The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

When I was in high school, my American literature class studied F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (published 1925) for more than a month. After we read it, we read and discussed critical essays, we got in groups and planned papers, and then each of us wrote a paper that was at least five pages about the novel. It was quite an experience. Five pages for a high school student is quite long.

I liked the book. I ended up studying English in college so I got to write plenty more critical analyses of novels. Yet, I haven’t recalled a deep and abiding love for The Great Gatsby. Maybe because we spent too long on it? Reading it this week, however, was a true joy.Continue Reading

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevens

Miss Buncle is an aging old maid in a boring town in the suburbia of London, 1930s. When she finds herself in need of funds, she decides to earn some money by writing a novel. Miss Buncle’s book causes waves in the careful social fabric of the small town because she has written about the people she knows, albeit with different names, of course. Those who have not been portrayed nicely certainly do not appreciate the caricatures by the anonymous “John Smith” and vow to find out who has written the book. As Miss Buncle watches the chaos, she can only find inspiration for more fiction!

Miss Buncle’s Book (to be published September 2012 by Sourcebooks; originally published 1934) by D.E. Stevens is a laugh-out-loud experiences as one considers proper and shy Miss Buncle overhauling her small town’s social order. It is in part an humorous portrayal of the old-fashioned traditions in a tight-knit community of the early twentieth century as well as a mingling of various amusing personalities. But it also seemed to me to have a deeper perspective on self-realization. As some of the people of the town viewed themselves through the caricatured view of the unknown author, they changed their own actions: the “mean” person tried to be more kind; the old bachelor allowed himself to think in terms of falling in love, and even shy Miss Buncle found herself loosening up. (Did she really leave the tea party without politely excusing herself?!) If I were in a novel, how would I be portrayed? What faults and strengths would be caricatured in myself?

I was delighted to see that Sourcebooks is republishing this lost classic (to be published in September). It has been previously republished overseas by Persephone Books, and it was about time that it made it’s way to America as well! People who enjoy the humor of The Help by Kathryn Stockett or those who enjoy a look at a small town community, such as that in the much older Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell, may also enjoy this book. It is, after all, a book about a woman writing a book about a woman writing a book. Satire abounds, but there is also plenty of subtlety hiding amidst the humor.

Note: I read a digital copy from the publisher via for review consideration. I was not compensated for this review.

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

In Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (published 1814), Fanny Price was the oldest daughter of a poor family, sent at age 10 to live with her generous and wealthy Bertram cousins. Yet, in the lovely Mansfield Park, Fanny was constantly reminded of her lesser status and spent her days for the most part assisting the lazy women of the home in their daily monotony.

As the years pass, Fanny found a friend in her cousin Edmund, to whom she was able to express her frustrations and opinions, although her other three cousins have little patience with “simple minded” Fanny. Edmund knew Fanny, though, and this friendship kept her going. But when her cousins, including Edmund, began courting some of the visitors to Mansfield area, Fanny found herself face to face with impropriety in a society that demanded moral uprightness. She had to decide when she would take a stand and when she would remain silent, all the while considering her own future happiness and her “lesser” status among the wealthy Bertrams and their associates. Continue Reading

Plum Bun by Jessie Redmon Fauset

In Jessie Redmon Fauset’s second published novel, Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral (published 1928), one woman struggles to finding her own identity racially and sexually in New York City during the vibrant years of the Harlem Renaissance.

Artist Angela Murray is a light-skinned “coloured” woman in the transitional years of the late 1910s and 1920s. When she gets an opportunity, she leaves her home town in Philadelphia for a life of “passing” as a white person in New York City. The novel follows her subsequent life and choices, creating a complex portrait of her life in an era of conflicting identities. She struggles with her role as a woman, with her choices as a sexually free individual, and also with her challenges to come to terms with her race in a time of both intense racial discrimination and racial contentment in Harlem.

In many ways, Plum Bun reminded me of Nella Larsen’s contemporary novella, Passing (published 1929; thoughts here), in which Irene, another light-skinned woman who occasionally “passed” for white, struggled with her repressed sexuality and her racial identity when she met one of her long-past friends, Clare, who had married a racist white man and always “passed.”

Plum Bun deals with similar issues, but the narrative focuses rather intensely on Angela herself, who is much younger than Nella Larsen’s middle-aged women. Angela’s story is a coming-of-age story, and in many ways I found it more satisfying as a whole because of the intense emotional components developed in the novel as Angela and her sister and their friends aged and experienced the consequences of their choices. Plum Bun is a wonderfully written and developed story that sits solidly in the historical context of the Harlem Renaissance but remains highly relevant to readers today.

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