Tor.com has just published the most recent Edith Nesbit post on The Wonderful Garden. Which reminded me that while I was off in California Tor.com published two other posts, about The Magic City, which turned out to be one of my favorite Nesbit books and a genuine delight, and Gregory Maguire's Out of Oz, which is not going to be one of my favorite Oz books.

Speaking of Oz books....the subject of the Oz books written by Edward Einhorn, Geoff Ryman, Eric Shanower and Sherwood Smith came up at WFC more than once, and to answer everyone, yes, the possibility of reviewing these books did come up with Tor as well, did not happen for various reasons, but may happen later. We shall see. And I just may have a little Oz thing pop up on this blog later today (assuming I can make the camera work. Let us not trust in this.)

Speaking of Tor.com, the next major reread is Madeleine L'Engle, coming up....er, soon. I am not sure. But before that, one more Nesbit post!
What with everything yesterday I completely missed that the latest Edith Nesbit post, about her novel Daphne in Fitzroy Street, a retelling of her relationship with George Bernard Shaw, is up at Tor.com. This is the last of the adult Nesbit books that I'll be reviewing, but I still have three more children's novels to go: The Magic City (which was delightful), Wet Magic (which wasn't), and The Wonderful Garden (which was pretty mixed). Nesbit did write one additional children's novel but tracking that down proved to be too difficult (and to be frank I was worried that this would be a mixed experience.

I'm also saddened that I didn't get to look at Nesbit's one adult novel that incorporates fantasy elements. And astonished. Gutenberg and other sites are doing marvels with bringing extremely obscure texts online, texts which define the "nobody reads this anymore." Nesbit's children's novels are still popular enough to be in print; she is widely accepted as a popular and influential children's author who, to repeat, is still being read, so I can't explain why her adult novels haven't wiggled online. Oh well.

Also, just a note for those asking: yes, I will be at World Fantasy Con next week. Since last year I arrived Wednesday evening only to discover that people were already conventioning, and since there's a longer flight and a time change to deal with, I'll be arriving a bit earlier this year to rest up before heading over to Wednesday registration. I fully expect that thanks to this preplanning on my part, I shall have nothing to do on Wednesday :)

Because I have a tendency to get sick without notice, my schedule is otherwise gloriously open -- no panels, readings, or otherwise -- with very tentative plans to stop by the book signing, the art show reception (because dessert! also, art! We are looking for pirate pictures!), and possibly the open poetry reading (which appears to have been squeezed in between the art show reception and the various con parties, at least a couple of which I've been asked to make a gracious appearance at) so we will see. I shall also be doing significant sleeping here and there.

And on the bright side, my cell phone has been (temporarily) upgraded and fully tested with [profile] anaisis's help, which should make texting, Twittering and the like much easier this time around.
John D. Rateliff's The History of the Hobbit is a book for Tolkien completists – and only Tolkien completists. Casual readers or those who just saw the movies can safely skip it. But those who like me were obsessed enough to snatch up the previous compilations of Tolkien's drafts and unfinished works must have this book. (Actually, books; it's in two volumes.) Each draft chapter is carefully annotated with footnotes and essays and footnotes on the footnotes and essays, with chatter about Tolkien's sources and writing methods and the various ways The Hobbit could have gone, but didn't, not to mention a fascinating discussion about the continuing evolution of various characters – particularly Gollum. Annnnnddd references to pretty much everything even vaguely related to The Hobbit and discussions of word origins and some chapters that Tolkien completely rewrote to make The Hobbit more consistent with its sequel and lists of dwarf names. Plus, bonus Dungeons and Dragons commentary. I mean, awesome.

But for all that, the book does have one glaring omission, although I freely admit that I might have missed it had I not just spent a significant part of this year plowing through the works of George MacDonald and Edith Nesbit. And that is – Edith Nesbit.

Rateliff cites Nesbit exactly twice – as a creator of whimsical dragons (true) – and as a writer in the tradition of classic British children's literature (more as one of its establishers, but this is nitpicking.) And that's that.

No mention of the narrative asides, so similar in tone and purpose, that litter both Nesbit's novels and The Hobbit (and are not found in other books that Rateliff cites as influences.) And, above all, no mention of a certain ring of invisibility.

Rateliff spends eight pages (plus footnotes) chatting about other rings of invisibility, citing Plato, Aladdin, Chretien de Troyes, Hartmann von Aue, The Mabinogion, Ariosto (a comparison Tolkien disliked), Fr. Francois Fenelon, Andrew Lang, an obscure Estonian folktale collected by Frederich Kreutzwald which Rateliff admits barely resembles Bilbo's ring whatsoever, concluding that a) literature offered few rings of invisibility prior to Tolkien and b) Tolkien was probably most influenced by Plato and Chretien de Troyes. I'm not going to argue the Plato part – Tolkien certainly knew The Republic very well, or the de Troyes part, but all of this ignores a children's book that featured a ring that turned you invisible – and just how inconvenient this could be if you were hungry or hurt -- The Enchanted Castle.

True, I can't be certain that Tolkien knew any of Nesbit's novels. And also, I'd be the first to admit that Nesbit had no influence on The Lord of the Rings. But The Hobbit is a very different sort of work, and in a book of analysis that takes time to mention (and I think misinterpret, but, that's arguable) Anne McCaffery's dragon books; Vita Sackville-West (who might have helped inspire the name of the Sackville-Bagginses – she and Tolkien were both enthusiastic gardeners if they had little else in common, and Tolkien may have read her gardening articles), not to mention the Estonian folktales, this omission seems, how do I put this? Odd.

But this omission aside, if you are a Tolkien enthusiast, invest. It's your sort of book; deeply fascinating and insightful – with a fair warning that you may find yourself wanting to chase down Estonian folktales afterwards. But I can't exactly term that a bad thing.
In unrelated news my post about Harding's Luck just popped up at Tor.com.

I don't think this is one of my better analyses, largely because it took me awhile to pinpoint just why I was struggling to read through this book. Even the adult novels, which I've enjoyed less than the children's ones, were generally at the least readable and in the case of Daphne of Fitzroy Street even fascinating. And I've whipped through most of the children's books in an hour or so, tops.

But this book was a slog, and it was only after thinking about something generally unrelated that I realized why: the entire book had the air of "I am writing a literary production and examining morality here," from all of the stock characters -- the little lame boy who is so awfully good, the thief who can be converted to goodness through the love of a child, the inspiring women....not to mention the overly careful prose. It's a deliberate performance, not something enjoyed, something written for critics and reputation.

So I didn't like it. But Gore Vidal did. Read into that what you like.

In unrelated news, both Twitter and Tumbler want you to know that A Lannister always spays his pets. Read down to the fine print, although I do have to note that my thoroughly spayed Grey One has rarely achieved the status of "calm" and has been known to gaze thoughtfully at people's throats.
Ok, first up, another Edith Nesbit post up at Tor.com, this one about The House of Arden. NOT a favorite of mine, but Gore Vidal liked it. Which, er. Yes. Onwards!

Meanwhile, just to confirm that every once in awhile I do poke my little head out to read something other than speculative fiction, children's fiction, and gossipy biographies about long dead people, a couple of recent non-genre reads I can strongly recommend:

The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean, by journalist Susan Casey, is mostly the story of various extreme surfers who hop all over the world to chase down and ride giant waves all around the world, and by giant, I mean 70 feet/21 meters to 30 meters. These are the sorts of waves that destroy tanker ships.

Not surprisingly, surfing on these sorts of waves, even with highly specialized surfboards and people riding around on jet skies to pull surfers out of the water while helicopters hover above is, how shall we say this, risky. Even the author, no surfer, gets badly tossed around just trying to document this kind of thing from a boat. It's riveting stuff.

Slightly less riveting are the chapters that punctuate the surfing bit, where Casey, no scientist, follows wave scientists around and tries to understand both waves and global warming. This is not entirely successful, mostly because – as I learned to my great distress in a graduate-level physical oceanography class, waves caused by wind are COMPLICATED, and by complicated, I mean, they will drive you to literal tears when you are trying desperately to understand what your professor is talking about and how any of these damn equations work and why all of them seem to involve calculus and worse having to program calculus into a computer. Er. I digress. The second problem is that despite several PhDs patiently trying to tell her otherwise, Casey remains unable to understand that tsunami waves (caused by earthquakes) and other waves (caused by, in my opinion, far too many damn things) are not the same thing. (I actually got all of the questions about tsunami waves correct.) Which in turn means that although global warming is expected to impact the way wind wave works, and may, or may not, impact the damage caused by tsunami waves (this is debatable) and may possibly increase the number of undersea earthquakes causing tsunamis (this is VERY debatable and only in the "worth investigating" stage) it will not affect the way tsunami waves work.

This may not seem that important, but when a good half of your book is about the growing potential for wave damage from global warming, it's important to make sure that you have a clear understanding of the differences between tsunami waves, wave waves, and storm surge waves. Casey doesn't, and she also isn't good at translating scientific terminology to layman's chatter, which means that her chapters about global warming, waves and scientists are decidedly the weaker part of the book.

Which in the end is ok; I guarantee everyone will really be reading this for the extreme surfer stories, and if readers get a bit of "wow, waves are complicated" lessons from this, it's all good.

The other strongly recommended book is The Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears. Set in the reign of Charles II, this is a book about the murder of one Dr. Grove and the woman suspected of committing the crime, told from four different viewpoints – that of a charming Italian traveller, a young man obsessed with restoring his father's name and honor, a mathematical genius, and another young man who just loves books.

Naturally, all four of these narrators have something to hide – in some cases, quite a bit to hide – and their perspectives are quite, quite different.

Pears ladles his book with discussions of blood transfusions (this is pretty fascinating); a horrified and unintentionally hilarious description of a performance of King Lear (part of the fun is trying to figure out which Shakespearean play that particular narrator is reacting to); and appearances by most of the great academics and thinkers of the period: John Locke, the great Robert Boyle, Christopher Wren, and so on, all happily discussing philosophy and blood transfusions in between murder investigations. This is all pretty great, but what makes the book is the way Pears handles the four competing viewpoints of the murder and its events – and the way all four men, and it's very important that these are men, justify their various actions, which include unauthorized and questionable medical experiments and autopsies, attempts to purchase corpses, rapes, spying, betrayals, purchases of books and musical instruments that come close to bankrupting them, homosexual desires, and so on. (The rape section of the novel, while not graphic, may be triggery for some readers given that narrator's ability to justify the rape to himself – while making it perfectly clear to readers that this is rape, it is unacceptable, and that it most definitely harmed the woman involved.)

That most of the characters and two of the narrators are historical figures adds to the intrigue and the mystery (without being too spoilery I was fairly sure that John Locke wouldn't end up as the murderer, but then again, his role in the narration ended up surprising me).

Warning: this is a heavy book, and it's meant for rereading. Some of you will find the rape section and the sections narrated by the mathematician John Wallis (a historical figure) to be difficult going. But this was most definitely my kind of book.
The Enchanted Castle was the book that turned me into a Nesbit reader; despite its flaws, I completely fell in love with it, its magical ring, and the dancing statues. My discussion over at Tor.com today may not be without bias. You've been warned.
So, while I was distracted with other stuff yesterday, the latest post on Edith Nesbit, chattering about The Railway Children and whether or not Nesbit plagiarized the entire book, went up on Tor.com.

In other news, I'm feeling pretty wretched today, so once I answer the comments already on the post, chances are good that I won't be around the internet much.
It be my pleasure to announce to ye brave souls that the third issue of Fantastique Unfettered be available at many fine, fine outlets. It be deserving if a bit of your hard earned or plundered coin, seeing as it be filled with stories of the fabulous, poems of surpassing beauty, interviews with people that be pleasing to pirates, and a wee little story from me own fine keyboard, that be one of me personal favorites, a story that be filled with dragons.

And if all this not be enough for ye, another wee post about that lady of fantastic words, Edith Nesbit, be up at Tor.com awaiting your pleasure and perusal.

And now I must be off for a bit, though the theme of the day do be making me itch to say a few uncomplimentary words about that evil being once naming itself the Sci Fi Channel, but thar be some hunting and plundering ahead for me this morning, and like any proper pirate, me hair must be fixed first.
Today's Tor.com post chatters about The Phoenix and the Carpet, where, gasp, Edith Nesbit implied that some cats -- highly aristocratic Persian cats, no less -- behave badly. I just don't feel the same about Nesbit now.
More fun with the Bastables over at Tor.com today.

In other news what limited focus I have appears to be completely gone today. I'm kinda hoping chocolate ice cream helps me to find it.
One of the good things about these Tor.com rereads is that some of them aren't actually rereads, but more a forcing me to head out and track down some of the more obscure writings of favorite authors, as in today's post about The Red House, which is not a fantasy or a children's book, but a deliberately charming look at what makes a successful modern marriage -- which includes, Nesbit argued, all the way in the early 20th century, independent careers for married women. Nesbit herself could speak with experience on this: she worked as a writer and lecturer during both of her marriages, becoming the chief financial support of her household, and working jointly with her husband on papers and lectures was an important part of her first marriage. Yet another reminder (and apparently we keep needing more) that women did not suddenly enter the workplace, or even the professional workplace, in the 1960s.
Despite appearances, I have not actually abandoned Livejournal and Dreamwidth -- first I had the con, and then recovery from con fatigue, a slightly sore wrist and one exciting bruise on my leg, absolutely none of which has to deal with the torn pajamas. (Really.)

Con reports are forthcoming, slowly, as I catch up with other matters, but in the meantime, my latest post about the delightful Five Children and It, just went up at Tor.com. And if you missed last week's post about The Wouldbegoods, it's here.
Our internet cable, twitchy for the past few days, decided to die entirely late this morning. As it turns out, this is less the fault of Brighthouse and more the fault of a "compromised" cable line. No, the cable has not been selling secrets to spies. However, at some point in the past, someone decided to do something interesting with the cable line, which in turn exposed it to the vicious attacks of squirrels and the rain.

And some of you are still trying to claim that squirrels are just playful, innocent little consumers of nuts. Ha.

Anyway, while the cable was out, the latest Tor.com post went up, this one about Edith Nesbit's first book for children, The Story of the Treasure Seekers.

I had hoped I'd be able to write about Nesbit's early adult novels, but they seem to be incredibly unavailable, in ebook or used book or library format, so the next few posts will be focused on her children's literature. Which isn't a bad thing, only that the adult novels are more obscure (which happens if you can't get to them) and part of the fun of this series has been the at least occasional look at more obscure books.
I review Silver on the Tree over at Tor.com. One more Susan Cooper book to go, and then it's off to Edith Nesbit.
I've been on a bit of an Edith Nesbit kick lately. If you're unfamiliar with Nesbit, she was a late 19th/early 20th century poet and novelist now primarily known for her children's fantasy books (check out The Enchanted Castle, Five Children and It, and The Amulet if you haven't already). She, along with L. Frank Baum, helped to establish new forms of children's fiction and series.

She was also a devoted socialist in an open marriage on both sides, in the Victorian/Edwardian eras.

So I was delighted to find a biography focused on her life: Women of Passion: the Life of E. Nesbit, 1858-1924, by Julia Briggs. Written in 1987, the biography is eminently readable, providing all sorts of the fun gossipy stuff and speculation needed in biography like this: the scandal of her marriage to Hubert Bland, which happened when she was seven months pregnant and her husband was busily getting another woman (who was a close friend of his mother) pregnant; her role in creating the socialist Fabian Society; her affair or almost-affair with George Bernard Shaw (both destroyed correspondence that might have told us just how far things went, but she clearly fell for him, hard); Edith's multiple young lovers; the kinda icky story of how H.G. Wells chased after Edith's adopted daughter, Rosalind; her second mildly scandalous but delightfully happy marriage to a man of a most decidedly lower class; and most critically, her tangled relationship with close friend Alice Hoatson, who was also her secretary, housekeeper, and one of her husband's many lovers – but the only one who lived with them. Edith and Hubert adopted both of Alice and Hubert's children, Rosalind and John.

Part of the problem with the biography is not the biographer's fault – this is, after all, about people in the late Victorian era, who, however open minded, still Just Didn't Discuss Certain Things. (Many of Nesbit's friends firmly believed, against all documentary and actual evidence, that of course Nesbit had waited until marriage before actually sleeping with her husband, because, you know, women just didn't do those sorts of things.) This forces the biographer to guess and infer in many places, and she is not always convincing with all of her identifications of Nesbit's lovers. Some of these men may well have been just friends. Nesbit's own habit of lying and prevaricating and changing her mind on several issues, including sexual ones, does not help; she presents herself both as frigid and rabidly sexual, depending upon who she happened to be addressing at the time. It also seems clear that Nesbit's interest in sex was, unsurprisingly, highly dependent upon her moods and what happened to be going on at the time in her life.

A second, larger problem, however, is that this is yet another biography that ignores even the possibility of bisexuality, even with abundant evidence that Nesbit may have been actively bisexual, and at the very least had romantic feelings towards women. Although Briggs tells us that "Edith expressed the warmest affection for her girlfriends, particularly when she was very young. She wrote them love poems as if she were a man...", Briggs never once considers that these poems might have been expressing Edith's actual sexuality and feelings; instead, she tells us, Victorian culture allowed Edith to express these subjects to women since these sorts of things could not be said to men. (Edith said these sorts of things to George Bernard Shaw anyway, but he was not exactly an advocate for the Victorian moral code.) Thus, these are merely expressions of "Edith's passionate nature," not her actual feelings.

This is especially problematic when the biography turns to the subject of Alice Hoatson. Critically, Alice became Edith's friend before she became Hubert's mistress and mother of his children. They wrote each other passionate love poetry, and when Alice became pregnant, Edith did not kick her out of the house, despite her suspicions. It is not clear when Edith learned, for certain, that her husband had fathered Alice's children; what is clear is that Edith knew, for certain, that her husband had fathered Alice's first child when he fathered the second – thirteen years later. Alice was still living with them both, and friends frequently referred to her as Edith's companion and friend – not Hubert's.

But the biography never admits that Alice and Edith may also have had a sexual relationship – perhaps as a threesome with Hubert, perhaps separately. After all, Hubert had other lovers, both short and long term, that Edith did not welcome into her home, although in some cases she befriended them. (When they married, Hubert was involved in a long term relationship with his mother's companion, Maggie Simpson, a relationship that continued after his marriage. Edith and Maggie met and apparently became friends, but Maggie and her children were never brought into the marriage or the relationship.) He had other children with these lovers that she did not adopt, or apparently want to meet. And yet the biography wants us to accept Alice as just another one of the lovers that Edith had to put up with, one of the lovers that drove her into finding (male) lovers of her own.

The biographer constantly tells us – without textual evidence – that Nesbit was disappointed in her marriage, because of his philandering ways. She adds that Edith "must have had more than one inkling of the truth, but she probably rejected it from her conscious mind, dealing with it as most of us deal with intolerable knowledge, by hiding it from herself." But in fact, Briggs presents no evidence that Edith actually found the situation intolerable. Edith not only welcomed Alice into her home, adopting her children (to avoid scandal), but continued to support both of them financially, co-write articles and short stories with her husband, and turn to him for critical and editorial help.

Letters to family members (quoted in the text) show that his death left her devastated and lost – not the reaction of a woman relieved to be free of a philandering husband at last. (The lost feelings were in part what led her to her second, mildly scandalous marriage.) And if she admittedly left nothing to Alice's children in her will, that can easily be explained as Edith's attempt to restore fairness: her husband had left everything to Alice's children, and little to his own, and Edith felt, with some justification, that Alice's children were better equipped to make successes of themselves in the real world.

And even after Hubert died, Alice continued to live with Edith for more than three years – even nursing Edith's second husband through a bout of pneumonia before leaving for her own home and a belated but successful career in nursing. The biographer uses the phrase "Now that Alice had finally gone..." but again, presents no evidence that Edith saw the departure in that light. It's equally possible that Alice left because she disliked Edith's second husband, or vice versa, or that their friendship did trail off after a time, as friendships do.

We cannot, of course, prove that Edith and Alice had a sexual relationship, whatever their mutual love poetry might imply. But the same thing can be said about Edith's relationships with men that the biographer assumes were sexual. Certainly Edith's friends assumed many of them were, and the evidence does suggest that she slept with several younger men (and probably Shaw). But as the biographer herself states regarding one of these affairs, "What evidence there is concerning their love affair occurs in yet another novel, though not by either of the protagonists..." So, fiction written by someone else is proof of an affair, but passionate poetry written by both protagonists is not? This is even less conclusive than becoming someone's "It's Complicated" in Facebook.

I've written about this denial of bisexuality before, but it's still frustrating. It's a denial that forces a biographer into several possibly unwarranted conclusions, and robs the text of nuances. And in this case, it also heightens the image of woman as reactor instead of actor, by assuming that Edith Nesbit had affairs in reaction to Hubert Bland's affairs, instead of welcoming the prospect of an open marriage with a husband that tolerated and encouraged her own sexual needs; this may have been one reason why she married him. If you accept that Edith Nesbit might have been a bisexual, sexually healthy and adventurous woman, you can accept that an open marriage might well have been her choice as well. Certainly she seems to have enjoyed many aspects of it.

November 2014

S M T W T F S
      1
2345 678
91011 12 131415
16171819202122
2324 2526272829
30      

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Most Popular Tags

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags