Life Mask by Emma Donoghue took a while and I give it two stars, sadly. It's a long novel set in the 18th century, centering around three people who share a character trait of being indecisive and boring. Anne Damer is a an aristocrat and a sculptor; she's friends with Lord Derby who has for literally years had a chaste relationship with actress Eliza Farren who has risen from the lower classes to stardom on Drury Lane. Eliza is unwilling to make an arrangement with him while his ailing wife still lives. Anne and Eliza become friends but scurrilous rumors suggesting they are Sapphists threaten both their reputations.

The problem with the book isn't so much that it's long and boring, but that the characters aren't brought to life. Anne's thoughts and feelings are described more than the others. It's hard to see why Derby is so besotted with Eliza that he's willing to wait for her and why Anne is so drawn to her - we're told of her beauty and grace and Derby and Anne's delight in that, but beyond that she doesn't have any particular appeal. She's a comedy actress but doesn't come across as clever or funny, and her personality is vague - she says she's never felt love for anyone. She just goes through year after year of performances with a few thoughts about her fellow thespians, but there's no insight into how she prepares for a role or her feelings about acting. A character who's the center of admiration needs to sparkle. The backstage scenes are lifeless, and if Eliza is so appealing, why doesn't she have other stage door Johnnies?

Part of the plot is one of the character's lack of self knowledge, which accounts for some of the vagueness. This was mildly interesting to me in the sense of wondering in times when sodomy and Sapphism were judged harshly, how would would a person who realized they were drawn in that direction come to terms with it. But as a story, it was unsatisfying. There's much much more intrigue about various characters as the book winds along, but after a while I just didn't care.

Oh yeah they're based on real people, and the politics was interesting enough to make me go to Wikipedia for more background - so was Hugh Walpole - but that wasn't enough.

Now I've started The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey which I've had around for years. I don't know much about Richard III but in light of recent events, would like to learn more even if it's fiction.

Date: 2015-04-07 03:18 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
I'm not at all sure that Sapphism was judged particularly harshly in the eighteenth century (in England); I get the feeling it was seen (if thought about at all) as no big deal, just more or less "fooling around", something which "real" (i.e. heterosexual) sex would displace sooner or later. The Ladies of Langollen might have been snickered about behind doors (I have no evidence that they were; I'm only saying might) but they lived long and happy lives, without harsh judgement.
and we only know about them because of their social status and literacy; who knows how many quiet, cheerful partnerships there were in small villages or unremarkable farms?

Date: 2015-04-07 04:21 am (UTC)
heliopausa: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heliopausa
Oh,yes, the knives were out for her (the art world, high society -it's almost a given that the knives were out!), but they were grabbing at anything. They said that she was only sorry to lose her title when her husband died, for example. But the suggestion of lesbianism was just one more peccadillo, not anything especially terrible.
The fictional book may say there was snickering... but is there any actual historical evidence? They were highly regarded, as best I recall. (and the world, alas! will snicker at people for anything, for being too lovey-dovey with their spouses, for being in love with someone of too low a social class, for being suspiciously chaste, even!) Lesbianism wasn't singled out for more harsh treatment than anything else, I think

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