Love in a Cold Climate: A Review

Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (ISBN: 9780141037448, pages 249, pub 1949)

I picked up Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford for $10 as part of the Penguin classics range, knowing little about it. I was therefore pleasantly surprised by how funny this book was. Really funny. This biting look at English upper-class society reminded me of Jane Austen’s clever observations of people in books like Pride and Prejudice.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Fanny, a young woman born into privilege but who is an observer of those around her rather than a key player. Although she goes from a green girl with a keen eye for the silliness of upper-class society to a wife and mother during the course of the book, her story barely causes a wrinkle in the story’s fabric. This is very much the story of Lady Montdore and her beautiful daughter, Polly.

Lady Montdore is a larger-than-life character who dominates every scene she is in. She despairs about her daughter Polly (Leopoldina), a beautiful young woman who should be “destined for an exceptional marriage” given her beauty and breeding but who seems to have no interest in any man her mother puts in front of her.

Our narrator Fanny has an eccentric upper-class family full of neurotic aunts and uncles. Her mother is known as “the bolter” for running from numerous love affairs and has left Fanny to grow up between her aunts and uncles. Her Uncle Matthew calls people he dislikes “sewers” and has a superstition that if he writes the name of somebody he dislikes on pieces of paper and puts it in a drawer that the person will die in a year. The drawers in his house are overflowing with bits of paper.

The reader is introduced to different players in the story and then the great big scandal involving Polly drops into the middle of it all. Not a whole lot of action happens in this book. It is very much an enjoyable character-based romp through the grand halls of the English aristocracy in the time between the two world wars. It was definitely worth the read.



Jane Eyre Laid Bare: A Review

Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve SInclair
Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve Sinclair (e-book) 336 pages, pub Oct 2012

I don’t really know what made me choose Jane Eyre Laid Bare by Eve Sinclair to read. I saw it when scrolling through a list of e-books on Amazon and bought it on impulse because I love the book Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte and wanted to see what the “naughty” version of it was like. I thought it could be interesting. I thought wrong. But I can’t say I wasn’t warned. A quick look at reviews posted on goodreads showed that those who disliked it did so with a passion bordering on venomous. Still, I thought I would give it a go.

Basically, this book is the fantastic classic Jane Eyre with random sex thrown in – and not even good sex. It was cringe-worthy. The parts I liked best were the parts closest to passages from the original book. I flicked quickly through this book just so I could get it over and done with. And don’t even get me started on the terrible ending …

I’ve come to the conclusion that classics are classics for a reason – because they are pretty much the perfect read in their original form. To cut them up, and inject gratuitous raunchiness into them that in no way enhances the original story, could be seen as a form of sacrilege. It just made me appreciate how much more passionate the original Jane Eyre story was because of what it hinted at but didn’t say. Less truly is more and it was more powerful for me when the passion between Mr Rochester and Jane Eyre was implied rather than outlined in kinky detail. Was it really necessary to learn that Jane and the other girls at the orphanage she grew up in were “very close” friends?

If you haven’t read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte then perhaps give this a read – but if you have read the classic then this may really, really annoy you. Its probably best not to bother with this version that adds sex parties, sex toys from Japan and servants going at it like rabbits to a classic. What next Fifty Shades of Darcy? Sensual and Sensuality? Whipping Heights? Alice gets it on in wonderland? Kinkyrella? Pokemehontas? Hmm … on second thought maybe I should jump on the bandwagon and write me an e-book!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (ISBN: 9781844080380, 440 pages, First published 1938)

With those words the haunting tale of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier begins. Reading this book again, after so many years, reconfirmed why Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite ‘classic’ authors. Written in the 1930s, it is a story that will still enthrall a reader of today.

Rebecca is told from the perspective of a young woman whose name we never learn.  We meet her in Monte Carlo where she is employed as the ‘companion’ (slave) of a rich older lady. One day she  meets Maxim de Winter – a rich, much older Englishman who is master to a great English pile called Manderley. Maxim is in Monte Carlo to recover from the tragic drowning death of his wife, Rebecca.

After a whirlwind romance, conducted when the heroine’s boss is laid up ill in bed, Maxim asks her to become the next Mrs de Winter. Young and in love, she agrees and they return to England. There she finds Manderley, the beautiful, famed estate by the sea. A place frozen in time.

The house is still furnished according to Rebecca’s tastes. The housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, runs the house and the servants as though Rebecca is still alive. Though Maxim never speaks of Rebecca, a change has come over him. It is though he can’t forget his first wife and is mourning her still.

The unnamed heroine is plain, shy and unable to stand up for herself. The servants walk all over her and she is terrified of social engagements. Her only friend seems to be the dog, Jasper. Everyone talks of Rebecca – her beauty; her style and wit; how she was the perfect wife and hostess. It isn’t long until the heroine has a fully fledged obsession with Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier slowly, but surely, tightens the strings of the story and you are left waiting for the heroine to snap.

Daphne du Maurier’s control over the tension is masterful. The heroine finds a used tissue in an old coat of Rebecca’s. Such a small thing gives the new Mrs de Winter a push closer to the edge. We are privy to her inner turmoil but her husband remains oblivious to his young wife’s dark thoughts as she constantly compares herself to Rebecca and sees nothing but her own inadequacy.

But then MAJOR PLOT TWIST and the story goes off in a direction that a first time reader won’t expect, and a returning reader will appreciate as the workings of a great writer. Now a different kind of pace builds and you find yourself wondering how Daphne du Maurier manipulated you into the corner you’re in.

It’s no wonder that Hitchcock made this into a film. It’s also no wonder that this book, written in the 1930s, was a hit in its day and has now entered the realm of being a modern-day classic.

The evocative language and thrilling plot make for page-turning reading. I wouldn’t be surprised if tonight I dream of Manderley …






The Other Side of Persuasion

Captain Wentworth’s Diary by Amanda Grange (ISBN: 970709082811, 223 pages, Published 2007)

A couple of months back I wrote about one of my favourite books – Persuasion by Jane Austen. At the time, fellow blogger Northern Mummy left a comment on my blog telling me about a series of books written by Amanda Grange which tell the Jane Austen stories we all know and love from the perspective of the male protagonists. Captain Wentworth’s Diary looks at all the action of Persuasion from Frederick Wentworth’s point-of-view. Of course, I had to go out and hunt this book down!

We first meet Frederick as a young man at the start of a stellar career in the British navy. On shore leave he goes to stay with his brother Edward, a curate who lives in a small country village. It is here that Frederick meets a certain Miss Anne Elliot in whom he finds a kindred spirit. This side of the story – how Frederick and Anne meet and fall in love – is something we never hear about in much detail in Persuasion. It is with a rush of guilty pleasure that I read Amanda Grange’s version of events.

Ultimately, Frederick proposes and Anne accepts, only to refuse him when persuaded to by her mother’s friend, Lady Russell. Eight years pass … during this time Frederick becomes Captain Wentworth and wins his fortune fighting in the Napoleonic wars. Fate leads him back to the village where he met Anne. There he finds Anne much altered after all these years. They are like strangers now and he has no idea of how she feels to see him again.

I won’t give away anything more. It was interesting to read a whole new take on Persuasion. The author did a pretty good job of channeling Jane Austen. I wouldn’t say that this is a literary masterpiece, but it was a nice way to pass my reading time.

Pride, Prejudice and Persuasion

I discovered Jane Austen at the age of 14. It all started with that now immortal BBC period drama Pride and Prejudice starring a very dark and brooding Colin Firth and featuring a racy scene involving a white shirt and diving into a lake (which I played in slow motion many times when I later bought the video, then the DVD box set). I watched the first TV episode and immediately rushed out to borrow the book from the library.

Previously, if someone asked me to pick my favourite Jane Austen book, I suppose I’d say Pride and Prejudice. But as I get older, the book Persuasion is starting to resonate more with me. When you are younger and offered love, you think there will always be someone else around the corner. Maybe a better opportunity. You get to your late twenties and you’ve probably broken a few hearts and got yours broken too. Then you begin to play that ‘what if’ game where you imagine you had acted in a different way. You may start to think that maybe you’ve let your best shot at love go.

Cover of "Persuasion (Oxford World's Clas...
Cover of Persuasion (Oxford World’s Classics)

Persuasion is a simple story if you haven’t read it, but as with all Jane Austen books it is rich in characters and subplots. Anne Elliot falls in love with a young naval officer called Frederick Wentworth when she is 19. Her family, in particular a family friend called Lady Russell, persuades Anne that this match is beneath her. Frederick has no wealth and little prospects. He has ‘no connections.’

We never know Anne and Frederick as they were back then: young and in love. We meet Anne when she is twenty-seven and all her hopes of ever getting married have truly passed her by. The years haven’t been kind. Her spendthrift father and sister have almost beggared the family. They must let out their house for money. And who should they let to – the sister and brother-in-law of Frederick – now Captain Frederick Wentworth and very rich.

Is there anything worse than having had love a long time ago, rejected it, and lived to regret your decision? And then this object of your love returns into your life, but they ignore you. They are cold and bitter. You are not forgiven. Instead, he has his eye on one of your family friends, a girl who is, let’s face it, a lot younger and more fun than you.

In the end the lovers get their happy ending. How they get there is well worth reading. But in real life Jane Austen’s health was deteriorating and she died in the year after finishing this book. I wonder if the regret of life’s missed chances, communicated by the character Anne, was something Jane was examining as her health grew worse. Was she looking back on her life and regretting a time when she was persuaded to say “no” to love? Did she have to give her characters the happy ending in love that she herself never experienced?

So many books have been written about the life of Jane Austen. I think the woman who wrote such spirited books had to have enjoyed life – whether as a keen observer in the corner or as a full participant in society. Maybe she never married, but she left behind these stories that millions of readers are still enjoying and dissecting. How many of us could achieve the same in our lifetime?

I visited Jane’s final resting place when I lived in the UK. A simple marker stone in Winchester Cathedral tells of a devoted sister and says nothing of the famous writer. It was only decades later that fans of her books put up a tribute to her contribution as an author nearby. As I stood there contemplating the influence of Jane Austen’s books on my life,  I hoped that when she lived she got the chance to grab her own bit of happiness in love.

(BTW, sorry for the long time between posts. I was away visiting my sister, brother-in-law and nephews.)