Author Archives: smkelly8

About smkelly8

writer, teacher, movie lover, traveler, reader

Sister Carrie

sister carrie

A friend suggested I read Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie as I’m working on a historical fiction project. I finally found the time and I really enjoyed it, though it’s not because it’s filled with characters I was drawn to — at all. I wanted to find out what would happen and I found Dreiser’s style pleasant if not outstanding.

The title character, Carrie comes to Chicago from a small town hoping to find her fortune. She moves in with the sister and brother-in-law, who live in a tenement and grind their way through each day. They encourage Carrie to get a job and she pounds the pavement and finds a job in a factory. She hates the course language and rough behaviour of her coworkers. The work itself is dull. She soon loses her job and begins her rise. What’s unusual about Carrie is she does so little and is swept up by luck higher and higher up the social and financial with extremely little effort. She’s not witty or smart or hard working. She’s lucky. She met Drouet, a snappy salesman on the train to Chicago and is impressed with his suave style. She meets him again and he persuades her to move in with him. She’s just lost her job and her brother-in-law’s getting on her nerves so what the heck, she leaves her sister’s home.

She lives with Drouet and is rather isolated. She’s a kept woman and when she does make friends pretends to be married. She has no consequences to leading this wild life (for 1900). She never gets pregnant, never is judged or pinned with a scarlet A.

While with Drouet, she meets his even more prosperous and suave friend Hardwood, a manager of a high-ish class bar. Hardwood falls for her and winds ups leaving his wife and stealing $10,000 from his employer and running away with Carrie.

Carrie doesn’t even make any big decisions. She is tricked into going with Hardwood and lacks the chutzpah or direction to leave him. They move to New York and Hardwood tries to live off what remains of his post-divorce money. He slowly slides down to the gutter as Carrie ascends by dabbling in musical comedy.

I normally like books with characters I either identify with or admire. No one in <em>Sister Carrie </em>is anyone I’d want to spend time with, but they’re sympathetic enough and I didn’t know where the story would go.

Comments Off on Sister Carrie

Posted by on October 23, 2015 in 19th Century, American Lit, fiction


Tags: , , ,

Loving Books in a Dark Age

Loving Books in a Dark Age


An interesting albeit long article about how silent reading began.

Originally posted on Longreads Blog:

Michael Pye | The Edge of the World: A Cultural History of the North Sea and the Transformation of Europe | Pegasus Books | April 2015 | 31 minutes (8,498 words)

Below is a chapter excerpted from The Edge of the World, by Michael Pye, as recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky

* * *

There was nobody else alive, nobody who could read or preach or sing the service, except the abbot, Ceolfrith, and one bright boy: who was local, well-connected and about sixteen, and whose name was unusual. He was called Bede, and he wasn’t called ‘saint’ or ‘venerable’, not yet.

View original 8,656 more words

Comments Off on Loving Books in a Dark Age

Posted by on August 26, 2015 in fiction


Poldark by Winston Graham


After enjoying the Masterpiece 2015 version of Winston Graham’s Poldark, I read the book. Set in the late 18th century, Poldark is the first novel in the series about the Poldark family. It’s a family with some interesting facets. The side headed by Charles Poldark is quite refined and wealthy. The side headed by Joshua Poldark, Charles brother was less fortunate. Joshua had two sons and one died as a child. His wife died young. His son Ross, who’s the central character in this novel, got into gambling trouble and was urged to fight in the American colonies to let matters at home cool. Joshua didn’t have great success with his mining or farming interests and dies before he can see his son Ross return from the war.

Ross’ death becomes a rumor that takes hold in Cornwall. His true love believes it and winds up engaged to his cousin. His family’s drunk and disorderly servants believe it and they let the property fall to almost ruin. This book covers about half the events that you see in season one of the 2015 television series.

I read historical fiction for the details and surprises. Winston Graham’s clearly done his homework on life in Cornwall in 1873 and following. The dialect sounds accurate and every event and encounter, whether it’s a day at the market or a fishing trip rings true. It’s an era where people had a lot of spirit and vitality. (I’m starting to think the human race lost a lot by not riding horses. I think horseback riding made people stronger, physically and emotionally.)

Ross intrigues as he’s a bridge between classes. He understands his periwigged relatives as well as the villagers who scrape by and have no standing in a court of law where the scales are tilted in favor of the gentry. Even though Ross has little money, his rank puts him far above the villagers, yet as Demelza, the urchin girl he saves from her drunken abusive father, points out Ross can fit in either social circle.

In the book, readers get more of Graham’s well drawn characters, like Demelza who becomes the spirit of Ross’ home, Prudie and Jud, who curse and complain at every turn, Elizabeth, Ross’ former love and Francis, his cousin. At the start of the book Demelza’s 14 and then the story jumps ahead to when she’s 17, which I’d have liked to see.

This gap between the rich and the really rich intrigues and I’m trying to figure out how these families trained their servants so that in a few generations they no longer spit, cursed and drank way too much.

The story moves along quickly and includes some events I wish the 2015 series had. I’m ready to start on the second novel Demelza once I finish my other books.

*In the 1970s the BBC produced the first Poldark series.

Comments Off on Poldark by Winston Graham

Posted by on August 24, 2015 in fiction


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

After Ashley

I just read Gina Gianfriddo’s play After Ashley. It’s a witty play with some strong content. It shares the story of Ashley Hammond a very unhappy woman who’s stuck in her marriage and discusses her troubles with Justin her 14 year old son. She doesn’t have a good sense of boundaries and goes to town on her husband to her son, who continually begs her to stop complaining about his dad.

When Aaron Hammond, Ashley’s husband, appears he announces that he’s hired a homeless man to work around the house and Ashley challenges him on this choice. Like Rapture, Blister, Burn, the lead female character is lost, strong and sexually experimental (you don’t see that side, you hear about it) and the male lead is more passive and seeks out a troubled person to come into his home to work against his wife’s wishes.

The play jumps ahead three years and Ashley’s had been raped and murdered by the homeless guy. Of course, that’s hard to take, but Gianfriddo does a better job than most writers with the topic. Readers or audiences see Justin and Aaron struggling to over how to cope with their loss. Justin is certainly critical of Aaron’s decision to cash in and gain fame by hosting a tasteless reality show about victimhood.

The play sounds like it’s so violent and bleak. I can’t recommend it because, while I liked the writing and the playwright presents us with her ideas from a comfortable distance while still making her point, I can see it’s not for everyone. Still, the play is smart and well paced. If you’re not sensitive to the subject matter, I think you’d enjoy After Ashley.

Comments Off on After Ashley

Posted by on August 21, 2015 in After Ashley, American Lit, book review


Tags: , ,

Just So Happens


Fumio Obata illustrated and wrote the gentle, beautiful Just So Happens, a graphic novel set in London and Japan. It’s the story of Yumiko, a young woman from Japan who’s settled in London. She likes her job, her fiancé, and life, but realizes her heritage comes with barriers. She’ll probably always be something of an outsider.

As she’s mulling over her outsider status, she gets a call from her brother. Her father’s died suddenly so she returns to Japan for the funeral. This trip makes her reconsider where she belongs and how her decision to stay in London is more by chance than decision. Throughout the story, Yumiko is haunted by a Noh theater actor, who embodies the Japanese spirit.

The watercolor graphics are stunning and evokes the feel of Japan. Yumiko’s journey feels authentic and heartfelt.

Comments Off on Just So Happens

Posted by on August 11, 2015 in graphic novel


Tags: , ,

Annotated Bibliography: World’s Columbian Exposition


I’m working on a project for a rare books class I took two weeks ago. It’s an annotated bibliography of books on Chicago. I discovered, and promptly bought on Amazon,

Dybwad, G.L., and Bliss, Joy V. Annotated Bibliography: World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago 1893. Albuquerque, NM, 1992.

Organized by type of item, this bibliography includes a brief history of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (WCE), a fold out map of the WCE and its organization chart. This source includes chapters on fiction, poetry and children’s books, exposition publications, federal publications, guides, periodicals, music, salesmen’s samples, recent books and unpublished unique works. The introduction is written by Dybwad and explains why he started this project.

The entries in this source date from before the fair to 1991.

The bibliographers designed the format and organized the source with a view to ease of use. Abbreviations and citations are clearly explained and the indexes cross-reference items so if users don’t know the author’s name or the title of an item, they can still find it relatively easily. Each entry is concise and provides a brief description of each item. When available, the bibliographers list price information, however, following the Introduction, there’s a note on price stating principles in pricing and reasons for variance. (No doubt since 1992 these prices have changed.)

For books, there is minimal collation* information. This book is a comprehensive source, which would aid researchers and collectors.

(*Collation information describes the paper, binding, etc.)

Comments Off on Annotated Bibliography: World’s Columbian Exposition

Posted by on July 29, 2015 in Library Science, rare books


Tags: , , , , ,

Why Study Shakespeare?

Why Study Shakespeare?


Why, indeed.

Originally posted on Knowledge Guild:

While most people know that Shakespeare is, in fact, the most popular dramatist and poet the Western world has ever produced, students new to his work often wonder why this is so. The following are the top four reasons why Shakespeare has stood the test of time.

1. Illumination of the Human Experience

Shakespeare’s ability to summarize the range of human emotions in simple yet profoundly eloquent verse is perhaps the greatest reason for his enduring popularity. If you cannot find words to express how you feel about love or music or growing older, Shakespeare can speak for you. No author in the Western world has penned more beloved passages.

2. Great Stories

Marchette Chute, in the Introduction to her famous retelling of Shakespeare’s stories, summarizes one of the reasons for Shakespeare’s immeasurable fame:

William Shakespeare was the most remarkable storyteller that the world has ever known. Homer told of…

View original 667 more words

Comments Off on Why Study Shakespeare?

Posted by on July 26, 2015 in fiction


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 190 other followers