Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Monday, August 9, 2010

Ellen Glasgow's Richmond

I am reading Romance of a Plain Man by Ellen Glasgow. It is set in Richmond, Virginia and opens with scenes on the Church Hill section of the city in 1875. Little Benjy Starr is playing in the churchyard of St. John's Church (where Patrick Henry made his give me liberty or give me death speech). Throughout the novel, or at least what I've read so far, there are real locations mentioned, places that I have seen.

When little Benjy playing in the churchyard cemetery, he comments: "One sleeper among them I came to regard, as I grew somewhat older, almost with affection - not only because he was young and a soldier, but because the tall marble slab implored me to 'tread lightly upon his ashes.' Not once during the many hours when I played in the churchyard, did I forget myself and run over the sunken grave where he lay."

Now I want to know, do that grave and tombstone really exist in St. John's cemetery? A soldier from which war? The story opens in 1875, but my impression of the cemetery is that most of the graves date from long before the Civil War. I sent an email to the church asking if they know of such a grave. If I don't hear back from them, I will go over to there and take a look for myself.

Romance of a Plain Man is a compelling read.

I love novels which convey a sense of place, and Ellen Glasgow was masterful in this regard. Her Richmond comes alive in this book. In doing some online research about Glasgow I found mention of what I thought was a book called Ellen Glasgow's Richmond by Tricia Pearsall. It turned out to be a chapter in a book of essays titled Regarding Ellen Glasgow. After a trip to the Library of Virginia this morning, I am now reading that chapter, longing for the weather to cool off so I can track down some of the houses said to be models for homes in Glasgow's novels.

I also learned that Elizabeth Van Lew was a model for at least one Glasgow character. Van Lew was a Richmond resident who acted as a spy for the Union army. After the Civil War she was shunned by Richmond society. Her house no longer stands, but Glasgow mentions in A Certain Measure that when a shild she heard Van Lew being discussed and saw her from a distance.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Novels Set in Virginia

The Bookman, Volume 33 (1911) (beginning on page 44 of that volume) has a wonderful article titled, The South in Fiction: Virginia, by Louise Collier Willcox. This is part II of a three-part series titled The South in Fiction. The article is illustrated with photos. For those interested in novels with a sense of place, this article is an excellent starting place.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Next Up - The Third Window

The Third Window
by Anne Douglas Sedgwick
Houghton Mifflin Company
The Riverside Press
Cambridge 1920

This novel came up in a Google Books search for ghost stories. It has been called a psychological novel, compared to the work of Henry James. An advertisement in Publishers Weekly states: "In this novel, the pervasive sense, sweeping the world to-day, that the dead may not be dead, is transmuted into a masterpiece of fiction."

This is next up on my reading list.

Bookmark - Mrs Henry Wood

Mrs. Henry Wood

The Lamp of Psyche by Edith Wharton

The title of the story refers to a lamp given to Psyche by Venus by which Psyche is able to learn the identity of her lover. In Edith Wharton's story, "The Lamp of Psyche" Delia Corbett has married Laurence Corbett and is in the full flush of love at the beginning of the story. Delia and Laurence live in Paris. They take a trip to Boston to visit Delia's Aunt Mary.

The story takes place in the year 1891. We learn that Laurence is 52 years old, meaning he would have been born in 1839. Aunt Mary asks Delia what Laurence did during the war, the American Civil War, that is. Delia realizes she does not know. When Delia finally puts the question to Laurence, his answer forever alters her view of him.

This is a fascinating story for those of us who are interested in the American Civil War and its effect on women left at home. In this story, Delia had not even wondered what Laurence had done in the war, so long ago had it been, until Aunt Mary raises the question. I was struck by the thought that had Delia been from the South, rather than from Boston, her memory of the war would not have been so easily set aside.

Mrs. Henry Wood

A couple of weeks ago I started looking at the novels and stories written by Mrs. Henry Wood. This was after I read that Tolstoy had enjoyed her work and had noted that he was reading and enjoying Within the Maze. Yesterday I read one of her ghost stories, Fred Temple's Warning, one of her Johnny Ludlow tales. She seems to have been a very interesting person, and I am surprised that the only biography I have found is the one written by her son, Charles Wood, Memorials of Mrs. Henry Wood, published in 1897. Perhaps her prodigious output has been discouraging to would-be biographers. From what I've read of her work I would say that although she is not on the same level as the great Victorian novelists, her work is good and would be enjoyable to readers who are looking to widen their Victorian novel reading horizons.

Reading today - Edith Wharton

Today I have been reading Edith Wharton stories. I just finished "The Fulness of Life", a story of eternal love. It has been designated a ghost story, and technically that is correct. However, the theme of eternal love is what resonated with me.

Now on to "The Lamp of Psyche".