Monthly Archives:: November 2017

Review: ‘Chemsworth Hall: Book 1: Violet’ by Perpetua Langley

November 29, 2017 Review 0

This book was a delight from start to finish. Every character was a comedic masterpiece, from Lord Mulholland, deeply suspicious of anyone emanating from a different county, to Smuckers the butler, seeing himself as a knight of old, rallying the troops below stairs to ever greater feats.

The premise is a simple one. Viscount Mulholland and his lady wife have managed to produce one son (Henry) and seven daughters (Violet, Rose, Daisy, Marigold, Lily and twins Poppy and Pansy). Now that Henry is at Oxford, Lady Mulholland instructs him to bring home one of his new friends so that she may begin her campaign of marrying off the daughters, in strict order of seniority. So Violet is to be paired with Lord Smythesdon, the eldest son of an earl. Since Violet is the academic of the family, and Lord Smythesdon considers education the domain of men, sparks are bound to fly.

The tale of how these two overcome their troubled beginning, learn to appreciate each other and in time find their happiness is delightful, enlivened by the helpful or otherwise efforts of their two families, the neighbours and the servants. There is laugh-out-loud humour on every page, every character is both funny and yet very real, and the historical details were accurate enough not to trip up a self-confessed pedant like me. My only quibble is that the author uses ‘shall’ relentlessly instead of ‘will’, which soon grows tiresome. But it’s a minor point. For anyone looking for a whimsical, humorous and sweet Regency (or possibly Victorian) romance, this is highly recommended.

Divider

TV Review: ‘Sense and Sensibility’ (1980)

November 28, 2017 Review 0

These older series are interesting little pieces of history in their own right, and the differences between versions can be illuminating. This version is nearly forty years old, and it shows in some aspects – the sets and costumes, for instance, are far more stagey than modern TV, but the actors, brought up in the grand British traditions of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the BBC, know how to enunciate properly so that the viewer doesn’t need subtitles to understand what’s going on.

Of the actors, the only one I recognised was Tracey Childs (Marianne), who was also in another 80’s drama, Howard’s Way. I thought she made an excellent Marianne, capturing nicely her over-exuberant and emotional personality. She was particularly effective in the distraught London scenes. Irene Richards, as Elinor, was less effective, I thought. She captured effectively neither the practical, down-to-earth side of her character, nor the deep-seated emotions bubbling beneath the surface. I also found her movements to be rather stilted, but perhaps that was an attempt to convey her repressed nature.

Of the minor characters, Mrs Jennings was given a much bigger and more sympathetic role here, turning her from a comedy figure teasing the girls about their lovers to a genuinely maternal person. I liked her the better for it, but it didn’t feel true to the book. The other characters were competent without standing out particularly. Lady Middleton had more of a role in this version, being far more lively than in the book (some versions cut her out altogether). Margaret was the one who got the chop here, but I don’t think the story was any the worse for it.

The one seminal scene by which I judge any adaptation of this book is the occasion when Elinor is called upon to tell Edward that Colonel Brandon has given him a living, so enabling him to marry Lucy Steele. The pathos in the scene, and the subtext which both the reader/viewer and the characters themselves are equally aware of, that Elinor and Edward are very much in love and Edward is only marrying to honourably uphold a longstanding and bitterly regretted engagement, makes it one of the most profoundly moving scenes ever written. It needs superb acting skills but no other embellishment. The Emma Thompson version captured this perfectly, while the 2008 version resorted to overacting and oozing emotionalism. This version is pretty good, too, and stuck to the original words for maximum effect.

The settings lost a certain wildness. Barton Cottage was chocolate box pretty, and nowhere near the sea, and Marianne’s propensity to walk in the rain was lost. I thought an opportunity was lost to portray the sisters’ characters through their clothes, but they seemed to wear very similar garments. Elinor’s in particular I felt should have been plainer, less decorated, to demonstrate her practical nature, and the frill of curled hair round her face was entirely wrong. None of the dresses looked quite right, to me. Maybe they economised by not using authentic materials, so that although they superficially looked all right, they didn’t sit or drape properly.

One aspect that bothered me a great deal was a certain degree of impropriety in the sisters. The number of times one or other of them was left alone in a room with a man was shocking! Elinor was constantly showing people out (that’s what the servants are for, dear), and when Colonel Brandon was brought into Marianne’s bedroom and then left alone with her – I clutched my pearls, I can tell you. But maybe all that was in the book, who knows.

A competent adaptation, I thought, and enjoyable to watch but not my favourite.

Divider

Review: ‘Stolen Waters’ by Beth Andrews

November 26, 2017 Review 0

I bought this way back at the beginning of the year when I was researching the West Indies in the Regency era, but the book that needed the research was published in March, and here I am only just getting round to doing my research. Ah well.

The premise is interesting: an upper-class English woman, Sarah, is travelling to the West Indies to join her new husband on his sugar plantation. Accompanying her is a Spanish girl, Maria, acting as maid and companion. The journey and the arrival on the (mythical) island of St Edmunds are fascinating glimpses into the era, and nicely drawn. But it soon becomes clear that the heart of the book is not the setting or the historical aspects, but the convoluted love lives of the main characters, including Sarah’s husband, Matthew, and his mulatto cousin Jacob, who has been brought up as an English gentleman. This rapidly devolves into a lot of angsty hand-wringing, followed by… well, you can probably guess the way things go.

Now I have no problem with the romance side of things, but I did find the pairings somewhat problematic and the surprise at the inevitable consequences hard to believe. So ultimately this didn’t work for me at all, and I ended up skimming to get to the end. But it’s nicely written, and the depiction of English Regency manners dropped into the tropical setting is very convincing. There are some nice side characters, and if the care for the welfare of the slaves seemed a bit too modern, and the hurricanes, water spouts and the like a bit too plot-convenient and symbolic, it’s still an interesting view of a very unusual aspect of Regency life. Recommended for anyone who doesn’t mind the rather overwrought romantic agonising, but it wasn’t my sort of book at all, which keeps it to three stars.

Divider