Another round of books I could write two or three posts about, but ended up not writing about directly, resulting in a hazy state of knowing the general outlines, but no longer the detailed arguments. And so here follows the first in a series of posts that contain my short thoughts, as well as a list of people who have written about these books much more intelligently than I could.
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Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
Penguin, 1999 (First published 1932)
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I never really knew what to expect from Cold Comfort Farm, except that everyone seemed to love it, and that I had not read it yet. When I learned from the preface that it is a parody of English novels in which rural life is romanticised, I became a little worried: I often have difficulties with parodies, but this novel is so smartly written that it comes across as very natural and true, instead of only about the laughs. I would definitely classify this as a comfy read.
The novel is about Flora Poste, an orphan, who writes to all her relations trying to find a place to settle, and ends up at Cold Comfort Farm, where she meets an array of (slightly) weird family members: an aunt who is traumatised by something she saw in the woodshed when she was a little girl, cousins who have no clue what they are doing with life and lack guidance by adults, all trying to keep the farm running in circumstances that are nowhere near the neat and orderly life Flora wishes for her family and herself. With cows called Graceless, Feckless, Aimless, and Pointless, and Flora with her clear solution to every problem guided by her ‘The Higher Common Sense’ handbook, it is easy to mistake this book for one that only aims to make fun, instead of the heartwarming read that I found. True, Flora is an optimist, and it is easy to dismiss optimism (at times, I even felt Gibbons meant to point out the surrealism in Flora’s disposition as well), but the descriptions and setting, and the absurdity of the glorified suffering presented by some of the characters, makes me fall in love with the story.
Other Opinions: Things Mean A Lot, Serendipity Reviews, Learning to Read, Angieville, Literary License, A Good Stopping Point, Opinions of a Wolf, Page 247, Shelf Love, Fizzy Thoughts, Bookworm1858, Olduvai Reads, Birdbrain(ed), Chrisbookarama.
Did I miss yours? Let me know and I will add your review to the list.
Little Men – Louisa May Alcott
Girlebooks, 2011 (first published 1871)
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Little Men continues the story of Little Women, and that of Jo and her professor husband, Fritz Bhaer, in particular. Jo and Fritz have set up a boarding school for boys and the stories told in this book give us glimpses of the back stories of several of the boys, Jo’s children, as well as the children of Jo’s sisters.
Last year, I talked about my struggles with (re)reading Little Women. In retrospect, I can see how Little Women was quite revolutionary, especially in its portrayal of Jo. But see, that is exactly the problem I had with Little Men. Now Jo is portrayed as the ultimate mother-figure, who, although she experienced a “wild” childhood, now knows what it takes to rectify this nature in girls or boys. The fact that there was a lot of insistence on it some characteristics being inherent to either girls or boys annoyed me too, though I do know gender essentialism was a given at the time. I do wonder at Alcott’s choice to portray Jo as domesticated as she did, gone are all the characteristics that charmed me about her first.
I did feel that perhaps the book would have been interesting had I read it in light of Louisa May Alcott’s educational philosophy, which was, I believe (?), inspired by her father. However, to be quite honest, I couldn’t find the energy to look into it at the time I read it. While I could appreciate the perhaps revolutionary views on the upbringing of children (to let boys run wild every once in a while, the criticism of corporal punishment, etcetera), I did find the moral of every story – teaching the reader how hurtful it is to lie, for example – a bit too dominant. And it made me wonder what Alcott was trying to achieve: Did she write the book for children to enjoy & teach them how to behave in the meantime, or was the book meant as a vehicle to tell parents about her views in child rearing? In Little Men both perspectives seem to be emphasised a lot, and I think that makes the book as a whole fall short.
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