Saturday, July 24, 2010

My Darling Elizabeth!

For the past few weeks, Radio has been admonishing me not to work too hard. When I reminded him that I was working at home during a one hour office visit on Friday, he shook his head and told me I needed to be resting and getting better. Although I've tried to work as much as I can, it's difficult to sit up in a position amenable to CAD-monkeying for very long, so one hour of working is followed by two of sleeping or, as you shall see, reading.

I went Tuesday to get a new book, chauffeured by my wonderful mother after (yet another) doctor's appointment. We went to Barnes and Noble, which is always frustrating for me, because I feel as though the books I should want to read there have already been read. I've covered almost all the biographies I wish to read that they carry, and their shelves always seem to be loaded with "chick-lit" clad in hot pink covers with terrible scripty fonts used for the titles. If I could bring myself to even touch one in order to read the synopsis on its back, I doubt sincerely if I could buy it, due to the lax level of craft with which I associate them.

I am in no way saying that my own writing is any better than Candace Bushnell's or Plum Sykes', but it is (particularly Plum Sykes - dear God, she can write an article for Vogue but she can't write a novel to save her life. If she's the future of literature, then I will live in the past, thank you).

And in the past, I have dwelt. I saw a decidedly pink book, but it was weighty - 600+ pages - and was part of the poorly copy-edited Barnes and Noble Classics line they publish (I think they get second year English students from Turkmenistan to copy-edit their books). The book was entitle Wives and Daughters and was written by one Elizabeth Gaskell.

I cannot believe it took me so long to become acquainted with Mrs. Gaskell. She was a contemporary of the Bronte sisters and Charles Dickens, and was particular friends with Charlotte Bronte. Her books were serialized before being published as novels, and are, on the whole, much more interesting than I expected.

Wives and Daughters has a light hand to it, without all the superfluous verbiage I found distasteful when reading the Brontes (although I do like their books). I was incredibly pleased reading W&D...

Until I got to the end. And found to my dismay that the book is incomplete. Mrs. Gaskell died before writing the last two or three episodes of the serialization, so there is a brief eulogy at the end of the B&N edition that was written by the original publisher of the serial, laying out her intentions for the end of the book and praising her abilities as a writer.

I decided to read something else by Elizabeth Gaskell, and went to Borders this time (Barnes and Noble had only had the one book by her, and it's not even her most famous work, amazingly enough). Borders had five different stories she'd written, and I bought her most famous, Cranford.

I loved it.

It was written earlier than Wives and Daughters, and her style had not evolved into its state of clear, bright-eyed simplicity at that point, and was rather more like Charlotte Bronte's work, but it was a wonderful comedy of manners, lampooning the pretensions and affectations of small-town England during the 1840s. W&D carried some of this social satire, but mostly dealt with personal foibles, rather than the silliness of society at large (or at small, in this case).

Only imagine how much more delighted I am by the fact that the edition I purchased of Cranford is one of the newly designed and highly coveted Penguin Classics editions, bound in book cloth, and with a cover of Art Nouveau leaves and peapods embossed onto its surface. It was a challenge finding just the right spot for it on my bookshelves, but I triumphed in the face of that adversity. OCDesign strikes again.

1 comment:

  1. Masterpiece Theatre made a wonderful series of episodes out of Cranford. You should see if you can get it on DVD. Even Jason loved it, and I usually have a hard time convincing him to watch Masterpiece.