Friday, June 1, 2007

Yammering on about The Shuttle

I awoke today, without any house guests, and eager to return to the blogging world to visit my favorites blogs and write a bit about my experience with The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett. I began my time online by visiting Karen who has commented quite eloquently on the recent Persephone Books letter dated May 30. I think this line from the letter sums it up:

Hurrah for blogs, we say – but only if they are never mistaken for anything but yammering.

Pardon me? I cannot possibly say what Karen has any better but would like to add a few thoughts of my own. I'm not quite sure how Persephone thinks they have any sort of following in the US. I know for certain they have had a few mentions in Domino Magazine. Besides this, I am not sure where intelligent, literate Americans are supposed to hear about these books. Persephone suggests that what the critics and reviewers have to say is all important but they are not writing about Persephone books here. How else is one to learn of them? Let me tell you how. When I became interested in these books, naturally I googled them and what sites do you suppose came up? Book blogs, of course. Yarnstorm, Random Jottings, Cornflower, I could go on. Aside from Persephone's own site, these are the places to connect with other Persephone readers, to read reviews and 'talk' about these books. No one else in my everyday life is reading them. I believe Persephone has done their readers and their company a great disservice by publishing this condescending letter. As Elaine commented on Karen's post "talk about biting the hand that feeds you...". And all this comes just as my husband has offered to buy 3 more titles for my upcoming birthday.

So today I have chosen to share the above photograph of another copy of The Shuttle which I do own. I love the attached sticker on the cover. There is a full page illustration inside entitled "I am that unfortunate beggar, Mount Dunstan, myself."

I did love this book. For those who do not know, the plot entails Miss Betty Vanderpoel - a rich, beautiful charismatic New Yorker, traveling to England to find out whatever has become of her sister Rosalie. Rosalie, a sweet and simple young lady, married Sir Nigel Anstruthers some years earlier. He married her in the hopes of gaining access to her fortune. I was considering starting another post, in which I could discuss the plot more so as not to ruin it for others. I am not sure if that would be desirable or not.

This book is long and descriptive but quite readable. The first 100 pages or so is very positive towards Americans, in terms of their industry and work habits and general 'get it done' attitude that America has always been known for. Betty arrives in England and travels to her sister's home. At this point in the novel, it becomes somewhat of a love letter to the English countryside, describing the villages, great houses, and beauty of the land with great love. It is clear Burnett had respect and love for both countries she lived in. Nigel is both a wonderful and horrible bully of a man, wonderful in that he is written so well. It's hard to believe this character was written over 100 years ago and is so absolutely detestable. The book has the appropriate amount of melodrama and I was truly guessing how it would end, up until the very last moments. The only parts I found difficult were those in which the 'lower classes' were spoken to or of as lesser beings. I really had to remind myself of the period and move on. Having read this, I am certainly interested to know if there are other adult books by Burnett worth seeking out.

Edited to add: Persephone has changed the letter that appears on their site. The quote I have included above regarding 'yammering' is no longer there, but it was at one time, and there are others who can attest to it.


Danielle said...

I was disappointed in the letter, too. I appreciate everyone has different opinions about blogs, but I guess I wish it hadn't have been brought up. I also only discovered them via other bloggers. Glad to hear you enjoyed The Shuttle--I have a copy at home that I hope to start soon!

Iliana said...

Oh how disappointing! Is it me or do the "critics" and "real reviewers" not understand that book blogging is a community. A community they could never foster with typical newspaper articles. I love to hear what everyone is reading and that's how I discover new books and authors to check out. I get to tell everyone what some of my favorites are. I finally get to talk to people who enjoy books as much as I do. Sheesh.

I'm so tired of all the brouhaha over book blogs but to see this in the Persephone Newsletter feels a bit more like a slap in the face after all the praises I've sung about them. Okay, I need to go grab some chocolate and chill :)

Anyway, thank you for this post Tara. I will visit Karen's and to read more about this.

Carrie K said...

I'd read an article in Arts & Letters Daily where bloggers were decried as book reviewers. Pfft and tosh. Who do they think are their readers?

The Shuttle sounds interesting! I've only lately read a biography of Francis Hodgson Burnett, I had no idea she lived in TN, or the states. I've been looking for her Washington DC novel (adult) but haven't run across it yet.

Nan said...

I'm just shaking my head. I've been busy and am behind in my blog reading, and haven't read about this at all. I wonder how they would react if the bloggers boycotted their books. Yammering - what a terrible word. I'll try to catch up on this controversy this weekend.

BooksPlease said...

Sounds to me that it's Persephone Books doing the yammering.

The only book by Frances Hodgson Burnett that I've read is "The Secret Garden". I heard a dramatisation of "The Marchioness" on BBC Radio 4 recently and meant to look up her adult books. I haven't come across "The Shuttle", so thanks for the info.

Jill ONeill said...

I spent an evening last weekend re-reading The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, both by Hodgson Burnett. She does make for a satisfying read.

dovegreyreader said...

I have this exact same edition of The Shuttle!For some years I'm afraid I've taken the books Persephone publish as a recommend and then found them for pence on second-hand book sites in the original editions.I'm less enamoured with the "look" than I was initially.I used to keep them all on one shelf but suddenly one day I saw through it all and mixed them in with everything else, it was quite a defining moment.Perhaps a reaction to the feeling that the publisher was becoming more important than the writers they were publishing.

Tara said...

Thanks so much to everyone for reading and commenting. I have enjoyed having this 'conversation'. This is what blogging is all about. In regards to Persephone, I do still love their books, I should say their choices of books to publish. I will probably continue to purchase them for this reason. I am saddened however, that they will never mean the same thing they did to me before, and that they seem now a little bit tainted.

Danielle, I also wish it hadn't been brought up - I don't understand the point of alienating your readership in such a way. I look forward to seeing what you think of The Shuttle.

Bookgirl, you are spot on regarding your comments about it being a 'community'. " I finally get to talk to people who enjoy books as much as I do." That's exactly how I feel.

Carrie, thanks for stopping by! What is the title of the Washington DC novel? I'll have to seek out her biography you mentioned, she had a fascinating life.

Nan, yes, 'yammering' is a completely inappropriate word, in my opinion. I do wonder if there will be any mention of this from them again.

Booksplease - I agree! Well said. Do seek out The Shuttle - there are earlier editions available online if you are interested.

Jill, yes, she does make for a satisfying read. I haven't read these since I was a child and I am tempted to pick them up again one of these days.

Dovegreyreader, thank you so much for visiting me. I have also found a handful of their books in earlier editions. My proudest find is a boxed set of Molly Hughes' three books, including 'A London Child of the 1870s'. I enjoyed your thoughts on why you've separated them, physically. It does seem that in some ways Persephone is bigger than the writers themselves, and that should not be the case.

Elaine said...

Carrie - the Washington DC novel is Through One Administration and I think it is one of her best. It is available if you look on Alibris or similar sites. It is positively Whartonesque at times. I do hope you find it! I have now decided enough is enough with all this, I have been with Persephone since day one, have even helped stuff envelopes in the early days, so feel particularly upset about it all. I have written personally to NB about it all and was very very blunt with her. Shortly after my final email she edited the letter, but too late, too late..

Tara said...

Elaine, thank you for the title of the book. I am going to look for it. Regarding the letter, it was too late, wasn't it. Much of it should have been edited out before they ever printed it.

Lesley said...

Interesting indeed. I first heard about Persephone through book bloggers, and in fact, that's the only time I've seen them mentioned - in the various blogs that praise them to the sky.