My consolation for recently having become unfeasibly old was a lovely pile of books, and a spot of leisure time in which to enjoy them. Wild Romance is the story of the infamous Yelverton bigamy trial that held Victorian society spellbound for many years. Equally sensational is Uncommon Arrangements, an examination of seven literary marriages from the early twentieth century, including H G and Jane Wells, Katherine Mansfield and John Middleton Murry, and Radclyffe Hall and Una Troubridge. Being a tad squeamish, I’m slightly wary of Richard D. Altick’s Victorian Studies in Scarlet: Murders and Manners in the Age of Victoria, but will persevere in a moment of bravery (with the light on).
Rather less frivolous is Judith Halberstam’s Female Masculinity, an examination of the diversity of gender expressions among masculine women from the nineteenth century onwards. Hopefully, this book will be my trusty guide during chapter two of my thesis. Other PhD reading is The Virgin: Mary’s Cult and the Re-Emergence of the Goddess, which promises to illuminate the spiritual battle of the sexes. Crikey.
One of the books I seized upon immediately was Sarah Bakewell’s How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. I’d heard it discussed on Radio 4’s Start the Week and thought it sounded utterly marvellous. I wasn’t disappointed. I shall post a full review in due course, but suffice it to say that it was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time.
I was drawn to Hermione Lee’s biography of Edith Wharton more for the biographer than for the subject. Lee, in my opinion, is one of our best life writers and anything from her is a cause for celebration. I’m also intrigued at how the biography has divided opinion – reviewers on Amazon have given it either five stars, or just one. Chief among the criticisms appears to be lack of brevity, but that’s not necessarily a Bad Thing to my mind. We shall see.
Florence Marryat also made a very welcome birthday appearance in the form of Tom Tiddler’s Ground, her account of a visit to North America during which she terrified her transatlantic hosts with a fondness for brandy and a refusal to cover her middle-aged ankles. Last time I read it, I attracted evil glares from fellow readers at the British Library when snorting at some of the amusing episodes. At least now I can snort in the comfort of my armchair, so to speak, with only the cats to regard me disdainfully.