Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Daddy-Long-Legs  -  1912
Jean Webster
185 pages
genre  -  General Fiction, Epistolary, Young Adult
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Jerusha Abbott is an orphan.  She has lived her entire 18 years at the John Grier Home.  Jerusha will tell you... "The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day—a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage and forgotten with haste."  You see, that is the day that the Trustees of the orphan asylum come to inspect the premises and read reports. 

Just as the day was ending, Jerusha is summoned to the matron's office.  As she approaches the office, Jerusha notices a man leaving through the front door.  "Jerusha caught only a fleeting impression of the man... He was waving his arm towards an automobile...[it's] glaring headlights threw his shadow sharply against the wall inside. The shadow pictured grotesquely elongated legs and arms that ran along the floor and up the wall of the corridor. It looked, for all the world, like a huge, wavering daddy-long-legs."

The matron has incredible news.  The gentleman who just left has offered to pay for four years of college for Jerusha.  The only stipulation being that she must write him a letter once a month.  The rest of the book is the correspondence from Jerusha to Mr. Daddy-Long-Legs. 

I especially enjoy the epistolary type of writing.  It's like legally reading other people's mail.  An epistolary novel tells its story through letters, journal entries, and these days, emails.  Some examples are:  Dear Mr. Henshaw, Bridget Jones's Diary, The Screwtape Letters, Sorcery and Cecelia (a favorite of mine) and the sequel to Daddy-Long-Legs, Dear Enemy

About the author  -

Alice Jane Chandler Webster was born July 24, 1876 in Fredonia, New York. From 1894 to 1896, she attended the Lady Jane Grey School in Binghamton as a boarder. Since her roommate was also called Alice, the school asked if she could use another name. She chose "Jean", a variation on her middle name.

In 1897, Webster entered Vassar College. Majoring in English and economics, she took a course in welfare and penal reform and became interested in social issues. As part of the course she visited institutions for "delinquent and destitute children".  Her experiences at Vassar provided material for some of her books.

In 1915, at the age of 39, Webster married Glenn Ford McKinney in a quiet ceremony.  Jean entered the Sloan Hospital for Women, New York on the afternoon of June 10, 1916, giving birth to a daughter. All was well initially, but Jean became ill and died of childbirth fever at 7:30 am on June 11, 1916. Her daughter was named Jean (Little Jean) in her honor.

Friday, April 26, 2013

The Coquette's Victim  - (year published unknown)
Charlotte M. Brame
68 pages
genre  -  General Fiction, short story
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

Chapter 1  The Trial  -  "Mr. Kent was a very able magistrate.  He had sat on the bench for many years and was considered a man of great legal...skills....he saw the difference at once between a guilty and an innocent man....But on this morning...he was puzzled."

On a May morning, a "tall, handsome young man, apparently not more than twenty, with a clear-cut aristocratic face, and luminous dark gray eyes" was brought before Mr. Kent to decide whether this young man was guilty of a crime and what the punishment would be if found guilty.  The young man offers no defense and refuses to reveal his name.  Mr. Kent has no choice but to sentence 'John Smith' to six months in prison for attempted robbery.

At one point in the story Froissart's Chronicles is mentioned.  Froissart's Chronicles was written by Jean Froissart, recording the years 1322 until 1400.  For centuries it has been recognized as the chief expression of the chivalric revival of 14th century England and France.  How literature affects impressionable young minds plays a very important part in this story.

Some interesting life lessons could be learned from this tale. It was enjoyable and easy to read.

About the author  -

Charlotte Mary Law was born November 1, 1836 in Hinckley, England, to Benjamin and Charlotte Agnes Law, devout Roman Catholics. After attending schools in Bristol and Preston and a finishing school in Paris, she worked as a governess before marrying Phillip Edward Brame, a London-based jeweler, on January 7, 1863. She was 27 years old.  The couple had nine children, of which four lived to adulthood.

Since Mr. Brame was a poor businessman and a drunkard, Charlotte found herself forced to support the family with her writing. Her books were very successful with the public, but her earnings were severely diminished by piracy, particularly in the United States. The family lived in London, Manchester, and Brighton before returning to Hinckley, where she died in 1884. She owed money at her death.   Mr. Brame committed suicide 18 months later.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Unseen Bridegroom or, Wedded For A Week  -  1881
May Agnes Fleming
246 pages
genre  -  Adventure, Gothic (maybe)
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

I checked Wikipedia.  A gothic novel needs elements of both horror and romance. The first paragraph of the book certainly sets the stage for horror. Here are a few words: wild, murky, inky gloom, desolate, blood-chilling. Of course it's describing New York City in November.  (grin)

The story starts with a middle-aged man, Carl Walraven. He has just returned home to his widowed mother after sowing his oats for two decades. A woman comes to their house on 5th Avenue and informs Mr. Walraven that he has a daughter. Mollie is a 17-year-old lively, pretty, talented actress currently employed with a traveling show. Now we have the token maiden needed for the gothic novel. There are numerous villains, a mysterious hero, disguises, poison, midnight rides in a carriage, and a clergyman.

But we get to watch Mollie grow from a self-centered teenager to a loving, caring young woman. As far as I know, character growth isn't a component of a gothic novel. I still don't know how to classify this book, but I enjoyed reading it.

 About the author  -
May Agnes Fleming was born November 15, 1840 in New Brunswick, Canada.  She married John W. Fleming in 1865 and they moved to New York two years after her first novel, Erminie; or The Gypsy's Vow was published there. 

Fleming also wrote under two pseudonyms, Cousin May Carleton and M. A. Earlie. The exact count is unclear, since her works were often retitled, but is estimated at around 40, although some were not actually written by her, but were attributed to her by publishers cashing in on her popularity.  At her peak, she was earning over $10,000 yearly.

She died March 24, 1880 in Brooklyn, New York  of Bright's disease.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Dragon of Wantley His Tale  -  1895
Owen Wister
109 pages
genre  -  Humor
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

In the 2nd edition of this book, Owen Wister gives reviews of his work. I quote the preface, "We two - the author and his illustrator - did not know what we had done until the newspapers told us. But the press has explained it in the following poised and consistent criticism:

"Too many suggestions of profanity" - Congregationalist 
"It ought to be the delight of the nursery." - National Tribune 
"Some excellent moral lessons." - Citizen 
"If it has any lessons to teach, we have been unable to find it." - Independent 
"The story is a familiar one." - Detroit Free Press 
"Refreshingly novel." - Cincinnati Commercial Gazette
"The style of this production is difficult to define." - Court Journal (London) 

The author concludes the preface with this statement: "Now the public knows exactly what sort of book this is, and we cannot be held responsible."

"The Dragon of Wantley" is a cute story of a dragon that has been terrorizing the neighborhood for 13 years now. The year is 1203, and Sir Godfrey Disseisin has put up with the mayhem until the dragon gets into his beloved cellar and drinks a lot of his precious wine. How the dragon gets caught, and how Sir Godfrey's daughter falls in love, and what happens to the bad guys is a wonderful and fantastic tale.

There are formatting issues with the Amazon ebook. The first letter of each chapter is missing. So,the only clue you have that you are in a new chapter is the missing letter. There are no illustrations.  I would suggest reading this book through Project Gutenberg.  That website has those fabulous illustrations. 

About the author  -

Owen Wister was born on July 14, 1860, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He briefly attended schools in Switzerland and Britain, and later studied at St. Paul's School and Harvard University, where he was a classmate of Theodore Roosevelt, a member of Hasty Pudding Theatricals, and an editor of the Harvard Lampoon.

Wister had spent several summers out in the American West for health reasons. Like Teddy Roosevelt, Wister was fascinated with the region. On an 1893 visit to Yellowstone, Wister met the artist Frederic Remington, who remained a lifelong friend. When he began his writing career in 1891, Wister naturally wrote about the western frontier. Wister's most famous work remains the 1902 novel The Virginian.  This is widely regarded as being the first cowboy novel.  The book is dedicated to Theodore Roosevelt.

Wister died at his home in Saunderstown, Rhode Island at the age of 78.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Wanted - A Match Maker  -  1900
Paul Leicester Ford
46 pages
genre  -  Romance, short story
my rating  -  2 out of 5 stars

At the beginning of this story, Mrs. Durant is complaining to a friend about her step-daughter.  Constance is rich, beautiful, 23-years-old and unmarried.  It seems that Mrs. Durant's own daughters cannot attract the attention of the young men because Constance outshines them.  If only Constance would marry, then maybe Mrs. Durant's girls would have a chance. 

I have to admit that I almost didn't make it through the beginning.  It was rather tedious.  But after plowing through it, the story picks up.  While on her way home from running errands, Constance's carriage runs over a young boy.  When Constance learns that it will take quite a while for the ambulance to arrive, she insists that she will take the boy to the hospital in her carriage.  And it is there that Constance meets a young doctor. 

I did want to mention the unusual design of the printed book that I found on the internet.  There are 5 illustrations in the book, but it's the margin graphics around the text on each page that is interesting. The founding of The Society of Arts and Crafts in Boston in 1897 provided a select group of women a unique opportunity to shape innovations in the arenas of typography, illustration, calligraphy, and illumination.

The Society of Arts and Crafts taught workshops and even ran small schools that succeeded in providing women employment outside of nursing and teaching. The fact that a professional organization devoted to the advancement of what was then coming to be known as “the commercial application of art” would openly accept women into its membership was very unusual at that time.

This book is an example of the techniques taught through The Society of Arts and Crafts.  Margaret Armstrong designed the book.

 About the author  -

Paul Leicester Ford was born on March 23, 1865 in Brooklyn, New York, the son of a bibliophile whose superb collection of Americana was valued at $100,000.  Paul was the great-grandson of Noah Webster.  An injury to his spine hindered Paul's growth, and so he was educated at home by tutors.

Ford's edition of The Writings of Thomas Jefferson is still regarded as one of the monuments of American historical scholarship, setting the standard for documentary editing. Ford's edition remains valuable for its accuracy of transcription from original manuscripts and its careful annotation of the documents chosen for publication.

Despite his physical handicaps, Ford was very active socially. At the age of 37, having edited and written more than 70 books, he was murdered in his Manhattan home by his brother, Malcolm Webster Ford, who then committed suicide.

Friday, April 12, 2013

His Unknown Wife  -  1916
Louis Tracy
342 pages
genre  -  Adventure
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

I admit when I chose this book to read, my decision was based on the title. I was expecting a romance of some sort. It is an adventure story.

Twenty-eight year-old American Alec Maseden owns a ranch in the fictional Republic of San Juan. There is a military coup one night and Maseden is captured, tried, found guilty (of something) and sentenced to death by firing squad. All in one night. 45 minutes before his execution, Maseden is told a lady wants to marry him. He thinks, why not?

My favorite line in the book is:  "...women are not delicate.  I don't know why men invariably harbor that delusion...women are more steadfast, even hardier, than men. That is an essential, don't you see? The continuance of the race depends far more on the female than on the male."

The details in this book are amazing. I felt certain I was reading about the history of San Juan. It seems like the author must have been a sailor to know that much about ships. Where would the author gain his knowledge of wildlife along the Pacific shores of South America? This is a wonderful tale, and I liked how we were kept in suspense as to who he married.

About the author  -

Louis Tracy was born in Liverpool, England on March 18, 1863.  His parents had the resources to give him a private education, first at home, and then for three years in France.  Growing up in relative leisure he amused himself with “sport, volunteering, fishing, and riding,” but also joined the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.  He showed an affinity for the army and by his 18th birthday had earned a captaincy, an unusual accomplishment at the time.

Around 1884 he fell into journalism.  “It was all owing to a letter I wrote in the zeal of my youth, a la Ruskin, to a local paper denouncing a railway that it was proposed to bring through a beautiful Yorkshire valley. This letter attracted the attention of a sharp-eyed local editor, who immediately offered me an appointment as a reporter.” That paper was The Northern Echo.  He later moved on to a paper in Cardiff, Wales, and then to Allahabad where he edited the Morning Post.   
Tracy returned to England in 1892 and helped start The Sun. While still at The Sun he advised Arthur Harmsworth (later Lord, then Viscount Northcliffe) of the potential sale of The Evening News and Post and in 1894 joined Harmsworth in acquiring the paper.  Tracy edited that paper for a short time before selling his shares. The proceeds may have been the source of the funds he spent in the harsh depression winter of 1894.  “What Mr. Tracy is most proud of is the feeding of three and one-half millions starving Londoners in the winter of 1894. For six weeks he ran twenty-three soup kitchens unaided, and expended $45,000."
After Tracy's death, his wife found this poem among his papers:

I am content if, when the struggle’s o’er,
And humbled, quelled, I reach the father shore
A voice shall say: ‘Brother, I bid thee rest,
Because, though not unstained, some worth is manifest,
Nor hast thou basely used the life I lent’ —      
                    I am content.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

His Unquiet Ghost  -  1911
Mary Noailles Murfree
20 pages
genre  -  General Fiction, short story
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

The author (pen name is Charles Egbert Craddock) has an incredible way with words. It is so rich and lush. Someone would have no trouble painting a picture of the scene and then adding the soundtrack. I was blown away by the first chapter.

Here are the first three sentences of the story:  "The moon was high in the sky.  The wind was laid.  So silent was the vast stretch of mountain wilderness, aglint with the dew, that the tinkle of a rill [a small stream] far below in the black abyss seemed less a sound than an evidence of the pervasive quietude, since so slight a thing, so distant, could compass so keen a vibration." 

And then, the characters begin to speak! Revenuers are out at midnight trying to catch the locals transporting moonshine. The difference between the eloquent writing and the dialect of the backswoodsmen is startling. And in my opinion, captivating.

This is a short story, and the point of the tale is what happens when a young man overhears others talking about him.

About the author  -

Mary Noailles Murfree was born January 24, 1850 near Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in the town named after her great-grandfather, Colonel Hardy Murfree. Her youth was spent in both Murfreesboro and Nashville. From 1867 to 1869 she attended the Chegary Institute, a finishing school in Philadelphia. 

For fifteen successive summers the Murfree family stayed in Beersheba Springs in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee, giving Murfree the opportunity to study the mountains and mountain people more closely.

By the 1870s she had begun writing stories for Appleton's Journal under the penname of "Charles Egbert Craddock" and by 1878 she was contributing to the Atlantic Monthly. Murfree is Appalachia's first significant female writer.  Over a fifty-year career, she published 14 novels and 45 short stories set in the Appalachian Mountains, all but 4 of them set in Tennessee.  She died July 31, 1922.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Deep Moat Grange  -  1908
Samuel Rutherford Crockett
370 pages
genre  -  Mystery (with gothic tendencies)
my rating  -  3 out of 5 stars

The story is told in the first person by a young man.  His name is Joe Yarrow, who is "a big fellow and getting on for seventeen."  The author did a very good job of making this boy appealing.  His attitude, witty asides, charm and down-to-earthiness kept the story from getting too dark. 

Before school starts that morning, Joe has gone to his girlfriend's house to talk to her.  He describes Elsie as "ever such a nice girl", "pretty, but not set up about it", "a tallish slip of a girl, who walked like a boy, a first-rate whistler, and a good jumper at a ditch."  Elsie opens a front window to talk to Joe.  They hadn't gotten far into a conversation when Elsie points at something over Joe's shoulder.  "Do look - what's that?"  It's the village postman's wagon, without a driver and splattered with blood.  The postman is missing, along with the mail bags and parcels he would have picked up that morning.  It's a mystery. 

Soon there are more missing people, hidden tunnels, a minister's secrets, kidnapping, mobs, two irritating girls from London, and madness. 

I had a hard time deciding on my rating.  Although I enjoyed the story, it didn't keep my attention.  And the author did tend to go off on long tangents.   

About the author  -

Samuel Rutherford Crockett was born 24 September 1859 in Galloway, Scotland.  He graduated from Edinburgh University in 1879.  After travelling for a few years, he became in a minister in 1886. That same year he produced a book of verse.  Crockett soon gave up the ministry for novel writing.  Most of his novels featured his native Galloway.  He was friends with J M Barrie and R L Stevenson.  A monument to Crockett can be seen at Laurieston, near Castle Douglas, Kirkcudbrightshire.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Cabman's Story The Mysteries of a London 'Growler'  -  1884
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
8 pages
genre  -  Short Story
my rating  -  4 out of 5 stars

This is a very short story about a father taking his family out of London for a vacation. They hire a cab to take them to the train station.  Here's the first sentence of the story:  "We had to take a 'growler', for the day looked rather threatening and we agreed that it would be a very bad way of beginning our holiday by getting wet, especially when Fanny was only just coming round from the whooping cough."

A London 'Growler' is a four-wheeled carriage, usually drawn by a single horse.  It was nicknamed 'Growler' because the noise the wheels  made running over stone roads.

Anyway, it's so crowded inside the cab that the father decides to sit up with the driver. The cabbie proceeds to tell tales about his long 47 year vocation. I really like how Doyle describes the cabbie:  He is a "knowing-looking old veteran, with a weather beaten face and white side whiskers".  The cabman's stories are fascinating. I wish there had been more events, or at least more details to stretch out this wonderful tale. I heartily recommend reading this.  Just the right size to read while waiting at the doctor's office.

About the Author  -

Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle was born May 22 1859 in Edinburgh, Scotland. From 1876 to 1881 he studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh.  While studying, Conan Doyle began writing short stories. His first significant piece was A Study in Scarlet.

Sherlock Holmes was partially modeled after a real person, a former university teacher Joseph Bell. Conan Doyle wrote to him, "It is most certainly to you that I owe Sherlock Holmes...Round the centre of deduction and inference and observation which I have heard you inculcate I have tried to build up a man."  Robert Louis Stevenson was able, even in faraway Samoa, to recognize the strong similarity between Joseph Bell and Sherlock Holmes: "My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes...Can this be my old friend Joe Bell?"