Book Reviews

Orphans and Boarding Schools: On rereading Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster

The summer I was twelve, I pulled a well-read and worn book from the shelves of the public library and discovered a story that seemed to be told directly to me. Behind the deceptively dull cover of Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster (1912) were letters and drawings that pulled me hard and fast into Judy Abbott’s life—an orphan at boarding school.

So many of my favorite things were combined in this book: orphans and lonely childhoods, girls succeeding against the odds with their studious natures, boarding school and class events, and perhaps most of all, the burgeoning writer’s sensibility that I also enjoyed in Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy (1964).

I borrowed and devoured Jean Webster’s Daddy-Long-Legs  that very afternoon; I’ve revisited it many times. Read More→

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Time Out of Mind by Rachel Field (1935)

Time Out of Mind by Rachel Field (1894 – 1942) was this American author’s first novel for adults, published in 1935. The following year, it won the National Book Award.

Field had been writing prose and poetry for children and young adults, as well as plays, since 1924. Her major breakthrough, up until Time Out of Mind was released, was the children’s book Hitty: Her First Hundred Years (1929), which won the Newbery Medal.

The story in Time Out of Mind is narrated in the first person by Kate Fernald. Kate, described as a hardy, “square-rigged” girl, comes to the Maine coast home of the Fortune family at the age of ten. She accompanies her mother, who serves as the housekeeper, and grows up with brother and sister Nat and Clarissa Fortune, forging a bond that would last a lifetime. The book begins: Read More→

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Coup De Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar (1939)

Coup De Grâce by Marguerite Yourcenar is this noted French author’s 1939 novella, her second such work following Alexis (1929). In a 1988 interview in Paris Review, Yourcenar reveals that the novella’s lead female, Sophie, is very close to herself at twenty.

The brief but emotionally devastating story is of the love triangle between three young people affected by the civil war between the White Russians and the Bolsheviks: Erick and Conrad, best friends from childhood; and Sophie, who is burdened with an unrequited love for Conrad. Read More→

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Memoirs of Hadrian, Marguerite Yourcenar’s Masterpiece

Memoirs of Hadrian, a novel by Marguerite Yourcenar, the Belgian-born French writer, was first published in France in 1951. Originally written in French, it was published in English in 1954. It was an ambitious project many year in the making; Yourcenar first had the idea for it in the 1920s, then worked on it, on and off, in the 1930s.

Many years in gestation, it was a book that, with the benefit of hindsight, she didn’t think she could have written when she was younger. “There are books,” she said later, “which one should not attempt before having passed the age of forty.”

Considered this author’s masterwork, and the book she’s best remembered for, it was from the start a critical success. The novel, told from a first person person by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, begins with a letter to his adoptive grandson, who became Marcus Aurelius and his successor. Read More→

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Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field (1929)

Among the works Rachel Field (1894 – 1942) created for children, the most celebrated and enduring is Hitty: Her First Hundred Years, published in 1929. Written in the voice of a 100-year-old doll telling her life story, it gave Field the distinction of being the first woman to win a Newberry Medal (1930). It also received the acclaimed Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

Hitty enjoyed a long life in print. The 1959 MacMillan Company edition, retaining the original illustrations by Dorothy P. Lathrop, describes the book as follows: Read More→

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