Archive for the ‘1900s’ Category

As fleeting as poppy flowers, these too-fast-gone summer days...

As fleeting as poppy flowers, these too-fast-gone summer days…

Flipping the pages on the calendars this morning, several days past the turn into August, and rather in shock that we are in the eighth month of the year. What happened? Where did the time go?!

Looking over my Century of Books Project¬†list of completed reads, it occurs to me that I may have to buckle down and do some more strategic reading to fill in some of the yawning gaps, namely those in the last three decades of my century, which I decided would cover the years 1900 to 1999. To date I have been reading largely at whim, with oodles of “double-up” years. It’s been fun, but now I need to get serious. ūüėČ

By the numbers:

  • Years read and reviewed: 56/100
  • “Extra” books read/reviewed: 28
  • Grand total to date of Century reviews: 84
  • Century years left: 44
  • Months of 2014 left: 5/12
  • Books-per-month I need to read and review¬†to meet my goal: 9-ish

I do have some qualifiers already read but not yet reviewed, which I haven’t counted, so the last number is not quite as scary as it could be. Though I have just completed my first re-read of the century, too much time having passed since the original reading to allow for a good post. (The Little Straw Wife, by Margaret Belle Houston, first read way back in February.)

And here they are - the first decade books, minus (The Wonderful Adventures of) Nils, who is unaccountably missing (maybe off on another adventure?) and is represented by the pseudo-Hummel boy-with-geese.

And here they are – the first decade books, minus (The Wonderful Adventures of) Nils, who is unaccountably missing (maybe off on another adventure?) and is represented by the pseudo-Hummel boy-with-geese.

I’ve finished one decade of the Century, 1900-1909, and a mostly pleasant one it was, too. A nice mix of classic children’s stories and vintage bestsellers and completely new-to-me discoveries. Here’s the briefly annotated list. (Scroll down for my “best” and “worst” awards.)

  • 1900 ~ Unleavened Bread by Robert Grant ~ My rating: 8/10.¬†A self-centered, humourless and hypocritical woman¬†claws her way to the society position she claims to be hers by right of birth. An interesting American novel which foreshadows similar works by Sinclair Lewis.
  • 1901 ~¬† My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin ~ My rating: 8.5/10. Teenage Sybylla struggles against an unkind fate, is wooed, and rejects conventional relationships with men, all set against the blazing background of Australia‚Äôs drought-stricken bush in New South Wales.
  • 1902 ~ Just So Stories¬†by Rudyard Kipling ~ My rating: 7.5/10. A collection on fables explaining how things got the way they are: the Whale with his baleen throat, the Camel with his hump, and the Alphabet‚Äôs origin, among others. Some are wonderful for reading out loud to the young ones, others are best enjoyed as interesting period pieces. Good reading for the adults of the family, if you are at all a Kipling aficionado
  • 1903 ~ Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin ~ My rating: 7.5/10. The classic juvenile novel about an eleven-year-old girl coming to live with two strict spinster aunts.
  • 1904 ~ The Treasure¬†by Selma Lagerl√∂f¬† ~ My rating: 10/10.¬† An excellent¬†short novella about love and revenge. A 16th Century Scandinavian winter setting and ghosts. Brrr.
  • 1905 ~ The Princess Priscilla‚Äôs Fortnight ¬†by Elizabeth von Arnim ~ My rating: 7.5/10. German Princess Priscilla escapes the courtly life with her elderly friend, the palace librarian. The two set up house in rural England, but soon run into unplanned-for difficulties. A witty¬†light farce with a mildly predictable¬†moral.
  • 1906 ~ The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett ~ My rating: 8.5/10. A gorgeous gothic thriller/romance following the varied adventures of two wealthy American sisters as they travel to England ten years apart. Gentle Rosy marries a wicked nobleman; ten years later her younger sister Betty mounts a rescue mission.
  • 1907 ~¬†¬†New Chronicles of Rebecca by Kate Douglas Wiggin ~ My rating: 6.5/10. Further details on Riverboro life, with eventual strong hints as to the ongoing evolution of the relationship between Rebecca and much-older ‚Äúfriend‚ÄĚ Adam Ladd.
  • 1908 ~ The Circular Staircase¬†by Mary Roberts Rinehart ~ My rating: 5.5/10. Super-confusing and not very mysterious American country house mystery, salvaged somewhat by the amusing narrator,¬†a middle-aged, opinionated,¬†self-described spinster, Miss Rachel Innes. A classic of crime fiction which I‚Äôm happy to have ticked off the list, but this reading will likely do me for many years to come. Though I am still keen to read more of MRR‚Äôs mysteries; they are definitely enjoyable as well as slightly annoying.
  • 1909 ~ A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter ~ My rating: 6/10. Downtrodden but plucky¬†half-orphan Elnora roams the Limberlost Swamp hunting leaves and bugs to finance her higher education.

And the bonus books:

  • 1903 ~ Also: Brewster‚Äôs Millions¬†by Richard Greaves aka George Barr McCutcheon ~ My rating: 7.5/10. A young man inherits two fortunes, but¬†under strange conditions. He must spend one million dollars ‚Äď without divulging the existence of the second legacy, and under strict conditions ‚Äď in order to inherit seven million. Needless to say, his friends think he has gone mad, and much hilarity ensues as they try to save Monty Brewster from himself.
  • 1904 ~ Also: Green Mansions¬†by W.H. Hudson ~ My rating: 3.5/10. Thousands loved this when it was first published. One hundred and ten years later, I am less than impressed. An Amazonian¬†jungle romantic tragedy between an aristocratic Venezuelan hiding out from the consequences of a failed political coup, and a mysterious ‚Äúbird girl‚ÄĚ who guards her section of the forest against all intruders.
  • 1904 ~ Also: Freckles¬†by Gene Stratton-Porter ~ My rating: 7.5/10. One-handed but plucky orphan Freckles wins hearts, vanquishes evildoers, and wins love while employed as a timber guard in the Limberlost Swamp.
  • 1905 ~ Also: The Orchid by Robert Grant ~ My rating: 6.5/10. A socialite sells her child to her first husband to finance her second marriage.
  • 1906 ~ Also: The Wonderful Adventures of Nils¬†by Selma Lagerlof ~ My rating: 10/10. An appealing vintage children‚Äôs classic. Swedish farm boy Nils is transformed for his misdeeds into elf-size, and is now able to understand the speech of animals. His quest for redemption and a way to break the curse carries him over Sweden on the back of the farm‚Äôs white gander. A marvelous read-aloud, standing up well over a hundred years after its original publication.
  • 1908 ~ Also: The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies ~ My rating: 9/10. The famous poet‚Äôs early years as a tramp in Britain and North America.
  • 1908 ~ Also: The Wind in the Willows¬†by Kenneth Grahame ~ My rating: 10/10. Rat and Mole ‚Äúmessing about in boats‚ÄĚ; Toad getting up to no good in his dreadfully large motorcar; Badger coming to everyone‚Äôs rescue; absolute bookish delight for adults and children alike.

Top 3 “I know I’ll¬†read it again” Books:

  1. Unleavened Bread by Robert Grant ~ 1900.
  2. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm by Kate Douglas Wiggin ~ 1903.
  3. The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight  by Elizabeth von Arnim  ~ 1905.

Melodrama Award:

  1. A Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton-Porter ~ 1909, tied with Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson ~ 1904.
  2. Runner Up: Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter ~ 1904.

Hidden Gem Award:

  1. The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies ~ 1908, tied with My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin ~ 1901.
  2. Runner Up: The Treasure by Selma Lagerlof ~ 1904.

Great Big Disappointment:

  1. Green Mansions by W.H. Hudson ~ 1904.

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Pine cone, exact species unknown. UBC Botanical Garden, February 26, 2014.

Pine cone, exact species unknown. UBC Botanical Garden, February 26, 2014.

 

The next three books in my series of Round-Up posts all involve some sort of autobiographical experiences, though they are presented in different ways. Gavin Maxwell’s Harpoon Venture is self-critical and hyper-realistic; Rosemary Taylor’s Harem Scare’m goes for the gently self-mocking humorous approach, while W.H. Davies’ The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp is in the nature of a unemotionally-documented saga, told in the plainest of language by a man looking backwards down the years at¬†his unconventional and occasionally dramatic vagabond (quite literally)¬†days.

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harpoon venture lyons press gavin maxwellHarpoon Venture by Gavin Maxwell ~1952. This edition: Lyons Press, 1996. Introduction by Stephen J. Bodio. Softcover. ISBN: 1-58574-370-4. 304 pages.

My rating: 8/10

If you have read Gavin Maxwell’s memoirs of his life with pet otters and other various creatures, Ring of Bright Water, Raven Seek Thy Brother, and The House of Elrig, you will recall his passing¬†references to his several immediately post-WW II years spent hunting basking sharks off the Isle of Soay, in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides, close to the Isle of Skye.

This book, Maxwell’s first, details the doomed venture from its first conception during a bombing raid in the 1940 Battle of Britain blitz, when Gavin Maxwell determined that if he survived the war, he would

“…buy an island in the Hebrides and retire there for life; no airplanes, no bombs, no commanding officers, no rusty dannert wire…”

Two years later Gavin Maxwell was serving with Special Forces and stationed in northwest Scotland, when he joined a friend for a yacht trip during their leave and first came across the small, steep-hilled Isle of Soay. After spending two hours roaming the island, Maxwell had determined to make his dream a reality; he would buy it, establish a local industry, and spend his days in peaceful usefulness, looked up to as a local benefactor, the “laird”, in fact.

Needless to say, such utopian dreams were to prove to be too good to be true. The industry Maxwell decided upon was the establishment of a basking shark fishery, to chase down, harpoon and render into useful products the massive, plankton-eating basking sharks, which can reach weights of over 5 tons. These sharks contain huge livers which were at the time in great demand for their oil content, but Maxwell’s scheme involved a factory which would process all of the parts of the fish –¬†skin which could be turned to leather, flesh which could be marketed as “sail-fish”, fins to be dried and sent to China as aphrodisiacs, cartilage and bones to be used to produce glue – the list of possibilities was endless.

It took almost four years for Maxwell’s enterprise to bankrupt itself; he never really recovered from the loss of his personal fortune which he had sunk into the project; he lost Soay and embarked upon a vagabond lifestyle of travelling and writing, which resulted in the acquisition while in the marshes of Iraq of the first of the famous otters.

But this was before that, and fascinating it is all on its own merits, though the brutal details of the process of hunting, harpooning and killing the basking sharks may be queasy-making to those readers of delicate sensibilities. Somehow the narrative manages to transcend the sordid details, leaving one with a portrait of a brilliantly intelligent, highly observant and sensitive yet deeply self-destructive man, who frequently made some very bad decisions, and only sometimes took responsibility for them. My final impression is of a book of intense experiences delicately observed and lyrically depicted.

A¬†wonderful review of the book is here: Desperate Reader: Gavin Maxwell’s Harpoon at a Venture

One hint: Avoid the Lyons Press edition, pictured above. For some odd reason it leaves out all of the photographs Рover seventy in number Рwhich are referenced throughout the text, giving a rather surreal experience to the reader as Maxwell has continually linked his written narrative to the photos, and without them one is left completely at a loss as to what is being referred to.

Second-hand copies of  earlier editions of this book are readily available, generally titled Harpoon at a Venture, so go for one of those instead of the 1996 Lyons reprint.

harem scare'm rosemary taylor 001Harem Scare’m by Rosemary Taylor ~ 1951. This edition: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1951. Illustrations by Paul Galdone. Hardcover. 246 pages.

My rating: 6.5/10

This was another one of those happy-chance stumble-upon books. I had read and¬†written about¬†Rosemary Taylor’s Arizona childhood memoir Chicken Every Sunday¬†back in 2012, and then, just recently in March 2014 had received a comment on my post, which brought Taylor to mind again. Only a day or two later what should I notice among the tattered hodge-podge of old cookbooks and automotive repair manuals at a local antiques emporium, but “Rosemary Taylor” on the spine of a book. And here it is. Isn’t random¬†promising-book-discovery a wonderful thing?!

Written in the early 1950s, Harem Scare’m is Rosemary’s account of her time as a young, aspiring writer in the early 1920s, when she was travelling with a friend in Europe on a break from her first job as an assistant dean of women at Stanford University.

In the process of “getting cultured”, Rosemary temporarily parts with her travelling companion and journeys solo to Madrid, with a week among the pictures in the Prado her goal. The train¬†trip starts out well, but is soon to go sideways…

So there I sat, the future dean of women, dressed in the brown coat and tight-fitting white felt hat I’d bought at such a bargain in a little shop in Paris, wearing no make-up – I didn’t approve of make-up – my legs encased in lisle stockings, my shoes stout and sensible, and on my nose big horn-rimmed glasses, for I was, and am, very near-sighted. A prim and proper young lady, attending strictly to her own business, definitely not provocative, definitely not the type to invite any attention, welcome or unwelcome. Or so I thought.

An optimistic Spanish porter appears to think that Miss Taylor is very provocative, and as she fights him off with determination she is vastly relieved by the entry into her compartment of a one-eyed man, who turns out to be a fellow American, one Floyd Gibbons. The name sounds vaguely familiar to Rosemary, and she is grateful for Mr. Gibbons’ large and protective presence for the remainder of her trip. Floyd, who is of course the Floyd Gibbons, intrepid and well-known war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune,¬†is on his way to Morocco, to cover the events of the Second Moroccan War, the long drawn out series of clashes between the Spanish and French forces with the Moroccans, also known as the Rif War.

Floyd takes quite a liking to the na√Įve young Rosemary, especially when he learns that she is corresponding with her hometown newspaper, the Tucson Citizen, and has just received a princely $5 for a recent article. Why not come with me to Morocco, he asks her teasingly? You can get the woman’s-eye view of things there, maybe get an interview in the local sultan’s harem…

Well, as things turned out, Rosemary did go to Morocco with Floyd, joining a bevy of other war correspondents, and she did get an interview in a harem, which she wrote up for the Citizen. She also found herself in many unexpected places, which she writes about with self-effacing good humour and occasional passionate poignancy.

Rosemary tries very hard to keep the tone light throughout, and though this makes for a not-very-deep but entertaining read, one sometimes feels like she is leaving a lot of interesting stuff out, by deciding to go for the laugh every time, which is why I couldn’t in good conscience rate it much higher.

Rather fascinating stuff, though, with much scope for further investigation. I’ll certainly be paying attention the next time I come across Floyd Gibbons’ name; he¬†sounds like¬†a very interesting personality indeed, and Rosemary Taylor’s¬†depiction of him in Harem Scare’m is affectionate and appealing.

the autobiography of a super-tramp w h davies other

Not my personal copy, but a much later edition with an apt cover photo.

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp by W.H. Davies ~ 1908. This edition: Jonathan Cape, 1933. Introduction by George Bernard Shaw. Hardcover. 304 pages.

My rating: 9/10

There’s a lot in this book, reminiscences of a long and event-filled life, by a sometimes less-than-sympathetic narrator, whose deadpan delivery takes some getting used to, but is worth putting up with for the vivid picture¬†the book gives of a very unconventional attitude and way of living.

I suspect this is the most well-known of the three books in this grouping, being still in print over a century after its first publication, so I won’t go into too much detail.

Born in Wales in 1871, William Henry Davies was raised by his maternal grandparents, and from childhood showed a reluctance to follow in the expected path of others of his class and circumstance. Unable to settle into steady work, Davies abandoned his apprenticeship with a picture-frame maker and instead took to the roads, living on income derived from temporary work, a small income from a legacy, and eventually outright begging.

Davies was fascinated with North America, and eventually made it to the United States, where he joined a loosely connected tribe of “professional” hoboes who travelled the country by stealing rides in and on top of boxcars. They fed themselves on the charity of housewives and by taking on odd jobs, picking fruit, working as seasonal laborers and such. Davies was able to extensively travel throughout the States, and he crossed the Atlantic to and from England numerous times by working of his passage on cattle boats. His foray into Canada on the way to the Klondike gold rush ended horribly when he slipped while attempting to jump a train in Ontario, losing his foot and crushing his right leg, which was eventually amputated at the knee.

Returning to England sporting a wooden peg leg, Davies turned his attention to writing poetry, as he had always been a great reader and secret writer through his vagabond years. Living in charity rooms and living off of his grandmother’s legacy, Davies wrote and wrote and wrote, eventually paying to have his verses printed and attempting to sell them door to door. He met with small success, but kept on, until a series of lucky coincidences brought his poetry into the public eye, where it was received with enthusiasm for its universal themes and sincere tone.

George Bernard Shaw was shown the manuscript of this book, and by his patronage secured Davies a very favourable publishing deal, and the rest is history. Davies ended his days in England hobnobbing with the literary aristocracy of the time, a far cry from the days of stealing garments off of backyard clotheslines and dodging railroad cops.

This memoir is stunning in the scope of its content, and in its unapologetic tone. Davies makes few excuses for his choice of lifestyle and where it took him; he was a keen observer of his companions of the road and the book is full of fascinating portraits of unconventional people and the even stranger events they were involved in.

The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp is written in a very calm,¬†almost overly¬†flat style, and can occasionally be rather hard going as climax after climax is related matter-of-factly in Davies’ sober voice, but his musings on why¬†he is like he is and how he relates to the others he meets in his journeyings and his pithy commentary on social peculiarities make it compelling reading.

 

 

 

 

 

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the wonderful adventures of nils selma lagerlof 001The Wonderful Adventures of Nils by Selma Lagerlöf ~ 1906. This edition: J.M. Dent and Sons, 1950. Illustrated by H. Baumhauer. Hardcover. 294 pages.

My rating: 10/10

My biggest regret upon turning the last page of this book is that I did not discover it when my children were in the midst of the read-aloud years. They would have loved it, voraciously appreciative little listeners that they were.

It has everything Рa magical transformation (as punishment for a misdeed), a quest for redemption, animals wild and tame, a deeply dastardly villain, continual and varied adventures, restrained amounts of sentimentality, and absolutely painless lectures on natural history, geography and Swedish folk legends.

Hey, homeschooling parents Рtake a look! The cross-curricular connections are many and quite brilliant. And I think it would be hugely enjoyable for the reader-alouder as well.

Fourteen-year-old farm boy Nils is beloved by his hard-working parents but also a huge disappointment to them. He neglects his chores, he lies, he torments the animals, and he dodges going to church. What will become of him, they sigh to each other in sorrow? Will he ever see the error of his ways?

Apparently not, but fate takes a hand when Nils offends the farmstead elf, who then transforms Nils into tiny elf-size himself. As Nils runs hither and yon about the farmyard in absolute distress, he realizes that he can now understand the language of the animals. They in turn are pleased to see that their tormentor has had his comeuppance, and let him know a few home truths about their views on his past behaviour.

Nils is at first shocked and resentful, but then as the true consequences of his fourteen years of misbehaviour become clear, he experiences something of an epiphany. “I am sorry!” he cries. “Please forgive me!” But the animals ignore his pleas.

As Nils mourns his sad fate, a flock of wild geese fly over, and the farm’s big white gander, stirred to wanderlust by their call, rouses himself up and prepares to take flight. Nils, with his newly aroused conscience, immediately grasps what a tragedy the loss of the gander would be for his parents, and leaps onto the gander’s back in an attempt to hold him back. The gander – very predictably, as we already know what is going to happen – manages to take flight with Nils on his back, and we are off on the wonderful adventures promised in the title.

This book is a marvelous series of dramatic vignettes, tied together by Nils’ desire to redeem himself so he may break the elf’s curse and be returned to human size, and by his acquisition of a mortal enemy who follows him over sea and land, Smirre Fox.

Even without an audience of enthralled young listeners, I found this book immensely appealing as a private read-to-my-adult-self story. Selma Lagerl√∂f avoid excessive sentimentality, and while¬†she makes it obvious that Nils is being taught a lesson and that he is working towards repentance to his parents, to the animal world, and ultimately to God (for Nils’ previous neglect of religious observances), she never preaches. The morals are discussed, and then let go – the reader is given the respect by the author that he or she will “get it” without being pounded over the head by repetition. And Nils is believably far from perfect, even after his epiphany, and lapses from grace frequently,¬†usually with bitter consequences to himself and to others, though occasionally an outside party will intervene just as things seem to be going most desperately awry.

Smirre Fox is a gloriously frightening villain, almost supernatural in his powers as he follows the flight of the wild geese, and the sense of danger that we feel for Nils and his companions is intensely real throughout.

This books transcends its origins – it is a very Swedish book, and I feared would be a bit unrelatable to the non-Scandinavian reader – and its age – it is well over one hundred years old – to be fresh and engaging. While there are the expected styles and attitudes of its era of writing, it is a very worthwhile read for anyone at all interested in the “fairy tale transformation” type of genre. This is decidedly a classic.

Oh, and the ending is not what one would expect, leaving us still in mid-air, as it were, though with some good clues as to the final resolution to Nils’ greater quest for redemption.

I loved this one, and will be saving it for my (at this point extremely hypothetical) grandchildren.

One last note. I would hesitate to give this to a youngish child to read to himself/herself. Though the interest level I anticipate would be from 5 or 6 years of age through the primary years, the text would be hard going for such a young reader, what with the general old-fashioned phrasings and grammar and the many Swedish place and character names and terms. There is a handy glossary of pronunciation in the back of the Dent edition, and it would be well to refer to that before starting on your read-aloud.

wonderful adventures of Nils selma lagerlof illustr h baumhauer 001

The illustrations in my 1950 Dent edition are by H. Baumhauer, and add a pleasant touch to the story. I would think that the variety of illustrators is vast, as this book has had countless editions over the past century, so it would be well worth the effort to investigate if possible before purchasing a copy to share with your child(ren)-in-question to make sure you find a nicely-illustrated one.

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the circular staircase mary roberts rinehart 001The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart ~ 1908. This edition: Grosset & Dunlap, 1908. Hardcover. 362 pages.

My rating: 5.5/10

A decade and a half before Agatha Christie penned her first murder mystery in England, Mary Roberts Rinehart had a stunning success with this book, which established her as bestselling mystery and dramatic fiction writer in North America. It is sometimes claimed that she was the best-paid American¬†author of her time; her book sales were in the millions. So I was looking forward to The Circular Staircase with great anticipation, having read enough of Mary Roberts Rinehart’s work over the years to know that she can indeed spin an engaging¬†tale, usually including a nicely independent and outspoken female lead or two, in keeping with the author’s suffragette and proto-feminist leanings.

And, by and large, The Circular Staircase mostly pleased me, in a low-key way, though it took me absolutely forever to work through. It has an unusual and most engaging narrator, the charmingly independent and opinionated Miss Rachel Innes. It helps with the independent and opinionated character traits that Rachel also seems to be quite wealthy and therefore able to indulge in letting herself speak freely Рfor who will argue with the lady who pays the bills? She also can be rather high-handed in her dealings with family members and subordinates, though her gently cynical self-mockery keeps us on her side, along with her obvious affection for her adopted niece and nephew and her personal maid Liddy.

This is the story of how a middle-aged spinster lost her mind, deserted her domestic gods in the city, took a furnished house for the summer out of town, and found herself involved in one of those mysterious crimes that keep our newspapers and detective agencies happy and prosperous.  For twenty years I had been perfectly comfortable; for twenty years I had had the window-boxes filled in the spring, the carpets lifted, the awnings put up and the furniture covered with brown linen; for as many summers I had said good-by to my friends, and, after watching their perspiring hegira, had settled down to a delicious quiet in town, where the mail comes three times a day, and the water supply does not depend on a tank on the roof.

Having adopted her orphaned young niece and nephew some thirteen years ago, this summer finds all three of them preparing to settle down in¬† a rented country house for a few months. Rachel has resigned herself to a disturbance in her long routine in order to indulge the wishes of the younger members of her establishment; she brings along her long-time companion and personal maid, Liddy, against that retainer’s grumbling resistance. Twenty-year-old Gertrude and twenty-four-year old Halsey are expected to flit in and out at will, being popular and well-heeled young people with many friends. Halsey has just purchased an automobile; it will play an important role in the summer of mystery and peril they are all about to embark on.

For Rachel and Liddy are horrified to find, their very first few days in residence, that their idyllic country house has an unsavory reputation among the locals. Belonging to an absent banker, it has been empty for some months, and it turns out that strange noises have been heard and strange lights seen at night. Almost immediately upon arrival Liddy has managed to offend the few servants who were brave enough to take on employment, and Rachel is left servant-less and alone in the house but for jittering Liddy. Luckily she is able to acquire an ally in the person of Thomas.

Liddy wanted to go back to the city at once, but the milk-boy said that Thomas Johnson, the Armstrongs’ colored butler, was working as a waiter at the Greenwood Club, and might come back. I have the usual scruples about coercing people’s servants away, but few of us have any conscience regarding institutions or corporations‚ÄĒwitness the way we beat railroads and street-car companies when we can‚ÄĒso I called up the club, and about eight o’clock Thomas Johnson came to see me.¬† Poor Thomas!

Ah! Note the “Poor Thomas.”

This does not bode well, for Mary Roberts Rinehart in this book is abundantly generous with her broad hints of disaster to come, in what was to become her signature “Had-I-But-Known” mystery writing style. Now this is rather cute when used sparingly, but MMR has her narrator Rachel pop these foreboding hints in way too frequently for readerly comfort. There you are, caught up in the thread of the story, when the insertion of a “HEY! IMPORTANT CLUE COMING RIGHT UP” aside stops you dead in your tracks. Okay then, you think to yourself, what is she talking about? And you tiptoe carefully in to the next few paragraphs, wondering all the while where the clue is hidden. Sometimes it is quite obvious, and you sigh with relieve and get on with things. Other times it is pages – nay, chapters! – ahead, and so many other meaningful asides have been made in the meantime that you are completely lost as to which thing was important to what incident before and what did knowing this have to do with that and on and on and on. Sometimes the clue fails to materialize at all, leading to retrospective confusion as one tries to link it all together, and fails dismally.

And this is what stopped me from loving this book. It is too darned long, and too darned illogical. It had its charms, for certain sure, but it was hard work to keep straight, and it took me well over a week to work through, as I kept putting it down in mild irritation and true confusion and turning to other things much more straight-forward.

Without revealing the mystery of the summer place and its circular staircase (which is really not at that important to the tale in my opinion, and, I thought, something of a red herring¬†supplied by the author) may I just say that the plot involves embezzled money, hidden/mistaken identities (multiple), a wicked doctor, a secret(ish) child, a hidden room, shots fired in the night, and a whole lot of people rushing about and missing their chances to clear important elements of the mystery up by keeping their odd little secrets for just a bit too long. Among other¬†developments I’m already¬†erasing from¬†my short-term memory bank.

Four deaths (at least I think it was four – that bit left me a bit bemused, too – corpses in this novel not always being reliable identified), including that of “poor Thomas” early on, tried my patience severely, mostly because of the generally nonchalant attitude of the survivors. There’s a bit of horror at the thought that “just yesterday a man lay dead right over there¬† beside the table where the tea tray now sits” but by and large the expected reactions are underplayed. Or overplayed. There’s some of both.

Would I recommend this book? Only to the very patient, and those willing to work through the confusion of the twisty and illogical plot to delight in the witty and self-contained running commentary of our opinionated narrator Rachel.

For further edification, there’s a nice review which echoes my own feelings, from Melody at Redeeming Qualities. (A very cool blog featuring mostly vintage out-of-print books. Take a look around when you’re there –¬†I’ll guarantee that your personal¬†look-for list will get much longer!)

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the shuttle frances hodgson burnettThe Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett ~ 1906. This edition: Frederick A. Stokes, 1907. Hardcover. 512 pages.

My rating: 8.5/10

Coming late to the party with this book, I am. I had added it to my Century of Books must-acquire list because of numerous enthusiastic recommendations from other bloggers, and I am thrilled to be able to report that those who gave it the nod were completely correct. It’s an absolutely¬†grand read.

I understand that the currently in-print edition published by Persephone has been edited somewhat, and I can’t help but wonder what they cut out. I’m not terribly concerned that it would have ruined the story – this is a very long book with abundant authorial wanderings just slightly off-topic here and there – but it was intriguing to read the early, as-published text in this lovely vintage edition and speculate as to where it could be gently trimmed.

And golly, I just realized that the book I’m holding in my hands¬†(well, it’s actually sitting on top of the printer beside the computer, but it was just being held in my hands)¬†is a genuine antique. One hundred and seven years old. That’s rather a pleasant thought. It’s travelled through the decades very well indeed, both in physical condition and in staying power of contents.

If you are one of the few of my readers who hasn’t yet tackled The Shuttle, here is a¬†plot summary of sorts.

There were once, in the later years of the 19th century,¬†two American millionaire’s daughters, eighteen-year-old Rosalie (Rosy) and ten-years-younger Bettina (Betty) Vanderpoel. It was just at the time of the first awareness by impoverished English gentlemen of the nobility – second, third and fourth sons, as it were – that here was a rather well-stocked hunting ground for well-dowered wives, who would be willing to exchange the country of their birth and a goodly portion of their fathers’ wealth for an English title and a stately ancestral home. In the best of these transactions, gone into with eyes wide open, both parties benefitted and a certain degree of happy felicity resulted, but occasionally the meeting of American feminine independence and English masculine traditionalist views on the necessity for a wife to submit to her husband’s superior judgement ended in disaster.

Guess which kind of marriage sweet, frail, loving and deeply innocent Rosy Vanderpoel made?

Falling for the seductive wiles of Sir Nigel Anstruthers, Rosy trots innocently off to England, but the honeymoon voyage is not even half over before she realizes that she has yoked herself to a malicious and sadistically abusive man. Sir Nigel is a rotter through and through. He despises not only his new wife, but her family and her country and her ideas and her expectations of at least a modicum of domestic happiness. His bitter disappointment at Rosy’s father’s insistence at leaving the control of her fortune in her own hands and not in her husband’s has Sir Nigel seething; he has hidden his true nature well, but now that the shores of the new world are receding he is preparing to gain control of Rosy’s share of the Vanderpoel millions for himself.

Competently reducing meek Rosy to a grey shadow of her former self, Sir Nigel succeeds in cutting her completely off from her American family, but for the occasional letter requesting more funds. Three babies are born; the first a son, who is born crippled due to his pregnant mother being physically assaulted by Sir Nigel; two little daughters die young.

Ten years pass.

Back in America, Betty Vanderpoel has never forgotten her beloved older sister, and can’t quite believe that the cessation of relations is by Rosy’s wish. (Betty had never liked Sir Nigel, and he¬†returned the scorn she viewed him with in spades.)¬†Taking her father into her confidence, Betty announces that she is going to go to England and see for herself how Rosy is faring. And off she goes, with her father’s blessing and his millions behind her.

What she finds is beyond her worst expectations. Rosy, aged beyond her years,¬†lives a dreary life shut up in a decrepit mansion staffed by sullen servants, her only companion her hunchbacked ten-year-old son, Ughtred. (Aside to author re:¬†“Ughtred”. ¬†What the heck, Frances Hodgson Burnett? That is absolutely bizarre. What were you thinking???!) Anyway, the estate is mouldering away while Sir Nigel pursues his merry way a-spending Rosy’s money on mistresses and riotous living abroad; he returns only to indulge himself in spousal abuse and to browbeat Rosy into sending another brief letter to Papa requesting more money to maintain his little grandson’s estate.

Betty, made of much sterner stuff than Rosy, swoops in like an avenging goddess, and the majority of the rest of the book consists of the rehabilitation of Rosy, Ughtred, the estate and the attached village full of grateful rurals. Sir Nigel reappears to find his despised sister-in-law very much in control of things, and their ensuing battle of wills, Rosy’s deeply good against Sir Nigel’s blackly wicked, is a gloriously entertaining thing.

Oh, and there is a further development. The next estate over belongs to another impoverished nobleman, this one the sole survivor of a long succession of bad eggs. But is Lord Mount Dunstan really as deeply black as his spendthrift, now-deceased elder brother, and the heedless ancestors before him, or is he sullen merely because he feels so darned bad about the decrepit state of his hereditary acres? Any guesses?

I will stop right here, because you can now likely guess the ending from what I’ve just said. Nope, no surprises here. But how the author gets us to the inevitable conclusion is deeply diverting. And how genuinely engaging and interesting her various characters are, from meek Rosy to divinely competent Betty to nasty Sir Nigel and his equally nasty old mother to misunderstood-but-really-deeply-noble Mount Dunstan to random American typewriter salesman G. Selden (who makes up a merry little sideplot himself, what with his precipitous entry via bicycle wreck at the very door of the Anstruther mansion) to busy millionaire Reuben Vanderpoel – what a glorious cast!

I loved this story! It’s a proper saga. Such a treat to have a black and white, good-versus-evil, you know who to root for and who to boo and hiss at sort of thing!

And it does reflect some very real historical happenings, such as the astounding trans-Atlantic traffic in (relatively) poor English noblemen and wealthy American heiresses which took place from the 1860s well into the early 1900s. Fictional Rosy Vanderpoel is represented as being one of the earlier of the transplanted rich girls, and her story is based solidly on fact, though with artistic license in her particular details.

A grand exposition on both American and British social structure of the late nineteenth century, with abundant detail and a whole lot of humour. What a good book, in an old-fashioned novel-ish sort of way. If you haven’t read it already, may I suggest that you consider adding it to your Must-Read list, in any edition you can get your hands on? As the publisher’s poster claims, it is a masterpiece.

Edited to add this note on the heroine’s wee little nephew’s name, Ughtred. At first I thought, “No way! This can’t be a real name.” But then a commenter said something about old Saxon names, and the penny dropped. Of course. A bit of internet research (what did we do before Google?!) turned up just a few references, enough to show that Frances Hodgson Burnett did indeed know her stuff. Here we are, then, references from several genealogy websites. (And I did not bookmark the references; bad researching practice, I know. Don’t tell the teens in my family, as this is a constant refrain from me when they are doing online research: “Reference your sources!”)

English: from the rare Old English personal name Uhtred, composed of the elements uht dawn + red counsel, advice. This is a very uncommon given name in the English-speaking world, but remains in use in the Shuttleworth family.

and

The name “Ughtred” is of Saxon origin, and means “early to counsel”. There were several Ughtreds (also spelt Hurard, Uctred, etc), the first (who did not carry the “de Bradshaw” or “of Bradshaw” surname) was, apparently, living near Preston, Lancashire at the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066. He was a “King’s Thane”, that is an trusted retainer of the Saxon King, and he probably held his office by guarding the King’s hunting preserve because he is sometimes called “Forester” or “King’s Sergeant”. He or his son, or grandson, had a brother named Alan de Bradshaw, who held lands in Harwood, near Bradshaw Village. One early descendant was Robert de Bradshaw, a Crusader who died under the wall at Acre, in the Holy Land, circa 1189 A.D…

So there it is. A name with a genuine and quite fascinating history. But I still pity the poor kid in The Shuttle. Crippled from before birth by his wicked father, and then saddled with this. It’s¬†even more eyebrow-raising¬†than Little Lord Fauntleroy’s Cedric. Wonder what his (Ughtred’s) middle name (names) is (are)?

The publisher's American publicity poster from 1907.

The publisher’s American publicity poster from 1907.

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brewster's millions 1902 richard greaves george barr mccutcheonBrewster’s Millions by Richard P. Greaves, pseudonym of George Barr McCutcheon ~ 1903. This edition: Herbert S. Stone & Co., 1903. Hardcover. 325 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

This was a pleasant light novel which was easily breezed through in several sittings. Nothing here to challenge one; purely diversionary.

Montgomery Brewster is one of the set of young men with expectations, “The Little Sons of the Rich”, who form an informal club for card-playing, wining and dining in turn-of-the-century New York. In Monty’s case, it is his paternal grandfather who provides the expectations; Monty is widely believed to be the millionaire’s heir. This proves to be the case, and Monty’s natural sorrow at his relative’s demise – for Monty¬†has been a ward of¬†the old man since¬†his parents’ untimely deaths – is salved by the news that he has been set down in the will for one million dollars.

Now Monty is gently pleased at this, the more so because he has been a hard-working young man and is not¬†that desperate for the money, though there is no doubt that it will make life much more pleasant. Monty has been working in banking, and is pulling down a respectable salary; he boards with a widowed lady who has been something of a foster mother to him since childhood, and he is good friends with the household’s daughter, Margaret Grey. He is also romantically involved with a vivacious young woman who herself has good prospects, banker’s daughter Barbara Drew. An engagement is expected by both of them – Monty and Barbara – in due course, and all in all life looks fair to be peaceful and prosperous, with no clouds on the horizon.

Then, mere days after the Brewster will is proved, Monty receives a¬†surprising communication from another lawyer. Monty’s¬†late mother’s brother, his Uncle Sedgwick, has just shuffled off into eternity, and he has appointed Montgomery Brewster, son of his beloved sister, his sole heir. With a condition.

Seems that when Monty’s parents were married, a feud of sorts was started between Brewster senior (Monty’s grandfather) and the Sedgwick clan. Unforgivable words were spoken on both sides, and James Sedgwick was left with a bitter hatred towards the Brewsters, Monty excepted. As a sort of twisted revenge, he wanted to turn Monty into his chief heir but without mingling any of his (Sedgwick’s) hard-earned money with that of his enemy’s. Monty must divest himself of the Brewster fortune in a prescribed time, to be left with only the clothes on his body, in order to inherit the Sedgwick cash. And the amount of that legacy makes Monty sit up and take notice: $6,345,000! With projected interest, something like seven times the fortune already in hand.

Will Monty take the gamble?

Well, of course he will! For that is the entire premise of this rather silly story.

The conditions set for divesting himself of the Brewster fortune are stringent. Monty is not allowed to confide in anyone as to why he is ridding himself of his grandfather’s cash, with the deadline being Monty’s twenty-sixth birthday, just under a year in the future.

There was also a clause in which he (Sedgwick)¬†undertook to dictate the conduct of Montgomery Brewster during the year leading up to his twenty-sixth anniversary. He required that the young man should give satisfactory evidence to the executor that he was capable of managing his affairs shrewdly and wisely,‚ÄĒthat he possessed the ability to add to the fortune through his own enterprise; that he should come to his twenty-sixth anniversary with a fair name and a record free from anything worse than mild forms of dissipation; that his habits be temperate; that he possess nothing at the end of the year which might be regarded as a “visible or invisible asset”; that he make no endowments; that he give sparingly to charity; that he neither loan nor give away money, for fear that it might be restored to him later; that he live on the principle which inspires a man to “get his money’s worth,” be the expenditure great or small.

So Monty sets out to spend Grandfather Brewster’s cash, which he will need to do, as his calculations have shown him, at an average of¬†almost $3,000 per day. He must demonstrate that he is receiving “value for money”, and he’s not allowed to tell anyone what he’s doing. Let the farcical fun begin!

For Monty’s friends, the other “Little Sons of the Rich”, prove surprisingly unwilling to let Monty squander his cash, and they go to great lengths to limit his expenditures. Early on in the proceedings, Barbara Drew is disgusted by Monty’s profligacy, and withdraws from their informal engagement, giving him pause, but only for a moment. As the year races on, Monty finds it harder and harder to spend fast enough, even adding to his fortune completely unwillingly by several freak occurrences – a second-rate prize fighter knocking out a champion (Monty had bet on the second-rater); a foray into stock trading on a “sure loss” which was turned around due to Monty’s investment; a¬†visit to Monte Carlo¬†ends with a bizarre winning streak – the fellow just can’t lose! Or, as the true case would be, win.

Luckily a financially disastrous yacht trip helps with the final disposal of Monty’s funds, as well as showing him that he has started to develop¬†romantic feelings towards the young woman whom he had previously thought of as a platonic foster-sister, his old chum Margaret Grey. But Monty’s birthday is fast approaching, and suddenly Sedgwick’s executor disappears, and the Sedgwick millions with him. Could Monty have gambled and won, only to have ultimately¬†lost everything through a cruel twist of fate?

Well, what do you think will happen?

I enjoyed this humorous period piece, and I was quite amused as well to learn some of the history behind its writing. I will pass you over to this excellent article by Nathaniel Rich, American Dreams: Brewster’s Millions, from which I’ve excerpted this back story of the author’s own gamble. (And please click over and read the full article; it is excellent.)

Brewster’s Millions, a novel about a bet, was written on a bet. George Barr McCutcheon was visiting his publisher when the subject of bestselling novels came up in conversation.

‚ÄúThe name of the author is what sells the book,‚ÄĚ remarked the publisher.

McCutcheon, who the previous year had written his first bestseller‚ÄĒthe initial volume in the Graustark series of romantic adventure novels‚ÄĒdisagreed.

‚ÄúI will bet you $100 that it does,‚ÄĚ said the publisher.

‚ÄúI will take that bet,‚ÄĚ replied McCutcheon, ‚Äúand I will write you a story to show you that I am right.‚ÄĚ

Six weeks later McCutcheon submitted a manuscript. It was the story of a young man named Monty Brewster who, in order to inherit $7 million, must spend $1 million in a single year. There are, however, strings attached. At the end of the year Monty cannot possess any assets; he is forbidden from telling anybody why he’s spending all his money; and he may only donate a piddling amount to charity. Monty is free to reject the challenge and keep the $1 million, but he accepts the bet without hesitation. He begins his year of spending dangerously by renting the most expensive apartment in Manhattan and leasing four Monets, three cars, two horses, and a chef from Paris.

McCutcheon, needless to say, won his publisher‚Äôs bet‚ÄĒin fact he made off nearly as well as Monty Brewster. Brewster’s Millions sold 150,000 copies in its first three months of publication, despite the fact that the author was listed as ‚ÄúRichard Greaves.‚ÄĚ (A clerk at the publishing house posed for the press photo.) The novel remains in print 110 years later, and has been adapted for film at least 10 times.

*****

Note: I originally purchased a copy of the book in order to fill in the 1902 spot in my Century of Books¬†reading project, but it appears to me that the book was actually published in 1903. My copy is a first edition, showing the author’s name as Richard P. Greaves on the front cover (later editions replaced the pseudonym with George Barr McCutcheon), and the publication date on the copyright pages states: Issued April 20, 1903. Not a big deal, but it did leave me feeling a bit uneasy about using it for 1902, so I filled that space with Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories¬†instead. So if you’re looking for inspiration for this time frame for your own Century project, just an alert that the copyright date of 1902 which appears in almost every reference to Brewster’s Millions that I’ve seen may be slightly incorrect.

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just so stories rudyard kipling folio ed 001Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling ~ 1902. This edition: The Folio Society, 1991. Illustrated by Rudyard Kipling. Hardcover. 189 pages.

My rating: 7.5/10

Having been familiar with the most popular of these stories since childhood – The Elephant’s Child standing out in my memory, for it was¬†read aloud to me a great number of times; I can clearly hear in my head¬†the words “great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo River” deliciously rolled out in all their alliterative glory in my mother’s quietly precise¬†voice¬†– I of course acquired a volume to read to my own wee children.

And not just any old edition, but this¬†deluxe Folio Society version, complete with the author’s original illustrations, chatty descriptions of the drawings, and abysmally cringe-inducing poems. And obviously unexpurgated, too, which I discovered as I read them aloud, requiring some think-fast editing to deal with little things such as this passage, from How the Leopard Got his Spots. Rolling along nicely, we all are, until we reach the last line in this passage, and oh, golly! – now how to slide through that one?! The clever¬†reader-alouder¬†¬†becomes adept at looking a little way ahead and editing on the fly after one or two experiences like this.

…Zebra moved away to some little thorn-bushes where the sunlight fell all stripy, and Giraffe moved off to some tallish trees where the shadows fell all blotchy.

‘Now watch,’ said the Zebra and the Giraffe. ‘This is the way it’s done. One‚ÄĒtwo‚ÄĒthree! And where’s your breakfast?’

Leopard stared, and Ethiopian stared, but all they could see were stripy shadows and blotched shadows in the forest, but never a sign of Zebra and Giraffe. They had just walked off and hidden themselves in the shadowy forest.

‘Hi! Hi!’ said the Ethiopian. ‘That’s a trick worth learning. Take a lesson by it, Leopard. You show up in this dark place like a bar of soap in a coal-scuttle.’

‘Ho! Ho!’ said the Leopard. ‘Would it surprise you very much to know that you show up in this dark place like a mustard-plaster on a sack of coals?’

‘Well, calling names won’t catch dinner,’ said the Ethiopian. ‘The long and the little of it is that we don’t match our backgrounds. I’m going to take Baviaan’s advice. He told me I ought to change; and as I’ve nothing to change except my skin I’m going to change that.’

‘What to?’ said the Leopard, tremendously excited.

‘To a nice working blackish-brownish colour, with a little purple in it, and touches of slaty-blue. It will be the very thing for hiding in hollows and behind trees.’

So he changed his skin then and there, and the Leopard was more excited than ever; he had never seen a man change his skin before.

‘But what about me?’ he said, when the Ethiopian had worked his last little finger into his fine new black skin.

‘You take Baviaan’s advice too. He told you to go into spots.’

‘So I did,’ said the Leopard. ‘I went into other spots as fast as I could. I went into this spot with you, and a lot of good it has done me.’

‘Oh,’ said the Ethiopian, ‘Baviaan didn’t mean spots in South Africa. He meant spots on your skin.’

‘What’s the use of that?’ said the Leopard.

‘Think of Giraffe,’ said the Ethiopian. ‘Or if you prefer stripes, think of Zebra. The find their spots and stripes give them perfect satisfaction.’

‘Umm,’ said the Leopard. ‘I wouldn’t look like Zebra‚ÄĒnot for ever so.’

‘Well, make up your mind,’ said the Ethiopian, ‘because I’d hate to go hunting without you, but I must if you insist on looking like a sun-flower against a tarred fence.’

‘I’ll take spots, then,’ said the Leopard; ‘but don’t make ’em too vulgar-big. I wouldn’t look like Giraffe‚ÄĒnot for ever so.’

‘I’ll make ’em with the tips of my fingers,’ said the Ethiopian. ‘There’s plenty of black left on my skin still. Stand over!’

Then the Ethiopian put his five fingers close together (there was plenty of black left on his new skin still) and pressed them all over the Leopard, and wherever the five fingers touched they left five little black marks, all close together. You can see them on any Leopard’s skin you like, Best Beloved. Sometimes the fingers slipped and the marks got a little blurred; but if you look closely at any Leopard now you will see that there are always five spots‚ÄĒoff five fat black finger-tips.

‘Now you are a beauty!’ said the Ethiopian. ‘You can lie out on the bare ground and look like a heap of pebbles. You can lie out on the naked rocks and look like a piece of pudding-stone. You can lie out on a leafy branch and look like sunshine sifting through the leaves; and you can lie right across the centre of a path and look like nothing in particular. Think of that and purr!’

‘But if I’m all this,’ said the Leopard, ‘why didn’t you go spotty too?’

‘Oh, plain black’s best for a nigger,’ said the Ethiopian…

So racist bits aside – and there are a few here and there in many of the stories, in a very era-expected sort of way – these have become so much a part of our popular culture with their instantly recognizable tag lines that they are well worth passing along to children and grandchildren.

Rudyard Kipling and his eldest daughter (his "Best Beloved" first child) Josephine, at the time of the writing of the first of the Just So stories.

Rudyard Kipling and his eldest daughter (his “Best Beloved” first child) Josephine, at the time of the writing of the first of the Just So stories.

The Just So stories were originally written for Kipling’s young daughter Josephine, who died of pneumonia at the tragically tender age of seven in 1899; several years later the stories, which had been published singly from 1897 onward, were assembled into this collection. They are written as scripted read-aloud narratives; one can hear an avuncular fatherly voice rolling them out; the repetition and slangy contractions are distinctive and memorable, though sometimes a bit hard to read out loud with a straight face and sober tone.

A few of the stories are over-long and rather hard going; this is a collection which requires some serious editing if being shared with a young audience, but it rewards the older reader’s full attention once the little ones have left the room, for its period atmosphere and the vision it gives of the time when the stories were written. Lift a sardonic eyebrow over the worst of the politically incorrect bits, but spare a thought too for the all-too-common sorrow of¬†the bereaved parent; Kipling’s “O Best Beloved” small daughter is a ghostly presence throughout.

  • How the Whale got his Throat ~ Never¬†swallow whole¬†a ship-wrecked Mariner, for he may be a man of infinite-resource-and-sagacity.
  • How the Camel Got his Hump ~ An awful warning to the perpetually scornful, especially those who reside where magic-making Djinn reside. Your “Humph!” may turn into a Horrible Hump, claims our narrator.
  • How the Rhinoceros got his Skin ~ The tale of the cake-loving Parsee, who favours hat which reflects the rays of the sun in more-than-oriental-splendour, and his perfect revenge on the thieving rhinoceros. (One of our favourites.)
  • How the Leopard got his Spots ~ See the excerpt above. A rather glorious tale, but requiring of the parental edit here and there. And I must warn you that if you have the Kipling illustrated version, he comments regarding the illustration that “The Ethiopian was really a negro, and so his name was Sambo.” (!)
  • The Elephant’s Child ~ My childhood favourite, what with the elephant’s child getting his revenge on all of his spanking multi-species relatives. A slightly annoying repetition of ” ‘satiable curtiosity” (yes, the misspelling is deliberate) challenges the reader throughout, but as a treat one gets to roll out “great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo” just as many times.
  • The Sing-Song of Old Man Kangaroo ~ Yellow-Dog Dingo is fated to chase Kangaroo, and Kangaroo had to run and run and run. Neither could stop, they simply “had to!” The moral: Those who wish to be really and truly popular and wonderfully run after may rue their desire.
  • The Beginning of the Armadilloes ~ This was one that was something of a miss. An Amazonian¬†turtle and¬†hedgehog confound a predacious Jaguar by morphing into armadilloes.
  • How the First Letter was Written ~ A Primitive father and daughter – very early Britons indeed – originate hieroglyphic writing, with hilariously confusing consequences.
  • How the Alphabet was Made ~ An extension of the previous story, with detailed descriptions of how the letters of the alphabet were made. Sad to say, perhaps, too long and descriptive. We all lost interest in this one, and as a read-aloud it was a dismal failure, clever illustrations to no avail.
  • The Crab that Played with the Sea ~ A crabby King Crab plays hob with sea levels to the great detriment of all seashore and ocean creatures. The Great Magician disciplines the Crab, and turns responsibility for the rise and fall over to the Moon. A rather good “origin tale”.
  • The Cat that Walked by Himself ~ Our absolute favourite. This was one I read out loud over and over and over. “I am the Cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me…” Only to give in to the warmth of the fire and the bowl of milk from the Wife of his Enemy at the end, while still reserving his aloofness, at the cost of¬† eternal feuding with Man and Dog.
  • The Butterfly that Stamped ~ Written with an eye to the adult audience, Kipling spins a rather preachy homily about how to keep your wife under proper control, with the help of a handy Djinn.
  • The Tabu Tale ~ The father-daughter of First Letter and Alphabet returns with a moralistic lecture on the benefits of growing up, and related responsibilities.
One of the author's much-annotated illustrations for How the Whale got his Throat.

One of the author’s much-annotated illustrations for How the Whale got his Throat.

The illustrations in the Folio Edition of Just So Stories are a delightful addition, but the author’s poetry, of which the following¬†is¬†one of the less objectionable examples, not so much. Just couldn’t get through these with a straight face, and they engendered¬†a certain amount of critical¬†sneering, kiddies and grown-ups of this family alike.

The Camel’s hump is an ugly lump
Which well you may see at the Zoo;
But uglier yet is the hump we get
From having too little to do.

Kiddies and grown-ups too-oo-oo,
If we haven’t enough to do-oo-oo,
We get the hump‚ÄĒ
Cameelious hump‚ÄĒ
The hump that is black and blue!

We climb out of bed with a frouzly head
And a snarly-yarly voice.
We shiver and scowl and we grunt and we growl
At our bath and our boots and our toys;

And there ought to be a corner for me
(And I know there is one for you)
When we get the hump‚ÄĒ
Cameelious hump‚ÄĒ
The hump that is black and blue!

The cure for this ill is not to sit still,
Or frowst with a book by the fire;
But to take a large hoe and a shovel also,
And dig till you gently perspire;

And then you will find that the sun and the wind,
And the Djinn of the Garden too,
Have lifted the hump‚ÄĒ
The horrible hump‚ÄĒ
The hump that is black and blue!

I get it as well as you-oo-oo‚ÄĒ
If I haven’t enough to do-oo-oo‚ÄĒ
We all get hump‚ÄĒ
Cameelious hump‚ÄĒ
Kiddies and grown-ups too!

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