Hullo-ullo-ullo! Part two. Books. The lighter side of historical fiction.
That, younglings, is what we learn about in today’s lecture. Post. Thing. (For which, presumably, you need someone with intelligence. I rely upon you, dear reader, to make up that demographic.)
// The Napoleon of Notting Hill //
by G. K. Chesterton
If all things are always the same, it is because they are always heroic. If all things are always the same, it is because they are always new.
This book is:
-Seriously so unapologetically weird
-Just absolutely crammed with philosophical and rhetorical flourishes
-Set in 1984 (and written in 1904)
-Chesterton’s first novel
-Filled with some of Chesterton’s very most disturbing opinions about local patriotism…or at least his opinions about local patriotism taken to their very most disturbing extremes. Frankly I think it’s cool Chesterton had the guts to take his own ideas to their disturbing extremes himself, in his own book. It would be easy to write a story about passion and patriotism being better than apathy. Chesterton wrote one about how even the most uneducated passion, even the narrowest patriotism, even war and death and suffering are better than apathy, because that’s what he actually believes about the evil of apathy.
-Not Chesterton’s most prescient moment, as far as the future course of world events goes. But hey – was George Orwell really trying to predict the horrors of 1984, or was he concerned with the errors of 1948 and where they specifically might lead if promulgated? And was Chesterton likewise more worried about the errors of 1904 and their promulgation than what society would really look like in 1984?
-Beautifully written. Oh my goodness.
-Not predictable AT ALL. At least not for me. Also surprisingly dark. Just…such a unique piece of fiction.
-Graced by a chapter called “The Two Voices,” which starts out…mmm, well, I won’t spoil it in case reading it blind is as cool an experience for you as it was for me. But it’s gorgeous. “To each man one soul only is given; to each soul only is given a little power…”
When the chord of monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks with a sound like song.
// An Ideal Husband //
by Oscar Wilde
This play is hilarious, and also a little bit insightful into Human Nature & suchlike items, and also Lord Goring is hilarious and I love him.
// Lady Windermere’s Fan //
by, once again, Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde is so DRAMATIC I love it
Then he writes beautiful stuff like this:
Lord Windermere: Child, you and she belong to different worlds. Into your world evil has never entered.
Lady Windermere: Don’t say that, Arthur. There is the same world for all of us, and good and evil, sin and innocence, go through it hand in hand. To shut one’s eyes to half of life that one may live securely is as though one blinded oneself that one might walk with more safety in a land of pit and precipice.
// The Canterville Ghost //
[GUESS WHO IT’S BY]
So Oscar Wilde really knows how to nail an aesthetic. And a tonal transition, because the change from the first part of the story (where a wicked old ghost tries desperately to haunt an American family who just aren’t scared of him) to the second (where Victoria strikes up a friendship with him and does some stuff to help him out) is seamless. One minute I’m giggling at the poor ghost’s exasperation, and a few minutes later I’m…not. Because I didn’t expect things to go all sweet and lovely and tragic on me. But it works really, really well.
And it’s funny. Very funny.
// Betsy Was a Junior //
by Maud Hart Lovelace
I don’t know what to say about this other than that it’s a Betsy-Tacy book so it’s just lovely?
I adore the simplicity of these books. Slice-of-life stories can be so interesting, when you have good characters and historical detail.
And Tacy. Tacy makes everything better.
// Betsy and Joe //
by Maud Hart Lovelace
No thank you. No me gusta. Nein, danke.
I don’t read Betsy-Tacy books to be stupidly sad over dumb love triangles or dumb teenagers’ dumb decisions, and I especially don’t read them to become disenchanted with dear old Joe.
But I do not find his pride an attractive character trait.
// The Corinthian //
by Georgette Heyer
I like when Heyer writes romances about two just kind of normal, good people. She’s really good at it, and her humor doesn’t suffer for it, and it’s much pleasanter than trying to ignore that this guy I’m supposed to not be disturbed at him getting together with the heroine is an actually horrible person. I don’t exactly read Heyer for the romance (cuz I’m a curmudgeon), but it can be hard to get over (*coughs ungently in the general direction of These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub, especially Devil’s Cub*).
Fortunately, like I said, the romance in The Corinthian was unexceptionable, kind of cute or whatever, and I was able to laugh without qualms.
I’ve also decided I admire Heyer’s ability to juggle plot threads without ending in a grand crash almost as much as her character work.
// The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde //
by Robert Louis Stevenson
“…I was conscious of…a solution of the bonds of obligation, an unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul.”
I hate that I knew the plot twist beforehand. What possessed you, Stevenson, to write such an iconic book that everybody practically gets spoiled for it before they get a chance to read it?
Oh well, it was still good. Kind of like The Master of Ballantrae: not quite my literary cup of tea, but it’s Stevenson so it’s good. (That’s just how that works.) And I like this better than Ballantrae, because…it’s well-crafted (if you hadn’t been spoiled), and the atmosphere never falters, and it’s a fascinating concept, and in the last few pages it finally came together for me and I gave a proper, involuntary, horrified shudder. Well played, Mr. Stevenson.
(“An unknown but not an innocent freedom of the soul” – I LOVE that phrasing, also)
// Betsy and the Great World //
by Maud Hart Lovelace
Betsy may have graduated high school, but she still falls in love left and right – having, in this book, no less than four love interests. (Betsy, darling.)
She HAS matured, though, and I love her just as much as ever.
And it’s truly one of my favorite literary experiences I’ve had, experiencing Europe just before the crash, along with a Midwestern American girl like me who wants to live there so she really knows it, not just travel and see the sights – and who makes friends and finds joy everywhere. The fact it’s based on the author’s real-life experience makes it ten times better, and I think that’s perhaps why it feels so rich and authentic? Despite being such a simple, fast-moving story.
There’s also London, hanging out in London, being part of a group of English people as the Great War begins for them, the scramble of booking a ride home, and the joyful ending.
And, of course, the bathtub incident.
And just…Oberammergau. I was so worried the Passion Play wouldn’t still be a thing, maybe one of the World Wars stopped it or something (or I’d have heard of it), but no, it still is. And that’s awesome.
And that, my children, is that. Go forth, read A Christmas Carol, and hang tinsel upon the evergreens. And maybe try to think of something besides socks to get your dad for Christmas – but that’s hard, so if you need to put it off till next year that’s okay. What have you guys been reading? Do you deeply enjoy the works of disturbed Victorian writers? (I’m beginning to suspect that I rather do.)