Red Pottage a Feast for Readers

Red Pottage is the story of a fashionable, young, 19th century Londoner, Hugh Scarlett, who like Esau in the Bible, threw away an honorable position to satisfy an immediate hunger.

As the novel opens, Hugh has decided to dump his mistress. He has met Rachel West and decided she “would save him from himself” if she became his wife.

Hugh is shocked when Lord Newhaven demands satisfaction for Hugh’s affair with his wife. Dueling being outlawed, Lord Newhaven offers an alternative: They draw straws with the loser to commit suicide within five months.

On that bizarre premise, Mary Cholmondeley grows a rich psychological drama about characters that are more believable than your next door neighbors.

In the small, intermarried British upper class, Hugh and the Newhavens have many mutual acquaintances and some mutual relatives. Cholmondeley enlists them to help her explore complex issues of love and marriage, justice and mercy, sin and repentance, and the art of writing novels.

Cholmondeley’s ability to craft a plausible story on an implausible premise makes James Hilton’s Lost Horizon look like writing by a third grader.

Cholmondeley’s characters are far more credible than Hilton’s as well. She gets even the tiny details right. You’ll want to read some of her sentences aloud to savor their sounds.

When, for example, Hester Gresley having written a critically acclaimed but unprofitable first novel, goes to live in the country with her clergyman brother, Cholmondeley says, “[Hester] now experienced the interesting sensation, as novel to her as it is familiar to most of us, of being nobody, and she disliked it.” Can’t you hear the sniff above the stiff upper lip in that sentence?

Red Pottage is a rich stew.

Enjoy it.

Red Pottage
By Mary Cholmondeley
Harper & Brothers, 1900
1900 bestseller #2
Project Gutenberg #Ebook #14885
My grade: A-

@ 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Enchanted April: Sunny, Witty, Insightful

Wisteria in bloom
The Enchanted April  is a charming novel about four unhappy women, previously unacquainted, who vacation together in Italy for a month and find love.

Elizabeth von Arnim flits from character to character, telling sections of the narrative from different one’s view point. She employs the technique with finesse, making each character a deliciously distinctive individual.

The story begins one rainy day when Lotty Wilkins sees advertisement.

To Those Who Appreciate Wistaria and Sunshine.
Small mediaeval Italian Castle on the shores of the Mediterranean to be Let furnished for the month of April. Necessary servants remain. Z, Box 1000, The Times.

On impulse, Lotty asks a woman with  whom she knows only by sight at chruch to rent the castle with her and split expenses, leaving their husbands behind. Rose Arbuthnot finds the idea of a vacation irresistible even with someone as decidedly peculiar as Lotty.

Unable to afford the rent, the pair seek two more companions. Their advertisement draws a snobbish elderly widow, Mrs. Fisher, who had known Tennyson and Matthew Arnold, and Lady Caroline Dester, 28, fleeing the host of suitors for her face and fortune.

In Italy, one after another, the women come realize their attitudes, rather than their circumstances, have been the root of their misery back home.

The novel bubbles with mirth at the folly of being disappointed by what one lacks instead of enjoying what one has, even if what one has is a not entirely satisfactory husband.

If you cannot enjoy this novel, perhaps you need a month’s holiday in Italy.

Incidentally, there’s an Academy Award nominated video version of The Enchanted April, which unfortunately omits von Arnim’s  funniest bits, but is otherwise faithful to the story and spirit of the novel.

The Enchanted April
by Elizabeth von Arnim
1923 bestseller #3
Project Gutenberg ebook #16389

Photo credit: Wisteria in Bloom 2  by Dubock

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Love makes the book world go round

tag says Happy Valentine's DayLove is endlessly fascinating, even to bystanders. Perhaps that’s why in the book world, love sells.

Some novels about love are tragic, some comic.

Some love stories make you wish the romance had happened to you; others make you glad it happened to somebody else.

7 love stories for the 14th

Here, just in time for Valentine’s Day, is a list of seven bestsellers published at least 50 years ago that explore the relationships between the sexes. I’ve chosen one from each of seven decades to add a dash of history to  romance.

Sir Richard Calmady

Sir Richard Calmady was born into the world with two handicaps: a disfiguring birth defect and a mother determined to protect him. He’s rich enough to buy female companionship, but is he man enough to win it despite his repellant appearance?

The Melting of Molly

Molly is young and happily widowed. She’d rather be young and happily married. In this lively romp, Molly undertakes a program of diet, exercise, and “melting” in hot sheets in preparation for the return of her one-time boy friend, the town’s most distinguished local son.

Roper’s Row

An emotionally driven woman falls in love with an emotionally inept doctor, marries him, and mothers him until a crisis threatens to destroy their fragile relationship.

Gone with the Wind

Frankly, readers, you know this story already. Read it anyway. Margaret Mitchell wrote only one novel, and she put everything she had into it.

East Side, West Side

Dissimilar tastes and interests, and her husband’s womanizing have killed the passion Jessie felt when she married. Her husband would never divorce her; she has the money. Is an affair the answer?

Joy Street

A young woman  marries the man she loves despite her family’s assurance he’ll not amount to much. It doesn’t bother her that her family turns out to be right. It’s after her husband dies, that she is unhappy. Could she love again? Could she marry someone who appears certain to amount to something?

The Constant Image

Working on her Italian while deciding what to do with herself now that she’s divorced, a young American woman finds herself tumbling into an affair with a married Italian businessman. His family sense the relationship is more than bed-deep. Is it also deeper than his ties to his family and his homeland?

Photo credit: Love tag 1 by hisks

© 2013 Linda Gorton Aragoni