Victober 2020 Finale

Victober reading.

This post is later than I had originally planned because the US elections consumed my every waking moment, driving me into the abyss of madness, stress and sheer exhaustion. However, all ended well. #relieved #thankgoodness

I enjoyed my first Victober reading challenge and will definitely partake again next year. Here is a run-down of the challenge and my thoughts.

  1. Read a Victorian book that equates to your favorite modern genre. I picked Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s a collection of short stories about the fictional town of Cranford. Truth be told, it didn’t have much of a plot and sometimes I was bored. It was nice to read vignettes of Victorian English village life though.
  2. Read a new to you book and/or short story by a favorite Victorian author. I decided to read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. It was my first time reading anything by Dickens. I loved it! Why I waited so long to read this story I shall never know. I finally meet Mr. Scrooge and the ghosts that haunt him. It is very cleverly written. I love that we get our Christmas traditions from Charles Dickens’s Christmas stories. I’m also a little obsessed with Charles Dickens right now so feel free to tell me your favorite Dickens tidbits.
  3. Read a Victorian diary or collection of letters. I read a collection of letters written by Queen Victoria. I have mixed feelings about Queen Victoria. I’m no expert on her reign, but it really bothered me that she wrote letters about frivolous things while so many families (especially children) went hungry. The starvation during Victorian England was an epidemic so I was annoyed reading Queen Victoria’s letters raving on about that minister or that gathering when real life was horrific for the 99%.
  4. Read a Victorian book you’ve been meaning to read for ages. I read How To Be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman and The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski. This is the category where I cheated because both of these books were written long after the Victorian era, but that’s okay. Rules are meant to be broken, right?
  5. Read a Victorian book while wearing something Victorian. I don’t own anything Victorian so I wore perfume. The Victorians enjoyed perfume, so I think this counts.
  6. The Readalong: As part of a month-long readalong, I read Shirley by Charlotte Brontë. This was my second Charlotte Brontë book. The story is a bit of a love triangle with a lot of drama and some laughs. Everything ends nice and tidy though. While it was a wonderful story, I felt like it went on too long. There could have been a few scenes cut, methinks. But the Victorians, they loved their big books.

How did you fare with your Victorian reading?

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #64

I have to admit, I’m surprised at how many confederate statues there are. Every day there is yet another story of protestors tearing down a statue. I say, good for them. Tear them down faster.

I don’t understand people who say you can’t learn about history (and the Civil War) without the racist statues. To them, I say: I’ve learned so much about so many countries and world events without ever setting foot in those countries. It’s called reading.

I’m writing a book where Nikita Khrushchev loiters in the background. I’ve never seen a statue of him (nor was I able to invent a time machine and travel to the USSR circa 1959) yet I know who he was and what he stood for.

Have you learned anything about something without visiting the country where the event took place?

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A travel writer contemplates a less mobile future.

Speaking of reading, what does it mean to be well read?

The Brooklyn Book Festival is going completely virtual.

Have you seen this video of Ken Burns talking about the monuments? The video begins with a poignant interview given by James Baldwin.

DW has a really cool series of short videos called Meet the Germans. It’s all about German culture as discovered by a British woman living in Germany with her German husband. Super fun and interesting!

xoxo, Jane

A Stroll in the Garden

A few days ago, I grabbed my mask and left the house for a walk. Specifically, a walk through a garden because I wanted (needed) to be surrounded by greenery and flowers.

A peek of the house through the tree branches.

I paid a visit to the garden of the Lee-Fendall House. Luckily, I was the only visitor, so it was an extra special treat. The Lee-Fendall House was, for several generations, the home of the Lee Family. If you haven’t heard of them, they were (are) an old Virginia family.

I stumbled upon this memorial to Mrs. Eleanor Fendall, a daughter of the Lee family.
Mrs. Eleanor Fendall’s tombstone.

Some family members were signers of the American Declaration of Independence. Later some members (Confederate General Robert E. Lee) fought on the losing side of the American Civil War.

The Union Army turned their property into a hospital for wounded soldiers. By 1904, the home left the possession of the Lee Family. Today, the house is a testament to 19th century and early 20th century history.

A brick path surrounds the garden.

It was calming and peaceful to be there. I kept thinking of Miss Bingley telling Lizzie Bennet, “Let us take a turn about the room.” I also thought of Lizzie and how enamored she was of the gardens at Pemberley.

The back view of the house.

It was nice to “take a turn” about the garden and to enjoy everything without feeling rushed.

There were benches throughout the garden. Next time, I’m returning with a book.

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #62

Hello! I hope you’re doing well under the circumstances. Here are a few reading links that caught my fancy.

Inside the Culture of Racism at Bon Appétit.

Muriel Bowser and Black women are going after Trump. And they’re winning. And may they keep on winning!

If this doesn’t melt your heart, I don’t know what will: A teen who spent ten hours cleaning up after a protest in Buffalo is rewarded with a car and a college scholarship.

A Brief Feminist History of Bike-Riding.

Parents must teach their children to oppose racism.

And last, but never ever least: Black Lives Matter.

Be well and stay safe! xoxo, Jane

Hello.

The social injustice in our country (and actually in the whole world) is making my heart heavy with sorrow. I feel helpless. I vote in every election and I hope you do too. I have also donated to Black Lives Matter and to the Equal Justice Initiative. I will continue to make donations to them and to other causes that work on ending white supremacy in the United States.

As you can image, I am not in the mood to blog about books and such. It seems trivial compared to what is happening right now. I’m going to continue working on my own book while the blog stays quiet for just a little while longer. Thank you for bearing with me.

I leave you with this poem by German pastor, Martin Niemöller, who survived the Nazis. Unfortunately, this poem is as timely as ever.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
     Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

xoxo, Jane

Square Haunting by Francesca Wade

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Square Haunting: Five Women, Freedom and London Between The Wars tells the story of five important women during a time when they lived on the same street in Bloomsbury, London. They didn’t necessarily know each other, nor did they all live on Mecklenburgh Square during the same time. However, their lives, struggles and the street they lived on bind them together. This is the foundation that Francesca Wade builds on in her debut book about Hilda Doolitle (H.D.), Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Ellen Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf.

It took me almost two months to finish Square Haunting. Partly because it’s dense, academic reading and partly because I wanted to savor it. I loved reading this book and I learned so much, such as that H.D. was an American. How could I have not known that?

Francesca Wade took years to research and write this book. Her scholarly work shows through in the five sections devoted to the lives and scholarly pursuits of each woman.

“I like this London life in early summer – the street sauntering & square haunting.” Virginia Woolf, diary entry April 20, 1925

All five women were born during the Victorian era. An era when women had few options and weren’t allowed to think for themselves. The way the men in their lives treated them left me drained. All five of these ladies had to unlearn the social norms of Victorian society so they could flourish in their professions.

Even within the home, women were deterred from living a life of their choosing. To borrow Virginia Woolf’s famous words, a woman did not have a room of her own. For example, Francesca Wade highlights the difference between the study and the drawing room. A study was for a man. A woman was not allowed in the study, at least not without the man’s permission. The drawing room is a room reserved for the woman, but it is not her private room. Anyone can enter at any time, especially visitors. This resonated deeply with me; long after I finished reading the last page I am still thinking about the difference between these two rooms.

“The drawing room, Harrison wrote, was designated the wife’s territory, yet remained a public space, as ‘the room into which “visitors are shown” – a room in which you can’t possibly settle down to think, because anyone may come in at any moment.’ The husband’s study, by contrast, was ‘a place inviolate, guarded by immemorial taboos’, where the man of the house ‘thinks, and learns, and knows’; there were, Harrison noted, ‘rarely two chairs’ in the room.”

If you know even a little about Virginia Woolf, then you know how her life ends and Square Haunting does not gloss over it. World War II brought a great depression over her spirit. With airplane bombers flying over her house, and the bombings of London and the English countryside, it appeared to Woolf that there was no end in sight. After writing farewell notes for her husband and her sister, she walked into a river and drowned herself. Do you know what I wish? I wish I could invent a Time Machine and travel back in time to tell Woolf to hang on for just a few more years. That Churchill, and the Allies, would bring the war to a victorious end. I wish I could have told Woolf that not only would we win the war, but that future generations would come to admire, study and seek inspiration from the stand that Britain would make against Nazi Germany.

The current global pandemic is probably the worst event my generation has experienced. I must remind myself that for pre-Baby Boomers, life was generally awful: famine, the flu pandemic of 1918, the Great Depression, the two World Wars… I could go on. Yet, these five ladies persevered through hardships and fought to make a living from their desired professions.

The women that dominate the pages of Square Haunting left me feeling inspired to continue working on my book and writing projects.

I’m glad I spent two months with these ladies. I thought about them as I went about my day. I thought about Sayers writing her detective fiction as I plotted my own fiction. I thought about Woolf worrying about the war as I pondered about our own economic and political troubles. And when I finished the book, even though I had tears streaming down my face, I felt a relief wash over me. Relieved that I honored them by reading about their lives and keeping their memories alive, but I also felt sad turning the last page because I was saying goodbye to my five ladies (as I privately began to call them).

Have you read Square Haunting or any of the published works of these five women?

xoxo, Jane

Thursday Reading Links #59 (Cold War Edition)

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I don’t have any appropriate pictures for this post, so let’s just pretend this trail from my walk is a dead drop.

I’m working on a series of novels (Book 1 is in the editing phase, Book 2 needs to be rewritten and Books 3, 4 and 5 are in the draft outline phase) set during the Cold War. So, I thought I would make today’s reading links all about the Cold War.

What I Learned From Women Who Were Prisoners of the Gulag.

The Long History of the Red Scare as an American Political Tactic, an interview with Kathryn Olmstead, professor of history at the University of California, Davis.

Capitalism’s Baby Mania.

Nazi who arrested Anne Frank became a spy for West Germany.

Activist or spy? The curious case of a Cold War nuclear scientist.

Four Books about the Cold War.

My life under surveillance after I married a KGB agent.

Not about the Cold War, but set during the Reagan administration: Dee Snider on PMRC Hearing: I Was a Public Enemy. Dee Snider of the band Twisted Sister talks about his senate hearing. It’s a fascinating read because he is being brutally honest and doesn’t mind calling people on their hypocrisy. I had no idea that this was even an issue in the 1980s. Sometimes I wonder if politicians create drama and waste taxpayer money because they have too much time on their hands. (Sounds like Dee would agree with me.)

Let me know what you think of the articles.

xoxo, Jane

Favorite Book Series: Clara Vine

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Clara Vine is a brilliant series written by author Jane Thynne. Clara Vine is a British out-of-work actress who, upon the advice of an acquaintance, relocates to pre-war Germany to find work at the Babelsberg Studio in Berlin.

However once there, she finds herself entangled with the wives of high-ranking Nazis. This comes to the attention of British intelligence who persuade her to spy for them. This series has it all: romance, suspense and espionage. It will grip you from beginning to end.

Clara Vine is a very nice woman: intelligent, kind, and thoughtful. Caught in a web of espionage, she tries to keep secret that she is partly Jewish. But to stay alive as a non-Aryan in Nazi Germany is not easy. There is a very good reason why, after five novels, she doesn’t return to Britain. I don’t want to spoil it for you so I won’t say the reason, but as a woman I completely understand Clara’s reasoning.

If you need to lose yourself in a new series, especially now in our troubled, sad and uncertain times, I highly recommend the Clara Vine books.

You can learn more about Jane Thynne here. Also, there is a very good Q&A about the Nazi wives on the author’s website that I recommend giving a read.

Have a wonderful day and stay safe!

xoxo, Jane

Sleeping With the Enemy: Coco Chanel’s Secret War by Hal Vaughan

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Reading good books with interesting historical plots makes me want to know more about the real life history. The Queen of Paris is no exception. Reading it just made me want to learn more about Coco Chanel, especially about her collaboration with the Nazis. What really led her down that awful path? Did she regret it? Is that why she fled to Switzerland after Paris was liberated?

The author of The Queen of Paris, Pamela Binnings Ewen, said she used Sleeping with the Enemy by Hal Vaughan as part of her research, which inspired me to buy this book.

I am hoping my questions will be answered in Sleeping With the Enemy. Mr. Vaughan’s findings from his investigation into Coco’s life during Nazi-occupied Paris are revealed for the first time in this book.  It was published in 2011 and since then other books about her Nazi past have been written, but this is the book that started it all.

Also, Mr. Vaughan’s book dedication gave me the chills: “This book is dedicated to those French men and women who, though bent by the Nazi yoke, refused to to collaborate. And as always, for Phuong.” 

I look forward to reading this book and learning more, even if it will be unpleasant.

What’s on your nightstand?

xoxo, Jane

The Queen of Paris by Pamela Binnings Ewen

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Women in History – Eloise Randolph Page, the Iron Butterfly

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Women (and their accomplishments) are often left out of history. This is nothing new and we are well aware of it. It’s not right and it’s not fair. I’m going to do my part to write about women in history (especially in the Cold War era). Please join me as we kick off this new series with Miss Eloise Randolph Page.

Eloise Page began her career as a secretary in the OSS (the precursor to the CIA) in 1947. What’s remarkable about her is that she moved up through the ranks to become the CIA’s first Chief of Station in an era where women in intelligence were simply not promoted.

Miss Page was born in Richmond, Virginia. Emphasis on the Miss. She did not like being referred to as Ms. Miss Page never married or had children. Instead, she chose to break the glass ceiling in the intelligence community, steadily climbing through the ranks and eventually earning the nickname “the Iron Butterfly.” She retired in 1987 as one of the highest ranking female officer.

Miss Page is not mentioned in my Encyclopedia of the Cold War which I find to be a grave oversight. She is, however, mentioned in Spy Sites of Washington, D.C. which is how she came to my attention. 

I tip my hat to this incredible woman who paved the way for other women to lead in intelligence. 

 

(Image via Pexels.com)

A very short history of The Lutetia Hotel in Paris

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They say that old mansions and grand hotels are haunted by ghosts. If that’s true, then the Lutetia Hotel in the 6th arrondissement of Paris is the most haunted of them all. 

If ghosts exist, then the corridors of this storied hotel must be filled with the spirits of cabaret singers, artists, writers, Josephine Baker and Nazis.

Built in 1910, during France’s Belle Époque, this architectural gem hosted James Joyce where he wrote parts of Ulysses. Josephine Baker and Picasso were regular guests, as was Ernest Hemingway. 

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A young Charles De Gaulle stayed there for his honeymoon. And it was this fortuitous visit that would change the course of the hotel’s history.

During the occupation of Paris, the Nazis requisitioned the hotel to house and feed their officers and French collaborators. 

After the war was over, hundreds of thousands of former prisoners and Holocaust survivors began to make the trek home to France. The now General Charles de Gaulle remembered his luxurious stay at the Lutetia and demanded that the hotel house the survivors of the Holocaust because he wanted them to be housed in comfort after the horrors they suffered.

And this is how it came to be that the grandest hotel in Paris opened its doors to displaced persons and Holocaust survivors. The first survivors arrived at the hotel in April 1945. They received food, shelter, money and clothing.

The hotel also became the Paris headquarters for those searching for loved ones or waiting on Red Cross updates of family members sent to camps. An entire wall of the hotel was filled with photographs of missing persons. Relatives desperate for reunification with loved ones regularly stopped by to see whether missing family and friends had arrived from the camps. 

The last displaced person left the hotel in September 1945. Soon thereafter the hotel reopened its doors for business as usual and celebrities once again flocked to the grandest hotel in Paris. 

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The Lutetia closed in 2014 for renovations and reopened in 2018. The old-fashioned decor was replaced by chic, contemporary pieces. The dark paneling was removed to make room for a marbled lobby that boasts an airy, light-filled space. Once again, celebrities and the well-to-do made the Lutetia Hotel their home away from home.

As for the ghosts, they probably still roam the halls. 

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Note: If you want to learn more about the Holocaust survivors who stayed at the Lutetia Hotel, please search for “Lutetia Hotel” at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.