Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Gatsby’s Oxford: Scott, Zelda, and the Jazz Age Invasion of Britain: 1904-1929, by Christopher A. Snyder. Pegasus Books, 2019

This book loosely- very loosely- ties the fictional Jay Gatsby to Oxford. The author posits that being an ‘Oxford man’ is very important to Gatsby’s image and ability to enter high society; he would not be able to pursue Daisy without this in his background. The author then carries this to show that, were Gatsby a real person (and if the character had really gone to Oxford, which is dubious given some clues in the story) he would have seen certain places, met certain people, and examined certain ideas. Given that, the author then tells us about those people, places, and ideas in detail.

He tells us about the various castes that inhabit Oxford: the athletes, idealists, poets, and enlisted men. He tells us about the medievalism and romanticism of Oxford of the time. And he tells us about Tolkein, Waugh, C.S. Lewis, Woolf, Yeats, Eliot, Huxley, and Churchill, among many others.

The text wanders and goes into great detail. The author seemed intent on showing us every single influence that might have touched Fitzgerald (who was at Oxford with his wife, Zelda, for a few months) and Gatsby, the history of that influence, and possibly the influences brother-in-law. We get how Princeton was set up to be like Oxford, how race was dealt with, the Jazz Age, and even what businesses were run later by Oxford men. It really seemed like he was carrying things a bit far at times.

Because of this, I found some parts of the book very interesting and some, well, less so. The chapter on Tolkein & Lewis I loved, as well as the one on the Jazz age. The one on American Rhodes scholars really lost me a few times, as did the one on Princeton. I suspect many people will wish to pick and choose which chapters to read- although there is so much wandering even inside chapters one risks either missing something really interesting or being bored to tears. Four stars.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Devil’s Slave, by Tracy Borman. Atlantic Monthly Press, 2019

This book continues the story of Frances Gorges, a real person, which was started in The King’s Witch. Now, in 1606, Frances finds herself pregnant by Thomas Wintour, who has been executed. She retreats to the estate she grew up on, which is now being run by her greedy brother, hoping to hide her pregnancy. Then Thomas Tyringham, Wintour’s best friend, asks her to marry him. He will raise the child as his own. He’s a decent man, and treats her very well, but as the ‘Master of the Buckhounds’ he is tied to the king and this requires Frances to be in the king’s presence frequently. The king has not forgotten her being accused of witchcraft because of her herbalism, and she can’t seem to stop herself from utilizing her talent, putting herself in danger again.

I had mixed feelings about this book. Frances acts na├»ve and selfish at times. At one point, she sends her supposedly beloved attendant to gather herbs for her, so that she herself won’t be caught doing it. The aging attendant goes into the swamp, putting her health at risk, as well as risking being accused of witchcraft. This does not fit into the image of her as a caring healer. She takes chances that could have nasty consequences for not just her, but her husband and child. On the other hand, the author’s ability with pacing, description, and plot tension holds just as well as it did in the first novel. Another four star read.