Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Category: Non Fiction

The Bloomsbury Set

Uncommon Arrangements, Katie Roiphe

I loved this book right from the very start. It follows seven marriages from 1910 to 1939 in literary london. The marriages are mostly between members of the bloomsbury set and are as follows:

  • H. G. & Jane Wells
  • Vanessa & Clive Bell
  • Ottoline & Philip Morrell
  • Radclyffe Hall& Una Troubridge
  • Vera Brittain & George Gordon Catlin
  • Elizabeth von Arnim & John Francis Russell
  • Katherine Mansfield & John Middleton Murray

These marriages all had an element of modernism or the atypical to them – often involving strange love triangles, friendships, affairs and illegitimate children. Katie Roiphe writes in a really easy to read, conversational kind of style and she has done her research (especially considering the selected bibliography at the back).

The period is so interesting with the shift from Victorians to Edwardians and the writers’ marriages reflect these changing attitudes. This book has a real personal feel, almost like you are sitting in the same room as all these fascinating people watching their lives unfold.


After an entire month of forcing myself not to buy any more books, I celebrated with this little stash:

  • Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff
  • The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
  • The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill
  • Uncommon Arrangements by Katie Roiphe

Hello summer reading. 

How To Be Caitlin Moran

How To Be A Woman, Caitlin Moran

I must take advice from the book and proclaim I AM A STRIDENT FEMINIST!

This book rules. It has all of Caitlin Moran’s trademark witticisms, it had me laughing out loud and feeling like if I met her we could go to the pub and have the kind of alcohol fuelled shouty conversations that make you so very happy to be completely understood.

Yes this book is about being a woman, but it is girls growing up who really need it. Because it does seem like feminism is dying out, with all the waxing and surgery and aspirations of marrying footballers… But this book makes me want to stand on a chair waving it around being pleased that someone has articulately (and hilariously) explained why it is that strip clubs are degrading and that Katie Price is not an example of an emancipated woman.

Hemingway’s Side

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

I suppose I read this and The Paris Wife the wrong way round, and am consequently a bit biased in my opinion that Ernest Hemingway was a bit of a bastard and Hadley Richardson was hard done by. HOWEVER, it was interesting to see how much Paula McLain had used this book in reference to her fictional version of the Hemingways’ life in Paris.

That book struck a chord with me and I’ve been dying to read one of his novels ever since. My verdict: despite the man, I love his writing. Its sparse, utilitarian feel means no word is unnecessary. So very readable; the anecdotes about some of my favourite writers of late (F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ford Madox Ford) made this a real treasure. How cliched, but Paris in the twenties as a writer sounds like a time never to be recaptured.

As a side note, the edition I got is the restored edition which was published earlier this month. It has been updated to include some of Hemingway’s drafts and sketches that didn’t make the final original text. I’d recommend getting an edition with these extras in because you see how considered and evaluated Hemingway’s writing is, and how much effort must have gone into every last sentence.

Hemingway is a Dude. Examples.

“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

“The bulldozing of three people’s hearts to destroy one happiness and build another and the love and the good work and all that came out of it is not part of this book. I wrote it and left it out.”

“I held my hand against the silky weight and bluntness against her neck and said something secret and she said, “Afterwards.”
“You,” I said. “You.”

“This book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.”

Portrait of the Artist

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Girl, Wendy Jones

I picked this up from a gallery on saturday after I went to see a Grayson Perry exhibition. I did hear him speak last year at a publishing day I went to  for work, but it was the first time I’d seen any if his pots in real life. There was a real quintessential british element to them – eccentric, a bit sleazy and a mash of culture.

This book is a very sound covering of the artist’s childhood and life leading up to his emergence as an up and coming ceramic artist. The book is written exactly as you would think Perry would speak it – at times hilarious, at times a bit tragic, and a lot of the time involving his demi god teddy bear Alan Measles. There is a lot to Grayson Perry, so much of it being incredibly interesting, that this is well worth a read.

Trips to Paris

Parisians, Graham Robb

Louis Chevalier hated people for liking Paris in ignorance of what it had once been. To him, Paris was a composite place built up over the ages, a picture book of superimposed transparencies, over-populated with the dead and haunted by the ghosts of the living.

Want to know about Paris from the people who actually spend their time there? Go for an ‘Adventure history of Paris’ instead of the ordinary travel guide. Graham Robb writes very personally but incredibly readably – he really knows his french history but he isn’t writing for history buffs. There are all kinds of stories in here, from the modern day right back to pre-revolutionary France. Sixteenth century poets to a bit of Proust (hurrah!), student riots in the sixties to the building of the metro. This is the real gritty history of Paris, supplied by Parisians.

Feminist Reading List

Feminist reading list.

Proust Theme

Proust theme today.

The Hare With Amber Eyes

The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal

This book is so good. Edmund de Waal inherits a collection of 264 japanese netsuke from his great uncle in Tokyo. They have been in his family since they were bought in Paris in the 1870s. Since then they have been handed from one family member to another, and have travelled from Paris to Vienna to England to Tokyo.

Edmund de Waal comes from the Ephrussi family, very European, with an amazing history. The story begins with Charles Ephrussi, the original collector of the netsuke. Charles is one of the two men who were the model for Proust’s master creation: Charles Swann. And this is just the beginning.

Joyfully, de Waal is a wonderful story teller, and gives such a personal tinge to these objects. As he travels around Europe and back through history, he uncovers some difficult and sad moments (a jewish family in Vienna during the second world war speaks for itself). This intelligently emotive history becomes a broader exploration of what it means to collect things and pass them on. Do objects hold a memory of where they’ve been and what has happened to the people who held them?