The Classics Club Challenge: Mapp and Lucia, by E. F. Benson

Photo credit: britishheritage.com

Four books.  I’ve been waiting four books for this: the first cataclysmic encounter between Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas, Queen of Riseholme, and Elizabeth Mapp, doyenne of Tilling.  E. F. Benson’s series is popularly known as “the Mapp and Lucia novels,” but the two principals don’t actually encounter one another until the fourth book in the series, Mapp and Lucia.  Well – not exactly.  In Mapp and Lucia we learn that our heroines (or villainesses, depending on your perspective) have met once before, when Miss Mapp visited Riseholme for a day and attended a social gathering at which Lucia was also a guest.  But that’s the extent of their contact prior to this book – although they will become much better acquainted soon.

When Mapp and Lucia opens, we find Lucia bereaved.  Peppino – dear Peppino! – Lucia’s indulgent husband, has passed away, leaving Lucia in mourning at The Hurst.  Lucia being Lucia, she does mourning in excess; one would expect nothing less.  But eventually the Riseholmites begin to worry, and Georgia Pillson, Lucia’s faithful deputy, is dispatched to bring her back to the life of the village.  He does so – only too well – by informing her that there is to be an Elizabethan fete and Lucia’s frenemy, Daisy Quantock, is to play Queen Elizabeth.  This will never do, but when Lucia is offered only a bit role in the festivities she decides it would be better to save face by clearing out altogether.  As luck would have it, she finds a perfect excuse – a house for rent in the nearby town of Tilling, listed by one Elizabeth Mapp.  And just as easy as the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata, Lucia has a change of scenery.

‘Well, Mapp, what luck?’ asked Irene.

Miss Mapp waited till Diva had shot in.

‘I think I shall tease you both,’ said she playfully with her widest smile.

‘Oh, hurry up,’ said Irene.  ‘I know perfectly well from your face that you’ve let it.  Otherwise it would be all screwed up.’

Miss Mapp, though there was no question about her being the social queen of Tilling, sometimes felt that there were ugly Bolshevistic symptoms in the air, when quaint Irene spoke to her like that.  And Irene had a dreadful gift of mimicry, which was a very low weapon, but formidable.  It was always wise to be polite to mimics.

‘Patience, a little patience, dear,’ said Miss Mapp soothingly.  ‘If you know I’ve let it, why wait?’

‘Because I should like a cocktail,’ said Irene.  ‘If you’ll just send for one, you can go on teasing.’

When Miss Mapp first receives Lucia’s inquiry, she considers it a coup.  Mapp is not vacating Tilling – just her house – according to an annual scheme by a handful of Tilling ladies to rent out their houses and move into one another’s homes for the summer, turning a tidy profit.  The success of the plan, year in and year out, depends on Miss Mapp, who has the largest house with the biggest rental income – Mallards.

Photo credit: gardenandtravelhub.com

(Side note: can’t you just see Lucia queening it in that garden?)  Mallards was not-so-secretly modeled after Lamb House, possibly the most literary house in the literary town of Rye.  It was E. F. Benson’s house, and before that, belonged to Edith Wharton’s on-again-off-again bestie, Henry James.  In a town that is lousy with literary landmarks, Lamb House (a.k.a. Mallards) is the perfect writer’s residence: as Benson so appealingly describes, in addition to its charming gardens it has a large window overlooking the street, at which the writer – or social coordinator – can sit and observe everything worth noting that happens in the town.  Indeed, there are many – many – conspiracies unwound and plots hatched while Miss Mapp and Queen Lucia, respectively, watch furtively out the window and spin their wheels.

Miss Mapp rents Mallards out and moves into Diva Plaistow’s house, who moves into Quaint Irene’s cottage, and so on and so forth.  When Lucia expresses an interest in Mallards, Mapp is delighted – not only can she take the newcomer for all she’s worth (jacking up the rent without telling her neighbors, in order to keep a bigger profit margin for herself), but she can use Lucia to bolster her own social credibility.  Mapp plans to take Lucia under her wing and be responsible for introducing the most fascinating new temporary resident Tilling has hosted in recent memory.  And of course, with Lucia looking to Mapp for direction on the Tilling social scene, Mapp will be the undisputed queen of the landscape.

There’s just one problem: Miss Mapp has not reckoned on… Lucia.

She turned her thoughts toward Elizabeth Mapp.  During those ten days before Lucia had gone to Riseholme for the fete, she had popped in every single day; it was quite obvious that Elizabeth was keeping her eye on her.  She always had some glib excuse: she wanted a hot-water bottle, or a thimble or a screwdriver that she had forgotten to take away, and declining all assistance would go to look for them herself, feeling sure that she could put her hand on the item instantly without troubling anybody.  She would go into the kitchen wreathed in smiles and pleasant observations for Lucia’s cook, she would pop into the servants’ hall and say something agreeable to Cadman, and pry into cupboards to find what she was in search of.  (It was during one of these expeditions that she had discovered her dearest mamma’s piano in the telephone-room.)  Often she came in without knocking or ringing the bell, and then if Lucia or Grosvenor heard her clandestine entry, and came to see who it was, she scolded herself for her stupidity in not remembering that for the present, this was not her house.  So forgetful of her.

There’s immediate friction.  Miss Mapp frequently forgets that she has rented out her house – and therefore doesn’t have a right to walk in and out with impunity – and often comes barreling in on Lucia without invitation.  (A terrible habit for a landlord.  I speak from experience.)  Lucia fixes that situation cleverly and to great comedic effect… but the result is that Miss Mapp sours on her tenant, and soon they’re entirely at cross-purposes.

‘Things are beginning to move, Georgie,’ said she, forgetting for the time the impending tragedy.  ‘Nightmarches, Georgie, manoeuvres.  Elizabeth, of course.  I’m sure I was right, she wants to run me, and if she can’t (if!) she’ll try to fight me.  I can see glimpses of hatred and malice in her.’

‘And you’ll fight her?’ said Georgie eagerly.

‘Nothing of the kind, my dear,’ said Lucia.  ‘What do you take me for?  Every now and then, when necessary, I shall just give her two or three hard slaps.  I gave her one this morning: I did indeed.  Not a very hard one, but it stung.’

‘No! Do tell me,’ said Georgie.

There are skirmishes, even battles.  Lucia often prevails, but Miss Mapp scores her share of points, too.  (Mapp, it turns out, is a much more formidable opponent than Daisy Quantock.)  The characters in Tilling take sides, and it appears the entire town will soon be at war.  Miss Mapp has one consolation: she’s only rented Mallards for the season.  When August comes, Lucia will take herself, her piano-playing, her faux Italian speaking, and her eccentricities back to Riseholme.  Right?!?!

‘Mapp, there’s news for you,’ said Irene, remembering the luncheon-party yesterday.  ‘You must guess: I shall tease you.  It’s about your Lulu.  Three guesses.’

‘Not a relapse, I hope?’ said Elizabeth brightly.

‘Quite wrong.  Something much nicer.  You’ll enjoy it tremendously.’

A look of apprehension had come over Elizabeth’s face, as an awful idea occurred to her.

‘Dear one, give over teasing,’ she said.  ‘Tell me.’

‘She’s not going away at the end of the month,’ said Irene.  ‘She’s bought Grebe.’

Blank dismay spread over Elizabeth’s face.

‘Oh, what a joy!’ she said.  ‘Lovely news.’

But here, again, Mapp does not reckon on… Lucia.  After one final triumph in Riseholme (I won’t tell you what it is, because it’s absolutely delicious and you should read it for yourself) Lucia determines that she has no further heights to which she can aspire in Riseholme.  In short, she’s won.  And an energetic woman like Lucia is not content to simply rest on her laurels.  She needs something in which to interest herself – a challenge.  Having vanquished Daisy Quantock and conquered Riseholme once and for all, Lucia turns her attention to Tilling and Miss Mapp, and she decides to take up residence… permanently.

Photo credit: The Independent

(Fun fact: there is a recent – 2014 – TV adaptation of the books, in which Lucia is played by the fabulous Anna Chancellor, who memorably portrayed megabitch Caroline Bingley in the ultimate adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, the 1994 BBC miniseries starring Colin Firth, and who also happens to be a six-times great-niece of Jane Austen.  I have not watched it yet, because I want to read through all of the books first.  But it’s on my list.)

Hijinks ensue, as you can imagine.  Parties are given; plots are hatched; social calamity is skirted and averted.  (There is also an amusing side plot in which both Lucia and Georgie worry that the other is falling in love with them, unrequited.)  There are battles fought, won and lost, over that precious commodity – the recipe for Lucia’s famous Lobster a la Riseholme.  (It is Tilling custom to freely share recipes.  Lucia doesn’t seem to understand that, and Miss Mapp cannot, simply cannot, abide this failing.)

And the Lobster a la Riseholme proves to be very important indeed, as it prompts the ultimate calamity when Mapp sneaks into Lucia’s new kitchen to steal the recipe on the day after Christmas.  I won’t tell you what happens, except to say that it is both thrilling and slapstick.  And I’ll tantalize you with this tidbit, which is sure to intrigue:

Again Georgie uttered woe like Cassandra.

‘There’s something coming,’ he cried.  ‘It looks like a raft with its legs in the air.  And there are two people on it. Now it’s spinning round and round; now it’s coming straight here ever so fast.  There are two women, one without a hat.  It’s Them!  It’s Lucia and Miss Mapp!  What has happened?’

What, indeed?  You’ll have to read to find out, and to find out whether Mapp and Lucia ever bury the hatchet.  Whether they do or not, the reader knows they won’t be able to bury it very deeply.  And that’s lucky for us, because there are two more books in the series.  I, for one, cannot wait to return to Tilling and witness the next skirmishes in the Mapp vs. Lucia war.  Since we all have to choose sides, I’ll come forward and admit: I’m with Lucia.  But really, I’m just in it for a good show, and that’s guaranteed.

Luciaphiles, unite!

The Classics Club Challenge: Lucia in London, by E. F. Benson

I admit I was a latecomer to E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia novels, and that the main reason I picked them up was I was curious about Benson’s hometown of Rye (and its portrayal as “Tilling” in the series) and that on my first go at Queen Lucia I wasn’t entirely enraptured.  I found Lucia grating and the rest of the characters tiresome (or “tarsome,” as Lucia’s once-loyal deputy Georgie Pillson would say).  Then I realized that was exactly what Benson was going for.  Once I recognized Queen Lucia for what it was – a lampooning of social snobbery in all its forms – I picked it up for a second time and enjoyed it immensely, then went straight on to Miss Mapp and enjoyed that even more.  And then I took a long break – too long of a break – from Lucia’s Riseholme and Mapp’s Tilling, always meaning to return.  Return I finally did, stuck in the house waiting for the COVID-19 situation to stabilize and in desperate need of something fun and lighthearted.  Lucia delivered, as I knew that she would.

Lucia in London is the third in the Mapp and Lucia series, and the action is really beginning to pick up.  When the novel opens, Riseholme is all atwitter at the news that Peppino – that’s Lucia’s indulgent husband, Philip Lucas – has been left a handsome inheritance by his Aunt Amy.  Georgie Pillson and Daisy Quantock gather for a good gossip and speculation session and wonder how much Peppino has actually inherited.  There’s cash, a house in London, and the rumor of a string of fabulous pearls.  After they turn over all the possibilities, Georgie is dispatched to get the facts out of Lucia, who is putting on an excellent show of being bereaved.

‘Tell me,’ he said, ‘how much do you think it will all come to?  The money he’ll come into, I mean.’

Lucia also threw discretion to the winds, and forgot all about the fact that they were to be so terribly poor for a long time.

‘About three thousand a year, Peppino imagines, when everything is paid.  Our income will be doubled, in fact.’

Georgie gave a sigh of pure satisfaction.  So much was revealed, not only of the future, but of he past, for no one hitherto had known what their income was.  And how clever of Robert Quantock to have made so accurate a guess!

‘It’s too wonderful for you,’ he said.  ‘And I know you’ll spend it beautifully.  I had been thinking over it this afternoon, but I never thought it would be as much as that.  And then there are the pearls.  I do congratulate you.’

Lucia suddenly felt that she had shown too much of the silver (or was it gold?) lining to the cloud of affliction that had overshadowed her.

‘Poor Auntie!’ she said.  ‘We don’t forget her through it all.  We hoped she might have been spared to us a little longer.’

Eventually Lucia gives up her show of being grief-stricken (it’s an elderly aunt-in-law whom they almost never saw, after all) and divulges that they are going to keep the Brompton Square house in London – for Peppino, of course!  His memories, you know, of dear Auntie.  And then there’s the Royal Astronomers’ Society, just the thing for darling Peppino.  Of course it will be a sacrifice for Lucia, who cannot imagine life away from her beloved Riseholme, with its Elizabethan flair and Georgie just nipping across the green to play duets on her piano – dear Beethoven and Mozartino.  But to London Lucia will go.

And to London Lucia does go.  And dives straight into the life of the capital, to Riseholme’s astonishment.  She immediately starts appearing in the social columns – someone named “Hermione” has a beat on Lucia’s every movement – and never seems to miss an opportunity to dine with some luminary or another, even if Riseholme’s most famous part-time resident, the prima donna Olga Bracely, manages to dodge Lucia despite being her Brompton Square neighbor.  It’s not long before Lucia is the toast of London (so exhausting, darling, but think of dear Peppino) and brings a party of her smart new friends down to Riseholme for a weekend, where they proceed to snub the entire town, mock the new History Museum, and generally make asses of themselves.  Naturally E. F. Benson cannot let Lucia get away with this sort of behavior, so you can expect the weekend will devolve, hilariously, into disaster.  I won’t tell you how, exactly.  But suffice it to say: Lucia takes her medicine.

Already she had learned a lesson about that, for if she had only told Georgie that she had been coming down for a weekend, and had bidden him to lunch and dinner and anything else he liked, he would certainly have got Olga to pop in at The Hurst, or have said that he couldn’t dine with Olga on that fateful Sunday night because he was dining with her, and then no doubt Olga would have asked them all to come in afterwards.  It had been a mistake to kick Riseholme down, a woeful mistake, and she would never do such a thing again.  It was a mistake also to be sarcastic about anybody till you were sure they could not help you, and who could be sure of that?

Chastened, Lucia returns to London and to her glittering social circle there.  She has annexed some of the social grande dames, who (along with Hermione, whose identity is revealed during the disastrous Riseholme weekend) call themselves the Luciaphils, because they enjoy her so much.  But she’s not a complete success – her efforts to annex “dear Marcia,” the Duchess of Whitby, prove more challenging than anticipated.  Eventually even “dear Marcia” comes ’round, with the help of Adele, Lady Brixton, the chief Luciaphil.

‘Tell me some more about her,’ she said.

Adele clapped her hands.

‘Ah, that’s splendid,’ she said.  ‘You’re beginning to feel kinder.  What would we do without our Lucia I can’t imagine.  I don’t know what there would be to talk about.’

‘She’s ridiculous!’ said Marcia, relapsing a little.

‘No, you mustn’t feel that,’ said Adele.  ‘You mustn’t laugh at her ever.  You must just richly enjoy her.’

‘She’s a snob!’ said Marcia, as if this was a tremendous discovery.

‘So am I: so are you: so are we all,’ said Adele.  ‘We all run after distinguished people like–like Alf and Marcelle.  The difference between you and Lucia is entirely in her favour, for you pretend you’re not a snob, and she is perfectly frank and open about it.  Besides, what is a duchess like you for except to give pleasure to snobs?  That’s your work in the world, darling; that’s why you were sent here.  Don’t shirk it, or when you’re old yo will suffer agonies of remorse.  And you’re a snob too.  You like having seven–or was it seventy?–Royals at your dance.’

‘Well, tell me some more about Lucia,’ said Marcia, rather struck by this ingenious presentation of the case.

In another day and age, Adele would have been a lawyer.  That’s quite an argument (if rather patronizing) on Lucia’s behalf, and I’m sure I would have been powerless against it – were I not already a dedicated Luciaphil.

‘And then there are lots who will revel in Lucia, and I the foremost.  I’m devoted to her; I am really, Marcia.  She’s got character, she’s got an iron will, and I like strong talkative women so much better than strong silent men.’

‘Yes, she’s got will,’ said Marcia.  ‘She determined to come to my ball, and she came.  I allow I gave her the chance.’

‘Those are the chances that come to gifted people,’ said Adele.  ‘They don’t come to ordinary people.’

I revel in Lucia, too.  Yes, she is a snob, and she can be ridiculous at times – often, in fact.  That’s by design.  Lucia talks annoying baby talk and she thinks she has a right to control the lives of everyone around her, from darling Peppino to the grumbling Riseholmites.  But she is a “strong talkative woman” and much better to cheer her on than to grind her down.  You can’t help but love Lucia and you can’t help but root for her, whether she’s taking London by storm or wrenching control of Riseholme’s committees back from her frenemy Daisy Quantock.  Lucia suffers some humiliating defeats, to be sure, but she learns from her mistakes (which is more than many can say, isn’t it?) and she’s never down for long.  She is, in fact, an icon.

All hail the Queen.

The Classics Club Challenge: Sanditon, by Jane Austen

Sanditon is one of Jane Austen’s two unfinished novels – the other being The Watsons – and it’s somewhat better known as a result of the Masterpiece series (which I have yet to watch – should I?).  Unlike The Watsons, which Austen set aside for unknown reasons, Sanditon was interrupted by the author’s untimely death (sob).  Various authors (and now television showrunners) have tried to guess where Austen may have been headed with the characters – she only got twelve chapters in, so it’s hard to say – but I chose not to read past the point at which Austen laid down her pen.

So, how far does that get a reader, exactly?  Far enough to get a flavor for the characters and the setting – the fictional seaside town of Sanditon.  The book opens with an accident on the road.  Mr. and Mrs. Tom Parker are traveling to the town of Willingden, looking to poach a doctor to add to the population of their adopted hometown, Sanditon.  Mr. Parker’s great ambition is to make Sanditon one of the great holiday towns of the English coast, and he thinks having a doctor in residence will draw more visitors.  (This is largely because his hypochondriac sisters refuse to visit.)  Unfortunately, Mr. Parker finds himself in need of a doctor when his chaise runs off the road and he sprains his ankle.  Alas, there’s no doctor in Willingden – Mr. Parker had read of a dissolution of a medical partnership in the town, but it turns out that was a different Willingden, whoops – but there is the large and jolly Heywood family, who take the Parkers in while Mr. Parker’s ankle heals enough for him to travel.  As Mr. Parker rests and recuperates, he tries to entice the Heywoods to visit Sanditon, which has every advantage:

Nature had marked it out, had spoken in most intelligible characters.  The finest, purest sea breeze on the coast – acknowledged to be so – excellent bathing – fine hard sand – deep water ten yards from the shore – no mud – no weeds – no slimy rocks.

Oh, good, no one likes slimy rocks.

Mr. Parker has invested heavily in Sanditon and sees himself as something of a club promoter for the town.  As he was boasting of Sanditon’s advantages and his own perspicacity in developing it, I kept envisioning him as something of a Georgian version of Tom Haverford.

Tom Haverford Parker spends two weeks resting his ankle and trying in vain to convince the Heywoods to take a vacation – but Mr. and Mrs. Heywood are the ultimate homebodies.  They have no objection to their children traveling, though, and so when the Parkers finally shove off for Sanditon, they have Charlotte Heywood, one of the daughters of the family, in tow.

As the Parkers and Charlotte drive to Sanditon, Mr. Parker regales Charlotte with a lengthy description of the town and its inhabitants – including his fellow Georgian club promoter, Lady Denham, who it actually turns out is super cheap; his sisters and younger brother Arthur, who went to the Mr. Woodhouse school of self-diagnosis; and his other brother, Sidney:

Sidney says anything, you know.  He has always said what he chose, of and to us all.  Most families have such a member among them, I believe, Miss Heywood.  There is someone in most families privileged by superior abilities or spirits to say anything.  In ours, it is Sidney, who is a very clever young man and with great powers of pleasing,  He lives too much in the world to be settled; that is his only fault.  He is here and there and everywhere.  I wish we may get him to Sanditon.  I should like to have you acquainted with him.

I see you, Jane Austen.  It seems pretty clear that Sidney is intended to be Charlotte’s love interest, but he doesn’t turn up until near the end of Austen’s chapters.  What kind of love interest would Sidney be?  Hard to say – from this description he could be a Bingley, a Darcy, or a Wentworth type, probably not a Tilney or Knightley.  But it does appear that Austen has Sidney in mind for the romantic hero, especially after Charlotte meets the other eligible bachelor of the neighborhood, the young baronet Sir Edward Denham, who turns out to be (a) somewhat ridiculous; (b) hard up for cash and therefore required to marry for money; and (c) into someone else.  Sir Edward’s step-aunt, the dowager Lady Denham, grills Charlotte about her intentions in a slightly watered down Lady Catherine de Bourgh manner (but with more satisfaction than Lady “I should have been a great proficient” Catherine gets out of Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice).

‘Indeed!  He is a very fine young man, particularly elegant in his address.’

This was said chiefly for the sake of saying something, but Charlotte directly saw that it was laying her own to suspicion by Lady Denham’s giving a shrewd glance at her and replying, ‘Yes, yes, he is very well to look at.  And it is to be hoped that some lady of large fortune will think so, for Sir Edward must marry for money.  He and I often talk that matter over.  A handsome young fellow like him will go smirking and smiling about and paying girls compliments, but he knows he must marry for money.  And Sir Edward is a very steady young man in the main and has got very good notions.’

‘Sir Edward Denham,’ said Charlotte, ‘with such personal advantages may be almost sure of getting a woman of fortune, if he chooses it.’

This glorious sentiment seemed quite to remove suspicion.

See, Lady Denham, you have nothing to worry about.

Because there’s really no plot to speak of – Austen died before she got there – the real enjoyment factor in Sanditon is the characters.  Their dialogue is just as sparkling as in Austen’s finished novels, and I found myself laughing out loud at the Parker family’s and the other characters’ foibles, and especially at Charlotte’s gently clear-eyed reactions to them.  Mr. Parker being Tom Haverford, I saw Charlotte as the Ann Perkins of the crew.  Essentially good-hearted, definitely cute, polite to a fault, and always getting dragged into weird exchanges with people.

(Is this entire review just an excuse to post Parks and Recreation gifs?  Maybe.  It might be.)

Anyway – Austen spends the first twelve chapters getting all her pieces into their places.  The Parker sisters show up, bringing their hypochondria with them, and also a family from the West Indies, or a girls’ school, or both?, with the sickly heiress of Lady Denham’s dreams, Miss Lambe (also one of the only people of color in all of Austen’s work – and I imagine Austen was quite ahead of her time in writing this character), and Sidney Parker pops up as well.  Just as it seems the action is about to get going – it stops.  And we’ll never know exactly what Austen had in mind for these characters.  Would Sir Edward Denham get dragged into a marriage of convenience with Miss Lambe, or would he successfully seduce Miss Clara Brereton, his rival for Lady Denham’s fortune?  Would Sidney Parker turn out to be the hero after all?  Would Charlotte Heywood, with her wit and good sense (like a combination of Lizzy Bennet and Elinor Dashwood) fall for Sidney Parker, if he is in fact the hero?  Would the Parker sisters and Arthur ever get over their hypochondria?  Would club promoter Mr. Parker make Sanditon the hippest destination on the coast?  We don’t get to find out – but we can use our imaginations.

Now I’m down to just The Watsons and my volume of Jane Austen’s letters.  I don’t know how I am going to live in a world where I’ve read everything that Austen has written.  Send wine, folks.

Reading Round-Up: April 2020

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for April, 2020

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor – First off, this is Elizabeth Taylor the Important British Writer, not Elizabeth Taylor the Hollywood Ingenue.  Okay!  That disclaimer done and dusted, I really enjoyed Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont.  The titular character, Mrs Palfrey, widowed and well-off but generally ignored by her family, moves into the Claremont Hotel, London, to spend her golden years surrounded by a cast of other cast-offs, where she befriends a young writer.  This is one of those books in which not much happens, plot-wise, but it’s beautifully written and the characters are superb.  It’s a moving portrait of aging and inter-generational friendship.

Heidi, by Joanna Spyri – I was looking for some comfort reading, and picked up Heidi for the first time since I was a child.  I was immediately immersed in the world of the Swiss Alps – surrounded by craggy snow-covered peaks, mountain wildflowers, and bleating goats.  It was a lovely respite, and made me crave a trip to Switzerland.

Lodestars Anthology: Switzerland, by Various Authors – Not ready to say goodbye to Switzerland after turning the last page of Heidi, I picked up the Lodestars Anthology issue featuring the country and spent a blissful evening reading all about the travel and cultural experiences on offer there (interspersed with stunning photographs).  It was such a treat, but it made the wanderlust even more intense.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden, by Elizabeth von Arnim – This was a re-read for me.  I adore Elizabeth von Arnim’s work and I’ve been slowly collecting early editions of many of her books, including her Elizabeth trilogy.  When I first read Elizabeth and Her German Garden a few years ago, I loved it but was saddened by her description of her husband, the Man of Wrath.  This time, I found he didn’t feature as prominently as I’d thought he did, and I got the sense that Elizabeth was rolling her eyes at some of his pompous pronouncements and that he was indulging her in turn.

The Solitary Summer, by Elizabeth von Arnim – Elizabeth and the Man of Wrath make a bet: she claims that if she is given a summer to be completely solitary in her garden, she will not get lonely.  He thinks she won’t last a week.  (Elizabeth is a Baroness, so “completely solitary” doesn’t actually mean completely solitary; there is a staff of gardeners, house servants, her three daughters – the April Baby, the May Baby and the June Baby, also sometimes just known as April, May and June – and their nanny.  And she occasionally has to do her duty by visiting the villagers and billeting a soldier.)  Who wins the bet?  Well, you’ll have to read and see if Elizabeth gets lonely.  The garden and nature writing is gorgeous, and I want to be friends with Elizabeth.

The Adventures of Elizabeth in Rugen, by Elizabeth von Arnim – Elizabeth takes it into her head to walk the circumference of Rugen, a German island in the Baltic Sea, where you can (apparently?) swim with luminescent starfish and jellies.  Unfortunately, being a Proper German Woman, she can’t just wander off alone, and none of her friends will sign on to a multi-day hike.  (Call me, Elizabeth!)  So Elizabeth ends up taking along her placid servant, Gertrud, and an excitable carriage-driver, August, and hijinks ensue.  Midway through the trip, she bumps into a relative and even more hijinks ensue.  This was the funniest of the Elizabeth books – I was shaking with laughter during the scene in which Elizabeth and Gertrud fall out of the carriage and August drives off pell-mell, not realizing that his horses are pulling an empty carriage.  And it also caused me to lose an evening to reading travel guides to Rugen and planning yet another trip.

The Man in the Queue (Inspector Alan Grant #1), by Josephine Tey – Let’s get this out of the way first: there are no dinosaurs.  I know, you’d think Alan Grant…  Okay, I can’t keep that up.  The Man in the Queue is the introductory book in a series featuring Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard.  Inspector Grant is tapped to investigate the murder of a man standing in a theatre queue.  The man, who has no identification, was stabbed in the back in the midst of a crowd of potential witnesses, yet no one saw the crime.  How do you track an invisible murderer of a nameless man?  So – I enjoyed this, but I found it hard going at times (blame the pandemic); I think I’ll like Tey’s other works even more.

To War with Whitaker, by Hermione, Countess Ranfurly – Dan and Hermione Ranfurly had been married a year when World War II broke out.  Dan, the Earl of Ranfurly, was a member of a Yeomanry unit, and His Majesty’s Army had an odd rule that regular Army wives could follow their husbands to war, but Yeomanry wives could not.  Mothers, grannies, sisters, aunts, and servants – all welcome, but wives, no.  (And that’s where the title To War with Whitaker comes in.  Whitaker was Lord Ranfurly’s portly valet, who accompanied him to the war.  When Dan announces that they would be joining his unit, Whitaker responds: “To the war, my Lord?  Very good, my Lord.”)  Lady Ranfurly, 25, adventurous, and madly in love with her husband, decides that she’s not staying home, and she essentially bandits the war – and To War with Whitaker is her diary recording the experience.  There’s a lot more to be said about this wonderful book; I will be writing a full review here because I loved every word and am not ready to say goodbye to Hermione, Dan, Whitaker or any of their friends.

A Shropshire Lad, by A. E. Housman – What I thought I would be reading: 63 poems about nature and the changing of the seasons in a classic English region.  What I actually read: 63 poems about death, murder, executions and war.  All very accomplished, no doubt.  But not what I was really looking for.  I knew there was going to be some death, but I also thought there would be more… I don’t know, cricket with the Vicar?  Clearly the fault lies with me, but if this is on your list, maybe wait for less anxious times.

Wicked Autumn (Max Tudor #1), by G. M. Malliet – Nether Monkslip is the quintessential English village, the kind that you’d do well to avoid according to Crime Reads.  So it should be no surprise that the unpopular head of the local Women’s Institute is murdered in the Village Hall at the “Harvest Fayre.”  The death looks like an accident, but Max Tudor – the handsome Vicar of the village church and ex-MI5 agent – knows better.  So!  I didn’t actually guess the killer on this one, but I got 85% of the way there and I probably would have figured it out had I been reading this book with more than 30% of my attention.  I did like it, and will definitely continue with the series.  The village was a complete cliche, and I loved that.

Well, that does it for another month of quarantine reading.  Despite my plans to read through my Classics Club list, I have not actually dug into many weighty tomes during this time, and I’ve felt decidedly blah about reading in general – I think to the point that I might be experiencing a reading slump.  I’m in good company, I know.  The fact that there are so many books on this list is a testament to how little TV I watch (and that, at least this month, was largely because we only have one TV and someone else is always monopolizing it).  I’m sad that, while there are so many wonderful books on this list, I struggled to pick them up.  It’s always nice to visit with Elizabeth von Arnim, of course, and To War with Whitaker is destined to be one of my favorites of the year.  But this has really been a little bit of a half-hearted month of reading.

What did you read in April?

Reading Round-Up: March 2020

Reading is my oldest and favorite hobby. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love to curl up with a good book. Here are my reads for March, 2020

Daniel Deronda, by George Eliot – Eliot’s final novel is often regarded as her masterpiece, although I will confess myself still partial to Middlemarch.  I did love this novel, though.  In Daniel Deronda, Eliot leaves behind her usual village territory (from epics like Middlemarch as well as shorter fiction such as Silas Marner and Scenes of Clerical Life) for London.  Most, although not all, of the action in Daniel Deronda takes place in the capital.  The novel follows the loves and very different fortunes of two main characters, the titular Deronda and the striking local beauty Gwendolen Harleth.  Gwendolen is fiercely independent but agrees to marry a rich man to provide for her newly-impoverished family; her loveless marriage proves devastating to her mental health and sense of worth, and she leans on Deronda as a moral savior – but Deronda may be too preoccupied with questions about his own history and culture to intervene for Gwendolen before it is too late.  Fully reviewed here.

Olive, Again (Olive Kitteridge #2), by Elizabeth Strout – While I’m not trying to keep up with all the buzzy new releases these days, I did want to stay up-to-date with Elizabeth Strout, since I think she’s one of the most talented American writers working today.  Olive, Again is – clearly – a return to Crosby, Maine and the world of grouchy but fundamentally good-hearted Olive Kitteridge, retired math teacher and truth-talker.  As with Olive KitteridgeOlive, Again is a series of linked short stories, in all of which Olive appears to varying degrees.  As with Olive Kitteridge, I preferred the stories in which Olive is a focal point to those in which she only appears briefly.  Strout was at her best when portraying Olive settling into her second marriage, and facing the indignities of aging – but there were a few stories which seemed to mostly be included for shock value (and in which Olive was not a main character), which I didn’t like.  Overall, recommended, but some skimming is possible.

Summoned by Bells, by John Betjeman – Betjeman was a Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom and one of the most recognizable English voices of the twentieth century, and this is his memoir in verse, covering his boyhood through his university years.  Betjeman used to get a bad rap for being a bit too Oxbridge, C of E, cricket, tea-and-crumpets – but I think he’s enjoying a moment these days (I came across him first on #bookstagram) and in uncertain, stressful times there’s nothing like a little comfort and nostalgia.  I enjoy a good memoir in verse, and this one certainly didn’t disappoint, with evocative descriptions of the churches Betjeman wandered into over the course of his youth (he does enjoy a church), the natural Hampstead landscape of his childhood, his joy in books, and more.  It’s a fast read and well worth devoting an hour to.

Ex Libris, by Anne Fadiman – I adore books about books – it might be my favorite non-fiction genre? – and Anne Fadiman’s classic Ex Libris has been on my TBR since I read an excerpt (Fadiman’s essay “Marrying Libraries”) in the very first issue of Slightly Foxed.  I had such a lovely time over this delightful collection – Fadiman muses over everything from compulsive editing (oh, I know about this so well) to the joys of long words and reading a book in the place where it is set, to a childhood growing up surrounded by books (Fadiman used her father’s complete set of Trollope as building blocks, which she lovingly describes in “My Ancestral Castles.”).  I loved every word of Fadiman’s slim collection and am already looking forward to re-reading it one evening.

Prince Caspian (The Chronicles of Narnia, #2 in publication order), by C.S. Lewis – We’ve been trying to establish a family tradition of reading a chapter a night from a childhood classic; we get on good stretches in which we remember to do this consistently and then we fall off the wagon for weeks at a time.  Because of this falling-off-the-wagon problem, it took us ages to get through Prince Caspian, but we finally finished it.  (Steve and I both have fond memories of reading the Chronicles of Narnia as kids, which is why we decided to read the series for family story hour.  I think Peanut and Nugget are enjoying the books.)  I love Prince Caspian – the scene in which Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy explore the ruins of Cair Paravel and finally realize where they are is one of my favorite parts of the entire series.  (And the D.L.F.!)

The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple – As with Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope, I am rationing Dorothy Whipple books because I don’t want to live in a world in which I have read everything Whipple will ever write.  (This is why I have not read The Watsons, and why I am slowly making my way through Barchester.)  Once I do eventually read all of Whipple’s novels, I suspect The Priory might be my favorite.  I cannot resist an English country house story, nor a story about unconventional aristocrats or sisterhood.  The Priory is all of these.  (Christine and Penelope Marwood, blissfully trotting along through life in their nursery until Christine falls in love and gets married, would find a lot in common with Cassandra and Rose Mortmain, although the Marwood sisters’ stepmother, Anthea, is very different from Topaz.)  I adored all of the characters (except Bertha and the Major), but Christine was my favorite – after almost 600 pages, I was sad to say goodbye to her.

The Mitford Murders (The Mitford Murders #1), by Jessica Fellowes – If the last name Fellowes is ringing a bell, that is because Jessica is the niece of Julian Fellowes, creator of Downton Abbey, Gosford Park, and Belgravia (all of which I love).  If anyone was going to write a murder mystery series starring Nancy Mitford, it would be Julian Fellowes’ niece!  As expected, The Mitford Murders was fun and frothy – not destined to become a crime classic, but an enjoyable romp.  Main character Louisa accepts a job as nursery maid to the Mitford children, and quickly bonds with sixteen-year-old Nancy.  When a woman is murdered on a train, Nancy and Louisa team up to solve the crime, of course.  I enjoyed this, and will definitely continue on with the series.

Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo – The 2019 Booker Prize winner (because I agree with the criticism that The Testaments, enjoyable as it was and much as I like Margaret Atwood’s work, is not in the same league and shouldn’t have shared in the award) was really unusual and an incredible achievement.  This collection of sixteen linked stories about black women (some LGBTQ+, some not) was unlike anything I have read before.  I was a little worried, picking it up, because I’d heard that “the punctuation was unusual” and I often find that detracts from the reading experience – but in this case, it just made the stories more like poetry than anything else.  While it was not exactly a low-stress thing to be reading at the beginning of a pandemic, it was wonderful and I’m so glad that I did read it.

Sanditon, by Jane Austen – I am chipping away at the Jane Austen-penned words I have left to read, sadly.  (I’m down to The Watsons and her letters now.)  Sanditon was on my classics club list and it was the clear choice for reading as the world turned inside out.  (Because while Austen says there is nothing like staying home for real comfort, I say there is nothing like Austen for real comfort when you’ve got to stay home because of a global health crisis.)  Austen never finished Sanditon, her portrayal of characters living in and visiting a small seaside town – but even the unfinished novel showcases her wit, her powers of characterization, and her sense of place.  I chose not to read one of the versions that were “finished by Another Lady,” because I wanted to set the book down where Austen did, and let the characters live on in my imagination and not someone else’s.  Full review (for the Classics Club) to come.

Lucia in London (Mapp & Lucia #3), by E. F. Benson – Still looking for comforting classics to read (because: pandemic) I decided there was no time like the present to dive back into Lucia’s world.  Lucia in London opens with Lucia and Peppino bereaved (sort of): Peppino’s elderly aunt has died.  Even though Aunt Amy lived in a nursing home (she was gaga, dear) and they never saw her, Lucia and Peppino put on a good show of grief for awhile, then get on with the business of enjoying their inheritance – a doubling of their income, a house in London, and some pearls (but don’t talk about the pearls).  Off to London they go, for Peppino OF COURSE, and Lucia promptly takes the town by storm, as only Lucia can do.  (The listening-in device!  The morsel of Stravinsky!  The duchesses – too many duchesses!)  Lucia is a hopeless snob, but you can’t help rooting for her.  Full review (for the Classics Club) to come.

Slightly Foxed No. 65: Asking the Right Questions, ed. Gail Pirkis and Hazel Wood – There’s nothing like a new issue of Slightly Foxed.  Or, more specifically, there’s nothing like a new issue of Slightly Foxed and a cup of tea – or some good chocolate – for the greatest bookish delight.  This latest issue, like all the others, was a joy to read.  Turning the heavy cream-colored pages is always a source of comfort, and even if the book being profiled in any given essay isn’t destined to immediately jump to the top of my list, I enjoy reading about what others enjoy reading.  On this occasion, I wouldn’t say my TBR grew exponentially, but I loved reading about To War with Whitaker – the latest Slightly Foxed Edition, which I’ve ordered and which I look forward to receiving once the pandemic stabilizes and the Foxes are back at Hoxton Square – and about The Outermost House, one of my favorite pieces of nature writing.

Meet the Frugalwoods: Achieving Financial Independence Through Simple Living, by Elizabeth Willard Thames – I know the Frugalwoods have a dedicated online following, but I just recently started reading their blog and I was curious to learn more about their story.  It was a quick read, and enjoyable.  It was not a guide to personal finance or a collection of money tips (which many Goodreads reviewers seemed to have been expecting) so a reader who is looking for that sort of thing would be well advised to look elsewhere.  This is a memoir of two people who figured out how to save a huge percentage of their incomes at a young age, and put those savings toward the big (and unusual) goal of buying a homestead in rural Vermont.  Not for everyone, but I like reading about people who are living all sorts of lives and the Frugalwoods’ story was interesting to me.

Mapp and Lucia (Mapp & Lucia #4), by E. F. Benson – Finally, finally, the long-awaited cataclysmic encounter of Elizabeth Mapp and Emmeline “Lucia” Lucas!  I’ve been waiting four books for these two forces of nature to meet one another, and it was worth the wait.  Recently widowed (Nooooo!  Peppino!  Say it isn’t so!), Lucia is in deep hibernation at The Hurst when the book opens – but not for long.  It’s been almost a year, and Lucia’s faithful (most of the time) deputy, Georgie Pillson, takes it upon himself to bring her back into the life of the village.  The next major social event is an Elizabethan fete that Daisy Quantock has been planning, and having not been cast as Queen Elizabeth I, Lucia clearly can’t be in the vicinity of Riseholme when it happens.  Luckily she has seen a newspaper advertisement for a house to rent in Tilling – and it’s Mallards, Miss Mapp’s strategically situated abode (which was based on E. F. Benson’s house in Rye).  And so Mapp and Lucia finally come into contact – like two flints, and there are instant sparks.  I think this was my favorite of the series so far; I won’t say any more, because: full review (for the Classics Club) to come.

March – what a strange month it was.  We all feel like different people now than we were on March 1, don’t we?  This month was heavy on classics, because I’ve been stressed in different ways all month long.  When March 1 roared in, I was preparing for a federal jury trial and was anxious and overwhelmed with work.  By the end of the month I, like everyone else, was reeling from this crazy, scary, uncertain world situation.  It’s clear from my reading over the course of the month – starting with George Eliot and concluding with E. F. Benson – I was looking for solid, comforting reads, for books that I could sink into and forget the world for awhile, and that’s always classics for me.  In a month that was full of worry, reading was a highlight, and everything I picked up was good.  The highlights, though, have to be E. F. Benson and Jane Austen – naturally.  Looking to April, the world situation is getting more frightening by the day, so I predict my book lists will look like more of the same: as familiar and comforting as a well-loved quilt.

How are you holding up?  And what books got you through March?

The Classics Club Challenge: The Priory, by Dorothy Whipple

Dorothy Whipple is completely underrated!  One of the coterie of “middlebrow” writers of the Interwar period, her books have been famously slighted by Virago (which has a rule that it will not reprint anything “below the Whipple line”) – but fortunately for readers, Persephone recognizes Whipple’s merits and has reprinted all of her novels, most (or all?) of her short stories and, soon, her memoirs.  Whipple is a mainstay of Persephone’s stable of (reprinted) authors, and I’m glad of it, because it means her books are in print and accessible, even if my library doesn’t stock them.

I read my first Whipple, Greenbanks, a few years ago, and it’s taken me far too long to get back to Whipple’s vivid world.  I have two dove grey Persephone Whipples on my shelf, though, and they’ve been calling to me.  And I knew exactly where I wanted to start – with The Priory, which sounded (and was) right up my street.  The Priory is the story of an eccentric gentry family living in Saunby Priory, a fictional great house in the English Midlands.  When the novel opens, the house is populated by the widowed Major Marwood, long retired from His Majesty’s Army and caring only for his annual cricket tournament; Victoria Marwood, the Major’s artist sister; and Christine and Penelope Marwood, the Major’s two nearly-grown daughters.  Christine and Penelope are still living in their childhood nursery – it hasn’t occurred to anyone that they should move downstairs – and have created a world unto themselves.  Saunby itself is a world of its own, but it’s all upended when the Major decides to remarry, ideally someone suitable and sensible, who can help him manage Saunby’s expenses (except during cricket, of course).  The Major settles on Anthea Sumpton, the 37-year-old spinster daughter of a neighbor, who appears to like cricket.  Anthea is at first overwhelmed by Saunby, with its unmanageable servants and junk-filled rooms, and then events begin to move fast and furious.  The first thing that happens is: Christine falls in love, gets engaged, and has to face the idea of leaving Saunby.

She unloosed Rough and went her round.  She went to stand in her favourite places.  Under the chestnut tree, bare now and like a many-branched candlestick without candles.  Under this tree she and Penelope had always found the best chestnuts.  They peeled off the spiked cases, so fierce without and lined so soft within, and picked out with delighted fingers the smooth, highly polished nuts.  They took them back to the nursery, saying to each other that you could make the most beautiful doll’s furniture out of chestnuts if only you knew how.

She went into Lake Wood.  She stood in the avenue and looked across to the grey gables and chimney-stacks of the house, with the towering West Front alongside, pierced with blue sky in place of windows.  Lovely, lovely Saunby, she thought.  Wherever I go, there’ll never be anywhere so lovely.

Penelope, meanwhile, is furious with her sister for changing everything and upending their cozy nursery lives.

“Everybody’s having babies,” she said.  Everybody.”

“Women do have babies,” remarked Victoria.  “Even in these days.  You’ll find as you go through life that your friends are all doing the same thing at the same time.”

She buttered more toast.

“First they’re all going away to school, then they’re all being presented, then they’re all getting engaged and married.  Then they’re all having babies, then they’re all attending their children’s weddings and by and by you’ll find they’re all actually being buried.  If you’re not doing the same things yourself, you notice it more.  You’d better hurry to join the series, Penelope, or you’ll feel out of it.”

“Did you feel out of it, Aunt Victoria?”

“No, my dear, but I don’t think I ever wanted to be in it, particularly,” said Victoria, helping herself liberally to marmalade.

“Perhaps I shall be like you,” said Penelope.

Eventually, Penelope comes up with a life plan of her own, marrying for companionship and to escape Saunby, which is becoming a bit too hot for an adult daughter of the house, thanks to Anthea (who the reader can’t help but sympathize with – the Major is far from an ideal husband).  The second half of the novel focuses on Christine’s marriage and how it impacts the sisters’ relationship.  Christine finds marriage more challenging than she expected, and she pines for Saunby – to her, a true spiritual home.  Meanwhile, as the shadow of war grows longer over England – the action takes place in 1939 – Christine finds herself despondent, jaded, and worried about the future and what it will bring to her children.

‘People say: “Oh, it’s not like that for girls now.”  But it is, and it’s going to be more like it than ever, it seems to me.  According to these papers it is.  Women are being pushed back into homes and told to have more babies.  They’re being told to make themselves helpless.  Men are arming like mad, but women are expected to disarm, and make themselves more vulnerable than they already are by nature. No woman is going to choose a time like this to have a baby in.  You can’t run very fast for a bomb-proof shelter if you have a baby inside you, and a bomb-proof shelter is not the place you would choose to deliver it in.  No protection against gas is provided for children under three, this paper says, so presumably the baby you have laboured to bring into the world must die if there is a gas attack.  Look at this,’ Christine directed herself.  ‘In this paper, the headlines are about the necessity of preparation for war and the leader is about the necessity for an increase in the population.  “The only hope,” they say.  They urge women to produce babies so they can wage wars more successfully with them when their mothers have brought them up.’

What a world!  For herself, for everybody, what a world!

It’s impossible to stop turning pages in a Dorothy Whipple novel.  Despite the fact that The Priory was over 500 pages long, I flew through it.  Whipple’s works are often regarded as the type in which “nothing much happens” – but that’s not true, unless you consider marriage, and babies, and love affairs, and family drama, to be “nothing much.”  (Hey, maybe there’s a separate blog post here?)  Christine, Penelope, Anthea, the housemaid Bessy, and even Aunt Victoria go through monumental changes from the moment the novel opens upon Christine and Penelope bent over their sewing in the nursery to the end, in which the characters are jubilant that war with Hitler seems to have been averted (what will happen to them all, the reader wonders, will it all work out?).  And over it all, Saunby is an eternal presence, although only Christine pauses to consider how Saunby stood long before the Marwood family took residence there and will outlast them all.

March was coming in this year like a lamb.  The morning was mild and the sun gained moment by moment on the mist.  The swathes of mist in the hollows of the park were moving and the trees seemed to swim.  Saunby seemed to be materializing from a dream.

“It’s like a dream that we ever lived here,” said Christine.  D’you remember how happy we were?”

“Yes, I realize it now,” said Penelope.

Themed Reads: Women and Wartime

It’s Women’s History Month, which I always love – while I’m down for celebrating the contributions and successes of women any old time, it’s particularly fun when women’s lives are at the forefront of the conversation and on everyone’s minds.  I love seeing the Women’s History Month display in the window of Hooray for Books!, my local indie that I walk past every day, and I enjoy fitting my month’s reading around this cultural conversation.  Fiction and nonfiction books about women are always a focus of my reading, in any month, and I love delving into women’s lives at different periods in history – but today I want to talk specifically about women’s lives during a time period that interests me especially: World War II.

Home Fires: The Women’s Institute at War, 1939-1945, by Julie Summers (also published as Jambusters) explores the significant role British women played on the Home Front as they organized into local Women’s Institutes for the purposes of serving, learning, and socializing.  The Women’s Institute movement started as a flicker, but soon caught fire, with local WI groups forming in almost every community.  Interest and participation in the WI movement went up to the very highest levels of society: Queen Elizabeth (later to become The Queen Mother) was an honorary chair of the Windsor branch of the WI.  While the WI was best known for their efforts at food preservation – especially jam-making – which made a substantial difference during the long years of rationing and food shortages, they were heavily involved in all sorts of war efforts and provided a natural mechanism for women who were not employed in wartime industries or involved in the armed forces to pool their skills and make a difference.

Women Heroes of World War II: 26 Stories of Espionage, Sabotage, Resistance and Rescue, by Kathryn J. Atwood is technically a young adult title, although it has appeal to every age group.  I happened across it in my library while looking for books about Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, a heroine of the French Resistance (this was before the publication of Madame Fourcade’s Secret War, which I own but have not yet read).  Madame Fourcade is profiled in Women Heroes of World War II, but so are twenty-five other women, of every age and nationality, whose acts of courage helped to win the war.  Daring women took great risks to rescue fugitives from the Nazis, carry messages to the Allies, sabotage Axis efforts, and more.  In this age of political disaffection and polarization, it’s refreshing and bracing to read about women who banded together, often at great personal risk, to do what is right.

Consider the Years, by Virginia Graham, offers a contemporary perspective on the war years – and the long drab decade that followed – through a different lens: poetry.  Graham was a well-off young woman when the war began, and evacuated with her family to avoid the danger of living in London during the Blitz.  She writes movingly of daily life; I featured my favorite poem from this slim Persephone-published collection, Evening, in a Poetry Friday post during 2018’s National Poetry Month.  (Still love that one, with its evocative depiction of office workers lined up for a bus, collars turned up against a cold and damp evening, spirits yearning for home.)

Women have contributed meaningfully in every time period, of course.  But there is something particularly fascinating about the role of women during World War II – at least, there is to me.  Those years were a bellwether for women’s greater inclusion and expansions of social and economic freedoms; once peace was achieved, there was no going back to the way things were in the interwar years and before.

What historic time periods are especially interesting to you?