Reader's Exchange

Maggie Smith's Bacon number: 2

Did you know that the library's getting a new webpage?  Watch for it this spring.  We're already generating content ideas, including more "If you like.." features: additional reading options inspired by favorite authors or themes.  Susan from Youth Services suggested a brilliant one--recommendations for Downton Abbey addicts.  Done!

FICTION:  Habits of the House by Fay Weldon; Summerset Abbey by T.J. Brown; The Buccaneers by Edith Wharton; The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro; The Shooting Party by Isabel Colegate; The House at Riverton by Kate Morton, Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide;  The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones, The Golden Prince by Rebecca Dean.

MUSIC CD:  Downton Abbey: the Essential Collection

NONFICTION:  Below Stairs: The Classic Kitchen Maid's Memoir by Margaret Powell; The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes; Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon; The Chronicles of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes; The Perfect Summer:  England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson; English Country House Interiors by Jeremy Munson; The Mitfords:  Letters between Six Sisters

DVD:  The House of Eliott series; both Upstairs, Downstairs series (original and recent); Gosford Park; Jeeves & Wooster

But a funny thing happened on the way to compiling this list--sort of a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon experience, only with author Henry James.

Examples:  Cora, Countess of Grantham, qualified as a "Buccaneer" (moneyed American beauty on the hunt for an English title to propel her into the upper echelons of society).  Edith Wharton, who authored The Buccaneers, was a good friend and literary colleague of James and even campaigned for him to win the Nobel Prize.  DA notables Dan Stevens and Michele Dockery appeared in a UK filming of James' haunting The Turn of the Screw.  Dan Stevens currently stars (with Jessica Chastain) on Broadway in The Heiress, adapted from James' Washington Square.

Ascending stairs: The HeiressRemember (regarding Edith's letter to the Times editor) the dinner-table allusion that "one of the Churchills" had ventured into journalism?  Well, among numerous other celebrities of the age, Winston Churchill's mother, Lady Randolph, (AKA Mrs. George Cornwallis-West at that time) consulted James regarding the profitability of lecture tours.

Elements of DA that resonate with American viewers--class distinctions giving way;  clashing American and European mores (American energy and spirit vs. hidebound tradition); social complexities, not to mention elegant living and circulating among the "best" circles--characterize HJ's work, too. 

James' hallmark, psychological realism, may not be the primary draw for DA aficionados.  But if you're engaged by the developing thread of the Earl's misfires in paternal influence or Isobel's awkward forays into social activisim (especially if you enjoy speculating on her motives) you might be a James reader and not know it.

If you could only try one James story, make it The Beast in the JungleOther wonderful introductory options are DVDs:  The Golden Bowl (Kate Beckinsale); Wings of the Dove (Helena Bonham Carter), and The Heiress (Olivia de Havilland).  The library has two excellent fiction books--Colm Toibin's The Master and David Lodge's Author, Author--starring Henry James at crucial junctures in his life.

James, whose reputation and work demonstrate remarkable staying power, was quite modern in some ways:  membership in a famously dysfunctional family; cool, trendy friends (Mark Twain was a favorite correspondent); edgy writing schedule (creating serial installments for magazine publication from month to month).  He was even a recycler of sorts, significantly revising and repackaging and translating storylines from stage to page and vice versa.

You may find yourself an HJ convert.  If not, no problem.  As James observed via a character in Portrait of a Lady:  "I don't want everyone to like me; I should think less of myself if some people did."

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