Monday, March 30, 2015

Literature in the 1960s

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle

The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson

The Italian Girl by Iris Murdoch

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

Kid Rodelo by Louis L'Amoour

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin
Miramar by Naguib Mahfouz

True Grit by Charles Portis

The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles
Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark
The Godfather by Mario Puzo

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mount Vernon Love Story (1969)

Mary Higgins Clark, the famed mystery writer, started out with a different purpose in mind. Her first book titled Aspire to the Heavens was renamed Mount Vernon Love Story in the hopes that it would find an audience but it never did well and the author switched to a more lucrative style of writing. This book, however, is probably Higgins Clark's best. It's a fictionalized account of George Washington's life based on the author's historical research. I found the book interesting but not strong enough to recommend as an educational tool or basis for fact.

I live near George Washington's home Mount Vernon. I have visited the grounds but never the house. I am familiar with many of the names and locations referenced within the book. Sally Fairfax's family is now known to us on a regular basis as Fairfax County, the largest county in northern Virginia. George Washington's Fredericksburg is where people drive or take the train (me included) for a day out and a bit of overpriced antiquing. Braddock (Road) and (Fort) Belvoir are names we might use when giving directions. I am familiar with the locale and to have the area peopled with history and activity is a pleasure to imagine.

The book is also valuable because it gives readers insight into George Washington the man. He is no longer just a Gilbert Stuart painting or an old man with wooden teeth. He is more than an icon cutting down a cherry tree. He is a young man battling his mother and finding his way in the world. He falls in love, learns to dance, decides on a career, and marries when it feels right to do so. He becomes a husband and a stepfather. He is a good friend to his neighbors. While the book provides very little detail about George Washington's career, we do get a sense about how his relationships might have been structured.

I assume Mary Higgins Clark based her account on the many letters and documents George Washington left behind for the public to read. And because Mount Vernon, the charitable organization that maintains the house and grounds, endorses the book and is using it as a 2015 fundraiser incentive to mark the 256th anniversary of George and Martha's wedding, I have to believe the book commits no major error in the telling of the story. Maybe this year, I will make Mount Vernon a destination point. Arrivals are possible by boat leaving from Old Town Alexandria.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Jeweled Daughter (1976)

From the book cover: The Hong Kong residence in which Sarah is staying is called the Pavilion of Apricots. It's a beautiful palace filled with an extraordinary art collection, but for Sarah, it has become a prison, the scene of events over which she has no control, which threaten to overwhelm her career, her great love -- and even her life.

I read this book while half asleep at night with my eyes half shut. For some non-academic reason I have made the commitment to track down and read every single book Anne Maybury has ever written completely overlooking the fact that most of her stories are lacking in plot and none of her books remain in print. It's not an easy task I have before me but I am determined to do it. So, with that in mind, here's my look at the The Jeweled Daughter:

Does the story include the necessary romantic-suspense elements?

a narrator who is ordinary and insignificant? No, Sarah is not a wallflower; in fact, she is by far the most likable lead character AM has ever created. Sarah Brent is a career woman, a jade specialist, and she travels the world for work attending auctions, appraising jewels, and studying art. She stays in Hong Kong because it benefits her career to do so, not because she is held there against her will. She has the means to leave if she chooses. She is independent and self directing.

an old house with a long history and secret passageways? Hmmm, well, in spite of the beautiful name, the Pavilion of Apricots never really materializes in my mind. The house is a compound of sorts in the middle of an old city enclosed by walls. There are interior gardens and doors to the street but the layout of the house was never clear to me. I don't think AM altered the "required" elements for a romantic-suspense novel; I think her interpretation fell short. The country house prototype works well in her other locations (Rome, Venice, and France), but not so well in Hong Kong.

a sophisticated female who is in competition for the husband who has superior beauty and status? Yes! Sarah's employer Theodora Paradine is wealthy and privileged. She gets what she wants and she only wants to acquire property, men, and more jewels. Once again, something was lacking in the description. Theodora's age was difficult to determine and, for that reason, I was never able to really imagine who she is supposed to be. Is Theodora an elderly woman with money or a middle-aged woman with means? Is she a fairly young woman with several marriages behind her? I don't know. Maybe I missed it.

a secretive husband whose trust is called into question? Yes. Sarah and her husband Marius are estranged. Marius is interested in Eastern healing practices and wants to incorporate them into Western medicine. Sarah is concerned that Marius might be willing to do anything ... including negotiate with Theodora ... to acquire the funds he needs to succeed.

an alternate male who provides support and friendship? Yes. Oliver Farache, Theodora's third husband, is visiting Hong Kong and takes Sarah out for an evening of drinks. Sarah thoroughly enjoys herself but there's no real hint of romance between them. Oliver is an obligatory character without much purpose to the story.

a murder or an attempted murder? Uh, well, the guy Sarah buys the jade from under unusual circumstances is found dead but who is he and what does his murder suggest? Unfortunately, the danger and mystery never develop into something worthwhile.

Is the conclusion of the novel satisfying?

Yes, but only because I was done with it. Overall, the story was un-engaging and fell flat. Did I miss something? Who can say but an immediate re-read is not in order.

From an historical perspective, though, the development of the female lead is interesting and quite possibly, this kind of evaluation is the real reason why I have signed on to this exercise of torture.

When I compare The Jeweled Daughter (1976) to I am Gabriella (1955), The Terracotta Palace (1970), and Ride a White Dolphin (1971), I notice radical changes how the main character is portrayed.

The earliest female lead, Karen (1955) is part of a detective duo. She works along side her husband and doesn't have a profession as far as I can remember although she may have had an inconsequential hobby.

Juliet (1970) is dependent upon her benefactors for her well being. She is employed but in between jobs and on a break. Whatever she does is merely a means to make money and her future is precarious.

Leonie (1971) is educated and was pursuing an unlikely career in something scientific but she gives it all up to be with her husband and resents the fact that she was not consulted about their relocation and that her job history will suffer.

Sarah (1976) is different. She is respected in her field. She meets and develops a relationship with a man who also has a career. Their marriage suffers when they try to balance out the demands of both professions but they come back together in the end and agree to make it work. This progressive relationship is a real testament to the social changes that were occurring during the 1970s and the way in which one small genre of fiction internalizes those changes fascinates me.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Pippi Longstocking (1945)

My sister Andi used to sleep like Pippi Longstocking. She would put her head under the covers and her feet inside the pillow case. Her daughter Asia was also infatuated with Pippi Longstocking and is shown below in costume. Me? I was a Nancy Drew girl. I liked Harriet the Spy. I knew very little about Pippi Longstocking outside of her crazy pigtails and mismatched socks.

Well, after reading Astrid Lindgren's first collection of chapter stories, let me tell you, Pippi Longstocking is pure girl power! She can defend herself against robbers, shoot pistols, and even face off with the strongest man at the circus. She is completely self sufficient. Pippi manages her own money, has two pets, cooks and cleans, and never lets anyone bring her down. She is amazing! In fact, in one episode, Pippi uses determination, creative thinking, and bravery to save two small children from a burning house. Hip hip hurray, everyone cheers, Pippi loudest of them all.

Lindgren's style of writing in translation is lyrical. Her stories flow easily and make you smile. Sometimes, though, the escapades of the little girl will break your heart, such as when Pippi who has no training goes to school for the first time or when she tries to behave at a tea party. Pippi might have the admiration of her friends Tommy and Annika but even the strongest of girls needs some love! Pippi's mother is dead and her father is lost at sea. In later volumes, I am told Pippi reunites with her father? If anyone's read the full series, please let me know how it goes. Overall, a wonderful diversion and worth sharing.