Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Victim or Opportunist? Beryl Markham's Remarkable Life

Biographical fiction is an interesting genre consisting of one person's imagined probing into the lives of real people. The incidents and dialogue, the reflections of the characters, their emotional life revealed in the work, are not to be considered "truth" but interpretation.

I have been reading many of the NetGalley biographical fiction books about writers and historical figures. There have been so many of them available! The genre has grown wildly over the last decade.

Circling the Sun by Paula McClain will be a best seller. Her previous novel The Paris Wife was well received. The novel is written in the first person voice of Beryl Markham, who was raised in Africa and was the first female horse trainer and the first aviatrix to cross the Atlantic. She was friends with Karen Blixen (Isak Dineson) and her lover Denys Hatten Finch--who was also involved with Beryl.

I enjoyed reading about Beryl's childhood in Africa. Her family left Britain for Kenya where her father farmed and trained horses. The family split when Beryl was four years old. Her mother and brother returning to England, leaving Beryl with her father. She grew up in exquisite freedom, hanging with the natives, unschooled, unkempt. Beryl's first language was Swahili. She learned to hunt with the local native boys. She dealt with a lion attack.

As Beryl came into her middle teens British expat social pressure prevailed; she "came out" and met their neighbor, an alcoholic war veteran who decided to marry her. And at age 17 she married Jock Purvis. It didn't work out. McClain's Purvis is overly sensitive and has little patience to teach Beryl how to be a wife.

She is 18 when she leaves Purvis. Determined to be self supporting she trains to become the first women horse trainer. She becomes involved in a 'friends with benefits relationship', and then falls in love with Denys who is with the married Blixen. She and Denys snatch moments together.

Beryl finds herself pregnant and goes to England to seek help. A friend finds her a "protector" who will pay for an abortion with the expectation that Beryl will be his mistress. Still married to Purvis and in love with Denys, totally without means of self support, she acquiesces. Sadly her new duties include wife swapping.

Her later marriage to Mansfield Markham was also a failure. He kept their child and sent Beryl packing.

McClain's portrayal of Beryl as victim was interesting. Her inability to form lasting relationships could be interpreted as a natural outcome of her mother's abandonment and her father's willingness to marry her off ASAP.

Here we are half way through the story and you see where things are going. Beryl can't make a good decision, she has little power over her own life, and men rule the world. This is not the Beryl I expected to read about: The convention-defying, pioneering spirit with a masculine independence who didn't believe in boundaries. Reading about Beryl online she appears more self-determined. She is quoted as saying she had causal sex with numerous men because there was nothing much else to do out in the bush. And yet she is supposed to have rejected the advances of Ernest Hemingway when they were out in the bush!

I wanted to read Beryl's book instead of McClain's. Not that McClain's book is "bad", but because I wanted to know how Beryl saw herself.

McClain's book starts and ends with Beryl flying across the Atlantic. This 1936 event, the most important achievement of Beryl's life, frames the story which is really an extended flash back over her life. That is just too bad. I would have liked to read the flight story in its entirety: Beryl remaining awake for 21 hours in a time before auto-pilot; the long cold hours flying blind; the crash landing in Nova Scotia; painfully recalling Denys's death in a plane crash. What was Beryl imagining as she plunged earthwards? What was her joy and satisfaction of surviving and finding fame? Days after her success, her flight trainer Tom Campbell Black died in a plane crash. After that she lost interest in flying.

McClain shows Beryl liked to read, including poetry. Some biographers contend that Beryl did not like to read and had no patience to write, suggesting that her memoir was actually penned by journalist husband No. 3, Raoul Schumacher. In 1942 West with the Night was published  and sold well. Then it was forgotten. When it was reprinted in 1983 it brought recognition--and much needed income--to the aging and impoverished Beryl.

Circling the Sun is an enjoyable read. Today's women will like this softened version of Beryl.

To learn more about Beryl Markham:
http://scandalouswoman.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-many-lives-of-beryl-markham.html
http://www.adventure-journal.com/2013/04/historical-badass-aviator-beryl-markham/
http://clutterbuck.blogspot.com/2005/02/beryl-clutterbuck.html

I thank the publisher for a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Circling the Sun
Paula McClain
Random House-Ballantine
$28 hard cover
Publication Date: July 28, 2015
ISBN: 9780345534187

+++++

An interesting article on the genre by Slate Magazine states,"...a flood of what amounts to biographical fan fiction has swept conventional literary biography out of the way." Talking about Vanessa and Her Sister, which I reviewed last year, the article suggests that the difference between biography and novels is that the novelist can "sift and sort through evidence to make a character out of the remains of a person. But only novelists get to throw out everything that doesn't fit."

Monday, July 27, 2015

My Michigan Row By Row Progress

I have been working on the Row By Row kits I purchased while up Up North.

The rows below have an Up North theme. On top, from Elm Creek Ltd. in Farwell, is a sunset river scene with animals. The batik fabrics are beautiful. Below from Suzie's Stitching in Houghton Lake is a mama bear fishing and Bear's Paw blocks. The little shop offered reasonably priced fabrics and unique patterns I had not seen before.

In the photo below, the upper row is from Montague's Quilted Memories. The cities of Montague and Whitehall are on White Lake which feeds into Lake Michigan. White Lake is a natural marina and many sail boats are docked at there. I hand appliqu├ęd the silhouettes. It comes with an embroidery pattern reading "from sea to shining sea'. Below it is a colorful Detroit waterfront scene from Front Porch Quilts in Troy. The kit comes with fusible pieces all cut out! Super easy and spectacular.

Four rows completed, and one in process and scheduled to be completed today. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

A New Rug: Before and After

Now that we have cork flooring in the family room we needed a rug to make it look homey. I have searched online and looked at rugs in stores but never saw what I wanted.

Today we went to Plymouth, MI to buy a vintage coffee table at a warehouse sale. We wanted it for our flatscreen ROKU television which was a Christmas from our son. Our last century Sauder tv stand was too high, and well, dated and ugly and beat up. I figured a vintage piece would be real wood and cost less money than a fake wood new one.

We liked the table and took it home. We moved out the old tv stand and set up the tv on the new table.

The room still looked barren and empty. I suggested we go to Leon & Lulu's here in town. We looked at their floor displays of living rooms then made our way to their rug corner. Flipping through the rugs we both gasped: there was the perfect rug! It had the colors of the kitchen and the family room, was NOT a floral or a geometric that will later shout "2015" and was all wool. 
It is a tweed with blues, greens, and navy colors. It also comes in a luscious green, light blue, and red tweed from Company. It is hand made in India.

 They bundled it up for us to bring home and try out.
It was PERFECT!

We spent the rest of the afternoon rearranging the room and now it looks homey and pretty.

The view into the kitchen with the coffee table tv stand. The room is on a cement slab and the cable cord was stapled to the baseboard. With all new baseboards I wanted to put the tv near where the cord comes into the room.
I am not finished but the major pieces are in place. We think.

This is what the room looked like several years ago after I inherited the house:
The ancient blue rug, the off white walls, the vertical blinds...and the cast iron chandelier my grandfather Milo made many years ago!
 Grandparent's sofa before reupholsering!

We have to finish all this redecorating and rearranging and clearing out...some year. I am badly behind with my quilting projects, and am even struggling to keep up with NetGalley books!

But our forever home is coming along very nicely!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Kitchen Remodel Update: Putting Things Back

This past week we have been unpacking and arranging things in the kitchen. That also means giving the new dishwasher a work out. And the whole house needed cleaning due to deconstruction and construction dirt and dust migrating everywhere.

Our contractor Jen Czach this week installed the Quartz top on our half wall and finished other little jobs. Next week the glass front cabinet doors and built in organizers will be installed.

We put our tea pot on the cute little shelves.

We picked up this vintage set of canisters at a local antique shop. Spun aluminum is a motif! We have the spun aluminum pendant lights, too.
We have had this stainless steel bread box for many years.
I am trying different things on the shelves that will have the glass doors.


When the project is completed Jen is bringing in a photographer to take photographs! I will have to 'stage' the kitchen!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My Newest Handkerchief Finds

I have added to my collection these past weeks. First a friend notified me of a local garage sale with 4 for a $1 hankys! I bought eight. Then I bought two from an antique mall while vacationing 'up north'. Last of all I brought home three shared by one of the gals in my quilting group.

 The brown floral is a heavy cotton fabric.
 The checked above is linen. The concentric squares below is 8" and cotton.

This "F" initial handkerchief was hand appliqued and hand rolled. She used white thread for the hand rolled edge. The fabric is linen in a dark navy. The white is the background showing under the camera light.
This cotton pink floral one has a hand tatted edge. I find quite a few printed hankys that ladies embellished with tatting. Most common are white cotton or linen with fancy, deep crocheted edges.

This sweet cotton hanky has a hand appliqued, scalloped border.

 A cool graphic linen hanky is likely from the 1960s.
 I bought four sheer nylon hankys. I have below the three printed ones; the dotted Swiss didn't photograph well.

 And this one below is hand painted silk.
 This 1986 hanky came with a paper lady holder.
The summer is still young! Who knows what yard sales, flea markets, and thrift shops await!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Ladies in Hats Go Places: A Guide with Illustrations of What to Do... and What Not to Do

 Late for a show one day in New York, I hurried into a cab, exclaiming, "Could you please take me to the Plaza Hotel as quickly as possible?"
"Lady, with that hat, I'd take you anywhere!" the cabbie grinned. 
In her 1968 book I Haven't a Thing to Wear Judith Keith writes ecstatically about hats making the difference between drab and stunning.
A hat lends an indefinable magnetism that draws people. The lady looks elegant, distinctive, individual, important, regal, chic, well-groomed and very very special.
I love hats! I have always loved hats! In high school I had floppy brimmed hats and straw hats. I had pill box hats to wear to church in junior high. I have a big straw hat and a little brimmed straw hat today for sunny days and a knitted cloche for winter.

I look absolutely horrible in them; always did. Any kind. I have a round face and straight hair and glasses. I don't worry about my hair, or how the hat fits. I don't worry about standing out. All the excuses Keith attacks don't apply to me. I just look lousy in a hat.
Dad and I (in a hat) Easter 1958. 
Perhaps I just never learned the RULES.

So here is Keith's advice on HOW TO CHOOSE A HAT.

Prepare Thyself

  • Have your hair set the way it will be when you are wearing the hat. 
  • Make sure the design is scaled for your frame, balancing your overall proportions as well as complimenting your face.
  • Chose colors that are kind and set a mood.
  • DO NOT BUY A HAT until you check it out in a three way mirror.
Meet the Hats
  • Small brims and tall-crowned hats look best on little women, lengthening their silhouette.
  • Berets and flat crowns add elan to long hair. They shorten a long face, but don't look well on short hair or pulled back dos.
  • Soft brims and profile hats look best on women who wear glasses.
  • Turbans are for those with perfect features. Stuff it to keep it high and full. (A good place to stash an extra pair of nylons in case you get a snag). A widow's peak looks exceptionally good in a turban.
  • Pill boxes and up turned brims are for lovely hairlines and happy faces.
  • Round, bubble types and bowlers are best for long and slender faces.
  • Chin straps and helmet type hats are for youthful faces and figures.
  • Flowered hats seldom look elegant. 
  • Big floppy straw hats look beautiful on most women.
  • Black hats are best in fur, velvet, and shiny straws. It drains color from the face and is harder to look young wearing one.
  • White felt is a basic hat that can be worn year round.
  • Rain hats in vinyl or leather can be spiffed up with a tie or link chain.
  • Hats sometimes look better worn backwards.

things you can do with a simple sailor type hat

Slip cover a hat with a scarf for a new look.

Women on the run can use a scarf in glamorous ways; don't wear it babushka style.
I guess I never learned about not wearing a babushka.
Me around age six
Me at age 20; I wore the babushka backwards.
When I was a girl we wore hats for church. 
My family at Easter in early 1960s. Grandma in a fur pill box hat.
 I have a floral headband. Mom in a pill box with flowers. And little brother a cute boy's hat. Dad didn't wear hats. Ever.

Mom and Dad's wedding in late 1940s; Mom and Aunt Nancy in fancy hats.
Now when I was a girl we all wanted to be cowboys. Even the girls wanted to be cowboys.
Me about age six at Frontier Land in New York State
My role model, cousin Linda, sporting her cowboy hat. I am in the babushka.
 Here I am around age 14 wearing a knitted hat and trying a hat out on a friend.

Somehow the Northern girl pulled it off but not me.
And yet, after reading this advice perhaps I will still find the elusive hat meant just...for...me...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Kitchen Remodel : Nearly Over!

Just a few things lef to do...glass doors and half wall top, organization pieces.

 We used  blue paint in our hallway last year. It went perfect with our kitchen!
 A few of the roses we cut before the Japanese Beetles ate them.
These lights are so perfect but the arm had to be modified to fit the pendants.
It's hard work fitting things into a new space. But hard work that is exciting.
Some missing doors and top of half wall...but nearly finished!