Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"The Mark of the Beast"

"The Mark of the Beast"
by Rudyard Kipling
in Late Victorian Gothic Tales

 Eh, it was ok.

...And that's about all. 

Kipling pulls the ol' "what happened next is too terrible for me to write about here" stunt on us a couple of times-- "Several other things happened also, but they cannot be put down here."--and I have to admit that it works.  Those are probably the creepiest parts of the story.  Other than that, the germ of the tale is so familiar to the seasoned modern reader that it's lost most of its bite and shock value. 

It's interesting to read some snippets of commentary from contemporary reviewers:

"...As a tale of sheer terror (this story ) could not easily be surpassed."

"... this story may be curious, but it is also loathsome, and shows Mr. Kipling at his very worst."

"For pure horror, this tale is, perhaps, unmatched in English litrature...

I guess I sometimes forget how much things have changed in the past 100 to 150 years.  I wonder what, precisely, was so "loathsome" to these reviewers... The gory details-- gory by their own standards, if not ours?  The implication of torture?  Or had it more to do with the idea that a pagan god (or his follower) had the power to bring about a supernatural event?  Personally, I found the pagan religion aspect much more distasteful than the rest of it.  Well, that and the derogatory comment about marriage.  Not a big fan of that, to tell the truth.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

"Sir Edmund Orme"

"Sir Edmund Orme"
by Henry James
in Late Gothic Victorian Tales

Well, this makes three stories out of three, so far, that haven't been what I expected.  I'm beginning to think that my expectations are at fault.  Either that or the person who selected the stories for this volume has a totally different taste in gothic tales from my own.

It's not a bad story... It's just a bit on the slow, somewhat dull side.  If you like slow and somewhat dull, this is the one for you!  ;o) 

More Specific Observations:
--  "interlocutress"-- James managed to work this one into the story at least twice.  I'm sure he was very proud of this accomplishment.

--  "perfect presence"-- Don't quite get that one...

--  Never heard "Chartie" as a nickname for "Charlotte" before.  "Lottie", yes...  Perhaps "Charla"... Maybe even "Charlie", but never "Chartie". 

--  What is with the people in this story (especially Mrs. Marden) saying everything twice in a row?!  It's so blatant that I can't believe the author wasn't aware of it.  But why do it?  To give emphasis?  That would work better in small doses.  There's so much emphatic repetition here that it gives the dialogue a tinge of melodrama.

--  "For herself she felt it to be a good time, a sort of St Martin's summer of the soul."  Apparently a "St. Martin's summer" is the same thing as an "Indian summer".

I thought Mrs. Marden's "crime" was a little tame.  All she did was get engaged, then fall in love with another man and call off the engagement.  It wasn't really her fault that the jilted fiance killed himself.  Her dumping him wasn't the nicest thing to do, but still not something worthy of years of supernatural punishment. Until her "confession" to the narrator, I suspected that the ghost had fathered Charlotte (either just before or even during the marriage to Mr. Marden), and that he was punishing her for not telling Charlotte the truth. But I guess that might've been a bit too risque for the time. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

"Lord Arthur Savile's Crime"

"Lord Arthur Savile's Crime: A Study of Duty"
by Oscar Wilde
from Late Victorian Gothic Tales

Well, you can tell it was written by the author of The Picture of Dorian Gray, that much I can tell you.  Otherwise... it's an odd story.  Maybe that's to be expected of any inclusion in a collection of gothic tales-- but part of what makes it odd is that it lacks that gothic atmosphere.  It seems more of a dark comedy than your typical creepy story-- not at all what I was expecting.  Wilde's biting wit makes several appearances, and those are the tale's high points.

This strikes me as one of those stories that might have felt more original (and therefore effective) in the time it was written.  To this modern reader, at least, the twist was (sadly) predictable, the "big reveal" anticlimactic. 

-- If nothing else, this story taught me that a "cheiromantist" is/was a palm-reader.  I'm sure that information will serve me well in days to come.  ;o)

--  "...on the staircase stood several Royal Academicians, disguised as artists..."

--  "...the Duchess, trying to remember what a cheiromantist really was, and hoping it was not the same as a cheiropodist."

--  "Most men and women are forced to perform parts for which they have no qualifications.  Our Guildensterns play Hamlet for us, and our Hamlets have to jest like Prince Hal.  The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

--  "'I had no notion that Lady Clementina liked sweets.  I thought she was far too intellectual.'"  Oof.  I must be an absolute dunce, then, with my sweet-tooth!

Summer Lightning

Summer Lightning
by P.G. Wodehouse

Publisher's Blurb:
The Honorable Galahad Threepwood has decided to write his memoirs and everyone dives for cover; meanwhile, Lord Emsworth's prize pig has been stolen, and the castle is abuzz with imposters all pretending to be one another.

My Reaction:
This was another read-aloud book, and one that we dragged out for a while. Dragging books out never does them any favors, but it was still a fun read.  It seems that (based on what we've read so far) the Blandings books are slightly more sentimental than the Jeeves and Wooster books.  At least, there seem to be more descriptions of nature... more romances that aren't there just for comedy... more realistic, toned-down emotions than in J&W books, from what I can recall.  I'm not sure which style I prefer.  Both series are very good.  This one was no different.

I think the preface was just about as funny as the book itself!  I suspect that Wodehouse would have contrived a way to make even his grocery lists and "gone out; back soon" notes amusing (were it likely that a man of his position and era made grocery lists... which it is not).

Friday, May 17, 2013

Regency Buck

Regency Buck
by Georgette Heyer

Publisher's Blurb:
An altogether unsatisfactory arrangement...

After their father's death, Miss Judith Taverner and her brother Peregrine travel to London to meet their guardian, Lord Worth, expecting an elderly gentleman. To their surprise and utter disgust, their guardian is not much older than they are, doesn't want the office of guardian any more than they want him, and is determined to thwart all their interests and return them to the country.

With altogether too many complications...

But when Miss Taverner and Peregrine begin to move in the highest social circles, Lord Worth cannot help but entangle himself with his adventuresome wards...

My Reaction:
Overall?  Enjoyable enough and a decent escape from modern reality.

If you look back over recent entries, you may have noticed that I'm on something of a Georgette Heyer kick.  I've read a handful of her mysteries, so far, and found them very good for "that type of book"-- i.e. more entertainment, less "Literature".  She writes with an ease that puts the reader also at ease.  I do appreciate an author who has sufficient skill to make you forget everything else, for a while, and Heyer does that for me. 

This was my first foray into Heyer's Regency romances, for which she is chiefly known (if I'm not mistaken).  I believe this was also only the second Regency romance (by any author) I've ever read.  The first was something I found in the high school library, I think... some library, at least.  I can't remember the plot, but thanks to Bing-- and my memory of the name "Agatha" and a purple cover-- I think I've identified it.  The heroine gave the book its title, so Agatha it is!  Seems to be out of print... By an author named Edna Mae (or Maye) Manley.  Probably a thoroughly run-of-the-mill RegRom.  (What?  Doesn't everything get an abbreviation these days?)  Anyway, I seem to remember that I enjoyed the book-- but that's it.  All this to say that I am not exactly an expert in the genre, so I didn't know what to expect.

However-- While I have not read many "Regency romances", I'm quite familiar with Jane Austen-- the Regency-period author of comedies of manners/romances-- and several times during this book I was reminded of her works or her style.  This was obviously intentional, as Heyer even has her heroine reading a little of Sense and Sensibility!  I wouldn't go so far as to say that the book rivaled Austen in quality, but to say that it was even reminiscent of her work is compliment enough.

So, even though I didn't know what to expect, I guess I still had expectations-- and there was less romance than I would have predicted.  I've grown used to that in Heyer's mysteries-- which are very sparing with the romance-- but I supposed a Regency romance would have more focus on... romance.

Ah, well, I could go through a list of nitpicks (and don't worry-- I will, further down the page), but on the whole, my reaction was favorable.  I'll try another of Heyer's romances, sometime.  Probably sometime not too far in the future, even.

More Specific Comments (with Spoilers):
--  The book could have benefited from more "screen-time" for Judith and Lord Worth, to help us understand why-- or believe that-- they're in love.  Seriously, though, I would so gladly have traded in the scenes describing boxing, cockfighting, and the questionable beauty of the Pavilion for more interaction between hero and heroine.

--  Yes, you read that right.  There was a boxing match and a cockfight.  Oh, and a little curricle-racing between brother and sister.  (*snore*)  Not what I was expecting.

--  There were plenty of details regarding characters' clothes.  I guess that's what people want from historical romances-- or at least a certain percentage want it.  A little is ok... I was amazed at the description of a driving-coat that "bore no less than fifteen capes".  I can't even picture such a thing.

--  I feel certain that there are tons of Regency-period details (and probably inside jokes) that are mostly wasted on me.  I recognized few of the historical figures who made appearances in the book, for instance.

--  "tiger" = groom?  Or some sort of male servant...

--  "an enormous turnip watch".  Just a large watch, apparently.

--  "She folded her lips"-- Pretty sure that's not a Regency thing, but just an odd expression I don't remember seeing before.

--  All the description of their outfitting for a life in the fashionable classes of London?  Blah.  Such a waste of money and effort!

-- I had a hard time liking Judith, at times.  So vain!  Taking snuff, collecting snuff-boxes-- and wanting her own blend, even-- just to set herself apart from other ladies.  I'd put her driving herself around the park into the same category, except that she seemed to do that at least partially because she truly enjoyed it, whereas she didn't like snuff at all.  It seems odd in a heroine... I wondered if she would eventually have an epiphany and turn from such vanity-- but no!  Not really.

--  "She did indeed suggest that his golden locks were in considerable disorder, but upon being informed that this was intentional, and had taken him half and hour to achieve, she said no more."  HA! Reminds me a great deal of the current "bed-head" look.  Funny how things go in and out of style...

--  "farouche"-- That's a new one on me... Shy, sullen... Socially inept... Why, it's me, to a T!  ;o)

--  "quizzing-glass"-- A monocle.

--  I can't picture a "spangled coat" for men... and so far, I can't find a good illustration or photo of one on the Internet.  I'm sure it's out there, though.

--  Judith spends the morning in a botanical garden just so that she won't be home when Lord Worth calls-- only to discover upon her return that he never came to call.  She then spends some time "thinking indignantly of a whole morning wasted amongst plants".  Ha ha!  I'm the sort that wouldn't consider it a waste of time, as plants are more interesting than a good many people-- not to mention more beautiful--  but still, I had to laugh.

--  "'I like a man to be a man, and not a mask of fashion.'"  Well, finally, a voice of reason.

--  "'No Bath-miss airs with me, child, I implore you!'"  I have no idea what that means (and now I don't even remember the context)...  What is a "Bath-miss", beyond a young woman in Bath?

-- "morganatic marriages"

--  "Miss Taverner was gazing at a milliner's window on the opposite side of the road, apparently rapt in admiration of a yellow satin bonnet embossed with orange leopard-spots, and bound with a green figured ribbon."  Well, who could blame her, surely?!

--  Judith's use of snuff, at a time when it was uncommon to see a woman partake, reminded me a little of the fad (in the 1990s) of women smoking cigars.  Yuck.  Neither seem very attractive habits-- for women or men.

--  "Pocket Venus" -- petite, voluptuous woman.  Apparently.

--  "'You are not to be thinking this is cream-pot love, as they say...'"  Cream-pot love?

--  Someone's IOU is referred to as his "vowels".  Ha!  Priceless!

--  "Cow-handed"?  No idea.

--  "Having no very clear idea, but woman-like, having merely used the most wounding phrases she could think of..."  Ouch.  And this from a fellow woman!  But, yes, it might be true of at least some of us...

--  The time spent in Brighton was an education.  I'd heard it mentioned in Pride and Prejudice, of course, but I knew nothing of it.  The descriptions of the Pavilion eventually drove me to skimming, but I looked it up online, and wow... no wonder she wanted to describe it in such detail.  It's crazy-looking!

--  Asked if he'd ever proposed to a lady, Mr. Brummell (whom, rightly or wrongly, I keep picturing looking/sounding like the man who plays Lord Baelish on Game of Thrones) replies ("in a voice of gentle melancholy") that he did, once... "'But it came to nothing.  I discovered that she actually ate cabbage, so what could I do but cut the connection?"

--  That Mr. Brummell is a piece of work!  Later on, when he's trying to remember how many years he's known Lord Worth, Worth tells him it's been eighteen years.  Brummell can't believe it's been so long, but Worth begins to give evidence... "'I remember that,' admitted Brummell. 'But how very shocking!  I must be thirty-four or five!'  'Thirty-four,' said the Earl. 'My dear Julian, I beg you won't mention it to anyone!' said Brummell earnestly."   . . . I am also thirty-four.  (But I beg you won't mention it to anyone!)

--  Oh, and P.S. There's a mystery in the book.  It's really just as much a mystery as it is a romance... and the solution to the mystery is so very very VERY obvious, despite some sneaky attempts to make us suspect the hero.  But that's ok.  It's also very obvious from the start who Judith will end up with-- as in most romances-- and we don't let that ruin the fun, do we?

ETA:  Ah, so Mr. Brummell was a real person!  I knew that some of the other characters were based on real people-- and using their names-- but I didn't realize he was among that group.  Quite a few of the names of characters that float around the periphery of the story seem to belong to real people...  It would make a greater impression, of course, on someone more familiar with the time and place than I am.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


"Dionea", by Vernon Lee
(from Late Victorian Gothic Tales, edited by Roger Luckhurst)

Brief Intro:
I'm reading another collection of short stories-- this time gothic tales written by a variety of authors during the (late) Victorian period.  I plan to give each its own entry, since I may drag out the reading for months... and don't want to have to keep track of my notes for so long... and would surely have forgotten what I wanted to say about the first by the time I'd read the last.

My Reaction (with SPOILERS):

I think this was the first time I'd heard of Vernon Lee.  Apparently "Vernon Lee" was the pseudonym of Violet Paget.  If this story is representative of the rest of her work, I haven't been missing out on much.  Alright, that's a bit harsh.  The story wasn't that bad, but it had a few things working against it from the start-- such as the fact that I am not-- never have been, never will be-- particularly enthralled by Greek/Roman mythology or the Mediterranean in general.  Just not my can of Dr. Pepper.  (I am also not one who relishes cups of tea.) 

Other complaints?  The story seemed to move slowly with precious little ever actually, you know, happening.  I didn't care for the otherworldly Dionea, but neither could I work myself up to care much about any of the people whose lives she affected.  There was no emotional connection whatsoever. (It didn't help the connection aspect that the entire story was told through one character's correspondence.)

The whole story seemed to be made up of people getting weird feelings about Dionea but never confronting her or doing anything about their suspicions.  I'm still not sure what happened at the end.  Did the sculptor decide to sacrifice himself (and then his wife) to Dionea/her impossible-to-capture beauty?  Was he planning on killing his wife, or did she just wander onto the scene of some other strange rite and... inspire him to make the sacrifice?  Or are we to conclude that Dionea herself did the killing?  Ugh.  You know what?  I don't even care.  It was just a big, fat BLAH.

That said, there were some beautiful word-paintings interspersed throughout the story...  But pretty imagery couldn't save the story.  It's not one I recommend to readers at large, unless you find Greek mythology much more appealing than I do.