Monday, November 11, 2013

What I've Read Recently

What I've Read Recently . . .

The Years Before Anne : The Early Career of Lucy Maud Montgomery Author of "Anne of Green Gables" by Francis W.P. Bolger -- Biography

This biography of the celebrated Lucy Maud Montgomery was originally published on Prince Edward Island in 1974. In 1991 it was issued in paperback by Nimbus Publishing. This book covers the early childhood and young adult years of the author of Anne of Green Gables up to the publishing of the first Anne book. It quotes heavily from Maud's autobiography The Alpine Path. It also contains previously unreleased material including essays, letters and family photographs. I picked up this book for the primary source material. I own The Alpine Path and have read extensively about Maud and her life including her journals. This book contained some new to me material. I was interested in the personal letters between Maud and her cousin Penzie. They're typical teenage girl letters from a lonely girl to her best friend back home. They give insight into the nature of Maud's mind at that time and how she developed her writing. Also of interest to me were the essays Maud wrote in her teens and early on in her career. It's interesting to see how her writing developed and how she drew on local sources for ideas and then took off with her imagination to create the stories we all know and love. I'm sure most, if not all, this material is included in other volumes about Maud's life. If you come across this book, it's worth a perusal.

Servants' Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance by Margaret Powell-- memoir

Margaret Powell relates more incidents from her time in service. When the son of one of her employers runs off with a maid it causes a big to-do both upstairs and down. The master and upper servants are furious at this breaching of class distinctions while Margaret and the younger servants think it's a fairy take come true. Margaret would have jumped at the chance to become a real lady but Rose stubbornly clings to her working class roots, parroting her mother's evangelical religious beliefs and her father's hatred of the ruling class. Margaret and another friend from service, Mary, continue to visit Rose and try to remain friends through the turbulent marriage though never fully feeling comfortable with the situation. Meanwhile Margaret and Mary go out in search of their princes. They kiss a lot of men who turn out to be frogs rather than princes but it doesn't stop them from hoping. Margaret sees service as a means to an end rather than a permanent situation.

I found this memoir more engaging than the first one because it had a central plot rather than a disjointed set of remembrances. I especially liked the upstairs/downstairs conflicts and learning about how people viewed those distinctions and the possibility of moving up in the world. Rose's story is heartbreaking and anything but a fairy tale. I felt sorry for her and I also had sympathy for her husband because Rose was just SO annoyingly stubborn.

For those who like Downton Abbey and Upstairs, Downstairs and wonder what life in service was really like, this book is for you. It's not necessary to have read any of Margaret Powell's other books to enjoy this one. 

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