A fun children’s book about early America read by Jill of Prager Prep.
A fun children’s book about early America read by Jill of Prager Prep.
Graphic novel, The Sky over Louvre by Bernar Yslaire and Jean-Claude Carriere covers the Reign of Terror when Robespierre and the Jacobins maintained power through terrorism. Revolutionary and artist Jacques-Louis David is looking for a model for his polemic painting. Jules Stern, a young man from Khazaria, comes to Paris in search of his mother and to meet with David. David is struck by Stern’s looks and believes he’ll be perfect for his painting of Bara.
The book’s illustrations include sumptuous images from the Louvre’s art collection and drawings of 18th century France in the midst of the Reign of Terror, which followed the French Revolution. While I know about Robespierre, the Jacobins and their purge and violence to achieve ideological purity, I wasn’t clear on all the players. At times I had to reread The Sky over Louvre to stay clear on the meaning or to make sure I understood what was going on. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the book and would read another in this series of books set in the Louvre.
As I’m behind in my 2020 reading challenge, I needed to read something quickly, so I went to Horatio Alger and chose Phil the Fiddler. I knew the novel for kids would be formulaic but I also knew I’d learn some history, which I did.
Phil the Fiddler’s hero is 12 year old Filippo, whose father sold him to a padrone, a Fagan type character who exploits his boys. The padrones, like the one in this novel, paid poor Italian families $75 for their children, whom he’d send out into the streets of cities like New York to play for money. These children would work from morning to about 11pm. They were expected to bring $2/day back to the padrone. If they failed, they’d be beaten. The padrone supplied a hovel to sleep in and breakfast and dinner, which consisted of bread and cheese.
Filippo (Phil) has a young friend Giacomo, who’s weaker and never makes enough money. This character shows how often these children met tragic ends.
I didn’t know anything about this history, but I wasn’t surprised as throughout the world, even today, poor people will sell their children into slavery or servitude.
Filippo impresses many of the people he meets and as is usual in these stories does encounter cheats and bullies. Alger provides a happy ending, but also notes that most children like Filippo did not get a happy ending.
Here’s a charming story about the Census long ago. The illustrations are cute as is the story about a village full of people who don’t understand why they’re being counted so they try to fool the poor Census Taker.
If you need to finish your census call 844-330-2020 or go to 2020census.gov
I started Kate Hopkins’ Sweet Tooth: The Bittersweet History of Candy with lots of enthusiasm and excitement. It was my first microhistory read. Like many, I have loved candy and I am curious about its origins and place in history.
While I did learn about how the Arabs brought sugar candy to the world, first as a form of medicine, how candy went from something only available to the rich to something children could buy with their allowances or pay and how the use of chocolate developed.
While Hopkins travels to Europe, New England and, of course, Hershey, PA, were often interesting, her writing style often was wordy and she bored me with long-winded descriptions of her memories of her childhood and overly detailed descriptions of trivial observations of her travels. I wish she did a better editing and had talked to more candy experts. Most of her research was from books, which is fine, but adding more interviews with candy makers and experts would improve this book.
The book did make me see that wherever I travel internationally, I should find a local candy shop and taste sweet local specialities.
Have you read a fascinating microhistory? Let me know of any that are must-reads below.
The Radium Girls by Kate Moore tells the story of the young women who worked in factories painting iridescent numbers on watch and clock dials. In New Jersey and Illinois after WWI, girls were hired to use paint made with radium to make the dials glow in the dark. The technique they were required to use was to lick the tip of the brush, dip it in the paint and paint the numbers. Then they were to repeat. No step to clean the brush.
At the time radium was believed to be an ultra-healthy substance. No safety precautions were taken.
These girls were proud to earn good wages and had a good lifestyle. Proud of their work, when they would go out dancing, they would take the radium dust rub it on their eyelids and skin, which made them glow.
As you can imagine, the women started to get ill. One woman had awful jaw pain, and when she went to the dentist her jaw fell out, which was the first of many ailments that inflicted her and her colleagues. One after another, the girls began to experience horrific health issues. The radium would attack their bones. Others, as you’d guess, got rare, devastating cancers.
The girls began to take legal action and the two radium companies fought them tooth and nail. The story soon turns to one of courage and tenacity as these women fight for their lives and fight for justice in the courts against two Goliath companies.
In many ways the story is hard to take, but because these women banded together and had great resilience and remained strong in spirit and clung to hope, The Radium Girls was not a depressing story. My only critique is that the author’s scope covering two factories which weren’t that connected, made the book confusing at times. Yet I understand her desire to tell the full story. I think it would have been better if Moore had focused on fewer girls and added an epilogue about the others. I highly recommend reading The Radium Girls.
BY WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
That woman’s days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our wingèd horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
A terrible beauty is born.
Ernest Poole’s His Second Wife follows Ethel as she leaves small town Ohio after her father’s death. She goes to New York to live with her sister, Amy, a socialite and shopper, and Amy’s husband Joe and daughter. Ethel tries to fit in to the shallow scene Amy relishes, but just can’t. The superficial and materialism don’t appeal at all.
She’s after the new and exciting ideals, art and politics New York is supposed to offer. After Amy’s sudden death, Ethel stays to help Joe, but struggles to avoid getting trapped living her sister’s life.
Poole creates an original dilemma that rings true. Ethel isn’t the polar opposite of Amy as a lesser writer would have made her. She doesn’t hate shopping or all of bourgeois life, she just wants more. The novel recounts her struggle to find friends and to find her own identity, while evading Amy’s more manipulative friends who want to control Joe after he’s married Ethel. An original, compelling story, worth getting from Amazon, which offers it for free on Kindle.
I’m now reading and very wrapped up in Emile Zola’s A Ladies’ Paradise, which the Masterpiece The Paradise is based on. Wow!
The story’s quite different as it’s set in Paris and Denise’s parents died leaving her with two brothers to look after and very little money. Thus she heads to her uncle in Paris, who’s a draper as in the television series. This uncle has more i.e. some customers and yet is more furious at Mouret (Moray on TV). Zola’s Mouret starts out as such a philanderer, with lots of contempt for women. I can see why the TV show lessened that aspect of his character. It’s just amazing to read about how huge the store is and how it’s run.
I’m also reading another Horatio Alger book. Again, I’ve just started the story, Joe’s Luck. Joe’s an orphan and a servant in small town New Jersey. He’s had it with the ill treatment of a miserly employer and heads to New York hoping to get on a ship to California while the Gold Rush is in full swing. Just now poor Joe was swindled out of the money for the ship’s ticket.
I’m also in the midst of a book on the Everleigh sisters who ran a high class, super high class brothel in turn of the 20th century Chicago. The Everleigh Club’s opulence is unmatched and the tales! Whoo. The girls. The men. The antics! Often beyond imagination.
When I picked this up at the library I didn’t catch the smaller type: Images of America. So I thought there would be more text about Chicago’s Gold Coast. Once I figured out the subject of this book I appreciated the wide selection of old photos of grand houses in this Chicago district. Images of America: Chicago’s Gold Coast upped my understanding of how the city looked in the late 19th century and beyond.
Here’s a few of the homes featured.