After reading Excellent Women I knew, just knew, that I had to read more of Pym’s novels. Jane and Prudence was the second one I read and I did love it, not as much as Excellent Women, but love it I did.
The two women of the title are old friends from Oxford. Jane is older and was Prudence’s tutor at college. She’s now married to a vicar and still has a fondness for her specialty, 18th century poetry. Prudence is 29, single, works at a mysterious office in London, has a crush on her boss and is undeniably beautiful and tries to be glamorous. The two women’s lives intersect again when Jane decides to set Prudence up with her new neighbor Fabian Driver, a handsome widower.
The story is told with Pym’s signature wit and gentle handling of the absurdity of human beings and their quirks. Jane is not your typical vicar’s wife; she can’ t cook to save her life, her housekeeping skills are extremely below average and she always looks a mess. Yet she is very interested in people and likes the interaction with them that a vicar’s wife is privileged with. She feels her inadequacies keenly, but after 20 years of marriage she has learned not to let her lack of traditional skills bother her.
Prudence is an altogether different sort of woman. She relishes the domestic arts, dresses beautifully and is always well turned out, has a comfortable and inviting home and is a good cook. She’s not completely unhappy about being unmarried as she enjoys being courted and spoiled by men. She and Jane seem like a mismatched pair of friends, but something in each of them complements the other and they find each others’ lives fascinating.
The question of women’s roles are the foundation of this novel. I love how Pym gives the vicar’s wife absolutely no domestic talents yet the aging single woman is a wonderful homemaker and really isn’t all that interested in entering into a conventional union. It is all cloaked in Pym’s lovely, light humor and great characterizations.
The more I read Pym, the more I am impressed. Achieving such a buoyant style with complex undertones is much harder than it looks. I really admire her writing and I look forward to reading many more (if not all) of her novels.
I’m sneaking my Classics Challenge post in right at the end of the month. And this time I am not going to subject you to another post about Anna Karenina, fascinating as that tome may be, because I started another of my choices this month when I realized that AK probably is going to take me the entire year to read. The next book on my list for the challenge was Howards End and I eagerly found my copy and began reading. I have read Howards End before, probably 15 years ago, and remember liking it, but I haven’t retained much more than that. However, E.M. Forster wrote one of my favorite novels, A Room With a View, so I have a strong fondness for his writing and know I will probably enjoy Howards End also.
The question this month asks “What literary movement is the prose or poetry you’re reading from? What are the values or ideals of the movement? Name other writers of the movement.”
E.M. Forster, which I never realized, was part of the Bloomsbury group. I’m sure you are all familiar with this group of artists and writers who were active in the first half of the 20th Century. The more esteemed members of the set included Virginia Woolf, Leonard Woolf, Vanessa Bell, Clive Bell, Duncan Grant and Lytton Strachey. Forster was a borderline member of the group as it seems he traveled quite a bit during their highly active years, when he took long trips to Europe and India.
The ideals of the Bloomsbury group, as Forster himself proclaimed, included ”the decay of smartness and fashion as factors, and the growth of the idea of enjoyment”. I can definitely see these principles at work in A Room With a View and have a feeling that they will crop up in Howards End, as well.
Have you read Forster? Do you have a favorite Forster novel?
Hello, friends, it only took a short week for me to start feeling better! I’m very glad not to be away longer because I did miss blogging and being part of the community of readers I so treasure. Thanks for being understanding and kind during my little break! I didn’t go to the doctor because I am pretty sure that my generally poor diet and lack of exercise are the main culprits in my fatigue, therefore I decided to give up sugar to see if it helped with the lack of energy and it did! I haven’t had very much sugar this past week and I feel so much better. I even feel like I can muster up enough energy to start exercising. But enough about me….let’s talk about The Lifeboat.
Can you imagine being stuck on a small lifeboat with 30-some other people, all of them relative strangers, drifting in the ocean waiting for rescue after your ocean liner has blown up for no apparent reason? This is exactly the position that Grace Winter finds herself in in 1914 while traveling with her new husband, Henry. As the lifeboat drifts along the passengers are directed by Mr. Hardie, a crew member whose strong leadership style and seafaring knowledge initially create trust among the group. However, factions soon begin to form when an older woman, Mrs. Grant, quietly influences many of the women on the boat to go against Mr. Hardie. Most of the passengers are convinced that they can’t survive without some of them sacrificing themselves for the good of the group. The fear, anxiety and tension mount until a devastating decision changes the dynamics on the lifeboat for good.
The story is narrated by Grace who’s been commissioned by her lawyers (she’s on trial after what happens on the boat) to write an account of everything that happened during those harrowing three weeks. She is not a truly reliable narrator. The reader can feel that she tries to spin events to make herself look, not innocent, really, but more a victim of confusion. The psychological fallout from trying to survive is very well portrayed and so is the terrible human tendency to turn on each other when we face extinction.
I think this would be a great book for book clubs because the ending is ambiguous and I can see book club members having a heated and entertaining debate over what really happened on the lifeboat and whether Grace’s part is as neutral as she makes it out to be.
Though I enjoyed The Lifeboat, it won’t be remembered as one of the best of this year. The end was disappointing and it was just one of those books that left me flat when I closed it after reading the last page.
What did other bloggers think?
Books & Chocolate
I feel like this wilting flower.
I am going to be taking a small break from blogging, perhaps one or two weeks. I have been feeling physically unwell for months now and am trying to figure out what I need to do to improve my health. My main complaint is extreme exhaustion to the point of only being able to drag myself out of bed for work and drag myself home. Many of my evenings are spent sprawled on the couch, unable even to turn on my computer or hold up a book. As a result I am very unproductive and have let many things slide. I have tried not to let blogging or commenting on your blogs slide, but I think it is time that I let them go for a while as I try to get my energy back.
When I return it will be with a new blog design! I am excited to show you the colorful look that Yellow & Savvy Design is working on for me.
So, for now I will say farewell – I will see you in a few weeks!
Hawaiian Mother and Child, watercolor and pastel on art board by Charles W. Bartlett, c. 1920
“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials, heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine, desert us when troubles thicken around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavour by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” – Washington Irving
Happy Mother’s Day!