**** Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell

The setting for Brook Evans is Normal, Illinois in 1888.  When I first picked the book up I thought it was going to be about a man, but Brook Evans is the daughter of Naomi Kellogg.

Naomi is in love with Joe Copeland who is the only son of a widow and works their farm which adjoins the Kellogg farm.  His mother thinks she’s a cut above everyone else and nobody is good enough for her son, so secretly, Naomi and Joe meet under the willow tree near a Brook, hence the name Brook for their daughter.

“… her hand was on moss deeper and smoother than velvet, …”

Resting in her bedroom which was always very special to Naomi, just thinking about Joe.

“The magazine lay under her hand, drowsily she thought of Italy, a land of romance.  The perfume of roses came in through her window, there was that good smell of drying hay – full clear song of the thrush.  The water of the brook – waters of Venice.  Ardent whispers, through the centuries.  She was close to Joe.  His eyes were loving her.  His voice whispered.”

Unfortunately Joe dies unexpectedly when he is hit by the thrashing arms of his new combine harvester.  This is a tragedy not only for Naomi but the family an unwed mum.

“If you would and for my sake – stand a little disgrace?”  she asked timidly.  “Mostly it would be for just me. Then I would go away and make my living for my child.  O father, I would like that so much better.”

“…and words Mrs Copeland and her father had used … they were like rats.”

 In comes Caleb Evans who has always liked Naomi and says he will marry her, even with the child.  They do so and move to Colorado farming country, east of the Rockies.

Caleb is very religious, he is good in his pious way, but Naomi never loved him and she never grows to love where she is, her only love is Brook and Brook is closer to her father not knowing that she is not his daughter.

Brook is invited to a dance by Tony Ross a  part Indian mostly Italian boy.  Her mum makes her a most beautiful dress in a pale yellow, Brook looks lovely in it.  Against her father’s wishes with her mothers push she goes to the dance.

“This boy would not be riding to this love had there not been Joe, it was almost as if he were Joe, thus riding through the light sent down from Big Chief.”

I think here Naomi equates Tony, of Italian heritage, with that long ago day of dreaming in her bedroom, of romance and Italy.

Joe, aided by Naomi, secretly courts Brook.

Caleb says:

“Turned from her he ventured:  “Well maybe you and Brook’ll have a good time here together.  Kind of like a visit just you two.”

Tears surprised her; even though he had not turned to her she turned back.  Words she so sorely needed – but could not accept from him.”

Sylvia Waite is a missionary back for a while to visit with her mother before going off again, they all attend the same chapel.

“Outside she could hear Sylvia Waite’s voice and Brook’s acquiescence.  She moved nearer the dress twisted marked with tears.  She put her own hand upon it, as if seeking strength for what she had to do.”

“Oh, there must be that little girl – sweet baby voice – not barren years with Caleb Evans.”

While Caleb is away she knows that Tony is planning to ask Brook to elope with him, she approves of this, although Brook doesn’t know she knows.  Brook leaves the house this will be the last time she sees her, as Tony is planning to take her to California and get married.  This is Naomi’s sacrifice for her daughter’s happiness.

“What would happen if every one were to give up what there was between what they were supposed to know and think, and what they really did know and think?”

There is a terrible twist in these events, which leads Brook to go off with Sylvia Waite on her missionary endeavors to Turkey, and her father signs the papers needed for her to leave the country.

The bitterness of this for Naomi, it is too much, she never sees her daughter again as she also has never returned home to see her family.

In Turkey Brook meets an English officer Bert Leonard and marries him, they have a son together Evan.  Time passes WWI comes and Bert is severely injured.  For a long while Brook nurses him, he dies and she decides to go and live in France.  Where she is courted by her husband’s Colonel, Colonel Fowler, who all think she will marry.

Over the years her mother’s family have written to her and she to them, they let her know that her aging father Caleb is living with them in Normal, her mother long since dead and will she come home to see him?

By chance at a party a friend is giving, she meets Eric Helge.

While in Paris:

“Ici!  she called rapping.  In this window was one dress.  Yellow you would call it, only it was more like light than like any color, unless it was like champagne …”

Evan asks:

“For whom then?” he demanded.”

“For my mother”, she said, and he had never seen her face like this.”

“Oh, you are lovely, Mother,”  her boy cried (Oh, you are lovely, darling!”  she heard the other voice, the voice she had not heard for twenty years.”

Thus after all these years she understands, she is reconciled to her mother.

More happens, the book has an interesting ending it seems to come full circle.

I read half the book as it is divided by being marked as four books with chapters.  I read two and then put it down for a while, picked it up again with a fresh eye and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I would rate it  **** four stars on my Persephone 100 ratings.



***** Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy a Persephone Book

Set in Victorian Bayswater, London.  This is a story about Anglo-Jewish families of the time, written by Amy Levy, referred to as the Jewish Jane Austen.  Although it seems these days that many writers are referenced as the something Jane Austin, but I digress.

It is about how little there is for a young woman to do except to marry well, and for an aspiring young man of promise to marry very well.

The main character is Reuben Sachs a beloved son and grandson of whom great things are expected.  He is a lawyer and now working for a local bi-election candidacy.  It is said of him –

He came straight across the room to old Solomon, a vivifying presence – Reuben Sachs, with his bad figure, awkward movements, and charming face, which wore tonight it’s air of greatest alertness.

He is loved and loves a distant cousin who he has known from childhood, from a poorer family, and bought up in the family of a better off aunt.

…the whole face wore for the moment a relaxed dreamy, impassive air, curiously Eastern, and not wholly free from melancholy.

The settings in the book are mostly in one relatives parlour or another, gathered for various festivities.

Conversation flagged, as it inevitably did at these family gatherings, until after the meal, when crabbed age and youth, separating by mutual consent, would grow loquacious enough in their respective circles.

… the great majority gay with that rather spurious gaiety, that forcing of the note, which is so marked a charateristic of festivities.

That is so true, I have been at, let’s call them do’s and have felt that way.

There is a young family friend, from a very well to do English family, he is certainly a most eligible bachelor, although not Jewish, but by marrying him Judith Quixano would be elevated to a different level in the social strata and it certainly would be very good for her relatives too.

Generally speaking, the race instincts of Rebecca of York are strong, and she is less apt to give her heart to Ivanhoe, the Saxon knight than might be imagined.

I think said Leo “that he was shocked at finding us so little like the people in Daniel Deronda.”

So it is for Judith as she loves Reuben, but Reuben must marry money MMM.  Her father –

He was one of the world’s failures; and the Jewish people, so eager to crown success, form, so  … have scant love for those unfortunates who have dropped behind in the race.

They acted and reacted on one another, deceiving and deceived, with the strange unconscious hypocrisy of lovers.

I felt this book so caught the nuances of Jewish life, a circle orbiting within a circle, sometimes touching, but never meshing.

The Jew it may be remarked in passing, eats and dresses at least two degrees above his Gentile brother in the same rank of life.

…What help is there?  There is no help, for all these things are so.  A. C. Swinburne.

Reuben Sachs is not a long book but it carries you along very quickly, although the settings and plot are predictable, the verbiage, flow and wit of writing is smooth.

I loved it and therefore will rate it a 5 Star, I know not all would agree.


***** The Fortnight In September by R. C. Sheriff a Persephone Book

I just loved this book.  It’s about an everyday suburban family taking their annual fortnight holiday.  The time period is about 1920s.  There is mum and dad, a teenage daughter who works at a dress makers, a teenage son who has just started at an office in the City and a younger son still at school.

The evening before a busy time of last minute preparation,  don’t we all relate to that.  When they all come home from work and school, father’s special list carried over from year to year refined and upgraded.  His rituals before the household departs.

He always had an absurd pang of sorrow when he locked the tool shed door each year before going away ..

He thinks – The man on holiday becomes the man he might have been, the man he could have been, had things worked out a little differently …

One gets further insight how things might have worked out differently for him.

A wonderful description of the train journey, through Clapham Junction, they have taken this journey each year for many years and know every changing of the box junctions.

At last they heard rumping of it as it came over the bridge just round the corner …

Each year they go back to the same Guest House, ran by a widow and becoming a little more run down, but they are loyal and know that the board they pay is important to the land lady, even though many have left over the years.

I loved the insight into how sometimes one feels on holiday.

They had reached the strange, disturbing little moment that comes in every holiday; the moment when suddenly the tense excitement of the journey collapses and fizzles out, and you are left vaguely wondering what you are going to do, and how you are going to start.  With a touch of panic you wonder whether the holiday, after all, is only a dull anti-climax to the journey…

One of the delightful passages in the book is the acquiring of a beach hut.  Could they afford it?  But it would be so very nice, and makes one feel well richer some how.

…that sudden pride that comes to cautious people when on rare occasions they boldly step beyond the ranks of those around them …

It is said that Sherriff had in mind Bognor Regis when he wrote this book, but I could so easily see it applying to any number of link English seaside towns, equally well to link Southwold in Suffolk which I visited last year, especially with the Victorian Guest Houses and all those Beach Huts there.

Do read it.  I rate this one as a Five Star *****