Category Archives: Virago Modern Classics

Catching up…Persephone and Virago

The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow – Mrs Oliphant

This binding includes two novellas, both quite good. The first novella is about Mrs Blencarrow who is believed to be concealing something. A particular neighbor just can not believe that she is so good as to have to blemishes on her social record, even after the death of husband. To hear the neighbor tell it Mrs Blencarrow is high and mighty and needs to be exposed. Of course Mrs Blencarrow does have something to hide. The second novella Queen Eleanor and Fair Rosamond is darker. Mrs Lycett-Landon has found out that her husband has married someone else and is living two lives.
Both stories written in the late 1800s are not all what you would expect of the times, in a good way.

The Enchanted April – Elizabeth von Arnim

This is a lovely and warm story about four women who do not know each but who rent an Italian villa together in the 1920s. They are each viewing the vacation in different ways and each woman has a different reason for going. Amid blooming flowers and the enchantment of their new surroundings each woman finds a bit of happiness that had previously escaped them. This does sound exceptionally mushy and idyllic, but that’s okay. There is also a film which I’ve seen and it is just as nice as the book. I’ll be coming back to this one, perhaps in April when classes are winding down and the entire summer is stretched out before me.

The Virago Book of Christmas

From my Virago Secret Santa (rainpebble) two years ago, I read this last Christmas. I often chuckled to myself thinking that anyone who saw me reading this around Christmastime would think I was full of Christmas cheer and tinsel and lights. That is until they saw the hilarious cover, alas no one asked me about it. So I’ll tell about it now. These are short pieces, essays, poems, excerpts from various women about the Christmas season. Some are deeply moving about the miracle of Christ while others lament family gatherings and traditions. I read it over the entire season and there was always something new to discover. I get a kick out of the back cover description so I will copy it here

Christmas began with a good but harassed woman giving birth in difficult domestic circumstances. Somewhere between then and now, the circumstances have changed, but for women today, Christmas is still a time of joys garnered against the odds. We have moved on from stables and mangers to supermarkets and microwaves; palm fronds and shepherds have given way to a spangled conifer and a fat man in a red suit. In this anthology, reflecting the experiences of more than 50 women at Christmas, Ntozake Shange and Agatha Christie rub shoulders with Emily Dickinson and Virginia Woolf. Curl up with a tantalizing volume that gives full reign to the seditious humor, peculiar discomforts, and exquisite social tortures of the season.


Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim

I remember this one clearly, August of last year sitting on the steps of the School of Public Health (that is, before classes took over and reading for fun vanished). I would take this book out of my bag and read in gulps beneath the sunshine. Elizabeth is renovating the gardens on her husband’s estate. It is a wonderful little tale of her thoughts and day-to-day comings and goings in the garden. Her children make an appearance and so do visitors but it is clear that she prefers the garden. Her frustration about defending her ideas is very witty and a sign of the times in which the book was written. She does not garden herself but orders seeedlings and such to be placed about. It is as if she is the decorator.