Early September reads

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson – a tremendous novel that sticks in your craw and won’t let you stop thinking about it. A woman lives her life through various tragedies, which she dies and goes on to rebirth to re-live, skirting the tragedy. Opens with killing Hitler in 1930. Towards the end, we see her as a retired woman in the late 1960s, her secretary ensuring flowers are on hand for the farewell celebration. Also hints that Ursula’s mom also had the “gift” of re-living, having a pair of surgical scissors on hand to extricate Ursula from the umbilical cord upon birth. Shout-outs to the major literati throughout. Definitely worth a read.

I’ve been hounded by the idea that I need to read Charles Baudelaire, and thus plucked On Wine and Hashish from the shelves, a delightfully slim novel of less than 100 pages that exposes you to CB. I was also attracted to this volume because the foreword was by Margaret Drabble, whose book The Millstone sits beside me awaiting eye-time. Nothing new in CB’s Wine & Hashish— people attempting to explore and plumb the depths of human experience by altering consciousness. It’s a bit twee, a nineteenth century delve into psychotropics.

Recommended by Gertrude Stein to Hemingway, I picked up The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes. A delightful suspense novel first pub’d in 1913 about a respectable couple (retired butler & maid) taking in lodgers to help them meet rent. When they most need it, a somewhat wonky gentleman calls at the door and is installed as the lodger, coincidental to the time that a series of brutal murders of women is taking place across London. The butler’s daughter Daisy comes to stay with them, attracting the attention of Scotland Yard detective Joe, who fancies her. Meanwhile, the maniac in the attic goes out and kills women on foggy nights. I teetered on thinking that perhaps the twist would be in favor of Joe as the murderer, but instead read a dramatic tale in the wax museum where the lodger comes face to face with his “nemesis”, the doctor who put him away in an insane asylum years prior. Obvious, but good quick read.

On the lighter side, I read Eleanor Marx’s 1887 The Woman Question, repackaged 100 years later as Thoughts on Women and Society in an edition edited by Joachim Müller and Edith Schotte. My first exposure to Eleanor was in her translation of Madam Bovary, and she was apparently a prolific translator along with being a major force in working for socialism and gender equality. Eleanor’s essay was a response to August Bebel’s Woman and Socialism, which sits beside me for perusal as well, but which was banned in Germany under Bismarck’s law against socialists. An English translation heavily laden with printer’s errors was recently out, and Eleanor skips the “not best part of the book” – the first or historical part, but deals with society and women of today. One thing niggles in my mind– why do we strive for a society where the goal is that the means of “production” are collectively owned? Why is production king? Some bits from the essay:

Women are the creatures of an organized tyranny of men, as the workers are the creatures of an organized tyranny of idlers. Even where this much is grasped, we must never be weary of insisting on the non-understanding that for women, as for the laboring classes, no solution of the difficulties and problems that present themselves is really possible in the present condition of society. All that is done, heralded with no matter what flourish of trumpets, is palliative, not remedial. Both the oppressed classes, women and the immediate producers, must understand that their emancipation will come from themselves. Women will find allies in the better sort of men, as the laborers are finding allies among the philosophers, artists, and poets. But the one has nothing to hope from man has a whole, and the other has nothing to hope from the middle class as a whole.

How many of us have ever paused, or dared to pause, upon the serious fact that in the streets and public buildings, in the friend-circle, we can, in a moment, tell the unmarried women, if they are beyond a certain age which lively writers call, with a delicate irony peculiarly their own, uncertain? But we cannot tell a man that is unmarried from one that is wedded. Before the question that arises out of this fact is asked, let us call to mind the terrible proportion of women that are unmarried. For example, in England, in the year 1870, 41 per cent of the women were in this condition. The question to which all this leads is a plain one, a legitimate one, and is only an unpleasant one because of the answer that must be given. How is it that our sisters bear upon their brews this stamp of lost instincts, stifled affections, a nature in part murdered? How is it that their more fortunate brothers bear no such mark? Here, assuredly, no natural law obtains. This licence for the man, this prevention of legions of noble and holy unions that does not affect him, but falls heavily on her, are the inevitable outcome of our economic system. Our marriages, like our morals, are based upon commercialism. Not to be able to meet one’s business engagements is a greater sin than the slander of a friend, and our weddings are business transactions.