This month, let’s take a look at some Novel Conversations selections set “across the pond,” in Britain.
JANE EYRE – Charlotte Bronte’s novel opens with Jane’s childhood, spent in the home of a coldhearted relative, followed by a Spartan orphanage. Her life changes when she comes of age and takes a job as governess to the ward of Mr. Rochester, a wealthy landowner. Like other books by the Bronte sisters, Jane Eyre captures the atmosphere of the north of England, with its windswept landscape and elaborate but gloomy estates. Considered a gothic romance, the book is also hailed as an early feminist work as Jane steadfastly insists on her opinions, integrity and self- respect.
PYGMALION – George Bernard Shaw’s comic plays are marvelously witty and exemplify English culture in the early 20th century. Despite the non-novelistic format, they make for entertaining reading, with insights into social manners and interplay between the upper and lower classes. Pygmalion is the original play that became My Fair Lady, which is also in this volume.
REBECCA – A novel of intrigue with a twisty plot, this book by Daphne DuMaurier was made into a 1940 movie by Alfred Hitchcock, starring Laurence Olivier & Joan Fontaine. The scene is set in the southern part of the British Isles, namely in Cornwall. More.
GOOD NIGHT, MR. TOM – This selection is generally described as a children’s book, yet many of our Novel Conversations book groups have enjoyed it very much. An abused child, Willie Beech, is evacuated to the English countryside during WWII, and taken in by Mr. Tom. Kindness and friendship are new experiences for the young boy, but there is more to come in this novel by Michelle Magorian.
THAT WOMAN: THE LIFE OF WALLIS SIMPSON, DUCHESS OF WINDSOR – Once upon a time, divorce was an overwhelming barrier to marriage for English royalty. When King Edward VIII wanted to marry Wallis Simpson, a two-time divorcee and an American, it caused a constitutional crisis that cost him his throne. Anne Sebba, an English author and officer of the Society of Authors, delved into Wallis’ life and psyche to produce this biography.
Some other British titles that have already appeared in our “Five Books” series: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, 84, Charing Cross Road, The King’s Speech, A Christmas Carol, and Pride and Prejudice. We are open to suggestions for other British novels & biographies that could be added to the Novel Conversations collection.
This post was written by Nancy Conner, director of grants and Novel Conversations.