Wednesday, January 8, 2014


Ozias Humphry, The Rice Portrait of Jane Austen, 1788

By Jane Austen, edited by Robert Morrison, Cambridge, Belknap Press, 2011

Another super annotated edition of a Jane Austen novel by the smarties at Belknap Press.  The emphasis by the editor, Morrison, is how this late novel shows Austen's increasing interest in emotional states (i.e., proto-Romanticism) and her swing to a more evangelical infected Anglicism.  

Europe Transformed, 1878-1919

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie
Franz Ferdinand and Sophie, ca. 1900

By Norman Stone, New York, Blackwell, 1983

A solid if conventional history of the social, economic, and dynastic forces at play in bringing about the First World War.

The World of Yesterday

Gustav Klimt: Adele Bloch-Bauer I (detail)
Gustav Klimt, Adele Bloch-Bauer (detail), 1907

By Stefan Zweig, trans. Anthea Bell, Lincoln, U. of Nebraska Press, 1942

A stunning memoir of the Austro-Hungarian empire told by upper-class, Jewish citizen of Vienna.  


Servant bells and hurricane lamps

By Jo Baker, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2013

I'm not usually a fan of books that retell classic stories, but this novel by Baker is a great reimagining of Pride and Prejudice from the servants' point of view.  The story weaves together the West Indies slave trade, chilblains, and Elizabeth's fate as the mistress of Mr. Darcy's estate.  Effective but could have been a wee bit more subtle.

Below Stairs

Edwardian maids, ca, 1910

By Margaret Powell, New York, St. Martin's Griffin, 1968

Ms. Powell left service with a feeling of inferiority and health problems.  A politically informed memoir.  

Curious Relations

Sir Max Beerbohm, ‘Mr Browning Brings a Lady of Rank and Fashion to See Mr Rossetti’ 1916
Max Beerbohm, Mr. Browning Brings a Lady to Meet Mr. Rossetti, 1916

By William d'Arfey, edited by William Plomer, New York, William Slone, 1947

This novel was suggested by an article in The Guardian listing the top ten books about servants.
  Written under a pseudonym by a rich Edwardian, this novel is a series of fairy tales about the eccentric members of his upper-crust family, the d'Arfeys and the Mountfaucons.  This is very similar in tone to Beerbohm's The Illustrated Zuleika Dobson.  Even if I fancy myself an anthropologist, I really can't fathom this bizarre world of inherited wealth and absolute security.

Of Carriages and Kings

John Singer Sargent, Duchess of Portland, 1902

By Frederick John Gorst with Beth Andrews, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1956

Memoir by an elderly royal footman, written during his retirement in the United States, of the elegance and splendor found in Edwardian high society.  Gorst puts a positive spin on his life story, but its possible to read between the lines and perceive the rigid cruelty inherent in a class system that the world wars swept away.  When Gorst's sister dies, the Duchess of Portland instantly whisks him to the train station by private car, but Gorst feels horrible guilt for ignoring his family.  He hasn't had a vacation in two years, and Gorst had achieved the very pinnacle of a career in service.  A gentle, romanticized view of Edwardian life in the great houses and the promise of equality once found in the States.  Ironic to read this now during what many commentators see as America's Second Gilded Age.