Thursday, October 29, 2009

Promises to Keep

And I shall about the two biographies of Louisa May Alcott and Lucy Maud Montgomery. However, the two books add up to almost a thousand pages and may take a little time to devour. The Alcott book was written by a screenwriter, while the Montgomery was written by a scholar who has been involved with her life for decades. The later reminds me of the book my friend Judith Thurman wrote about Colette's life. Judith spent years in research and her book is a testament to her skill as a researcher, writer, and literary critic. A subject can take over one's life.

This morning, I spoke on the phone with a research librarian at Washington Irving's home, Sunnyside, in Irvington, New York. I could tell by her voice what enthusiasm she has for her work. Catalina Hannan will be exciting to work with. She, too, is working on a book about life in the 19th century, having discovered a cache of letters in Irving's family. "It is the everyday life that fascinates me," she said in our long conversation. "And I always know that the avenue I am taking will lead to so many more things to discover." I am beginning to think there is a "fine madness" about rediscovering the past, and those of us engaged in it keep turning pages and in every one there is the possibility of revelation.

And so, we will not be rushed. I have to give Mary Henley Rubio her due on her Montgomery biography. It will take some time to truly appreciate it. But what I can say, is that such an endeavor is in itself admirable. I have questioned before whether biographers chose their subjects, or if it the other way around. I'm inclined to think the latter. This is the book that Rubio was meant to write and to which she had pledged the very best she has to give. What is also important is to tell the story so that the reader comes along with the same passion as the writer. That is what I will be looking for in this book.

I am delighted by the comments I have been receiving from those of you on this blog. Anne, of Green Gables fame, was the one who gave us our kindred spirits reference. (I even adore being called to task for loving Daniel Green slippers. And I admit that this season's shoe with puppy faces give me pause...) What I love about our recent book discussions is that these are
works that have given us a common language with which to communicate; We can talk shorthand when we deal with things that have become so much a part of our lexicon.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning has been in mine since I memorized her poetry when I tried out for the drama club in high school. I didn't get in, but How Do I Love Thee? has never left me. And how much I liked doing the story in Victoria magazine that brought her world to life. I am touched that it was so meaningful to some of you.

And so, in the words of Robert Frost, I have promises to keep, and hopefully will fulfill them as we blog on.


  1. How apt to have you say that the books choose the author! I'm currently re-reading the Anne books, and right now, am deep into "Anne's House of Dreams." In it, Anne "matchmakes" Captain Jim, a retired sea captain with magical stories to tell, with a young author who comes to visit (who just happens to be a distantly connected relative of a significant character). Carrot-topped Anne, typically, decides that he is JUST the writer to capture the wonderful tales of Capt Jim, and, as it turns out, she was right. LM Montgomery's affirmation, I think, of exactly what you're talking about.

    It's funny, but I believe houses function the same way...sometimes, I feel I was "meant" to live in the little Cape Cod I call home!
    Oh, I'm eager to read that biography now, Nancy. Thanks for calling our attention to it!
    Bookishly, Karen Marline

  2. I've read just about everything I can find about L.M. Montgomery. I was smitten with Anne when my grade 4 teacher read aloud the Green Gables book to our class. As I grew older I went looking for the author and eagerly awaited the next edition of her journals these past years.

    I enjoyed Karen Marline's comments..... those places we're meant to live in or call home, those books we're meant to read, write or enjoy.... when it fits like a glove, as they say, it's perfect.

  3. I still have my paperback copy of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Sonnets from the Portuguese" and other poems that I purchased as a young teenager nearly 40 years ago.
    You must have been crushed when you didn't make drama club!

  4. I just love the Anne of Green Gables books. I have read them all but I think re-reading them is certainly a great idea.

    I have enjoyed the series on TV many years ago too. I think it was in the late 80s and early 90s. I was glued to the TV totally transformed. I was lost in that world - the place I would call home.

    I find myself drawn to that era - the Anne era or the Little Women era and when I am in it, all is perfect. It was meant to be. It is interesting how everything falls into place when we are where we should be.

    "Promises to Keep" appeared on the January 1994 issue. I just loved the January issues!!


  5. @Rita: I do think it was an arrow in my life at the time. However, it was a good turn in the final analysis, as most things like this turn out to be. I was way over-programmed in high school and didn't need another activity. I learned poetry I've never forgotten. And then one day got to share the experience with millions of women. This disappointment was not of the magnitude of my puppet club experience in the seventh grade. My puppet fell apart in the performance and the teacher was not particularly forgiving. Do you know how many eggs I went through before I got one I could use for the puppet's head? Isn't it amazing how we recall these little hurts? I'm sure Mrs. Stone was lovely in lots of other ways. And what was I doing in a puppet club, anyway?

  6. Some of my classmates still suffer from not making drama club in high school. We've moved on, of course, but we can recall the hurt. Thank goodness we had books to lose ourselves in, both classics and contemporary books written just for teenaged girls. One genre taught us good writing and universal truths, while the other helped keep us on course and assure us that teenaged angst would pass.

    What would we have done without books and their female authors? Getting a new book about a female author is always a treat for me.

  7. I held the "M" in "Merry Christmas" upside down in first grade during the Christmas pageant. The audience was smiling and giggling but I had no idea it was because of the "Werry Christmas". Mom endearingly kissed the top of my head and I might never have known until my kid brother gleefully spilled the beans on the way home. Can laugh about it now but was crushed then...


  8. Hi Everyone,

    This may be a little off the topic but here goes. Just these past two weeks a tv version of "Wuthering Heights" has been on our telle here in Sydney. It was magical, it transported me back to the time when I first read the book. I love this story and have seen many film adaptations of the story. So romantic. I am currently reading a book by Amanda Grange called "Mr Darcy, Vampire", which is excellent. "Pride and Prejudice" is one of my very favourite stories. In our family "How Do I Love Thee" has special memories. It has meant alot to us for many different reasons. I would love to see the musical "Robert & Elizabeth". Gee their story is so romantic and tragic. Why are all the best ones such heart tuggers? My world will be full of Little Women when my theatre group presents the musical next May. I am not a typical man - my heart lies in the classics and with times gone by. Times were so much simpler back then. Keep loving reading and the emotion of the past.