Book descriptions

Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890 – 1940

Just in time for settling in with a good book in front of the fireplace (or wood stove, or what the heck, even your radiator) on a stormy night, Handheld Press Ltd., based in Bath, England (onetime home of Jane Austen) will be publishing Women’s Weird: Strange Stories by Women, 1890 – 1940. This deliciously thrilling collection will be released, appropriately, on Halloween, October 31, 2019.

Edited by Melissa Edmundson, this compilation of strange tales by women authors — including some lesser-known gems by some of the classic authors on this site — will be of great interest to readers of literary ghosts stories, the supernatural, and other kinds of thrillers. From the publisher: Read More→

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Babette’s Feast: The 1958 Short Story by Isak Dinesen, and the 1987 film

It may be fair to say that the acclaimed 1987 film, Babette’s Feast, is better known than the short story by Danish author Isak Dinesen upon which it’s based. In fact, it’s possible that fans of the movie aren’t aware that it’s based on Dinesen’s story, nor even anything about her.

Isak Dinesen (1885 – 1962) was the nom de plume of this writer, best known for her 1937 memoir Out of Africa, which details her life as the owner of a coffee plantation in colonial Kenya. Born Karen Christenze Dinesen into a family of aristocrats, merchants, and landed gentry, she was later known after marriage as Karen von Blixen-Finecke. The marriage conferred on her the title of Baroness, but didn’t last. Her ex-husband’s philandering left her with the lifelong effects of syphilis.

Dinesen eventually had to give up the coffee plantation. She was above all else a storyteller, and her first book, Seven Gothic Tales (1934), was published soon after she returned to Denmark from Africa, broke, and alone. This collection of short stories was a surprise hit both in the U.S. and Europe. Short form fiction remained Dinesen’s mainstay throughout her writing career. Read More→

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Shirley by Charlotte Brontë (1849): A plot summary

Shirley was the second published novel by Charlotte Brontë. Published in 1849 under the pseudonym Currer Bell, the author had already become famous with the success of Jane Eyre (1847). While Charlotte was at work on this book, her remaining siblings died. The first to go was her troubled brother Branwell, followed by sisters Emily and Anne, who would also come to be celebrated for their literary accomplishments.

The lengthy novel has two female protagonists — the eponymous Shirley Keeldar, as well as Caroline Helstone. Set in Charlotte’s native Yorkshire, it takes place against the background of the textile industry’s Luddite uprisings of 1811 and 1812.

Shirley: A Tale, as it was originally titled, is considered an example of the mid-19th century “social novel.” The social novels that emerged from that period were works of fiction dealing with themes like labor injustice, bias against women, and poverty. Read More→

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How I Found America: The Collected Stories of Anzia Yezierska

Anzia Yezierska (1880 – 1970) was a writer whose body of work spoke to the immigrant experience in America in the early 1900s. Born in an area that’s now Poland but which was part of the Russian Empire when she was was a child, her family arrived in New York City’s Lower East Side during the immigration wave of the late 1800s. Anzia, then ten years old, never shed the feeling of being an outsider looking in.

All of Yezierska’s short stories are collected in How I Found America: Collected Stories of Anzia Yezierska, 1991. In her introduction to the book, literary critic Vivian Gornick wrote:

“She was a misfit all her life. Throughout the years, she saw herself standing on the street with her nose pressed against the bakery window: hungry and shut out. No matter what happened, she felt marginal. Not belonging was her identity, and then her subject. After she began to write, it was her necessity.” Read More→

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Plot summary of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)

Jane Eyre (1847) is Charlotte Brontë’s best known novel, the story of the title heroine’s love for the mysterious and reclusive Mr. Rochester and her quest for independence. Though it has been considered a feminist work, it also fits into the genre of the gothic novel due to that pesky little detail of Rochester’s mad wife locked away in an attic. Through the concise plot summary of Jane Eyre that follows, the reader will get an overview of the book that made Charlotte Brontë famous.

Jane, a young woman of unassuming background and appearance, searches for love and a sense of belonging while preserving her independence. The book sparked a fair amount of controversy when first published, which was fueled by critics and the public suspecting that “Currer Bell” (the author’s ambiguous pseudonym) was a woman. Still, the novel was an immediate success, securing for Charlotte a place in the literary world of her time and for generations to come. Read More→

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