Tea with Proust and the Pink Carnation

I know April is poetry month, but I want Proust instead. (He partly inspired my blog name, thanks to the following passage from Swann’s Way.)

… one day in winter, as I returned home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, suggested that, contrary to my habit, I have a little tea. I refused at first and then, I do not know why, changed my mind. She sent for one of those squat, plump cakes called petites madeleines that look as though look as though they have been molded in the grooved valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, oppressed by the gloomy day and the prospect of another sad day to follow, I carried to my lips a spoonful of tea in which I had let soften a bit of madeleine. But at the very instant wen the mouthful of tea mixed with cake crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening inside me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me, isolated me, without my having any notion as to its cause. It had immediately rendered the vicissitudes of life unimportant to me, its diasters innocuous, its brevity illusory, acting in the same way that love acts, by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not merely inside me, it was me.

… suddenly the memory appeared. That taste was the taste of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray… when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie would give me after dipping it in her infusion of tea or lime blossom.

And it is still wintery here (more snow, just when it had finally begun to melt! Yesterday I had even been able to walk across the lawn on mostly bare grass) and now I want a cup of chamomile lemon tea. (Err, here is the image credit for that lovely picture of tea cups which I now want to drink soothing liquids from!)

I finished Mansfield Park last week (one prefers never to desert Jane Austen) and still feel a bit sorry for Henry Crawford. Which I never did before and which I certainly don’t for Willoughby, let alone Wickham (John Thorpe is right beyond the pale, Frank Churchill doesn’t need my sympathy and well ok I like William Elliot a little, again because he genuinely appreciates Anne and was played by Sam West that once…) It’s possible he wouldn’t stop being naughty even with her, but at least he honestly loves her and actually sees her as a grown woman. Edmund seems such a passionateless creature in comparison, Fanny is only his consolation prize, even though even he hasn’t behaved considerately to her all the time either. In any events, it’s nice to refresh my memory of Jane Austen and not think I already know everything about her books from past rereadings.

I’ve also started reading the Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig. The adventure and romance hook me, although sometimes I’m a bit annoyed at her main mode of humour, which is exaggeration. This is mostly the case with her present day character, Eloise, who’s a history grad student in England to investigate a series of spies in the manner of the Scarlet Pimpernel who thwarted Napoleon from invading England. I certainly wouldn’t mind having her life, but the chick lit-esque sections of her parts of the book do grate a little so far, as Eloise overthinks every male encounter now or in the past five years and sometimes somehow thinks she ‘shouldn’t go out of the house without a muzzle on’ — what??! I don’t exactly find that type of self and women bashing humour funny… But the historical stories are enjoyable. There are various mysterious spies, good and bad, sneaking about to be discovered and/or rescued and lots of fun kissy bits too.

The first book (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation) takes the characters to Paris, where they attend Josephine’s salon in the Tuileries, which I quite enjoyed (may have to read more about Josephine now). Amy, the heroine of the first book, is a bit too bouncy for me and wears too many smelly disguises (I love beautiful old clothes and want more descriptions of those instead), bouncing right on over into obnoxious from time to time. Luckily Henrietta in the second book (The Masque of the Black Tulip) is more sensible and can also sing beautifully and spends more time trying to escape from overly flirtatious gentlemen in black waistcoats with silver snakes embroidered on them (he even carries a silver snake headed cane and quotes Milton’s Satan!! I was definitely thinking of Lucius Malfoy.) and also endearingly falls for her brother’s oldest friend while trying to find a deadly French spy in London.

I’ve now got the third book lined up (The Deception of the Emerald Ring) but have to take a bit of a break between each book, as I tend to read them almost completely in one day, just racing through once I start. In between I’ve daudled through parts of the Marie Antoinette biography by Antonia Fraser (because I love the movie, but find the book likes to throw more foreshadowing about, which makes it more depressing, as well as all the confusing endless list of names and titles of royals and courtiers surrounding her. I tried to read it last year and didn’t finish either) and a little bit of The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope, because I’ve found myself oddly longing for more Trollope after reading him for the first time last year. And the Victorians still hold a very dear little corner of my heart. (I’m currently debating if I ought to pull out some Dickens for the Classics Circuit Dueling Authors thingie, with Jane Austen vs. Charles Dickens. Of course I prefer Jane Austen, but I never finished Our Mutual Friend last year and A Tale of Two Cities, which I also never finished, would fit well with this late 18th/early 19th century frolic I am on. And of course I keep meaning to read more George Eliot too, and did start rereading Middlemarch earlier this year, I just got distracted. By spies and the 18th century and Napoleon and things.)

I’ve also requested a large pile of more historical fiction at my big city library (including the Josephine B. books by Sandra Gulland and some Regency and Victorian mysteries and romances mostly) and am thrilled to finally be reading and enjoying more of it again, after sort of looking down on it a bit for a few years. And last night I bought another Bloomsbury Group book, Mrs. Ames by E.F. Benson. I’ve only read one of the Bloomsbury books so far, Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys, which is an adorably funny look at WW2, but I can’t help collecting them, they are so pretty!

I was also thinking it could be fun to explore historical fiction actually written in the 19th century, like War & Peace or some Alexandre Dumas or A Tale of Two Cities, as mentioned above. I would just need a bit more time to do that and firmer dedication. In the meantime, I have plenty of books to choose from…

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14 thoughts on “Tea with Proust and the Pink Carnation

  1. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    Oh, so many things to say! First of all, congrats on finding a new home (and for making it so beautifully purple)! I was just thinking this morning how much I missed you and hoping that you'd post again soon and now here you are!

    Now, onto bookish things. The best part of Mansfield Park for me has always been the Crawfords. Edmund is a singularly unexciting leading man and Fanny can be equally dull – no such problems with the Crawfords! There's something not just fascinating but so very real about them, with their cunning ways and practical if unromantic aims.

    As for Lauren Willig's books, it sounds like you're having exactly the same reaction to them as I did! Aren't they such fun? The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is my least favourite of all of them simply because I never really liked Amy or Richard and The Masque of the Black Tulip probably remains my not-so-secret favourite of the series, mostly because I just adore Miles and Henrietta (though it's in close competition with The Seduction of the Crimson Rose which has an equally well-matched duo). I think the books get increasingly better as the series progresses, certainly as far as the historical details are concerned, but Eloise remains quite annoying and in need of a good slap. I could definitely have done without her standard chick-lit personna.

  2. Nymeth says:

    I love the look of the new blog, and I'm so so glad you let us know about it! I also love that Proust passage – he's been on my “someday” list for years and years, but maybe I should make him more of a priority.

    I'm actually going with Dickens for the duelling authors tour, even though I too prefer Austen. But it was mostly a matter of convenience: I'm going to stage adaptation of Hard Times in June that will take place at an abandoned mill (VERY excited about it), and this was the perfect excuse to read it first.

  3. Carolyn says:

    Claire, so glad to see you here! πŸ™‚

    I find Mansfield Park a somewhat difficult book to read, at least for Austen, because there used to be someone I liked who liked someone else and I thought, oh since we're both quiet he's the Edmund to my (ahem) Fanny. Only it never worked out that way, as it never does. So I'm not that fond of Edmund anymore, although I do have a little soft spot for Fanny, since I'm also somewhat shy and sensitive and used to be more religious as she is. She reminds me most of a homeschooler who just hasn't got out enough, who's learned all the right values and morals and studied serious topics and can recite them mechanically, but without much life experience. (No offense to homeschoolers, I was one myself for a year!)

    Yes, I wasn't a huge fan of Richard either, he seemed a bit cliched. (Although the phrase 'necklace of stars' is always going to make me giggle now…) Miles and Henrietta were so much more adorable and realistic in comparison, I thought. I could just tell from their bickering in the first book that they would soon be up to something! I had tried to read these books before and was so annoyed with the first one, both Eloise and Amy, that I gave up on them. I'm glad you mentioned them on your blog so I tried again and got past that to the good stuff. But what is with all the heroes so far having blond hair?? Let's have some variety already!

  4. Carolyn says:

    Ana, so glad to see you too, hope everyone is going well with school. I do hope you get to Proust, he's fantastic. I think I might go with Dickens too, perhaps A Tale of Two Cities. I couldn't get into Hard Times in university, but that stage version sounds cool.

  5. Audrey says:

    It's lovely here! I just borrowed an audiobook by Lauren Willig from the library..not sure if it's part of this series or not, but it sounds like fun.

  6. Joan Hunter Dunn says:

    Lovely new blog – the colours are so calming. I thik my favourite quote is from Mansfield Park 'Nobody meant to be unkind but nobody went out of their way to make her feel welcome.' It sent a shiver through me when I read it and hopefully does affect my behaviour. Surely the sign of a good quote.
    Keep going with Antonia Fraser and Dickens.
    Welcome back!

  7. Carolyn says:

    Audrey, I think the only books Lauren Willig has written are in this Pink Carnation series, so the audiobook is most likely one of them. I hope you like it! I'd be interested in hearing how it goes.

    Joan, yes I can definitely relate to that quote. Poor sensitive Fanny.

    Verity, thank you, I'm enjoying blogging here so much more already.

    It's so nice to see you all here! πŸ™‚

  8. galant says:

    Oh, very pretty … the background, though, is more mauve than lavender or purple, but pretty nonetheless! I've just bought the first Lauren Willig and it's in the TBR pile … Oh, and isn't Henrietta's War funny and charming? She lived not that far from where we live (Henrietta's home town was Budleigh Salterton, on the East Devon coast.)
    Margaret P

  9. Carolyn says:

    Hi Margaret, as long as it's any nice shade of purple, I'm happy! I quite enjoyed Henrietta's War and bought the sequel recently although I haven't gotten to it yet. I'd love to be able to explore all the literary spots in England, I've been to Stratford and Oxford and London of course, but still not to Bath or any of the Jane Austen stuff or the Lake District.

    Jim, what a lovely essay, thank you for sharing it. I also love everything Proust writes about lilacs, since they're another one of my favourite purple flowers. And what a great idea, to carry something that smells beautiful with you to remind you of good things throughout the day. I may have to try something like that myself.

  10. Karen K. says:

    Oh, I hope you sign up for Dickens vs. Austen! I've just started Dombey and Son and I hope I finish it in time (I've requested the last week of the Circuit, as it's 800 pages long). Hard Times is my least favorite Dickens so far.

    I know what you mean about Fanny. She's not my favorite Austen heroine but I still like the book — probably because I saw the movie first and loved it (even though I know it's inaccurate, it's still great).

    And Proust is another author on my someday list too. I still have to finish Dickens and Trollope and Zola, oh my!

  11. Carolyn says:

    Karen, I'm actually wishing I could just sign up to read more Trollope instead of Dickens! That's how I finished one of his books last year, through the Classics Circuit, and now I keep wanting to read more of them. I'll have a look at A Tale of Two Cities and decide, or maybe watch the Our Mutual Friend miniseries and try to get motivated to finish it…

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