Books I Read in September 2014

Jeune fille assise lisant, les cheveux sur les épaules Jean-Baptiste-Camille CorotThe Battle of Silence, by Vercors (Jean Bruller), translated from La Bataille du Silence by Rita Barisse — A memoir by the author of Le Silence de la Mer. He writes of the German occupation of France and many of the horrors of World War II. Much of the book focuses on the founding of Les Éditions de Minuit (Midnight Press). He also tells of writing Le Silence de la Mer and some of his other stories.

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier — I don’t read very many novels not already knowing the story somehow or other. I knew very little about Rebecca before reading it, and I thoroughly enjoyed not already knowing what was going to happen next. It was quite an interesting book. I don’t want to spoil the ending for anyone who has not read the book, but I appreciated the fitness of it.1

The Book of Snobs, by William Makepeace Thackeray (read for LibriVox by Various readers) — Written, so the author states, “By One of Themselves”. I especially enjoyed the prefatory remarks, the chapter on literary snobs, the two middle chapters on snobs and marriage, and this description of a piano entertainment given by some country snobs:

“Miss Wirt, the governess, sat down to entertain us with variations on ‘Sich a gettin’ up Stairs.’ They were determined to be in the fashion.

“For the performance of the ‘Gettin’ up Stairs,’ I have no other name but that it was a stunner. First Miss Wirt, with great deliberation, played the original and beautiful melody, cutting it, as it were, out of the instrument, and firing off each note so loud, clear, and sharp, that I am sure Stripes must have heard it in the stable.

“‘What a finger!’ says Mrs. Ponto; and indeed it was a finger, as knotted as a turkey’s drumstick, and splaying all over the piano. When she had banged out the tune slowly, she began a different manner of ‘Gettin’ up Stairs,’ and did so with a fury and swiftness quite incredible. She spun up stairs; she whirled up stairs: she galloped up stairs; she rattled up stairs; and then having got the tune to the top landing, as it were, she hurled it down again shrieking to the bottom floor, where it sank in a crash as if exhausted by the breathless rapidity of the descent. Then Miss Wirt played the ‘Gettin’ up Stairs’ with the most pathetic and ravishing solemnity: plaintive moans and sobs issued from the keys—you wept and trembled as you were gettin’ up stairs. Miss Wirt’s hands seemed to faint and wail and die in variations: again, and she went up with a savage clang and rush of trumpets, as if Miss Wirt was storming a breach; and although I knew nothing of music, as I sat and listened with my mouth open to this wonderful display, my caffy grew cold, and I wondered the windows did not crack and the chandelier start out of the beam at the sound of this earthquake of a piece of music.” (Ch. 25, ‘A Visit to Some Country Snobs’.)

Three Short Novels, by Vercors (Jean Bruller) — Contains Guiding Star (a translation by Eric Sutton of La Marche à l’Etiole), Night and Fog (a translation by Haakon M. Chevalier of La Nuit et le Brouillard), and The Verdun Press (a translation by Haakon M. Chevalier of L’Imprimerie de Verdun). The first half of Guiding Star is based on the life of the author’s father, a Francophile who was a Jew and who died before the German occupation of France. The ending is based on the death of a French Jewish man at the same age as the author’s father would have been had he lived into the occupation. I read about the inspiration and writing of Guiding Star in The Battle of Silence. Night and Fog brings out the unspeakable inhumanity of the treatment of prisoners in concentration camps. The Verdun Press concerns Pétain’s betrayal of French Jews.

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Painting is “Jeune fille assise lisant, les cheveux sur les épaules” by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796 – 1875).

1 Spoilers ahead: It was fitting that, as it was for Manderley that Max de Winter transgressed, he lost it. For his wife’s sake, and because the author succeeds in gaining sympathy for him and his situation, I wanted him to escape execution, but the loss of his home was an appropriate punishment, morally and artistically.

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