March was a pretty crazy month for me, with teaching classes, some hard-core PhD writing, and quite a bit of work for Regency Love, so I only managed two books. Two wonderful books, though, so I’m not complaining!
8. Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca (7 March)
Blurb: Working as a lady’s companion, the heroine of Rebecca learns her place. Her future looks bleak until, on a trip to the South of France, she meets Max de Winter, a handsome widower whose sudden proposal of marriage takes her by surprise. She accepts, but whisked from glamorous Monte Carlo to the ominous and brooding Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter finds Max a changed man. And the memory of his dead wife Rebecca is forever kept alive by the forbidding housekeeper, Mrs Danvers…
Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman. An international bestseller that has never gone out of print, Rebecca is the haunting story of a young girl consumed by love and the struggle to find her identity.
Plot: I really enjoyed the story, and thought both the plot and pacing excellent. I knew something wasn’t quite right with everything at Manderley, and especially matters concerning Rebecca, but absolutely didn’t see the ending coming—a great delight! (Well, not necessarily what happened, but I was certainly delighted by being caught off-guard.)
Characters: I had an issue with the protagonist’s overactive imagination—objectively, I see how this contributes to the narrator’s unreliability and can be seen as good story-telling, but subjectively, I just didn’t like that part of her personality. I also found the main relationship a little hard to believe, but apart from those two (pretty big) issues, I was quite fond of the other characters.
Themes: I read this as a novel about changing times and shifting values, and really enjoyed it as such—there was such a lovely mixture of tradition and modernity that you find in early twentieth-century works. There’s also a great deal to be read here in terms of feminism and gender roles, especially by looking at the differences between the protagonist and Rebecca.
Language: Oh, yes, yes, yes! Du Maurier writes in that decidedly English manner I so enjoy, and even though some of the scenes were a little too extravagant for my liking, I still appreciated them for what du Maurier was doing with the characters and narrative.
Overall: I’m really glad I decided to pick up this novel, though what led to the decision was a little…unconventional. (I wanted to take a bath one afternoon, and wanted to read a book that wasn’t a brand-new copy in case I accidentally dropped it. Rebecca was one of the few second-hand books I hadn’t read, and so I went for it. Let’s just say I spent much more time in the bath than I’d anticipated.) I’m usually quite wary of venturing into the twentieth century (it’s all a bit too modern for me), but du Maurier is certainly an exception, and someone I’ll be checking out again!
For those who like numbers: 4.3/5
9. Elizabeth Gaskell – Cranford (30 March)
Blurb: A portrait of the residents of an English country town in the mid nineteenth century, Cranford relates the adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances. Through a series of vignettes, Elizabeth Gaskell portrays a community governed by old-fashioned habits and dominated by friendships between women. Her wry account of rural life is undercut, however, by tragedy in its depiction of such troubling events as Matty’s bankruptcy, the violent death of Captain Brown or the unwitting cruelty of Peter Jenkyns. Written with acute observation, Cranford is by turns affectionate, moving and darkly satirical.
Plot: As the blurb indicates, Cranford is comprised of vignettes, with a somewhat loose overarching plot. I found myself enjoying both the little stories, and the slightly larger stories—there’s so much variety in them, but also the same, strong sense of character and place, which I absolutely loved.
Characters: Oh, they are so wonderful! I cannot say much more than that—I have so much love for these ladies (and the occasional gentleman)!
Themes: Many of Gaskell’s other novels deal with the changing society in Victorian England, and how those changes affect the working class. Cranford, however, keeps its focus on the gentry in the style of a Regency-esque novel of manners. Although these characters suffer through financial hardship, it is dealt with a delicate hand that makes their ensuing dignity even more admirable. And of course, I love how the town of Cranford seems to be stuck in the nostalgic past—a notion to which I can certainly relate.
Language: Love love love.
Overall: Although this is a pretty short book, I loved every moment of it, and found myself quite sad to see it end. That being said, the particularities of the ending… Well, I shan’t say anymore, except that I adored it to bits. If you’re a fan of the general feel and pace found in Jane Austen’s novels, you should check out this gem.
For those who like numbers: 4.7/5