Feb 2016 TBRTwo sets of rather contrasting books today – and also two from last month and two from this. The Elinor M. Brent-Dyers are as you would expect rather conventional underneath the madcap heroines and female resourcefulness; the Findlater is remarkable for its freedom of emotion and its steadfast heroine. All to be enjoyed for different reasons, of course!

Jane and Mary Findlater – “Crossriggs”

(22 January 2015 – from fellow LibraryThing Virago Group member ccookie)

A wonderful 1908 novel by the prolific (but as yet unread by me) Scottish sisters and in a lovely Virago green edition that came to me kind of by accident when a fellow Virago Group member sent a copy to me to give to a friend, who had managed to acquire one from somewhere else. I’m so glad it came to me and that I’ve read it – and I know at least one other book blogger chum is planning to read it, too.

It’s set in a small Scottish town an hour by train and a huge distance in the residents’ heads from Edinburgh, this novel is reminiscent of both Trollope (with its small group of families of varying economic statuses) and Jane Austen (quite purposefully, with its pair of sisters, silly ladies, a few good families making up society and pivotal quote from “Emma”). We meet the rather wonderful Alex, daughter of an impractical dreamer and sister of a woman with no imagination, who returns from Canada, widowed and poor, with her children at the start of the book. The seemingly imperturbable Robert Maitland, his withdrawn wife and his spiky aunt, the young radical Van Cassilis, returned to live with his grumpy, blind grandfather after the death of his father, contrasted with the silly, jangling and no longer young Bessie Reid make up the town’s society.

There are undercurrents and things we are not told but gradually have revealed to us over the course of the novel through looks, almost touches, blushes and memories; there are unspoken and unsuitable loves, spoken and suitable loves, sudden romances, tragedy and comedy. All of these aspects, mixed with lovely descriptions of the countryside and rare excursions to the big city, where anyone can be encountered on the train and triumph can turn to humiliation and vice versa, are precipitated by those returning to or coming to Crossriggs for the first time, to be assimilated or spat out and rejected.

Alex is a delicious character, fully rounded, spiteful and too quick to speak her mind – the introduction claims that her authors love her too much, and perhaps they do, but she’s drawn so beautifully. Her views on marriage, preferring no marriage and dreams to settling, are refreshing, and she’s a character I will remember.

This book will suit: Lovers of Austen, Trollope and the Viragoes and Persephones about the Modern Woman, for here she is, cooped up in a small town, unable to spread her wings far, as her sisters do in other books.

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer – “The School at the Chalet”, “Jo of the Chalet School” and “The Princess of the Chalet School”

(18 May 2015 – charity shop)

I will admit to taking this substantial volume off the shelf in order to get some more space going on the TBR …

I can’t understand how I’ve never read these before, and they provided a rather odd contrast with the Dorothy Richardson novels I read in December and January, also set in schools and written at almost the same time.

“The School at the Chalet” covers the idea for and setting up of the Chalet School in the Austrian mountains, and there is of course the usual stuff that happens in school stories, so in both this oneย  and “Jo of the Chalet School” we have people cheeking the prefects, noble friendships, getting stuck on mountains, coming home with dangerous temperatures and being kept in bed, etc. It’s all very gendered and pretty conservative behind the resourceful women teachers and capable girls and schoolgirls sorting matters out between themselves, with at least one occasion in each book where a man is needed to sort things out. But they are fresh and lively, with realistic characters and nice families of the Austrian schoolgirls, even though they were a bit unremitting in terms of exciting events rather than character development (I have to remember who they were written for, though!).

“The Princess of the Chalet School” was a bit disappointing, although it does cover Jo’s development as a writer, deals in a tongue in cheek way with other school stories, and examines how to deal with a thoroughly unpleasant character. The storyline of a princess from a made-up country joining the school was a bit silly, and the explanation of the Evil Uncle rather un-PC, and the side story of Madge the headmistress getting married and thus having to give up running the school, although Of Its Time etc., was a bit annoying. It also seemed to have jumped forward in time, missing out some people leaving. Enough Chalet School for me, I think, although I did enjoy these.

This book will suit: fans of 1920s school stories.

“Jo of the Chalet School” fills in 1926 in my Century of Reading.

In other news …

The lovely magazine full of tempting book reviews, Shiny New Books 8 is out and I have a review in the non-fiction section (although it’s a version of one that’s already appeared here, but zhuzed up a bit). I’m going to be reviewing D. J. Taylor’s “The Prose Factory” for the next edition, which I’m really excited about, especially because Iris Murdoch appears in the index a few times.

In other acquisition news, the eagle-eyed among you might have spotted that I have Harold Nicolson’s Letters and Diaries Vols 1 and 3, but not Vol 2, covering 1939-45 – as those are coming up on the TBR now (and will be my dinner table read once Our Ken is done), I did the decent thing and ordered a copy.

In Our Ken [Livingstone] news, well, the book has only gone and got FASCINATING about half-way through! He’s an MP now, and Tony Blair has just come into power and it’s great, read-out-loud bits and everything. So I’m glad I persisted.

And finally …

I was chatting with the lovely author Paul Magrs on Facebook, mentioning that I read his first novel, “Marked for Life” first 20 years ago, and the fact that he’s one of the three authors I’ve ever written to. Who were the others? Erica Jong and Iris Murdoch. What a triumvirate (I wrote to Paul when I found he’d mentioned BookCrossing in his lovely and highly recommended novel “Exchange”. I wrote to the others aged 16 for tips on Being A Writer).

Have you ever written to an author?

PS. I’ve just remembered I’ve also written to Adam Nicolson. So that’s four.