Shelf Control #66: Modern India by William Eleroy Curtis #India #History #TBR

Wednesday the 27th of November–time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

Since I had picked mysteries and that too Golden Age ones to feature in my last two posts, this time I thought I’ll pick something a little different, in fact very different. This is a travelogue cum history Modern India by William Eleroy Curtis. The book essentially compiles the letters the author sent to the Chicago Herald during the winter of 1903-04 during his travels in the country. I found this simply by chance, when browsing on Project Gutenberg.

Containing 30 chapters, the book begins with the author’s journey to India by sea, on which he makes his observations about the differences between British and American travellers, as well on other notable fellow travellers who caught his eye, or perhaps whom he interacted with. He arrives at Bombay (now Mumbai) greeted by the sight of the (then) new Taj Hotel, and travels to various other parts of the country including Jeypore (Jaipur), Ahmedabad, Agra, Delhi, Calcutta, Cawnpore (Kanpur) and Benaras (Varanasi). The chapters are not focused on the cities alone but some of them also make observations on other aspects of life like ‘Two Hindu Weddings’, ‘Snakes and Tigers’, ‘Cotton, Tea and Opium’, besides generally on Education, Mughals and Mughal architecture, and the Army, among others. It also has maps and photographs from the time, of places and people.

The one review I found of this book on Goodreads is critical of it for being colonial in its approach as well as patronising and too judgmental. But like the author of the review says, this is something one can expect from a book written at the time and from the perspective that it is. It also mentions (something I have noticed from glancing through the book) that there are whole sections devoted to statistics on demographics and salaries and various other such things which might be interesting from an academic perspective but not so much to a casual reader, for whom a lesser dose would have sufficed. But I’d still like to pick it up just to get an idea of what the country was like back then, even if the picture is a coloured one. While I will probably skip some of the statistics, I am looking forward to reading his observations on different cities, even religions, and rituals. And yes, also looking at the pictures (which I know I don’t need to actually read the book to do but still :)) There is a rather interesting one of a monk and a young boy, titled ‘Kim the Chela, and the Old Lama who Sought the Way and the Trust and the Light’. Kipling’s work come to life? May be…

Have you heard of or read this one? What did you think of it? Or have you read any other histories or travelogues of India or of your part of the world written long ago? Any you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Some Interesting George Eliot Facts on her 200th!

Born on 22 November 1819, George Eliot, one of the leading Victorian novelists turns 200 today! Though simply calling her a novelist isn’t quite fair. Mary Ann Evans Cross was also a poet, essayist, and translator. Between 1859 and 1876, she published seven novels, and was known for her realistic approach to character, skillful development of plot, and psychological insight. As a child she was intelligent and a voracious reader, which along with her being thought as having little chance at marriage, led her father to give her an education not usually afforded women at that time. In 1850, she moved to London to become a writer. In 1856, she published an essay critiquing works by female writers of the day entitled ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists’. Her first work of fiction, ‘The Sad Fortunes of Revd. Amos Barton’ appeared in 1857, and later formed part of Scenes of Clerical Life. Her first complete work of fiction was Adam Bede, published in 1859. Since I haven’t had the time to do a full length post, though I would have liked to, here are ten interesting facts about the author (I’ve compiled these from various sources, all listed below).

  • George Eliot wrote for and later became de facto editor of the journal, The Westminster Review, established by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill.
  • George Eliot is credited with ‘inventing’ the term ‘pop’ used by her in a letter in 1862 (she used it in relation to music).
  • She wrote nearly all of her works using her pseudonym, to ensure her works were taken seriously, as well because of her social position. Her translation of The Essence of Christianity was the only book she published in her own name. Her essays in the Westminster Review also appeared under the name Marian Evans.
  • For her first book, the translation of a work of Biblical scholarship, she received £20, while for her novel Ramola, she received a then-record payment of £10,000.
By Francois D’Albert Durage, 1849, public domain via wikimedia commons
  • George Eliot’s father, Robert Evans, the Warwickshire estate agent for the Earl of Lonsdale was the model for her characters like Adam Bede and Caleb Garth.
  • George Eliot’s first novel Adam Bede (1859) was a resounding success, and went through its eighth printing within the first year. The publisher doubled the royalty and returned the copyright! Her novel, Middlemarch, has been described as ‘the Greatest Novel in the English Language’.
  • As an extra payment for Adam Bede, George Eliot received a pug from her publisher John Blackwood in 1859! [I have this little giftbook with dog pictures and quotes called Utterly Lovable Dogs, which attributes to Eliot the following quote [Not sure if this was about to this particular pug but I’m still putting it down all the same]]:

“Pug is come!–come to fill up the void left by false and narrow-hearted friends. I already see that he is without envy, hatred, or malice–that he will betray no secrets, and feel neither pain at my success nor pleasure at my chagrin”

George Eliot
  • Her novel The Mill on the Floss is the story of her estrangement from her brother Issac.
  • Queen Victoria had read all of George Eliot’s works, and apparently liked Adam Bede so much that in 1861, she commissioned Edward Henry Corbould to paint two scenes from the novel. Charles Dickens too wrote her a letter, praising her work (Amos Barton) even before her identity was revealed.
  • Because of the scandal in her personal life, she was not allowed a memorial stone in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner, only receiving recognition there in 1980.

Which Eliot books have you read so far? Any that you are planning to read or revisit soon? Which one/s do you like and which do you not like so much?

Here are some recent posts on Eliot’s works, and related works by fellow bloggers: On Middlemarch (here and here), Silas Marner (here), The Lifted Veil (here), and a review of In Love with George Eliot by Kathy O’Shaughnessy (here).

Find bios of George Eliot here, here, and here.

All this month, the ‘bookquotes’ I post on this blog have also been from Eliot. Find them here, here, and here.

Image source (image at the top of the post): https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Eliot_7.jpg

Shelf Control #65: The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts #TBR #Mystery #GoldenAge

Wednesday the 20th of November–time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This week my pick is another mystery (last week I had Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (here)), and yet again one from the 1930s, but this one’s a British Library Crime Classic, The Hog’s Back Mystery by Freeman Wills Crofts. [By the way, Rekha from the Book Decoder is hosting a British Crime Classics Challenge for 2020. You need to read at a minimum only a small number of books (6), but you are free to read as many as you like, but published before 1965. So if you like crime classics, I think you’ll enjoy this challenge. Find the details here. I know I will join in, and this mystery might be one of my picks.]

Back to this post now, The Hog’s Back Mystery was first published in 1933 and is the tenth entry (according to the Goodreads listing) in the series by Freeman Wills Crofts to feature Inspector French. Dr. James Earle and his much younger wife are living a peaceful retired life near the Hog’s Back in the North Downs in the Surrey countryside. But one day, Dr Earle suddenly vanishes. Inspector French, called to investigate the case, suspects a simple domestic intrigue, but soon finds that he has a much more complex mystery on his hands. Others including a house guest of the Earles disappear as well. Where have they gone? Who could have taken them and why? Have they been murdered? The reader follows alongside as Inspector French pieces together the case, which has twists right until the end.

The Author: Freeman Wills Crofts (1879-1957), born in Dublin, was apprenticed to, and became a Railway Engineer in 1899. When recovering from a serious illness in 1919, he began his writing career with his first novel The Cask (1920) being accepted by a London publisher, and selling 100,000 copies over two decades. After this, he continued to write, producing a book nearly each year until his death, while also writing 50 short stories and 30 BBC radio plays. As a result of his background, railway themes feature in many of his books. Inspector French is his best-known character, who solves his cases with painstaking work and dogged determination. French appeared in 30 detective novels between 1924 and 1957, the first being Inspector French’s Greatest Case (1924). Crofts became a full-time writer in 1929.

From reviews of this book, it seems that it has quite an interesting puzzle element with a denouement in the last chapter which specifically points the reader to pages at which clues appear. This isn’t something I’ve come across before, so it would be interesting to see how it works in reading terms. Also our detective, Inspector French is apparently no Sherlock Holmes or Poirot even who magically put things together, but works step by step to solve his case. There are only a few mysteries I’ve read earlier where the detective is an ordinary person, rather than a genius. So I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how he works out the puzzle.

Have you read this book or any of the other Inspector French or other mysteries by Crofts? Where did you come across them and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Sources: As always Goodreads (here and here) and Wikipedia (here)

Image source: Goodreads (here).

Reviews of this book by other bloggers: here, here, here.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (83) #Quotes #Classics #GeorgeEliot

Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings—much harder than to say something fine about them which is NOT the exact truth.

George Eliot, Adam Bede (1859)

Image source: Pexels

Shelf Control #64: Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers #GoldenAge #Mystery #TBR

Wednesday the 13th of November–time again for Shelf Control. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it–what’s it’s about, why you want to read it, where you got it from, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This week’s pick is a mystery again (since I love those and have plenty on my TBR at any given time), and it is Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. First published in 1935, this is the twelfth in the Lord Peter Wimsey series (according to the listing on Goodreads), and the the third to feature mystery-writer Harriet Vane who Lord Peter goes on to marry later.

In this one Harriet Vane returns to her alma mater, Shrewsbury College at Oxford to attend the Gaudy celebrations, but all is not well there as a series of malicious acts including vandalism and a poison pen begin. Harriet, who herself has been the recipient of a letter, is asked by the Dean to investigate and she goes ‘undercover’ in a sense, ostensibly to assist the Dean with research. Lord Peter is away–travelling to Europe. And so, this one’s different from the other books in the series being narrated from Harriet’s point of view, as well as on account of not being a murder mystery. Gaudy Night is seen to be one of Sayers’ best works, and brings up questions among others, of the balance between work and family for women, women’s role in general, class, and education.

I have read some (though not all, and not in order) books in the Lord Peter series before and enjoyed them. As mysteries, while they were fun, I didn’t find they were as complicated or surprising as say Agatha Christie’s books (I still think she has the best puzzles), but the other aspects of the plots have been very enjoyable, like the advertisement agency setting in Murder Must Advertise, or the ‘Cattery’ in Strong Poison. Gaudy Night too sounds intriguing from this point of view.

Have you read Gaudy Night? How did you find it? Better than the other Lord Peter books, or about the same? Which is/are your favourites in the series? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (82) #Classics #GeorgeEliot #Quotes

Nature repairs her ravages, but not all. The uptorn trees are not rooted again; the parted hills are left scarred; if there is a new growth, the trees are not the same as the old, and the hills underneath their green vesture bear the marks of the past rending. To the eyes that have dwelt on the past, there is no thorough repair.

George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss (1860)

Image source: Pexels