Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Classic Reads July 2012

After all these years of ladies recommending Georgette Heyer books to me, I finally managed to sit myself down with one! It's funny how when I was in jr high, my grandmother insisted I read Jane Austen because I expressed interest in historical fiction, then later after I had read some of Austen's books, that's when people started mentioning Heyer to me because of the similarities. Even more similarity than I expected, as it turns out. While reading Heyer's Venetia, I realized that 38 yr old Lord Jasper Damerel, the semi-reformed rake and owner of Elliston Priory Estate and his love interest, 25 yr old Venetia Lanyon could easily be interchangeable with Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy from Austen's Pride & Prejudice. Even Edward Yardley, with his creepy, won't-take-no-for-an-answer fixation on Venetia reminded me of P&P's Mr. Collins. Conway, Venetia's elder brother has a backstory of being torn between two women, Clara and Charlotte, having to decide if he marries for passion or for prudence, reminding me of the triangle of Marianne Dashwood, John Willoughby and Sophia Gray in Austen's Sense & Sensibility.

For readers not familiar, Venetia is the story of Jasper Damerel, a 38 yr old man who returns to his hometown after running away with a married woman years before, establishing himself among the local gossips as a legendary roguish character... the "ladies, hide your daughters!" type, at least by reputation. The now older, trying to put his past behind him Damerel returns to resume residence in his family's estate, Elliston Priory, when he meets his neighbor and renowned local beauty, Venetia. Venetia lives in an nearby estate with her younger brother, Aubrey, who suffers from something vaguely called "bone illness", which keeps him from being too physically active but gives him time to immerse himself in books, particularly Greek classics.

Venetia knows of Damerel's reputation but grows to like him anyway and of course this leads to love. By the time she realizes it's full blown love, Damerel tries to save her from a life of shame and encourages her to go abroad and live with relatives, leaving him before too much of an attachment develops. The rest of the story turns into a will they or won't they deal... your typical Regency romance in some respects, but Heyer has a great wit that makes the dialogue fun.

"She was the delightful creature who cut up her brother, and cast the pieces in her papa's way, wasn't she? I daresay perfectly amiable when one came to know her."  ~~ Venetia having a lighthearted discussion with her brother, Aubrey, about the Greek classic The Medea. Painting is "Medea" by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

"How very odd, to be sure!" {Venetia}
"What is?" {Damerel} 
 "Wishing to kiss someone you never saw in your life. It seems quite madbrained to me, besides showing a sad want of particularity. However, I daresay it is one of those peculiarities of gentlemen even of the first respectability which one cannot hope to understand, so I don't refine too much upon it."  ~~ Venetia reflecting on her first meeting with Damerel

********* SMALL "MAYBE , KINDA?" SPOILER ALERT ************

There was one bit in the story that had me scratching my head a bit. There was a part where Venetia's aunt said she was comforted in the fact that Mr. Hendred (Venetia's uncle) was given Damerel's "word as a gentleman" that Damerel would not propose to Venetia.... well, a good part of the book has most of the characters going on about what a rake Damerel is, so my question is, if Damerel is a rake, how could one trust his word as a gentleman and if he was a gentleman, why would he have to give his word, he would already be considered an honorable man and no one would have an objection to him being with Venetia anyway?

Overall, a good fast and fun read :-) So there, I am officially initiated into the works of Heyer!

The other book I burned through recently was Willa Cather's O, Pioneers!  This book tells the story of an immigrant sod house community in Iowa, made up of Russian, Swedish, Norwegian, and Czech residents trying to make a successful life for themselves in America. Most of the story focuses on Alexandra Bergson and her family. There's something so heavy and sad about the character Alexandra. You get the sense of opportunities lost because of family obligations with her. I found myself wondering if she ever really knew love or was every day just about keeping the locals fed and the settlement taken care of?

There is often a good deal of the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon. 
"Hard on you? I never meant to be hard. Conditions were hard. Maybe I never would have been very soft anyhow; but I certainly didn't choose to be the kind of girl I was. If you take even a vine and cut it back again and again, it grows hard, like a tree." ~~ Alexandra to her brother

-- peasant woman --

This book is an easy read but action wise it moves at a more steady, slow pace -- at least until you get near the end, where I found myself thinking "wait, what? where did all that come from??" The writing is fittingly as plain as the characters. Not plain in a bad way, but admirably minimalistic, in that Cather is able to create this community full of such strong-willed, seemingly indomitable souls in so few words.