Overdue update on Christmas and birthday books

As I said in my last post, life has rather gotten in the way of blogging over the last month or so (probably more than that), so I am only just getting around to organising posts I meant to write and publish a while ago…

First I must ask you to cast your mind back to the excitement of getting presents at Christmas, and then double it, because my birthday is just after Christmas and so I get lots of presents around that time. Not too bad.

I actually received fewer books than I expected to, seeing as I asked for quite a few, but I am so pleased with the ones I did get. And aren’t they pretty!thumb_img_9248_1024

These were all on my wish list apart from The Prose Factory, which was a pleasant surprise from my fiancé’s mother.  I’d never even heard of it but it looks fascinating so I’m looking forward to getting into it at some point.

I’ve just finished reading the book about Katherine Howard and have a blog post in the works. It has made me really want to read more about the women of the Tudor period, particularly Henry VIII’s other wives, as well as Elizabeth I and Mary. I am particularly keen on reading about my namesake as she has always held a certain mysterious magic for me and I would love to understand more about her life and reign, and her character.

I also asked for every Shirley Jackson book that I haven’t already got, and I am very pleased to now have Let Me Tell You and Dark Tales, especially as the latter is a very nice little hardback with a bright green back cover. I can’t wait to get back into more of Jackson’s eerie and wonderful short stories.

I asked for The Devil in the White City as it’s something I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while. The book is set in 1893 and “tells the stories of two men: Daniel H. Burnham, the architect responsible for the [Chicago World’s] Fair’s construction, and H.H. Holmes, a serial killer masquerading as a charming doctor.” (quote from GoodReads). I think both these men have interesting stories, and it just sounds like a fascinating time. It also doesn’t hurt that H.H. Holmes was the inspiration for the character of J.P. March in American Horror Story: Hotel – and for the hotel itself.

My fiancé’s amazing brother and sister also got a set of Vintage Classics editions of Virginia Woolf, which was a lovely surprise.

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I’ve some of these but not all, and I’m very glad I get to read them in such lovely editions! I plan to start with A Room of One’s Own as I’ve never actually gotten around to reading it…

So there you go – lots of amazing reading to be getting on with. I did also get vouchers for Foyles so there may even more books soon, what a surprise!

Happy reading!

Meeting Persephone Books: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

I purchased Cheerful Weather for the Wedding while out with other bloggers and book-tubers when we visited the lovely Persephone shop on Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, and it is the first Persephone I have ever actually read, despite having admired their books for some time. I would encourage a visit to the shop if you love 20th century fiction and hidden gems – the shop is a hidden gem and so are its books, as Persephone’s remit is to publish forgotten or lesser known books from the 20th century, all in their elegant grey covers. The bestselling titles are given the honour of becoming Persephone Classics and are republished with beautiful illustrated covers. My first Persephone was one of these, and very attractive too.

2009 Persephone Classics edition (image: goodreads.com)
2009 Persephone Classics edition (image: goodreads.com)

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding was originally published by Virginia and Leonard Woolf’s Hogarth Press in 1932. Virginia’s praise for it is something that I expect will keep it in print! She said: ‘I think it astonishingly good – complete and sharp and individual.’ (Taken from the introduction to the Persephone edition.)

The book is a sweet little novella that takes place on the wedding day of a young woman torn between old love and new. It is at once a comedy of manners, a satire of the middle classes, and a desperate story of lost love. And all this in under 200 pages. It’s not exactly groundbreaking, but it is enjoyable and interesting, with great flashes of humour and wit as well as sharp observation and unsentimental emotion. I read it in two days, on holiday in France, and it was the perfect thing to read at the time. Light but not fluffy; complex but not complicated. It is quite ‘of the time’ and in keeping with a lot of the Bloomsbury set’s work, I think. Like a simpler version of Mrs Dalloway it is a ‘day in the life’ that manages to expand over time and space and incorporate so much more than the events that it relates, and I really loved this about it. You learn snippets of background information here and there, mostly through conversation, and this felt very natural and free-flowing.

Julia Strachey also seems like quite an interesting character, and I very much enjoyed reading about her in the introduction written by Frances Partridge (who knew her in real life). It has sort of renewed by interest in the era – I say sort of because I know I’m not about to go on a Bloomsbury set spree – and I will definitely read some more Persephones. On the same day I bought Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes, which I am really looking forward to.

I would also love some other Persephone recommendations if you have any…

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Originally published in 1932 by the Hogarth Press; reprinted by Persephone Books in 2002 and as a Persephone Classic in 2009.

Notes: Mrs Dalloway and The Hours

I have just finished reading Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf… and oh I am swept away. I hadn’t actually sat down to read Woolf since studying her at university when we read The Waves and To The Lighthouse for a course on Modernism and the concept of time (I forget the official course title), and that was, well… two years ago (ish). I LOVED To The Lighthouse, and found The Waves a bit impenetrable – but I suppose that is meant to happen. It is a novel that isn’t really a novel but a ‘playpoem’, and is meant to be hard. I still think it’s brilliant and ingenious though. Of course. I even wrote about it here.

Virginia Woolf. Image: wikipedia.com
Virginia Woolf. Image: wikipedia.com

My older sister once recommended Orlando to me. I read half of it, and got so fed up I gave up on it. It is incredibly dense and longwinded, and frankly, a bit self indulgent. Sorry. Luckily, my reading of Woolf at university, and a brilliant lecturer, means I love her now. The film adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s beautiful novel The Hours was on TV the other night and I caught the last 40 minutes or so. As per, I cried at the end. Oh Meryl! And Julianne Moore… Also I could look at Claire Danes’ face forever.

Claire Danes as Julia and Meryl Streep as Clarissa in The Hours. Image: imbd.com
Claire Danes as Julia and Meryl Streep as Clarissa in The Hours. Image: imbd.com

What Michael Cunningham does is so beautiful; he clearly adores Mrs Dalloway, and in The Hours (named after an early title for Mrs D) he translates the story of that day in June 1923 into the lives of women outside the novel, including Woolf herself. He makes the lives of Mrs Dalloway, her friends, and that of Septimus Smith and his wife Rezia, universal – he demonstrates that the same feelings and thoughts, the same issues, and the same problems, permeate life beyond the pages of Mrs Dalloway. While Woolf’s novel has a wide wingspan, covering all these experiences across London in one day, it is limited by time and place. Cunningham takes us to America, and through the twentieth century, to his world and the possible people within it. The Hours moves us because we recognise elements from Mrs Dalloway; because the stories of Virginia, and of Richard and his mother, are so incredibly sad; but also because we can all relate to something we see in the story, in some small way.

Image: awesomestories.com
Fourth Estate 2003 edition of The Hours. Image: awesomestories.com

Watching the wonderful film adaptation reminded me that I had a long unread copy of Mrs Dalloway in my bookshelf. Having just finished the unsatisfying This Is Paradise, I was unsure of what to read next, and read Elaine Showalter’s introduction to the 2000 Penguin Modern Classics version of Mrs D that I own. I just simply had to keep reading. Showalter’s introduction reintroduced me to Henri Bergson’s theory of human or physical time, as opposed to clock time, and also the feminist issues within the novel. My academic mind was given a prod and I was reassured that literature is wonderful and important. Woolf is simply brilliant at capturing all the little things that fill our lives everyday, that seem insignificant but often mean so much more. Nothing is washed over or forgotten; but then I think she does not over-think things or overanalyse things – she simply pays more attention to what really can make us happy or unhappy.

Penguin Modern Classics edition of Mrs Dalloway. Image: penguin.com.au
Penguin Modern Classics edition of Mrs Dalloway. Image: penguin.com.au

I recently also bought myself a copy of Selected Essays by Virginia Woolf, as I have never read them. It was her birthday on 25th January, and this piece on For Books’ Sake about two of her essays, A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas, has made me want to read her non-fiction even more. I’ve decided to read more non-fiction this year, and started with Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan, and am looking forward to VW’s essays immensely.

I am very glad to have ‘rediscovered’ Virginia. What do you love about her? What other writers like her do you love?