Set in an English country village at the onset of WWII, The Chilbury Ladies Choir is told through letters and journal and diary entries by four female characters who are faced with keeping the home fires burning while their menfolk are off fighting Nazis. The first-person format intrigued me, and the subject sounded promising. However, it was the anticipation of escaping into the lives of “three or four families in a country village” that really hooked me. If English-born author Jennifer Ryan could dish out endearing and foibled characters I was in for a great read.
Ominously, the novel begins with the funeral of Commander Edmund Winthrop, the first casualty of the war from this tight-knit community. The reality of his death hits the remaining residents hard, coupled with the fact that the vicar decided to close the church choir due to the lack of male voices. The ladies rebel. They are done with being told what to do by the few men remaining. Disobeying the vicar, they form the Chilbury Ladies Choir led by Miss Primrose Trent, a music tutor from the local university.
“First, they whisk our men away to fight, then they force us women into work, then they ration food, and now they’re closing our choir. By the time the Nazis get here there’ll be nothing left except a bunch of drab women ready to surrender.” Mrs. Brampton-Boyd (3)
From the desk of Debra E. Marvin:
Discovering just-released fiction on my library’s New Audiobooks shelf makes me feel as if someone has let me slip in at the front of a long line. When I found Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before the War, I was delighted she’d chosen another charming English town (I’d quite enjoyed her debut Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) and the summer of 1914. Whether she planned it or not, the timing may help some of us adjust to the end of a ‘certain’ British historical drama, though enjoying this novel can’t be limited to Downton Abbey fans. What better time than the centennial of The Great War, to revisit its impact.
Protagonist Beatrice Nash is a young woman of high intellect, low tolerance for the superficial, and a middle-class income stymied by the death of her beloved father. Mr. Nash’s academic profession provided his daughter an unusual upbringing ripe with experiences beyond England, and making Beatrice independent, resilient, and practical. She was “not raised to be shy, and had put away the fripperies of girlhood.” All very good indeed when she takes a position as a Latin teacher for the local children and is tested by the restrictions and social expectations of small-town life in this delightful corner of Sussex. She simply must succeed or risk returning to her wealthy aunt’s suffocating control.
If this novel was a miniseries, she’d be the lead in an outstanding ensemble cast. To her left, Mrs. Agatha Kent, mentor, and “of a certain age when the bloom of youth must give way to the strength of character, but her face was handsome in its intelligent eyes and commanding smile.” To Beatrice’s right, Hugh Grange, likely the most uncomplicated man in town…who happens to be a brain surgeon. The residents of Rye create the rich background we so enjoyed in Ms. Simonson’s debut, and Rye itself rounds out the cast as quintessential England. I had no trouble balancing the many characters who exit the other side of the war—the autumn after the war, so to speak—forever altered. Just as it should be. Continue reading
From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:
“In my last [letter] I left off at our sitting down to Supper on our Wedding Night, where I behaved with as much Bashfulness as the purest Virgin in the World could have done. The most difficult Task for me was to blush; however, by holding my Breath, and squeezing my Cheeks with my Handkerchief, I did pretty well” (297).
Reading Samuel Richardson’s novel Pamela, Or, Virtue Rewarded, as I recounted in my previous review of it, is not for the faint of heart; but I am happy to say that it was all made worthwhile just this past week as I listened to a Naxos AudioBooks recording of Henry Fielding’s masterful parody fittingly entitled Shamela. Many know Fielding for Tom Jones, but his satirical powers are at their full and outrageous height in Shamela. In a quarter of the number of pages found in the original story, Fielding highlights and lampoons all of Richardson’s characteristic tropes, transforming Miss Pamela Andrews from a paragon of female virtue into an archetypical scheming hussy. The great irony is that as shamefully vicious as Shamela maybe, she is a great deal more fun to listen to than her saintly prototype. Continue reading
From the desk of Br. Paul Byrd, OP:
“Her knowledge of Richardson’s works was such as no one is likely again to acquire, now that the multitude and the merits of our light literature have called off the attention of readers from that great master.” – J.E. Austen-Leigh, Memoir of Jane Austen, ch. 5
Listed among Jane Austen’s most beloved authors is the rebellious printer-turned-novelist Samuel Richardson, creator of such potboilers as Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). The novel opens at the death of Pamela Andrew’s employer, the woman who has educated her to be as accomplished as any young woman could hope to be, by eighteenth-century standards. And from there commences a rather strange and disturbing plot in which Pamela must fend off the unwanted advances of her new male employer—and I’m not simply talking about sexual harassment, which would have been bad enough; I’m talking about the outright attempted rape. Indeed, the main dramatic question of the novel is whether Pamela will forfeit her honor (read “her virginity”) for the sake of wealth and safety, or will she display a heroic level of Christian virtue, and risk the possibility of public disgrace. Spoiler Alert: the novel’s subtitle gives the answer away from the start. Continue reading
This is my tenth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.
This Pride and Prejudice variation asks readers “What if Elizabeth Bennet had accepted Mr. Darcy’s first proposal?” After reading this question in the book’s description my first reaction was, ACK, why would she?
Like the two other novels by this author that I have read, the story begins on familiar ground at a certain point in Austen’s novel and then quickly takes a left turn—changing the course of the plot and the characters’ lives. In this case, it starts at a very critical moment, the first proposal scene when Mr. Darcy so arrogantly assumes that the less-socially-endowed Elizabeth Bennet would jump at the chance to accept his generous offer of marriage. Reynolds’ Lizzy is still repulsed by the thought of this man as her husband and frozen with disgust. Since Austen’s last sentence in Elizabeth’s refusal contains the title of this novel, I was all anticipation of reliving Elizabeth’s famous put down:
“From the very beginning — from the first moment, I may almost say — of my acquaintance with you, your manners, impressing me with the fullest belief of your arrogance, your conceit, and your selfish disdain of the feelings of others, were such as to form that groundwork of disapprobation on which succeeding events have built so immoveable a dislike; and I had not known you a month before I felt that you were the last man in the world whom I could ever be prevailed on to marry.”
This is my eighth selection for The Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge 2013, our year-long event honoring Jane Austen’s second published novel. Please follow the link above to read all the details of this reading and viewing challenge. Sign up’s are now closed for new participants, but you can join us in reading all the great reviews and comments until December 31, 2013.
Ever wonder if a book you read several years ago and loved still stacks up? I did and was tempted to revisit one of my favorite Pride and Prejudice sequels, Mr. Darcy’s Diary, in audiobook for my summer listening. Read by Mr. Darcy himself—well not quite—but close, the narrator is British actor David Rintoul who portrayed Mr. Darcy in the 1980 BBC mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. After a second pass, “my affections and wishes are unchanged” and I am incorporating my original review (slightly amended) and finishing with my impression of this audio version.
If Jane Austen thought that her novel Pride and Prejudice was too light, bright, and sparkling and wanted shade, then author Maya Slater has made up for any deficit by crossing over to the “dark side” in writing her re-telling of Austen’s classic tale of misunderstandings and reconciliation. Not only are we privy to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy’s most intimate and revealing secrets, we see the story of Pride and Prejudice told wholly from the male perspective, and gentle readers, be prepared. It’s a man’s world in Regency England, and dare I say, Fitzy is no saint! Continue reading
42 of you left comments qualifying you for a chance to win a copy of Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen, read by Juliet Stevenson (Naxos Audiobooks). The winner drawn at random is haliegirl who left a comment on September 22, 2011.
Congratulations haliegirl! To claim your prize, please contact me with your full name and address by October 19th, 2011. Digital download or shipment is to US and Canadian addresses only.
Thanks to all who left comments! Juliet Stevenson has recorded several of the Naxos Audiobooks recordings of Jane Austen novels. They are excellent! I often pop them into my CD player on the way to work. You can check out the full inventory at the Naxos Audiobooks website. Enjoy!
© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose