August 2011


As I mentioned in my last “From the library” post, I’d reserved Victoria Thompson’s latest entry in her Gaslight Mystery series.  This one is Murder on Sisters’ Row, and is the 13th book in the series.  The book arrived at my local branch and I picked it up on Thursday after my volunteer shift was over.   I finished it by Saturday afternoon and have to say that I was surprised by the identity of the killer.

This series focuses on two characters: Sarah Brandt (a midwife) and Frank Malloy (a police detective).  They live in 1890s Manhattan and they solve mysteries together.  It sounds simplistic, but it works.  In this book, Sarah gets called in to deliver a baby in what turns out to be a brothel on what was called “Sisters’ Row.”  Amy, the prostitute who gives birth, begs Sarah to get her out of there, and that’s what starts the story in motion.  I had a couple of suspects in mind, and truly did not guess “whodunnit.”

Thompson brings in lots of historical detail to the books and, as a former Manhattanite, I really appreciate it.  I said in that earlier post that these books serve as a reminder of just how little Manhattan has actually changed over the years.  Well, the other day, the US cable channel “Turner Classic Movies” (“TCM” — they own the entire MGM movie library) showed an MGM short from 1949 that focused on Manhattan.  And, despite the fact that the Pan Am/MetLife Building wasn’t there yet, the area around Grand Central Terminal was instantly recognizable to me.  The Waldorf hasn’t changed, nor has the Intercontinental Hotel, or the façade of Grand Central, or the Lincoln Building, or the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings.  In other words, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I’ve just read Monica Ferris’ 13th and 14th Needlework Mysteries, Blackwork and Buttons and Bones.  These are the most recent entries in Ferris’ series about Betsy Devonshire and her ability to solve murders.  They’re sort of Jessica Fletcher-like in that the heroine is a middle-aged woman in a small town who solves mysteries more easily than the police do.

Betsy Devonshire is a transplant to Excelsior, Minnesota.  In the first book, Crewel World, Betsy arrives in Excelsior to visit her sister, Margot, who is the owner of a needlework shop called Crewel World.  Unfortunately for Betsy, her sister is dead (murdered, actually), and she (Betsy) ends up solving the mystery.  And the rest is history. 13 books later, I still love this series.

They’re not great literature, but they are fun and I really enjoy them.  I was delighted to find these 2 most recent ones at the library.  I first discovered the series through fellow stitchers in NY and several of the local shops sold the books.  Each book contains a needlework pattern that has something to do with the plot.  I’ve never done any of the patterns, but maybe some day I will.

As an aside, another mystery series that I really like is the Gaslight Mysteries by Victoria Thompson.  The latest book in the series is Murder on Sisters’ Row, and I’m next in line to get the book from my local library branch.  The series focuses on a widowed midwife named Sarah Brandt who practices in 1890s Manhattan.  In the first book, Murder on Astor Place, Sarah helps Detective Frank Malloy (a widower with a young son) solve a murder, and the two become allies and even friends.  As the series progresses, we see them fall in love, but they haven’t done anything about it (yet?).  I love the little historical details in these books and, of course, being a former Manhattanite, I appreciate how little this area of Lower Manhattan has actually changed over the years.

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This is post #200, and I would like to thank all of my readers (so many more than I’d ever anticipated!) for making it possible.

It was hot.  It was humid.  But it was FUN!

N and I met at the hotel on Saturday morning and spent all of Saturday and most of Sunday at Disney.  We did everything we set out to do, except the Haunted Mansion.  That was closed on Sunday morning, so we never made it in.  But we made up for it at Expedition Everest, Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Test Track, Star Tours, Mission: Space, etc.  We only had to wait 40 minutes or so for Soarin’, which really impressed us.  Usually, the line is a lot worse.

Dinner on Saturday was at Chefs de France (I had fruits de mer, and N had the half chicken), followed by a crème brulee (N) and profiteroles (moi).  We felt like we’d never eat again.  We stayed at Epcot long enough to watch the fireworks, and then headed back to the hotel by bus.  It was packed, which wasn’t a surprise, but it was rather annoying.

We spent most of Sunday afternoon at Epcot and shopped.  We broke for lunch at the Moroccan pavilion, and then kept on shopping (most of it was window shopping, but even that was satisfying).  I bought several pairs of earrings (Murano glass at the Italian pavilion, Celtic designs at the British pavilion, silver danglies at the Moroccan pavilion, and a very simple design at the Chinese pavilion), along with some stainless steel chopsticks (I HATE the splintery cheapo ones you get when you order in) and a lovely cross stitch kit at the Chinese pavilion (which really does have the best gift shop in the entire park).  N bought a really nice tote bag and some jewelry, so we both did some damage.

This seems to be turning into a tradition — I went to Disney on my birthday in 2009, to Universal in 2010 and now Disney again in 2011 (although it’s not yet my birthday or even my birthweek) — and I think it’s a tradition I want to keep for the time being.  You can’t avoid growing old, but there are times you can most definitely avoid growing up.

I love blue mascara. I’ve worn it for years. Black is too stark, and brown is not stark enough. I have green/brown/hazel eyes, and I just like the way blue mascara looks. But it’s almost impossible to find, unless I want some funky bright blue stuff that’s really not quite suited to me and my lifestyle.

“Voluminous” by L’Oreal is nice, but it’s hard to find in blue (I buy it from ebay whenever I can find it).  When Max Factor was in business, they made a mascara that I really liked. When I learned that Max Factor was going out of business, I bought as many tubes of that mascara as I could get my hands on. My stash should last me a while, but I’ve been on the lookout for a replacement now so that I’m not desperate when I find myself down to my last tube of Max Factor. I’ve laid out $15 or $20 for some of the more expensive department store brands (YSL, Estée Lauder, etc.) but, oddly enough, I like the drugstore brands best when it comes to mascara.

Ideas, anyone?

Part II, the Films, cont’d.

I’d said a couple of weeks ago that I’d put the Charlton Heston version of Jane Eyre in my Netflix queue, but I noticed that it’s no longer available.  So I took Traxy’s advice and watched in online through the Internet archive.  Here it is, in all its glory.  I had seen a brief clip on YouTube a few years ago, and kept meaning to watch it, but never got around to it.  So, thanks to the Jane Eyre-athon, I will finally get to watch this 1-hour American adaptation of Jane Eyre.  Heston plays Rochester, and Jane is played by a woman named Mary Sinclair, who appeared in a lot of programs in the early days of television (including Catherine in Wuthering Heights).  It aired on December 12, 1949; this copy is likely a kinescope (as are most tv programs that survive from this era), and we are lucky to have it.

The film opens as a young (adult) woman leaves Lowood School.  We learn almost immediately that she is Jane Eyre, so they’ve cut out her entire childhood (and the first 100 or so pages of the book).  The woman (Miss Cratchit – sp?) who lets her out berates her for leaving, and says that teachers who leave generally beg to be let back in, and that the school always refuses to do so.

Jane is rather long in the tooth.  She says she’s been at the school for 18 years.  She leaves the school saying “Thornfield! Thornfield!’ in a dreamy tone of voice.  We then see a picture of a large house (the same house we saw in the opening credits).  I gather that’s supposed to be Thornfield.  I know one thing — it’s somewhat less bright and sunny inside than was the 1934 Thornfield, but the first interior scene actually looks like a 1940s living room (except for all the candles).  And, speaking of looking like the 1940s, Jane’s dress is a little longer than those worn by women in the 1940s, but before we see just how long it its, it looks like a late 40s/early 50s kind of dress.  Mrs. Fairfax is wearing a mobcap, and she looks somewhat more Victorian.  Somewhat.

The camera pans to Adèle, who is asleep in a chair.  Somehow, she’s managed to sleep through Jane and Mrs. Fairfax getting acquainted. When she wakes up, we see that this is a French Adèle, bad accent and all.

Jane and Mrs. Fairfax head up to their respective bedrooms. Mrs. Fairfax warns Jane that, since Thornfield is an old house, she may hear some strange noises.  Cue eerie music!  Mrs. F. carries a candelabra with her on her way up the stairs, but there’s still one fully lit in the room they are leaving behind (isn’t that a fire hazard?)  and, interestingly, the amount of light in the room never changes.  And people complain about 1970s/1980s production values — this is pretty much as primitive as you’ll get.  Even movies of the time had better sets.

Jane sits on the bed, sighing about how wonderful life is at Thornfield, and she hears strange laughter.  She goes out into the hall, and opens a door — Grace Poole comes over and scolds her for doing so.  She’s a pretty imposing woman, and I’d make sure to do whatever she told me! As an aside, there appears to be a piano in Jane’s bedroom.  That’s a little strange.

Jane and Rochester never have their meeting outside, so we have not yet seen Charlton Heston.  Mrs. Fairfax comes scurrying into Jane’s room to tell her that the Master has arrived, and Jane goes to meet him in the same room we saw before.  And we still don’t get to see Charlton Heston.  All we see are a pair of hands fiddling with a cane/walking stick, but it’s definitely his voice questioning Jane.  It’s kind of weird.

Finally he stands up and he’s wearing clothing that just makes me giggle.  The book came out in 1847, and it takes place earlier.  So I checked www.victoriana.com for men’s clothing in the 1830s.  His outfit does not resemble any of these.  In fact, it looks more like Regency fashion, with the jacket cut short in the front.  I’m not a fashion historian, but this just seems wrong to me.  I’d appreciate it if anyone with more knowledge of the subject could edify me. But Jane’s clothing definitely looks wrong.  He’s also wearing some sort of bandana-type thing around his neck that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose.

Anyway, back to the story.  Jane and Adèle are outside, practicing Adèle’s English, and Rochester invites Jane to dine with him.  After he gets a “yes” out of her, he leaves and goes inside.  More eerie music follows,  the camera pans up a few feet, and there is a woman at a window, looking down at Jane.  She actually looks like Elsa Lanchester from the Bride of Frankenstein. How subtle!

Jane and Edward are talking after their dinner together (and it seems  to me that Jane hasn’t changed clothes yet.  Not once!). Edward tells Jane that people think Adèle is his child, but that she is, in fact the child of a French dancer who ran off with a lover.  This is the first version I’ve seen where they’ve even hinted at Adèle’s real story.

Instead of Bertha setting fire to Edward’s bedroom, we see her sneaking down the stairs into the same room that most of the action has taken place in while Edward is asleep in a chair near the fireplace (where no fire is burning).  She no longer looks like Elsa Lanchester; she has buck teeth and a goofy grin, along with what appears to be a bald spot at the back of her head. She also seems to be way too old to have been married to Charlton Heston’s Edward. IMDb does not tell us who the actress is, so I can’t find out when she was born.  She takes a newspaper from a chair and sets that on fire right next to Edward.  The resulting smoke does not wake him. She then sneaks upstairs, still grinning.

Jane hears some moaning sounds and that wakes her up.  She seems to be wearing her dressing gown to bed, so all she does is put some shoes on before heading out into the hallway.  There is a candle in front of her door, and somehow she knows this means she needs to run downstairs to save Mr. Rochester’s life.  She’s very intuitive, this Jane!  Edward tells her to tell everyone that a coal fell out of the (nonexistent) fire.

Cut to commercial.  Yes, the Internet Archive keeps the original commercials.  This is VERY cool. It stars Betty Furness and a Westinghouse electric range.  When I was younger, Betty Furness was a consumer reporter for WNBC Channel 4 in New York; these Westinghouse commercials are way before my time.

Commercial over. Back to Jane Eyre.

A well-dressed woman is doing a bad job pretending to play the piano (or, as Heston referred to it earlier, the spinet).  Jane has finally changed clothes, and now  she’s doing a bad job pretending to play the spinet.  I gather the 2 women who are being very rude are Lady Ingram and “Lady” Blanche (who’s a brunette, by the way).  These two are the only actors in the entire production who are attempting to do an English accent. Jane goes outside and starts to cry and Mrs. Fairfax goes out to comfort her.  She tells Mrs. Fairfax that she’s in love with Mr. Rochester.  Huh?  Mrs. Fairfax tells Jane that he only enjoys her company because he’s bored and lonely.

Edward tells Blanche that he’s not worth anything, and fade to black.

Jane is now packing for Ireland, and Adèle runs in sobbing. She refers to Rochester as “papa,” which I’ve never heard before.

Finally — some dialogue from the book.  Rochester tells Jane “I have no bride.”  And then the bit about the string under his ribs.  It’s about time.

Richard Mason arrives minutes before the wedding and asks to see Mrs. Poole.  Yes, Mrs. Poole. She speaks with Mason and the attorney in the same room where 99.99999999% of the action takes place, and then says that she doesn’t want the rest of the household to see her talking to him. Bizarre.

During the wedding ceremony, the eerie music starts up again, and we see Bertha looking down on the wedding from her window.  Mason and the attorney interrupt the wedding, and Rochester says “there will not be a wedding today” with Bertha staring over his shoulder from the window.  Again, truly bizarre.  And, of course, a chance for another commercial break.  This time, Betty Furness hawks a Westinghouse “electric sheet” (my grandparents had one of those and it really was very toasty).

Anyway, after the aborted wedding, Edward tells Jane to leave because “your business here is finished.”  But then he asks her to stay; he doesn’t ask her to be his mistress and to go to Europe with him, but I’m betting that’s because the PTB (PTW?) in the 1940s wouldn’t allow that.

Next we see Jane sitting “outdoors” wearing scarves in such a way that she looks almost like a mummy.  Then she hears Edward’s voice calling to her and she heads back to Thornfield. We don’t know how long she’s been gone, or where she’s been, or how she’s been surviving, but she somehow shows up at the house and is greeted warmly by Mrs. Fairfax.  Only the West wing of the house burned down, and Mr. Rochester survived. He’s blind, and I am left to wonder for the zillionth time why blind people in the movies never blink.  He does get to keep his hand, however, and we never learn about how he is able to see his first born. They hug.

Finis.

This is bad.  Laughably bad, but still bad.  It’s an example of unintentional badness, I think, but it still bears very little resemblance to the original story and is, in effect, “inspired by” Jane Eyre, rather than “based on” Jane Eyre.  Fans of the book and movies really should see it, if only for the historical value of the production itself.

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As an aside, do yourself a favor and check out the Internet Archive. There’s a lot of good stuff there from the early days of television.  It’s worth a visit.

I just finished reading Mansfield Park Revisited by Joan Aiken.

As you know, I love Mansfield Park, although I do understand why it’s generally considered to be Jane Austen’s least popular work.  I did not appreciate it until I was around 40, even though I’d first read it at age 18.  I like and respect Fanny Price and, even though Edmund is not anywhere near the top of my list of favorite literary heroes, I really do think he’s right for Fanny.  An acquaintance of mine likes Henry Crawford and thinks that Fanny would have been better off with him.  She and I have had some spirited discussions on the subject, and we agree to disagree.

But I digress.

MPR takes place 4 years after the events of Mansfield Park.  Edmund and Fanny have 2 young children.  Mrs. Norris has died. Sir Thomas has died and Tom has inherited the title. William Price has just been promoted to Captain.  Susan Price still lives at Mansfield Park and her lazy, selfish Aunt Bertram still relies on her.

The book was OK. Fanny and Edmund are packed off to Antigua to clean up another mess on the family’s plantation.  Julia (the Honourable Mrs. John Yates) is in an unhappy marriage, so she and her children spend a lot of time at Mansfield minding other people’s business.  In essence, Julia has turned out to be a lot like Mrs. Norris.  She treats Susan like the hired help and does everything she can to convince her brother, the new Sir Thomas, to marry her sister-in-law, Charlotte Yates, who is a whiny, annoying woman.

And then there are the Crawfords.  Mary has made an unfortunate marriage and is now in very bad health.  She decides that the only place for her is Mansfield Park.  So she writes to Fanny to ask her advice about moving into the White House, but since Fanny is in Antigua, Susan gets the letter instead.  Susan’s only knowledge of the Crawfords is based on what she’s heard from Fanny, Edmund, Julia and Tom, and it’s not good.  Before she has a chance to speak to Tom about Mary’s letter, Tom announces that the White House has been rented.  Of course, we soon find out that Mary Crawford is the new tenant.

Anyway, it’s obvious that Aiken likes Henry and Mary far better than I do because a new character (Mrs. Osbourne, sister to the man who’s taking over Edmund’s duties at his two parishes) says that all of Maria’s troubles with Henry were her own fault, and that he’s innocent.  Mary and Susan become fast friends. Tom gets thrown from his horse and has to recuperate at the White House and he starts singing Mary’s praises.  As for Mary herself, she is now close to death, and tells Susan that her dearest wish would be to see Susan married to Henry.

Sounds familiar, right?

It gets even more familiar because, after Mary dies, Henry leaves the area when Susan doesn’t say yes to his proposal, and Tom — out of nowhere — declares his undying love for Susan. And she says she’s loved him since she first arrived at Mansfield Park when she was 14. We’ve never even had a hint of this love on Susan’s part, and certainly not on Tom’s.  I went into the book thinking she’d end up with the visiting clergyman.  But to have her end up with Tom in the last few pages just had me rolling my eyes and being glad the end was nigh.

I might have recommended it (even with Henry turning out to not be a slimeball) if Aiken hadn’t been so derivative towards the end, but now I can’t.  If it’s in your library, OK, go for it.  But don’t waste your hard-earned money buying it.  I’ve read amateur fanfiction that was more creative than this.

Last night was Breast Cancer Awareness Night at McKechnie Field.  The team helped raise money for local charities by selling raffle tickets, auctioning game-worn jerseys, etc.  The two local hospitals (Manatee Memorial and Blake Medical Center) had booths and offered up breast self-exam information, brochures and, of course, swag.  My mother and my aunt are both two-time survivors, so I showed up in a pink shirt and bought my raffle tickets.  Unfortunately, a game-worn jersey is out of my league (no pun intended), so the 3-for-$10 raffle tickets were all I could do.  But it’s still something.

Breast cancer can be beaten if it’s caught early enough.  I cannot stress the importance of monthly self-examinations, regular check-ups with your doctor and, of course, mammograms.

Oh, and the Marauders and their special pink-and-black jerseys won the game on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 9th.  Way to go!

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