Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner is a fine book. It introduces us to the world of the seemingly repressed but actually seething Edith Hope who writes successful romance novels under a nom de plume – “a more thrusting name”. Brookner’s writing is a joy to read for its clean lines and wonderful vocabulary. Its character descriptions are delightful. There’s nobody to fall in love with here, although one can sympathize more and more with Edith as the plot progresses. Edith had elderly female relatives who used to cry out “Schrecklich! Ach, du Schreck!” (dreadful!) and her life too has become dreadful to her. She’s in love with a married man who cares little for her. She is tired of carefully being in the background. When she attempts to marry somebody else, she realizes that she cannot go through with it and does not arrive at the wedding. She is self-reliant and independent, but still would love a marriage.
I enjoyed her literary allusions: as she is being driven to the airport she writes in a letter “A cold coming I had of it”
Described variously as looking like Virginia Woolf or Princess Anne (now the Princess Royal), Edith is spending some time at the Hotel du Lac, a family hotel in Switzerland that is simply a retreat – it is really a hotel. But the atmosphere conjured up a sort of Magic Mountain where the disease is narcissism and various degrees of stupidity. Edith comes to the point of making a demonic pact – but stops short of the Full Faust.
“Fiction, the time-honoured resource of the ill-at-ease, would have to come to her aid,”
I simply do not know anyone who has a lifestyle. What does it mean? It implies that everything you own was bought at exactly the same time, about five years ago, at the most. – Pp. 26-27
― Anita Brookner, Hotel du Lac
Affinity by Sarah Waters
This darkly sinister novel is a repository of information about women’s prisons, the spiritualism that became quite a fad in the mid to late Victorian period (See Robert Browning’s “Mr. Sludge, the Medium”), and the dark confinement of women in general and in particular women in mourning. The Victorians had to a large extent “domesticated” death and post-mortem photographs and mourning rings and mourning clothing were customary.
In this novel we meet an upper-class lady who lives on Cheyne Walk, no less, named Margaret Prior who, after a probable nervous breakdown relating to the death of her father, decided to find some activity. There’s little for an upper-class or upper-middle class unmarried lady to do, so she becomes a “lady visitor” at the Millbank Prison. The prison is as dankly miserable as you might imagine. Although the women are closeted in their cells, affinities are bound to occur.
Selina Dawes, a medium, who has been used by a spirit named Peter Quick (I kept thinking of “The Turn of the Screw” and Peter Quint) is in jail for fraud and being involved in the murder, by Peter Quick, the spirit, of her patroness. We meet also the women jailers such as Mrs. Jelf (I kept thinking Miss Jessel from “Turn of the Screw”) who have a demanding job. They may get to go home after their long day’s work, but do they have any money?
Finally, the novel engages in so many turns of its screw and so many potential “affinities” that it’s difficult to unravel the truth from a strong invitation to suspend our disbelief and know the power of an “affinity”.
It’s difficult to write a review because to go far is to spoil. My only criticism of the book is that it takes a while to gain momentum. Once it does, it’s difficult to put down
_The Claverings_, one of the later works by my besten, Anthony Trollope, is similar to a late Shakespeare play: full of problems that defy categorization. It might be easy for the Trollope reader to overlook this novel because it’s not in either of his superb series, the Pallisers or the Barchester series, nor has there been a mini-series made.
The novel looks closely at civil engineering. Sorry–it really does not, but one character studies that profession. It also looks at about 8 or 9 “love” relationships and tries to answer the question of what might constitute a successful marriage. How best to court a potential partner? What kind of past might ruin a person’s chances? What happens if one is attracted to two people at the same time (not an uncommon quandary). What do you do if you don’t have enough money? Does it take money to achieve happiness?
We see marriages based on money, religious faith, true companionship, titles, and children. Many marriages are unhappy but the mid-Victorian period does not permit divorce. The stakes are high.
And just as in a problem play, one must consider: Are we really happy when the Duke announces his impending marriage to Isabella in “Measure for Measure”? What about the chance of future happiness for Leontes and Hermione in “A Winter’s Tale?” What about Paulina’s life as a widow (her husband was last seen pursued by a bear)? What about Bertram and Helena in “All’s Well That End’s Well?” Do you think that they can be happy?
Finally we are invited to have a mature response to people who vacillate and who make mistakes. They are not condemned out of hand and Trollope, with his usual generosity, seems to understand that characters can be legitimately torn in two directions.