Back to the Classics: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

 

Ok I love coming into a cult classic like this without a clue of the horrors within.

I know that it’s more of a classic movie than a classic book. In fact, when I posted about the book on Litsy, there were a few people who commented that they didn’t know that it was based on a book. Perhaps the rivalry of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford made the movie even more of a cult classic – there’s a TV series on that now! It’s called The Feud.

This book was destined for the screen. Even from the opening scene, which describes the young Baby Jane, precious spoilt jerk of a child, it’s all laid out so plainly that a reader can easily picture it.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a thriller, a psychological horror story set in Hollywood, in an aging mansion with two aging sisters, one in a wheelchair dependent on the other.

Jane or “Baby Jane” was a vaudeville child star. A spoilt rotten child (also a spoilt, rotten child). But somehow, as they became adults, it was Blanche, the younger sister, who became a movie star. A runaway success. And poor Baby Jane fades away from collective memory.

Even in middle age, Jane still resents Blanche and her success, even though her sister is now wheelchair-bound after a rather mysterious car accident. Blanche is pretty much stuck upstairs on the second floor, fully dependent on Jane for, well, for everything. And recently, with Blanche’s movies being broadcasted on TV, it seems like Jane’s jealousy is raging. She serves up revenge – on a plate!

 

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is a rather fun read, albeit a bit of a disturbing one. I am really just dying to see the movie now….!

 

backtotheclassics2017

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 – A Gothic or horror classic

 

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Back to the Classics: The Dollmaker

 

I hadn’t heard of this book until last year when I was trying to find classics that would fit the Back to the Classics challenge. And I’m curious now – is this a book that is familiar to you? Was it taught in school?

After reading it, I thought, this is a great American classic with a terrible title.

It doesn’t help that when I googled “The Dollmaker” this comes up.

 

 

Some kind of Marvel villain. Apparently the name ‘Dollmaker’ has been claimed by a variety of villains. Because it really has unpleasant connotations, doesn’t it.

Of course Harriette Arnow wrote this book in far more innocent times – it was first published in 1954.

The dollmaker in question is Gertie Nevels, a woman of the Kentucky hills. Gertie is strong, both physically and mentally. She is a woman of the mountain, comfortable with her life there, harsh though it may be. One of her particular skills is whittling – she works wonders with wood and is skilled at carving dolls. She is proud of the life she has made there with her family. But it is soon to be all for naught as her husband Clovis goes to Detroit to work in the factories and the family is expected to follow suit.

“Six-thirty to seven-thirty was pure dark still, like the middle of the night. It was a lonesome in-between time when her hands remembered the warm feel of a cow’s teats or the hardness of a churn handle, or better beyond all things – the taste of spring water, the smell of good air, clean air, earth under her feet.”

Gertie is a fish out of water in the big city. And really, life there is hardly any better than in Kentucky. The house is tiny and it is freezing cold. The schools are run down. The family gets called ‘hillbillies’ a lot and everyone has some kind of an opinion about them and how they need to adapt to life in the city. And all the horrors of modern city life such as surviving on credit, strikes, and being able to hear your neighbours through the thin walls.

 

Mrs. Whittle bit her freshly lipsticked lips. “The trouble is,” she went on, “you don’t want to adjust – and Rueben doesn’t either.”
“That’s part way right,” Gertie said, moving past her to the stairs. “But he can’t hep the way he’s made. It’s a lot more trouble to roll out steel – an make it like you want it – than it is biscuit dough.”

The dialect was a little tricky at first, and it took me a couple of tries to get into the book. It is rather full of despair – the poverty, the struggle to get used to their new lives, the longing Gertie has to return to her hills and to work the fields.

It amazes me that a book like this, one of misery and wretchedness, can be so compelling to read.

backtotheclassics2017

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017 – A 20th Century Classic

Back to the Classics: A Raisin in the Sun

 

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Don’t laugh, but for the longest time, I thought this play/musical had to do with erm, farming. I’d heard of it, but have never seen the play or the musical or the film.

It takes its name from this Langston Hughes poem.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

– Langston Hughes, Harlem (Dream Deferred)

What an amazing poem.

A Raisin in the Sun is a story about a black family living in Chicago’s South Side – Walter and his wife Ruth, their son Travis, Walter’s mother and sister Beneatha all live together in a small rundown apartment.

“Weariness has, in fact, won in this room. Everything has been polished, washed, sat on, used, scrubbed too often. All pretenses but living itself have long since vanished from the very atmosphere of this room.”

Walter’s father has recently died, and they’re waiting for a life insurance cheque of $10,000. Walter plans to invest that in a liquor store with some acquaintances. But his mother puts most of it into a new house – one in an all-white neighbourhood. Unfortunately their soon-to-be new neighbours want none of that, and a representative arrives offering to buy them out. This man who asks the family:

“What do you think you are going to gain by moving into a neighborhood where you just aren’t wanted and where some elements – well – people can get awful worked up when they feel that their whole way of life and everything they’ve ever worked for is threatened.”

The plot echoes Hansberry’s own experience. When she was 8, her father Carl Hansberry bought a house in a subdivision restricted to whites, and their neighbours got an injunction to have them vacate the house. Carl Hansberry challenged the ruling, bringing about the case Hansberry vs Lee.

This play set many precedents. After difficulty securing funding, a location, the play opened on March 11, 1959, and A Raisin in the Sun was the first play written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, with a black director, and a black cast (except for one minor character), including Sidney Poitier. What a feat for that time, when theatergoers were mostly white. According to a 1999 New York Times article, Hansberry once told a reporter that Broadway’s perception of black people involved ”cardboard characters, cute dialect bits, or hip-swinging musicals from exotic scores.”

A Raisin in the Sun ended up playing for 19 months on Broadway. Hansberry won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for best play, and the 1973 musical was adapted from the play. It really was a play that made history.

As James Baldwin said in his introduction to Hansberry’s To Be Young, Gifted and Black, published after her death:

“…I had never in my life seen so many black people in the theater. And the reason was that never before, in the entire history of the American theater, had so much of the truth of black people’s lives been seen on the stage. Black people ignored the theater because the theater had always ignored them.”

A true American classic.

 

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Sadly, Hansberry died young – at age 34 of pancreatic cancer.

  • A Raisin in the Sun (1959)
  • A Raisin in the Sun, screenplay (1961)
  • “On Summer” (essay) (1960)
  • The Drinking Gourd (1960)
  • What Use Are Flowers? (written c. 1962)
  • The Arrival of Mr. Todog – parody of Waiting for Godot
  • The Movement: Documentary of a Struggle for Equality (1964)
  • The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (1965)
  • To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words (1969)
  • Les Blancs: The Collected Last Plays / by Lorraine Hansberry. Edited by Robert Nemiroff (1994)
  • Toussaint 

 

backtotheclassics2017

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2017

– A classic by a woman author. 

Back to the Classics 2017

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Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting the Back to the Classics challenge again. I didn’t do so great at this year’s but I’m going to give it a try again! All the details are here!

Here are the 12 categories and to note:

  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago; therefore, books must have been written by 1967 to qualify for this challenge. The ONLY exceptions are books published posthumously.

Here are some books I may read. I’m giving myself a few choices just in case….!

1.  A 19th Century Classic – any book published between 1800 and 1899.

Cousin Phyllis – Elizabeth Gaskell (1864)

Agnes Grey – Anne Brontë (1847)

2.  A 20th Century Classic – any book published between 1900 and 1967.

Raising Demons – Shirley Jackson (1957)

The Dollmaker – Harriette Simpson Arnow (1954)

3.  A classic by a woman author.

Read: A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry

This Crooked Way – Elizabeth Spencer (1952)

A Raisin in the Sun – Lorraine Hansberry (1959)

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language. (You can also read books in translation for any of the other categories).

Seven Years in Tibet – Heinrich Harrer (1952)

Chess Story – Stefan Zweig (1941) 

Children of the Alley – Naguib Mahfouz, Peter Theroux (Translator) (1959)

5.  A classic published before 1800. Plays and epic poems are acceptable in this category also.

The Monk – Matthew Lewis (1796)

The Castle of Otranto –  Horace Walpole (1764)

6.  An romance classic. I’m pretty flexible here about the definition of romance. It can have a happy ending or a sad ending, as long as there is a strong romantic element to the plot.

Katherine – Anya Seton

Winthrop Women – Anya Seton

7.  A Gothic or horror classic. For a good definition of what makes a book Gothic, and an excellent list of possible reads, please see this list on Goodreads.

Rosemary’s Baby – Ira Levin (1967)

Whatever happened to Baby Jane? – Henry Farrell (1960)


8.  A classic with a number in the title. Examples include A Tale of Two Cities, Three Men in a Boat, The Nine Tailors, Henry V, Fahrenheit 451, etc.

Three Guineas – Virginia Woolf (1938)

And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (1939)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey (1962)

9.  A classic about an animal or which includes the name of an animal in the title.  It an actual animal or a metaphor, or just the name. Examples include To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, The Metamorphosis, White Fang, etc.

The Tiger in the Smoke –  Margery Allingham (1952)

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? – Horace McCoy (1935)

The Call of the Wild – Jack London (1902)

10. A classic set in a place you’d like to visit. It can be real or imaginary: The Wizard of Oz, Down and Out in Paris and London, Death on the Nile, etc.

Hawaii – James A Michener (1959)

My Side of the Mountain – Jean Craighead George (1959)

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

11. An award-winning classic. It could be the Newbery award, the Prix Goncourt, the Pulitzer Prize, the James Tait Award, etc. Any award, just mention in your blog post what award your choice received.

Strawberry Girl – Lois Lenski (Newberry award 1946)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (Newberry award 1959)

12. A Russian Classic. 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, so read a classic by any Russian author.

Doctor Zhivago – Boris Pasternak (1957)

(I secretly avoid Russian classics so hopefully I can get through this one. Also I have to ask, are there Russian classics written by women?)

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki

First things first, autocorrect keeps changing the title to the “Manioca” sisters. So just in case you see that, please ignore it.

Now that that’s out of the way, I have to say that The Makioka Sisters is one of the most lovely things I’ve read in a long time. That is, if one can put it out of one’s mind that life in Japan in the late 1930s and early 1940s was not a fantastic time for women. This was my first Junichiro Tanizaki book and I was rather surprised at how well he wrote these women. It is odd especially as Tanizaki has a reputation for writing about characters with erotic obsessions and desires.

 

I may have read this book sooner if anyone had told me that it was a sort of Japanese version of Pride and Prejudice. Well it is, sort of, and it also isn’t.

 

The Makiokas were an old family, of course, and probably everyone in Osaka had heard of them at one time or another. But still – Sachiko would have to forgive her for saying so – they could not live on their old glory forever.

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There are four Makioka sisters. The older two, Tsuruko and Sachiko, are married and have their own families. Yukiko and Taeko (also known as Koi-San or ‘small daughter’, a common endearment in Osaka).

Yukiko is to be married off, if anyone will have her. The family has already scared off several suitors, for a variety of reasons. The Makioka family’s wealth is a mere shadow of what it used to be, but still they hold their heads high and hold out for the best. Until matchmakers begin to avoid making matches. It doesn’t help that her younger sister was involved in a bit of a scandal and a minor tabloid printed this affair (must have been a slow news day), but mistook Yukiko for Taeko.

Unfortunately Yukiko is extremely soft-spoken and rather pale and frail-looking, to such a point that one potential suitor even asks for medical tests to be done, to prove that she is of good health.

“It was reasonable enough for such a well-behaved man to insist on an elegant, refined girl, but for some reason – maybe as a reaction from his visit to Paris – he insisted further that he would only have a pure Japanese beauty – gentle, quiet, graceful, able to wear Japanese clothes.”

Poor Yukiko. She’s quiet among strangers so although she’s actually a really interesting person and quite modern in her tastes, liking for instance, Western music, she is overshadowed by her more colourful older sister Sachiko and her vivacious younger sister Taeko. It’s so bad that Sachiko is often asked to tone down her dress, dress older, or perhaps not show up at all, to meetings with prospective husbands. As an introvert, I feel for Yukiko. I so want her to be happy. I want her to be less meek and speak up but she never really does. She is quite a traditional, conservative Japanese woman, letting her older sisters and their husbands determine who her future husband is to be, never seeking the independent life that her younger sister has.

It was fascinating to learn just how traditional Osaka society at the time was. Taeko, being the youngest, could not marry until Yukiko was married. As the youngest, she also wasn’t supposed to eat before her older siblings did, had to sit at a certain place at the table and so on. And to learn that Tokyo life and culture is so different and even a bit strange to the three younger Makiokas, whose society remains largely confined to Osaka, although they venture to nearby Kobe for meals and shows.

The Makioka Sisters was serialized from 1943 to 1948 and was originally titled Sasameyuki (細雪) in Japanese, which means lightly falling snow. The “yuki” character or “snow” being the same character in Yukiko’s name, showing her central importance in the story. As suitor after suitor is no longer, well, suitable, one cannot help but feel worried for her, as she is certainly not the kind of woman who can survive on her own. 

Oh how I loved this quiet, regal story. It is gentle in its depiction of Japanese traditions vs the inevitable creeping modernization and westernization of society, the Makioka sisters representative of the old families, struggling to hold on to the last vestiges of their good name. It is a beautiful story, one that has taken me far too long to read and write about, as I couldn’t bear to leave the Makiokas’ world.

 

 

 

Junichiro Tanizaki (1886-1965) – works published in English 

  • Some Prefer Nettles, tr. Edward Seidensticker,
  • The Makioka Sisters, tr. Edward Seidensticker
  • The Key and Diary of a Mad Old Man, tr. Howard Hibbert
  • Seven Japanese Tales, tr. Howard Hibbett
  • In Praise of Shadows, tr. Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker
  • Naomi, tr. Anthony H. Chambers
  • Childhood Years: A Memoir, tr. Paul McCarthy
  • A Cat, a Man, and Two Women, tr. Paul McCarthy
  • The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi and Arrowroot, tr. Anthony H. Chambers
  • Quicksand, tr. Howard Hibbett
  • The Reed Cutter and Captain Shigemoto’s Mother, tr. Anthony H. Chambers
  • The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, tr. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy
  • Red Roofs and Other Stories, tr. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy,

 

 

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The Makioka Sisters was made into a film in 1983. Have you seen it? What did you think of it? It does look so very pretty!

BackToTheClassics2016

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 –

A classic by a non-white author

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Also for the Diversity on the Shelf challenge 

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl

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Ah the adventure classic. This was the first one that sprang to mind when I saw that it was on the list of categories of Karen’s Back to the Classics challenge 2016. You can choose to read something fictional or non-fictional but for me, it was a push to finally read Kon-Tiki.

You may already know the story, Thor Heyerdahl, a Norwegian, has this crazy idea to take a hand-built raft out onto the Pacific, trying to prove that the Polynesian islands were reachable from South America. He and four other men sailed from Peru for 101 days across the Pacific Ocean, eventually crashing into a reef in the Tuamotu Islands.

Of course it’s not that easy. They face some difficult right from the start.

As with any cross-country (cross-sea?) expedition, permissions must be given, supplies are necessary, funding is drummed up, crew is cajoled (although he specifies, no seamen). But with this adventure, a raft must also be crafted, and it must be from  balsa wood. Balsa wood was apparently what the old Peruvian rafts were made of. Balsa being lighter even than cork. Unfortunately, they arrive in Ecuador to discover that it was rather impossible to buy whole logs of balsa, as thousands of trees had been felled and shipped to aircraft factories. And that they would have to go inland to find large balsa trees. Of course it was the rainy season and the roads into the jungle were impassable. But despite being told to come back six months later, they persevere and get hold of their logs.

As with any adventure story, there must be talk of thrilling near-death experiences with nature and wild animals. In this case, it is the octopus.

We were reminded that they lay floating in the darkness with phosphorescent eyes and that their arms were long enough to feel about in every small corner of the raft, if they did not care to come right on board. We did not at all like the prospect of feeling cold arms round our necks, dragging us out of our sleeping bags at night, and we provided ourselves with saber-like machete knives, one for each of us, in case we should wake to the embrace of fumbling tentacles.

Luckily they only come across small squids. But also, plenty of sharks and once even a whale shark.

And of course there’s a storm, a huge mother of all storms, that the men have to stare down from that little raft of theirs.

It is a wild, thrilling adventure. It is occasionally repetitive as, well, days and days out at sea will probably be repetitive ones. But oh man, can you imagine it? Being out there in the wide open sea, just drifting along, catching fish for dinner, hoping somehow that they end up in the Polynesian islands. And somehow they make it, against all odds, they get there and more or less intact too. Amazing.

What’s your favourite adventure classic (fictional or not?)

BackToTheClassics2016

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 – an adventure classic

On rereading a childhood favourite

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This was the cover of the copy I had as a kid

 

There’s something both exciting and daunting about reading a childhood favourite after many many years.

It’s exciting to be brought back to one’s childhood again. To see this book with adult eyes.

And that’s exactly what makes it a bit daunting. What if it doesn’t live up to your glorified expectations? To that highest of high esteem that you have held it to all these years? And what, just what would happen, if you realize that this book that you’ve idolised, that you’ve been in love with all these years, is just not really the book that you thought it was.

happiness
This is the latest version from MacMillan

So it was with great relief that I finished Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. And it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered it to be.

Nona, 8, a quiet shy girl, has just moved from India to stay with her cousins in England. She’s sad and lonely and doesn’t know how to adapt to her new life with her far more boisterous cousins Anne, 14, Tom, 11, and Belinda,”a rough tough little girl of seven”.

One day a parcel arrives from America, from their Great Aunt Lucy Dickinson, and inside are two Japanese dolls, named Miss Happiness and Miss Flower. Nona feels for the dolls who also have travelled a great distance and are far from home. With the encouragement of her older cousins and her aunt and uncle, she decides to make them a house, a doll’s house, a proper Japanese doll’s house. And as her plans begin to take shape, Nona herself blossoms and emerges from her shell, and more importantly, begins to make a home for herself in England.

One thing that always stood out for me was the way books and reading were given great significance in this book. Like when Nona, who was “always reading”, discovered that books could also teach her about making things like a doll’s house.

 

“I didn’t know you could learn to carpenter out of books.’

‘You can learn anything out of books,’ said Tom.

‘A book like this?’

Tom nodded.

‘Oh!’, said Nona. She stood by him a moment longer and then said, ‘Thank you, Tom.’

And her first solo outing that she dares to brave is to the village bookshop, run by the gruff old Mr Twilfit, whom Anne calls “an absolute old dragon”, although Nona learns that he can be sweet and gentle, especially to girls who wash their hands before handling his books. She eventually tells him about the dolls and her plans to make a Japanese house. And he asks a wonderful question.

“Can you read?” he rapped out.

“Of course,” said Nona.

“Really read?”

That was one thing Nona was quite sure she could do, and she nodded.

 

Ah, the power and the magic of books. Nona begins to read and read and learn all about Japanese culture, Japanese houses, furniture, flowers, and more. She does need Tom’s help to build the house itself though, and Mr Twilfit plays a part in that.

I always wondered if Godden was inspired by Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden, the story of the girl who returns to England from India. But I only recently realized that Godden herself lived in India for many years as a child, then returned to England for school, and was brought back again to India when the First World War broke out. Back again to England to finally finish school, then as an adult, back to India where she lived for some 20 years before moving back to England.

Rumer Godden’s daughter said her mother wrote children’s books between novels, “as she said it was a very good discipline as you must never write down to children or use too much description”.

And I think she hit the right notes with this book – and even provides some basic blueprints in case the reader wants to make her own doll house.

 

BackToTheClassics2016

I read this for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2016 and Read My Own Damn Books

 

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