At the start I didn’t mean it to work out like this, I just wanted to introduce a little discipline to my reading for the blog. I decided to select a novel from each decade from 1900 onwards, reading one a month, and reviewing it here on the blog. What happened was that for the first two decades my choices were both by women and before long I had decided to stay with novels by women. It’s my blog so I do what I want to.
The decade’s list
Once a month I picked a novel and reviewed it. Here’s the full list with links to my posts:
O Pioneers by Willa Cather, (1913)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, (1926)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, (1938)
They were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple, (1943)
The Grass is Singing by Doris Lessing, (1950)
Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner, (1984)
Persepolis by Marjane Satrap, (2003)
I am very pleased to have included such variety here: from different countries and continents, two translated into English, some sci fi, a classic or two, one was a graphic memoir and there were several prize winners.
The book I most enjoyed rereading …
… was undoubtedly The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx (1993). I was already an enthusiastic reader of her books when I first read it, and on rereading I found that this one combined the best of her humorous and humane writing. Set largely in Newfoundland it took me somewhere I had only been in the film of the novel.
It was serendipitous that as I was making my choice for the 1990s Annie Proulx was awarded the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. The judges noted especially her ‘deep reverence for the beauty and complexities of rural America’. You can find her acceptance speech here. In it she reveals that she did not begin writing until she was 58. She laments
the accelerating destruction of the natural world and the dreadful belief that only the human species has the inalienable right to life and God-given permission to take anything it wants from nature, whether mountaintops, wetlands or oil.
The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx (1993) 4th Estate. 337pp
The book I reacted badly to …
… was Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s a classic. For many people it is their favourite book. But I hated the manipulation of the reader into wanting the narrator and Max to get away with what they thought was murder.
But it has many qualities, not least in the way the tension mounts, and in the creation of Mrs Danvers. And it has a terrible grande dame, Mrs Van Hopper, in the opening scenes. I don’t suppose my criticisms matter a bit to readers who love this book and enjoy the nostalgic thrill of the opening sentence as they begin another reading.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. (1)
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938) Virago Modern Classics (2003). 441pp
The book I was most pleased to read …
… was O Pioneers by Willa Cather. I have wanted to read it for years, and was pleased to have made the acquaintance of this writer. I expect to read more by her soon.
O Pioneers! By Willa Cather. First published in 1913. I used the edition by Oxford World Classics. 179pp
A theme that emerged …
… was of the position of women in relation to marriage. Beginning with the tragedy of Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, readers of these books find themselves confronted with variations on the theme of independent women. In complete contrast, but still in the United States, Alexandra Bergson is revealed as a pioneer, with no need of a husband, indeed as more capable than all the men in her corner of Nebraska. Rebecca emerges from a frightened mouse to become a fierce lioness, protecting her man. In They were Sisters Dorothy Whipple compares the lives of three women, and shows how their marriages affected their fortunes, and their children’s. And who could read Doris Lessing’s novel The Grass is Singing without seeing the worst kind of marriage, oppressing both partners, this one set against the racist backdrop of Southern Rhodesian white society. And how terrible are the trials of Firdaus in Egypt in Woman at Point Zero. Anita Brookner has, with class and style, written many times about the challenges for single intelligent women. Hotel du Lac was a prize winner.
The theme was magnificently emphasised in Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, which is set on a planet where near-humans have no gender for most of the time, but when they go into oestrus they may emphasise either their male or their female characteristics. So what does gender do when it’s not for reproduction, she asks.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin first published in 1969.
The Decades Project in 2018:
I enjoyed seeking out and rereading novels for 2017. The project introduced a wildcard element to my reading and blog. Next year I plan to follow the same pattern, but to read non-fiction by women from each decade. I have already found that the choices for some decades are easier than others. It may be that in the first decade of the 1900s women only published gardening books. Watch this space.
Suggestions for this new series are always welcome.
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