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General consensus seemed to be that, after The Blue Castle, Jane of Lantern Hill was the best L.M. Montgomery book. So, when I detached myself from the internet yesterday and had a mini reading spree, it was the first thing I read. I mean, after I finished the Nero Wolfe book I was in the middle of.
I’m sorry I’m late to the L.M. Montgomery party, but I’m not sorry I’m getting to read these books for the first time now. There are children’s books that I’ve read as an adult and wished I had read as a kid, but Jane of Lantern Hill isn’t one of them. Yes, reading it at the appropriate age would have been a very different experience, but I don’t think it would have necessarily been a better one; I have so much more context for things now. This is just me trying to rationalize, though. Mostly I can’t imagine enjoying Jane of Lantern Hill more when I was a kid than I did yesterday.
The setup is strikingly similar to that of The Blue Castle — the unhappy girl living in a strict, female-dominated household whose only escape is via her imagination, the awful aunts and uncles and the privileged cousin, etc. But Jane is a kid, and her family includes some non-awful people: her mother and father, who are estranged. Jane and her mother live with Jane’s grandmother, who basically hates everyone but Jane’s mother, and takes active pleasure in making Jane’s life miserable.
This is abuse. Her grandmother uses everything Jane does to reinforce a narrative where Jane is useless and terrible at everything and has “low tastes.” Anything that Jane does well or likes to do is either ignored or food for further criticism. Every nice thing that her grandmother gives is is secretly meant to make her unhappy. And Jane responds, as people being abused often do, by becoming bad at all of the things she’s told she’s bad at. It’s pretty uncomfortable reading.
But this is a mostly cheerful children’s book, and so there’s something irrepressibly humorous and interested in Jane that her grandmother can’t kill, and she gets to exercise those faculties when she goes away to spend the summer with her father on Prince Edward Island.
Jane’s first summer with her father is almost too perfect. They instinctively get each other, in a way that was enough like an idealized version of my relationship with my father that it almost made me uncomfortable. But only almost. What’s great about this section, though, is Jane’s confidence. Free of her grandmother’s influence, she knows she’s capable of doing all sorts of things. It’s interesting that so many of those things are in the areas of cooking and housekeeping — things her grandmother never repeatedly told Jane was awful at because she never allowed her to try them in the first place.
Even better is the fact that Jane takes some of that confidence back home with her at the end of the summer. And yes, she stands up for herself a little more, but my favorite thing is that her knowledge that she’s a capable person sticks with her and allows her to continue to be a capable person, doing better in school and becoming less clumsy. It’s great.
So, yeah, this book was so good for me in so many ways. I didn’t love the ending as much as I loved the rest, but I also don’t see how else Montgomery could have sorted things out, so I don’t really want to complain.
When I was finished with Jane of Lantern Hill I went on reading people’s recommendations/things I’ve waited for too long to read. Next up: The Adventure of Princess Sylvia, because I got mixed up and didn’t remember I was supposed to read Princess Virginia instead.
Blog: Redeeming Qualities
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Of all the English classes I ever had, my 7th grade one was the best. And part of it was that my teacher was great, and part of it was that I realized that grammar is equal parts fun and fascinating — although I realize I may be alone on that one — but probably the single biggest factor was that we had to write an essay on a short story each week. And I could talk a lot about how helpful it was to have to churn out essays and learn to construct an argument and stuff, but what I’m here to talk about today is how much I hated the short stories.
Middle School and High School English classes do a lot to instill in kids the idea that serious literature is super depressing, and short stories, which tend to be sort of single-minded in pursuit of an idea, make it worse — at least with novels, there’s usually time and space to put in a few scenes that will make you laugh, or, you know, offer sidelights on a character that give you hope that they have inner resources to draw on and won’t spend the rest of their lives completely miserable. If they live to the end of the story, that is.
I mean, there were bright spots: “The Speckled Band.” Dorothy Parker. Vocabulary lessons. But I came out of Middle School English with the conviction that all short stories were terrible and that I would hate them forever, with a grudging exception for detective stories.
Anyway, the point of this is that for a long time I really believed I hated short stories — until a couple of years ago when I realized that I was reading short stories all the time, and loving them. It was just that they were short story series, character-driven and funny instead of literary and depressing. These days I get really excited when an author I’ve been enjoying turns out to have a series of short stories or two. So this is the first in what I expect to be a extremely rambling series of posts about those, and how much fun they are — starting with the super obvious.
It doesn’t get a lot more obvious than Sherlock Holmes, right? To the point where I don’t need to describe the series at all, because if you don’t already know the premise, you’ve been living under a rock since 1887.I’m only including the Holmes stories here to point out that they’re exactly the same as everything else I’m about to talk about — focused on a character, based around a central conceit, and closely tied to a specific setting. And all about a person who’s better at stuff than everyone around him, which is preferred, if not essential. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is, I think, the most fun — first collections usually are — and I retain my 7th grade fondness for “The Speckled Band,” although I think the one that kind of bowled me over the most when I first read it was “The Red-Headed League.”
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
Project Gutenberg doesn’t have the complete Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes or Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, but you get the idea. And the novels are sort of beside the point in this context, but I will freely admit that my favorite Sherlock Holmes Thing is Hound of the Baskervilles, which I love probably beyond reason.
Jeeves and Wooster
Then there’s P.G. Wodehouse. And if Sherlock Holmes is typical of the thing I’m trying to talk about, I don’t know what the Jeeves
I started by really liking Anne Austin’s Girl Alone, but as it went on, I found myself getting more and more creeped out, and I didn’t really realize why until I got to the ads at the back of the book. The storyline is a straightforward, predictable one, mostly. It goes like this: Orphan (Sally Ford) is sent to work as a hired girl on a farm for the summer. There she meets a cute boy (David Nash). They end up running away and joining up with a circus for a while. Then the mother Sally’s never known shows up and adopts her. This would be an extremely unsurprising children’s book, right? Only it’s not.
Sally is 16 and very sheltered, and even before she leaves the orphanage the outside world and the farmer bringing her home with him are treated as a sexual threats. David is 20, and he’s a nice guy, but his attraction for Sally and hers for him is primarily physical. He understands that his desire for her is inappropriate, and the fact that she doesn’t kind of underlines why. The circus stuff is pretty cool, and Sally becomes a fairly successful fortune-teller, but she and David are mostly separated, and their few meetings leave me increasing unconvinced/creeped out by their relationship.
Then Sally’s mother, Enid Barr, shows up and stops Sally and David from getting married, which is nice, and drags Sally off to boarding school, which I think is probably a really healthy decision. But there’s an extra layer of complication. Sally was the result of an affair that Enid had as a teenager, and now Enid is married to a man who has forgiven her for her youthful indiscretion but is pretty uncomfortable about being faced with it’s product. They adopt her and make her a debutante, and because she’s pretty and rich a few men show interest in her, but she doesn’t feel she can accept a proposal unless she tells the truth about her birth, and Enid won’t let her do that. And anyway, she still wants to marry David. Finally, after being rejected by this guy Mr. Van Horne who’s been following her around and sexually harassing her since she was in the circus, her mother admits defeat and lets her do that, much to everyone’s relief.
At first I couldn’t put my finger on why all of this made me so uncomfortable. All of the elements of this story are ones I’ve had no trouble with elsewhere. But then I saw the ads at the end, which were all for scandalous stories of divorce and betrayal and things, the kind of books that say “how racy can we be and get away with it?” They looked like fun, in a pre-code Hollywood film kind of way. And then I sort of understood. Girl Alone isn’t just a more grown-up version of a typical children’s story; it was purposely created to be as adult as reasonably possible. It just doesn’t work, because there’s a dissonance between “orphan girl runs away and joins the circus” and “16 year old girl makes out with her 20 year old boyfriend.” Both of those are things I’m open to, and I believe that the first can be done well in a way more suitable for adults than for children, and that the second can happen without setting off statutory rape alarms in my head, but Anne Austin manages neither of those things.
It might work is Sally was different. The Sally we see is sweet and timid and worryingly innocent. The Sally we’re told about is a sparkling, clever, talented actress. Neither rings true. The outgoing Sally, made just a bit more convincing, might have made the book work. The shy, innocent Sally always seemed too clueless to understand what was happening around her, which made a really poor argument for her ability to consent. In the end, Girl Alone made me feel kind of dirty. I don’t know that this would be the case for everyone, and I’ll freel
Last year I picked up a couple of vintage dresses that needed some serious altering before I could wear them. Recently I decided to take a break from fall sewing to make the necessary changes; I don’t buy vintage to simply admire or learn from them but to actually use them and these were hanging in the to-do section of my closet for too long! They are somewhat delicate but I don’t mind, I’ll wear clothes until they fall apart (much to my mom’s chagrin).
One of the frocks mentioned I’ll share with you here. Post-alterations it’s now my favorite vintage dress! Once a 1930s floor-length gown it’s now a saucy, ethereal thing. It has its original hem; I just moved the whole skirt up to preserve the ruffle whilst moving up the waistline too. The waist before was more fitted (with a side snap closure) but now I can just slip it over my head. (Yay.) Lately I’ve been making or altering dresses/skirts to make them hit above my knees–a more flattering length for me–but I didn’t want this to be too short. Since the dress is sheer, my solution was to wear a slip underneath that was quite a bit shorter. And don’t you love the capelet? That tie!
Oh, yes, I added some thread belt loops so I can wear a ribbon when it suits my fancy. (I just read on Coletterie a great post about how to make such belt loops by machine although I make mine by hand.)
I love the look of winter white or cream during the cooler months. There is almost celebratory about it, especially when contrasted with dark or jewel tones. (The starry stockings, by the way, are J.Crew tights from the girls’ section that I refashioned. I no longer have a garter belt and for now they are staying up by sheer willpower.)
I’ve had this dress for almost a year, picked it up for $15 at the antique market. It is almost a relief to have finally done my fixes on this dress; clothes are really moving from the to do rack to the closet! I really love this dress, I feel really at home in it.
Here’s a look at the before:
A 1970s version of a 1930s dress. You can’t see it in the photos but the little flowers are flocked which I love (not much flocking left but still counts for something). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the style, only it needed some repairs here and there. But for the most part I don’t like high necklines; I feel too closed up. And the sleeves were shortened in a slapdash fashion by its previous tenant (Hmm, I sense a trend) so I had to do something about that.
This is what I did:
- Cut out and lowered the neckline; removed neck facing that was clearly visible under the sheer fabric.
- Added a pleated Petersham collar that I tacked down by hand. (The stitches seem very obvious to me even though I tried my best to not sew too tightly; I might redo it but it’s fine for now.)
- Cut the sleeves down, leaving a little bit of the previously gathered fabric which I hemmed creating little ruffles.
- Fixed some general wonkiness around the bust seam.
- Cut off the lace and ruffle at the hem and shortened the skirt. I considered fixing and re-attaching the ruffle but decided I liked the simplicity of the plain hem.
- The ties were very much uneven so I shortened one. (I did not match the lengths exactly as I don’t see a problem with them being off just a little.)
- Fastened a little brooch to the neckline (from Seventh Muse). I’ve fashioned other things like a yellow velvet bow and such which I can switch out at will!
I have to say I quite enjoy detailing all the repairs and alterations I do to my vintage finds and I hope you do too! I think so, and I find your comments very kind and encouraging. Thank you.
I love to watch movies for the costumes. (And if you’re anything like me, you do too!) I had placed Kit Kittredge: An American Girl in my Netflix queue months ago for this very reason. I’ve never had much interest in the American Girl doll phenomenon (I have to admit, I’ve been more of a Barbie fan) but when I saw the trailer for this movie I figured it would be a wealth of Depression era fashion inspiration.
“Depression era fashion inspiration” sounds rather contradictory. But even those families who had to pinch their pennies often managed, with a lot of creativity, to produce unique and pretty clothing for themselves. Feedsacks, scraps and old clothes were given new life and transformed things like day dresses and quilts.
My favorite part of everyday 1930s fashion (besides the sweetest prints and handmade sweaters) are the little details: plackets, collars, ties, buttons, etc.!
I don’t want to spoil the movie for you so I’ve only posted some of my favorites. There are plenty more highlights in the movie, including lots of inspiring grown-up wear! (I even spied some Remix shoes.) It’s a cute family film with a wonderful cast (Stanley Tucci, Abigail Breslin, Joan Cusack and Julie Ormond), albeit a little slow at times. It would be a good movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon or weekday evening with a pot of tea and some vintage sewing or knitting to work on.
Have you seen this movie? If so, what are your thoughts? What costumes movies do you find inspiring?
Blog: Redeeming Qualities
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I ordered Snobbery with Violence, by Colin Watson, on the recommendation of Cristiane, and on the whole I liked it, but I do have some reservations. Well, a lot.
Snobbery with Violence is a discussion of some of the most popular authors of crime fiction between, approximately, World War I and the 1960s, when the book was written. Watson’s premise is that an era’s most popular fiction tells you the most about its reading public, and obviously that’s a thesis I can get behind. What bothered me was that most of the snobbery involved seemed to come from the author. Colin Watson may think he likes mystery novels, but my impression is that he hates them and the people that read them.
The best parts are when he recounts the plots of ridiculous thrillers by Edgar Wallace, Sapper, and the like — my favorite includes an episode where Bulldog Drummond hits a tarantula between the eyes with a poker — but once he finishes the description, he always makes sure you know that he’s laughing at the authors and the readers, not just the funny plot twists. At times, the book feels like a list of popular mystery writers with a brief explanation of why each one was bad. He rarely gives anyone credit for anything positive.
I also, somewhere near the middle of the book, became a little bit suspicious of Watson. I wasn’t very familiar with most of the writers he talked about, but I have read all of Dorothy Sayers’ Peter Wimsey novels, and when Watson began to talk about them, I could see where he was simplifying things in order to make his points, and where that simplification led to false impressions.
An example: he talks about a bit in Have His Carcase in which Harriet Vane spends time with a professional dancer. She can dance with him, says Watson, but she can’t socialize with him for any other purpose than to get information from him, because heroines have to be chaste. And that’s true enough, as far as it goes, but Watson probably ought to have chosen another example, because we are frequently reminded, throughout the books in which she appears, that Harriet Vane used to live with a man she wasn’t married to, and to leave that out seems deliberately misleading. And it’s a little thing, but it made me doubt Watson’s information on the books I was less familiar with.
So, yeah. Watson is a horrible snob who hates popular authors, the reading public, and television, and I don’t think he’s the most ethical writer out there. But Snobbery with Violence is a fun book to read, and it’s helped me to add lots of things to my reading list. Just — if you read it, take it with a grain of salt.
2 Comments on Snobbery with Violence, last added: 10/28/2010
I sort of don’t like how odd and ends of more-recent-than-1923 fiction pop up on Project Gutenberg, although I recognize that’s just me being silly, or a tiny bit annoyed by the fact that lots of things with interesting titles turn out to be short stories from SF magazines, which really aren’t my kind of thing. But you also get the odd mystery novel from the ’30s, ’40s, or ’50s, and those can be pretty entertaining. Murder at Bridge, for example. It’s from 1931 and it’s by Anne Austin, who apparently wrote several mystery novels between the late twenties and mid thirties, although Google Books is choosing not to make them available. Or, I don’t know, they could all be under copyright. But Murder at Bridge seems not to be, and Google hasn’t made their text of that available either. Whatever. Let’s just say that Google Books is, as ever, a mystery to me.
Anyway. Murder at Bridge. The setting is a moderately sized city called Hamilton, the detective is an investigator attached to the DA’s office who has been saddled with the name “Bonnie Dundee,” and, thankfully, you don’t have to know much about bridge to figure out what’s going on.
Also attached to the DA’s office is Penny Crain. She’s a secretary now, but until her father went bankrupt and ran off to New York she was part of Hamilton’s social elite, and her old friends still include her in their activities and try not to let things get awkward. She’s still part of the Forsyte Alumnae Bridge Club, Forsyte being the fancy East Coast finishing school that Penny and the women in her social circle attended. Austin tries to make a big deal out of it, but it’s almost entirely irrelevant to the mystery. The bridge club isn’t though, because is has a new member, and she’s not a Forsyte girl. Her name is Juanita Leigh Selim, and she’s a Broadway dancer who one of the local women, Lois Dunlap, has brought to Hamilton to help found a theater group or something. She’s tiny and dark-haired and very beautiful, and the women of Hamilton mostly like her, even though all of their husbands have kind of fallen in love with her — most notably Penny’s boyfriend, Ralph Hammond.
So. Nita Selim gets shot at the end of a bridge party at her house, and all of the club members are there, along with most of their husbands and boyfriends, plus This guy named Sprague who Nita brought from New York with her. And because Penny asks him to and he’s a little bit in love with her, and also because it’s, you know, his job, Bonnie Dundee investigates.
There were a few things I didn’t like so much about this book, like Penny’s chartreuse dress with big brown polka dots, but mostly I thought it was pretty good. You’re given a lot of clues — easily enough to allow you to solve the mystery, but not all at once. And Dundee’s investigation proceeds sort of similarly — he follows up on different clues, and sometimes he gets bits of helpful information and sometimes he doesn’t. Most of the characters are just interesting and likable enough to work, and even Nita, the sexy dancer who brings her lover with her from New York and flirts with everyone’s husbands isn’t vilified, which was surprising and pleasing.
But hey, maybe I really just liked it because I figured out who killed Nita and how it was done before Bonnie Dundee did. I never manage that.
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