Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sarcasm of Destiny

While going through some old files on my computer, I found the PDF for this book. With the subtitle "Nina's Experience," it looks like it might prove to be Victorian-era porn, with the Nina in question being that genteel ingenue just arrived at boarding school where she learns to conjugate more than her Latin verbs. If only. 

It's actually a novel written by Mary Elizabeth Wilson Sherwood, who was a best-selling American author (they would have said author-ess, I'm sure) of her day, and her day was the 1880s and 90s. Post-Austen, post-Edgeworth (remember her?), post-Brontes, post-Eliot, but pre-Woolf, pre-Chopin. Okay. So, this is 19th century chick-lit. And it's not very good, but for a few glimmers. Still, I'm newly interested in this first person persona business and so I'm looking at it again. Also, this author was the pre-eminent authority on manners at the time. She'd written several books on the subject and she was also a celebrity in her own right and a world-class social climber. She was from New Hampshire and married into one of the most prominent New York families and basically drained them of all their money. And boasted of being a personal friend to Queen Victoria. Her vast ego was matched only by her intelligence, and she was considered formidable in her quick wit. She micromanaged the lives of her sons and grandsons, told them what to do, where to live and whom to marry. She fascinates me and so I read her work. I have one of her books on manners and her autobiography, which is hilarious in what she leaves out as much as what she puts in. More on this later. Next post, I'll quote from Sarcasm, because in it she paints a picture of Irish gentry in America. Very unusual. And her descriptions of men and women? Priceless. She's trying to be Austen or Edgeworth, and not quite making it. But she is doing something interesting.

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