Book Reviews

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë: A late 19th-century analysis

This introduction to and analysis of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847) is excerpted from Life and Works of the Sisters Brontë by Mary A. Ward, a 19th-century British novelist and literary critic. Though much was written about this novel, before and since, this excerpt abbreviated from Ward’s 1899 book about the Brontës is a critical yet insightful analysis of the beloved novel.

Ward doesn’t hold back on what she feels are the inconsistencies and even the absurdities of the plot and characters. Seriously — locking a mentally ill wife in an attic? But in the end, she overlooks what generations of readers have also looked past, and acknowledged that this novel is one of the greats because the author’s personality and talent shine through. Read More→

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The Battle of The Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden (1963)

In The Battle of the Villa Fiorita, a 1963 novel by Rumer Godden, this prolific author delves into a universal dilemma — does a mother have the right to pursue love, or should she set those needs aside for the sake of her children? This story, which centers on Fanny Clavering and her youngest children, Hugh and Caddie, explores this theme. When the children learn that their mother has run off with a new and enticing man, they begin their quest which culminates in the titled “battle.”

Looking at love, infidelity, and divorce through the eyes of adolescents gives this story its charm, and Rumer Godden, in her usual, skillful way, creates characters about whose fate the reader grows to care about. Her evocative descriptions of the English countryside and the Villa Fiorita on Lake Guarda in Italy demonstrate her talent at evoking a sense of place, something she became famous for in her India novels. Read More→

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Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery (1923)

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery, published in 1923, is the start of a trilogy of novels about Emily Byrd Starr that invites comparison with the beloved Anne of Green Gables series. These books, as is true for many of L.M. Montgomery’s writings, are meant for “children of all ages.”

When Emily’s father dies of consumption (what is now called tuberculosis), she is orphaned. She is sent to live at New Moon Farm to live with her aunts, Elizabeth and Laura Murray (typical literary spinsters) and cousin Jimmy. There she makes friends with Ilse, Perry, and Teddy, each of whom has a dream based on their particular gift. Emily wishes passionately to be a writer; Ilse wants to be a speaker, Perry seems destined to be a politician, and Teddy is a talented artist. Read More→

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The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

The Custom of the Country is a 1913 novel by Edith Wharton. Undine Spragg, its heroine, is an ambitious young woman from the American midwest. Raised in the fictional town of Apex, she’s the product of a family who has risen to a certain social status through sketchy financial dealings. She strives to rise in New York City society through a succession of marriages and divorces that ultimately lead to her undoing.

Undine Spragg has often been compared to Becky Sharp of Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray, minus any of the charm. It has occasionally been supposed whether Edith Wharton, though a woman herself, was a misogyynist. Though The Custom of the Country has been more favorably viewed through the long lens of literary history, its main character, like so many other of Wharton’s fictional females, was devoid of many — or any — redeeming qualities.  Read More→

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The Awakening by Kate Chopin: an analysis

Following is an analysis by Sarah Wyman of The Awakening  by Kate Chopin, an 1899 novella telling the story of a young mother who undergoes a dramatic period of change as she “awakens” to the restrictions of her traditional societal role and to her full potential as a woman. Many times, we find Edna Pontellier awake in situations that signify more metaphorical awakenings to new knowledge and sensual experience.

Consequently, Chopin’s work came under immediate attack when published and was banned from bookstores and libraries. The author died virtually forgotten, yet The Awakening has been rediscovered and holds a secure and prominent position as a watershed text in U.S. literature and feminist studies. Read More→

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