Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Reading England 2015 - Down to Devon with Anthony Trollope

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope

" ...and in those southern parts of Devonshire the summer sun in July is very hot. There is no other part of England like it. The lanes are low and narrow, and not a breath of air stirs through them. The ground rises in hills on all sides, so that every spot is a sheltered nook. The rich red earth drinks in the heat and holds it, and no breezes come up from the southern torpid sea. Of all counties in England Devonshire is the fairest to the eye..."
Rachel Ray p16

The first three stops on my journey through the counties were in the North and although I have enjoyed everything I've read it's nice to now travel to a part of the country little touched by the Industrial Revolution. I haven't been to Devon but I have been to others close by - Dorset, Somerset, Wiltshire and I imagine it is similar - they are all very beautiful.

Rachel Ray is set in the fictional small rural town of Baslehurst which Anthony Trollope based on the real town of Kingsbridge situated in the south at the head of an estuary and six miles from the sea.

Luke Rowan comes to Baslehurst when he inherits a part ownership in a brewery which is presently being run by Mr Tappit who makes ' vile beer', 'a muddy brew'. As most of the locals drink cider nobody cares about the quality of the beer but Luke is an ambitious young man with new ideas for improvements and it isn't long before he and Mr Tappit are at loggerheads. Mrs Tappit, however, has her eye on marrying him to one of her three daughters.

About a mile and a half outside Baslehurst is the tiny hamlet of Bragg's End.

'It had a little green and a little wooden bridge over a little stream - half a dozen labourer's cottages and a beer or cider shop.'

In one such cottage live the widowed Mrs Ray and her two daughters. The elder, Dorothea, after a short-lived marriage to a curate is also a widow and a firm adherent to the Evangelical faith, a believer that ' cheerfulness is a sin.' As Mrs Ray is a sweet but weak and indecisive woman Dorothea has no trouble in ruling the roost at home. The younger daughter, Rachel, is in her late teens, a pretty country girl with a happy disposition and enough spirit to stand up to her sister.

When Luke and Rachel meet there is an immediate attraction which very soon becomes, with Mrs Ray's wavering approval, an engagement. Unfortunately, when Luke has to go to London for a period of time the combined forces of Dorothea's disapproval and the Tappits campaign to blacken Luke's name pressure Mrs Ray into withdrawing her consent to the marriage and Rachel is forced to comply.

Rachel Ray is not only a charming love story but a portrayal of middle class provincial life. The gossip and conflicts of a small community and their mistrust and suspicion of outsiders, the influence of the dour and gloomy Evangelical religion, commerce, class warfare and politics make for very entertaining reading when told with typical Anthony Trollope humour.

Very easy to read and at 400p not too long - I would recommend Rachel Ray to anyone who hasn't read Anthony Trollope and not sure where to start.

I loved it!

Anthony Trollope Bicentennial Celebration
Reading England 2015

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Spin Winner is...

No 2

Which means I will be reading...

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell

Oh dear!! It has been on every spin list I've made - I really want to read it and I know I will love it when I do........but not right now.
Obviously the spin fairy wasn't listening to my wish for something short and easy because at over 600p it is one of the longest books on the list.....and I've only just finished Mary Barton by the same author.

I don't own a copy and went over to the library catalogue to place a hold but it seems they no longer have a copy so next stop the Book Depository to buy one but that will be at least two weeks wait. This is definitely a book I want to be able to enjoy at my own pace so am not going to pressure myself into getting it read by a deadline.

You can't win 'em all!

Look forward to seeing what other spinners will be reading. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Classics Club Spin #9

March has come and gone and I've been MIA throughout for a variety of reasons - some good, some not so good. That's life and I'm not even going to try to catch up but am letting last month go and looking ahead to April.

Another spin from the The Classics Club is just what I need to get things rolling again.  
The Goal - to make a list of twenty unread titles from our list and on Monday 6 April one number will be chosen. The challenge is to read the book that corresponds to the number by May 15.

My Spin List

Five Lovely Ladies

1. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
2. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
3. Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley
4. The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
5. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte

Five that have been on the shelf too long

6. The Odd Women by George Gissing
7. The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander
8. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim
9. The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
10. Vanity Fair by William M Thackeray

Five  about the Boys

11. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy
12. Adam Bede by George Eliot
13. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
14. Maurice by E M Forster
15. Dr Thorne by Anthony Trollope

Five by authors I haven't read before

16. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
17. Highland River by Neil M.Gunn
18. The Good Companions by J.B.Priestley
19. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
20. Helen by Maria Edgeworth.

Keeping my fingers crossed for something short and easy!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Monthly Roundup - February 2015

Books read in February = 8

Helbeck of Bannisdale by Mrs Humphry Ward
In Chancery by John Galsworthy

The Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes
The Crooked House by Christobel Kent
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
The Mangle Street Murders by M R C Kasasian

One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens
The King in the North by Max Adams (NF)

rereading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - 100/407p

Fiction = 7
Non-Fiction = 1
Library Books = 5
E-books = 0
Off my Shelf - 3

Other Posts

Reading England 2015 - Where to next?
Library Loot                                          
Shirley Country - A Visual Tour
I'm Reading..                                 
Library Loot - Books for The Begorrathon

Added to My Bookshelf = 2

Early for my hairdressing appointment I popped into the charity shop and couldn't resist the James Herriot which I bought for the beautiful photographs of Yorkshire but no doubt will also reread the stories. For $2 the poetry anthology was too good to leave behind.

The Best of James Herriot - memories of a country vet
The Rattle Bag - edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes.

What's Ahead in March

  • hopefully another month of summer although the mornings already have an autumn feel.
  • continuing Jane Eyre
  • To Let - the third part of The Forsyte Saga
  • another county, another book for Reading England
  • The Begorrathon - reading Ireland.
That should be enough to keep me busy!

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Library Loot - Books for The Begorrathon

March brings The Begorrathon - a month long cultural celebration of all things Irish hosted by Cathy@746 Books and The Fluff is Raging . You can read all about it at either of those links.

With the end of the month rapidly approaching I set off to the library to pick up the three books I had planned to read but old habits are returning and I came home with a couple more than expected. 

Through Connemara in a Governess Cart by Somerville & Ross.......I have always enjoyed Lisa's reviews of the books of S & A and have had this one on my TBR for quite a while. It is the only one my library has but fits in nicely with The Begorrathon.

Laws in Conflict by Cora Harrison.....In 2010 I read the first in this mystery series set in 16th century Ireland, really enjoyed it and was looking forward to more. Unfortunately the library never bought any more  until last month when I noticed they had added all further seven of the series - I have some catching up to do.

A History of Loneliness by John Boyne.....'a courageous, deeply moving account of a nation and a man living through a period of cataclysmic, irreversible change.'

Academy Street by Mary Costello .....' the heartbreaking and evocative story of one woman's life spanning six decades.' The sort of book I would have expected to be of chunkster proportions and I'm interested to see how a lifetime can be portrayed in 178 pages.

The Doll's House by Louise Phillips ... Irish Crime. Criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is called in to help in the investigation of a murder after a body is found in a Dublin canal.

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire @ The Captive Reader and Linda @ Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they have checked out from the library.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I'm reading....

......more books at once at once than I usually do. There are books all over the house with bookmarks inserted at various points of progress and when I look for something to write a post about I come up empty handed......nothing is finished. So ....I'm reading -

The Brontes by Juliet Barker, although browsing is probably a better description, and discovering the pleasure of owning a book that needs time and concentration to appreciate. I love finding threads that link one author to another and here I read of Charlotte Bronte's visit in 1850 to Fox How, the home of the Arnolds. Having a ' highly idealized impression of the deceased Dr was an intense disappointment to meet his widow and daughters' who she found to be ' lacking that genuineness and simplicity one seemed to have a right to expect in the chosen life-companion of Dr Arnold..........neither she or her daughters were intellectual.'

Dear me! Charlotte - a touch of intellectual snobbery there.

Mary Arnold (Mrs Ward) speaks of the same occasion in an address given to the Bronte Society at Bradford in 1917. You can read this article here - it's very entertaining if inaccurate at times and is only one in a collection from various people written to celebrate the 1916 centenary of Charlotte's birth. Which means we have a bicentenary next year and I should have saved all this Bronte reading until then. 

I'm rereading Jane Eyre now - it's the choice of the Cornflower Book Group and as it has been on my Classics Club list for almost three years I thought this was a good opportunity to reacquaint myself with a book I read in my teens and  know I'll be seeing from a completely different perspective.

The King in the North by Max Adams - NF

Seventh-century Britain and the biography of King Oswald - considered the first great English monarch (634 - 42) he re-united and re-Christianised the Northeast; founded a monastery on Lindisfarne and forged a hybrid culture of Briton, Irish, Scot and Anglo-Saxon. Much of it is set in Northumbria around Bamburgh Castle with its glorious coastal views although nothing remains from Oswald's time except the gateway that bears his name. 

Bamburgh Castle
St Oswald's Gate


I'm really enjoying this and it's providing some 
excellent background for Beowulf but can only read it in small doses so can't see me finishing it before the end of the month.

Finally two light and relaxing books for bedtime..

The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson - scandinavian crime.
One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens - the second in the author's chronicles of her working life - this time she's doing her nursing training. Easy reading but not as funny as One Pair of Hands.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Helbeck of Bannisdale by Mrs Humphrey Ward

Reading England 2015 - Westmoreland. ( now a part of Cumbria)

Lyth Valley, Cumbria
The setting for the story is the beautiful Lake District and the Lyth Valley a few miles SW of Kendal where Mrs Ward's grandparents had a summer home, Fox Low, at which she spent time during her girlhood. Her descriptions of the countryside are lovely....

" A Westmoreland wood in daffodil time - it was nothing more and nothing less. But to this child with the young passion in her blood, it was a dream, an ecstasy. The golden flowers, the slim stalks, rose from a mist of greenish-blue, made by their speary leaf amid the encircling browns and purples, the intricate stem and branch-work of the still winter-bound hazels. never were daffodils in such a wealth before. They were flung on the fell-side through a score of acres, in sheets and tapestries of gold....."

Levens Hall which she rented while writing Helbeck was the inspiration for Bannisdale.

"It was built of grey stone, covered with a rough-cast, so tempered by age to the colour and surface of the stone, that the many patches where it had dropped away produced hardly any disfiguring effect. The rugged pele tower, origin and source of all the rest, was now grouped with the gables and projections, the broad casemented windows, and deep doorways of a Tudor manor-house."

Bannisdale is the home of the Helbecks, one of the northern Roman Catholic families that for centuries stayed true to their faith . For Alan Helbeck it is a struggle to keep the house and estate solvent and the interior of his home has slowly become a shadow of its former self as he sells more and more of the family possessions. He takes his responsibilities seriously but knows if it hadn't been for Bannisdale he would have become a Jesuit priest. 

Alan has a sister, Augustina, who he has not seen for seventeen years. She married out of the faith and he refused to have anything more to do with her. Now she is widowed and returning to Bannisdale to live with her brother, accompanied by her stepdaughter, Laura. 

Laura's father was an atheist and he raised his motherless daughter according to his beliefs, emphasising freedom for the self without any controlling forces. Alone and grieving in a strange household she is appalled by daily prayers, the chapel, the visiting nuns - the routine of a Catholic family.
She turns to her father's farming relatives who live nearby but only finds an equally fanatical Protestant home.

Despite their differences Alan and Laura are drawn to each other and fall in love. Laura is unable to reconcile herself to living under the conditions his faith would impose on her and leaves to stay with friends in Oxford but is forced to return when Augustina is dying.

It is a story of a relationship between two people with completely opposing religious beliefs. Mary Ward's family circumstances gave her an inside view of the conflict and resulting unhappiness of such a situation and has tried to give a balanced account but it is impossible not to feel more for Laura who is expected to give up everything.

If it gets a little melodramatic now and then it's forgiveable and overall I found it powerful and moving. The ending was a bit disturbing and I don't fully understand Laura's actions - I thought she had other choices - will maybe have to reread the final chapters.
It is a tragedy and I cried! What more can I ask for.
I recommend!

About the Author

Mary Augusta Arnold was born in 1851 in Hobart, Tasmania, the daughter of Thomas and Julia Arnold.

* Her grandfather was the Dr Arnold of Rugby School renown.

* Matthew Arnold the poet was her uncle.

*Her sister Julia married biographer Leonard Huxley and was the mother of Julian and Aldous Huxley.

Thomas Arnold, a Professor of Literature, was appointed inspector of schools in Tasmania in 1850. In 1856 he converted to Roman Catholicism with the result he lost his job and the family returned to England. He later reconverted back to Anglicanism and then again back to being a Catholic. It did not make for a happy childhood and the affects can be seen in her writing. Mary Ward was an interesting woman who achieved more than being a novelist and probably deserves to be remembered more than she seems to be today.

Read more about her life

Back to the Classics 2015 - a forgotten classic