It has come to my notice that it is December, and there are only 27 days left this year. I have almost 20 reviews to write for A Century of Books… oops, didn’t work this out very well, did I? (Well, I still have 10 books to read – but I have 4 of them on the go already.) So I’m going to rush through five of them today – books that, for one reason or another, I didn’t want to write whole posts about. But do still free to comment on them!
Daddy Long-Legs (1912) by Jean Webster
An orphaned girl is given a scholarship by a mysterious, anonymous man – she has only seen his back – and one of the conditions is that she must write updates to him, without getting any replies. She nicknames him Daddy Long-Legs. Can you guess what happens? Well, I shan’t give away the ending. I was mostly surprised at how modern this children’s book felt, despite being a hundred years old – a lot of it would have been at home in a Jacqueline Wilson story. I enjoyed it, but did find it a little creepy, and rather repetitive, but these are probably signs of not having read it when I was the target age.
Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka
Gregor Samsa wakes up one morning to discover that he is an enormous bug. Which is going to make his job as a salesman somewhat difficult. The reason I’m not giving this novella/short story its own review is that I don’t feel I have anything new to say about it. Kafka is famed for his matter-of-fact approach to the surreality in this story, and rightly so. What surprised me here was how middlebrow it all felt. It is definitely comparable to David Garnett’s Lady Into Fox – which actually seems to have greater pretensions to literariness.
Married Love (1918) by Marie Stopes
Another one which surprised me – I’d always heard that Marie Stopes started a sexual revolution in the UK, offering knowledge about sex to the everywoman for the first time. Turns out she is much more conservative, and less revelatory, than a lot of the other guides written around the same time, and earlier. I read these guides for my current DPhil chapter, by the way – my favourite so far being the person who argued that sexual intercourse and reproduction were acceptable as separate impulses, because protozoa separated them. Sure, why not? (I wonder if I’ve just made all sorts of inappropriate search terms for this blog now…)
Miss Hargreaves: the play (1952) by Frank Hargreaves
This is something of a cheat, since it was never published – but it was performed, with Margaret Rutherford in the lead role. Tanya tipped me off that copies of all performed plays were in the Lord Chamberlain’s archives in the British Library – so I had the great privilege and pleasure of reading the play, with Baker’s own penned changes. It’s pretty similar to the novel, only with the action restricted to a few settings. Such fun!
V. Sackville West (1973) by Michael Stevens
I’m a sucker for a short biography, and I hadn’t read one of VSW before, so I gave this one a whirl. It’s a critical biography, so Stevens discusses and analyses the work while giving an outline of VSW’s life. About halfway through I thought, “this feels way too much like a doctoral dissertation.” Turns out it was a doctoral dissertation. I think I’ll be turning to a more charismatic writer for my next biography of Vita, as this one was rather prosaic and charmless, although very thoroughly researched.
Right, well that’s five down! How are the other Century of Bookers getting on?