Review: Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart

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The Story

Back in the early part of the last century, around 1909, Elinor Rupert was a single mom working as a washer woman. Like many young woman she had found life in the city (Denver) to be harder than life needed to be. She also had a spirit of adventure and so the presence of her young daughter as nothing to stand in the way of that spirit. So, she took out a homestead claim in Wyoming. While working to “prove up” her homestead and gain full title to the land, she worked for a neighbor as a housekeeper and helper.  While doing so she wrote these entertaining and educational letters back to the lady for whom she used to do wash (laundry).

 

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Wyoming

What I Loved

I loved that while allowing that a person’s temperment had a lot to do with things, Elinor believed homesteading to be a much better and, frankly, easier (in spirt and mostly in body) option than the sort of work women had to take in cities to support their children. The lost of washer women, hired girls, cleaners and the like, was very hard. Missing a day’s work almost surely meant missing a day’s wages. I liked her moxie–both in asserting this and seeing women’s work for the drudgery it was and often still is.

What Bothererd Me

Laura Ingalls Wilder, of Little House fame, was seen as a self-taught “natural” with a pen, when in fact her daughter Rose edited, re-wrote or coaxed from her mother most of the prose. I was left thinking–wow, for someone with no formal education, no real teaching she certainly came away able to write very, very well. In a day when libraries were just starting to take hold, she must have really gotten her hands on a lot of fine books to get such a consistent voice to her writing. I was especially perplexed when her young daughter (admittedly very young) wrote a letter and used incorrect grammar and the like freely. I admire the educator Charlotte Mason, so I want to believe all her reading let Elinor write so beautifully, but I have to suspect an editor was heavily involved. Like the Little House books, though, the “back story” of the writing really doesn’t matter that much. The stories are perfectly told in the letters.

I also found it odd that she neglected to mention a couple of important life changes–one of which tempered my view of her as a lone woman homesteader [no spoilers!]. My mind was soothed some by her complete determination to learn and master all the skills necessary and to do all of the labor for proving up her homestead. This she truley did.

My Verdict

If you enjoyed the Little House books, you will also enjoy this book very much. You can read more about the author, Elinor Pruitt Rupert Stewart in this article from the Wyoming State Historical Society.

Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart

I listened to the audio version.

 

If you enjoy this era of history then try this book as well:

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This book is a MARVEL! What an unexpected gem of a book! I loved every word of it. Society girls, sick of the round of parties and good works while waiting for husbands to arrive on the scene take a bold step and change lives. Like modern day Peace Corps Volunteers they journeyed to a remote part of early-20th Century Colorado to teach school. Just read this one–you won’t regret it. A definite possibility for my “Must Read Book of the Year.” Nothing Daunted: The Unexpected Education of Two Society Girls in the West by Dorothy Wickenden. (9/27/2011 from my old blog).

 

Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

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The Story

A lonely farmer’s wife in England writes a letter to the author of a book who has already died. A chance correspondence grows between the man who answered the letter and the farmer’s wife.  Through there letters both sort things out in lives and become caring friends.

My Thoughts

I love epistolary novels–stories told through letters, e-mails, texts of diaries. This one had such believable characters with such realistic life stories that I place it up there with the non-fiction 84 Charing Cross Road in my affections. A  higher recommendation than that I cannot offer! Tina and Anders, like Helene and Frank, will live on in my heart forever.

I could relate completely to Tina’s remarks on Daphne. In fact, many of them could be summed up as the story of one aspect of my life.

Yet again I am blown away by the knowledge that this is the author’s first novel. Well done! Even better to me, an aspiring writer, is the fact that she was first published later in life (she is in her 70s).

I am grateful to blogger Cornflower Books who first made me aware of this treasure of a book.

My Verdict

4 Stars

Review: Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

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First of all, thank you to Jessie at Dwell in Possibility for bringing this book to my attention here. You should go check out this awesome book blog.

The Story

Two sorority sisters from the University of Iowa house of Kappa Kappa Gamma (Jane Pauley’s house at Indiana University, by the way and, more recently the house at Northwestern of Meghan Markle aka Princess Harry aka Duchess of Sussex.) head to New York in the summer of ’45 hoping to find fun jobs and party with other “sisters” staying nearby. By weird luck they wind up as the first female “pages” at Tiffany–as in Breakfast at Tiffany’s-Tiffany as in living a bit Audrey before there was Audrey! [See my week of Audrey Hepburn series that starts HERE.]

My Thoughs

First the good: The basic story was great–a fun look at a summer when 21-year-old females were still very much “girls” who fell in love, went on dates, but didn’t [usually] hop into bed until marriage or at least much, much later in the game. And due to one story line [no spoilers!] I was shocked by the “after Tiffany” follow up. The end of World War II made a nice counterpoint to the girls’ work and dating lives.

Now the bad: Sadly, this book fell into the trap that often brings historical fiction to its knees. That putting the words of guidebooks and newspapers into the mouths or, in this case, letters of the characters. I love books that tell at least some of the story with letters, but this device failed on a second level as well. We’d just heard what Marjorie was doing, but then we heard it again, interspersed with tourist guide lingo and newspaper reporting, when she wrote to the folks back home in Iowa. Then there was the name dropping. Marjorie says she misses the reporting of Eric Severied–“isn’t he related to the Severieds in [our hometown]?”  None of that is very entertaining. These faults took my rating way down.

My Rating

2.75

Summer at Tiffany: A Novel by Marjorie Hart

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Review: Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D.E. Stevenson

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This year I’ve been reading going back to read older books that I’ve missed or couldn’t find or…whatever! Today I’m reviewing one such book–Mrs. Tim of the Regiment. I love fictional diaries or novels with letters or e-mails or whatever and this is in that genre known official as epistolary novels–if you like them as well, you may want to see my posts on such books, linked at the bottom of this review.

Also at the bottom, you can see a far more handsome book jacket for this volume. Tartan! Or, as we say in America: Plaid! Love it, no matter which word you use.

The Story

“Husbands are annoying at times, but they are a habit which grows on one, and life is extraordinarily dull without them.” (p. 89)

Hester Christie is married to a young officer, Tim, and is the mother of Bryan (at his first boarding school) and Betty (at home with the governess).  Set in the early 1930s, the Christies are among the officer class in every way, but like many such people in the years after the Great War (World War I) their finances were not always up to the task. They do have one or two female servants and had a governess, but the motor? Not up to the standards of the class. Ditto their wardrobes. None-the-less Hester carries on, upholding the traditions of officers wives even when it means serving tinned soup!

“Tim says we ought to go to the parish church [in Scotland] which is Presbyterian, of course….I point out that we have no books, but Tim says they don’t have prayer books, but just make it up as they go along—Grace says she thinks it is very clever of them.” (p. 119)

The story takes place when Tim is posted to a Territorial Regiment (i.e. National Guard to Americans) in Scotland. This necessitates moving house not long after having moved to their current abode. Hester’s diary takes us thru the whole move in delightful fashion. Then, heavens! Someone up the Army List (that is the line for promotion) retires and Tim must go back whence they came! All of this results in Hester going on a holiday with her daughter to Scotland to recover. Such was life in those days. Someone “one” knew always had an estate in Scotland where “one” could relax at a house party, didn’t “one?”

My Thoughts

I loved this story–although, in the interest of honesty, the trip to Scotland was about as boring to read about as it must have been to experience had this been real life. I ended up skimming it. No matter, I’ll definitely read more in this series, but that part of the book took my rating down a good bit.

FYI: The Diary of a Provincial Lady series can be seen as the civilian counterpart to the Mrs. Tim series.

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by D.E. Stevenson

My Rating

3 Stars

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If you enjoy epistolary novels:

Dear Mrs. Byrd and More Epistolary Novels Read Recently

(This is my most recent epistolary novel post)

Epistolary Books Part I

Epistolary Part II

Favorite Epistolary Books and Novels

Fictional Diaries

 

 

Top 5 Wednesday: Freebie–Dear Mrs Byrd & More Books Using Letters or Diaries in Storytelling

 

 

This week’s Top Five Wednesday is a Freebie week–choose your own topic, use one you skipped, etc. I happen to love novels and nonfiction that use diaries or letters or emails or texts to tell stories. I’ve done posts with collections of these that you can read, too. They are linked at the bottom of this post.

First, the Brand New Smashing Debut!

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Dear Mrs. Byrd: A Novel

World War II is a very frequent topic in my reading life. So, when I found a new novel that uses letters for some of the telling and it was set during the Blitz in London–well, I had to get it. Dear Mrs. Byrd: A Novel by AJ Pearce was was so fun and so spot-on I found it hard to believe this was a debute novel, but it is!

The Story

Emmeline Lake answers an add for a “Junior” at what she thinks will be a big London daily newspaper. Instead it is for a woman’s magazine doing the typing for the advice column, Dear Mrs. Byrd. While also doing her “bit” for the war effort manning the phones for the fire brgade, Emmy spends her days reading the letters of depressed, scared, lonely and perplexed women and girls of war-torn Britain. Along the way she and her best friend Bunty have a spot of bother. All of it adds up to a sort of “workplace coming of age” story. Or is it a “wartime coming of age” story? Whatever–it’s simply wonderful.

If you enjoy this one, check out a classic: Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark. My review is HERE.

Now the Others

Each of these are epistolary novels or nonfiction I’ve read recently–or at least read since my last post on this sort of book.

Diary of a Provincial Woman

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This class commedic dairy tells the story of the wife of an Estate Manager (think Downton Abbey, but more down on it’s luck). I loved it start to finish. You can read my review HERE.     Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.

Sarah: Letters and Diaries of A Courtier’s Wife 1906-1936 (non-fiction)

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Sarah: Letters and Diaries of A Courtier’s Wife 1906-1936 is a slim volume telling the story of the wife of one of the primary members of the Royal Household in the days of Edward VIII (the current Queen’s uncle), George VI (her father) and today’s Queen, Elizabeth II.  There’s an interesting tie to the 90’s sitcom The Nanny with Fran Drescher! My review is HERE.

Two Steps Forward: A Novel

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Rosie Project author Graeme Simesion’s newest novel is a light novel on walking a pligrimage route in France and Spain. It includes texts and emails. You can read my review HERE.

Mrs. Fletcher: A Novel by Tom Perrotta

 

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When her son Brendan goes off to college Mrs Fletcher tries to find a life. It includes texting to tell the story. You can read my review HERE
Mrs. Fletcher: A Novel by Tom Perrotta.

 

My Posts Collecting Epistolary Books and Novels

Epistolary Books Part I

Epistolary Part II

Favorite Epistolary Books and Novels

Fictional Diaries

 

You can join Top 5 Wednesday on Goodreads.com then post about the week’s topic on your blog or in a video on Youtube. It’s fun!

 

Review: Diary of a Provincal Lady by E.M. Dealfield

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What a hoot! I love it when books stand the test of time, don’t you?  Written in the 1920s and published in 1930, this fictitious diary relates the day-to-day life and often unspoken (well, un-speakable!) thoughts of the wife of business manager at a somewhat large Stately home estate in Southern England, owned by Lady Box. Portsmouth is the nearest city–hence “Provincial.”

Here are her thoughts on arriving at a function at Lady B’s….

“Received by Lady B. …surrounded by a bevy of equally bejeweled friends. She smiles graciously and shakes hands without looking at any of us, and strange fancy crosses my mind that it could be agreeable to bestow on her sudden sharp shaking, and thus compel her to recognize existence of at least one of guests invited to her house.” (p. 383).

Her true thoughts on people and events are what make the book such fun. Her husband, Robert, makes rare appearances and tends only to put in a word about the coffee or some other mundane matter and, if at home, can generally be found asleep behind the Times. Son Robin, age 9, is at boarding school but appears in the holidays, usually with a school friend in tow. Daughter Vicky, 6, is looked after by a governess known simply as Mademoiselle.  Then there are the friends, neighbors, and others about whom she has most thoughts. Her attempts at economy are great–having beans on toast and water for lunch when shopping, but then deciding she “must” have a new evening dress! We can all relate!

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I loved this book from start-to-finish. I truly understand why it has never been out of print. One comment–I’ve never seen so much truly awful and inappropriate cover art on a book in my life as was slapped on later editions of this marvelous book. What hacks created it, I’d like to know? I chose the cover at the top of this post as it seems most likely the original.

 

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield.

 

Epistolary Novels?

Do you enjoy epistolary novels–stories told in diary or letter form or similar? Check out these past posts on such books.

Epistolary Books Part I: Fiction

Epistolary Books Part II: Wartime and Royal Diaries

My Favorite Books of Real Letters by Real People