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Project Project Gutenberg: E and F

September 11, 2009

[Project:  Project Gutenberg–where I’m reading and reviewing public-domain fiction from Project Gutenberg from A to Z]

This bread pudding is what makes my life as a recipe blogger so difficult:  it is absolutely delicious, but there’s no way to give you the recipe.  This is what happened:  Little Sunshine was sick yesterday, and Joan has joined her on the H1N1 trolley today.   They are just sick enough to want coddling, without suffering so much that they don’t want to eat.  In my breadbox, I had the remains of a loaf of bread made out of cinnamon roll dough and baked in the brioche pan I snagged at the nursing home yardsale (along with 2 (2!) Roseville Pottery French onion soup bowls, some vintage hankies, and two linen tablecloths), and four heels from last week’s loaves of Country White from Wheatberries.  The dregs of a pint of cream, some milk, the contents of the sugar basin, two eggs, and a whole lot of freshly-grated nutmeg . . . raw sugar across the top, two hours in a water bath in the oven, and voila!  As you can see, Little Sunshine didn’t even wait to take it out of the hot water.  I ate mine with what was left of the homemade apricot jam left from my last kitchen experiment:  buns filled with a mixture of almond paste, cream cheese, and apricot jam.  Those were so good I couldn’t even get a picture of them.

I’m just not methodical enough to make a gorgeous blog with recipes like the big girls.  But I can read the hell out of copyright-free popular fiction–ho ho!

So E is for The End of Her Honeymoon (1913), by Marie Belloc Lowndes.  It begins promisingly enough, with a fluttery little woman (Nancy) clinging to her artist-husband (Jack Dampier) as they enter Paris, planning to send one night at a hotel before settling in at his studio.  He disappears in the night, though, and the hoteliers deny ever having seen him.  Poor little Bridesy can’t seem to get anyone to admit that she had a husband with her.  His belongings have disappeared, too–it seems that even on their honeymoon, they have separate, though adjoining, bedrooms.  After an exciting trip to the Police, and to the Morgue, everyone in the lovely American family that has conveniently arrived at the hotel (father, daughter, and eligible bachelor son) agrees that there is some mystery, which may never be solved.  Five years later, E. B. Son uncovers (by accident) the grisly truth:

She did have a husband, and he died OF PLAGUE!

Yes, somehow he contracted bubonic plague, exhibited symptoms, and died that very night.  The Paris authorities, prompt and thorough as always, chose to confiscate his belongings, force the hoteliers to lie about his existence, and generally erase all trace of his presence–but not tell his wife.  That’s what I call an efficient public health system!

I’d have to give The End of Her Honeymoon a C-.  It stank.

F, though, is for Faith Gartney’s Girlhood 1863), by Adeline Dutton Trane Whitney.  This one’s a keeper–but only if you are a lover of Sunday School novels, which I acknowledge is pretty unlikely.  Mrs. A.D.T., as she is denominated on the title pages of her thirty-odd novels, was a heavy hitter in the Boston uplift-for-girls novel world.  Louisa May Alcott is certainly the best-known of the crowd; lesser-known colleagues include the prolific and undemanding Pansy (Isabella Alden) and bitter old crank Elizabeth Prentiss.

Faith Gartney’s Girlhood is an early work by a writer who became significantly more accomplished later in her career.  It’s still a pretty good read, though, and hits all the old reliable themes which would carry U.S. popular fiction for girls well into the middle of the 20th century:  the country is better than the city; the rat race just isn’t worth it; some plain orphan girls are destined for spiritual greatness through remaining single;  girls should never marry for money; disasters are always moral signposts.

Faith’s family has lost money–probably in the Panic of 1857, one of the more serious economic crises in 19th-century U.S. history–and needs to retrench.  She suggests leaving the social whirl of Boston for the village of Kinnicutt, where her father owns a house.  The family moves, she gets engaged to the rich son of a millowner back in Boston, she falls in love with the new minister, saves a mill from burning, and then marries the minister.  Meanwhile, Glory McWhirk, the orphaned daughter of an Irish Catholic immigrant work, becomes a servant for Faith’s aunt, falls in love with the same minister, gives up all hope of marriage and family, and is rewarded by inheriting Aunt Faith’s farm and enough money to run it as a small orphanage.  So everyone lives happily ever after, which is nice.

I recommend Faith Gartney’s Girlhood to those who just can’t get enough leisurely-paced, spiritually-minded, high-Victorian domestic novels–but in good conscience, I have to say that it is not Whitney’s best work (if you’re dying to know, I liked A Summer in Leslie Goldthwaite’s Life, and We Girls better.)

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