Check it out on Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Check it out on Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Original Publication Date: 1887
Genre: Investigative journalism
Topics: Asylums, abuse, mental illness, women
Review by : Chrisbookarama
Journalist Nellie Bly, pen name of Elizabeth Cochrane, was tired of reporting for the “woman’s pages” of Dispatch. She turned to The New York World whose editor gave her an assignment, one he didn’t think she had much hope of accomplishing.
Nellie would pretend to be insane and have herself admitted to Blackwell’s Island Women’s Asylum, while there she would record all that went on inside. Her editor doubted she would get in and didn’t have a plan to get her out! Nellie was determined to get her story. From the beginning, she believed that the reports of abuse inside the hospital were exaggerated. She was about to find out how wrong she was.
First, she thought it would be easier to get to the asylum by way of a women’s temporary home, a kind of homeless shelter for working women. She felt the landlady would have experience with these cases. The first night, Nellie began acting erratically, calling the other women crazy, refusing to sleep, and claiming to have lost her luggage. After the police are called, Nellie was placed before a judge who for some reason believed she’s from Cuba. “How did you know?!” she says. She isn’t, actually, she’s from Pennsylvania, but she plays along and it’s kind of hilarious.
The judge sends her to be examined at Bellevue Hospital and she fears she will be found out. She needn’t have worried. The doctors declare her a “hopeless case.” One asks her if she is a prostitute and she takes umbrage! She and a few other women, including a German woman with no English, are shipped off to Blackwell’s Island. And just like that, she’s in.
At the asylum, she meets several patients, some who have obvious problems and others who were put there and either recovered or were never sick to begin with. Many of these women were foreigners who could not speak for themselves, or women placed there by family. There was no hope of leaving for these women. No matter what their mental issues were the doctors didn’t listen to them.
The doctors were the least of their worries. Nellie complains of the cold and of the poor food. Worse still was the treatment of the nurses who were cruel, torturing and abusing the women. Taunting them and teasing them. They were even expected to clean the rooms of the patients and nurses. Nellie was told more than once by the nurses that charity cases should be grateful for what they were given and “don’t expect kindness, you won’t get it.” This is how these sick women were treated.
Nellie gave up the pretence of insanity once she got to Blackwell’s Island and many times asked the doctors to test her. She called out the behaviour of the nurses and the alarming conditions of some of the patients but it helped little. Nellie was only released once a lawyer from the paper came to claim her.
The stories she hears from the patients are horrific. These women were poor and overwhelmed by their home lives. Some just had a bad day which was enough to send them to an asylum for a lifetime. The “treatment,” or lack of, did more harm than good. The foreign women must have been scared out of their minds! They wouldn’t have understood what was happening.
Once her story Ten Days in a Madhouse was published, a grand jury was called and with Nellie’s assistance, the hospital investigated. Changes to the system were made.
When I think about this story, this true story, I’m struck by so many things. Nellie was in her early twenties. She was a woman in the Victorian era. She had no idea what she was getting into and no idea how she’d get out of it. She just jumped in with both feet. Talk about nerve!
Nellie’s reporting is clear headed and factual. She tells events as she experiences them. Although her writing is full of sympathy and frustration for the patients, it’s never overwrought. It never veers into the melodramatic. It’s a serious topic, but Nellie’s reporting is warm and at times even humourous.
I knew of Nellie Bly’s journalism, but this was the first time hearing her words. What an experience!
This was a Librivox recording read by Alys AtteWater. Alys has a pleasant, perky voice, just the voice for a plucky, twenty-something journalist.
Download Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly at Librivox or read the text at Digital Library.
Original Publication Date: 1889
Topics: Time Travel, Monarchies
Review by: Melissa at Avid Reader’s Musings
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
by Mark Twain
★★★★ Twain has a wicked sense of humor, but his novels on social commentary tend to be even more powerful than his playful ones. My assumption was that this book would fall into the comedy category. Based on film versions and the general premise, it sounded like an entertaining, light novel. While there were some very funny parts, this is a much darker book than I was expecting. It’s both an adventure and a cautionary tale. There are also so many wonderful lines, zingers that I know I can always expect from Twain. The plot tells the story of a man who is hit in the head and wakes up 1300 years earlier in 528 AD. It’s the Dark Ages and King Arthur is on the throne. He has no way of getting home, so instead he tries to build a life in England and becomes one of King Arthur’s knights. The dark tone of the book seeps into almost every scene. Even when our narrator is using gunpowder to pretend to have magic, there’s always a chance that he will be killed for sorcery. In one section our time traveling hero is touring the countryside with King Arthur, who is disguised as a peasant. They come upon a home where a family of four is dying of a disease plaguing the area. They care for them, but it’s much too late to save them from their grim fate. In their dying moments they learn that this family’s misfortune, perpetuated by the local manor lord, left them destitute and desperate. The King is being forced to see the problems in his kingdom firsthand and it’s not a pleasurable experience. BOTTOM LINE: There are jousts and hangings, betrayals and jealousy; all the great elements of an adventure novel. I was surprised by how much depth I found and the bittersweet ending will stick with me. “The mere knowledge of a fact is pale; but when you come to realize your fact, it takes on color. It is all the difference between hearing of a man being stabbed to the heart, and seeing it done.” “Inherited ideas are a curious thing, and interesting to observe and examine.” “Intellectual “work” is misnamed; it is a pleasure, a dissipation, and is its own highest reward. The poorest paid architect, engineer, general, author, sculptor, painter, lecturer, advocate, legislator, actor, preacher, singer is constructively in heaven when he is at work; and as for the musician with the fiddle-bow in his hand who sits in the midst of a great orchestra with the ebbing and flowing tides of divine sound washing over him—why, certainly, he is at work, if you wish to call it that, but lord, it’s a sarcasm just the same.”
Download Title by author at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
Check it out on Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books
Original Publication Date: 1816
Topics:family, love, marriage, matchmaking, rural life English squires
Review by Bridget/Anachronist@portable pieces of thoughts
Twenty-year-old Emma Woodhouse lives with her hypochondriac, almost senile father at Hartfield, a small estate dwarfed by nearby Donwell Abbey. The owner of Donwell Abbey is the forthright family friend and in-law Mr. Knightley, brother of John Knightley, the barrister husband of Emma’s older sister Isabella.
When Emma’s governess and close friend Miss Taylor marries and becomes Mrs. Weston, Emma decides to amuse herself by finding a wife for Mr. Elton, the handsome young vicar. She fixes on Harriet Smith, a pretty but naïve teenage boarder at Mrs. Goddard’s school, the “natural” (meaning “illegitimate”) daughter of an unknown benefactor. Emma, fancying that Harriet’s father might well be a gentleman, even an aristocrat, befriends her and proceeds to “form her opinions and her manners”. Soon she is talking her out of a marriage proposal from the sensible, honorable farmer Robert Martin. Needless to say, all does not go well even if Emma imagines herself to be naturally gifted in conjuring love matches – she helped Miss Taylor splendidly, didn’t she? Harriet, a very impressionable and simple being, becomes duly infatuated with Mr. Elton, but Elton makes it clear that he is more interested in Emma, a heiress with a good dowry. Emma realizes that her obsession with making a match for Harriet has blinded her to the true nature of the situation.
Mr. Knightley watches Emma’s matchmaking efforts with a critical eye. He believes that the spurned Mr. Martin is a worthy young man whom Harriet would be lucky to marry. He and Emma quarrel over Emma’s meddling, and, as usual, Mr. Knightley proves to be the wiser of the pair. Elton, being refused Emma’s hand in one hilarious scene during a Christmas party, leaves for the town of Bath and marries the first willing and eligible girl he meets. Or rather he marries her money. Emma is left to comfort Harriet and to wonder about the character of a new visitor expected in Highbury—Mr. Weston’s son, Frank Churchill. Emma knows nothing about Frank, who has long been deterred from visiting his father by his aunt’s illnesses and complaints. Mr. Knightley is immediately suspicious of the young man, especially after Frank rushes back to London merely to have his hair cut. Emma, however, finds Frank delightful and notices that his charms are directed mainly toward her. Though she plans to discourage these charms, she finds herself flattered and engaged in a flirtation with the young man.
Emma also makes the acquaintance of Jane Fairfax, another addition to the Highbury set, but with far less enthusiasm. Jane is beautiful and accomplished, but Emma dislikes her because of her reserve and, as the narrator insinuates, because she is jealous of Jane. Suspicion, intrigue, and misunderstandings ensue. Mr. Knightley defends Jane, saying that she deserves compassion because, unlike Emma, she has no independent fortune and must soon leave home to work as a governess. Mrs. Weston suspects that the warmth of Mr. Knightley’s defense comes from romantic feelings, an implication Emma resists. Everyone assumes that Frank and Emma are forming an attachment, though Emma soon dismisses Frank as a potential suitor and imagines him as a perfect match for Harriet. How will it end?
Emma is the only Jane Austen novel (I don’t take Lady Susan into account because the authoress didn’t come up with that title, it was added later, possibly after her death) which title features nothing but the name of the main female lead.When Jane Austen began planning Emma she wrote that she would be taking a heroine whom no one but herself would like much. I might be wrong but it seems to me Emma was her very private fantasy centered around that well-known hypothetic question: “what if I were rich?” It is also about a ‘material girl living in a material world’ and yes, Emma is rather difficult to like. Let me elaborate.
In the famous opening paragraph of the 1816 novel Austen describes her heroine and sets up the story in a nutshell: “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.” Accordingly the plot of Emma is really mainly about Emma herself – how she evolves from the overly indulged daughter of a self-indulgent man, used to have always her way, into a considerate and giving woman, ready for love, marriage and other serious commitments. As a contemporary reader, however, I often asked myself: wasn’t it another cop-out for that girl who loved to keep people around her on a silk leash and manipulate them when she got bored? Was Emma still too insecure and afraid to follow her initial resolve and remain unmarried?
When I reread Emma as an adult I was surprised how lonely, even alienated that girl sounded, especially that she was pretty much aware of her superior intellect and social status. After her precious governess and companion, Miss Taylor, had married, Emma was left at home with just a father who was too old and too infirm to count as a good company for a young, vivacious girl; then there was Harriet, a lovely and docile simpleton, always ready to agree with her guru but unable to produce one original thought. Jane Fairfax was a painful reminder what Emma was missing, living in the country rather than, say, London, where finding a more challenging company wouldn’t be such a big problem. Jane was unapproachable at first, for good many reasons but still, and Emma minded it a lot, plotting a revenge in her unique style, causing Jane a lot of grief but, of course, with the best possible intentions on her mind.
Then I’ve noticed how the characters of this novel show an almost total disregard for love and affection where marriage is concerned. As Lord David Cecil put Jane Austen’s view: “It was wrong to marry for money, but it was silly to marry without it.” In no other Austen book you hear that statement sounding clearer than in Emma. Class, social status and money are the prime motivators for young people looking for a husband or a wife – not their feelings. Even the vicar is mercenary: he wants a rich girl, the richer the better. When the local heiress proves to be unwilling he snatches the second best offer he finds, no matter how horrible a person she is. Harriet dutifully falls in love with any man that might ensure her a comfortable living – I sometimes had a feeling that the girl had a ‘fall-in-love switch’ hidden somewhere under her clothes, her changes of heart were so swift that almost comical (but it was the point of Harriet’s character after all). Even the saintly-and-much-suffering Jane Fairfax has enough brains to fall in love with an affluent man and be spared a life of drudgery among other people’s brats.
This tendency is emphasized even more clearly when, at one point of the narrative, Emma herself decides that Frank Churchill, a bachelor who’s inherited his grandmother’s fortune, would make an ideal husband for her even though she has never even met him and she doesn’t have to look for a husband because her dowry is more than enough to ensure her a comfortable existence. As soon as she knows Frank Churchill’s high status in society, his reputation and family, she becomes interested as if it was simply her duty to do so – and lo and behold, after a while she fancies herself ‘a bit in love’ with him. Whether or not Emma would be able to “love” the real Frank Churchill (and whether he would be willing to “love her back”) is beside the point and not really taken into serious consideration - neither by her nor by Frank’s father and stepmother. That’s how two perfect strangers could be entrapped into a loveless relationship; many of those lurk in the background of other Austen novels (e.g. Mansfield Park) and while the whole polite society might pronounce them “the perfect couple imaginable” they are anything but.
It seems that Austen, who never married, firmly believed that each person must know his or her own place in society and keep to it, adhering to its dictates and conventions. Emma accepted those conventions to remain on the top of her little community and keep her loneliness at bay. For how long, though?
Emma is a story of self deceit and self discovery which, despite its brilliancy, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth whenever I care to reread it. I fear Emma will never be my favourite Austen heroine but I appreciate the fact that she is an interesting, dynamic character, able to evolve from a charming but self-deluded girl into a more chastened and thoughtful being. The fact that her story contains a lot of comic relief makes it even more palatable.
Download Emma by Jane Austen at Project Gutenberg|Librivox|
Let’s face it, the public domain is rather pale. You’ve got your Collinses, and your Dickens, and your Austens, etc, etc. That’s not to say that there is nothing out there in the public domain by Black authors, because there is!
I realize I should have made this list back in February when it was Black History Month. Anyway, no time like the present to celebrate authors of colour in the public domain. I started working on this list before the We Need Diverse Books campaign, so it’s still a timely list. Add a few of these authors to Diversify Your Shelves.
I’ve tried to provide a variety of genres. There are a lot of political writings, lectures, and autobiographies available, but that’s not everyone’s thing. Here I have a list that includes poetry, plays, novels, as well as non-fiction writing. I was also glad to see both men and women represented in the public domain.
This list is heavy on the African-Americans. I tried to find a more diverse collection of writers, but, as much as I appreciate Project Gutenberg, the search function is tricky. I’m not a librarian and my tools are limited. This is by no means a comprehensive list, just a list of books and authors I found interesting and wanted to share.
I hope you find a new to you book or author in this list!
Harriet E Wilson. Harriet E Wilson was born free in the North, but after her father’s death and abandonment by her mother, she was indentured to a rich family. Her novel Our Nig, although semi-autobiographical, is considered one of the first novels written by an African-American of either gender. It’s available for free on Girlebooks.
Frances Harper. Ms Harper was an abolitionist and suffragette. Her novels are moral tales of temperance and hard work. Minnie’s Sacrifice sounds interesting. Minnie is mixed race but raised by Northern white adoptive parents. She finds out about her heritage by accident and later moves to the South.
Phillis Wheatley. Phillis was born in Africa, but enslaved and brought to America (later emancipated). She became famous writing poetry during the American Revolution, including one dedicated to George Washington. Although she continued to write poetry, she fell on hard times when her husband was put in debtors’ prison.
Zora Neale Hurston. I absolutely love Their Eyes Were Watching God, but it’s not it the public domain. Ms Hurston’s plays, however, are, including one titled Poker! I’m going to guess that’s it’s about a game of poker. Zora was a Floridian folklorist and member of the Harlem Renaissance.
Alexandre Dumas. The great French writer and my literary crush. He’s best known for novels like The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. His father, Alex, was the child of a Haitian slave and a ne’er do well nobleman. Alex went on to be a hero of the French Revolution and the inspiration for many of Dumas’s heroes. (I highly recommend the new biography, The Black Count by Tom Reiss, all about Alex.) Georges is the story of a mixed race man on a mission. Georges is handsome, brilliant, and brave. He makes the ladies swoon. He returns to the island of birth to get revenge! It is only available in the public domain in the original French. If you can find it, buy it or borrow it, the English translation by Tina A Kover is very good. Or you can read one of his many, many novels.
W.E.B. Du Bois. The Souls of Black Folk is a history of the African-American people from emancipation to the early 20th century. It’s available in text format as well as on LibriVox. I’ve been listening to it recently. It’s academic but interesting. Du Bois was a historian, sociologist, and co-founder of the NAACP.
Charles W Chesnutt. Mr Chesnutt was a social and political activist. He was of mixed race and could “pass” though he chose not to. Some of his books deal with passing and miscegenation, including the novel The House Behind the Cedars.
Mary Seacole. Mary Seacole was a nurse of the Crimean War, a contemporary of Florence Nightingale. She wrote of her experiences in her autobiography, Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands. Mary was born in Jamaica and had both Scottish and African ancestry. She gained her medical knowledge from her mother and her own experimentation.
Alice Moore-Dunbar Nelson. In her early years, Alice was a teacher who went on to become politically active for both African-American and women’s rights. She wrote a collection of short stories and poems titled, Violets and Other Tales.
Alexander Pushkin. I can’t believe I haven’t read anything by Pushkin yet. Pushkin’s great-grandfather, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, was taken from Africa and given as a “gift” to the Czar. After a military engineering education, Abram would become governor of Reval. Pushkin based his unfinished work Peter the Great’s Negro on his ancestor. Pushkin was both a poet and a novelist. Like so many poets of the time, he had a “live fast, die young” kind of life, dying at 37 from a duel wound. One of his most famous verse novels, Eugene Onegin, is available on Project Gutenberg.
Solomon Northup. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ve at least heard of the Oscar winning movie, Twelve Years a Slave. There are a number of X Years a Slave narratives in the public domain. Surprisingly, I couldn’t find this one on Project Gutenberg. You can download it from other sites, including LibriVox. Solomon was born free in the North but cruelly tricked and enslaved for 12 years in the South.
Matthew Alexander Henson. Something quite different! Matthew was hired as Robert Peary’s valet and later became “indispensible” (quote Peary) during the many Arctic expeditions. He wrote about his adventures in A Negro Explorer at the North Pole.
Langston Hughes. An inventor of “jazz poetry” and a member of the Harlem Renaissance. Hughes was also a novelist and playwright (his play written with Zora Neale Hurston can be found on Project Gutenberg). Most of his work isn’t in the public domain yet but some of his poems are available on Poem Hunter.
Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar was another playwright and poet. He wrote much of his work in a dialect, as well as conventional English. The title of Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is from his poem Sympathy. He was the first husband of Alice Moore (above). Dunbar wrote a number of short stories and novels as well, including Sport of the Gods. This novel involves a family’s move from the South to the North. A false accusation ruins the family. Readers on Goodreads refer to it as “melancholy.” Fans of Thomas Hardy might enjoy this.
Sources: Wikipedia and Goodreads
Original Publication Date: 1782Genre: Epistolary novelTopics: love, hatred, morals, sex, vengeance, education, Review by: Bridget/Anachronist @ portable pieces of thoughtsThe story of two individuals who use sex to manipulate and humiliate other people around them was a scandal right after the first publishing. Even by today’s standards, some of the scenes are shocking and this book used to be compared with the novels of the notorious Marquis de Sade. Small wonder it had been a best-seller even before that name was coined – allegedly 1,000 copies were sold in Paris in a month, an exceptional result for the times.
Synopis:The first letter shows us a young, innocent Cecile de Volanges, aged 15, who, only recently brought out of a convent boarding school, is preparing herself for her incoming nuptials. Unfortunately her future husband, the Comte de Gercourt, put her in a very dangerous position – he had been a lover of Madame Marquise de Merteuil, a beautiful but immoral widow, and they didn’t part on friendly terms; to put it shortly he dared to cast her out. Madame de Merteuil doesn’t like being cast out and she is a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. She plans a cruel revenge and asks her other ex-lover and a frequent associate in crime, the Vicomte de Valmont, for help. Meanwhile the Vicomte has set himself a more difficult task than corrupting young girls just out of school – he is determined to seduce the virtuous, very religious Madame de Tourvel. He plans it just to create a scandal and boast of another trophy in his rich collection of broken hearts and tarnished reputations. Everything seems to be in his favour: Madame de Tourvel is staying with Valmont’s elderly aunt while Monsieur de Tourvel is away for a court case. Big mistake, monsieur. Cécile makes involuntarily the whole revenge scheme a bit easier – she hasn’t met her future husband yet but she’s already managed to fall in love with the Chevalier Danceny, her music tutor. Madame de Merteuil and Valmont pretend that they want to help young lovers so that they can use them later in their own schemes. Chevalier Danceny has scruples about the romance with Cécile, though. Impatient Madame de Merteuil urges the Vicomte to seduce Cécile asap in order to exact her revenge on the Comte de Gercourt just in time (so before the wedding). Valmont refuses, finding the task too boring and too easy, but then he changes his mind - he overhears that Cecile’s mother cautions de Tourvel that he is a dangerous predator. Poor Cecile becomes his lover - first unwilling, then more and more enthusiastic - while Merteuil seduces young Danceny.
Merteuil promises Valmont that if he seduces Madame de Tourvel and provides her with written proof, she will spend the night with him. Apparently she values her bed skills very high. Valmont, whose vanity was badly tickled, agrees.After a really long courtship interrupted only by nights spent in the arms of no longer so innocent Cécile, Valmont finally succeeds in seducing Madame de Tourvel. Unfortunately by that time he has really fallen in love with his victim. However, he is the last to acknowledge this fact. He can fool himself but not Madame de Merteuil. Jealous Madame proves to be a lethal opponent. First she tricks him into deserting Madame de Tourvel by making him write her a truly outrageous letter and then she goes back on her promise of spending the night with him, knowing fully well who he would really prefer to be with. In response to that open defiance Valmont reveals that he prompted Danceny to reunite with Cécile, and abandon Madame de Merteuil herself – something she detests the most. Merteuil declares war on Valmont and, like in any war, there will be victims.What I liked:Les Liaisons dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons) is a French epistolary novel by Pierre Ambroise François Choderlos de Laclos (18 October 1741 – 5 September 1803), a French novelist, official and army general under Napoleon. “Les Liaisons dangereuses” will remain his most known novel, although he wrote poems and other novels as well. He also was a man who began a project of numbering Paris’ streets and invented the modern artillery shell. During the French Revolution he was a diplomat and a commissar in the Ministry of War. Interesting creature. He married relatively late, in 1786, choosing a Marie-Soulange Duperré, 18 years his junior. I wonder whether he let her read his book.
I loved the fact that it is a novel composed entirely of letters written by the various characters. This way the same event could be presented from two or even three different points of view, and readers could get to know plenty about the writers of the letters themselves. The narration pace is really splendidly balanced – not too fast, not too slow, keeping you interested till the very end. The plot is scandalous but it also brings up really serious, complex questions – how to raise children so they are not lured and abused by different predators without scruple, how to lead a happy, fulfilled life, how to arrange a successful marriage. The book speaks volumes about morality without being sanctimonious – not a mean feat.
Now about the characters. The main leads are as complex and well-rounded as you would wish in any contemporary book. Madame Marquise de Merteuil has always been my favourite – you simply can’t help admiring her stamina and cunning, even if she was so openly corrupted and sometimes plainly evil. She was a woman living in a world governed by men, her range of choices was evidently limited despite the fact that she was an aristocrat – for instance she couldn’t pursue any professional career (and I don’t doubt she would make a perfect CEO or a politician, finding a more decent outlet to her energy) she had even little to say when it came to her personal wealth. Her revenge on men, although sometimes disgusting, is at least understandable. The main mistake seemed to be her fierce sense of independence. Had she been, say, a mistress of a king or a powerful duke, so still an immoral but less independent individual, she would have been judged less harshly by her contemporaries. Not to mention the fact that she wouldn’t have had financial troubles. The Vicomte is another story. He was a privileged, handsome, intelligent man from a family of means. Even though he could have made something good with his life, a career of a kind, he preferred preying on women and leading a layabout life of a libertine seducing weak or/and stupid for the heck of it. If you think about it with hindsight you really understand the reasons behind of the French Revolution. Facing such an individual I would be the first to scream “les aristocrates à la lanterne!” (aristocrats to the lamp-post) despite his obvious charms. Small wonder Valmont ended up dead in all movie versions of this novel I’ve seen so far. He was too vain about his lifestyle to change and too damaged at the end to live on.
What I didn’t like:
The fact that such a disfiguring illness attacked Madame de Merteuil right after the public disclosure of her second machiavellian nature did seem a bit over the top…like an act of God. I would prefer her ‘only’ disgraced. However, when it comes to Madame I am heavily biased and I don’t try to hide this fact.
The final verdict:
This book has always been one of my all time favourites. I even read it in French. I recommend it to anybody - when you read it you’ll understand why it’s been adapted for the screen so many times.
Download Dangerous Liaisons
by Choderlos de Laclos
. If you know French you can also download an audiobook in that language at Librivox.
Original Publication Date
: marriage, inheritance, exotic lands
: Patty @ A Tale of Three cities
Burnett is primarily known for children’s books, which means it’s no wonder the main character in this book is devoid of any “flaws”. Emily Fox-Seton is a single woman in her second youth, pure and respectable. Working as a lady’s assistant, she is content to live on her own, waiting to marry for love. This lack of slyness on her part (for lack of a better word) is really what makes this book miss a wonderful opportunity to make a statement: it’s ok to be on your own, being able to work for a living and lead a self-contained life even if one is disowned by their family.
We are not to see this - instead, Marchioness gives us an insight into the way of marriage procedures in Victorian age. No marrying for love if one (woman) is beyond their first youth and with insufficient financial means - she would have to make do with any solution proposed. If one is a man, however, every available girl with means will be paraded during a dinner occasion and careful sitting order in the table will ensure further arrangements…
Following a series of misunderstandings, Emily agrees to a marriage of convenience to a slightly elder, but polite and caring Lord James Vanderhurst, a widower who has to produce an heir if he is to maintain the family estate (even though I’ve read plenty of books on this, it still amazes me to see how inheritance rules were in Victorian time, so glad all this is over!)
Life in the countryside is fine for the couple, who enjoy each other’s company in a peaceful and quiet manner. It would most probably also fit with the “lived happily ever after” of the romantic novels of that era. The author, however, tries her pen in a gothic experiment. I really appreciate her courage to go beyond an easy solution and instead show a darker side to an otherwise uneventful story plot. James feels obliged to go back to India and leaves Emily alone in the vast house…
Enter Captain Alec Osborne and his Indian wife. Alec is next in line to inherit the family estate and while he produces a letter from James asking him to look over Emily, something is not right. We are slowly introduced to a series of little incidents that aim at hurting and eventually do away with Emily (who is pregnant). While the idea is “refreshing”, its execution is little more than bearable. Yes, we are at a period in time where women were meant to be submissive and sub-par in almost everything, but I’m not convinced. Emily has taken care of herself in the real world for a fairly long time to be unaware of tricky situations around her. I’m also not convinced by her inability to just show the door to her guests and seek support from the staff around her for protection.
One other detail that bothered me was having to rely on exotic India for all the different concoctions to end Emily’s pregnacy and life - surely these are known to everyone in the world? It gives the impression of a scapegoat - it was easier to keep unpleasant matters away from proper society and blame “outsiders” for all evil. Still, I can’t feel sorry for poor Emily fighting for her life… because it’s all too convenient and short-lived. A happy end completes the story and a pragmatic, yet loving and caring family life is restored.
With my modern-day eyes, I see the slight failings of a story that otherwise has plenty of potential. Still, I recognise the limitations of literature in that era - and for that I applaud Burnett for daring to stray from an all-too-sweet Cinderella story and introduce a dark element. I would even go as far as say that the story highlights how adversity can lurke around even the most cynical, down-to-earth relationship and show the true feelings we have for each other…
(Both Project Gutenberg and Librivox have published this book, together with its sequel under the title “Emily Fox-Seton: Being the Making of a Marchioness and The Methods of Lady Walderhurst”)
Download The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
at Project Gutenberg
Original Publication Date: 1922
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction
Topics: Reanimation, scientific experimentation, God complex, unreliable narrators, the undead
Review by Chrisbookarama:
Herbert West, Reanimator is one of the few H.P. Lovecraft stories in the public domain. It was first published as a series for Home Brew in 1922. In it, the narrator tells of the experiments conducted by Herbert and witnessed by himself alone. The narrator’s story is told in six parts. At the beginning of each instalment, he sums up what’s happened in the previous ones. Just in case you didn’t save enough pennies for the last issue of Home Brew you won’t be lost. Herbert is a doctor of the mad scientist variety. He concocts a special solution that he injects into his deceased human subjects in the hopes of bringing them back to life. He and the narrator must continually find “fresh” bodies to reanimate. The results aren’t pretty. Basically, these guys are making homemade zombies.
Let’s talk about the narrator for a moment. This guy’s story is sketchy. He says he was afraid of Herbert. He “shudders” at some of the things he does, but he still hangs out with him. He knows the guy has no scruples and committed at least one murder. Why doesn’t he catch a train to As Far From Herbert As Possibleville? Does he owe Herbert money? I think he’s way more into it than he says.
As for the experiments, I would think that after the first couple of times I created an uncontrollable monster, I’d reconsider the whole endeavour. Herbert wants to reanimate a human with the former intellect intact but all he makes are Hulk Monsters. His obsession with finding the right solution and obtaining enough bodies to test those solutions turns him into a monster himself. Herbert finds opportunities for body snatching disguised as a physician treating the sick or wounded. He even resorts to murder. Herbert’s reasons for reanimating corpses don’t stem from some noble cause like curing his poor old mother or anything. It’s just scientific curiosity. While the narrator believes in the soul, Herbert doesn’t. The soul isn’t a factor. The bodies just aren’t fresh enough, in his opinion.
Be warned that H.P. Lovecraft’s terrible racism and xenophobia reveals itself big time about halfway through the story. You’ll be happy to know, however, that we’re all human-flesh eating monsters under the reanimated skin.
Herbert West, Reanimator is an interesting literary artifact as it’s an early zombie story. In it, the undead run amuck munching on the living, until they are destroyed and disposed of. The viral zombie trope appears later in the literary canon (I Am Legend’s zombie-vampire is the first one I can think of). Herbert has the power to create the undead through his solution only, the bite of his creation will not infect others. The creature will live through various states of decomposition, until shot and “killed.” The 1985 film Re-Animator is based on Lovecraft’s story.
This was a Librivox recording by Phil Chenevert. He doesn’t have quite the chilling voice I’d expect for this story. The audio version is about 90 minutes long.
Download Herbert West- Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft at Librivox