Hello Fellow Fans-of-Reading!
How was your August? Did you find something wonderful to read that was set during the Edwardian Era? Or maybe you watched a movie – tell us about you read or watched!
I started the month planning to read The Alienist by Caleb Carr, a book that has been popular for several years and now has a television series based on it on TNT. I tried to read it, I really did. But. It just wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m a strong believer that, if a book isn’t working for me, I abandon it. I know some people will stick with a book to the bitter end, disliking it the whole time, but there are too many titles on my “to read” list. So I dropped The Alienist and instead picked up The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson. Much better.
The Summer Before the War starts in June 1914 and is set in the idyllic English countryside. Beatrice Nash, whose father has recently died, has come to Rye to be a Latin teacher. She soon becomes involved the lives of the people around her, learning about their secrets and dreams. When war is declared in late July, there is a burst of patriotic fervor and excitement with men and boys joining up to “advance their careers” and proclaiming that they’ll “be home by Christmas”. The reality of the war soon begins to creep into their lives, both on a national and personal level, and the old ways of thinking are slowly torn away.
I very much enjoyed this book. It wasn’t necessarily ground-breaking, but it is much more than a simple, quaint story. It was interesting to read about the very constricted lives women were allowed and how Beatrice had to fight for her job even though she was far more qualified than her (male) competition. I was also fascinated by how the strict codes of society dictated everyday life, such as who could dine with who, and how merely talking to someone considered disreputable could ruin your own standing. The war eats into these rules as death and pain impact everyone no matter your place.
Beatrice is a wonderful main character – witty, smart and confident in her abilities but struggling to make her way on her own in a world that scorns spinsters. She finds compassion from unexpected sources and strength from within to face a time when everything changed.
Now it’s your turn. What did you read this month and how did you like it?
How is your month of Edwardian reading going? Have you found something that has grabbed your interest? If you’re still looking, maybe a movie would be the ticket – there are some gorgeous films set during this time period. Here are a few to consider:
A Room With a View – From the famous production team of Merchant and Ivory, this gorgeous film of love and romance stars Helen Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis and is set in the idyllic Italian countryside.
Howard’s End – Another beautiful Merchant and Ivory production, starring Emma Thompson and Anthony Hopkins, brings the rigid rules of Edwardian society into sharp focus.
Edwardian Farm – Find out how the other half lives when two archaeologists and a historian recreate farm life for a full year using practices from 1906 England. Fascinating!
The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady – So beautiful! Filmed on location in England and Scotland, this drama follows artist Edith Holden through the changing seasons.
Murdoch Mysteries – Follow Detective William Murdoch as he solves murder mysteries in Edwardian Toronto using the latest scientific methods.
Parade’s End – From the end of the Edwardian era through World War I, this epic story of romance and betrayal stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.
Mary Poppins – For something much lighter and happier, you can’t go wrong with Mary Poppins. It’s magical and fun and surprisingly thoughtful. Don’t miss it.
Miss Potter – The charming story of Beatrix Potter’s efforts to publish her first books and gain some measure of independence as a single woman in Edwardian England. Lovely and heartbreaking. Starring Renee Zellweger and Ewan McGregor.
It’s August already, Reading Fans! Time to take a look at our next challenge!
This month we’re exploring the Edwardian Era. Technically, the Edwardian Era lasted from 1901 to 1910, which is the time that Edward VII ruled England following the death of Queen Victoria. However, it is popularly considered to run from the 1890s to the start of World War I in 1914.
The coming of war lends a certain bittersweet feeling to this time period, the last golden days of the English Empire and the innocence that would soon be shattered. The Summer Before the War by Simonson embodies this “on the brink” time beautifully, set in a small English village. Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford is a novel about the intrigues of a wealthy family and their servants (think Downton Abbey). Rutherford Park by Cooke is another English country house family drama set in this time period.
It’s not all about the landed gentry in England though. The Titanic sank in 1912 and there is lots of fiction and non-fiction about the sinking and its consequences. The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott is gives us a personal account of the disaster and the aftermath when an accomplished seamstress joins a famous fashion designer on the Titanic as her personal maid. Or try A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, a classic about the ships final hours.
Other notable events during this time include the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (The Wright Brothers by David McCullough) and the golden age of arctic exploration (Shackleton’s Heroes by Wilson McOrst). American classics by E.M. Forster (Howard’s End and A Room With a View) or Edith Wharton (The Buccaneers) are great choices. For mystery lovers, check out the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen.
I am planning on reading The Alienist by Caleb Carr about the beginnings of forensic science set in New York City. This is a little outside of my comfort zone, so we’ll see how it goes!
What about you – what will you be reading this month?