Happy New Year! And I’m starting 2020’s book blogging with 6 degrees of separation because I haven’t quite finished the book I started before Xmas.
I don’t do New Year resolutions, so it’s untrue for me to say I’ve resolved to do all of 2020’s 6 degrees of separations. I’m going to try my best to remember to, though.
January’s chain begins with a book I haven’t heard of. I’ve been avoiding blogs and book reviews of late because my existing stack of books is now three stacks of books and I need to crack on with whittling it down.
Anyway, kick-off for January is Daisy Jones and the Six.
Because I haven’t read it and knew nothing about it, I decided I’d try to make a Daisy chain by leaping to Henry James’s fine novel Daisy Miller.
I rediscovered my copy while purging my bookcase to make room for the books I managed to take off the To Read stack(s) last year. Daisy Miller is my favourite of Henry James’s European novels. The titular heroine is a spirited young woman from Schenectady NY who is delighted to be in European society. She’s courted by the rather staid Frederick Winterbourne, but still enjoys having fun with other, more dashing young men. This behaviour opens Daisy up to the judgement of the other Americans in her circle. The novel is a critique of the changes in society in the late 19th century and the views held of each other by Europeans and Americans.
Written a couple of decades later, Theodore Fontane’s Effi Briest is a different kind of novel about the attitudes of society towards young women.
Set in Germany, it depicts the tragedy of a young wife, the Effi Briest of the title, neglected by her husband and preyed upon by his unscrupulous acquaintance Crampas, resulting in the eventual castigation of Effi when their affair is discovered.
There is another Daisy in my chain, the one F Scott Fitzgerald wrote about in The Great Gatsby.
I found my ancient copy (from the time of the Robert Redford/Mia Farrow film) during my clear out. The Great Gatsby is not one of my favourite books. There’s a distinct lack of charm among the vain and entitled characters who live in Long Island NY. This novel, too, is about a neglected wife and her pursuit by an unscrupulous man, but social upheaval has gathered pace in the fifty or so years since Daisy Miller’s time.
Roughly a decade after the setting for Gatsby, the characters in Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility are navigating the social scene of post-depression New York.
Katey Kontent escapes her stenographer’s world when she meets Tinker Grey who opens up affluent NY society to her. It’s a tale of a second generation immigrant crossing the social divide, a spin on the society novels of James and Fitzgerald.
Of a similar era but a different perspective is Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust.
The novel tells the sorry tale of Tony Last who, cuckolded by his bored wife Brenda, sets off on an expedition to the Brazilian rainforest. Here he becomes the de facto prisoner of a man who wants him to read Dickens to him and will go to any lengths to keep Tony by his side. Brenda’s machinations to keep her reputation intact following their separation and to derive a steady income from Tony fail, as does her relationship with the unscrupulous man she’s entangled herself with in her boredom. It’s a monstrous but compelling picture of the worst in people and my favourite Waugh novel.
My final book in the chain is Revolutionary Road.
Set in 1950s suburbia in Connecticut, Richard Yates’s novel examines the return to conformity in American society and the undertow of adultery and frustration on both sides of the marital bed. Everything is seen from husband Frank’s point of view. Wife April is painted in broad strokes by Frank, but her frustration and longing for liberty shine through his depiction none the less. April has a yearning for Paris, an echo of Daisy Miller escaping to Europe. Frank ends up anchoring himself to his office job in New York through a sense of obligation and responsibility towards his family.
So there we have it. A chain of women, mostly judged by society for their choices, mostly dissatisfied with the way their lives are going, mostly suffering some horrible fate as a result. Cheery!
I looked up Daisy Jones and the Six after I made my chain. It doesn’t seem to have anything in common with the theme I’ve ended up with. Have you read it? Whether you have or not, why not join in with the Six Degrees fun at host Kate’s blog?