Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Books I WON'T be publishing...

I know, I know. It's been ages since I announced that there was, in fact, going to be some form of a "Furrowed Middlebrow Books," a collaboration with an existing publisher to bring some of my favorite discoveries from my blog back into print. And I know I said I would be announcing the first batch of titles "soon." Well, soon is, after all, a relative term, and novice that I am, I didn't quite realize just how long the rights process can actually take. We have a few titles absolutely confirmed now, but I really want to wait until we know for certain all the titles we'll be releasing in our first batch (September/October of this year) before I talk about any of them. So, for now, no big announcement of what we will be publishing.

But, having spent some time recently browsing intently on Amazon (something I should really do more often, based on all I found that was new to me), I can certainly discuss some titles and authors that we won't be publishing. I.e. because they're already getting reprinted without any help from me.

One of the biggest announcements of the past few months for mystery fans is the release of a whole slew of lesser-known Patricia Wentworth titles—those that do not feature her main series detective Miss Silver. In the U.S., e-book versions are being released by Open Road Media (who have also recently released some Margery Sharp titles and some Elizabeth Jane Howard novels), while in the rest of the world Dean Street Press is releasing more or less the same titles. The best news, though, for those of you who prefer physical books, is that while Open Road seem to limit themselves to e-books, Dean Street is also making paperback versions available worldwide (U.S. as well). Some of these titles have always been quite rare, to the extent that I certainly didn't realize Wentworth had published so many non-Miss Silver books. Plenty to explore there!

Other good news on the mystery front is that Open Road and Mysterious Press are also releasing e-books of most of Ellis Peters' (real name Edith Pargeter) mysteries, including the complete Brother Cadfael and George Felse series, as well as some lesser-known standalone titles. Sadly, no reprints of the novels Pargeter published under her own known, which include a handful of wartime and postwar novels that really deserve to be in print, but perhaps those will come in time.

And also on the mystery theme, I don't know how I missed for so long the news about the June new releases from Greyladies, but I was delighted to see that they're releasing Ethel Lina White's The Third Eye (1937), a mystery set in a girls' school (and already on my Grownup School Stories List), which I've been meaning to read for ages. It just got bumped to the top of my TBR list.

The other new Greyladies title allows us to segue into non-mystery fiction. I've posted here before about Kitty Barne, and have always meant to read her most famous work, the children's story She Shall Have Music (1938). Now, I undoubtedly have the inspiration I need, as Greyladies will soon be releasing Barne's impossibly rare adult sequel, While the Music Lasted (1943). Though published in the midst of the war, it apparently takes place in the late 1930s, taking advantage of all of the tensions of the war's approach. I can't wait.

I've also written a couple of times about Stella Gibbons, of whom I'm a big fan (though, admittedly, unlike many readers, I'm a bigger fan of her late work than of Cold Comfort Farm). I mentioned a while back the distinctly phony "rediscovery" of her two final novels (a media blitz about the rediscovery doesn't change the fact that her biographer had spent some time discussing them more than a decade earlier, so they were hardly "lost"), but if a media blitz was needed to finally get them into print, I don't mind all that much. One of the novels has appeared already as Pure Juliet (it was originally titled An Alpha and written circa 1980—one quite sees why they changed the title), to unsurprisingly mixed reviews. We could hardly expect that they would be primo Gibbons, considering how long they languished unpublished, but I expect to find them of great interest in the context of her other work. The second, The Yellow Houses (written about 1973), is apparently scheduled for release in September. Have any of you read Pure Juliet yet?

Though not quite as hard-to-find as works that had never been published at all, Dodie Smith's A Tale of Two Families (which I discussed here) had become ridiculously pricey in its original editions and had never been reprinted despite the popularity of Smith's A Capture the Castle. Happily, though, that has now been rectified. In the UK, it seems to be available only as an e-book, though both e-book and paperback seem to be available in the US. It's not I Capture the Castle, certainly, but I found it quite entertaining (more so than I did Smith's other novels, already released a few years ago).

Another hard-to-find favorite who's seeing the light of day in e-book format is Elizabeth Cadell. I had flirted with the idea of seeing if we could possibly get the rights to these, though it seemed rather overwhelming to take on Cadell's 60+ titles, but I'm delighted to learn that her heirs are apparently planning to release them all, including some of those vanishingly rare early works that I've been wanting to read for years. As of this writing, about seven of her titles are already available—including the "Wayne Family Trilogy" of The Lark Shall Sing, The Blue Sky of Morning, and Six Impossible Things, which are fan favorites—but new titles seem to be getting released at short intervals, so more will undoubtedly be coming soon.

I also noticed several other old favorites that are now available as e-books (and in some cases paperbacks as well). Jane Duncan's entire Friends series now seems to be available—it looks like they're e-book only in the U.S., but a paperback version is also available in the U.K. A bunch of blog favorite Mary Hocking's novels are now available in e-book and paperback from Bello Books (who also released Edith Olivier's works a couple of years ago, thereby earning my undying devotion). I am slightly conflicted, though, about two other Bello releases: for whatever reason, Lillian Beckwith's novels, including her tales of life in the Hebrides beginning with The Hills Is Lonely, and their new editions of Pamela Hansford Johnson's novels, seem to be available only in the U.K. What's the deal with that? Grrrrr.

Miss Read's books, meanwhile, are now available as e-books on both sides of the Atlantic, but apparently from different publishers, with the result that the U.S. editions are considerably pricier. Grrrrr again, though at least they are available.

Many of you already know that Virago has been gradually making more Angela Thirkell titles available as e-books. I noticed, though, that just in the past few weeks they've released a few more, including three perennial favorites—Before Lunch, Cheerfulness Breaks In, and The Brandons. And on a more highbrow note, I also see that Virago has released—in the U.K. only—a few e-book versions of Janet Frame novels. I've always meant to read more of her work (even if she is a Kiwi), so this would be welcome news if only they were available in the US as well…

Finally, while talking about e-books, I have to mention—for the sake of those of you who live in Canada (or are copyright renegades)—a website I came across a while back. Faded Page seems to be in some way affiliated with Gutenberg Canada, and posts free e-books of works that are in the public domain in Canada. Canada has what might be called the least restrictive copyright laws of the English-speaking nations, as a result of which numerous authors who are still protected by copyright elsewhere are public domain in Canada. If you live in Canada, therefore, you can perfectly legally download the Faded Page e-books of authors like Angela Thirkell, Anna Buchan (aka O. Douglas), and Patricia Wentworth. If you don't live in Canada, then downloading them may well be a violation of your own nation's copyright law (though I would be at least mildly surprised if a team of Navy Seals were to kick down your door for downloading Anna Buchan's Pink Sugar…).

If you do live in Canada, you might want to take advantage of this while you can. It looks like there's a chance that international pressure, especially from the US, may soon result in a change to Canadian copyright law… 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

MONICA TINDALL, The Late Mrs Prioleau (1946) (and a very exciting tidbit)

It came into my mind suddenly that we might be living in the first chapter of one of my own detective stories, the kind of story I always felt to be so improbable. A woman lay dead upstairs waiting to be screwed down; in another bedroom a man was having hysterics; in the kitchen a grey parrot was imitating both their voices; and in the sitting-room crouched the pugs, glaring at us now with rage and terror in their popping eyes. Soon a car would drive up and Henry's sisters would join us, and Mr Galvain the man of business; and I, the stranger in the family, wearing black for a woman I had never known, sat in this unfamiliar cheerless room waiting to meet them.

I do love it when a handy passage does such a great job of setting the scene of a novel, especially when the passage is as evocative as this one.

Susan Prioleau, who narrates this novel (which is, tragically, Monica Tindall's only book), is newly married to Henry, the youngest of the titular Mrs. Prioleau's four children, and because Henry has little contact with his family—least of all with his mother—Susan's only "meeting" with her mother-in-law is at her funeral. Indeed, it's also her first meeting with Henry's two sisters, Melissa and Norrie, and his older brother, Austin, who has always been the clear favorite and who has been rendered practically an invalid, both physically and mentally, by his mother's babying. (He's the man having hysterics in the bedroom in the quoted passage.) Henry's father has been dead for years, and he and his sisters have been alienated from their mother for most of their adult lives.

From the beginning (the story is set just on the cusp of World War II and continues well into the war years), Susan senses a mystery, and it comes naturally to her to try to determine the source of the family's dysfunctionality:

Before I married I made a living of a sort as a reporter and a writer of detective stories. I was not especially successful because I have neither a thick enough skin to make good capital out of other people's misfortunes, nor credulity to believe in my own fiction sufficiently to make it interesting. But I still see people as "copy" though I no longer make my money out of them, and deduction is as much a game with me as it was with my own pet detective, Ambrose Honorius Barty, now mercifully defunct. I still try to discover the job of the man beside me in the bus by the Holmesian method of looking at his coat sleeve and the toes of his boots, and almost unconsciously I interview the people I meet, trying to ask them the right questions and sort out the answers.

This all makes Susan the perfect choice for an unsentimental, unbiased unearthing of the truth behind Helena Prioleau's startling transformation from the charming, witty, artistic girl some of the characters recall from the distant past to the Gorgon-like domestic dominatrix she became after her marriage. And her investigations make reading about it as addictive and compelling as any detective novel.

Indeed, Tindall takes on a rather gutsy challenge. In the first half of the novel, through conversations with her new in-laws and with family friends, she presents a classic ogre of a mother—one of a surprising number of such characters in middlebrow fiction, as I've noted here before, so commonly mocked or condemned as to have become a virtual stereotype of the period—delineating the alienation of Helena's children (all but one), her habits of writing scathing letters that may even have driven a servant to suicide, and a shocking incident with the pet pugs to whom Austin is devoted, among other things. Then, in the second half of the novel, Tindall has Susan steadily uncovering the traces of what has made Helena the monster she is, and she does this (largely via Susan's convenient discovery of Helena's long-forgotten journal and some letters) in a strikingly subtle, realistic, and convincing way that raises Helena far above the level of a stereotype.

I was almost shocked to find myself feeling sympathy for the late Mrs Prioleau in the latter part of the novel. And yet Tindall doesn't oversimplify, and doesn't take the easy route, which a lesser writer might have followed, of suggesting that Helena is a mere victim with no responsibility for the trajectory of her life. She achieves something more complex, suggesting that tragedy didn't create the dark side in Helena but merely helped make it dominant (and suggesting by implication that such darker potentials perhaps reside in each of us). As a result of such subtlety, the novel's gut-wrenching conclusion leaves the reader fascinated and conflicted in all sorts of wonderful ways about this woman who has suffered much and made others suffer with her.

I have to say that The Late Mrs Prioleau is already my favorite novel of the year so far, and one of my all-time favorite rediscoveries of a "lost" work. I think it will be particularly fascinating for any readers who have their own complicated relationships with parents. For instance, the following passage is the very best summary I've ever read of my own mother's strategy of domination, which lurked always in the background while I was growing up:

"She used to make terrible scenes sometimes over nothing at all, and you could feel them brewing like a storm. It made me feel insecure all the time, and any psychologist will tell you how bad that is for children. She'd pick on one of us or one of the maids, and fly into a rage about some perfectly idiotic thing until she had whoever it was provoked into answering back ... generally if it was a maid she gave notice. Then Mother was the aggrieved person, and the odd part was that by the end you generally thought she was, and begged her pardon humbly because she had behaved quite outrageously. To this day I don't know how she did it. "

I don't know how mine did it either. But Tindall also touchingly examines the effects of such an upbringing on Henry's sister Melissa and her approach to child-rearing. It would undoubtedly make many modern parents cringe, but for better or worse I might have been tempted to use the same logic had I ever (heaven forbid!) become a parent myself (and it may well be healthier than the neurotic helicopter parenting most of us have witnessed in recent years):

We were sitting on the beach. It was high tide and windy, with waves breaking on the sands. The children were burying a dead crab one of them had found; Melissa was scrawling designs of sea-gulls on a drawing-block, and I was reading. Suddenly I heard her gasp. Her son, with the impulsive bravery of his five years, was walking deliberately into the sea. I scrambled up, but she clutched my arm, holding me back. "Let him learn," she whispered, white-faced and rigid. We must have been some fifty yards away from the children, yet she watched without cry or movement until Peter was swept off his feet and rolled over in the inevitable wave. She waded in then, and fished him out.

Melissa broke off. She was gazing at Peter who was poised, rather dangerously it seemed, on a high piece of pointed rock. He looked at us unhappily, his mouth open for the first sob. His mother shouted at him. "You got up there," she said, "and you can jolly well get down!" Anxiously he looked down to the comfortable sand below him, and then slowly and carefully began to climb from bis perch.

"See what it's like, Susan?" Her voice was sad. "He's all right this time, as it happens, but he might have fallen and hurt himself badly. He's so tiny still. Only ... I simply daren't. When I think of how Mother undermined Austin … with the best will in the world …"

But one certainly needn't have any personal associations with ogre mothers and dysfunctional families to relish Tindall's brilliant little novel. I can't recommend it highly enough, and I'm tempted even as I write this to pick it up and start reading it all over again.

But now I have to explain the exciting way that this book found its way onto my radar…

I can start by noting that Tindall—who is such a new discovery that I haven't had a chance to add her to my Overwhelming List yet—is in fact the sister-in-law of another author on the list, Ursula Orange, about whom you may recall that I've written several times. She is also therefore the aunt of yet another author on my list, novelist and historian Gillian Tindall, who is the daughter of Ursula Orange.

I made the connection of Orange and Gillian Tindall only after I had already written about several of Orange's novels and made lots of speculations about her.  A bit later, a commenter mentioned that Tindall had written about her mother in her wonderful book Footprints in Paris: A Few Streets, A Few Lives (2009). It was from that book that I learned the tragic truth about Orange's suicide at the age of 46.

But the connection to Monica Tindall, and the existence of her one and only novel, came to me more directly and in much more exciting fashion. Imagine my surprise to awaken one morning recently to find an email from none other than Gillian Tindall herself! Apart from anything else, this certainly marks the first time I've been in direct contact with one of the authors on my list! (Tindall quite precociously published her debut novel, No Name in the Street, in 1959, just in time to qualify for my list.)

Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear from Gillian, who was very gracious and generous and informative in sharing her thoughts about her mother's little-known work and also in recommending her aunt's (perhaps even more obscure) novel. I might perhaps be able to add a bit more about this in a future post, but for now, I'll merely thank her for contacting me and for opening the door to this wonderful novel!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Updates to the update

This past weekend, Andy was out of town and I was left bereft at home, and as it typical in such circumstances I spent most of my time not lounging with a good book eating bon-bons, nor having scintillating solo nights on the town, but rather boringly losing all track of time doing research, updating lists, and generally geeking out. Among other things, I was able to finalize an additional update to my Overwhelming List (as well as most of my other lists)—this time not adding any new authors, but merely updating tons of information based on meticulous new research by John Herrington. I can attest to how overwhelming my most recent update of neary 400 new authors was for me, and it understandably took John a bit of time, in between his other projects, to absorb it all as well.

Apart from fleshing out of details of married and maiden names and birth and death dates for numerous authors, this update was largely characterized by removals. Which certainly makes this the first update I've ever done that resulted in a net loss of authors (now numbered at 1,894 instead of a bit over 1,900). As John finds more details about authors, I weed out the Aussies and Yanks and Kiwis and, um, Maple Leafs? (What is the appropriate slang term for Canadians, anyway?) Not to mention, in one unusual circumstance this time, a Russian. As sad as I am to delete writers from my list, it's quite challenging enough to maintain nearly 2,000 writers without opening the list to interlopers!

The most bittersweet of these, though, was M. A. DORMIE, because the removal was actually triggered by a lovely email exchange with Patricia French, the author's daughter, in which Patricia generously helped me flesh out her information (which I'm sharing here in case some ambitious soul gets around someday to an Overwhelming List U.S.!). She confirmed that her mother's real name was Marian Edna Sharrock (née Dormitzer), born in East Orange, New Jersey in 1893. She volunteered in Europe during World War I as part of a medical organization, and settled in England in 1923 following her marriage to Patricia's father, Kenneth Sharrock. A few years later she published her debut novel, Snobs (1931), which was a transatlantic success and a book club selection, which was followed by two more novels (which Patricia noted were, in her opinion, of lower quality), Expatriates (1932) and Middle Age Madness (1935). 

Later, she wrote book reviews for the Liverpool Post ("not paid," Patricia notes, "but allowed to keep the books!") and, during World War II, ran a canteen and drove a water lorry in Liverpool. She and her husband lived in Montreal for a time after the war, and in the early 1950s they bought and managed a fishing hotel in Devon. She died in May of 1956 in Exeter.

In addition to all of this wonderful information, Patricia also provided me with the only photo I know of anywhere online—at least, now it's online:

M. A.Dormie
(photo courtesy of Patricia French)

Thanks again for all of your help, Patricia!

Two of the other authors removed from my list really shouldn't have been there at all, but for carelessness on my part (or perhaps an initial willingness, early on in my compiling, to bend the limits of my time frame a bit). JENNIFER DAWSON is certainly a worthwhile author, but her first novel (and her most famous), The Ha-Ha, only appeared in 1961. And when John sent me some new details about CATHERINE GASQUOINE HARTLEY, I was scratching my head about why I'd added her in the first place, since the second and final of her novels seems to have appeared in 1905.

One removal is the result of sheer, blatant sex discrimination. STELLA RICHARDS, recently added author of two romances, turns out to have been a pseudonym of a male author, Richard Harry Starr. And it was rather a case of "this list isn't big enough for the both of us" when it came to E. M. ODDIE and ANNABEL LEE, both of whom turned out to be pseudonyms of ELINOR MARY O'DONOGHUE. O'Donoghue now has an entry on the list, with her pseudonyms mentioned there. One wonders how many more of my unidentified authors—particularly in the romance genre, where pseudonyms were so common—are mere alter-egos of other authors.

As I noted above, one author, KAY LYNN, turned out, of all things, to be Russian—real name Katerina Separansky. She published two novels in the mid-1930s. At least, two that are credited to her. She apparently later claimed to have written C. P. Snow's Death Under Sail (1932), and John noticed that the original edition of that mystery was dedicated to her, though the dedication was removed in a later reprint. Hmmmm.

Regarding JANE LINDEN, we had previously reported that she was actually Pamela Walton, who had apparently used that pseudonym for a book of poetry in the 1930s. However, John has now discovered that in fact the novelist was Hilda Jane Snartt (what a name!), born in Scotland in 1920. So, I've made that correction.

And finally, for what they're worth, there were two changes with regard to interesting connections. First, John discovered that GEORGINA GARRY, author of three novels 1928-1932, was the mother-in-law of Val Gielgud, which I don't think gives her any nameable relationship with Sir John, but presumably she got some free theatre tickets out of the deal every now and then…

Meanwhile, John alerted me that I had erroneously married off poor MRS. J. O. ARNOLD, to the wrong husband! I repeatedly noted that she was married to crime writer John Arnold, when in fact her John Arnold was a metallurgist. Apologies for marrying people off willy-nilly.

This epic round of updating over the weekend also included updates to almost all of my lists, mostly just tweaks as far as The War List and The Mystery List went, making the same corrections or clarifications as on the main list. But I did also post updated versions of both The World War II Book List and The Grown-Up School Story List. I could kick myself (with difficulty—it's been far too long since I've stretched properly) for not keeping track of all the titles I added since the previous update, and I have vowed to in some way note any new additions going forward so I can highlight them next time. 

New addition to the Grown-Up School
Story List, courtesy of Jane Fraser

I do, however, know of two recent suggestions from Jane Fraser that have been added to the GUSSL—Elizabeth Carfrae's Good Morning, Miss Morrison (1948) is a romance about a schoolteacher, and is apparently set during World War II (thus it was also added to those lists), and Elizabeth Jenkins' Young Enthusiasts (1947) is set in a progressive school (sadly, no cover photos could be found for that one). Thanks again for those suggestions, Jane!

Apart from Jane's recent suggestions, however, I have to confess I was also woefully inadequate in keeping track of how I came across other new additions—I have no doubt that many or most came from you lovely readers, and I apologize that I can't recall which ones were which. But these lists, in particular, are certainly group projects, so please do keep the suggestions coming, and I'll promise to do better with that next time as well.

Now, on to accumulating authors for the next update!

Monday, May 16, 2016

RACHEL FERGUSON, Three impossibly obscure early works (and just how many novels did she write anyway?)

This might be one of those posts that only interests me, and I may be letting my generally dormant academic instincts run a bit too rampant. But for the last couple of months, I seem to have been engaged in an obsessive project (is there any other kind for me?) to read almost everything Rachel Ferguson ever wrote, and I feel, since so few people have access to most of these books, that I should document my reading a bit and share it with anyone who is interested. So, bear with me (or skip right over this post if you prefer—I won't hold it against you).

I can't really say exactly what set me off on this project, though it certainly has something to do with having recently discovered another of her novels—her ninth, Evenfield (1942)—which I love. It may also just be a perfect storm: a combination of an enigmatic and intriguing author (relatively well-known for her second novel, The Brontës Went to Woolworth's [1931], reprinted by Virago in the 1980s and by Bloomsbury in recent years, and for her seventh novel, Alas, Poor Lady [1937], reprinted by Persephone, but otherwise Ferguson is pretty much lost to literary history); the fact that she wrote one of my all-time favorite novels (her eighth, A Footman for the Peacock [1940], which I discussed here); and the irresistible (and initially seemingly hopeless) challenge of tracking down copies of her often vanishingly rare books.

Then, add to that the mystery that seems to have surrounded her bibliography for some years—the question of just how many novels she actually wrote. If I seemed, above, to be stressing the chronology and number of her novels, it's because every online source I've come across produces a different total number of Ferguson novels.

Presumably, the discrepancies have been caused in part by the fact that some of these books are so thoroughly forgotten and hard to find, and in part by the fact that some of her books have seemed to defy definition—I've said before that Ferguson was nothing if not a distinctively peculiar author with her own unique approach to novels as well as to the other genres she tackled. But whatever the reason, from Wikipedia (which credits her with 13 novels) to Bloomsbury's website (which puts the number at 10) to Persephone's website (which stiffs her and credits her with only 9), there's considerable disagreement and little accuracy as to just how many novels Ferguson actually wrote.

It probably won't surprise any of you who regularly read this blog that I am going to be perversely different and assert that all of these sources are incorrect—that in fact Ferguson wrote not 9, not 10, not 13, but actually 12 novels. How do I have the chutzpah to claim to know more than the authors of these bios? Um, well, because I've actually been reading all of them, that's why!

In a later post, I'm going to sum up this project and post the most definitive bibliography I can come up with, but for now, here's a list of Ferguson's twelve novels:

False Goddesses (1923)
The Brontës Went to Woolworth's (1931)
The Stag at Bay (1932)
Popularity's Wife (1932)
A Child in the Theatre (1933)
A Harp in Lowndes Square (1936)
Alas, Poor Lady (1937)
A Footman for the Peacock (1940)
Evenfield (1942)
The Late Widow Twankey (1943)
A Stroll Before Sunset (1946)
Sea Front (1954)

(Oddly, Wikipedia lists The Late Widow Twankey as a play—presumably because it's subtitled "in Twenty-Two Magnificent Scenes"—but it is without a doubt a novel, which just happens, like several other novels of the time, to use the structure of a theatrical production.)

Now, I am a huge Rachel Ferguson fan, and this project of reading her more widely has, if anything, made me even more passionate about her. But everyone has their flaws, and Ferguson's are most clearly on display in the three early works I want to mention in this post, two of which in particular may also have contributed to the confusion surrounding her total number of novels. I'll look at those two first.

Sara Skelton: The Autobiography of a Famous Actress (1929) and Victorian Bouquet: Lady X Looks On (1931) form an oddly repetitious pair. Both are hard to categorize but might be called humor, of the same ilk (but definitely with Ferguson's distinct spin) as those books written by Cornelia Otis Skinner, say, in the 1950s and 1960s, or by Erma Bombeck in the 1970s and 1980s. At the time, they seem to have been referred to as satires. Each of the books features Ferguson narrating—from the perspective of a cranky, aging stage actress of limited intelligence and unlimited ego—a series of archly (far too archly, for the most part) humorous observations on topics of the day or reminiscenses of past events and cultural occasions. Although the former is putatively an "autobiography" while the latter is more obviously a series of reminiscences and commentaries, they are birds of a feather, the latter presumably resulting from the success of the former.

Both books also seem to have grown out of Ferguson's work as a popular columnist and theatre critic for Punch (both are credited on the title page to "Rachel of Punch"), as did two more books from the next few years—Nymphs and Satires (1932), a collection of some of her Punch pieces, and Celebrated Sequels (1934), which, according to one source, "parodies such popular writers of the day as E. M. Delafield, Beverly Nichols, Rudyard Kipling, H. G. Wells, and Hugh Walpole." This origin may also help explain why the books weren't really up my alley—they were undoubtedly targeted for a very specific audience that was "in the know" not only about theatrical history, celebrities, and popular culture dating back to Victorian years, but also about the sort of distinctly conservative, elitist, and sometimes outright offensive attitudes that are (I think) partly being satirized, but are also, it seems to me, viewed rather indulgently. More on that below.

Sara Skelton has become so obscure as to be left off of some Ferguson bibliographies altogether (thank you to University of Iowa, the one and only U.S. library with a copy, for actually lending it out!), while Victorian Bouquet has sometimes been erroneously described as a novel. Bizarrely, Ferguson's own 1936 novel, A Harp in Lowndes Square—published by a different publisher than the earlier books, who quite possibly had never read them—lists Sara Skelton, along with Nymphs and Satires and Celebrated Sequels, under the heading of "satires," but lists Victorian Bouquet among Ferguson's novels. One imagines Ferguson befuddled and amused by such a designation.

My interlibrary loan copy of Victorian
 clearly started life as a
Mudie's Library book

Starting with the positive, there are some really striking passages here and there in both books, as well as some daft humor that made me giggle. Here, from Victorian Bouquet, is "Lady X" on the suffrage movement:

For thirty years I made jokes about the feminine ballot, to please the men. And one fine day, I found myself at the head of a section surrounded by banners bearing many a strange device, marching down Whitehall, and revelling in every moment of it! By my side marched a dowager duchess and a laundrymaid.

Commonly, I detest these sentimental contrasts, but there it was.

I had discovered the team-spirit, which is of far more value to us than a dozen of votes. I had left my wits, my tongue, my looks, my sex-appeal and my social standing at home to look after the house. Shorn of all but the weapon of theoretic idealism, I tramped … the suffrage campaign, I see now, was our Eton and Oxford, our regiment, our ship, our cricket match.

And the day that a respectable paterfamilias, who in his saner moments would have sprung to open doors for me or fasten my shoestring, threw an elderly banana-skin at me, I was filled with an inner gratification far more real than when my husband came into the title and I became a countess.

One wonders (certainly not for the only time in reading these two books—or for that matter most of Ferguson's work) how much of Ferguson herself is in this passage and how much is the character she's inhabiting. But either way, it's an interesting and amusing portrayal of the unlikely camaraderie, liberation, and exhilaration that suffrage marches and protests must have allowed many women to feel for the first time. And Bouquet features several other particularly striking samples of early feminism, such as:

And then, I think, I took to musing over the astounding differences in human lives which are wrought by the trivial fact of sex. A girl's life and a boy's! To be a young man for just one day would, for a young woman, put the world in a totally different light. To be able to loiter without being followed. To be able to chat to car-men, newsvendors—policemen, even, without being stared at or hurried to by a crowd hoping you are in some dubious dilemma. To be able to knock people down instead of merely screaming for an always problematical assistance. To realize that one's looks don't matter—ah! that's the real freedom. To go out merely clean and to be harried by no tremors in respect of face powder, veil, hairpins, competitive dressing, high winds and petticoats. To scrap the provocative ankle and alluring veil, and just be a human being instead of an expensive assortment of sexual potentialities. To be done with the arch glance, the attack that, failing muscle, must coax, that failing brawn must argue … a woman's tongue is a tried and trusted jape with men, but it is our substitute for a fist. That, and the steamy arts of seduction which, unfortunately, do not always automatically accompany the feminine makeup.

Perhaps even more fascinating, a few pages later, is a clear awareness—sometimes still lost on today's feminists—of the fact that gender norms and restrictions oppress men as well as women. Lady X offers this advice to her young son:

I said to him: "There will be school, being fagged and probably bullied. Some fool will be there to laugh at my letters to you—for old women are perennially comic, as you will learn, my dear. You'll only be yourself till you are ten, and after that, my poorest and plainest, your whole life will be one concentrated effort to be exactly like the other man."

Of course, then she turns around and makes a few references (surely still rather titillating for the late 1920s and early 1930s) to gay men and lesbians that are rather less liberated. Here's Lady X's take on lesbians, for example:

At Adrian's parties, I am often the only woman present.

At the Studio Party I am often the only indisputable female in the room too, with the possible exception of one or two of the young gentlemen, because the ladies arrive in shirt-fronts, and sometimes in monocles and dinner jackets as well. I have listened to scorn poured upon them for this, and, indeed, why these ladies balk at trousers I cannot imagine. Personally, I think that their choice of attire is the worst they can do to us. I don't mind what a woman does so long as she doesn't dress as though she did it. But, for all that, I have my moments when I should like to undress the whole lot of them, and find out what the matter really is.

Otherwise, to take offence at them is unintelligent.

Um, yeah. Though I have to confess that I found this possibly homophobic passage from Sara Skelton (it's not about gay men per se, but it's certainly a condemnation of men who aren't sufficiently masculine), about the evolution of boxing matches, rather hilarious in a very silly sort of way:

In the 'seventies, prize-fights were often to-the-death affairs and not functions where, for fifteen guineas, you had not time to push your way from the entrance to a ringside seat before the bout was over, and the protagonists, sipping barley-water in ladies' dressing-gowns, were borne home in Rameses cars to spend the evening painting sprays of flowers in each other's birthday books.

[These passages are also intriguing—as are other elements of these books about elderly actresses—in relation to Ferguson's enigmatic but fascinating late novel A Stroll Before Sunset, which focuses on two rival aging actresses (I wrote about that novel here), and which presents some striking views about homosexuality and "feminine" men. It also features a prominently "feminine" man in a boxing match, so this was clearly an evocative image for Ferguson.]

Also from Sara Skelton, here is a sample of more pure silliness that made me laugh, from the great actress's childhood recollections:

I only remained at the Convent a few months, during which time I alternated between running away, childish attempts to commit suicide and a passionate determination to take the veil. The Mother Superior told me I was going to hell; I was always excited about new moves, and being thoroughly accustomed to travelling I thought that would be very nice, and hoped hell would look like the Brockett scene, and that the lighting would be more effective than the Keans made it.

Sadly, though, there are too few such passages. Much of the humor falls flat, as Ferguson was writing for such a specific audience and assuming so much about their knowledge of the theatre and sophisticated popular culture. And then, too, at the other end of the spectrum, there's much time spent, here and there (far too frequently) in both books, on pontifications about class.

Now, admittedly, as I already noted, Ferguson is playing the role of cranky, elderly, bigoted, rather dim-witted stage actresses, so we are certainly not intended to take all of the assertions at face value. And considering that this is the same author who, a decade or so later, was viciously mocking and satirizing the loathsome upper-crust family in A Footman for the Peacock, it's genuinely difficult to know just how much of Sara Skelton and Victorian Bouquet is intended seriously. What, for example, to make of Lady X's opinion of class relations generally:

I do not believe for a second that we are all equal. I believe that blood tells and always will. I believe in the deep necessity to England of Kingship, whose lowest manifestation is the love of a show that meanders through a tradition-riddled city; whose highest is the personal affection, however uncouthly expressed, that we bear our Royals, in spite of their Teutonic connexions and their preposterous hats. I could almost find it in my heart to believe in the Divine Right of Kings. And am certainly content to believe the King can do no wrong. I like to know that there are those more highly-born than myself—and oh! how much wealthier! I recognize that I have my social inferiors, and I expect them to do the same. Class jealousy is completely beyond my ken.

There are jokes at Lady X's expense here, no doubt, and perhaps we're to laugh at her very pomposity (particularly considering that she herself apparently married above her station), but for a modern reader it's not particularly funny. There are other passages that seem much more clearly to mock the stupidity and intolerance of some of the upper classes, as in Lady X's recollection of her mother's exchange at a dinner-party:

I remember, once, at a dinner-party at the Salisbury's in Arlington Street, hearing our hostess murmur to my mother: "My butler is leaving to get married," and Mamma's reply: "Insolent creature!…"

And truth be told, these sentiments do echo in a good many of Ferguson's works throughout her career, which makes it even more difficult to get a feel for where Ferguson's own feelings lie underneath the layers of irony.

[By the way, I'd be remiss not to mention that both Sara Skelton and Victorian Bouquet also contain short but shocking passages of virulent racism—both in relation to African-Americans. I literally gasped in reading both of them. The surface of each may be intended as satire and to reflect negatively on the actresses themselves (too ignorant to know any better, etc.), but I'm afraid I could find no really satisfactory explanation for them.]

It doesn't get a lot easier to interpret Ferguson's own beliefs when we throw her short, strange (of course), third novel into the mix. The Stag at Bay is an interesting if rather disjointed little novel. It seems to have been published only in an adorable little paperback edition, which (thanks to Stanford University Library) I was able to hold in my hot little hands (as well as scanning the cover for you, which was in amazingly good condition, considering its age). Paperback originals—at least by serious writers, as opposed to dime novelettes—seem to have been fairly rare at that time, and I wonder if the novel might have been edited down from a longer original manuscript to fit a length limit imposed by the publisher. Ferguson typically errs on the side of wordiness (if not always clarity), especially in her later novels, which grow progressively dense and labyrinthine in their prose (and I do mean that as a compliment, though perhaps some readers would disagree). But The Stag at Bay is so plucked and pruned that I found it difficult to follow in places, as if explanatory passages had been ruthlessly deleted by an over-aggressive editor. Or perhaps Ferguson was experimenting here with the simpler, more understated storytelling that Hemingway had popularized? If so, one assumes she put it down as a failed experiment…

The plot very much revolves around class concerns—more specifically the decline of an old family, and the rise of a newly-rich family of business folk who end up purchasing their property, oblivious of all the responsibilities the landed gentry have traditionally upheld. The situation is presented as a tragic one, and the scene in which the noble, loyal duke must tell his noble, loyal farmers of the impending sale of the estate, with much resultant handwringing on both sides, is perhaps the central drama of the novel. Surely, however ironic Ferguson often is (and however much we might disagree with the sentiment), the following lofty passage about this world turned upside down seems heartfelt and genuine:

And when the nobility of England had been finally hounded into the villas of suburbia, what would follow?

It meant that in a very few generations the grand and great-grandchildren of the best blood, the blood privileged, would subtly assimilate the atmospheres of suburbia. Perhaps in two hundred years—and for all time after that, nobility would be purged away. And in its place would be—what?

Bewilderment. A coming race in whom wavered the flame indomitable. … A coming race whose lingering fineness—always freakishly liable to reincarnate—warred with circumstance, whose every delicate perception hampered.

A new Lost Tribe.

Oh, dear. It's rather like one's grandfather telling one about how the world is going to hell in a handbasket, isn't it? Kids these days, etc. (Though I have to confess I sometimes find myself thinking in perhaps comparable—if not quite such class-based—ways about the decline of artistic and literary culture, so perhaps I am almost as cranky as Ferguson.)

For what it's worth, the nouveau riche aren't entirely demonized, though their characters aren't nearly as sympathetic as some in Ferguson's later novels. Perhaps she mellowed a bit with age? (But then I recall Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book discussing her memoir, We Were Amused—see here—and noting that her class biases are still firmly in place in the final book she wrote, so perhaps she just became more empathetic toward characters at all levels of society as she became a better, more nuanced writer, while retaining her essential beliefs.)

The most interesting element in The Stag at Bay is the character of Miss Postlethwaite, the companion of the duke's sister, Lady ffolliott, though she doesn't appear often enough and isn't presented vividly enough to redeem the novel (and Ferguson tackles the plight of ladies' companions much more entertainingly and sensitively in her final novel Sea Front, which I plan to post about soon—again, bear with me in this obsession!). She has one memorable rant near the end of the novel, which earns the novel a mention alongside the far superior later novel Alas, Poor Lady in Ferguson's Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry. I'll quote it here, as it's virtually the only memorable passage from the novel:

"You mustn't be too sorry for me because you like me." She began to speak with a thin, roused passion. " There are hundreds of women—ladies—all over England, and oh! the number in London!—who won't beg and can't work, who are starving by genteel inches in boarding-houses if they are lucky—'catteries' they are called—dear women, fine women, born mothers some of them; and they decay and decay, and come down to taking an interest in the new Swiss waiter and bickering for the best places by the fire. … If they were the nobility they'd get credit, or sell their treasures, like the duke—if they were the women of the working-class they'd be visited by Royalty and attended to in Parliament as a 'national problem.' But they aren't a national problem … they're just impoverished gentlewomen."

Perhaps this suddenly flaring concern, very much a backdrop to the drama of the decline of the gentry in The Stag at Bay, was the kernel that grew, five years later, into Alas, Poor Lady.

Having now read so much of Ferguson's work, I do have a bit of a theory about her class beliefs. There's a bewildering conflict here. She is able to be so empathetic and entertaining—not to mention viciously satirical and utterly hilarious about snobbishness and entitlement—in some of her writing. And then in other spots she seems to become the most gleeful elitist one could ever hope to meet, disdaining the unwashed masses and scorning those who don't remember their place.

Which is the "real" Rachel Ferguson, I ask myself, and which is a sharp satirizing of the kind of person who takes such perspectives? It's rather difficult to tell, and of course I don't claim to have a definitive answer. But it certainly seems that both are the real Rachel Ferguson. I think that—perhaps not unlike a good many authors we read and love from this period?—Ferguson genuinely believed in the fundamental goodness of a kind of idealized, traditional class system—noblesse oblige and all that—with an upper class that benevolently leads the nation, preserves the great traditions and intellectual pursuits, and charitably protects the underlings beneath them. It's not a perspective that very many of us can share today, and not many writers even at the time were quite so open in expressing it, nor had they done all the analysis Ferguson has clearly done, but a good many people probably took it as a given at the time. And Ferguson seems to have truly felt it was the most beneficial arrangement for everyone involved.

On the other hand, when Ferguson took something seriously, she was passionate and eloquent in defending it, and this is where, for me, she redeems her less palatable beliefs. Because although she occasionally, as in the passage quoted above, grates on our nerves by bemoaning the uppity lower classes, her most brilliantly scathing mockery is generally reserved for those of the upper classes who fail to uphold the role she feels they are destined to play. This is what makes A Footman for the Peacock so great, I think, and what may have been misunderstood by critics at the time as making light of wartime concerns. She's simply not having any of a loathsome family of elites dodging their duties to the nation and to others.

Perhaps I have a high tolerance for the bigotries of my favorite authors (Hemingway was a glaring homophobe, in addition to his misogyny and racism, and I love him anyway; ditto with Virginia Woolf and her own brand of elitism). But I do find that Ferguson's refusal to just accept the upper classes as somehow inately superior, her expectation that their behavior should match the position they occupy, that they should be held accountable, is a comprehensible and consistent one. It doesn't make me agree with her, but I admire that she applies her standards ruthlessly and equally.

I do wonder, though, having loved The Brontës Went to Woolworth's for nearly a decade now, what bee could possibly have got in Ferguson's bonnet that led her from the charming madness of that novel to the stodgy, preachy tone of The Stag at Bay just one year later. It's the most forgettable of her mostly delightfully odd accumulation of (twelve!) novels. And Sara Skelton and Victorian Bouquet are, if anything, even more forgettable (unless one finds it hard to forget how uncomfortable and irritating they are).

But oh my, so much better was still to come (and for better or worse, you'll probably hear more about it here)!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The TBR list grows longer (2 of 2)

Anne Marreco's frequent pseudonym

In a post a couple of weeks ago, I discussed eleven writers added to my Overwhelming List in its most recent update whose work seemed to have potential to be highly readable light and/or humorous fiction (or, in a couple of cases, memoir). This post explores fifteen more authors, these more serious-sounding (at least from what limited information I have about them so far) than the first batch, who seem of particular interest and who may be worth hauling out the interlibrary loan privileges for.

I haven't singled out very many children's authors from this update, but I'm intrigued by one title in particular by MARJORIE DIXON. The Red Centaur (1939, written under her maiden name, Marjorie Mack) doesn't seem to have been written for children, though Dixon certainly wrote a handful of later children's titles, but rather seems to be a novel for adults that uses a child's perspective. This excerpt from a 1939 Spectator review by no lesser figure than Graham Greene may give you an idea of why I'm intrigued:

Miss Mack's achievement is equally difficult—to tell a romantic story about Brittany (an aristocratic French family, a first love affair and an arranged marriage) through the eyes of an English child without laying a feminine claim to sensitivity. So often such books are like a continuous boast: Look what I notice; look how tenderly I feel. This is an admirable novel which shows no sign of being a first: quiet and unurgent, written in a prose exactly adapted to the subject: no strain, no overtones. Sometimes one remembers Tchehov: the sadness of revisiting a loved place after a few years' absence—the new villa above the beach, the unbearable children in what had been one's private cove.

Apart from Greene's somewhat irritating reliance on colons, this is an enticing review. One of Dixon's later titles—presumably this one was written for children—is The Forbidden Island (1960), about the "wonderful and sometimes sinister world of fairies." Goodness!

Alethea Hayter's pseudonym for
several early novels

It's strange that I've never come across ALETHEA HAYTER before, as she was quite a well-known biographical writer and critic—most famous for A Sultry Month (1965), which traces the lives of the Brownings and others in one month in 1847 (and is now reprinted, along with some other of her non-fiction, by Faber Finds). But the explanation for her absence probably lies in the fact that her five early novels all appeared under her pseudonym, J. C. Fennessy. I'm particularly interested in The Siege of Elsinore (1948), which imagines a marriage between Hamlet and Ophelia, but tracking down a copy may be a challenge.

Also noted for her non-fiction—particularly her critical texts about English poets—is RACHEL TRICKETT, but like Hayter she also wrote five well-received novels. Her Guardian obit said "all her five novels show a remarkable understanding of matters of the heart, and an approach to them which is at once melancholy, perceptive and humorous." I'm sold. The titles are The Return Home (1952), The Course of Love (1954), Point of Honour (1958), A Changing Place (1962), and The Elders (1966).

Perhaps a confession is in order that I've already made an interlibrary loan request for one of HELEN FOLEY's nine novels. Admittedly it could be a disappointment, but A Handful of Time (1961) was not only a Book Society Choice, but I found this fragmentary review:

The novel spans the period from Munich through WWII to its confused aftermath. It takes place in Cambridge—the Cambridge of donnish intrigues and undergraduate affairs. The relationship of two young women straddling the war years. Beautifully executed & observed middle class Cambridge and Austria based characters. And the frailties of being human.

Hmmmm. Now admittedly this is not a terribly detailed review, and it could certainly go either way, but I was intrigued enough to give it a try (assuming the ILL request comes through). If it pays off, perhaps I'll check out other of her novels, including The Traverse (1960) and Fort of Silence (1963), which are about troubled marriages, Between the Parties (1958), about an affair, and The Grand-Daughter (1965), for which I found the following description: "Eighteen- year-old Sophie experiences a romance which is moonshine and Scottish magic and also comes up against the truth of her unusual family." Potential?

I came across V. TORLESSE MURRAY in the advertisements at the back of Kate Horn's Edward and I and Mrs. Honeybun, which I mentioned here a while back. Technically, I don't know nearly enough about her to include her as an intriguing author—she wrote three novels in three years, then vanished into the literary mists, and details of the three are sparse—but you'll know why I've listed her here when I mention that the publisher's blurb for the second, Surplus Goods (1924), says it "tells the life stories of four girls under the modern conditions brought about by the preponderance in numbers of women over men." Good, bad, or indifferent it might be, but I may still have to track it down.

Similarly, I know little about ROSE THURBURN, who wrote four novels 1950-1959, apart from a single review. Of The Colour of the Glass (1953), a critic said, "Sensitivity, intelligence, and the fresh revealing phrase mark this story of two fine, mature people who fall in love." Could have potential? Her other titles are The Wilderness Is Yours (1950), The Pulling Stones (1959), and Alien's Sunshine (1959).

A couple of the authors in this post are here because they were recommended by readers of this blog. First, Gina emailed me as she was reading The Visitors (1958), the second and (sadly) final novel from MARY MCMINNIES, which deals with British civil servants living in a thinly-fictionalized version of Krakow in the dark days of the Iron Curtain. Gina said the novel deserves much more attention than it has received, and she bumped it well up my TBR list. Neglected Books discussed the novel here

McMinnies' one earlier novel was The Flying Fox (1956), set among a group of British officials and their families in the Malay Peninsula.

And Ann, another reader of this blog, left a comment a while back recommending the single novel published by Welsh writer GRACE ROBERTS. Lowri (1956) is set in a village in Wales in the late 19th century and I'm now quite intrigued by it. It was also discussed by Ann on her blog here.

I readily admit that my fascination with GWENLLIAN MEYRICK is currently based almost entirely on purely superficial factors: 1) the covers of her books are irresistible, and 2) her unusual and melodious name. The only tidbit of factual information I have is a blurb about her fourth novel, The Disastrous Visit (1956): "Novel set among an ordinary family in London in the 1950's." But while I'm being superficial, I'll say that her other five novels have evocative titles as well—The Morning-Room (1950), Change of Air (1952), Against the Stream (1953), The Second Wife (1957), and Shed No Tear (1961). Will I be disappointed when I actually track down one or more of her books?

I suppose it's also pretty superficial to include DIANA PETRE on this list, mainly because she's the half-sister of novelist J. R. Ackerley. But I'm intrigued by her biography of her mother, Muriel Perry, who was the mistress of Ackerley's father, which—like Ackerley's My Father and Myself (1968)—is an attempt to find the truth about a mysterious parent. The fact that Petre comes from such familial drama makes me, validly or not, intrigued by her two novels, Portrait of Mellie (1952) and The Cruel Month (1955).

ANNE MARRECO published most of her eight novels under the pseudonym Alice Acland, including the title that inspired a Kirkus review that suggests it may be either absolutely wonderful or absolutely ghastly. Of A Stormy Spring (1955)—which by the way is available in the U.S. from Hathi Trust—Kirkus said:

A successor to Templeford Park is again modest in intention, but highly accomplished in its tender discernment applied to the early years of marriage between Emily Caterham and Julian Ellerdine. Emily, an expectant twenty, is easily susceptible to the dramatic charm of Julian, although there are intimations that he is a difficult young man, and after a precipitate courtship which meets with her family's disapproval, they elope. … A study in incompatibility and compromise, decorous and delicate, that indulges feminine concerns and tastes and may possibly improve them.

(I don't quite know what to make of that final line, either, but it certainly seems condescending!)

MARY CECIL wrote only three novels, but they seem promising. She got critical acclaim for her debut, In Two Minds (1959), about a young girl's nervous breakdown. 

Her second work, Something in Common (1960), is about an upper crust young woman performing with ENSA, and Growing Pains (1964) is apparently a semi-autobiographical family tale. The Spectator review of the last describes Cecil as "a writer of immense charm."

It's hard to get a full sense of the tone of MARY DUNSTAN's eleven novels, but Banners in Bavaria (1939) was praised for its "extraordinarily impressive picture of Munich on the night of the Anschluss celebrations." Jagged Skyline (1935), which was also published as Snow Against the Skyline, is apparently about mountain climbing (I wonder if she was acquainted with Elizabeth Coxhead, the only other middlebrow author I can recall who wrote a novel about climbing), but that's about the extent of my knowledge of her work. I'm going to keep Banners on my radar though, so perhaps I'll be able to tell you more about her in the future.

Finally, the last two authors in this post have a tenuous claim to being here, at best. I already mentioned DOROTHY A. HUNT in my "mistaken identity" post a while back, and I mentioned her confusing doppelganger Dorothy Alice Bonavia-Hunt in my first TBR list post. The most I have to go on regarding her books is a difficult-to-read scan of the front flap of her novel The Amazing Paradox, which reads in part:

It is three years since Dorothy A. Hunt published her last novel, "Meet Madame Mazova"; nevertheless, those who did meet Madame—even though they may not have approved—are not likely to have forgotten that unusual and fascinating character, with her sparkling wit, her changing moods, and her background of Czarist Russia.

In "The Amazing Paradix," meet her again in the further exploits of this extraordinary woman and her attractive little English secretary, Nan.

Apparently a photo of Jane Locke, though its quality
leaves something to be desired

Not a great deal to go on, but still more than I know about JANE LOCKE, in whose case my interest was piqued by the shortest possible reference to her one novel, Nothing Ever Happens (1938). The reference merely mentions that the novel focuses on office life, which for whatever reason makes me intrigued. The fact, meanwhile, that Locke also appears to have published many dozens of short stories, mostly in the Evening News, intrigues me even more. Could she turn out to be an author worth rescuing from the sands of time?

And that's it for now. Are any of these authors now on your TBR list as well?
NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at furrowed.middlebrow@gmail.com. I do want to hear from you!