?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Wednesday Wrenches in the Works

What I've Finished Reading

The Adventures of Sally by P. G. Wodehouse was delightful, unexpectedly sweet (even for Wodehouse) and a much more successful use of Comedy American tropes than poor old Psmith Journalist. Sally is a young American heiress who has just come into a large fortune and hopes to use it to benefit her friends and family. Unfortunately, her friends and family are not all they ought to be. Wodehouse's gift for beautifully funny similes is very much in evidence here, if not quite in full flower. A boxing promoter "drop[s] away from Fillmore's coat button like an exhausted bivalve" when Sally asks an unexpectedly well-informed question; his would-be champion crouches in his promotional photos "painfully, as though afflicted with one of the acuter forms of gastritis." Sally is very likable and her hopeless English friend Ginger is likable in a different (more clasically Wodehousian) way. There is one notably needless failure of communication, but the rapid crescendo of farce it produces is good enough to be worth it.

This book was published in 1922, and the (then extremely recent and devastating) worldwide influenza pandemic is an occasional plot point, though never a real threat.

The Scarlet Pimpernel ended up being a moderate amount of fun on the whole. Sir Percy Blakeney is the richest and stupidest man in England! But now and then, one begins to suspect that he might be. . . not as stupid as he looks??!? (He is exactly as rich as he looks). I enjoy characters who deliberately goad their opponents into underestimating them, and drawing room!Percy has some excellent moments. But the story is mostly not about Percy at all; it's about Marguerite, his French wife, and her divided loyalties. [Just in case you have not been spoiled for everything about The Scarlet Pimpernel]I was disappointed that Marguerite did not know her husband's secret identity, and the entire Tragic Alienation Plot was just a bit irritating to me. Given the established parameters of the plot, it works and is good clean melodramatic fun. But the parameters were not quite my thing. I'd already been spoiled for the identity of the Scarlet P. and when we first met Marguerite and Percy I thought they were being delightful trolls together, so I was crushed to find out that they were actually alienated from each other and Marguerite was totally in the dark about even the basic facts of her husband's personality and cognitive capacity :( :( :( But that's the whole story, so I shouldn't complain, I guess? Anyway, it's a ripping melodrama that Anne Shirley would have loved, complete with daring escapes, tearful reunions, the heroine being carried over a long distance, and plenty of gratuitous luxury. (The aristocracy is its own worst propaganda department, as usual).

Thanks to a link from scripsi, I also watched this 1934 movie version starring Merle Oberon! I think I liked it a little better than the book, despite slicing out some of the best and most over-the-top melodrama, because all the exposition is forced into dialogue form by time constraints, and the book's somewhat stereotyped characters have been replaced by indulgently lit actors who are a joy to watch. Instead of endless repetitions of the word "dainty" and authorial asides on the congenital limitations and glories of A Woman's Heart, there is Merle Oberon clutching things and glowering magnificently; book!Chauvelin's malevolent hand-rubbing is ditched in favor of Raymond Massey's intelligent eyes and mouth, and Screen Percy gets to let the genial idiocy drain out of his face, gather it back up, and let it drain again, over and over in a beautiful fake-stupid symphony. The knitting women at the base of the guillotine have no lines, but they have more character than any of Orczy's plebs (who are not secretly the Pimpernel in disguise).

Plus, the costumes are great, especially if you like watching a bunch of dudes drown in their own lace ruffs and giant ill-advised Time Lord collars, and who wouldn't? Lots of ostentatious hats, both masculine and feminine, and some spectacular greatcoats. Merle Oberon's ball gown is breathtakingly low-cut. The only real drawback is having to listen to the Scarlet Pimpernel Song like twenty times. It's not that good a song, Percy!

Oh, and How to Suppress Women's Writing by Joanna Russ was terrific, both as a study of how women's writing gets dismissed (still? I think things have gotten better since 1983, but I'm not really up on my lit criticism, either) and as a source of recommendations. I'm definitely going to check out work by Tillie Olsen and Aphra Behn, and some of the other heroes of the piece.

What I'm Reading Now

Still on Of Human Bondage, which is still excellent. Philip has left his school and his bewildered guardians, with a great deal of anxiety, spent some time in Germany, done an ill-fated internship in London, and moved to Paris to study art, where he has become infected with the suspicion (too embarrassing to admit even to himself) that he is a genius. It's a slow book, and full of conversations and confusions and awkward social negotiations, in a way that reminds me a little of Jane Austen in its best moments. Philip is almost twenty-one now, pleasantly ordinary and believably young and sympathetically self-absorbed and confused. There's a great brief scene in which one of his friends comes to visit, a guy who used to intimidate Philip with his sweeping theories of aesthetics, and Philip is all too pleased to be able to intimidate him in turn with his new art-school jargon.

I don't know what Maugham means by naming Philip's untalented and surly classmate at the art school "Fanny Price," or if he means anything at all by it. Miss Price may be my favorite character so far, and her fate has made me very angry, though not necessarily with Maugham.

Oh, and why does Maugham love the word "slut" so much? It turns up, here and in The Razor's Edge, in multiple POVs -- just often and gratuitously enough to be noticeable, like a weird little rusty nail in the pudding. Probably it's nothing.

Almost done with the Emily Dickinson biography.

I'm also reading Pat of Silver Bush in hopes of requesting it for Yuletide. Pat is probably L. M. Montgomery's most difficult protagonist to love: anxious, clingy, so averse to change that the whole family tiptoes around her until they can't anymore. I like her, but there's a certain amount of defiant contrarianism in my liking. (I don't count Kilmeny as a protagonist).

What I'm Going to Read Next

Mistress Pat, that ray of sunshine. Oh, and The Golden Age of Murder, a book about the Detection Club!

Comments

( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
scripsi
Oct. 1st, 2015 07:09 am (UTC)
I admit that the alienation always irked me. Even at a Young age I wondered why Sir Percy just didn't sat down and talked with his wife properly.

I'm glad you enjoyed the movie! Chavulin is generally better in the adaptions than in the book, for some reason, though a later book do show another side of him as caring and devoted father. But the adaptions usually do a stellar work of him. The 80's version has Sir Ian McKellen doing a wonderfully vulnerable Chavulin. They change the background rather drastically though, with Chavulin and Marguerite (Jane Seymour) having been lovers until she ditches him for Sir Percy (Anthony Andrews). I think that's a change for the better, though, as it gives the three of them a broader span for their interactions. There's also a rather horrible mini series from the 90 with Richard E. Grant as a rather unsympatetich Sir Percy and Elizabeth McGovern as Margurite, who the costume desiger seems determined to make as unattractive as possible. But Martin Shaw is great as a jealous and very ruthless Chavulin.
evelyn_b
Oct. 1st, 2015 02:21 pm (UTC)
Even at a Young age I wondered why Sir Percy just didn't sat down and talked with his wife properly.

I guess the reason he doesn't talk about his secret identity is supposed to be "Percy doesn't trust Marguerite not to denounce him immediately and there's no safe way to ask." Which is understandable if still a little unsatisfying, but doesn't really explain why he can't be nicer/less alienating toward her in his fop persona.

If you're going to be a melodramatic sop in private, and literally kiss the pavement someone walked on (but only when she can't see it! because you're Tragic!) then you can muster up the sacrificial energy to pay attention to her in real time once and a while, jeez. :(

(The movie also makes it clear that Marguerite didn't think he was the stupidest man in England when she married him -- the book is kind of ambiguous on this point).

Elizabeth McGovern as Margurite, who the costume desiger seems determined to make as unattractive as possible.

Aww, poor Marguerite! :(

The Scarlet Pimpernel was originally written as a play, so it makes sense for Chauvelin to be better in adaptations -- he's meant to be played by an actor. I'd never seen Raymond Massey or Leslie Howard in a movie before, and they were both super enjoyable.
scripsi
Oct. 2nd, 2015 05:06 pm (UTC)
I guess the reason he doesn't talk about his secret identity is supposed to be "Percy doesn't trust Marguerite not to denounce him immediately and there's no safe way to ask." Which is understandable if still a little unsatisfying, but doesn't really explain why he can't be nicer/less alienating toward her in his fop persona.

Sorry, I was a bit fuzzy. I meant the whole believing she had willfully betrayed those people. I don't know if I remember this correctly, but I believe Margurite really hates the aristocrat, but that she never meant that he and his family would be killed and she feels dreadful about it. But then Percy more or less accuse her and she gets mad at him and he ends up thinking she is cruel and callous.

If he had just said "Darling, I have heard this awful things said about you, things that I would never, ever believe, but I thought you should know." Then she had probably explained herself properly. For being such a smart man, Sir Percy is awfully quick in believing the worst of his wife.

I don't think I have seen Raymond Massey in anything before, but I love Leslie Howard. I can recommend Pygmalion and Gone With the Wind, but also Pimpernell Smith were he plays a contemporary man (this is during WWII) who spirits away people from Nazi concentration camps. It is an interesting piece of Brittish propaganda and reflects Howard's own views.
evelyn_b
Oct. 2nd, 2015 05:58 pm (UTC)
I believe Margurite really hates the aristocrat, but that she never meant that he and his family would be killed and she feels dreadful about it. But then Percy more or less accuse her and she gets mad at him and he ends up thinking she is cruel and callous.

I don't have the book with me right now, but I think you're correct!
Yes, you'd think he could have gotten a little more information before jumping to conclusions and then acting all tragic about it. I don't know that I even hate the alienation/reconciliation plot in principle, but yeah. I found myself wondering if it would work better if the Marguerite/Percy alliance had begun as an arranged marriage or marriage of convenience, rather than a supposed love match that fell apart at the drop of a rumor.

Does Pimpernell Smith also have a stupid/frivolous persona? I would hate for Howard not to get a billion more opportunities to break out his Eyelids of Foppery. (Foppertunities?)

Edited at 2015-10-02 05:58 pm (UTC)
scripsi
Oct. 6th, 2015 07:10 am (UTC)
I found myself wondering if it would work better if the Marguerite/Percy alliance had begun as an arranged marriage or marriage of convenience, rather than a supposed love match that fell apart at the drop of a rumor.

I think you are right. :)

Does Pimpernell Smith also have a stupid/frivolous persona? I would hate for Howard not to get a billion more opportunities to break out his Eyelids of Foppery. (Foppertunities?)

He's an archeologist, so a bit more serious. :) And foppertunities is the BEST Word! :D
lost_spook
Oct. 1st, 2015 12:08 pm (UTC)
I read The Adventures of Sally earlier this year too (and I'm almost sure it was for the first time, but after enough Wodehouse reading it's very hard to be certain of that) & it is fun, isn't it? Which feels like an almost unnecessary thing to say about a Wodehouse novel. :-)

The only real drawback is having to listen to the Scarlet Pimpernel Song like twenty times. It's not that good a song, Percy!

Ahaha. Sorry. I'm just now wondering exactly what you're going to make of a particular First Doctor thing that I won't spoiler you for beyond giggling irritatingly over here.
evelyn_b
Oct. 1st, 2015 01:42 pm (UTC)
It's a lot of fun! And a nice change from the Woosters, in a way, with characters who actually have to worry (a little) about money along with worrying about aunts and schoolmates and their shenanigans. Not that it's a biting social satire, just a slightly different angle than I was used to from P.G.W., but still very lightly and enjoyably done.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SILENCE REGARDING SPOILERS (or your uninformative giggling, as the case may be) :)
lost_spook
Oct. 1st, 2015 01:47 pm (UTC)
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SILENCE REGARDING SPOILERS (or your uninformative giggling, as the case may be)

Where are you up to now, btw? Or have you been too busy to get beyond Planet of Giants? (You seem to be packing in a lot of reading/watching here!)
evelyn_b
Oct. 1st, 2015 02:24 pm (UTC)
Creeping along! I'm in the middle of The Dalek Invasion of Earth!

(The Daleks have just revealed their terrible plan).
lost_spook
Oct. 1st, 2015 04:23 pm (UTC)
(The Daleks have just revealed their terrible plan

It's a pretty terrible terrible plan, yes. Although I don't know if it's even in the Top Ten of Silliest Plans in DW, because the Master probably has that all to him/herself.

And that's not creeping along - Invasion of Earth is a six-parter and you've only watched a film and read 600 books at the same time!
scripsi
Oct. 2nd, 2015 05:08 pm (UTC)
It's a pretty terrible terrible plan, yes. Although I don't know if it's even in the Top Ten of Silliest Plans in DW, because the Master probably has that all to him/herself.


For being a genius, the Master has a LOT of Very Silly Plans. :D
lost_spook
Oct. 2nd, 2015 05:15 pm (UTC)
Although, to be fair, what self-respecting DW villain walks out of the house without a stupid Overcomplicated Plan as to How To Obtain Rice Krispies?

;-)
evelyn_b
Oct. 3rd, 2015 01:32 am (UTC)
Every time I see that icon, it makes me giggle a little more. I don't know what the context is, but it just keeps growing on me. That slightly smug-looking frown! The prison(?) bars!
lost_spook
Oct. 3rd, 2015 08:59 am (UTC)
:-D
scripsi
Oct. 6th, 2015 06:44 am (UTC)
That's true. One has to have them for all life's eventualities! :D
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

blase ev
evelyn_b
evelyn_b

Latest Month

August 2017
S M T W T F S
  12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner