I’d describe The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski as a spooky Victorian thriller, even though I’m probably misusing the term “thriller.” I’ve also seen this story described as a ghost story even though there isn’t a ghost present. Or perhaps there is a ghost? That’s the beauty of this story, you can decide whether you spot a ghost or not.
Set in 1950s England, the plot centers around a young housewife, Melanie. After waking from a nap on her newly-purchased antique chaise-longue, Melanie discovers that she is now inhabiting the body of an older woman, Milly. To make the living nightmare even worse, it’s 80 years earlier and her husband and other loved ones are nowhere to be found.
While Melanie struggles to figure out how she can return home and back into her own body, the reader recognizes that the lives of the two women ran parallel. For example, the women experienced recent trauma involving a child. It’s implied that both women were involved in illicit affairs. Both women are stifled and isolated by the men in their lives. And as a final example, both women are capable of making their own decisions yet are treated like helpless children. It’s safe to assume that Melanie is in the body of her alter ego from 80 years ago.
Reading this superbly written novella made me feel as if I was being physically stifled. If you are looking for a spooky, thought-provoking novella then I’d highly recommend this story. The Victorian Chaise-Longue was initially published in 1953 and reprinted by Persephone Books in 1999.
As you know, from time to time, I like to pair a good cup of tea with a good book. For this particular book, I paired a strong English Breakfast Tea. Why? You’ll need something strong to stay alert and keep your wits about you. It’s an interesting, eery tale and I highly recommend it for your upcoming autumn reading lists.
For those who’ve read it, I have questions for you:
Is there a ghost?
Is the antique chaise-longue to blame for this spine-chilling situation?
What did you think of the ending? Was it left like that on purpose so we can draw our own conclusions?
A Most English Princess: A Novel of Queen Victoria’s Daughter by Clare McHugh is about the life of Queen Victoria’s eldest daughter, Victoria (Vicky). When she was 17, she married Frederick (Friedrich or Fritz), the Crown Prince of Prussia. Their first child was Kaiser Wilhelm II. As far as dynastic marriages go, Vicky and Fritz shared a very happy and fulfilling marriage. A rarity in their era, they remained very much in love and committed to one another. The story takes you from Vicky’s childhood in England to married life in Prussia. It’s a fictionalized account but the author’s research shines through every conversation.
Unfortunately their marriage was marred by hardship. First, their first born, Wilhelm, was a difficult child and grew into an obstinate, unkind adult who hated his “English mother.” On top of that, Bismarck never trusted Frederick and Vicky; they were too liberal and open-minded. For example, Frederick and Vicky believed in a free press. Bismarck did not. So Bismarck successfully convinced the Emperor not to allow the Crown Prince Couple to have any say in policy. Lastly, by the time Frederick took the throne as Frederick III, he was already terminally ill with cancer. He died just 99 days later. Kaiser Wilhelm II came to power and we all know how that went and where it led. (Though I should note that the book does not end with Frederick’s death. It ends much earlier and on a good note.)
The year 1888 is known as the Year of the Three Emperors (Wilhelm I, Frederick III, Wilhelm II). And it’s easy to remember the year because just think of the three eights as the three emperors.
A Most English Princess is very well written and entertaining. I could not put it down. The history was accurate. Every character has both flaws and positive traits, which made me sympathize with and better understand the various historical characters. All this to say that if you enjoy royal history, British history or Prussian history, I highly recommend this book.
Now on to our question of the day. Which tea should we pair with this novel? Well, in honor of Vicky, I’m pairing it with a fine English tea called Albion, which is the ancient name for England. I think Vicky would approve!
PS. If royal history is your thing, I write about it here.
Happy Monday, friends! So, you know that I love to pair books with tea! (Exhibit A) Today’s book and tea pairing is a match made in literary heaven.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen is about the lives, loves and heartaches of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. I love the book, but I also love the various movie adaptations, especially the one with Emma Thompson. After a lot of drama, tears and some awful relations, Elinor and Marianne find their happy endings (it’s Jane Austen, after all!) so I think the perfect tea pairing is by Simpson & Vail from their Literary Tea Collection, Jane Austen’s Black Tea Blend. Besides black tea, the ingredients are spearmint, lavender flowers and vanilla flavor. Jane Austen loved lavender! And the Dashwood ladies would probably agree that it’s a good match since they enjoy flowers and a good cup of tea. So this is basically a bouquet of flowers, but in tea form.
To Marry an English Lord is about the American women who “swapped dollars for titles” by marrying titled British men and moving to the UK. This book was an inspiration for Downton Abbey (Cora is a dollar princess). With meticulous research, Gail MacColl and Carol Mcd. Wallace write in great detail about the women, the men they married and loved (or didn’t love) and the grand houses they lived in. They also give lots and lots of gossipy anecdotes. It’s a fun book that includes plenty of illustrations and a handy directory of the American heiresses. I love a well-researched book about women from history.
When it came time to pair a cup of tea with this book, I had to pick Fortnum’s Albion, a strong black brew. Albion, the ancient name for Britain, makes a perfect pairing. What do you think?
I recently read (for the first time) Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s a gothic tale set in New York during 1790. It’s perfect for Halloween-themed reading because of the Hessian headless horseman. If you have a couple hours to spare and are in a Halloween state-of-mind, treat yourself to this tale. It’s more than just a gothic story. It features a love triangle between Ichabod Crane, Katrina Van Tassel and Abraham Van Brunt. To me, this makes it a love story. I won’t tell you who gets the girl, as it will spoil it for you. But if you want to read it, it’s short and free.
From the moment Ichabod laid his eyes upon these regions of delight, the peace of his mind was at an end, and his only study was how to gain the affections of the peerless daughter of Van Tassel.
Just for fun, we are changing things up today. Instead of tea, today’s book is paired with a cup of coffee. I am pairing a cup of my husband’s dark roast blend with Square Haunting by Francesca Wade. I’ve talked about this book before and how much the women mentioned in the pages of Square Haunting and their struggles touched me.
I can imagine any of the five women (H.D., Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Wolf) fueling up on many cups of coffee as they pen their works. After all, coffee and writing go hand in hand.
How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for eve with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.” – Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Which beverage would you pair with Square Haunting?
Each chapter is dedicated to a particular subject that plays a role in a woman’s life, such as love, food, career, health and men (and lots of other topics). What I love best is that the authors fiercely and unapologetically state that the woman must put herself first. I completely agree.
This book is not a guide to life, by any stretch of the imagination. But it’s a fun read with tips, thoughtful anecdotes and encouragement to live your best life.
Which tea shall we pair with it? As a feminist, I’ll just say that you can drink whatever you please while reading this book. My choice is a cup of milky tea.
Recently I finished reading Emma by Jane Austen. It wasn’t a reread, but a first read. I have to say, I’m not sure whether I’m a fan of Emma. She has a big heart and means well, but I wouldn’t be friends with someone in real life who is such a nosy busybody. Emma just can’t mind her own business. It’s possible she’ll grow on me in the years to come, I don’t know. For now, I must place her at the bottom of my Jane Austen heroine list.
Now that I have my little rant out of the way, let’s pair a tea with this book. Since weddings seem to be the theme of this novel (as in every Jane Austen novel, of course), I thought it would be fitting if we paired it with Fortnum’s Wedding Breakfast Blend created on the occasion of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding. I had it this morning and it was a delicious cup of tea.
I’ve been making an effort to read more short stories. They pack a punch in just a few short pages. I’m left thinking and rethinking about the plot for days after I finish the story. Tea with Mr. Rochester is one such short story collection.
When I think of Mr. Rochester, I think of the character from Jane Eyre. If that’s who you thought of too, then you can probably guess the common theme of each story in this collection: love. Most of the stories don’t necessarily end happily. Or maybe they do, depending on your view. The beauty of a short story is that it doesn’t tell you how or what to think. You are left thinking and analyzing for days afterwards.
Take for example, the sixth story in this collection, Spade Man from over the Water. It takes place inside the drawing room of a married woman, Mrs. Penny, who is entertaining her new neighbor. The new neighbor, Mrs. Asher, hopes she can become good friends with Mrs. Penny. All we know at this point is that Mrs. Penny has a husband who travels often. He seems to never be in the picture. Her husband discourages Mrs. Penny from having friends, but she yearns for the friendship of women. Mrs. Asher and her children move into the cottage near Mrs. Penny. She too has a husband who travels a lot. When Mrs. Asher sees a picture of Mrs. Penny’s husband she grows quiet and mysterious. They end the evening proclaiming they will become good friends. But that never happens, much to the disappointment of Mrs. Penny. The cottage is emptied virtually overnight. Mrs. Asher and her children disappear, never to be heard of again.
This ending left me stumped. The only solution that I can come up with is that Mrs. Penny’s husband leads a double life with Mrs. Asher. This might be why Mrs. Asher disappears after seeing the photograph of Mrs. Penny’s husband.
For this short story collection, I’d pair Fortnum’s Fortmason tea. The tea is black, strong and heavily infused with orange blossoms. You’ll need a strong tea to get through some of these (very excellent, some sweet, some bizarre) short stories.
During this anxious time we are living in, I wanted to soothe my spirit and the best way I do that is by organizing my bookshelves. Well, during the organization I re-discovered my old copies of the Persephone Biannually.
If you haven’t read this magazine by Persephone Books, then you are in for a treat. It’s a literary magazine written and published by Persephone Books, a publisher that focuses on republishing forgotten female (and a few male) authors.
The articles in the magazine focus on their authors, the story behind the books and interesting details about their famous endpapers. There is no charge for the magazine (at the time of this writing) and if you are interested in their books, then you can sign up to be added to their mailing list so they can ship the magazine to you.
Today, I’m pairing a tea with this wonderful literary magazine. Which tea shall we pair? How about Harney’s Citrus Blend? It’s a black tea with an orange flavor. Light and citrusy, perfect for an afternoon of magazine reading. Enjoy!
Entre Nous by Debra Ollivier is my favorite “French girls” book! I’ve had my weather-beaten copy since 2003 and it’s what inspired my very first solo trip to Paris. Even if you’re tired of these types of books, please believe me this one is a must read.
Debra Ollivier lived in Paris for a decade before returning home to the US. So she feels quite confident writing about that elusive ‘je ne sais quoi’ and how the rest of us can attain it.
The book has chapters on how to look stylish, how to shop like a French woman and how to feel comfortable eating by yourself in a Parisian bistro. How French women style their hair (spoiler alert: they keep it classic and simple and don’t alter their hairstyles as the seasons change, the way we do in the US.) How French women don’t chat up strangers and give away all of their secrets. There are interesting sidebars of observations about French women and society, fun tips and interesting quotes to live by. At times it feels like you are chatting with your closest friend. Which is maybe why the book is titled Entre Nous, French for between us.
So, have I found my je ne sais quoi? Probably not. I’m an eternal klutz and my hair won’t ever behave, no matter how hard I work at keeping it tamed. I can’t seem to master French, no matter how many classes I take and I seem to talk too much and overshare with the lady at the deli counter (all verboten in the world of French women).
But none of this stops me from living my best life, reading good books, attempting to look somewhat chic and returning to Paris as time (and money) permits. Oh, plus I enjoy eating alone in restaurants. So, perhaps it’s mission accomplished after all?
Forget tea! Honestly, I’d pair a glass of French wine with this book. Voila.
All The Time In The World by Jessica Kerwin Jenkins is inspired by the medieval book of hours. According to Encyclopedia Brittanica, a book of hours is a “devotional book widely popular in the later Middle Ages. The book of hours began to appear in the 13th century, containing prayers to be said at the canonical hours in honour of the Virgin Mary. The growing demand for smaller such books for family and individual use created a prayerbook style enormously popular among the wealthy. The demand for the books was crucial to the development of Gothic illumination. These lavishly decorated texts, of small dimensions, varied in content according to their patrons’ desires.”
All The Time In The World, complete with whimsical drawings and filled with fascinating anecdotes and witty articles, is meant for reflection and leisurely enjoyment. The entries are to be read slowly, with the passing seasons.
The more than seventy-five articles are cleverly divided by the hour of the day. The first article (6:00 AM) is about the circus and the last article (5:00 AM) is about the songbirds waking you up at dawn. Fitting.
I’d pair an herbal tea with this book. Particularly Twinings Buttermint. Sipping a nice, steaming cup of herbal tea is perfect while leisurely reading the entries.
So let me ask you this, which drink would you pair with your current read?