Monday, January 18, 2021

Last Week's Reads: Washington Irving, Cottingley, and Stories from Grandma

Washington Irving, author of The Sketch Book, 1820

Last week was a pretty successful reading week---which was good because January got off to a much slower start than I was hoping! I began the month reading Washington Irving's The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., originally published serially in 1819-1820. Two of his most famous stories, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow are on a couple of my classic reading goals lists so I read those first. The rest of the book I enjoyed pretty slowly over the course of 10 days or so. 

The collection of stories is random and extremely disjointed, but it's not an uncommon compilation for the time. It didn't take long for me to realize he was an obvious forerunner to some of my favorites like Nathaniel Hawthorne and Charles Dickens, both of whom claimed him to be a literary mentor. In his compassion for the downtrodden and disadvantaged, he reminds me of Dickens. In his ability to weave a moral tale into a story of his home town or region, he reminds me of Hawthorne. I did think he spent quite a bit more time on Shakespeare than he deserved---he seemed to have a bit of an obsession---but I'm not really a fan. I also found the parts about the Indians to be unfortunately prophetic. It was interesting in a sad/happy way to read about a time when many of them were still living in their own way on their own land.

My favorite passage was this:

pg. 14: "To an American visiting Europe, the long voyage he has to make is an excellent preparative. The temporary absence of worldly scenes and employments produces a state of mind peculiarly fitted to receive new and vivid impressions. The vast space of waters that separates the hemispheres is like a blank page in existence. There is no gradual transition by which, as in Europe, the features and population of one country blend almost imperceptibly with those of another. From the moment you lose sight of the land you have left, all is vacancy, until you step on the opposite shore, and are launched at once into the bustle and novelties of another world." (The Voyage)

I love that picture because its exactly how I feel on my flights to England.

I semi-enjoyed these short stories about "grandma's day" (more like great great great grandma's day for me). They have a very Little House on the Prairie feel and many of them pointed to times when faith in God was grown. However, some did seem a bit contrived and the one about the liniment cake was straight out of Anne of Green Gables. It did make me question the legitimacy of the others but perhaps the author is mixing up what she's read from what she's heard.

One story I liked in particular was the one about how the little girl tried to win a contest at school with a book being the prize. I like to collect antique books and have several in my collection that were given as prizes in school and Sunday school. At a time when most homes only had a handful of books, if that, I'm sure these books were very precious! 

I only have one real complaint with the book and that's the fact that it didn't seem to be a big deal for the adults in the story to shame the children for childish mistakes. Apparently, that was supposed to be humorous but I didn't find it funny.

From Amazon: "The author turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.

1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.

One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers."

This story earns a very rare 10 star rating from me---it was absolutely wonderful in every way. Not only did the author take a small moment from history and turn it into a fantastically woven tale spanning multiple generations, but she did it in a way that was mature, believable, and relatable. I am very much naturally drawn to the popular "magical realism" genre but, as a Christian, I feel it's one I need to be very careful about. I end up abandoning most books I think might be "ok" from this genre. This story centers all around the idea of fairies, yet what Frances saw and what she and Olivia dreamed, can all be explained with the rational and the "real". I absolutely loved it. Plus, no sex, no meanness, and just two or three swear's definitely a cozy read.

Reading the history that inspired this story makes me laugh. It's unbelievable to me how so many grown and professional individuals took these photos seriously. I guess it's like Frances said---people wanted to be taken in. It truly was a different time in history that is often impossible to imagine.

The night I finished this I turned off the light earlier than normal and I found that my room was full of fairy lights! My husband set up one of those laser shows to shine on the house for Christmas and it doesn't turn off until close to midnight so I watched the fairies dance through my window for a few minutes before falling asleep!


The two Grandma's Attic stories fulfill these challenges: The Victorian Reading Challenge at Belle's Library; The Victorian Reading Challenge at Becky's Book Reviews; The Historical Fiction challenge at The Intrepid Reader; and four challenges for the Daughter's of Promise Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.

The Sketch Book fulfilled The Georgian Reading Challenge at Becky's Book Reviews;

The Historical Fiction challenge at The Intrepid Reader; two of the Classics Club readings; and two challenges for the Daughter's of Promise Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.

The Cottingley Secret fulfilled The Historical Fiction challenge at The Intrepid Reader; and two challenges for the Daughter's of Promise Brighter Winter Reading Challenge.

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