*** Spoiler alert *** If you’re planning to read or in the middle of reading Edith Wharton’s “Hudson River Bracketed”, this post contains a review of its sequel, “The Gods Arrive” which will, of necessity, include spoilers for the earlier book. I’ve reversed the review order so you can read the one of the Dorothy Richardson then ignore the second one, so hopefully won’t enrage anyone. Although, now I come to think of it, that one has spoilers, too! I’ll even say up here that I’m currently reading Willa Cather’s “The Song of the Lark”, another hefty Virago but she’s terribly readable, like Wharton, isn’t she, so I’m whizzing through it, with our musical heroine just dipping her toes into the heady world of Chicago at the moment. I’m so happy with the lovely books my friend Verity sent me last year! Do let me know how your September reading is going.
Dorothy Richardson – “Dawn’s Left Hand”
(28 March 2015)
The TENTH volume of “Pilgrimage” and I can’t believe we’re nearly there, especially as I have a matter of around 400 pages to go now, which is shorter than a lot of the single novels I’m reading at the moment.
But this one was really confusing, even if we do advance the actual plot quite a long way. Once we’ve got back from the holiday of Oberland (for once, this one runs straight on from the last, so you’d think there were no surprise events that have been missed out), it starts off with Miriam dotting around London meeting up with old friends and getting news of others, and I got a bit lost here – should have made a list of characters and their relationships! People are described as being “Oberlanders” without actually being the people she met on holiday (I THINK), but those dreaded Lycurgans and the mysterious Club also put in appearances.
It’s not all damp confusion and mists. The descriptions of the end of her experiment living with her roommate and returning to her old digs are well done, and the dawn of new experience when she finally launches into her long-foreshadowed affair is well described and probably quite shocking for the time, but the random French woman, constant harking back to what was effectively a two-week holiday and lack of a family base for Miriam in this novel make it quite hard work.
Edith Wharton – “The Gods Arrive”
(23 October 2015 – from Verity)
The sequel, as mentioned above, to “Hudson River Bracketed”, some people have found this disappointing, but I just found it sad and a little frustrating, but understandable and well done.
Having finally got her man, so to speak, Halo, who was always a bit of a goddess on a pedestal and was able to discuss literary works with perception and acerbity, sinks into a secondary role and basically subsumes her whole self, body, mind, intellect and social position, to Vance. It’s a very perceptive study of what happens during Happily Ever After and when the thrill of the chase (and of being pursued?) is over and normal humdrum life sets in. It’s not even that normal and humdrum, as they hang around all sorts of bohemian and arty types, but as seen in the first volume, you can’t really change what you were born into, and neither fits particularly happily into these worlds, Halo being contrasted with those who it is possible to just hang out with and not marry, and Vance getting his kicks where he can but not able to settle to his work.
Vance, who seemed clueless but essentially kind (whatever Marilyn French thought in her Afterword to the first book) in “Hudson River Bracketed” is here just monumentally selfish – but does Halo allow and encourage him to be so, too, by biting her lip, trying to be the perfect ‘wife’ and stopping her former brisk criticism of her friend? It’s, of course, Halo upon whom society’s disapproval mainly falls, and who really suffers from that as well as Vance’s obvious disappointment and insulting behaviour. She tries to break it off, wants to go it alone, but has various men – including her ex-husband – try to protect her, and the ending shows the sour note behind the fairy tale.
So, a bit of a bleak book but so clear on how society works and the pressures on women to behave in the ‘correct’ way while men get off virtually scot-free. There is some great writing, especially when Wharton uses her technical skill to present events, such as the fate of Halo and Vance’s only friend in the South of France, obliquely or in flashback or discussion. So a good read.