It’s Dark Outside! Reveries on November Reading

November isn’t the coziest of months.  Jo in Little Women says, “That’s the reason I was born in it.”  

The best way to survive the tenebrous days of November is to sit in a very clean house with a reasonably good book. After you vacuum and dust, you can admire the spotless carpet and the scratched but now polished tables.  And then you can draw the drapes for ultra-coziness, though if they are green velvet or scarlet moreen, you may feel like a tense Scarlett O’Hara  (she must make a dress out of velvet curtains) or Jane Eyre concealed behind the curtains in the windowseat, hiding from her intimidating cousin.

Jane Eyre (Folio Society edition)

Whenever I think of Scarlett O’Hara, I remember my mother, whom I still miss, though I no longer talk to her ghost.  Gone with the Wind was her favorite book, though my once favorite Jane Eyre made little impression on herI don’t much like Gone with the Wind,  which I find poorly-written; she preferred Scarlett to Jane as a character. Of course, my friends and I wanted to marry Mr. Rochester!   (These days, I think Monsieur Paul in Villette might make a better husband.)

The three books above make ideal November reading, but I recently finished another Novemberish novel, Pamela Hansford Johnson’s The Trojan Brothers, published in 1944.  The neglected Pamela Hansford Johnson, a popular, well-respected novelist of the 20th century, wrote 27 novels, most realistic and psychological, though some of them are brilliant satires.  She also wrote criticism and autobiography.

The Trojan Brothers is a difficult novel to enjoy. I have seldom felt more edgy while reading a bone-chilling book. Set in the 1920s, it is a fictional study of aberrant psychology.  The hero, Sid Nichols, lives at such a pitch of hysteria that we can feel it tingling on our skin.  

 Sid and his friend Benny are successful comedians:  they play two halves of a talking horse in a popular stage act (Johnson actually makes this act sound enchanting ). Sid, the hind end, is known for making hilarious remarks to the audience.  When he spots Betty Todd, the upper-class cousin who snubbed him in childhood, he confronts her from the stage by subtly insulting her.  (No one else would understand the insults.) Afterwards, she comes backstage with her husband to rebuke and insult Sid.  And yet he masochistically wants to see her again.

How this leads to a love affair is mysterious.  Sid is plain and has ginger hair and freckles, while  beautiful Betty is “like a pierrot doll, very handsome, haughtily amused.” Betty is a social climber, disliked by most people:  she invites famous people to parties, and Sid is her connection to the theater.   As Sid smashes his successful career, and also that of his partner, Benny, in his pursuit of Betty, we realize he is losing his mind.  And it gets worse…  

This well-written novel is interesting, but far from her best.  She has analyzed unrequited love in other novels, and, though painful to read, The Last Resort and The Philistines do a better job.  The Trojan Brothers is so extreme.

How does one cope with November?  By reading cheerful or gloomy books?  

I hope to move on to a cheerful book after The Trojan Brothers.

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