She Came to Stay by Simone de Beauvoir was originally published in France in 1943 as L’Invitee. The autobiographical, philosophical novel was based on de Beauvoir’s open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre, and takes place just before and during World War II.
The novel’s main character, Françoise, is based on de Beauvoir herself, and Pierre is a thinly veiled Sartre. A younger woman, Xaviere, enters their lives as they form a ménage a trois. Xaviere is a mash-up of sisters Olga and Wanda Kosakiewicz. Read More→
Comedy, American Style by Jesse Redmon Fauset (1882 – 1961) was the last novel by this influential author, poet, and editor associated with the Harlem Renaissance. Published in 1933, the title is completely ironic; this story is, if anything, more of a tragedy.
In this story, Jessie Fauset explores themes of racial identity, self-hatred, and the concept of “passing” in the deeply biased American culture. The main character, Olivia Cary, is domineering mother who wants her children to pass as white, which leads to to dire consequences for the family. Read More→
Quicksand by Nella Larsen (1928) was the first novel by this author associated with the Harlem Renaissance. A story with autobiographical elements, it was largely well received, though not a big seller. Helga Crane, the main character, like Nella Larsen, is the mixed-race daughter of a white Danish mother and a black father.
The plot takes her back and forth from Denmark, “Naxos” (a thinly veiled version of the Tuskegee Institute, where Larsen worked briefly), and Harlem. Wherever Helga goes, she fails to find a community in which she can be comfortable with who she is. Read More→
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 has been 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→
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→