Quote of the Day: Kate Walbert

“Alexandra said that I had inherited Mum’s will, not to mention her temper, and that this could either float me in good stead or kill me. I think I’ll float.”

A Short History of Women, by Kate Walbert

The Reading List: Kate Walbert

Self is doing some adjustment to her reading list.

She was reading Jesse James: Last Rebel of the Civil War, which is a big, fat book, and, what with one thing and another, it got to be hard to focus. She’s been reading nonfiction for the last two months and wanted a little change. So she decided to reserve Jesse James for a less hectic time and began reading Kate Walbert’s A Short History of Women, a novel.

The novel isn’t written in chronological order, but thankfully the dates of the period covered in each chapter are right there in the Table of Contents.

She noticed that most of the reviews of the book cited the lack of chronology as a problem, so she decided two things: (1) to read the chapters in chronological order, and (2) to read each chapter as if it were a stand-alone story.

Pursuing this plan of attack has been most helpful. Self has gotten through the chapters that take place in 1898, 1899, and 1914.


The story begins with a young woman in Cambridge, who has a deep dark secret involving a childhood best friend and what happened to the friend. It almost got too depressing for self, since she likes to keep her spirits up. Also, the woman goes on a hunger strike to call attention to the need to give women the vote. And in the family tree at the front of the book, this woman’s life goes from 1880 to 1914. So it was pretty overwhelming to read, especially since:

The book opens with the woman very near death, in a hospital. We are told she has two young children.

We learn she had an affair with a young man at Cambridge, a man who stopped seeing her when he got roughed up while creeping through Cambridge late one night to see her. Perhaps the two events are unrelated, but it’s pretty hard to read them as anything but. To make matters worse, the two bump into each other again when he is already a successful man of politics, and they rekindle the affair even though he is married and she’s a single mother. Then he leaves her again. Then she decides to go on the hunger strike. Which is so — AAAARGH!

Here is a section from the recently deceased woman’s daughter’s point of view:

I ducked into the kitchen to keep Nurse and Penny company. And what of them? Nurse will marry the milkman, Michael, and settle with him in Wales to live a perfectly miserable life. Children and children. Chores. Michael will drink in the way men do and one thing will lead to the other. Penny will take her cardboard box and take a train east. She’ll disappear like our father did, long before we can even remember him. He fancied himself Lord Byron, Mum said, though he was only a sir and that sir a result of money changing hands.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Height of Self-Indulgence: Reading

Self has been reading Austen all day. You know, there must be worse things in life than for a woman to say, “I spent all day at home, reading a novel.”

A week or so ago, self bought an enormous book (It weighed about 15 lbs.) about Anne of Cleves because she wanted to know more about the medieval age (Also, it was on sale: originally $149.99, it had been reduced to $29.99). And she trotted that book with her all over and gave herself a crick in her neck.

Also, the year she went to Berlin to participate in a conference sponsored by the House of World Cultures, she lugged another enormous book (Her copy was hardcover): Claire Tomalin’s Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self.

This morning, she is still reading Northanger Abbey. She’s grown quite fond of it, during the past week. The heroine, Catherine Morland, is so forthright, so inclined to say exactly what she is thinking, and so good. Her only failing is the fact that she has quite an imagination.


The events near the end of Northanger Abbey have self scratching her head. First, there was this really strange intrusion of the Gothic element, 3/4 of the way through. Catherine was invited to Northanger Abbey by her new best friend, Eleanor Tilney, and she spent a few blissful days there. In her room was an enormous wall tapestry, and Catherine’s imagination ran wild: she started imagining there was a secret tunnel behind the tapestry, which then reminded self that she had just finished reading Sarah J. Maas’s Throne of Glass, and in that YA novel, the heroine does find a secret tunnel, and wouldn’t you know it’s behind a tapestry in her room. Coincidence? Self thinks not.

Anyhoo, self decided to re-read the Tor.com article by Jo Walton, Not Born To Be a Heroine.

She has a different take on Northanger Abbey from Walton, but Walton says something really interesting about Jane Austen:

It’s also easy for us to read her books as romance novels, forgetting that Austen was pretty much inventing the genre of romance novels as she went along, and by Emma she had pretty much got tired of doing them. If she’d lived longer she’d probably have invented more genres. I was going to joke that she’d have got to SF before retirement age, but seriously genre as such wasn’t what she was interested in. She was interested in ways of telling stories, ways that hadn’t been tried before.

Self really feels for Catherine Morland, especially when her former best friend Isabella Thorpe turns out to be a conniving monster (garbed in sweet perfume) and she is informed by her hosts at Northanger Abbey that she must leave the abbey the very next day, unaccompanied, at 7 a.m. She is so stunned that all she can do is cry.

This poor girl has no idea what hit her, and about her plight self can only say: Never ever accept an offer of hospitality ever. Not even if it’s extended by a rich family with an enormous house. Because the power imbalance is simply too great.

People are capricious. Rich people more so than others. The same people who welcomed Catherine Morland with open arms, just 10 days prior, have suddenly turned cold.

Our heroine does find her way safely home, however, and this is what her mother tells her:

It is always good for young people to be put upon exerting themselves; and you know, my dear Catherine, you always were a sad, little shatter-brained creature; but now you must have been forced to have your wits about you, with so much changing of chaises and so forth; and I hope it will appear that you have not left anything behind you in any of the pockets.

Oh, the charm of such an utterance! The scandal of being turned out of a house by the very same hosts who had invited her there, only a short time ago, is thereby reduced to the level of a learning experience.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


WIP: Island of Dreams

18th century Madrid:

“You have a noble countenance, my son,” the Bishop said, finally.

“My father is a lawyer, Your Reverence,” Matias said.

“You have a noble countenance! You were born in Murcia? Who was your father?” the Bishop said, gesturing to his nose.

“My father is a merchant. He was born in Murcia but his parents are Basque. From Pamplona. My mother’s family, on the other hand — they have been rooted in the province for hundreds of years.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Catherine Morland Muses on Henry Tilney

This week, self is teaching her writing students about different narrative techniques, like for example musing. Of which Northanger Abbey has many excellent examples.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter XIV:

It was no effort to Catherine to believe that Henry Tilney could never be wrong. His manner might sometimes surprise, but his meaning must always be just — and what she did not understand, she was always ready to admire . . . The whole walk was delightful, and though it ended too soon, its conclusion was delightful too . . .

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.



Playlist for Catherine Morland

Bowie’s Let’s Dance.

Right? Right?

“If you say run/ I’ll run to you.”

Almost word for word what our smitten heroine told Mr. Henry Tilney, when she had barely met him.

More later.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Forthright Heroine

Self has been musing about literary heroines.

It is a good thing she got a comment from one of her blog readers last week. Made her think more deeply about Northanger Abbey. Made her give it a chance.

She is so glad she did. Thank you, amoralegria.

Self is very bemused by Austen’s heroine, Catherine Morland, all of 17, who prior to spending the season in Bath has lived a very placid country life, where she has received little to no male attention. She is so very forthright in her liking for Mr. Tilney. She feels no shame or embarrassment in putting questions regarding him to Mr. Tilney’s sister. And when another man comes calling, she says at once, “I can’t go out with you; I am hoping to go for a walk with Miss Tilney and her brother.”


She looks for Mr. Tilney in vain, everywhere. Finally, she spots him at the theatre, and spends the length of two entire acts staring at him. In the way we all tend to know when someone stares at us for any length of time, he eventually returns her gaze.

Being a polite fellow, he walks over to her box to greet her. Catherine is thrilled! Absolutely thrilled! (So are readers!) Catherine tells Mr. Tilney how sorry she was not to have gone for a walk with him and his sister yesterday. She was with Mr. Thorpe but she would much have preferred to be with Mr. Tilney. She even tells Mr. Tilney: “I would have jumped out and run after you.”


Mr. Tilney, who had walked into the box with a rather distant air, melts at her words, for as Austen writes:


Dear Jane, self thinks you are absolutely right!

Catherine (who has apparently no filters, reminds self of J-Law) goes on to add: “I am sure by your look, when you came into the box, you were very angry.”

Mr. Tilney: “I angry! I could have no right.”

Catherine: “Well, nobody would have thought you had no right who saw your face.”

Mr. Tilney’s response is to ask “her to make room for him, and . . . he remained with them for some time.”

That’s right, dear blog readers. Mr. Tilney spends the rest of the evening with Catherine Morland. Disarmed by her candor. And that proves that he is a very, very intelligent man.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.


Self spent late last night combing the web for views (hopefully, conflicting) on the dramatis personae of Northanger Abbey. Principally, for those of the characters she is most interested in:

  • Catherine Morland
  • Mr. Tilney
  • John Thorpe
  • Isabella Thorpe

Her favorite (thus far) is this one, on Tor.com:

Not Born To Be a Heroine

  • Northanger Abbey is hilarious. It’s the story of a girl who wants to be the heroine of a Gothic novel, but who finds herself instead in a peaceful domestic novel.

It’s good to be reminded that the heroine of this book is 17. The same age as the characters in The Hunger Games.

Self just wanted to throw that in there.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.




Catherine Morland: “Oh! Who can ever be tired of Bath?”

Mr. Tilney: “Not those who bring such fresh feelings of every sort to it, as you do.”

Northanger Abbey, Chapter X

NORTHANGER ABBEY: Isabella the Chatterbox

My sweetest Catherine, how have you been this long ago, but I need not ask you, for you look delightfully. You really have done your hair in a more heavenly style than ever: you mischievous creature, do you want to attract everybody? I assure you, my brother is quite in love with you already; and as for Mr. Tilney — but that is a settled thing — even your modesty cannot doubt his attachment now; his coming back to Bath makes it too plain. Oh! What would I not give to see him! I really am quite wild with impatience. My mother says he is the most delightful young man in the world; she saw him this morning you know: you must introduce him to me. Is he in the house now? — Look about for heaven’s sake! I assure you, I can hardly exist till I see him.

Northanger Abbey, Chapter X

Mr. Tilney is a clergyman. A very fine-looking clergyman. Has caused quite a stir in Bath, but makes very sporadic appearances at balls, teas, etc. Catherine is quite smitten, and now apparently so is her best friend, Ms. Isabella Thorpe.

Can’t you just hear the RAWR of little claws in the above sweet utterance from Isabelle to her “best friend” Catherine? Sweeeet!

(What makes “clergyman” so attractive in a potential mate? Self is bemused but since she is no authority on this period, she’ll just have to take Austen’s word for it that Mr. Tilney is quite a catch)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

« Older entries