Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.
Today’s guest is Elaine Simpson-Long from Random Jottings of a Book and Opera Lover.
Elaine, who has been blogging for five years, spent most of her adult working life as a Legal PA in the City of London. “This was interspersed by breaks when I had my two children, I stayed at home, ran my own business and an early music festival, all of which contrived to keep me busy,” she tells me.
Elaine has always been a voracious reader and now that she is retired and no longer makes the daily commute into London, she has more time to read. The bookish love is also being spread to her new granddaughter, Florence. “I am building up a library of classic children’s books for her, which I hope she will enjoy when she is older,” says Elaine.
Without further ado, here’s Elaine’s Triple Choice Tuesday selections:
I Plant the indoor bulbs. Just as I am in the middle of them, Lady Boxe calls…do I know she asks how very late it is for indoor bulbs? September really, or even October is the time. Do I know that the only really reliable firm for hyacinths is Somebody of Haarlem?…yes I do, but think it my duty to buy Empire products. Feel at the time, and still think, that this is an excellent reply. Unfortunately, Vicky comes into the drawing room later and says ‘Oh Mummy, are those the bulbs we got at Woolworths?’
This is the opening paragraph of one of my all time favourite books, the one I turn to when I am feeling a bit fed up and need cheering up, or when I have overdosed on new books and need something familiar and comforting.
The Provincial Lady of the title who, one assumes, is based on E.M. Delafield herself, is married to Robert, a Land Agent for the insufferable Lady Boxe. She has two children, Robin and Vicky, and she spends her life in a way that modern day housewives would find impossible to understand. Dealing with the butcher, the baker, recalcitrant servants, boilers that don’t work and a husband who seems to spend most of his time slumped in a chair reading the Times. Not a promising premise you might think for a book, but the Diary is witty, wise and full of a gentle, subtle humour which is impossible to define. It is not laugh out loud funny, but rather raises a smile and a feeling of understanding of recognisable situations. It is a book about ‘ordinariness’ and because of this we can all identify with the trials and tribulations which may seem trivial but loom large in our everyday life. It is a book I never tire of reading and always makes me feel better.
I have posted about this ad nauseam on my blog, so anybody who knows me will not be surprised to see I have chosen Jane Eyre. First read when I was ten, I did not understand most of it and only enjoyed the first part of the book dealing with Jane’s childhood, schooldays and her friendship with Helen Burns, which reduced me to tears. I did not look at it again until I was in my teens and then was totally gripped by it; the windswept moors, the desolate Thornfield Hall, the mystery of who was in the attic and, of course, the enigmatic and wildly romantic Mr Rochester.
But the part of the book that resonated with me was the scene in which Jane claims equality with Mr Rochester:
‘Do you think because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong. I have as much soul as you and as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth I would have made it as hard for you to leave me as it is now for me to leave you……it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if we both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal – as we are!’
This still gives me goose bumps every time I read it. It made me realise, a teenager in the Sixties, that yes, women were equal to men and this realisation had a profound effect on me and has coloured my thinking and my parenting and upbringing of my two daughters. No wonder this book was regarded as dangerous when it was published and Victorian mothers would not allow their daughters to read it.
I am a huge fan of this writer and have recently read all her journals and a biography about her life which, despite the fact she created Anne of Green Gables and such happy joyous books, was a difficult one, marred by poverty and depression and then an unhappy marriage.
In The Blue Castle we meet Valancy. She is 29 years old and regarded as an old maid and despised within her family circle. She is timid and insecure and yet possesses a wonderful inward life in which her imagination is allowed to roam free. She lives with her mother and aunt, and is depressed and oppressed. Troubled with chest pains, she secretly goes to see a doctor who tells her she has a heart condition and only a year or so to live. Valancy realises she has never lived, never loved and has never been happy, and with a limited amount of time available to her, she decides to burst out of her narrow miserable existence and do what she wants to do while she can.
Of course, her family think she has gone mad and the delight in which she kicks over the traces, answers back, mocks her relatives and shocks them is simply wonderful – you find yourself cheering her on. She marries somebody who is regarded as a scoundrel and a scapegrace and finds happiness with him living in the Canadian wilderness, all the time knowing that this joy is doomed to be short-lived.
This book has been reviewed by me and by other bloggers in the last year, and I do so wish that an enterprising publisher would reprint it. As a fan of Persephone books I feel this would fit into their list beautifully and I would so love this book to be available to a wider readership. It is enchanting and I don’t use that word lightly. Oh, and it also has a happy ending…
Thanks, Elaine, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!
I read Jane Eyre earlier this year, and remember wishing I’d read it as a teenager because it had such a wonderful message of being true to oneself. I’ve not read Elaine’s other selections, but am particularly intrigued by The Blue Castle, having loved the Anne of Green Gable series as a youngster.
What do you think of Elaine’s choices? Have you read any of these books?