Friday, September 28, 2007

Communities of Women by Nina Auerbach

Nina Auerbach has quite a dazzling scope in this book. She looks at the development of communities of women in British and American literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She pairs Pride and Prejudice with Little Women, Cranford with Villette, and The Bostonians with The Odd Women, and then focuses her discussion on The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in the last chapter. These communities, she contends, grow increasingly more encompassing as time goes on: while the Bennett sisters are waiting for husbands, and the March sisters must be married off to finish the book, Miss Brodie's fascist leanings incorporate a militancy and a sort of political self-sufficiency.

I'm Not Making This Up, You Know by Anna Russell

Anna Russell, the British comedienne who could sing Wagner's Der Ring Der Nibelungen (a cycle of four operas which generally require 20 hours to perform over the course of a long weekend) in 20 minutes, takes the title of her autobiography from a line in that performance. In her musical parodies, she had a knack for presenting the music in a way that highlighted its most absurd elements. While her life-story is not as absurd as Wagner's convoluted plot, the same self-consciousness pervades her biography. Although always entertaining, Russell has a knack for keeping her reader at arms' distance at several places: she's continually vague about years, and she never even mentions her first husband's name. While this biography is quite entertaining and worth reading, it's important to remember that it reads more like one of her performances than like straight history.

Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie

While I was initially skeptical of this mystery as the event in question occurred eighteen years before the action of the novel, the action became increasingly relevant as the novel progressed. There's a great connection to John Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (a play well worth reading in its own right)--one to which I should have paid more attention. Although Miss Marple makes an appearance, the action occurs mostly on the South coast of England. This mystery is a solid read, although not my favorite Christie.

The Regatta Mystery by Agatha Christie

This collection of short stories has stories featuring Parker Pyne, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot. While it's always a pleasure to read Christie's crisp style, her novels are generally much better than her short stories. In the novels, the reader has a chance of following the clues she drops to solve the mystery before the detective; most of these stories were neat examples of the detective's skill without a chance for the reader to actively participate. "Through a Glass Darkly," my least favorite of the nine stories, had entirely new characters and was more of a supernatural love story than standard mystery. Overall, this collection should entertain Christie's fans, but would not be a good place to start.