Title: The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow
Author: Mrs Oliphant
Challenges: Women’s Classic Literature
The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow was reprinted by Persephone Books alongside another novella by Mrs Oliphant entitled Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund. In the first story, Mrs Blencarrow is a respectable widow living with her children in a large house in a country village. It is the winder and she has thrown a party for the village, one attended by a flighty, spoilt young girl named Kitty. Kitty is upset because her parents disapprove of her love interest, but she is determined to marry him regardless. It is during their secret elopement to Gretna Green that Kitty discovers a dark and mysterious secret about Mrs Blencarrow and brings back the news that might ruin her neighbour. In Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund Mrs Lycett- Landon’s husband ‘disappears’ on a trip to London for work. Mrs Lycett-Lamdon’s suspicions bring her to London and after checking her husband’s usual haunts – discovering some lies along the way – she discovers him living happily in London…with a new, younger wife!
I am going to discuss both novellas separately as I have different views on both of them. The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow was a brilliant read. It is shrouded in mystery right from the beginning when a hidden voice calls into a dark room “are you there?” I kept trying to second guess the actual mystery and I wasn’t far off if I’m honest…in fact as soon as Kitty and her lover (whose name escapes me) venture to Gretna Green, the home of quick marriages, I knew exactly what Mrs Blencarrow was hiding. The characters are perfectly drawn caricatures of a village society, with Kitty’s mother, Mrs Bircham is just a malicious old bat. She is mortified when Kitty elopes, but the news of Mrs Blencarrow’s secret marriage makes it suddenly acceptable because she feels there is someone or something more scandalous than her daughter in the village.
On the other hand, I didn’t really enjoy Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamund. I found the story very slow and I wasn’t really very interested in the characters or what happened to them. I know I read it, but I’m pretty certain I didn’t take much of the story in. I can see why these two novellas were published together and I was quite surprised when I saw that they were published in the Victorian era. Their content about women and marriage is quite shocking for Victorian times, with the women in the novel refusing to submit to the laws of marriage or to the men in their life that make silly mistakes. In Mrs Lycett-Landon’s defence, although I didn’t like the story, I did appreciate how she refused to listen to her husband’s excuses and continued to live her life without him. Mrs Oliphamt’s writing is certainlyahead of her time in that respect, but, whilst enjoyable, this hasn’t been my favourite Persephone read.
Title: A Room of One’s Own
Author: Virginia Woolf
Challenges: The Classics Club, Reading the Twentieth Century, Women’s Classic Literature
A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf based on a lecture she gave at Girton College, Cambridge in 1928. In it she explores the life of women and fiction: how they have been portrayed; the struggles they have faced when writing; their style of writing and what they need in order to be a successful writer. Woolf discusses famous nineteenth century writers, such as Charlotte Bronte and Jane Austen, and their writing and goes on to discuss what would have happened if Shakespeare had a sister.
I added A Room of One’s Own to my Classics Club List earlier this year as I knew I wanted to re read it (I studied it at university and can remember sitting in my room in my second year house drinking copious amounts of tea and reading it in an afternoon). When The Classics Club announced their Women’s Classic Literature event and various posts on Woolf and this work in particular started appearing I knew it was time to pick it up again. The premise is quite simple: in order to be a successful writer a woman must have money and a room of One’s own own with a lock on it. This is why literature has been dominated by men for centuries – they have always had the freedom to escape their families and explore the world – although this has often depended on money. Women through history have usually been stuck in the kitchen or at home popping sprigs and raising them and for some bizarre reason that isn’t very exciting to read about. And the women who are written about in fiction? As Woolf puts it:
‘Indeed, if woman had no existence save in fiction written by men, one would imagine her a person of the utmost importance; very various;heroic and mean; splendid and sordid; infinitely beautiful and hideous in the extreme; as great as a man, some think even greater.’
As I type this my mind instantly turns to characters like Lady Macbeth. If your only knowledge of women came from this character alone, you would certainly think women ruled the world and that their husbands were there to do their bidding. Obviously she doesn’t have a happy ending, but she does persuade her husband to commit murder so she is a formidable woman.
A Room of One’s Own helps to encapsulate a world where women were just starting to enjoy the freedom granted to them by movements such as the Suffragettes and gaining the right to vote. Woolf’s essay seems to be encouraging (admittedly quite forcefully in places) women not to miss this opportunity and to be spurred on to help rewrite history, to ensure that women find their rightful place in literature and write their history…even if it is a tad mundane in places. One section in particular struck a chord with me. Below is my favourite section of the book:
‘Therefore I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or however vast. By hook. Or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourself of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.’
Title: The Mystery of the Blue Train
Author: Agatha Chrisite
Challenges: Women’s Classic Literature
Ruth Kettering’s marriage is in trouble. Her husband has been spotted with a dancer of dubious reputation and Ruth has had enough. Her millionaire father is pushing her towards a divorce, even though Ruth has been far from perfect herself. Ruth needs a break and so she sets off for the continent on The Blue Train, taking with her some rare, precious and HUGE rubies that her father has bought her to cheer her up. It is no great surprise that Ruth is later found bludgeoned to death in her train carriage and the rubies are missing. Enter Hercule Poirot.
I always harp on about my love for Agatha Chrisite and I have a mini mission to read all of the Poirot novels and I am slowly making my way through them. As with most novels, it takes a while for Poirot to actually appear; first we are treated to some background information on the rubies (it is clear lots of people are eager to own them) and information about the marriage of our main character. We meet Miss Katherine Grey, who has recently come into money and meets Ruth on the train before her death. Katherine becomes like a mini sidekick to Poirot and helps him to solve this crime and provides a different focus for the story as we see how she feels about her recent money and the family who are so eager to be her friends now she is rich. I liked that she came from the village of St Mary’s Mead, which if I am right is where Miss Marple lives.
As with most Poirot novels there are many potential suspect: the bitter husband (who gains £2million upon his wife’s death); her old flame; the maid and maybe just plain, old train robbers. I was convinced I had figured it out, but as usual I was wrong and the real criminal was revealed with me thinking ‘oh yeah…’ But this is what I love about crime fiction and Christie in general, it’s easy reading, but I still have to use my brain.
The Women’s Classic Literature Event was recently announced by The Classics Club and it is an event that celebrates women writer’s dating pre 1960. The event runs from now right until 31st December 2016 and although I have no set list, I am keen to see how many books I naturally choose to read in that time. I don’t know if Agatha Chrisite would qualify for the event in everyone’s eyes but she certainly does for me and therefore she is the first book on /author on my list and I doubt this will be the last time she appears. I am going to keep a track of the books for this event on a separate page at the top of my blog and I am sure the list will begin to grow fairly quickly.