Monday, 31 August 2009

Daphne Du Maurier: Four great novels VMC 488, 489, 490, 491

I think that if you're going to read a DDM novel for the first time, then it really should be one of these four. I think all of them are equally fantastic reads, and the Hitchcock films of the first two are also well worth watching. I think I may well end up re-reading one of these while I am away this week.

488 Rebecca
Probably the most famous of all of DDM's novels, the book opens with the immortal lines "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again". The heroine of the story escapes from life as a lady's companion when she meets the handsome widower Maxim De Winter, but life when she arrives at his house Manderley in Cornwall is haunted by the memories of his first wife. I love this observation about the book from the Virago website: "Not since Jane Eyre has a heroine faced such difficulty with the Other Woman"
489 Jamaica Inn
After her mother dies, Mary Yellan travels to Jamaica Inn to live with her Aunt Patience. However, she arrives to find an inn which no-one will visit, and filled with mysterious goings on. Her Aunt Patience is cowed by her Uncle. Mary suspects smuggling... This is a hugely gripping adventure story, almost like Enid Blyton for grown-ups.

490 Frenchman's Creek
Dona St Columb is tired with her life in London, and takes her children to her husband's estate in Cornwall. She quickly settles in, despite the concerns that her neighbours are raising about the presence of a pirate in the area. She meets a he the pirate?
491 My cousin Rachel
The story is told by Philip, a man brought up in Cornwall by his cousin Ambrose. Ambrose left Cornwall for Italy, for the sake of his health, and there, causing Philip considerable jealousy, marries the Rachel of the title. Ambrose dies, unexpectedly, and Philip blames Rachel for the death. However, Ambrose never altered his will, and Rachel is forced to go to Cornwall to sort things out with Philip...

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Daphne Du Maurier: Vanishing Cornwall VMC 528

Welcome to Daphne Du Maurier week on the VVV. I have vanished to Cornwall, but with the aid of technology, you don't have to miss out on VMC posts as I'm taking the opportunity to "catch-up" and cover the DDM books which I have read before commencing on my VVV adventure. Each day you'll get a picture of the title (the DDMs have only been published once by Virago) and a sentence about the book - it is holiday time after all. I hope you enjoy this week, and I'll be back, getting on with reading at least one VMC a week from 7/09. (I've packed a couple, but I've packed a lot of books, so might not get as far as doing any "homework"!)

528: Vanishing Cornwall
I LOVE this book, and it went into my suitcase for our trip to Cornwall. I owned this book previously in an old Penguin edition, but was absolutely delighted when Virago brought out this new edition, with all of the beautiful pictures on fabulously glossy paper. Incidentally, the pictures were all taken by her son Kit. If you've read my other blog, you'll know that I love Cornwall very much, and this book is DDM's celebration of Cornwall. She re-tells legends, describes places, and makes a passionate plea for its conservation. As Cornwall is the setting for so much of DDM's work, it really is worth getting hold of a copy of this to see why she loved it so much.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

This week's acquisitions

I had a slightly grumpy end of last week and ended up cheering myself up with ordering some VMCs from the internet which have been arriving in the last couple of days. I also made a trip to the Oxfam bookshop in Thame and to Foyles in London. Here's what I've got...

* Heartburn : I bought this when I went to Foyles with Paperback Reader on Wednesday. I was desperate for a Foyles bag, and ended up getting four books (the others weren't VMCs). We had lots of fun trying to spot the VMCs (I was disappointed that they didn't have any Von Arnims) and this was the one I treated myself too. I read it on the train on the way home so will review it soon!
* The Bondswoman's narrative (not pictured)
* The pillion rider (Elisabeth Rusell Taylor - yet another Eliz Taylor!)
* All of us there (Devlin)
* Mary Olivier: a life (Sinclair)
* Manhattan when I was young (Cantwell)
* Nobody's business (Gilliat)
* The gentlewoman (Talbot)

A nice mix of Green and new covers!

And then I popped into Oxfam, after writing this post and picked up two more:
* The professor's house (Cather)
* No place on earth (Wolf)
Here they are waiting for me to put them onto

Am having a bit of a rest from VMCs while I'm on holiday but hope to get on with these when I get back!

PS: I re-wrote this post, after going to Oxfam, and then went out to the shops. I thought the postman had been, but he'd also left a pile of packages outside, and three more had arrived. He.

* Barren ground (Glasgow)
* For love alone (Stead)
* Mary O'Grady (Lavin)
These last three were all from ebay for 1.99 including postage and look fascinating! Quite large volumes though...

Friday, 28 August 2009

Love lessons (Wyndham) 477

I had a friend around for cake and Virago book perusal the other week (my latest attempt to keep my shelving crisis under control involves lending as many books to people as possible), and while we were looking at my biography books, I spotted Love lessons and knew she'd love it. I remembered how much I had enjoyed reading it (and the subsequent autobiographical works by Wyndham which sadly aren't yet published as VMCs), and felt that I needed to do a catch-up post about this book.

This is Wyndham's diary, written during the Second World War, and gives a fantastic insight into what it was like living under wartime conditions in London, and how she was able to rebel against her upbringing by mixing with bohemian society. Whilst the war was a hugely stressful experience for British society, it did create new freedoms for vast swathes of the population, and through the diaries we witness how this happened for one teenage girl.

Brought up as a strict Catholic, the title refers to the opportunity that the war gave Wyndham to discover adult relationships, encountering an array of incompatible men, before becoming attached to the pretty unsuitable Robert. We see her struggling to cope with contraception and deal with her mother's forbidding influence.

Wyndham is certainly an interesting character - the blurb on the Virago website says:
"Since 1945 Joan Wyndham has led a rich and varied life, including opening Oxford's first espresso bar, running a hippie restaurant in Portobello Road, and cooking at major pop festivals." and I would recommend reading some of her later autobiographies, Love is blue (where Wyndham joins the Wrens) and Anything once. I really hope that these are also brought out by Virago in due course.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

The vet's daughter (Comyns) 43

I read The vet's daughter last week and really enjoyed reading it; if you haven't read any Comyns books before then this might be a good place to start as it is slightly less surreal than Who was changed and who was dead and it doesn't have the potentially frustrating mispellings of Sisters by a river.

I should qualify my "enjoyment" of the novel however - Comyns certainly doesn't write feel-good fiction. The Vet's daughter is Alice Rowland, and her father, the vet, is somewhat tyrannical and lacking in compassion. At the start of the book Alice's mother is very ill, and eventually dies - it is through this period that we really acquire a dislike for the vet. He then acquires a new wife, and Alice is packed off to become a lady's companion to the elderly Mrs Peebles. At last Alice acquires some freedom and is able to indulge in some flirtation and go out with boys. She then discovers that she has the ability to "levitate" (here the surrealist element appears) - raise her body off the ground through the power of the mind. When her father hears about this, he summons her home, to try to exploit this power...with fatal consequences.

As usual there is wonderful writing from Comyns, in particular the opening sentence:
"A man with small eyes and a ginger moustache came and spoke to me when I was thinking of something else. Together we walked down a street that was lined with privet hedges.". I think Comyns seems to be the master of the opening sentence that makes one want to read on.

Two VMC covers, and then as a bonus, the third is the rather intriguing Dial Press edition. I own the first VMC edition, which has a wonderful introduction by Comyns.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Round about a pound a week (Pember-Reeves) 511

I have had this book for quite sometime. I came across it at the end of my first year at university. I did a degree in modern history, and absolutely hated the first two terms where I studied the Anglo-Saxons (although I have to say in retrospect I did develop a fondness for the period where people burnt cakes, buried beautiful things, and had names like Ethelred), Early Modern Europe, and Historiography (the latter two I never developed a fondness for). I was on the point of quitting, when I finally got to take an optional course about The working class between 1870 and 1914, and was given an absolutely wonderful tutor who restored my pleasure in studying history, and went on to teach me three further courses and supervise my dissertation.

I digress. This course was primarily source-based in that we read a lot of texts of the period to find out about the workers, the development of trade unionism, and in particular how the working class managed their existence on such small incomes. This latter topic was where I discovered Maude Pember Reeves.

Round about a pound a week is based on the findings of a study undertaken by some Fabian women in 1909 into the lives of 42 families living in Lambeth in London. The title comes from their discovery that "about a pound" was the amount of money most families had to live on. After paying the rent, and for fuel, there was very little money left for food, let alone for new clothes, health care or any sort of luxury.

Before studies such as this one (there were a number of others in the period), being poor was often attributed to fecklessness or poor management or the husband drinking away the wages in the pub. But this research showed that the poor simply did not get paid enough to survive. The only area where the poor might have been said to be feckless was in their expenditure on burial insurance; yet giving the dead a decent send-off was hugely important in demonstrating respectability - a pauper funeral was hugely disgraceful.

There is all sorts of interesting detail in the book, such as the allocation of food within the family - the breadwinner would receive a far greater proportion because the family were so dependent on his income.

Studies like this were hugely important in the development of the "Liberal Reforms", which set up state unemployment and health insurance which paved the way for the post-WW2 welfare state and the system of income support and state assistance which we have today.

This book must be read; it is such an interesting insight into the lives of the poor at the start of the 20th century, and a key part of understanding the development of society in the twentieth century. It would be hugely interesting to draw comparisons with the state of the poverty stricken in British society today.

There is just the one VMC cover...

...but it has also been published by Persephone. I would love to own the Persephone edition as well! Which leaves me wondering, how many titles have been published as VMCs and by Persephone? Anyone know?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

One fine day (Panter-Downes)

"The day promised to be hot"...

After the beautiful weather we had on Wednesday last week, I decided that it was time to read One fine day by Mollie Panter-Downes. I got it out first thing whilst killing time at the surgery, and noticed out of the corner of my eye that the rain had started to pour down - my day did not promise to open in the same way as the book had. However, this is a wonderful book to read I think as either the accompaniment to a very hot day, or on a rainy day when one has forgotten what the sun looks like. The book is set on a hot summer's day in 1946, just after the Second World War has finished, and tells the story of Laura by describing her life on that day.

Much of the book is devoted to describing how things have changed as a result of the war, and one sees Laura wondering whether things will ever be the same again. Will it be possible to get sweets without ration cards? Will the garden ever be tamed? Will she ever have servants and thus no longer have to muddle through with the housework. At the same time, we see how the village in which she lives has been affected by the war, and witness Laura's thankfulness that her family unit has come through unscathed. And ultimately, it is this which enables Laura to look forward to the future.

This is the first Panter-Downes that I have read, although Persephone books have published a number of her titles. I'm intrigued enough to want to go on and read her short stories that they have published, and fortunately own one of the volumes already!

Originally published by Virago in green here, it was re-issued earlier this year with an introduction by Angela Huth, and I bought a copy.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Virago Spines

As you can see from this slightly blurry picture of my TBR VMC shelf a few weeks ago, there are four sorts of Virago Modern Classic spines. At first in my collecting, I merely looked for green covers, but now I am trying to become a bit more discerning as I have noticed the three different sorts of green cover editions (and it is nice to have the same author with matching spines I feel where possible).

In the centre of the picture are the original green spines, I seem to have mostly these at the moment. They are so very distinctive and make it easy to spot a VMC from twenty paces on entering a secondhand book shop.

To the left of these original green spines are the next ones, which are characterised by italicised type for the title and the move of the apple from the top to the bottom.

To the left of these are the last green editions. The apple has moved back to the top of the spine and the green is much brighter. Some of these are still available "new" in bookshops; mine mostly arrived through an order I did recently from

Finally, on the right hand side of the picture are the most recent Virago Modern Classic editions which don't have green spines at all. I'm not quite sure when Virago decided to stop using their green, or quite why. I do like these new editions as they are very attractive as new books, and probably much more appealing in a bookshop to people who aren't accustomed to buying VMCs. I'm not sure if they are collectable in the same way, I don't think I would seek these out in a second hand bookshop, and they would also be more difficult to spot!

If you collect VMCs are you influenced by the different spines? Are you not fussed at all by the different editions? Or are you like me, predominantly concerned with obtaining the book to read, but secretly wishing to have uniform sets of books?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

An angel at the table; Faces in the water (Frame) 533, 538

An angel at the table and Faces in the water by Janet Frame are two books that I came across earlier this year before embarking on my Venture after I read about the release of the latter on the Virago website. I had not heard of Frame, but she is apparently an eminent novelist and writer from New Zealand.

These are wonderfully written, but quite disturbing, autobiographies, relating Frame's life and journey through mental illness and the importance of writing to her recovery. She was erroneously diagnosed as being schizophrenic, and spent a number of years insitutionalised. She was about to have a lobotomy when she received the news that she had won a major literary prize! I have to say that they are not hugely happy reads, but they are extremely inspiring.

Mental illness is something that I am hugely interested in, as a number of people close to me have been very ill and hospitalised with depression and other psychiatric disorders. This gives me the opportunity to give a quick plug for the swim that I am doing in order to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity, which seeks to support those with mental illness and raise awareness throughout the UK. I've already raised quite a bit of money, but would love to raise more - please see my justgiving page for more details!

Here are the covers of the books.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

This week's acquisitions

It's been another week for acquiring wonderful Virago books; four arrived last Saturday, and another on Monday (but since then things have gone quiet and I have been very restrained).

* All passion spent (Sackville-West)
* Daddy was a number-runner (Merriwether)
* A pin to see the peepshow (Tennyson-Jesse)
* Ordinary families (E. Arnot Robinson)
* The brimming cup (Canfield)

I'm especially looking forward to A lots of people have been discussing it on, and reading the Canfield book as I enjoyed Her son's wife last week. The Sackville-West is quite well known.

Anyone read any of these and like to recommend them to me?

I also picked up at the end of the last week a set of three lovely green Virago biographies by Kathryn Dayus...I know they're not VMCs but I can't resist sharing the picture with you!

Friday, 21 August 2009

Birds on the trees (Bawden) 369

I've read another Nina Bawden this week, and I think I am starting to see where her success lies. It isn't necessarily in telling a gripping story (which is strange given how gripping her children's books are), but it is in providing compelling descriptions of family relationships and the problems that they can cause. This is illustrated perfectly by The birds on the trees, and summed up in this quote from the Independent that appears on

'Nina Bawden gets inside the skins of all her people and shows them as paradoxical, crotchety, adulterous, ambitious and completely human ... A beautifully sustained impression of the impossibility of family life' - The Independent

The birds of the trees is the story of what happens to a normal middle class family when their teenage son is expelled from school and seems to be taking drugs. They seek professional help, much to the concern of the boy's grandmother, and the book essentially describes how they deal with the crisis and how they deal with other's reactions. We also see that other families are not necessarily as perfect as they seem. Moreover, as in reality, there isn't always a tidy solution, and while the book remains inconclusive in some ways, this fits in with the way that Bawden makes the book believable.

Having just read the recent The Lost Child by Myerson, it was interesting to read a fictionalised account of a similar sort of story, and I would definitely recommend reading these books in tandem.

Just the one cover, which is the one I picked up from Green (a great place to look for second-hand books BTW!)

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Music Upstairs (MacKay) 318

I found Music Upstairs a slightly weird book and quite hard to get into. It is set in the 1960s and is about two girls, who live in Earl's Court, renting a room from the couple who own the house, Pam and Lenny. The novel is mainly about one of the girls, Sidonie, who becomes romantically involved with both Pam AND Lenny, whilst pretending to have a secretarial job. In some ways it is classic bedsit literature, but I didn't really "get" it I don't think.

It was Mackay's second novel, after the other two novellas which comprise the other Mackay VMC on my list; Dust falls on Eugene Schlumburger and Toddle on the Run (she has written a number of other novels which I believe have been published by Virago but not as VMCs). She wrote it aged 19 after living in Earl's Court for 2 years and a long period of playing truant at school.

Two covers here for your delight...firstly the original green one, which is the one that I own, and then the more recent one.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Provincial daughter (Dashwood) VMC 482P

R.M. Dashwood is E.M. Delafield's daughter, and her book Provincial daughter pays homage to her mother's successful series. If you loved Delafield's series, then I am sure you will like this one. It is not quite as wonderful, mainly because it is not original, but certainly worth reading. The provincial daughter inhabits a similar world of running a household, but twenty years on in the 1950s. We see all the trials of motherhood and the daughter's worries and concerns about the family and her responsibilities.

The title has only been published once by Virago, fairly recently, and I was lucky enough to pick up a cheap copy in that lovely Waterstones near UCL when I was in London for a course back in November.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Diary of a provincial lady (Delafield) VMC 162

As a child, living in a house of books and taken regularly to the library, I sometimes felt that I had nothing to read. And this would often start me on a foray into my parents books. Sometimes this was successful (see below), and sometimes not - particularly if I encountered a book which was just beyond me (The diary of a nobody is a good example - I didn't get it aged 8, and then rereading it aged 20 I just couldn't stop laughing and couldn't believe that I'd let it past me for so long). Anyway, The diary of a provincial lady was one of the more successful finds, and as it's already been mentioned in the comments on this blog, I felt I should write about it sooner rather than later.

Before there were blogs, we had diaries, and if the provincial lady was around today then I feel certain that she'd have a blog. The book takes us through the year in the life of a woman living in c1930s Devon (probably Plymouth). She juggles two small children, some domestic staff and her fairly absent husband whilst dealing with all of the problems that daily life brings, in particular financial worries. It's somewhat episodic, given the diary format, but there are hugely entertaining moments and the whole diary is delivered in a witty and comic manner. Aside from following the family's adventures and tribulations, I found that I loved the book for the insight it gives into life at this time and extremely detailed accounts of social circumstances. One wonders how much Delafield was drawing from her own life.

The VMC edition actually collects together three books which were originally published separately: The diary of a provincial lady, The provincial lady in America, and The provincial lady in wartime. The latter I find particularly good given my interest in WW2.

Simon at Stuck-in-a-book by the way includes it in his list of books that you really must read.

I don't have my own copy, and I don't think my father's copy would have been a Virago, but I am on the look out for one of these lovely covers (the bottom one is the lovely cloth covered hardback edition brought out earlier this year)

I notice from my master-plan that Delafield has two other VMC novels which I will need to read at some point - Thank heaven fasting and The way things are. I look forward to these immensely as Persephone books recently reissued her novel Consequences which I enjoyed very much.

Tomorrow we'll see what her daughter had to say...

Monday, 17 August 2009

Over the frontier (Smith)

Having loved Novel on yellow paper, and not particularly enjoyed The holiday, I was intrigued to see whether or not I would like Over the frontier. This picks up the story of Pompey which began in Novel on yellow paper, and is again strongly autobiographical. Pompey gets ill after her love affair with Freddie ends, and goes off to Germany for six months rest and recuperation. The book at this stage becomes quite unreal and dreamlike, and turns into a sort of spy story, which I found quite weird and not hugely easy to follow. The whole book, which was written in 1936, is strongly overlaid with militaristic overtones.

Like the other Smith novels, it is not terribly linear, and there are diversions such as this, when Pompey is lying on the bed and looking around the room:
"First of all I must think about the Lion Vase that is no longer upon the mantelshelf...This animal, this lion, (I will describe for you), he is walking round the base of the base. He has puffed out the pads of his paws. With great precision he places them upon the ground..."

There is poetry, both her own, and of other poets. And extract from a military memoir "to which Aunty Lion and I are so partial".

Overall, I wasn't hugely wowed by this book - I enjoyed it a bit more than The holiday, but by no means as much as Novel on yellow paper. So if you haven't read any of Smith's novels before, I would counsel you to try that one.

I had this book from the library; there is just the one VMC cover:

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Never no more (Laverty) VMC 169

I read this book in June this year, and wrote about it over on my other blog. Here is the post again, slightly edited.

This is the story of 13-year old Delia at a turning point in her life. Her father has just died, and her mother is about to move (with her brothers and sisters) to start a dressmaking business in another town. Delia's grandmother feels that this would not be best for Delia, and offers her the chance to stay behind and carry on attending school. The book is about her subsequent life, her relationship with her Gran...not very much happens, but it is a wonderful evocation of life in Ireland in the 1920s.
I love this sentence which is representative of Delia's feelings for her grandmother and is typical of Laverty's wonderful writing:
"Human nature is like bread I think. Soda bread calls for buttermilk and baking powder bread for new milk. Use the wrong kind of milk and the bread is sodden. Gran was the right kind of milk for me".
Almost every meal is outlined in detail in this sort of style - not just what it was, but how it was made.
The edition that I have from the library has an interesting introduction by Maeve Binchy - I've read some of her novels which are very light, so it felt a little strange to see her writing in quite a different context, and before her commercial success. She points out that the book is certainly not autobiographical as Laverty never lived with her Gran and that although it is a disappointment to discover this, perhaps we should see the book as the sort of childhood Laverty wished for rather than the one she actually had. She fills in some of the biographical detail to Laverty's life, which is interesting, apparently her two cookbooks graced almost every kitchen across Ireland when Binchy was growing up, which explains the attention given to describing the meals eaten in the text.

Two covers for you here:

I see from my list that VMC have also published No more than human, so having remembered how much I enjoyed Never no more, I am now on the look out for. Unfortunately not in the library, and only expensive copies on Amazon...

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Latest acquisitions 15/08

I posted about my most recent haul of VMC books last Saturday; unfortunately I took the pictures and wrote the post on Thursday before we went away and it was already out of date, because these two books had arrived:
* The getting of wisdom (Henry Handel Richardson) in my first Dial Press edition. I've already read and reviewed this one!
* The third Mrs Symons (F.M. Mayor), another part of my order which is slowly trickling in.

On Monday, I took a detour via the original Oxfam bookshop on my way home from work and picked up these two books, which I have already managed to read and review.
* Her son's wife (Dorothy Canfield)
* The vicar's daughter (E.H. Young)
And arrivals from ebay/ include:
* The Salzburg tales (Christina Stead). I love Austria, and we're going there for Christmas, so I may take that along to occupy myself in Salzburg airport.
* Some tame gazelle (Pym). A lovely new VMC, to replace my other edition.
* The squire (Enid Bagnold)
*Music upstairs (Shena Mackay)
* Birds on the trees (Bawden)
* She done him wrong (West)
My VMC TBR shelf is now getting pretty full:

I am seriously considering the need for more shelves to arrange my books more satisfactorily, but we just don't seem to have any wall space at the moment.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Family money (Bawden) VMC 432 (And a Little love, a little learning) VMC 333

Family money is the third VMC that I've read this week. I read Nina Bawden a lot as a child - Carrie's war (which I believe is now a play in the West End), The peppermint pig and the Runaway summer to name but three. I came across her work for adults after that, and was surprised qand pleased when setting out on this challenge to find that she had been published by Virago. There are 14 of her novels, and I had already read A little love, a little learning, which I will mention briefly at the end of this post.

Family money is a gripping tale following what happens to 80 year old Fanny after she intervenes in a street brawl and is badly injured and suffering from amnesia. She owns a big house in London, and her children see it as an opportunity for them to convince Fanny to downsize and release money to meet their house-buying and other needs. However, this does not go to plan, and then Fanny regains her memory, with scary consequences.

Two covers here: the first which I own, and the more recent one.
I think however, that I preferred A little love, a little learning, perhaps because I prefer to read about the trials and tribulations of teenage girls a little more than I like to read about the problems of pensioners. It is the story of Joanna, Kate and Poll who live with their mother and stepfather, who find their lives disrupted when their aunt comes to live with them.

Two covers for A little love, a little learning. Unusually (or as far as my experiences to date show) the later green cover edition has the same painting for its picture as the first one.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

The vicar's daughter (Young) VMC

The other book that I picked up in Oxfam on Monday (and in fact, according to the inscription on the inside with the same previous owner) was The vicar's daughter by E.H. Young. It's another book that I'm struggling to write about, because not very much happens, and the book is centred around a misunderstanding which I can't really explain without giving the plot AWAY. The key is that the title is ambiguous...

E.H. Young is good at giving insight into people's lives and characters and relationships and what motivates them and this is a good portrait of life in a vicarage at the start of the 20th century. It wasn't one of my favourite VMCs, but I was gripped throughout trying to figure out what was the truth and what were misunderstandings.

It's only been published once by Virago, in the 1990s with this cover.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Her son's wife (Canfield) VMC 220

I first encountered Dorothy Canfield when I read The Home-maker earlier in the year, a Persephone republication about the role reversal between a husband and wife following the husband's disablement. However, I didn't quite connect the two until I read the introduction when I picked up Her son's wife on Monday from Oxfam as she is given her full name on the Persephone title of Dorothy Canfield Fisher.

Like The home-maker, Her son's wife is strongly concerned with family relationships. At the beginning, we meet Mrs Bascomb, a fifth-grade school teacher. The book opens with a parents evening, which I found entertaining, and then Mrs Bascomb returns home for supper with the first-grade teacher, Mary. It is immediately obvious that Mrs Bascomb hopes that Mary will marry her much cherished son, Ralph. However, after Mary leaves that night, Mrs Bascomb opens her mail to find out that Ralph, has given up law school and got married that day to Lottie. Not only is this a huge shock and out of character for her son, but the letter has a postscript "she is not your type mother, but she is alright". The new couple go to live with Mrs Bascomb, in order to enable Ralph to finish his diploma, and the first part of the book is about the friction between the couple and Mrs Bascomb. Eventually Lottie has a daughter, Dids, the reason for the sudden marriage, and Mrs Bascomb tries to free Dids as much as possible from Lottie's influence.

I liked this book very much because it was an interesting study of the four main characters - Mrs Bascomb, Ralph, Lottie, and Dids, and the way in which people are forced to examine their ideals. In some ways I felt that none of the characters got their behaviour "right", regarding their actions towards each other, but Dids grew up happily, and departs for college in the final chapter.

Just the one cover, the one I stumbled on in Oxfam for £2.49.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Who was changed and who was dead (Comyns) VMC 238

Appropriately, Who was changed and who was dead, begins with a flood. I say appropriately, because I cycled through torrential rain without my waterproofs to get home on Thursday, and felt like I had been through a flood. However, reading Comyn's opening sentence "The ducks swam through the drawing-room window", I knew that I had the perfect book to pass the evening with.

This is partly the story of a family, Emma, Hattie, Denis, their father Ebin, and their grandmother, and partly the story of the village that they live in, which not only suffers a flood but then a horrendous plague. Like the other Comyn's novel I read earlier (Sisters by a river), this is a slightly bizarre tale, although many will be relieved to know that the spelling and grammar in this book follow convention. It is extremely difficult to know how to write about this surreal book, and I don't want to spoil it for those of you who haven't read it. Comyns is extremely accomplished in painting a picture of the family and the village, using witty and clever dialogues and descriptions to bring them to life. The main story is that of the plague, which turns out to have been started by ergot poisoning. Villagers fall mysteriously ill, and others start killing themselves - there is obviously something strange going on. I found this all absolutely enthralling and gripping, and turned page after page (it is a slim volume) in order to find out what.

According to the introduction in the edition that I had (kindly obtained by Oxfordshire libraries from Berkshire libraries), many condemned the book for being "unpleasant", and the book was banned in Ireland under the Censorship of Publications Act. Perhaps this was because of the wide range of issues covered in the book - suicide, death, poisoning, madness, violence - and Comyn's extremely open descriptions of them.

Just one cover to show you...
BTW - Stuck in a book has a review of this title here.

Monday, 10 August 2009

The getting of wisdom (Richardson) VMC 48

I was very excited when The getting of wisdom arrived on my doorstep, as it had come all the way from Chicago, from the kind librarything member Marensr, and it was my first encounter with a Dial Press Virago Modern Classic. I don't know very much about the Dial Press VMCs, but the most obvious difference is the black rather than green cover, and lack of an apple on the spine (even my boyfriend noticed the different colour and questioned why I had put it on the VMC shelf).

I pulled it off the shelf on Friday morning while I was waiting for my boyfriend to be ready to leave for our weekend away, and it proved to be the perfect companion while I spent the first day of our trip not feeling hugely well.

If you like school stories for adults, and VMCs such as Olivia or Frost in May, then you should definitely get hold of this one. This is the story of Laura, who has had a fairly unconventional upbringing by a widowed mother, sent away to an all-girls school in Melbourne in the early 1900s. Much of the book is about Laura's struggles to fit in, and her attempts to understand how life in a boarding school operates. Laura is immensely likeable, and in some ways her headstrong and independent nature reminded me a lot of children's books such as What Katy Did and the Laura Ingalls Wilder books as Laura is so headstrong and independent. One of the main episodes involves Laura pretending that the curate has a crush on her; finally she has managed to fit in with the boarding school world and achieve popularity, until it all crumbles when her pretence is discovered.

Henry Handel Richardson is the pseudonym for Ethel Richardson. My copy of the book had an interesting introduction by Germaine Greer, who tells us that the book is strongly autobiographical - Ethel Richardson was sent away to school in Melbourne, and obviously drew heavily on the experiences.

I think it has only been published the once by Virago, with this cover in green, but I own the copy of the Dial Press version at the bottom.
I checked my VMC list this morning and saw that one other Henry Handel Richardson is published by Virago, Maurice Guest. This is also heavily autobiographical, but deals with her time in Leipzig, so I am looking forward to encountering that. Thanks again to Marensr for her kindness in sending me this book.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Some new VMC covers.

Claire at Paperback reader has written a lovely post that I'd like to draw your attention to about some beautiful new VMCs of Spark and Pym. I got home from my weekend away to discover Some tame gazelle waiting for me; I've got and read the other two Pyms and am looking forward to them very much indeed.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Latest acquisitions

Saturdays seem like a good time for making a VVV post that is not a review, so I plan occasionally on a Saturday to post pictures of recent additions to my VMC collection. I seem to have done rather well in the last week as you can see below.

I picked up a copy of Elizabeth and her German garden (von Arnim) along with The weather on the streets (Lehmann) from ebay. I love the latest editions of von Arnim that Virago are bringing out, so I intend to acquire the other two titles with this cover fairly soon. And I have a copy of Invitation to the waltz in the same edition as the copy of The weather here.

I then picked up Lettice Cooper's Fenny, because I have a friend called Fenny, Miles Franklin's My career goes bung, because it seems like a much more entertaining title than My brilliant career which I already own, and The wind changes by Manning, because when I've read that I'll have read all of the Manning VMCs, and can tick another author off my list. Two wedding themed books on the bottom - I got the Dorothy West, new, from with a 10% offer, and I picked up Cassandra at the Wedding which I reviewed recently, as a library throw-out - it was only 20p!!

I've also picked up three VMCs from the library this week. I found the Nina Bawden on the shelf, ordered the Stevie Smith from their headquarters (last Stevie Smith to read for the challenge), and the one at the bottom with the inter-library-loan slip at the top is Barbara Comyns, Who was changed and who was dead.

I shall no doubt be getting on with some of these in the next week, especially the Comyns and Smith which will need to be returned before my big holiday at the end of the month - 10 days away, I can't wait!

Friday, 7 August 2009

The yellow wallpaper (Perkins Gilman) VMC 50

I was a little bit disappointed when The yellow wallpaper turned up from as I'd bought it new as it sounded interesting, but I'd paid £4.49 for something that was only 64p. long! That has to be a pretty bad page/price ratio... In fact I don't recall seeing many books that are this slim on the shelves of bookshops. However, ultimately I am glad that it was published as a book rather than being hidden in a short story, particularly as I don't tend to read short stories.

This is the account of a woman, who the modern reader would recognise as suffering from post-natal depression. However, her physician husband refuses to believe that there is anything wrong with her - staying in a house in the country while their house is being renovated should be a sufficient cure. In many ways he reflects the attitudes to mental illness of the time when the book was written - 1892.

But why is the book called The yellow wallpaper? The house in which they are living is described as being somewhat creepy. In particular, the bedroom which is papered in a hideous yellow paper. The woman begins to fixate on the paper, and hallucinate around it as she has no other outlet for her feelings or creativity. Eventually she believes that there is another woman in the paper - she has projected her illness into the paper. The reader becomes uncertain as to what is real - the creepiness described seems plausible - and what is in her mind.

In some ways I read the book as a real polemic against the treatment of women and the mentally ill in the period, but I am sure that lots more can be read into it.

It's difficult to describe just how well-written this little book is. Here are a few passages which I especially liked:

"It is the strangest yellow, that wallpaper. It makes me think of all the yellow things I ever saw - not beautiful ones like buttercups but old, foul, bad yellow creeps all over the house"

"John does not know how much I really suffer. He knows there is no reason to suffer and that satisfies him"

"I'm feeling ever so much better! I don't sleep much at night for it is so interesting to watch developments, but I sleep a good deal in the daytime. In the daytime it is tiresome and perplexing. There are always new shoots on the fungus and new shades of yellow over it"

According to Amazon: "Charlotte Anna Perkins (1860-1935) married at the age of twenty-four, but three years later separated from her husband. She was a writer of non-fiction and poetry, an editor, feminist theorist, and most of her work is about the status and oppression of women."

I've only seen the cover of the edition which I own, but surely there must be a green cover as it is a very early VMC. Anyone got one?? This edition includes an afterword which is half as long as the book itself!! But I promise you the book is worth every penny.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Olivia (Olivia) VMC 268

I first came across this book when I read about it on Simon's blog (I don't think he's yet read it but he made it sound interesting when he bought it). And subsequently Paperback reader reviewed it also. Simon's blog convinced me to buy it, Claire's to read it sooner rather than later.

Olivia, aged 16, is sent abroad to a French finishing school to complete her education. Very soon she has fallen under the spell of her teacher, Mlle Julie, who accepts her as a teacher's pet, arousing the jealousy of Mlle Clara. Like Claire at Paperback reader, the setting was extremely reminiscent of the Collette books. There is not a good deal of plot, beyond the development of the relationship between Olivia and Mlle Julie and its journey towards its conclusion, but it is another good "coming of age" story, which will enjoyably pass an afternoon or so.

As far as I am aware, Virago have only published this once, with this cover, a beautiful painting by Klimt. And I was lucky enough to get a copy of this in an ebay bundle to replace the Penguin copy I'd bought after reading Simon's review. If anyone would like my Penguin copy, then do let me know - I'd definitely recommend this book.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

The Magic Toyshop (ii) (Carter) 56

As I mentioned yesterday, I intended to write about The magic toyshop in two posts, and today I'm happy to introduce our first guest blogger, Claire, from Paperback Reader. She is a big Virago fan, as you can see here and offered to write about The magic toyshop for the VVV blog. Very many thanks to Claire, and I hope you will be seeing more guest posts from her (and to other people reading this, please do contact me if you would like to write something).

I attempt to restrain myself from
owning duplicate copies of books but sometimes there are books -or to
be frank, certain covers- that come along where I lose my resolve.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela
Carter is one such book. Virago and Angela Carter had ties of mutual
admiration with one another; in fact Carter was involved with Virago
from the very beginning, from its inception in the Seventies and was
member of the editorial and advisory committee. and Lorna Sage
described Carter as "one of Virago's fairy godmothers". Four of
Carter's novels and one of her short story volumes feature on Virago's
list of Modern Classics and she also edited books of fairy tales and
short stories by other Virago writers for the iconic publishing
house. On the week of her death in 1992 Virago sold out of Angela
Carter's books and brought some of the earlier titles back into print
and have remained loyal to the writer and her work since.

I own three of the following six editions all published by Virago; I
just couldn't resist! The third green one from the bottom, the one in
the middle with the enchanting image of Melanie -the novel's
protagonist- is the first one I had but one I am unwilling to part
with as it is heavily annotated in pencil. My favourite, and the
second I bought because of its cover, is the second one from the top
with the vivid image of Melanie with the swan puppet, re-enacting the
myth of Leda and the swan; I love the modern cover art for Angela
Carter's books and think they are extremely special and fabulous
marketing. The last edition of The
Magic Toyshop I bought was the top one when it was released in
2008 as one of eight commemorative hardbacks published for Virago
Modern Classic's 30th Birthday. The textile cover is the design
"Puppet Ballet" by Jacqueline Groag and is such a beautiful copy. I
hope you enjoy the covers as much as I do.