One-Minute Book Reviews

April 20, 2008

The Real Mrs. Kipling — Beyond Kim Cattrall in ‘My Boy Jack’

Filed under: Classics,News,Plays,TV — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:41 am
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Kim Cattrall of Sex and the City plays Rudyard Kipling’s American wife in My Boy Jack, a televised version of a play about the writer and his vulnerable son, tonight on PBS. Who was Carrie Kipling?

V. S. Pritchett wrote in a review of Angus Wilson’s biography, The Strange Ride of Rudyard Kipling, which appears in Pritchett’s Compete Collected Essays:

“She was certainly very domineering – and like many dominant people was liable to hysteria which her prisoner was called upon to calm. She was certainly, once more, a stern mother-figure. He was incompetent with money. She managed his financial affairs, his contracts, his correspondence. She is said to have opened all his letters and to have dictated the replies. Her daughter said she cut her husband off from stimulating intellectual company and indeed she was out of her depth in it. But she fiercely protected his privacy and stood between him and the plague of visitors who descend like vultures on famous men; if Kipling was cut off from his coevals, he was cut off chiefly by his wealth: his friends were the successful and important. She was suspicious by nature, particularly of women, and seems to have felt many people were really after his money. But Kipling appeared to enjoy her rule, for he had been used to an excessive reliance on his parents, even in middle life. Visitors noticed that Rudyard and his Carrie enjoyed the same harsh jokes.

“She probably enjoyed hearing that the female of the species was more deadly than the male. Possibly he would not have married her unless he had loved her charming brother first and more spontaneously — he responded most to family affection — and one must remember that he and Carrie had the tragic bond of the loss of their two children and that she nursed her misogynist through his serious breakdowns and his hysterical, baseless, but harrowing dread of cancer. No; brought up in a tough school, Kipling found a tough wife.”

My Boy Jack is a Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theater) production written by David Haig and based on his play. It also stars Haig as Rudyard Kipling, Daniel Radcliffe as his son and Jack, shown with Cattrall in a PBS photo.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 15, 2008

Did Masterpiece Theater Get It Right With ‘A Room With a View’?

Filed under: Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 10:05 pm
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I missed the new production of E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View on PBS on Sunday night, so I can’t comment on its success or lack of it. But it would be easy to misread Forster as a romanticist — just as it’s easy to misread Jane Austen that way — based on A Room With a View. David Garnett avoids the trap in his Great Friends: Portraits of Seventeen Writers (Atheneum, 1980). Forster was a social reformer, notes Garnett, the late author of Aspects of Love and son of the Russian translator Constance Garnett. All of his novels are about “the tyranny of conventions, the subjection of women and the indifference or contempt of the British upper middle class for all people of different race or origin.”

Forster typically assaults his society by bringing in an outsider who exposes its hypocrisy. That role goes in A Room With a View to old Mr. Emerson, whose son George comes between Lucy Honeychurch and her attachment to the dull Cecil: “Mr. Emerson is the touchstone who shows up the values of the conventional middle classes as genteel nonsense and brings the book to a happy ending by telling the heroine that, ‘Love is of the body’ – which she doesn’t understand at once, but which makes her see that the engagement she had accepted would not do.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 13, 2008

E. M. Forster’s ‘A Room With a View’ Tonight on PBS — Is It a Coincidence That This Follows the Jane Austen Cycle?

Filed under: News,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:04 am
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A new production of E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View airs tonight on Masterpiece Theater, which ended its Jane Austen cycle last week. A coincidence? Or is PBS trying to strike a blow for moral realism? The late V. S. Pritchett noted the similarity between the novelists in “Mr. Forster’s Birthday” in his Complete Collected Essays (Random House, 1991): “No one is let off in Forster’s novels; like Jane Austen, he is a moral realist.” Watch the preview of tonight’s A Room With A View, with Elaine Cassidy as Lucy Honeychurch at

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

April 6, 2008

Did Jane Austen Have a Romantic View of Marriage? Looking Beyond Tonight’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ on PBS

Filed under: Quotes of the Day — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 12:04 am
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Many people imagine that Jane Austen had a romantic view of marriage. Her novels and letters don’t support this view. Hilary Mantel writes in an essay on Austen in Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature (Paul Dry Books, 2007), edited by Joseph Epstein

“Jane Austen’s novels, as everyone has observed, end at the church door: with the wedding, not the marriage. Jane’s private observation did not. She looked about her and saw what marriage meant. ‘Poor animal,’ she wrote of a woman too often pregnant, ‘she will be worn out before she is thirty.’ Love within a marriage might compensate for what marriage demanded of women – the cyclical facing-down of the risk and pain of childbirth – but the ideal matches Jane sets up for her characters are outnumbered in her fiction by those that are botched together in bad circumstances, contracted in haste, and repented at leisure or simply arrange by cold and grand family interests.”

Comment by Jan:

Mantel is right about those bad marriages. The unions that fit her description include those of Mr. and Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, Mary and Charles Musgrove in Persuasion and Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram in Mansfield Park. Then there are John and Fanny Dashwood, the weak husband and manipulative wife of Sense and Sensibility, the subject of a Masterpiece Theater production that concludes tonight on PBS

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 31, 2008

Last Night’s ‘Sense and Sensibility’ on PBS — A Star Vehicle for Jane Austen, Not Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant

Filed under: Classics,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:32 pm
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Does the new Sense and Sensibility leave the impression that Marianne Dashwood needs extra Zoloft?

Ginia Bellafante wrote in Saturday’s New York Times that Marianne Dashwood “slips over the rocks from fragility to desperation” in the new Sense and Sensibility on PBS that began last night:

“At 17, Marianne is meant to possess a heart that gives itself too easily, but I doubt that Austen ever intended for us to see her as someone who ought to increase her dosage of Zoloft.”

Bellafante is right about the generous heart of the middle Dashwood sister But I didn’t see the need for extra Zoloft in last night’s installment of the two-part series, which ends April 6, so you have to wonder if Marianne will take an alarming emotional plunge on Sunday.

But so far I like this Masterpiece Theater/BBC production at least as much as the 1995 Ang Lee adaptation that starred Emma Thompson, Hugh Grant, Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman. For all its charms, the Lee version was a star vehicle for its actors, especially for Thompson and Grant. But the new adaptation is a star vehicle for Jane Austen And you can hardly fault it for that.

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

March 30, 2008

Watching ‘Sense and Sensibility’ on PBS Tonight

Filed under: Classics,Novels — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:23 pm
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Remember the great 1995 miniseries of Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth that induced such raptures in Bridget Jones?

The screenplay came from Andrew Davies, one of the finest living adapters of classic English novels, whose credits include an excellent 1994 miniseries of Middlemarch. Davies also wrote the script for the new two-part Sense and Sensibility that airs tonight and April 6 on PBS, so this one should be worth watching.

A few comments on the novel:

Like Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility is not an allegory, though their titles might suggest otherwise. The characters in both novels are more than types. In Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood – the nominal embodiment of “sense” – has deep emotions and a distinctive sensibility. And Marianne Dashwood (“sensibility”) is too intelligent to view as a creature of pure feeling.

Sense and Sensibility was Jane Austen’s first published novel (though she wrote Pride and Prejudice before it). But if you haven’t read any of Austen’s work, this is not the best place to begin.

The first 50 or so pages of Sense and Sensibility move so sluggishly that they might defeat all but diehards. You’ll be more likely to understand why people love Austen if you begin with Pride and Prejudice, which gets off to faster start and has more all-around charm even when Firth isn’t bathing in a copper tub on your screen. Persuasion and Emma also move briskly from beginning to end.

Once you get past those plodding opening chapters, Sense and Sensibility has perhaps the sharpest wit in any of Austen’s books, one reason why I love it. Two of my favorite lines from the novel are:

“Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.”

“ … a fond mother, though, in pursuit of praise for her children, the most rapacious of human beings, is likewise the most credulous: her demands are exorbitant; but she will swallow anything …”

Photo: Hattie Morahan and Charity Wakefield as Elinor and Marianne Dashwood in the new two-part Sense and Sensibility on PBS .

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

August 22, 2007

‘Looking for Class,’ Bruce Feiler’s Memoir of Cambridge University

Filed under: Memoirs,Nonfiction,Travel — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:13 am
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The host of a popular PBS series remembers his jolly good time in graduate school

Bruce Feiler earned a master’s degree at Cambridge University before becoming the host of the popular PBS series Walking the Bible. He recalls his studies into the engaging memoir, Looking for Class: Days and Nights at Oxford and Cambridge (Harper Perennial, $13.95, paperback), which explores the clash between tradition and modernity at England’s second-oldest university in the early 1990s. (Oxford has little role in the book except as the other half of the pair of school known as “Oxbridge.”) At Cambridge Feiler ate doner kebabs, rowed in a boat race, went to the May Ball and spoke for the “yea” side in a Cambridge Union debate about whether it was “better to be young, free, and American” than British. He’s generally less acerbic than Bill Bryson and tends to view English idiosyncracies with wry affection instead of scorn. But Feiler still made people laugh at the Cambridge Union debate by asking a question that suggests the tone of his memoir: Was it true, he asked, “that the Brits keep a stiff upper lip in order to hide their teeth”?

Furthermore: Ever wonder how I choose some of these books? In this case, a young Scottish friend of mine got into Cambridge last week after acing four exams, one in something called, mystifyingly, “further maths.” I read this book and enjoyed it a few years ago and thought about it again after the good news arrived.

© 2006 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.

One-Minute Book Reviews is an independent literary blog created by Janice Harayda, who has been the book columnist for Glamour, the book editor of the Plain Dealer and a vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle Please visit for information about her comic novels The Accidental Bride and Manhattan on the Rocks.

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