Books Read During January

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Gaskell's writing lacks the precision of Jane Austen and the passion of the Brontes. However, it is very lucid and descriptive, if rather long-winded. I find her quite soothing even though this book deals with class-wars during England's Industrial Revolution.

The story involves Margaret, who is forced to move from her beloved country village when her father decides to leave the Church. They decide to live in the polluted, but thriving town of Milton. Here she has to cope with her invalid mother, her growing feelings for mill-owner, Mr.Thornton, and her escapee brother. Margaret has great integrity but she is also very human and it is easy to identify with her. Gaskell's characters are very well-drawn, generally.

She also writes very perceptively about the conflicts between the employers and employees - these are still very relevant today.


This sentence made me think: "Plus ca change...."

"Hitherto there had been no failures in Milton; but, from the immense speculations that had come to light in making a bad end in America, and yet nearer home, it was known that some Milton houses of business must suffer so severely that every day men's faces asked, if their tongues did not, 'What news? Who is gone? How will it affect me?"

The Humble Grand Duchess: The Last Grand Duchess by Ian Vorres

Ian Vorres's kind neighbour, a rather charming, little old lady, often invited him in to have a cup of tea. Soon he found out that she was Grand Duchess Olga, the sister of the last Russian Tsar. It was destiny... Vorres, a writer, persuaded her to let him write her biography.

Grand Duchess Olga's life was so dramatic that it remains interesting even though Vorres's writing is rather straightforward and prosaic. The interview format doesn't help. He doesn't often let his imagination run away with him! However, it doesn't matter because Olga's words capture the splendour of the Russian court and the horrors of the Revolution.

Grand Duchess Olga wanted to correct the untruths directed at her family - the Rasputin scandal, accusations of tyranny and criticisms of the Tsarina Alexandra. She does this to a big extent, although her argument that monarchy is a divine right is not very convincing. She explains that Tsar Nicholas was really not brought up to be Tsar - her father's main mistake.

The Grand Duchess is surprisingly honest, blaming the rest of the Romanovs (not the immediate Royal Family) for their downfall. She thought that their involvement in scandals lessened the people's respect for them.

She is also very humble and disliked the balls, parties, etc. that she had to attend almost every night at one stage. When she found a new life in Canada she was quite happy gardening, staying at home, and wearing shabby clothes.

This is a very sad book, of course, but well worth reading because it gives a personal insight into the lives of the last Russian royals.

The Amazing Mrs.Snow: A Dash of Daring by Penelope Rowlands

This enchanting book tells the story of Carmel Snow, the renowned editor of Harper's Bazaar during much of the twentieth century. She made many innovations to magazine publishing, including introducing the layout which all fashion magazines still use. She made Harper's Bazaar into the greatest fashion magazine of all, even beating Vogue, by finding the best talent available. This included photographer, Richard Avedon, and the writer, Truman Capote. She discovered Balenciaga.

The book also gives an account of Snow's famous rivalry with Edna Chase, the editor of Vogue.

The Shivering Sands by Victoria Holt

This fairly creepy gothic romance was good holiday reading. The heroine, a piano-teacher and widow, trying to investigate her sister's mysterious death, is engaging.
The hero is suitably sardonic and appealing. It's worth reading if you like this sort of story occasionally.

She May Not Leave by Fay Weldon

This very amusing little fable about an au-pair who weaves her way into a modern woman's family is very well-written, but it gets silly at the end and a bit too hard to believe.


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