Christmas isn’t truly Christmas unless Santa leaves me a few books under the tree. I love tearing off wrapping paper and discovering the carefully chosen title beneath. Whereas chocolates never last very long, I can set aside my new books for later and gloat over them at leisure during the boring post-festivity weeks of January and February. This year I was particularly spoilt, for not only did I get some wonderful books, but they came in beautiful editions – a real treat for a book aficionado!
1. The Brontë Sisters’ Complete Novels (Collector’s Library Editions). Easily the largest and heaviest book in the pile, this edition has gold-tipped pages, late-Victorian etchings, and a lovely pattern of purple leaves on the cover. Jane Eyre has been my very favourite novel ever since I first read it at the age of twelve and has never lost the power to enthrall me. As a teenager, Wuthering Heights also ranked high on my list of must-reads, though I haven’t read it for several years. I look forward to re-discovering it, along with the rest of the Brontë novels, in this deluxe edition (though I am most thankful I’m driving back up to Paris and thus will not have to lug it about in my suitcase on the train!).
2. The Marble Faun, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Ohio State University Press, Centenary Edition, 1968). This elegant grey and silver volume comes courtesy of my father, who ordered it specially from the United States. Hawthorne is not everybody’s cup of tea and one certainly has to be in the mood to read him, but I enjoyed The Scarlet Letter, and The House of the Seven Gables even more. The Marble Faun has intrigued me for a long time, firstly because of its title, and secondly because it is set in Italy and deals with art. A combination which is guaranteed to interest me!
3. Mademoiselle de Maupin, by Théophile Gautier (Imprimerie Nationale de France, 1979). This too, is a very special book, in a very special edition. I have already had occasion to discuss Théophile Gautier on this blog, and am delighted to finally have a copy (and such a dashing copy, with its red leather binding!) of this 1835 epistolary novel, which I borrowed from my university library over eight years ago and have wanted ever since. It recounts the amorous adventures of Madeleine de Maupin, who disguises herself as a boy because she wishes to learn the secrets of men’s hearts before she settles down to humdrum domesticity with one. Even disguised in male attire, her beauty is so great that it leaves no-one indifferent and it is not long before she has thrown Parisian society into uproar, with both men and women falling in love with her at every turn. My memories of the plot are vague but I do recall an affair with a pretty serving-girl and a duel fought with a jealous aristocrat…
4. The Rossettis in Wonderland: a Victorian Family History, by Dinah Roe (2011). My mother picked this up for me in Paris when she came up for her annual pre-Christmas shopping spree. As a child, I knew many small poems by Christina Rossetti (one of my favourites was “Who has seen the wind?”) and I recently bought a pocket-sized edition of her poetry which intrigued me by its variety and depth. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti I know mainly as a painter of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood but have long wanted to find out more about him as a poet. About the rest of the clan, I know nothing at all, so I am very pleased to have this family biography to delve into.
5. The Pre-Raphaelites from Rossetti to Ruskin (Penguin Classics). This is the perfect companion to The Rossettis in Wonderland: I have always loved Arthurian legends, so the Pre-Raphaelite obsession with them and all other things medieval could not fail to appeal to me. Most satisfyingly of all, this selection of poems includes “The Defence of Guenevere” by William Morris, which I have been trying in vain to get my hands on for the past year. I anticipate many hours of happy reading in the weeks to come!
© Florence Berlioz 2011