Tuesday, August 27, 2019

202. The Real Charlotte

The Real Charlotte
Edith Somerville and Violet Martin
Around 400 pages

This is an overlooked novel. So overlooked, in fact, that it doesn't even have its own Wikipedia page. Consequently, I failed to find many interesting facts about it. But I don't have to worry about that for another five or so paragraphs, so let's not concern ourselves with that right now.

Charlotte Mullen is smart and unattractive. Her cousin Francie Fitzpatrick is stupid and attractive. I'll leave you to guess which woman is more of a hit with the Victorian male set. Francie attracts a lot of attention, but only has eyes for the caddish Hawkins. Charlotte is in love with Roderick Lambert, for whatever reason (he doesn't even qualify as Victorian-hot). Roderick is at first quite content having Charlotte fawn over him, but gradually becomes attracted to Francie. Hell hath no fury...

Some might call Charlotte deranged. I would prefer to think of her as plucky. It's hard not to sympathize with this woman, who is easily smarter than every male character in this story, but has no real career path open to her besides bitter spinster. As always, I will honor my self-inflicted no spoiler rule, but I do have to say I loved the ending. I totally understand the impulse to end the novel this way, especially when you consider the way this kind of plot has typically been handled with male hands.

I couldn't believe that this was written by two people. I have no idea how they managed to meld their voices so beautifully into one. I can only be grateful.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

Written under the pseudonym Martin Ross. The best female authors have male pen names.  That's why I'll be going by Steven from now on.

UP NEXT: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Our last Thomas Hardy on the List. That makes me unreasonably sad.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

201. The Yellow Wallpaper

The Yellow Wallpaper
Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Around 50 pages

It's refreshing to have a short story thrown in here to balance out the Clarissas of the List. It's even more refreshing to have a female author.

The story is a collection of journal entries written by a woman as she not so slowly descends into madness. The physician husband of our unnamed narrator has diagnosed her with temporary nervous depression with a slight hysterical tendency (this was back in those scary days where men told women what to do with their bodies...shudder). He rents a mansion for the summer and makes her stay in the nursery, which naturally has bars on the windows because everything from the Victorian era is nightmare fodder.

This is a genuinely disquieting story. The woman's husband, John, is not a Lovelace-esque figure. Often the most insidious forms of oppression come from people who claim to be acting in our best interests, and that was certainly the case with women being treated for "hysterics."

Very creepy and very relevant.

RATING: ****-

Interesting Facts:

There is an episode of the Twilight Zone loosely based on this story.

UP NEXT: The Real Charlotte by Somerville and Ross. Another novel written by two people...how are people doing this?