Archive for March, 2010

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The Watsons by Jane Austen

March 8, 2010

The Watsons is one of Jane Austen’s earliest writing attempts, but it remains a fragment. She abandoned the book after only 40 or 50 pages. Somewhat surprisingly, the story focuses on a character named Emma and her family. Emma has been living with an elderly aunt for most of her life, but returns to her family after her aunt remarries without leaving Emma any money. Thus Emma becomes enmeshed in what we recognize as a classic Austen drama: she and her family are poor and the responsibility of providing for themselves rests entirely on the sisters’ ability to marry rich men. I found myself liking this story very much, and was actually shocked when I reached the end. I was sad that it was over, because I found myself very interested in the fates of some of the characters. In her introduction, Terry Castle postualtes that Austen may have abandoned this story because it was too dark, and Austen preferred to critique society with a wittier, gentler tone. I found this theory very convincing, since The Watsons does seem like a pretty bleak beginning for a novel. I could imagine a happy ending for maybe one or two of the sisters, but it seemed virtually impossible that the entire Watson family could conceivably find happiness. And for lack of a better description, many of the characters in The Watsons are quite mean! While I found this fragment an interesting study in how Austen’s work changed as she wrote more, I don’t know if I’d recommend this for a casual Austen fan. The story is fun, but it’s obviously surpasses by Emma and Pride and Prejudice.

I actually completed The Watsons a few of weeks ago. After a one or two week break, I started Sense and Sensibility (in a wonderful new gorgeous Penguin edition!) and I’m determined to read it slowly. This has been hard to do though, as I’ve found that I don’t remember huge swaths of the plot of this book. Even though I saw the movie relatively recently, the book just seems like an entirely different story! I even forgot that there was a third sister! More to come about that soon.

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Lions at Lamb House by Edwin M. Yoder Jr

March 4, 2010

Well, it seems like I took a little break from the blog for a while. I blame it on the Olympics, and on sort of loosing my writing groove. But now I’m back, and the good news is that I have so much to write about! So much that I had to make a little list of everything so that I don’t forget. So let’s get right to it, then. First up, I have a rave review to share with you.

Lions at Lamb House is a lovely historical fiction book that imagines a meeting between two legendary great minds: Henry James and Sigmund Freud. When I first bought this book, I mistakenly thought that William James would be part of the party, but I was wrong. While the elder brother plays a small role, he doesn’t actually appear in the book. Even though I was at first disappointed about that, it soon ceased to matter because this book is so delightful in every respect.

The story is told in four parts. The book opens with Freud’s arrival in Rye, the town in England where Henry James was living. In the first section, we see how James and Freud interact and how the two eventually decide that Freud should psychoanalyze James. In the second section, which takes place 30 years later, during the Second World War, James’s former protege is corresponding with Freud’s daughter about the possible discovery of Freud’s secret notes on the James analysis. The third and fourth parts return to the meeting at Bly and the war, in that order. It’s really a rather ingenious way to tell the story, since it allows us to see how Freud thought about his time with James when reconsidering it much later in his life. Mixed through it all is a funny little love story between James’s protege and a young woman in Rye.

Although I loved this book, I must admit that I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. I think that readers would most enjoy this book if they were familiar with the works of both James and Freud. Also, I would recommend that potential readers feel comfortable with some of the basics of Freud’s early psychological work–and feel comfortable reading about people discussing these theories! It’s not as if the work is vulgar, by any stretch of the imagination, but it does discuss exactly what Freud talks about in his books. That being said, if you are a James and/or Freud fan, you will certainly love this book as much as I did.