Sunday, May 27, 2018

A View of the Empire at Sunset: A Novelization of the Life of Jean Rhys

I read The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys some years ago and found the novel an unforgettable prequel to Jane Eyre from the viewpoint of Rochester's 'mad' wife.

Rhys vividly described the Caribbean childhood of Antoinette Cosway Rochester, a beautiful Creole whose family entraps Mr. Rochester into marriage. Rhys interprets Antoinette as the victim of a man repulsed by the sensuality of the Caribbean culture and horrified by female sexuality.

When I saw that Caryl Phillips' novel A View of the Empire at Sunset was based on the life of Gwendolyn Rees Williams, who wrote as Jean Rhys, I was eager to read it. I expected passion and glamour and agony.

Gwen was the child of a British man and a Creole woman, unhappily paired. Dominica is beautifully described, the "raucous cacophony of cicadas and frogs," the bats around the mango trees, the mosquitos and the "sickly sweet aroma of the night lilies.'

At sixteen, Gwen was forced from her beloved homeland to be educated in England under her aunt's care. She never really adjusts. She leaves school for the theater and music halls, is taken as a mistress then discarded, becomes a prostitute, has an abortion, is married several times. She drinks too much. Her older brother suffers from "delusions and bouts of agitated mania."

The novel opens in 1936 when Gwen and her husband return to her homeland. They are unhappy, but Gwen thinks that if he could see her roots perhaps he would understand she is not of his world. When he sees the view of the empire at sunset, there would be understanding that she could never really be English. Gwen learns that she can't go home again.

Gwen's literary life is outside of the novel, concentrating on her personal life. The "Empire at sunset," the Edwardian Age and colonization in Dominica, is vital to the story.

The novel offered me an understanding of Gwen's darkness and disorientation, her lack of options, the sad feeling of being the temporary object of men's desire. And I saw how young Gwen was devalued in her homeland, not British enough to be respectable, too hoyden and uncivilized, too close to the Negro servants.
And unforgettable was the ending, Gwen and her husband at the burned ruins of her family home, unable to grasp why the Negros would have destroyed such a beautiful place, the sins of colonization beyond their understanding. But I was disappointed in the emotional distance I felt, especially when I expected some of the pathos and passion of Rhys's writing.

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

A View of the Empire at Sunset: A Novel
by Caryl Phillips
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub Date 22 May 2018
ISBN 9780374283612
PRICE $27.00 (USD)

Friday, May 25, 2018

The House of Rougeaux by Jenny Jaeckel

The House of Rougeaux by Jenny Jaeckel is the story of a family from it's enslaved African ancestor to mid-century America, touching on the African-American experience over time, including slavery, cannon fodder in wartime, the victim of hate crimes, but also traces the inherent skills, intelligence, and resilience that crosses generations.

The story skips through time and place (Martinique, Montreal, New York City) in a non-linear presentation, with some generational stories more compelling than others, but overall an interesting read and a thoughtful look at oppression racism throughout North American history.

I received an Advanced Reader's Copy as a LibraryThing win from Raincloud Press.

Hardcover $26.95
ISBN 978-1-941203-24-8

from the publisher:
Following echoes between generations which defy normal time and space, a multilayered narrative celebrates the ROUGEAUX family triumphs while exposing the injustices of their trials. It begins with Iya, born in Africa in the 1700s, and brought to the Caribbean island of Martinique as a slave, and her two children, Adunbi and Abeje, who grow up on a sugar estate. The siblings endure because of the kindness of fellow bondsmen and their uncommon abilities. A grandchild becomes emancipated in Quebec City, great-grandchildren find their way in Montreal, a great-great-grandchild runs off to Philadelphia, and another risks everything in New York City. As each new member of the family takes the spotlight, a fresh piece of the puzzle is illuminated until at last, a homecoming uplifts them all.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Celebrate Yuletide with Embroidery from Kathy Schmitz

Last fall I fell in love with Kathy Schmitz's Stitches from the Harvest. Now it is time to start your projects for Christmas! And Kathy has come up with adorable embroidery patterns to celebrate the Yuletide.

Stitches for the Yuletide includes fifteen projects with winter themes including snowman and deer and holly and pine bows. There are patterns for a sachet, a tea cozy, gift tags, embroidered tea towels, ornaments, wall art, hangings, a notions holder and a needle book, pillows, and table runner. 

 You can adorn your home or create gifts to give.

Kathy's sketches and watercolor paintings, photos of the projects and decor ideas adorn the pages of instructions.
My favorite is this wonderful stocking. The embroidery stitch is not hard, but the end product is spectacular.
Kathy includes stitch diagrams, instructions on cord making, and a conversion chart for the floss she used in the projects and the easily available DMC floss and sources for supplies.

She uses kitchen towels from Miller's Dry Goods in Millersburg, OH ( After reading Stitches from the Harvest I placed an order and bought a pile of towels. They are just wonderful.

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Stitches from the Yuletide
by Kathy Schmitz
On Sale Date: May 15, 2018
ISBN 9781604688955, 1604688955
Paperback |  80 pages
$25.99 USD, £22.99 GBP
e-book also available

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop: Men's Justice and God's Mercy

"Surely, he thinks, in a world where such a thing as this exists, surely there can be no God." Father Hannigan in The Mercy Seat
The Mercy Seat by Elizabeth H. Winthrop is a brilliant and heart-wrenching novel. Historical Fiction set in the Jim Crow South, the book addresses relevant issues of complicity in injustice and the pressures that maintain the status quo.

The story is told through the viewpoints of fathers and sons, husbands and wives, black and white, lawman and criminal, revealing who is truly innocent and who is guilty.

On a brutally hot day, a young black man awaits midnight. He has an appointment with the electric chair.

Will was found guilty of the rape and murder of a young white woman. Will's memories flash back on a loving moment they shared and the fear that made him run away when discovered.

Will's father Frank knows his worn out mule is not up to the task, but he is determined to deliver his only son's tombstone to the cemetery.

Ora and Dale have a son in Guadalcanal. They haven't heard from him for weeks. Dale has hidden the telegram. A Northerner, Ora has never adjusted to the Jim Crow South. Behind Dale's back, she secrets candy to the young boys working in the field behind their store.

Lane is a prison trusty who is helping to deliver the electric chair. He is halfway through his sentence, having killed a man during a robbery. Sometimes, he says, working ain't enough. Especially when an accident left his father crippled. The captain in charge drinks his way along the road trip.

Father Hannigan is filled with doubt, finding New Iberia more foreign than his Madagascar mission. His job is to console the grieving but he has no words of hope.

The lawyer Polly dreads the coming of midnight, for he must witness the execution. Since boyhood, he has been haunted by the postcard of a lynching his father had given him. His wife Nell does not understand how Polly gave Will the death sentence. He keeps secret the threats he received. Their boy Gabe decides to witness the execution, hitching a ride with the family of the murdered girl.

"...he wonders if it really matters in the end what kind of justice it is--mob or legal--when the end result is death."
During the course of the day, these people question their complicity in evil, make connections, and make enemies. Some find mercy, others are dealt justice; some get away with murder.

This book has haunted me. I want to talk about it and dissect it. I think it would make a great book club pick.

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

The Mercy Seat
by Elizabeth H. Winthrop
Grove Atlantic
Pub Date 18 May 2018
ISBN: 9780802128188

The Mercy Seat begins with a quote from the song The Mercy Seat by Nick Cave, "And the mercy seat is waiting...And I'm not afraid to die." But what is the mercy seat?

The ancient Israelites' religious writings, the Torah, which Christians know as the first five books of the Old Testament, had a sacred cover, the kapporet, which Martin Luther translated as "seat of mercy." This cover protected men from the judgment of God. Sacrificial blood was sprinkled on the kapporet as an atonement for men's sins, and God would extend mercy while still being holy and just. 

The title then refers to the themes of sin and guilt and substitute sacrifice/scapegoat. 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Northanger Abbey

This month my library book club read Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I believe I last read it at university in my year-long course on Austen--in 1978! It is Jane's funniest novel.
Northanger Abbey was written with the title Susan in 1798 and was sold to a publisher in 1803 for 10 pounds. The publisher put it aside...paper had become too expensive...and Jane tried in vain to get the manuscript returned. She wanted to update it. It was not published until 1817, after Jane's death, when Cassandra changed the title to Northanger Abbey.

Jane knew the novel had become dated and wanted to rewrite it. So when it was finally published, it had become a story set in the past instead of a contemporary novel.
I laughed my way through the story. I was glad to hear another reader also laughed. I love Jane's wit and satire of social manners and parody of the popular Gothic novels.
1807 illustration of a gentleman inviting a lady to dance

Several readers felt the first volume was slow, and they hated Isabella's fawning over Catherine. But in the second volume, the readers found their interest piqued and sped through to the end.

"No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine. Her situation in life, the character of her father and mother, her own person and disposition, were all equally against her."--Northanger Abbey 
Jane parodies the typical novels of her time by presenting Catherine Morland, a seventeen-year-old with nothing 'romantic' about her. She was a tomboy until fifteen and now is 'almost pretty.' She had never had a crush on a boy since she only met those she grew up with. Her father is a clergyman and her mother has birthed ten children. Jane throws Catherine into the exciting social mecca of Bath, hosted by a childless well-off couple, the Allens.

Catherine is truly an innocent abroad. She has never encountered prevarication, flattery, wits, rattles, and gold-diggers. She has no idea of what is socially acceptable for a young lady and the Allens fail to give her advice.

The first people Catherine and the Allens met are the Thorpe family. Isabella Thorpe grabs hold of Catherine, declaring her warmest friendship. Her brother  John, a school friend of Catherine's brother James, endeavors to impress her with his equipage. He curses (d---d) and twice uses the anti-Semite remark "rich as a Jew." He brags and lies and has nothing redeeming about him. Catherine soon gets his number and wearies of him.

“Lord help you! You women are always thinking of men's being in liquor. Why, you do not suppose a man is overset by a bottle? I am sure of this—that if everybody was to drink their bottle a day, there would not be half the disorders in the world there are now. It would be a famous good thing for us all."  (John Thorpe)
“I cannot believe it." (Catherine Morland)
“Oh! Lord, it would be the saving of thousands. There is not the hundredth part of the wine consumed in this kingdom that there ought to be. Our foggy climate wants help." (John)
“And yet I have heard that there is a great deal of wine drunk in Oxford.” (Catherine)
“Oxford! There is no drinking at Oxford now, I assure you. Nobody drinks there. You would hardly meet with a man who goes beyond his four pints at the utmost. Now, for instance, it was reckoned a remarkable thing, at the last party in my rooms, that upon an average we cleared about five pints a head. It was looked upon as something out of the common way. Mine is famous good stuff, to be sure. You would not often meet with anything like it in Oxford—and that may account for it. But this will just give you a notion of the general rate of drinking there.” (John)
“Yes, it does give a notion,” said Catherine warmly, “and that is, that you all drink a great deal more wine than I thought you did.”
Isabella and Catherine are fans of the 'horrid' Gothic novels, especially Maria Radcliff's Mysteries of Udolpho. John, on the other hand, is quite illiterate.
"Have you ever read Udolpho, Mr. Thorpe?” 
“Udolpho! Oh, Lord! Not I; I never read novels; I have something else to do...Novels are all so full of nonsense and stuff; there has not been a tolerably decent one come out since Tom Jones, except The Monk; I read that t'other day; but as for all the others, they are the stupidest things in creation.”
“I think you must like Udolpho, if you were to read it; it is so very interesting.”
“Not I, faith! No, if I read any, it shall be Mrs. Radcliffe's; her novels are amusing enough; they are worth reading; some fun and nature in them.”
“Udolpho was written by Mrs. Radcliffe,” said Catherine, with some hesitation, from the fear of mortifying him.

When James shows up, it becomes clear that Isabella is trying to engage James's affection while her brother is after Catherine. The Thorpes believe the Morlands are well off and will be the Allen's heirs.

Catherine meets a young man destined to be her romantic hero, in the form of Henry Tilney, a clergyman seven years her senior. He is hardly a 'romantic' hero, not quite handsome, a tease who likes to show his superiority of experience at Catherine's expense. He is a reader who esteems the novel.

Henry teases Catherine and teaches Catherine, who does not mind. Her naivety and transparent preference for him engages Henry's attention and he begins to consider her as a likely wife. Miss Tilney befriends Catherine, a sensible friend for her.

Isabella and John do everything they can to keep Catherine and Henry apart. Catherine is 'kidnapped' by the Thorpes for a carriage ride when she was to meet Henry and his sister for a walk. She entreats John to stop, to no avail.
Illustration by C.E. Brock. John 'kidnapping' Catherine

Catherine makes her apologies by going to the Tilney's residence and rushing in, unannounced. It a childish and impetuous act. It also shows her native goodness and honesty and complete lack of pretentiousness.

Catherine is invited to spend several weeks with Henry and Miss Tilney at their family home, Northanger Abbey.

"She was to be their chosen visitor, she was to be for weeks under the same roof with the person whose society she mostly prized—and, in addition to all the rest, this roof was to be the roof of an abbey! Her passion for ancient edifices was next in degree to her passion for Henry Tilney—and castles and abbeys made usually the charm of those reveries which his image did not fill. To see and explore either the ramparts and keep of the one, or the cloisters of the other, had been for many weeks a darling wish, though to be more than the visitor of an hour had seemed too nearly impossible for desire." 

On the journey to the Abbey, Henry fills Catherine's head with 'horrid' visions of the Abbey. Catherine is disappointed to find a modernized home instead of the Medieval ruins she had envisioned. Still, her she works herself into imaging horrid fantasies involving General Tilney and unawares reenacts a scene from Radcliffe's novel and is chastised by Henry for allowing her imagination to run wild.

"Dear Miss Morland, consider the dreadful nature of the suspicions you have entertained. What have you been judging from? Remember the country and the age in which we live. Remember that we are English, that we are Christians. Consult your own understanding, your own sense of the probable, your own observation of what is passing around you."
Illustration by Hugh Thompson; Catherine runs into Henry while investigating the abbey

The real horror is to come.

Mislead by John Thorpe into believing Catherine was a great heiress, General Tilney welcomes her into his home as a prospective daughter-in-law. Meanwhile, Isabella has managed to get engaged to James but discovers he has only a modest income. When the eldest Tilney son and heir flirts with Isabella she sets her cap to secure his affections. Her brother John informs General Tilney that the Morlands were not heirs to great wealth, and the General turns Catherine out. She is sent seventy miles to her home unaccompanied in a public carriage, a brutal and unfeeling slight. She could fall victim to any kind of evil--men abusing her, stealing from her, kidnapping her--

When Catherine arrives home unexpectedly, Mrs. Morland is nonplussed. She comments that Catherine was always such a scatterbrain, perhaps it did her good to have to take care of herself. Like the Allens, the Morlands are not very good parents.

Being an Austen novel, a wish-fulfillment ending brings Catherine her heart's desire.

During the time when Jane had sold her manuscript and was awaiting its publication, she lived in Bath where most of the action takes place. She was formed a deep friendship with her brother's governess, Anne Sharp, who was also an aspiring playwright. Read about their relationship in A Secret Sisterhood by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney. To learn more about Jane's home in Bath read Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. See illustrations from Northanger Abbey editions at Molland's Circulating Library. Read about how Austen has been interpreted in illustrations, stage, and screen in The Making of Jane Austen by Devoney Looser.


My son gave me Polite Society: The Jane Austen Board Game for Mother's Day!
Polite Society Board Game against my quilt
Regency Redwork, inspired by Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Teach Me to Machine Quilt from Pat Sloan

I knew the day would come.

In 1991 I learned the quilt stitch and for years enjoyed spending a few hours every evening hand quilting. Now twenty-six years later, instead of quilting a bed-sized quilt in two or four months it took me two winters. TWO WINTERS. In the meantime, I finished six or more quilt tops.

I hauled a pile of quilt tops to a machine quilter in January. It is now May and I have not got one back. And when I do, I know I had better have a wheelbarrow to carry what I am going to owe her.

The day has learn how to machine quilt my quilt projects.

Luckily, the marvelous Pat Sloan has prepared a book for people like me, a step-by-step, illustrated, simplified, marvelous resource! She covers all the bases, including how to quilt with a walking foot and free motion quilting.
And if we still have reservations about tackling machine quilting, Pat includes multiple patterns for quilt projects and then walks us through machine quilting them.

Thank you, Pat! You have thought of everything.

Pat offers the above simple Strippy Table Runner, 16 1/2" x 36 1/2" to learn walking foot quilting. The instructions include hints like how to prevent bowing when joining long strips and using Jelly Rolls.

This adorable Mini Charm Star, 28 1/2" x 28 1/2",  is another walking foot project. Just think of the scraps you could use...the color variations...

I like applique', and am glad that Pat offers applique' projects, too. I know a lot of people who would love My Little Kitty, 12 1/2" x 15 1/2", which uses fusible applique, blanket stitching, and walking foot quilting. SO easy!
Another simple fusible applique project is Winter Bliss, 24 1/2" x 28 1/2", a sweet snowman hanging out with his friend. Pat guides readers in making the bias stems and the free motion quilting.
Larger projects include Cherry Pie, 65 1/2" x 81 1/2", which uses a combination of machine walking foot and free motion quilting. Michigan is known for its cherries and I am imagining a quilt with cherry print fabrics...yum!
Mexican Rose, 56 1/2" x 56 1/2", was inspired by a vintage quilt. I love floral applique quilts! The wide border is a chance to highlight an amazing fabric you can't bear to cut.
Blue Lagoon is a Rail Fence variation, 64 1/2" x 72 1/2". Pat quilted with free motion swirls to counterpoint the straight lines.

See more of the projects at That Patchwork Place here.

I am eager to try my hand at machine quilting again. I have done some projects but without Pat's knowledge under my belt, and I think I will be more pleased with the results after reading Teach Me To Machine Quilt!

I received a free ebook from the publisher through Edelweiss.

from the publisher's website:
Pat Sloan teaches everything a first-time quilter needs to know to machine quilt successfully, going step-by-step through walking foot and free-motion quilting techniques. 
Popular teacher, designer, and online radio host Pat Sloan teaches all you need to know to machine quilt successfully. In this third book of her beginner-friendly "Teach Me" series, Pat guides you step by step through walking-foot and free-motion quilting techniques. First-time quilters will be confidently quilting in no time, and experienced stitchers will discover the joy of finishing their quilts themselves. 
No-fear learning for quilting novices--Pat covers all the information you need to quilt from start to finish. 
Pat guides you through simple and fun practice projects, including a strip-pieced table runner and an easy applique design. 
Collect the entire skill-building library of Pat Sloan's popular "Teach Me" series of books.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

That Time When The White House Was Condemned, Gutted, and Sold as Souviniers

The Hidden White House: Harry Truman and the Reconstruction of America’s Most Famous Residence by Robert Klara was is about the 1949-53 rebuilding of the president's mansion, revealing its secrets while offering an interesting view of President Truman's character.

It was fascinating to learn that the building was literally falling apart because earlier restorations had left original beams that had been burned in the 1812 fire! Over the years, modernization to add heating, gas, electric, and plumbing cut into beams and retaining walls. The original footing was never meant to hold the expanding house. The house, after all, was built in a swamp.

President Truman and his family moved into a haunted house, footsteps and noises heard at night. Actually, it was the wood expanding and contracting with temperature changes. And when the president moved his huge desk and books into his study, a few visitors more stressed the floor beams. Truman and his daughter Margaret had their pianos sitting side by side for family musicals. It was all too much for the old house to handle.

It was time to check things out, a fifty-year check up as it were since it was last remodeled under President Teddy Roosevelt.

The structure was found to be so bad that the building had to be gutted to the sandstone outer walls! And even they were falling apart in places.

Meantime, the economy was adjusting from WWII and the Korean conflict was beginning. Getting money out of Congress was a battle, and so was every decision down to the wallpaper. The original wood trim, windows, fireplaces, and wood panels were sent into storage but proved too costly to restore; it was cheaper to make new. Sovineer relics were sold to raise money. And tons of the house were repurposed at other federal buildings--and sent to the dump.

President Truman and his family were relegated to Blair House, which proved insecure when an assassination attempt caused the death of several guards. He drove the security people mad by insisting on walking to work every day.

The president pushed to get the work done quickly, hoping to live a year in the new house. But haste made waste--and mistakes. Three years and $5.8 million later, the house was finished. The sewing room lacked electric outlets. Only four rooms were refitted with their original interiors. Everyone was finding fault.
Eleanor Roosevelt pronounced that the house looked like a Sheridan hotel! The mass-produced furniture was all that could be afforded. No wonder Jackie Kennedy pressed to restore the decor to original pieces.

There is nothing worse than a job coming with a house. You never know what you are going to get. As a clergy wife, for me it was parsonages that flooded, had cockroaches and mice, rattling drafty windows, iced over closets in winter, water that turned whites orange, and an antique pink refrigerator.

For the Trumans, there were rats, worn out carpets and furniture and drapes, and a house in danger of collapse. Plus three years in temporary housing that was inadequate in every way. I had it better.

I enjoyed learning about the people involved and the history and process of the rebuilding. It was an enjoyable read.

I received an ebook as a gift.