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Monday July 08, 2024 (1 week, 6 days ago)


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Greetings from rainy Wisconsin! I write this from my family’s lakefront cottage, currently in a deluge. This is where I first read many of Emilie Loring’s novels, purchased at Schultz Bros. and read on the lazy days of summer.   Rainy day at the lake   Schultz Bros., “Featuring 5 cent to $1.00 Merchandise”   On rainy days now, I poke through trunks and boxes in the basement. I must get my sentimental, archivist mentality from my Bender side. Grandma Bender saved photos, letters, report cards, and original, charcoal portraits of her parents and grandparents. My dad saved even more photos, negatives, and slides; certificates, old hunting and drivers’ licenses, maps, treasures picked up on his world travels, and more family letters.   Vintage Memories   Among the letters is one that I wrote to my parents during my junior year at college. My birthday was near, and I had a wish list. Clothes were first, followed by a styling dryer and “some things I’d like to add to my ‘library:’”  
  • A Handbook to Literature, Thrall, Hibbard & Holman; hard-bound, please.
  • Historical world atlas or current World Atlas
  • Missing Emilies: Love Came Laughing By, I Hear Adventure Calling
      Even then, I called them “Emilies,” and it’s fun to be able to document the approximate year when I completed my collection.   These books have kept me company a long while! Our small cottage has twelve bookcases filled with books collected by four generations of Benders. We never lack for reading material on rainy days.   Like us, Emilie’s family had bookcases in every room, but when they summered on the Cape in 1889, they borrowed books from the Sturgis Library in Barnstable. The following selections from their summer reading are available online, and, reading sections of them, I am struck again by how much really good storytelling has been lost to time.   I’ve had a lot of fun peeking inside their (digital) covers. Maybe you will, too. I’ve included some first lines and excerpts to help you choose.   Books borrowed, 1889 “This Summer’s Books” in 1889   A White Heron and Other Stories (1886), Sara Orne Jewett  
“The woods were already filled with shadows one June evening, just before eight o’clock, though a bright sunset still glimmered faintly among the trunks of the trees. A little girl was driving home her cow, a plodding, dilatory, provoking creature in her behavior, but a valued companion for all that.”
  Country By-ways (1881), Sara Orne Jewett [Google Books]  
“At the head of tide-water on the river, there is a dam, and above it is a large mill-pond where most of the people who row and sail keep their boats all summer long. I like, perhaps once a year, to cruise around the shores of this pretty-sheet of water, but I am always conscious of the dam above it and the dam below it, and of being confined between certain limits. I rarely go beyond a certain point on the lower or tide river, as people call it, but I always have the feeling that I can go to Europe, if I like, or anywhere on the high seas; and when I unfasten the boat there is no dam or harbor bar, or any barrier whatever between this and all foreign ports.   “… The great gulls watch me float along the river, curiously, and sail in the air overhead. Who knows what they say of me when they talk together; and what are they thinking about when they fly quickly out of sight? Perhaps they know something about me that I do not know of myself yet; and so may the musk-rat, as he hurries through the water, with a little green branch in his mouth which will make a salad for his supper. He watches me with his sharp eyes, and whisks into his hole in the sunny side of the island. I have a respect for him; he is a busy creature, and he lives well. You might be hospitable and ask me to supper, musk-rat!”
  Secret of Fontaine LaCroix (1888), Margaret Field [Google Books]  
“Then you really mean to go, Anne?”   “Yes. You think I am wise, Stephen, do you not?”   He smiled at the quick, wistful change of the look and tone, and shook his head teasingly.   “Wise, Nan, to leave your home and country to go off alone into ‘furrin’ parts’ especially that land of France which is hated of all true Britons, to live among strangers, tied all day to a chattering French girl–you do not know how French girls can chatter, nor how utterly feeble and senseless their chatter is–with the entertainment only varied by a sermon from madame–she is probably old and ill-tempered. She says they live in great seclusion, so there will be no visitors, save M. le Curé, who will be old, also, and will take snuff and talk through his nose, and think his own little parish the center of the universe.”   “You forget Mademoiselle St. Hilaire’s fiance.“   “You are not likely to see much of him. You must not expect him to come courting as an Englishman would.” The engagement has probably been a strictly business affair. Very likely they have not seen each other above three times in their lives. You need not expect to have many opportunities of trying your powers of fascination on him, Miss Anne, even if you feel any inclination to do so. I don’t think you will when you see him. You have too much good taste to be attracted by a Frenchman.”   Do you want to make any bets on this?
  The Romance of a Shop (1889), Amy Levy [Project Gutenberg]  
  Left in straitened circumstances after their father’s death, four independent-minded sisters set up a photography studio in London and face the strictures of a society unprepared for their new way of life.  
“‘Think of all the dull little ways by which women, ladies, are generally reduced to earning their living! But a business—that is so different. It is progressive; a creature capable of growth; the very qualities in which women’s work is dreadfully lacking.’   … “‘Every one will be dead against it. We know that, of course,’ said Lucy, with the calm confidence of untried strength.”
      “Bret Harte said that the only sure thing about luck is that it will change.  Remember that?  Of course you don’t.  Who reads Bret Harte now?”  We Ride the Gale! That summer of 1889, the Baker girls read at least two books by Bret Harte:   The Heritage of Dedlow Marsh and Other Tales, Bret Harte [Project Gutenberg]   Passing along the gallery he knocked at the front door. There was no response. He repeated his knock. Then the window beside it opened suddenly, and he was confronted with the double-muzzle of a long ducking-gun. Glancing instinctively along the barrels, he saw at their other extremity the bright eyes, brilliant color, and small set mouth of a remarkably handsome girl. It was the fact, and to the credit of his training, that he paid more attention to the eyes than to the challenge of the shining tubes before him.   “Jest stop where you are—will you!” said the girl determinedly.   Calvert’s face betrayed not the slightest terror or surprise. Immovable as on parade, he carried his white gloved hand to his cap, and said gently, “With pleasure.”   “Oh yes,” said the girl quickly; “but if you move a step I’ll jest blow you and your gloves offer that railin’ inter the Marsh.”   “I trust not,” returned Calvert, smiling.   “And why?”   “Because it would deprive me of the pleasure of a few moments’ conversation with you—and I’ve only one pair of gloves with me.”   He was still watching her beautiful eyes—respectfully, admiringly, and strategically. For he was quite convinced that if he DID move she would certainly discharge one or both barrels at him.   Thankful Blossom, Bret Harte [Project Gutenberg]   “The time was the year of grace 1779; the locality, Morristown, New Jersey…”   “You have been out, mistress!”   “I have,” said Thankful.   “And not alone,” growled the old man angrily.   “No,” said Mistress Thankful, with a smile that began in the corners of her brown eyes, ran down into the dimpled curves of her mouth, and finally ended in the sudden revelation of her white teeth,—”no, not alone.”   “With whom?” asked the old man, gradually weakening under her strong, saucy presence.   “Well, father,” said Thankful, taking a seat on a table, and swinging her little feet somewhat ostentatiously toward him, “I was with Capt. Allan Brewster of the Connecticut Contingent.”   “That man?”   “That man!”   “I forbid you seeing him again.”   Thankful gripped the table with a hand on each side of her, to emphasize the statement, and swinging her feet replied,—   “I shall see him as often as I like, father.”   “Thankful Blossom!”   “Abner Blossom!”   “I see you know not,” said Mr. Blossom, abandoning the severely paternal mandatory air for one of confidential disclosure, “I see you know not his reputation. He is accused of inciting his regiment to revolt,—of being a traitor to the cause.”   “And since when, Abner Blossom, have YOU felt such concern for the cause? Since you refused to sell supplies to the Continental commissary, except at double profits? since you told me you were glad I had not polities like Mistress Ford—”   “Hush!” said the father, motioning to the parlor.   “Hush,” echoed Thankful indignantly. “I won’t be hushed! Everybody says ‘Hush’ to me. The count says ‘Hush!’ Allan says ‘Hush!’ You say ‘Hush!’ I’m a-weary of this hushing. Ah, if there was a man who didn’t say it to me!” and Mistress Thankful lifted her fine eyes to the ceiling.   This one has drawn me in. I want to know what happens to Thankful and her soldier, and the atmosphere is so clearly drawn, I feel that I’m in the 1700s.   Seth’s Brother’s Wife, Harold Fredric [Project Gutenberg]   An old feud between the Fairchilds and the Warrens gains fresh energy as a planned marriage and farm life yield to independence and city ambitions.   “Oh, I’m picked out to be a countryman all the days of my life I suppose.” There was the sigh again, and a tinge of bitterness in his tone, as well.   “Oh, I hope not—that is, if you don’t want to be. Oh, it must be such a dreary life! The very thought of it sets my teeth on edge. The dreadful people you have to know: men without an idea beyond crops and calves and the cheese-factory; women slaving their lives out doing bad cooking, mending for a houseful of men, devoting their scarce opportunities for intercourse with other women to the weakest and most wretched gossip; coarse servants who eat at the table with their employers and call them by their Christian names; boys whose only theory about education is thrashing the school teacher, if it is a man, or breaking her heart by their mean insolence if it is a woman; and girls brought up to be awkward gawks, without a chance in life, since the brighter and nicer they are the more they will suffer from marriage with men mentally beneath them—that is, if they don’t become sour old maids. I don’t wonder you hate it all, Seth.”   “You talk like a book,” said Seth, in tones of unmistakable admiration. “I didn’t suppose any woman could talk like that.”   “I talk as I feel always, when I come into contact with country life, and I get, angry with people who maunder about its romantic and picturesque side. Where is it, I should, like to know?”   …“But Webster was a farm boy, and so was Lincoln and Garfield and Jackson—almost all our great men. Hardly any of them are born in cities, you will find.”   “Oh, the country is just splendid to be born in, no doubt of that; but after you are born, get out of it as soon as you can.”   An Honorable Surrender, attributed to “Mary Adams” [Google Books]   This book is mainly dialogue, much of it conversations between Harry and Alice, longtime friends and companions who avoided romance as they each weighed the morés and expectations of their time. This is a common theme of the time–of all times, I suppose–and each of these summer books lands its characters in a different place.   “I know that I have failed in what I meant to do, though now I am not always sure what that was; but I cannot believe that my thoughts, or my attempts, are, or will be, useless to me. What I most wished to avoid was entanglement with the lives of others. Somewhere in my blood, or my brain, I have a great fear of assuming trusts for which I am not fit; but now the sense of responsibility has slipped from me; or if it has not, I see that wherever I go, and whatever I do, I must entangle myself with other lives, and, if I cannot avoid this, I would rather submit to it in the old way. There is no denying that I am glad that it is the old way, and that I am doing what is usual for women.”   A friend responded: “I suppose it is very fortunate and suitable from any point of view but mine,” she said. “But,  all the same, it is a surrender.”   Gentianella (1874), Mrs. Randolph [Google Books]  
Gentianella marries a man she doesn’t love, believing that her bethrothed has deserted her and married someone else. He hasn’t. Fortuntely, fate has more in store…   “Gentinella is a romance. It’s principal incidents and its mysterious plot are exceedingly well imagined and would be matter sufficient for two or three such fictions… yet the chief merit of the book lies in its capital character-sketches and pictures of society.    “Mrs. Randolph’s book is one which will weary no reader, and which will be found only too short by those who can appreciate a thoroughly healthy and entertaining romance.” The Morning Post, London.   Mrs. Randolph sounds like an Emilie Loring of her day!
  Uncle Jack’s Executors (1880), Annette Lucille Noble [Google books]   “Preface: There are no murders in this book, no broken hearts, not even one villain. It will keep no one awake o’ nights. Lest any lover of what Carlyle calls “astonishing convulsionary literature” should, after reading it, feel defrauded of what he considers a due amount of excitement in fiction, let it be known at first that it is a story of another sort. Of what sort the reader can see for himself.”   Violetta (1885), Ursula Zöge von Manteuffel, translated by Mrs. A. L. Wister   I include the Google Books link, because there is another “Violette” from the era that is decidedly not the same!   Marie Louise, much admired, level-headed and remote, the original “Marble Heart,” and Violetta, unspoiled, trusting, a breath of fresh air, but (gasp) connected to the theater. Magnus Treffenbach set his cap and his devotion for Marie Louise, and he is ill-disposed toward his now-step-sister, Violetta.  A happy ending is promised, but after several twists and turns, which one?   Neighbours on the Green (1889), Margaret Oliphant [Hathi Trust]  
“They were both my neighbours, of course; but to apportion one’s heart’s love in equal shares according to the claims of justice is a very different matter. I saw as much of one sister as the other. And Martha was an excellent girl, quite honest and friendly and good; but as for Ellen, there could never be any question about her. One did not even think of discriminating which were her special good qualities. She was Ellen, that was enough; or Nelly, which I prefer, for my part. We all lived at Dinglefield Green in these days.”
  Why Did He Not Die, or The Child from the Ebräergang (1871), A. D. Von Volckhausen, translated by Mrs. A. L. Wister   An unmarried woman dies in childbirth, and her son is given to a childless couple to raise. But his history, an important one, is known by someone, and there will be consequences…   “PREFACE: The egotism of the translator prompts her to say a word in her own person upon offering to the public this rendering of a German novel. Her aim in these translations has been, and is, to provide entertainment — not too exciting in its nature — for warm summer afternoons, or brains weary with labour or care…”   The Little Moorland Princess (1872), Eugenie Marlitt [Google Books]   “It was towards the end of June.    “In the cool water of the little basin two small brown feet were standing… Here, in the loneliest spot in the whole moor, there was no scale by which to judge of feminine beauty, no temptation to analyze; only just now everything that in the air and daylight looked so natural and commonplace put on such a strange, unaccustomed appearance when reflected in the water that it was quite fascinating.”       Do any of these books seem more like Emilie Loring’s taste than others? Which appeals most to you?   The sun has returned! I’m going to close up the computer and see if I can pluck a few weeds from the garden while the ground is soft and wet and before I need to rustle up something for dinner.   Happy Landings, everyone!  

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