Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Read in 2013 - 15: The Beauty

At the end of my previous book review, I said that my next read was going to be non-fiction, and here I am posting yet another review on a work of fiction. Still, I wasn't making false promises - the book I started next after finishing "Teacher, Teacher!" is indeed non-fiction, but I have not finished that one yet. Instead, I have finished "The Beauty" by Mrs. Wilson Woodrow, the Kindle edition of which I have been reading for the past weeks every time I've been on the train to and from work.
(The picture does, of course, not show the Kindle edition.)

Don't be mislead by the author's name; she was not the wife of the U. S. president by the same name. Precious little information can be found online about the lady whose full name was Nancy Mann Waddel Woodrow: She lived from 1870 to 1935, wrote several novels, some short stories and, it appears, a work of non-fiction titled "The bird of time; being conversations with Egeria".
I was lucky to come across this blog - please scroll down to the end of the post to find a picture of Nancy and some biographical detail about her. 

"The Beauty" is fun to read; there are some really humorous bits in it, and at the same time, the author gives some very poetic and beautiful descriptions of places and atmosphere. To give you an example, look at this short paragraph, describing a New York morning in spring:
It was a deliciously balmy morning, the rare sort of a day that slips in now and then between April showers and sets one dreaming of the glory of the spring in the silent woody places. The great, roaring canyons of brick and stone floated in a silvery, sparkling mist, and in that atmospheric alembic dreary perspectives assumed an unsubstantial and fairy-like beauty. The little leaves on the trees fluttered in the soft breeze and were so young, so green, so gay that they lifted the heart like tiny wings of joy.
I loved the "tiny wings of joy" Mrs. Woodrow likens the spring leaves to; of course, it fits perfectly with the season right here, right now, while I was reading this.

The plot is simple enough: Extremely beautiful (but very intelligent) woman from grand old Southern family finds herself impoverished when extremely rich business man falls in love and marries her. Extremely talented and famous portrait painter, who happens to have been Perdita's first love in her teenage days, returns from long painting trip to Europe, and soon rumours abound that Perdita and Eugene are having an affair. Generous husband, much older than his wife, releases Perdita from her gilded cage and goes West on extended business trip. Perdita embarks on enterprise with best friend while everyone expects her to marry Eugene once the divorce is through.

Will it come to that? What is going to happen between the pretty young actress Cresswell meets while he is separated from his wife, convinced that she loves Eugene and not him anyway? What role plays Perdia's ancient amulet in all this?
Some of the conversations read a little lengthy, but actually, they're not - they are full of hints and humour, and necessary to understand the characters' actions. "The Beauty" (which has more than one meaning in this book and does not only refer to Perdita, as one would assume at first glance) is reading material that wants you to slow down and think about what you are reading, not just rush through the pages (figuratively speaking, since I was reading it on my Kindle) until you find out how the story ends.

First published in 1910, I recommend this (free) ebook to anyone who likes to indulge in beautiful language, fun and accurately drawn characters and a plot that is not overwhelmingly complicated but still keeps you wondering until the end.

(Illustrations from the Project Gutenberg site)


  1. It sounds like a beautiful break from the business books i've been reading, which is what i was looking for.

    1. Definitely no business book, this one, although they do talk about business quite a bit in it :-)

  2. I've been reading first novels set in the American West during the years 1880-1915. It's interesting to learn whether the promise of a first novel is fulfilled in later ones. Sounds like Mrs. Woodrow made the grade. Thanks. (Kindle and nook were great inventions for book-loving commuters.)

    1. Not sure whether this is a first novel, Ron, but since it was first published in 1910, I suppose it still somehow fits your category.
      Yes, my Kindle always accompanies me when I am travelling, even on short distances.

  3. As it’s free I might order it for my Kindle although it sounds too much like a romantic tale of bygone days for my usual reading matter.
    But there’s bound to be a rainy day . . . . .

  4. There, I’ve got it. I was hoping to add it to my IPad but it’s gone there as well as the Kindle. We both read the Kindle and now I’m feeling thoroughly embarrassed.

    1. Don't be, Friko - it's not a book to be embarrassed about, even though it is a "romantic tale of bygone days" - there are some rather modern elements in it as well. And of course there is always the "delete"-button to click... :-)