I first heard of Nell Stevens on the Backlisted podcast – they were discussing Mrs Gaskell’s North and South (one of my favourite books – and there is a fabulous television adaptation). And this sounded right up my alley – I have already read something similar about George Eliot, and there was My Salinger Year, not to forget My Life in Middlemarchby Rebecca Mead. Now I need someone to write one about Austen.
Here’s the blurb …
In 1857, after two years of writing The Life of Charlotte Bronte, Elizabeth Gaskell fled England for Rome on the eve of publication. The project had become so fraught with criticism, with different truths and different lies, that Mrs Gaskell couldn’t stand it any more. She threw her book out into the world and disappeared to Italy with her two eldest daughters. In Rome she found excitement, inspiration, and love: a group of artists and writers who would become lifelong friends, and a man – Charles Norton – who would become the love of Mrs Gaskell’s life, though they would never be together.
In 2013, Nell Stevens is embarking on her Ph.D. – about the community of artists and writers living in Rome in the mid-nineteenth century – and falling drastically in love with a man who lives in another city. As Nell chases her heart around the world, and as Mrs Gaskell forms the greatest connection of her life, these two women, though centuries apart, are drawn together.
Mrs Gaskell and Me is about unrequited love and the romance of friendship, it is about forming a way of life outside the conventions of your time, and it offers Nell the opportunity – even as her own relationship falls apart – to give Mrs Gaskell the ending she deserved.
I enjoyed both stories – Mrs Gaskell’s and Nell’s. I had no idea that Mrs Gaskell was in love with a man who was not her husband. I have always pictured her as a religious women who lived through some tragedies (didn’t her son die young?). Both Nell and Mrs Gaskell were longing for me who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) return their feelings. It’s about keeping going when you can’t have what you want and you don’t know what to want instead.
I first heard about this book from the Baillie-Gifford Prize podcast (The Read Smart podcast). I found a copy at the library.
Here’s the blurb …
599 was an epochal year for Shakespeare and England
Shakespeare wrote four of his most famous plays: Henry the Fifth, Julius Caesar, As You Like It, and, most remarkably, Hamlet; Elizabethans sent off an army to crush an Irish rebellion, weathered an Armada threat from Spain, gambled on a fledgling East India Company, and waited to see who would succeed their aging and childless queen.
James Shapiro illuminates both Shakespeare’s staggering achievement and what Elizabethans experienced in the course of 1599, bringing together the news and the intrigue of the times with a wonderful evocation of how Shakespeare worked as an actor, businessman, and playwright. The result is an exceptionally immediate and gripping account of an inspiring moment in history.
This was fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the sections where Shapiro put the plays into historical context. It was very easy to read, Shapiro wears his wealth of knowledge lightly.
I do like books by Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet was one of my favourite books of 2020. This was a christmas present and I was very keen to read it.
Here’s he blurb …
I Am, I Am, I Am is Maggie O’Farrell’s astonishing memoir of the near-death experiences that have punctuated and defined her life. The childhood illness that left her bedridden for a year, which she was not expected to survive. A teenage yearning to escape that nearly ended in disaster. An encounter with a disturbed man on a remote path. And, most terrifying of all, an ongoing, daily struggle to protect her daughter–for whom this book was written–from a condition that leaves her unimaginably vulnerable to life’s myriad dangers.
Seventeen discrete encounters with Maggie at different ages, in different locations, reveal a whole life in a series of tense, visceral snapshots. In taut prose that vibrates with electricity and restrained emotion, O’Farrell captures the perils running just beneath the surface, and illuminates the preciousness, beauty, and mysteries of life itself.
This was a very interesting way to write a memoir. She had so many brushes with death and not just through accident or illness, she met people who meant her harm. The majority of the chapters (but not all) are about her brushes with death; illness as a child, near drownings, weird men on paths while hiking, child birth, etc. She writes extremely movingly about miscarriage and her daughter’s severe allergies.
It’s very easy to read and you don’t need to read it all at once, you could just do a chapter every now and then.
I picked this up from the book exchange at Floreat Forum and then it languished on the ‘tbr’ shelf for sometime. Then I came across a free audible version, so I listened to it.
Here’s the blurb …
Marian Evans is a scandalous figure, living in sin with a married man, George Henry Lewes. She has shocked polite society, and women rarely deign to visit her. In secret, though, she has begun writing fiction under the pseudonym George Eliot. As Adam Bede’s fame grows, curiosity rises as to the identity of its mysterious writer. Gradually it becomes apparent that the moral genius Eliot is none other than the disgraced woman living with Lewes.
Now Evans’ tremendous celebrity begins. The world falls in love with her. She is the wise and great writer, sent to guide people through the increasingly secular, rudderless century, and an icon to her progressive feminist peers — with whom she is often in disagreement. Public opinion shifts. Her scandalous cohabitation is forgiven. But this idyll is not secure and cannot last. When Lewes dies, Evans finds herself in danger of shocking the world all over again.
Meanwhile, in another rudderless century, two women compete to arrive at an interpretation of Eliot as writer and as woman …
Everyone who has thrilled at being shown the world anew by George Eliot will thrill again at her presence, complex and compelling, here.
This book had a very interesting structure. It has two different time periods, George Eliot’s time and a contemporary time. For the sections set in George Eliot’s time, the author has used letters and diaries and then fleshed out the story. In the modern section, we have a George Eliot scholar writing a novel about George Eliot. It’s fascinating. I have read a biography of George Eliot (for My Victorian Literary study group), so I knew the bare bones of her story, but I enjoyed this fleshing out of her character (and the other characters like George Lewes, etc). There are a few echoes in the modern story to Eliot’s story, but I won’t give anything away.
I hadn’t heard of Harriet Martineau until someone in my Victorian Literature study group announced she wanted to do a presentation on her – so in the interests of being prepared (I am still reeling from knowing nothing about Jane Austen’s military brothers and being put on the spot to lead that session) I decided to read something. I searched on my Kindle and this book came up and it was a good choice – well written, easy to read and containing a huge amount of research.
Harriet Martineau was a woman ahead of her time who has largely been forgotten by history because she was writing in time that was dominated by white christian men. She believed in universal human suffrage, education and evidence based science. She knew and influenced an enormous number of Victorian era luminaries – Charles Darwin, Florence Nightingale, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell …
She was out-spoken and radical and investigated things for her self – slavery in the US, religion in the middle east, etc.
We need an amazing historical novelist – Hilary Mantel perhaps? – to write about her and bring her to the world’s attention.
I haven’t been able to find any reviews of this book, but you can read more about it at Unbound
This was a birthday present – I had never even heard of Sheila!
Here’s the blurb …
Vivacious, confident and striking, young Australian Sheila Chisholm met her English husband, Lord Loughborough, in Egypt during the First World War. Arriving in London as a young married woman, she quickly conquered English society, and would spend the next half a century inside the palaces, mansions and clubs of the elite. Her clandestine affair with young Bertie, the future George VI, caused ruptures at Buckingham Palace, with King George offering his son the title Duke of York in exchange for ‘never hearing of the Australian again’. Sheila subsequently became Lady Milbanke and ended her days as Princess Dimitri of Russia, juggling her royal duties with a successful career as a travel agent. Throughout her remarkable life, she won the hearts of men ranging from Rudolph Valentino to Prince Obolensky, and maintained longstanding friendships with Evelyn Waugh, Wallis Simpson, Idina Sackville and Nancy Mitford. A story unknown to most, Sheila is a spellbinding account of an utterly fascinating woman.
This was an interesting biography about a woman who knew all of the ‘big names’ of the early 20th century – the Prince of Wales, Rudolf Valentino, etc. I am not sure I would describe her life as being particularly happy (her first husband had gambling and alcohol problems and a son died during the war), but she lived through interesting times.
This is an easy read and there are a lot of photos at various times to keep you interested. Like this one
Sheila with the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York
If you like social history with glamour and money, then this biography is for you.