard. His voice was a lazy drawl. He closed his
eyes again.
“She got our markin’ brand on her, Pa. A big S inside a circle,” said Essie.
The man, Sam Slater, looked up. “Shore ‘nough, so she has.”
“She’s headin’ right for them orange trees, Pa,” said Essie.
“Them new leaves taste mighty good, I reckon,” replied her father. “She’s hungry,
pore thing!”
A clatter of dishes sounded from within the house and a baby began to cry.
“You’d be pore, too, did you never git nothin’ to eat,” said the unseen Mrs. Slater.
There was no answer.
The sun shone with a brilliant glare. The white sand in the yard reflected the
bright light and made the shade on the porch seem dark and cool.
“She might could go right in and eat ’em, Pa,” said the little girl. Her voice was
slow, soft and sweet. Her face, hands and bare legs were dirty. At her feet lay some
sticks and broken twigs with which she had been playing.
Pa Slater did not open his eyes.
If it isn’t obvious to my regular readers by now, I thoroughly enjoy reading books which explore the history of this state where I have lived my entire life. As it turns out, it’s a history far richer and deeper than Mickey Mouse. However, no matter where you hail from, this is an excellent book.

Grade: A

Grade level: 4th-6th

Content advisory: Violence, though mostly alluded to. Discussions of alcoholism, and killing of animals in retaliation. See full parental review of content at Plugged In.