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Illyrian Spring (VMC)
Illyrian Spring (VMC)
by Anne Bridge
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Grace's Enlightenment, 22 Mar. 2017
This review is from: Illyrian Spring (VMC) (Paperback)
Ann Bridge's 'Illyrian Spring', first published in 1935, focuses on the very attractive Lady Grace Kilmichael, a well-known painter, who has been married to Walter for over twenty years and has three grown-up children: two sons, Teddy and Nigel who are at Cambridge, and a nineteen-year-old daughter, Linnet. Feeling that her very intelligent economist husband criticises and belittles her, and worried that he might be about to embark upon an affair with a colleague, Grace is also upset by her belief that her daughter finds her a silly fusspot. Making the decision to leave her family and not sure whether she is escaping for good, Grace boards the Orient Express and travels to Paris and Venice en route to the Dalmatian coast. On her travels she meets Nicholas, who is the nephew of an old school friend and a young man who yearns to become an artist, but is instead being pushed into a career as an architect by his rather over-bearing father. When Nicholas learns that Grace paints, he appeals to her to become his teacher and Grace, flattered by his attentions and pleased that, unlike her own children, Nicholas seems to admire and respect her, she agrees to help him with his painting. As the pair spend an increasing amount of time together surrounded by beautiful scenery, they find their relationship growing and deepening, and Grace has to face the possibility that her young friend could be falling in love with her - but what does she decide to do? After all, she is a long way away from home, her family don't seem to appreciate her anymore, and could it be that now is the time for her to think of herself for once?

Exquisitely written and with some wonderful descriptions of situation and setting, Ann Bridge's 'Illyrian Spring' is a novel which, although very much 'of its time', still has a relevance and I found it a pleasure to read. Ms Bridge handles Grace's and Nicholas's burgeoning feelings for one another with perception and sensitivity and at no point does the reader feel the story is going to descend into a clichéd story of an older woman's desire for a much younger man, or vice versa. Instead this is an insightful story of a middle-aged woman's rediscovery of herself and of her relationship with her husband and children, and although this novel does have its tiny faults (and the descriptions of the scenery, although absolutely exquisite, do sometimes make it feel as if we are reading a piece of very well-composed travel writing), I was caught up in Grace's life and thoroughly enjoyed this intelligent and evocative escapist story.

4 Stars.


Illyrian Spring
Illyrian Spring
by Ann Bridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Grace's Enlightenment, 22 Mar. 2017
This review is from: Illyrian Spring (Paperback)
Ann Bridge's 'Illyrian Spring', first published in 1935, focuses on the very attractive Lady Grace Kilmichael, a well-known painter, who has been married to Walter for over twenty years and has three grown-up children: two sons, Teddy and Nigel who are at Cambridge, and a nineteen-year-old daughter, Linnet. Feeling that her very intelligent economist husband criticises and belittles her, and worried that he might be about to embark upon an affair with a colleague, Grace is also upset by her belief that her daughter finds her a silly fusspot. Making the decision to leave her family and not sure whether she is escaping for good, Grace boards the Orient Express and travels to Paris and Venice en route to the Dalmatian coast. On her travels she meets Nicholas, who is the nephew of an old school friend and a young man who yearns to become an artist, but is instead being pushed into a career as an architect by his rather over-bearing father. When Nicholas learns that Grace paints, he appeals to her to become his teacher and Grace, flattered by his attentions and pleased that, unlike her own children, Nicholas seems to admire and respect her, she agrees to help him with his painting. As the pair spend an increasing amount of time together surrounded by beautiful scenery, they find their relationship growing and deepening, and Grace has to face the possibility that her young friend could be falling in love with her - but what does she decide to do? After all, she is a long way away from home, her family don't seem to appreciate her anymore, and could it be that now is the time for her to think of herself for once?

Exquisitely written and with some wonderful descriptions of situation and setting, Ann Bridge's 'Illyrian Spring' is a novel which, although very much 'of its time', still has a relevance and I found it a pleasure to read. Ms Bridge handles Grace's and Nicholas's burgeoning feelings for one another with perception and sensitivity and at no point does the reader feel the story is going to descend into a clichéd story of an older woman's desire for a much younger man, or vice versa. Instead this is an insightful story of a middle-aged woman's rediscovery of herself and of her relationship with her husband and children, and although this novel does have its tiny faults (and the descriptions of the scenery, although absolutely exquisite, do sometimes make it feel as if we are reading a piece of very well-composed travel writing), I was caught up in Grace's life and thoroughly enjoyed this intelligent and evocative escapist story.

4 Stars.


A Room with a View (Penguin Classics)
A Room with a View (Penguin Classics)
by E.M. Forster
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An Entertaining and Enjoyable Read, 19 Mar. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
When the young and pretty Lucy Honeychurch visits Florence with her much older and rather prim cousin Charlotte acting as chaperone, she is dismayed to find the rooms at the pension at which they are staying are without a view. Already staying at the pension is Mr Emerson (a middle-aged man of a lower social class than Lucy and Charlotte) with his son George, and Mr Emerson is very keen to offer Lucy and Charlotte his and George's rooms which are complete with the desired view over the Arno. Charlotte, though, is offended by Mr Emerson's over-familiar approach and refuses his offer, afraid that by accepting she will put herself and Lucy under an undesirable obligation to someone of a lower social standing. However, when Mr Beeb, an Anglican clergyman with whom Lucy has already become acquainted back in England, intervenes and assures Charlotte that Mr Emerson only wishes to be kind and that there is no harm in accepting his offer, Charlotte relents and she and Lucy get their view. Despite accepting the Emersons' offer, Charlotte warns Lucy not to encourage them, but when Lucy subsequently witnesses a murder in a street in Florence, it is George Emerson who comes to Lucy's rescue, and Lucy cannot help but be appreciative of how the young man deals with the situation. Lucy, however, does not realize that George Emerson, who is an unusual and passionate young man, is falling in love with her and when George's feelings later get the better of him, Lucy and Charlotte are shocked by the consequences. Back in England, Lucy is wooed by the pretentious Cecil Vyse, who thinks himself superior to most of those around him and who takes Lucy's cultural education in hand - and Lucy, surprisingly, doesn't initially seem to see what a bumptious fool he is or that he appears to regard her as some sort of a trophy. But when George Emerson suddenly re-appears on the scene and lets Lucy know that his feelings towards her have not changed, what does Lucy decide to do?

First published in 1908, E.M.Forster's 'Room with a View' is filled with a vivid cast of characters (of which I have mentioned only a few) and I found this novel an entertaining read from start to finish. It is interesting to watch Lucy being torn between conflicting values and to see her struggling to escape from the social boundaries of her class (her energetic piano playing reveals a desire for a more adventurous life; in fact when hearing her play Mr Beeb remarks: "If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting - both for us and for her"), yet she very nearly allows herself to be consumed by those social conventions. And it is even more enjoyable to see her maturing and coming to the realization that class and decorum are not as important as others might have her believe, and that there is more value and beauty to be found in truth and in freedom of expression and, of course, in love. An entertaining and satisfying read and although not as nuanced as the author's 'Howards End' or 'A Passage to India' I was engaged in Lucy's story from the first page to the last.

4.5 Stars.


Child in Jerusalem (Middle East Studies)
Child in Jerusalem (Middle East Studies)
by Felicity Ashbee
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Child in Jerusalem, 17 Mar. 2017
Felicity Ashbee was the daughter of the architect and designer Charles Robert Ashbee, who played a significant role in the Arts and Crafts movement and was the founder of the Guild of Handicraft which he formed in 1888. In 1919, when Felicity was six years old, she and her three sisters arrived with their mother, Janet, in Jerusalem where her father was employed as civil administrator and was responsible for leading the project to restore the city architecturally and artistically after centuries of Ottoman occupation. Felicity spent four years in Jerusalem, and this slim memoir is her account of her time during those years, where we read of her affection for her parents and her three sisters; of the games they played; of their childhood ailments; of their lessons with their cousin Kathleen at home, followed by their schooldays; of the servants who looked after them; of their trips into the Old City with its narrow streets and cobbled alleyways and the "dark caves of the souks' mysterious shops", and finally of Felicity's sadness at leaving Jerusalem when she was ten years old.

Ms Ashbee uses a third person narrative throughout her memoir, instead of the first-person account I would have expected, and this is very much a child's eye view, so I did not learn as much as perhaps I would have liked to about her parents or about life in Jerusalem outside her immediate childhood preoccupations and experiences. That said, she writes with evident affection for her family and of her years in Jerusalem, there are some interesting photographs inserted within the text, and this short memoir worked well for a easy, downtime read. I have in one of my bookcases, the author's memoir of her mother 'Janet Ashbee: Love, Marriage, and the Arts and Crafts Movement', and I am looking forward to reading that in order to learn more about the colourful and varied life of Ms Ashbee's parents.

3.5 Stars.


Mrs. Humphry Ward: Eminent Victorian, Pre-Eminent Edwardian
Mrs. Humphry Ward: Eminent Victorian, Pre-Eminent Edwardian
by John Sutherland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £71.00

5.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting and Informative Account, 17 Mar. 2017
Born in 1851 and the granddaughter of Thomas Arnold, the renowned headmaster of Rugby School, and niece of Matthew Arnold, the famous poet, Mary Arnold's childhood years were detrimentally affected by her father's religious doubts, which caused significant difficulties with his career and also with his marriage. Although most of her siblings lived at home, Mary spent much of her school years at boarding school, but at the age of sixteen she returned home to her family, who were then living in Oxford where her father had a history lectureship. Moving amongst academic circles, Mary ("who was no beauty [but] had a fine, intelligent face") was, by her eighteenth birthday, an intellectually sophisticated young woman and, before her twenty-first birthday, was married to (Thomas) Humphry Ward, a tutor at Brasenose College, who later became a journalist and art critic for 'The Times' newspaper. Three children followed and Mary, aware of the need for her to contribute to the family finances, began a writing career that, after the success of her 1888 novel "Robert Elsmere'(which was inspired by her father's religious crises), resulted in her becoming the highest earning novelist in England, and also in her eclipsing the more modest achievements of her husband. However, Mary Ward was not known solely for her success as a novelist; she helped found Somerville College, one of the first women's colleges in Oxford; she inaugurated a number of play centres for the children of London's working women; she founded a settlement which in some ways was a forerunner for the welfare state; she successfully pressed parliament for decent educational provision for invalid children; and more, including being awarded a CBE in 1919. Yet despite all of this, Mary Ward campaigned against the vote for women, a controversial decision which later resulted in her being condemned by some as a traitor to her sex.

John Sutherland's impeccable research of his subject reveals how, through her own hard work, Mary Ward transformed herself into one of the most well-known and highly paid female writers of her time, and of how she used her position to help her to campaign for childcare reforms and for women's education (if not for their right to vote). Mr Sutherland, although sympathetic towards his subject in explaining the reasons for some of the decisions Mary Ward made, doesn't condone the areas of her life that reveal her in a less than admirable light and he conveys to the reader that, despite her successes, Mary Ward's life was in no way an entirely happy one. An intelligent, interesting and very informative account (and also a rather witty one in places) and a biography which brings the period of time in which Mrs Humphry Ward lived and worked wonderfully to life. Recommended.

5 Stars.


Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics)
Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Virago Modern Classic (Virago Modern Classics)
by Rumer Godden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vividly Described, 13 Mar. 2017
Sophie Barrington-Ward, a beautiful, but rather impractical and financially hard-up young English widow living in Kashmir with her two children, impulsively decides to move her family to a remote village where she rents a house on the slopes of a mountain. Sophie is smitten by the beauty and simplicity of village life and decides that if she lives like a peasant, she will be rich by being poor. However, although by British standards, Sophie may be in financially straitened circumstances, in the eyes of the local villagers she is rich, and not able to understand her need to make economies, many of them try to swindle her. At first, Sophie finds the simple life rewarding; in her solitude she discovers a whole new way of reading ("it was as if the book had found a voice…she felt her mind stretch and deepen"); she buys a goat and makes plans to grow her own vegetables, and tells Nabir, the caretaker of her new home, "we might even make our own wine; and we shall have strawberries and asparagus and melons.." Nabir responds more practically with the information that he can grow onions, carrots and peas. Undeterred, Sophie blithely continues with her plans for the good life, not noticing that she is provoking trouble for herself and her children with the locals and also with her own servants, and it is not until a catastrophe occurs, that Sophie finally faces the fact that her idyllic country life is an illusion…

First published in 1953, Rumer Godden's 'Kingfishers Catch Fire' is a wonderfully evocative story and one in which Kashmir is vividly described. The characters are interesting creations and Sophie's daughter, eight-year-old Teresa, is very sensitively portrayed - and although Sophie, in her naivety, can be a little annoying at times (her lack of sympathy with her daughter, the way she foolishly overlooks the worth of her caretaker, Nabir, and fails to see faults of Sultan, her shifty and useless house servant) she does elicit sympathy from the reader and we want her to succeed in her endeavours, especially for the sake of her children. I understand that this book is possibly the most autobiographical of Rumer Godden's novels and as I have in one of my bookcases Anne Chisolm's biography of the author: 'Rumer Godden: A Storytellers's Life' I am now keen to read this and learn more about Ms Godden's interesting life.

4 Stars.


The Law and the Lady (Penguin Classics)
The Law and the Lady (Penguin Classics)
by Wilkie Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Law and the Lady, 11 Mar. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
First published in serial form in 1874-5, Wilkie Collins' 'The Law and the Lady' focuses on the young Valeria Brinton who marries the older Eustace Woodville, with whom she is very much in love. On their honeymoon, Valeria discovers that her husband is using an assumed name, and despite his reassurances that he loves her and his entreaties to her not to delve any further into the reasons for him changing his name, Valeria is determined to discover why her husband found it necessary to conceal his true identity from her. When, by clandestine means, she uncovers his secret and learns that Eustace was put on trial for poisoning his first wife, the verdict being 'Not Proven' under Scottish law, Valeria is shocked and confused - she cannot believe her husband capable of such a dreadful crime, yet why didn't the jury find him 'Not Guilty'? And why did Eustace not trust her enough to tell her of his past life before they married? (No spoilers - we know most of this before we begin reading). Determined to clear her husband's name, Valeria sets out to find out as much as she can about the trial and to re-examine the evidence against Eustace, but in doing so she not only alienates her husband, but she also steps beyond the bounds of conventional social behaviour.

Although this 'sensation' novel is not quite in the same class as the author's 'The Woman in White' and 'The Moonstone', and the story is a little drawn out and rather over-melodramatic at times, it certainly has its page-turning qualities and I was absorbed from start to finish. It is interesting the way Wilkie Collins, unlike other detective fiction writers of the time, has chosen a female character for his amateur sleuth, rather than assign the role of detective to one of the male characters in the story, and it is also interesting to see the unconventional Valeria Woodville using the force of her convictions to persuade others to assist her in her endeavours. Of course, this is still a Victorian novel written by a Victorian male author, and Valeria is not able to set about proving her husband's innocence (or otherwise) without the help and expert knowledge of the gentlemen around her - who, aware of her feminine sensibilities, seek to shield her from what she might discover, but the author is cognisant of some of the difficulties and obstacles faced by Victorian women and this is reflected in his story. So although, as I commented at the beginning of his paragraph, I didn't enjoy this quite as much as 'The Woman in White' or 'The Moonstone' it's certainly worth the read and I was entertained from beginning to end.

4 Stars.


The Law and the Lady
The Law and the Lady
Price: £0.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The Law and the Lady, 11 Mar. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
First published in serial form in 1874-5, Wilkie Collins' 'The Law and the Lady' focuses on the young Valeria Brinton who marries the older Eustace Woodville, with whom she is very much in love. On their honeymoon, Valeria discovers that her husband is using an assumed name, and despite his reassurances that he loves her and his entreaties to her not to delve any further into the reasons for him changing his name, Valeria is determined to discover why her husband found it necessary to conceal his true identity from her. When, by clandestine means, she uncovers his secret and learns that Eustace was put on trial for poisoning his first wife, the verdict being 'Not Proven' under Scottish law, Valeria is shocked and confused - she cannot believe her husband capable of such a dreadful crime, yet why didn't the jury find him 'Not Guilty'? And why did Eustace not trust her enough to tell her of his past life before they married? (No spoilers - we know most of this before we begin reading). Determined to clear her husband's name, Valeria sets out to find out as much as she can about the trial and to re-examine the evidence against Eustace, but in doing so she not only alienates her husband, but she also steps beyond the bounds of conventional social behaviour.

Although this 'sensation' novel is not quite in the same class as the author's 'The Woman in White' and 'The Moonstone', and the story is a little drawn out and rather over-melodramatic at times, it certainly has its page-turning qualities and I was absorbed from start to finish. It is interesting the way Wilkie Collins, unlike other detective fiction writers of the time, has chosen a female character for his amateur sleuth, rather than assign the role of detective to one of the male characters in the story, and it is also interesting to see the unconventional Valeria Woodville using the force of her convictions to persuade others to assist her in her endeavours. Of course, this is still a Victorian novel written by a Victorian male author, and Valeria is not able to set about proving her husband's innocence (or otherwise) without the help and expert knowledge of the gentlemen around her - who, aware of her feminine sensibilities, seek to shield her from what she might discover, but the author is cognisant of some of the difficulties and obstacles faced by Victorian women and this is reflected in his story. So although, as I commented at the beginning of his paragraph, I didn't enjoy this quite as much as 'The Woman in White' or 'The Moonstone' it's certainly worth the read and I was entertained from beginning to end.

4 Stars.


Roger Fry: Art and Life
Roger Fry: Art and Life
by Frances Spalding
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Art and Life, 9 Mar. 2017
Artist and art critic Roger Fry was born into a very comfortably-off Quaker family where "science and intellect ruled and where art received only passing attention"; in consequence, encouraged by his family, he decided to apply for a place at Cambridge to read natural sciences. In 1884, he went up to King's College to sit the examinations for an exhibition which was duly awarded to him. Once at Cambridge, however, his interests broadened and on meeting C.R. Ashbee (who was later to play a significant role in the Arts and Crafts Movement when in 1888 he founded the Guild of Handicraft) Fry's enjoyment of art was intensified and it was most probably through his association with Ashbee that Fry was elected to the Cambridge Fine Art Society. At the end of his time at Cambridge (during which time he was elected to the ranks of the 'Apostles'), Fry achieved a First and therefore had the chance of obtaining a fellowship and the possibility of a distinguished scientific career - however he decided to risk his father's displeasure in order to train instead as a painter. Travel to Italy and Paris followed and Fry began to produce paintings that were met with a somewhat mixed reception, however it was his work as an art critic, his organization of the first Post-Impressionist exhibition 'Manet and the Post-Impressionists' at the Grafton Galleries in 1910, and his association with the Bloomsbury Group, for which Roger Fry became well-known, rather than for his success as a painter.

In this interesting and detailed biography, art historian and critic Frances Spalding follows Roger Fry from his birth in 1866 through to the end of his life in 1934 and, through the pages of this book, we read of Fry's marriage and the sadness of his wife's increasingly debilitating mental deterioration; we learn of his appointment as Curator of Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; we read of his meeting Clive and Vanessa Bell and other members of the Bloomsbury Group; of his love affair with Vanessa Bell and of his heartbreak when she transferred her affections to the painter Duncan Grant; we learn of Fry's aim to raise public awareness of modern art, his coining of the term post-impressionism and of how he brought the work of painters such as: Manet, Matisse, Gauguin, Cezanne and Van Gogh to the notice of the British public; we also read of his founding the Omega Workshops (a venture which brought the ideas of post-impressionism and the abstract forms and bold colours of modern art into the designs for furniture and textiles); of his involvement with 'The Burlington Magazine' (the first scholarly periodical devoted to art history in Britain); of his appointment as Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, and of his work as a writer and lecturer, and more. In addition to providing the reader with an illuminating account of Roger Fry's life, Frances Spalding also shares her knowledge of art history with the reader by providing us with a scholarly yet accessible critique of his work. She finishes by summarising the significance of Roger Fry's career by commenting: "…more than any other of his generation he furthered a widespread appreciation of art, believing that a life touched by the experience of art is immeasurably enriched." How true.

5 Stars.

Also highly recommended by Frances Spalding: Vanessa Bell: Portrait of the Bloomsbury Artist and Duncan Grant: A Biography.


Roger Fry, Art and Life by Frances Spalding (1980-10-01)
Roger Fry, Art and Life by Frances Spalding (1980-10-01)
by Frances Spalding
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Art and Life, 9 Mar. 2017
Artist and art critic Roger Fry was born into a very comfortably-off Quaker family where "science and intellect ruled and where art received only passing attention"; in consequence, encouraged by his family, he decided to apply for a place at Cambridge to read natural sciences. In 1884, he went up to King's College to sit the examinations for an exhibition which was duly awarded to him. Once at Cambridge, however, his interests broadened and on meeting C.R. Ashbee (who was later to play a significant role in the Arts and Crafts Movement when in 1888 he founded the Guild of Handicraft) Fry's enjoyment of art was intensified and it was most probably through his association with Ashbee that Fry was elected to the Cambridge Fine Art Society. At the end of his time at Cambridge (during which time he was elected to the ranks of the 'Apostles'), Fry achieved a First and therefore had the chance of obtaining a fellowship and the possibility of a distinguished scientific career - however he decided to risk his father's displeasure in order to train instead as a painter. Travel to Italy and Paris followed and Fry began to produce paintings that were met with a somewhat mixed reception, however it was his work as an art critic, his organization of the first Post-Impressionist exhibition 'Manet and the Post-Impressionists' at the Grafton Galleries in 1910, and his association with the Bloomsbury Group, for which Roger Fry became well-known, rather than for his success as a painter.

In this interesting and detailed biography, art historian and critic Frances Spalding follows Roger Fry from his birth in 1866 through to the end of his life in 1934 and, through the pages of this book, we read of Fry's marriage and the sadness of his wife's increasingly debilitating mental deterioration; we learn of his appointment as Curator of Paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; we read of his meeting Clive and Vanessa Bell and other members of the Bloomsbury Group; of his love affair with Vanessa Bell and of his heartbreak when she transferred her affections to the painter Duncan Grant; we learn of Fry's aim to raise public awareness of modern art, his coining of the term post-impressionism and of how he brought the work of painters such as: Manet, Matisse, Gauguin, Cezanne and Van Gogh to the notice of the British public; we also read of his founding the Omega Workshops (a venture which brought the ideas of post-impressionism and the abstract forms and bold colours of modern art into the designs for furniture and textiles); of his involvement with 'The Burlington Magazine' (the first scholarly periodical devoted to art history in Britain); of his appointment as Slade Professor of Fine Art at Cambridge, and of his work as a writer and lecturer, and more. In addition to providing the reader with an illuminating account of Roger Fry's life, Frances Spalding also shares her knowledge of art history with the reader by providing us with a scholarly yet accessible critique of his work. She finishes by summarising the significance of Roger Fry's career by commenting: "…more than any other of his generation he furthered a widespread appreciation of art, believing that a life touched by the experience of art is immeasurably enriched." How true.

5 Stars.

Also highly recommended by Frances Spalding: Vanessa Bell: Portrait of the Bloomsbury Artist and Duncan Grant: A Biography.


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