Thursday, April 6, 2017

A MIDDLEBROW SYLLABUS part 5 (60-51)

If you've missed any of the earlier sections of this list, here are links to the other sections:


This section includes two titles (#s 54 & 52) that were turned into classic films (and #55 should have been). My confession of my true feelings about #52 also inspired some shock and dismay, but you see how objective I'm being, including it here anyway?

#53 was one of several titles indubitably retrieved from obscurity by bloggers, and the author of #60 may have been part of the inspiration for Stella Gibbons's Cold Comfort Farm. Finally, #56 sounds enticing and was an early Virago reprint, but I didn't find any reviews by my favorite bloggers. Have any of you read it?

Here we go to the halfway mark!



Sheila Kaye-Smith

60) SHEILA KAYE-SMITH, Joanna Godden (1921)

Kaye-Smith may have been one of the authors Stella Gibbons had in mind in writing Cold Comfort Farm, but she was steadily popular for decades. This one deals with a woman who inherits a farm and decides to manage and farm it herself. Reading 1900-1950 reviewed it here. Public domain in US, in print in UK in various POD editions of uncertain quality. Second hand copies available, including a Virago edition.



59) JOSEPHINE ELDER, The Encircled Heart (1951)

Not the most polished or literary author on this list by any means, but Elder, better known for her sensitive school stories, gives fascinating insight into the lives of women in the medical profession (like Elder herself). Her endings are sadly conservative for her female main characters, but the realistic details are worth the price of admission. In print from Greyladies.



58) DORA SAINT (as Miss Read), Thrush Green (1959)

I had to choose between Village School, which initiated Saint's Fairacre series, and this one, initiating the Thrush Green series, set among the charming and varied residents of a Cotswold village. Each series has its adherents, but the Thrush Green books seem to me to have a broader canvas, not limited by the first-person narration of the Fairacre books. In print in paperback and e-book.



57) REBECCA WEST, The Return of the Soldier (1918)

West went on to write other important books, both fiction and non-fiction, but her short, seemingly simply first novel might still be her most powerful. A shell-shocked soldier is sent home, and three women with connections to him are dramatically affected. In print from Virago in the UK and Penguin Classics in the US. Public domain in US, so free e-books are available.



56) JANE & MARY FINDLATER, Crossriggs (1908)

According to the Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction, this novel "is partly a lightly told vignette of Scottish village life at the turn of the century, sharp in its observation of local values and prejudices, and partly a despairing exploration of the lonely situation of an articulate and emotional woman who lacks the conventional romantic appeal of either femininity or wealth." Public domain in US, available in POD and e-book editions of uncertain quality. Surprisingly hard to find in its Virago edition.



55) BRYHER, Beowulf (1956)

Slightly better known for her historical novels (though overshadowed in that arena by Mary Renault), Bryher based this tale of two women running a tea shop in London during the Blitz on an actual tea shop she and her partner (the poet H.D.) frequented. Leaves & Pages reviewed it here. Criminally out of print but not impossible to find second hand.



54) MURIEL SPARK, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1961)

If I were merely urging you to read Spark for the first time, I'd probably suggest Memento Mori, The Girls of Slender Means, or Loitering with Intent. But for the purposes of this list, none of Spark's works were more successful, acclaimed, and influential than this dark little grown-up school story. Read it, then watch the film version with Maggie Smith, who won an Oscar for it. Book Snob reviewed the novel here. In print in paperback & e-book.



53) EDITH OLIVIER, The Love-Child (1927)

A delightful fantasy about a lonely thirty-something spinster whose childhood imaginary friend, lost for years, seems to return, gradually becoming flesh and blood. Funny, charming, and melancholy at the same time, it belongs with Lolly Willowes and Lady Into Fox among the fantasy-themed classics of the 1920s. I reviewed it here. In print from Bello Books, in paperback & e-book in the UK, apparently only e-book in the US.



52) DAPHNE DU MAURIER, Rebecca (1938)

I've written about not being a fan of it myself, but I couldn't leave out this much-beloved tale, one of the most famous Gothic romances of all time and the inspiration for Hitchcock's equally classic film. John Crace of The Guardian wrote about it here. In print, paperback and e-book.



51) MARY RENAULT, The Friendly Young Ladies (1943)

Renault is better known for her historical novels, but this earlier work is a striking, realistic, and ahead-of-its-time portrayal of a somewhat bohemian lesbian couple living on a houseboat during World War II. Leaves & Pages reviewed it here. In print from Virago in the UK and Open Road in the US.

6 comments:

  1. I am enjoying your "list". Posts 4 and 5 have more authors with whom I am familiar, but it is very interesting indeed to see. Now I wonder what is to come in the last half (with some authors I certainly hope won't be left out!)

    Jerri

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  2. (second attempt at commenting)

    Ah yes, now we're getting into the rich and delicious middle of the middlebrow writers.

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  3. Have just ordered Crossriggs and am waffling about Beowulf. I do love the idea of the tea shop in wartime. I do so enjoy your reading lists but my TBR list is just getting longer and longer!

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  4. I think Dora Saint/Miss Read is on record as saying she regretted tying herself in to the first person narrative position with the Village School series. Of course she had no idea how long and successful the series would become.
    So I think she enjoyed the freedom from that constraint in the Thrush Green sequence ... and to me it shows. And I love the long dreamlike day that this first title portrays.
    It's a rare gift, being able to write a full-length novel of a single day's events without it seeming either niggardly or overindulgent. [Ulysses counts as the latter, to me!]

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  5. Another on your list has been made into a film. The Return of the Soldier was made into a film starring Alan Bates as the eponymous soldier, Julie Christie as Kitty, Ann-Margaret as Jenny, and Glenda Jackson as Margaret. An impressive cast, I would say. The DVD is out of print, but used copies can be found online.

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  6. I'm loving these lists, Scott. So many books on my tbr shelves as well as the ones I've read & loved like Return of the Soldier, Miss Read & Rebecca. Wouldn't it be spectacular to have a bookcase with your 100 books in it?

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