Wednesday, January 30, 2013


book cover Original Publication Date: 1906

Genre: play

Topics: love, marriage

Review by heidenkind:

This is a play adaptation of Pride & Prejudice from 1906 that's read in the style of a radio play. You can download it, like I did, at Librivox.

To be honest I wasn't expecting much from the play, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was really similar to the 1995 Pride & Prejudice miniseries, almost word-for-word in some scenes. Take, for example, the opening scene of the play:

Mrs. Bennet.
[After a slight pause and laying down her knitting.]
My dear Mr. Bennet, did not you hear me? Did you know that Netherfield Park is let at last?
Mr. Bennet.
[Continues reading and does not answer.]
Mrs. Bennet.
[Impatiently.] Do not you want to know who has taken it?
Mr. Bennet.
[Ceases reading and looks up at her with an amused smile.] You want to tell me, and I have no objection to hearing it.
Mrs. Bennet.
[With animation.] Why, my dear, you must know Lady Lucas says that Netherfield is taken by a young man of large fortune from the North of England. His name is Bingley, and he is single, my dear. Think of that, Mr. Bennet! A single man of large fortune; four or five thousand pounds a year. What a fine thing for our girls!
Mr. Bennet.
How so? How can it affect them?
Mrs. Bennet.
My dear Mr. Bennet, how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them.
Mr. Bennet.
Is that his design in settling here?
Mrs. Bennet.
Design!—Nonsense! How can you talk so? But it is very likely that he will fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as you can. Consider your daughters, Mr. Bennet! Only think what an establishment it would be for one of them! Sir William and Lady Lucas are determined to go merely on that account. Indeed you must go, for it will be impossible for us to visit him if you do not.
Mr. Bennet.
[Who has risen during this last speech and now stands with his back to the fire, facing Mrs. Bennet.] You are overscrupulous, surely. I dare say Mr. Bingley will be very glad to see you, and I will send a few lines to assure him of my hearty consent to his marrying whichever he chooses of the girls—though I must throw in a good word for my little Lizzy.
Mrs. Bennet.
[Sharply.] I desire you will do no such thing! Lizzy is not a bit better than the others. She is not half as handsome as Jane, nor as good-humoured as Lydia. But you are always giving her the preference.

Sound familiar? Not everything is the same, of course, since a play doesn't have the advantages of different locations like a film does, but I thought the way the story was adapted to a four-act play was very clever. Elizabeth was just as smart and uncompromising as she is in the novel; and while Darcy wasn't quite as rude or interesting, I think he showed a lot more depth than he does some movie versions I've seen.

Of course, not everything works--Caroline Bingley, for instance, had a wildly inappropriate accent (think Diasy from Downton Abbey)--and if I saw this play performed live I'd probably think it was pretty cheesy. Overall, though, the voice performances worked and it was really easy to follow along with the audio.

If you like Austen adaptations, I definitely recommend listening to Mary Mackaye's play. It's only about three hours long and it's super-fun. I'm glad I took a chance on it.

Download Pride & Prejudice-A Play at Librivox|Project Gutenberg

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Guest Review: MAPP AND LUCIA by EF Benson

book cover Original Publication Date: 1920-1939
Genre: comedy
Topics: society, English village politics

Review by Liz Inskip-Paulk (

Burying into Benson…

I’ve been diving into the fictitious and rather perfect world of an English country village and its inhabitants the last few weeks, this one of Risholme, the home of Lucia and her gang and all the machinations involved in their social shenanigans.

E. F. Benson (1867-1940) wrote a series of novels with the group title of “Mapp and Lucia”, all revolving around the social goings on of a group of (mostly? all?) upper-middle/upper class villagers who are vying with each other as to who should “rule village society”. Lucia rules the roost so far in the series, but she’s had some serious challenges from Daisy et al. especially when she left for London for a while.

I am up to number 3 in the Benson series now* although I did read a couple of them (accidentally) out of order just to get a taste of things, and if you are after a light frothy read about domestic community social politics, then these Lucia books are *perfect* for that. (It could be argued that the Mapp and Lucia books are a more domestic version of Wodehouse’s Bertie and Wooster, I suppose.)

Lucia is the de facto “head” of the village, although in her absence, the inhabitants grouse about her leadership style, and it is this tension that provides the ongoing theme throughout the Mapp/Lucia series. Benson provides an anonymous omniscient and rather camp narrator to tell the story, and this works very well as it allows the reader to see the different PoVs involved in the tangled weave of local politics (socially speaking) through a rather witty lens.

Clearly, the world of Risholme is idealized and epitomizes the idea of “traditional English village” more than real life, but they are rather fun to read. A slightly snarky sense of humor pervades the story, which removes some of the seriousness of the events, and they are really funny in places.

The Benson Mapp/Lucia series is relatively easy to get hold of on-line -- he was a prodigious author, writing a large body of work including fiction, non-fiction, articles and essays -- but it is for Lucia that he remains most famous for.

The Mapp/Lucia series are a treat to read, but like anything sweet, will need to be spread out to get the most fun from it. At the same time, though, I recommend that you don’t leave huge gaps between each title so you can keep the key characters straight.

Take a visit to Risholme and see for yourself!

E. F. Benson’s Mapp and Lucia series:

  • Queen Lucia (1920)
  • Miss Mapp (1922)
  • Lucia in London (1927(
  • Mapp and Lucia (1931)
  • Lucia’s Progress (1935) (also known as The Worshipful Lucia)
  • Trouble for Lucia (1939)

Download the Mapp & Lucia Series by EF Benson at Librivox|Project Gutenberg

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Review: SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen

book cover Original Publication Date: 1811

Genre: women's fiction

Topics: romance, society, marriage, women

Review by heidenkind:

Is Tasha about to complain about a classic and beloved novel? Yes, probably.

Elinor and Marianne Dashwood--and that other sister no one cares about--are thrown out of their home after their father dies and must find some men to marry in order to gain access to their money. Unfortunately, they have no sense when it comes to men.

This was the first time I read Sense and Sensibility, and I think it will probably be the last. The novel certainly has its moments, but there's also a lot that bothers me about it, and in the end the bothers outweighed the enjoyment I got from it.

First of all, the title bothers me and has always bothered me. Sense and Sensibility? What does that mean? Also, most of these characters are the antithesis of sensible. Secondly, the story is kind of like Pride & Prejudice, only if Mr. Bennet died at the beginning, Jane married Mr. Collins, Elizabeth made an idiot of herself over Wickham, and Mr. Darcy didn't exist. Depressing!

Third of all, the heroine of the tale is Elinor Dashwood. At first she seemed sensible, but as the novel went on, I found it more and more difficult to sympathize with her, or even like her. I felt kind of bad about how much disliked her, actually, but she's extremely judgy and complacent. I guess more than anything I resented the fact that Jane Austen expected me to approve of her behavior and disapprove of Marianne's, when Marianne was a much more appealing character. The final chapters where Elinor and Edward are all judgy together and she pulls a Fanny Dashwood by convincing Edward that Lucy Steele is a horrible person who never loved him ("Ah, yes, you're right, she was a selfish trollop, why didn't I realize?") when she spent the entire novel pretending to be her friend sums up her entire character for me. UHG. He's already chosen to marry you, why don't you just let it go, beyotch?

Hugh Laurie as a hilarious Mr Palmer.

Basically the only characters I really liked in Sense and Sensibility were Colonel Brandon and the Palmers. Mr Palmer was hilarious. Col Brandon is also pretty awesome, and I loved how Marianne treated him like he was teetering on the edge of death because he was "old" (she was young enough to be his daughter, so); but the conclusion of his and Marianne's romance was super-disappointing, especially after having to listen to Elinor and Edward talk for an entire chapter.

I basically spent the majority of Sense and Sensibility very annoyed with at least one character, and sometimes all the characters. On the plus side, it does read really fast (of course I listened to it on audio, but it felt like it was going by quickly), and the secondary characters are fun. Still, I'm glad this wasn't my first Jane Austen novel, or I'm not sure I would have read any of her other books.

Download Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|GirleBooks

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review: THE WINDOW AT THE WHITE CAT by Mary Roberts Rinehart

white cat cover

Original Publication Date: 1910

Genre: mystery

Topics: politics, crazy old ladies, amateur sleuths, lawyers

Review by heidenkind:

Jack Knox is an attorney who, for some strange reason, is constantly asked to investigate things. First the beautiful Margery Fleming walks into his office, asking him to find her father, a disreputable politician (or just politician, as adding "disreputable" as an adjective seems repetitive). Then Margery's two maiden aunts, Lavinia and Jane, start having problems: Lavinia finds her pearls missing and Jane disappears, just as Margery's dad is found dead. Somehow Jack bumbles his way into a solution to both mysteries.

The Window at the White Cat definitely isn't one of Mary Roberts Rinehart's best mysteries, although I did enjoy it. On the surface it has a lot of elements in common with The Man In Lower Ten (review here): a bachelor lawyer who investigates crime and sneaks around dark houses at night; a beautiful woman with a problem whom he's clearly attracted to; and the atmosphere of an olde-timey movie. However, Jack (and really none of the other characters, either, excluding Aunt Lavinia) isn't as charming and interesting as Lollie, the two mysteries don't work that well together, and the book is about twice as long as it should be.

Still, reading The Window at the White Cat wasn't a horrible way to spend a few days. I think my favorite parts of the book were Jack's visits to the Aunts' house, which reminded me of the movie Arsenic and Old Lace (but without the trips to Panama). Crazy old ladies FTW! I also kind of liked the peek into 1910's politics, if only because it's pretty clear the general opinion of politicians has not changed that much in the last century.

While The Window at the White Cat isn't a novel I would unreservedly recommend (unlike The Man In Lower Ten), it's okay. I do have to say that I love Rinehart's titles though: they sound very odd and nonsensical until you read the book, and then they're PERFECT. Here the White Cat is a political club. You'll have to read the rest of the book to find out how the window fits in!

You might also be interested in:

  • Chris' review of The Window at the White Cat here.
  • Melody's review at Redeeming Qualities.
  • My review of The Man In Lower Ten here.
  • My review of The After House by Mary Roberts Rinehart here.
  • Aarti's review of Bab: A Sub-Deb by Mary Roberts Rinehart here.

Download The Window at the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: THE MAN WHO WAS THURSDAY by GK Chesterton

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1908

Genre: spy/thriller

Topics: religion, reality, politics

Review by heidenkind:

Gregory is an anarchist poet living in London. But then some guy named Gabriel Syme shows up who's ALSO an anarchist poet. Naturally Gregory is threatened by Syme, who is not only honing in on his market but probably better at both poetry and anarchy. So, to prove that he's the REAL anarchist poet, Gregory invites Syme to a meeting of anarchists, where he expects to be elected as the regional anarchist representative, known as Thursday. That's when the twists begin.

The Man Who Was Thursday is seriously one of my favorite reads of the year. Have you ever seen Dark City with Rufus Sewell, or read The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry? Well, The Man Who Was Thursday is kind of like that, BUT BETTER. Wikipedia calls it a "metaphysical thriller" and I TOTALLY agree with that description (even if it's slightly anachronistic). The novel has the same sensibility as metaphysical paintings by Giorgio de Chirico, from labyrinthine streets to mysterious towers and creepy figures like the man in The Child's Brain, whom I can totally picture as Sunday. Have I mentioned that I wrote my master's thesis on Giorgio de Chirico? Well, I did; and as a result I've read a lot of surrealist novels in my time, including de Chirico's own Hebdomeros. All of those books were strange, and some of them were nonsensical; but none of them were entertaining or as clever as The Man Who Was Thursday. I have a feeling de Chirico could only wish he'd been able to write a book as a good as this (fortunately he created a lot of awesome paintings, instead).

the child's brain
"The Child's Brain" by Giorgio de Chirico (title probably changed by Andre Breton, the first owner). 1917. National Museum, Stockholm.

All of this probably makes The Man Who Was Thursday sound really inaccessible and difficult to understand. It isn't. When the novel starts out, it seems like a very typical spy thriller. Syme is completely unlikable and Gregory is surprisingly sympathetic. Then everything gets turned on its head: Syme becomes AWESOME (seriously, he may be one of my favorite fictional characters of all time), and the story completely sucks you in. Still, I was only at about the halfway point before I started wondering to myself, "Is this a dream?" (The subtitle of the novel is kind of a hint that it is, but GK Chesterton is clever about twisting the meaning of the word so you're not sure.) By that point I was invested in the characters and the world and willing to go along with whatever Chesterton tossed my way.

Plus, The Man Who Was Thursday is FUNNY. There are lots of laugh-out-loud scenes, my favorite being the duel between Syme and a French anarchist. The anarchists are honestly kind of silly and hilarious. And interspersed with fun adventure are moments that are very creepy and uncanny. It's all woven together in a way that's interesting and clever and entertaining.

Probably the only thing I could say against The Man Who Was Thursday is that there is literally one woman in the entire book. But for some reason that didn't really bother me as much as it has with other books, maybe because the book is curiously asexual--I'm not sure I ever thought of the characters as "men," just characters--or perhaps because the world of novel is so fully realized that I feel like having the expectation for female characters would be nonsensical in the context of the story.

I'm still not entirely sure what the ending of The Man Who Was Thursday was supposed to mean, probably because I don't really know enough about the novel's contemporary context. Or maybe the meaning is supposed to be completely ambiguous. Either way, I enjoyed the hell out of this book and I think other people will too, especially if you like spy stories or mysteries that are slightly strange or uncanny.

Download The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton at Project Gutenberg|Librivox

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Review: THE CIRCULAR STUDY by Anna Katharine Green

book cover
Original Publication Date: 1900

Genre: mystery

Topics: psychology, family, love

Proposed alternative title: Remember Evelyn!

Review by heidenkind:

Oh Anna Katharine Green, why can't I quit you?

Ebenezer Gryce is thinking about quitting detective work, but a curious case delays his retirement. It's the murder of a wealthy old man in a locked room, a circular study with lights that change colors and walls that move. There's a also a talking parrot who keeps saying "Remember Evelyn," and a servant who doesn't talk at all but is clearly a bubble off. What can it all mean? A clue (or "clew," as Green writes it) leads Gryce to Miss Butterworth (I'm going to assume this book predates the maple syrup company), who is only too willing to help the investigation.

I usually find Green's stories completely bizarre, and The Circular Study is no exception. I would call her the Dan Brown of her time, but I don't want to insult Dan Brown. That being said, there is a lot going on in this novel, and some of it is very Dan Brown-esque. For example, the old man's body is spread out on the floor with a cross on his chest. Mysterious! What does it all mean??? And why does the parrot keep saying to remember Evelyn?

Green's writing can be iffy at times. She uses words in a way that makes me want to say, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Also, her stories are very frustrating because she sets the reader up for certain things (a modern reader, anyway) and then never follows through. For example, Miss Butterworth is super-suspicious and way too sweet and perfect. I kept expecting her to turn out to be a femme fatale à la The Maltese Falcon, even though I knew she wouldn't be because this is an Anna Katharine Green story and everyone is as they appear.

Despite it all, though, I actually was enjoying The Circular Study for the first half. It may have been crazy town-ish, but at least it was interesting. But then the story switches to a long, drawn-out flashback that tells the reader everything about the old man and how he wound up in the circular study. Even if I didn't hate flashbacks on principle, and even if the flashback itself wasn't Dickensian-in-a-bad-way, this would come off as a total cop-out on Green's part. She's supposed to have her characters solve the mystery, not tell us how it was done. I don't know what she was thinking; maybe she just got bored? Either way, after that it was kind of a struggle to finish.

I wish I could say this was going to be my last Green book, but it probably won't be! Even though I usually end up disliking her stories, they're so strange I find myself horribly fascinated by them. Also I tend to like the separate elements in her novels even if I don't like how they come together. Read at your own peril!

You might also be interested in:

  • my review of A Difficult Problem by Anna Katharine Green here.
  • my review of Midnight on Beauchamp Row by Anna Katharine Green here.
  • Aarti's review of The Leavenworth Case by Anna Katharine Green here.

Download The Circular Study by Anna Katharine Green at Project Gutenberg|Librivox