Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Brilliant Brontes: Agnes Grey: Governing the Heart

 Anne Bronte (1820-1849), Emily Bronte (Thornton, 1818 - Haworth, 1848) and Charlotte Bronte (Thornton, 1816 - Haworth, 1855), English writers, Oil on canvas by Patrick Branwell Bronte (1817-1848), ca 1834. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 19 Dec 2015.

"I am miserable when I allow myself to dwell on the necessity of spending my life as a governess." 
- Charlotte Bronte

Jean Paul-Sarte is known for his declaration: "Hell is other people." Charlotte Bronte would have gone further and said, "Hell is other people's children." Anne Bronte, the youngest of her literary family, persevered as a governess far longer than Charlotte did. Her novel Agnes Grey, published in 1847 chronicles the  fictitious trials of a mild-mannered governess. Anne's novel was overshadowed by her elder sister Charlotte's dramatic, Gothic novel Jane Eyre, but Anne's novel paints a realistic portrait of the drudgery, disrespect, and powerlessness of being a governess in Victorian times.

According to Kathryn Hughes author of The Victorian Governess, 25,000 women earned their living as governesses, during a period of English economic instability owing to the Napoleonic wars. Middle class families coped with the financial meltdown by having their daughters work as governesses. As daughters of a poor clergyman, the Bronte sisters sought out work as governesses and also dreamed of opening their own school at the Haworth parsonage.

The life of a governess was friendless and isolated. Governesses taught and raised children, but were not a member of the family and also a source of resentment among the servants who couldn't absorb governesses into their own domestic pecking order. Governesses could move on through suitable marriages, but families were so afraid of having their sons wanting to marry the governess, that they were urged to only hire the plainest possible governesses.

Governesses were only needed for a few years to care for and instruct her employer's children, so these women were constantly having to look for a new job. Salaries were so low, there was nothing left to save for health care or retirement, especially if governesses were working to support their own families back at home. The specter of poverty always loomed, so in 1841 the Governesses' Benevolent Institution was created to help them with pensions. In addition to the lack of a living wage, governesses were in the bind of being unable to discipline their charges and being undermined by the parents they worked for. In a letter Charlotte sent to a mutual friend, she wrote, "Anne is not to return - Mrs. Ingham is a placid, mild woman - but as for the children it was one struggle of life-wearing exertion to keep them in anything like decent order."

Agnes, the daughter of a destitute clergyman, desires to prove herself and help her family earn money, as a governess. Her first job is at Wellwood house to work for the Bloomfield family. Mrs. Bloomfield spoils her children while Mr. Bloomfield openly disapproves of Agnes's work. The children are out of control and Agnes is blamed for their antics. Tom, the oldest Bloomfield child, enjoys torturing small animals, especially birds. Children in the Victorian era were considered to be wild animals to be brought to heel. Agnes Grey is a shocking novel that makes corporal punishment look like a reasonable option, because the children Agnes governs are sadistic, soulless, little monsters. In less than a year, Agnes is fired, since Mrs. Bloomfield thinks that her precious children aren't making the academic progress she expects.

Agnes refuses to give up and finds a position with the wealthy Murray family. The two boys, John and Charles, are both sent to school, but Agnes is left with the girls Rosalie and Matilda. Mathilda is a foul-mouthed, compulsive liar and tomboy. Rosalie is a vapid, two-faced flirt. Both girls enjoy bullying Agnes and using her as a social prop.

Agnes begins to visit Nancy Brown, an old woman with poor eyesight who needs help reading the Bible; there Agnes meets the new parson, Mr. Edward Weston. The novel begins to take an uplifting spiritual and romantic turn.  Agnes is surprised during a walk by Mr. Weston, who picks some wild violets for her, which she saves in her Bible. Their friendship is noticed by Rosalie Murray, who has entered into society and enjoys torturing her own suitors through malicious flirtation. Mr. Weston becomes Rosalie's latest target, which causes Agnes great internal anguish, although Rosalie marries and becomes Lady Ashby. As a proper Victorian governess, Agnes is unable to profess her love for Mr. Weston openly, but takes comfort in the Sunday services he presides over.

Agnes receives a note from her married sister Mary, that their father is dying and begs Agnes to come home. Agnes arrives too late to see her father alive. After his funeral, Agnes opens a small school with her mother, leaving behind the Murrays and Mr. Weston.

Agnes receives a letter from Rosalie who is miserable in her marriage and asks Agnes to come for a visit. Agnes is shocked by Rosalie's transformation into a trapped, miserable married woman. Rosalie admits that she loathes Lord Ashby and her mother-in-law, and claims he only left London because he was jealous of all the gentlemen she was attracting. Agnes also hears that Mr. Weston has left the area, and she grieves, believing she will not be able to see him again. Rosalie is not even happy with her own newborn baby, since she considers only a boy and potential heir to be of any value. Rosalie's failures as a wife and mother trouble Agnes. In keeping with Agnes's spiritual inner light brought out by her family and friendships with Nancy Brown and Mr. Weston, advises Rosalie:

"The best way to enjoy yourself is to do what is right, and hate nobody. The end of Religion is not to
teach us how to die, but how to live; and the earlier you become wise and good, the more of happiness you secure. And now, Lady Ashby, I have one more piece of advice to offer you, which is that you will not make an enemy of your mother-in-law. Don't get into the way of holding her at arm's length, and regarding her with jealous distrust. I never saw her, but I have heard good as well as evil respecting her, and I imagine that, though cold and haughty in her general demeanour, and even exacting in her requirements, she has strong affections for those who can reach them; and, though so blindly attached to her son, she is not without good principles, or incapable of hearing reason; and if you would but conciliate her a little, and adopt a friendly, open mannerand even confide your grievances to her ... real grievances, such as you have a right to complain of ... it is my firm belief that she would, in time, become your faithful friend, and a comfort and support to you, instead of the incubus you describe her."

Agnes leaves Ashby Park and gratefully returns home to her mother and their humble school. The day after she arrives, she goes for a walk on the sea shore and encounters Mr. Weston, who had been looking for her since he moved to the nearby parsonage. A respectful courtship ensures and they marry and have three children together, a much happier ending than Anne Bronte enjoyed in her own short life.

Of all of the Bronte sisters, Anne showed the most resilience in seeking and maintaining employment outside of the family circle. Anne first worked for the Ingham family at Blake Hall, in Mirfield, which is located in West Yorkshire. The children she taught were consistently disobedient and enjoyed tormenting her, knowing that their parents would do nothing to stop them and insist on treating their governess with any respect or cooperation.

Anne's second job as a governess was to the children of the Reverend Edmund Robinson and his wife Lydia, at Thorp Green Hall, located in York, and she worked for them from 1840 to 1845. The house appeared as Horton Lodge in her novel Agnes Grey. Anne had four pupils: Lydia, aged 15, Elizabeth, aged 13, Mary, aged 12, and Edmund, aged 8. This time Anne succeed in her job and was treated well by her employers. The Robinson daughters became her lifelong friends. Anne accompanied the family to the vacations to the coastal town of Scarborough, where she ultimately chose to die during her final illness due to tuberculosis. 

Anne made the mistake of getting a job for her unstable brother Branwell, who worked as a tutor for the  Robinsons' son, Edmund. Branwell returned the favor by instigating a disastrous affair with the lady of the house, Lydia Robinson. Anne had resigned and returned to Haworth with a clean nose, before Branwell was fired for his shameless misconduct.

Agnes Grey is a bold novel in terms of accentuating class tensions and snobbery with employers aimed at Agnes and Agnes herself judging her employers and the children under her care even more harshly. Women were barred from most professions and being a governess was considered the most respectable and realistic option to pursue. The Bronte sisters can be forgiven for their frustrations and superiority complexes. The misery of being a governess was so pronounced with the Bronte sisters, that they couldn't persevere in this profession, and fortunately for the world, they turned to writing and turned their struggles into outstanding literature, although their employers probably never thought they would generate such shocking material.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

FSA Photography, The Works Progress Administration, and the New Deal

Contrary to popular association, photography was not the primary work of the Farm Security Administration. The FSA was a New Deal agency designed to combat rural poverty during a period when the agricultural climate and national economy were causing great dislocations in rural life. The photographers who worked under the name of the FSA were hired on for public relations; they were supposed to provide visual evidence that there was need, and that the FSA programs were meeting that need. Beyond serving this institutional image, the photographers were to document aspects of "the American way of life" that caught their eye. This looser and farther-reaching mission ultimately accounted for the vast file of photographs (over 80,000 black and white images) that is now considered one of the most famous documentary photography projects ever.
~Juliet Gorman 

We have long had an interest in the Great Depression and the New Deal - perhaps early exposure to the musical Annie is to blame, or we got too caught up in the drama of 1999's Cradle Will Rock, or we saw Dorothea Lange's "Migrant Mother" photograph at an impressionable age. But when New Deal Photography: USA 1935-1943  rolled across our desk one day, we thought now might be a good time to delve deeper into this topic!

Recently we were at Roosevelt Park in southeast Albuquerque and noted its sign:

We had never before considered how the New Deal had touched New Mexico - in fact, had touched all the states, if the amount of  WPA state guides in the library catalog are anything to go on. But what was it, exactly? We had always thought of the Works Progress Administration (sometimes called the Works Project Administration) in terms of the murals, posters, and the photography. But  that was just the tip of the iceberg, we discovered.

The WPA was created in 1935 as a work project for the unemployed. There were 11 million unemployed in 1934 and the WPA put 8 million of them to work, constructing roads, creating parks, building public buildings, bridges, and airports, and, as the Federal Arts Project, Federal Writers' Project, and Federal Theater Project, entertaining. There was even an arm of the WPA responsible for finding part-time jobs for youth. Critics of the program called it " a device for creating a huge patronage army loyal to the Democratic Party," and that the work it created was unnecessary; Harry Hopkins, one of FDR's advisers, believed  “giv[ing] a man a [handout]… you save his body and destroy his spirit. [But by giving] him a job… you save both body and spirit.” The WPA only endured 8 years, ending in 1943 with some charges of mismanagement and with the employment boom of the wartime years.

For more about the WPA, the Farm Security Administration (also created in 1935, to fight rural poverty - many famous Depression-era photographers got their start in this branch of the New Deal), and how they affected New Mexico, consider checking out one of the items from the library catalog listed below.

Russell Lee's FSA Photographs of Chamisal and Peñasco, New Mexico  edited by William Wroth 


Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives [Library of Congress]

The Dust Bowl by Ken Burns: Photo Gallery [PBS]

America's Great Depression and Roosevelt's New Deal [Digital Public Library of America]

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top Circulating Food & Crafts Books

The Yellow Books, 1887 . Fine Art. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 18 May 2016.
“Knowledge is like money: To be of value it must circulate, and in circulating it can increase in quantity and, hopefully, in value.”
― Louis L'Amour, Education of a Wandering Man  

In the library, "circulation" means a lot of things.  What's sometimes called the "library card desk" is also known as "circulation".  When we look at a book's record, we count how many times it has checked out as its "circs". The library's collection floats (items checked out at one branch and returned at another stay at the branch at which they are returned), but its items circulate.

Right now, the days are getting shorter and colder, and our minds are turning to eating and crafts as we prepare to hibernate by a warm fire. Our top circulating food and wine books include the comfort of vegetarian one-dish meals, hearty slow cooking, and nourishing broths, but also touch on one chef's coming of age story, healthy digestion, and a discussion of cooking techniques. Plus, five of the top twenty-five titles hail from the Southwest tradition!

Top Circulating Food & Wine Books

1.  The Pioneer Woman Cooks by Ree Drummond
2. New Mexico Cocktails by Greg Mays
3. Bowl by Lukas Volger
4. Dinner for Two by Julie Wampler
5. The New Mexico Farm Table Cookbook by Sharon Niederman
6. Every Day Super Food by Jamie Oliver
7. The Nerdy Nummies Cookbook by Rosanna Pansino
8. Cooked by Michael Pollan
9. Back to the Kitchen by Freddie Prinze Jr.
10. Joy of Cooking by Irma von Starkloff Rombauer
11. Eat Your Heart Out by Dean Sheremet
12. New Mexico Beer by Jon C. Stott
13. Southwest Slow Cooking by Tammy Biber
14. The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook by Jack Bishop
15. Bone Deep Broth by Taylor Chen
16. Preserving Family Recipes by Valerie J. Frey
17. Baking by Dorie Greenspan
18. Ingredienti by Marcella Hazan
19. Cake by Alysa Levene
20. National Trust Kitchen Cookbook by the National Trust
21. The Pueblo Food Experience Cookbook by Patricia M. Perea
22. Taste and Technique by Naomi Pomeroy
23. Healthy Gut Cookbook by Gavin Pritchard
24 The Forks Over Knives Plan by Alona Pulde
25. 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert

Crochet seems to be the most popular craft around here! People might be less eager to embark on  Thomas Thwaites' "holiday from being human," we imagine, and turn themselves into goats for the holiday season, but it seems like a popular read nonetheless!

Top Circulating Craft Books

1.  DIY Woven Art by Rachel Denbow
2. Knitless by Laura McFadden
3. Supercraft by Sophie Pester
4. Etsy Excellence by Tycho Press
5. We Love to Craft Christmas  by Annabel Wrigley
6. Beginner's Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns by Kate Atherley
7. Becoming  by Cindy Crawford
8. The Flower Chef by Carly Cylinder
9. Japanese Paper Embroidery by Mari Kamio
10. Mandalas to Crochet by Haafner Linssen
11. Knitting Lingerie Style by Joan McGowan-Michael
12. The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering by Valerie McKeehan
13. Inventive Weaving on a Little Loom by Syne Mitchell
14. Quilting For the Absolute Beginner by Cheryl Owen
15. GoatMan by Thomas Thwaites
16. A-Z of Embroidery Stitches 2 by Country Bumpkin
17. The Quilt Block Bible by Rosemary Youngs
18. Boho Crochet by Julie Brooke
19. The Flower Workshop by Ariella Chezar
20. Learn to Weave with Anne Field by Anne Field
21. Paracord Fusion Ties by J.D. Lenzen
22. Paper Goods Projects by Jodi Levine
23. Denim by Emma McClendon
24 Crochet Geometry by Shannon Mullett-Bowlsby
25. Designer Crochet by Shannon Mullett-Bowlsby

Do you have a favorite craft book or cookbook you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Book Cover Love: Crowns

The last time I talked about cover trends, I focused on amusement parks. Today, I want to showcase covers that have crowns on them. These covers are gorgeous, and I can't get enough of them. It's hard to pick my favorite cover, but if I have to narrow it down, my two favorites are The Crown's Game and Three Dark Crowns.

Liars and Losers Like Us by Ami Allen-Vath
Bloodtraitor by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes
Cruel Crown by Victoria Aveyard
Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard
Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Saving Hamlet by Molly Booth
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Stars Above by Marissa Meyer
The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye
Broken Prince by Erin Watt

The crown on Saving Hamlet is small, but it's there! What do you think about this trend? Which of these covers do you like the best? Let us know in the comments!

Thursday, October 20, 2016


So I did something wild recently: I took a vacation and did nothing but read. I didn’t leave my house, except for some groceries and to donate a bag of clothes to Goodwill. I didn’t plan to go anywhere with my time off except to the library (twice). I dedicated more than one paid day off work to do little more than make a dent into my to-be-read list. This wasn’t a reader’s retreat — though that dream will happen in the future — but rather, it was a staycation with books. A readcation. My readcation was one of the best decisions I’ve made, and I highly suggest scheduling one for yourself as soon as possible.
~Kelly Jensen, "How To Take a Readcation"


I have been thinking of taking some time off in the fall, but am not able to travel. A staycation is doable - there are plenty of local spots I haven't seen. But then I was reading the Book Riot article about taking a readcation, and I thought - that it's it! That's the one for me. I have been amassing an impressive TBR pile, and a lovely October day seems like a great time to curl up with a good book. And tea. And cats. After all, October just feels literary, ever since I read Anne of Green Gables and Anne said "I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers."

Pick a time that works for you, stock the pantry, hit the library, unplug, get comfy, host a reading party - those are Book Riot's recommendations. (Somebody else suggested trying to plan a book club readcation, if you like the party idea.) There seem to be a lot of book bloggers talking about taking a readcation after the Book Riot post - and certainly lots of hashtag action on Instagram and Twitter - and someone even posited the question If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go for a ‘readcation’? I can't imagine leaving my house, since that's where the books, food, and pajamas are, but maybe you'd like to read on the beach. Or by the Seine. Or in a cabin in the woods. It might actually be easier to unplug in a cabin in the woods, now that I think about it, but I'll stay home for the moment.

I'm hoping that immersing myself in reading will engender a reaction similar to this blogger's:

There’s something about reading that makes you feel more conscious. ...after a few hours of reading every day I feel like the world is drawn in darker outlines and richer colors. It’s definitely the opposite feeling I get from a Netflix marathon. Nothing against Netflix but I can understand what Frank Lloyd Wright meant when he referred to television as chewing gum for the eyes.

Being able to write about my reading adventure here on the blog is definitely a gift, akin to Eleanor Catton's grant to give writers time to read and then write a non-fiction piece about their reading. Shall we begin?


I took a whole week off, and I started with plans of choosing what days I would be reading and logging my reading hours each day. Those plans soon fell by the wayside as I entered vacation mode! I do know I read an average of four hours a day the first couple of days. The picture that accompanies this post is of the books from my TBR which I chose to read, and I got through five of them, plus a couple of library books when I discovered my original choices were a bit too memoir-heavy. Here are the books I read:

Abba Gold by Elisabeth Vincentelli
The library catalog only features one title from the fascinating 33 1/3 series, Fear of Music by Jonathan Lethem. Consider checking it out if you are a music geek - each book is focused on one album, with some of the books being fictional, some non-fiction, explorations of the music. I got Abba Gold for Christmas a few years ago and it did not let me down - I love Abba, and after each chapter I had to go to YouTube and watch the videos. Did you know early Abba videos were directed by Lasse Hallström, who later directed The Cider House Rules and Chocolat?

Chew, Vol. 10: Blood Puddin' by John Layman
Another great entry in this series! These graphic novels are at the edge of my comfort zone, and don't read them while you're eating, but they are fast-paced and imaginative.

My Misspent Youth: Essays by Meghan Daum
This is the book that kickstarted Daum's career back in the 2001, only recently back in print. I particularly enjoyed the piece "Music Is My Bag" and the one about flight attendants, "Inside the Tube." She is also the author of  The Unspeakable And Other Subjects of Discussion. You can also see some of her more recent pieces on her website.

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
This one has a good buzz, positive reviews, and a decent-sized hold list, but somehow I couldn't engage with the action.

The Moth Catcher by Ann Cleeves
I am a huge fan of the Vera Stanhope mysteries, though I know many prefer Cleeves' Shetland series. This one was a solid mystery, with just a few too many mentions of Vera's unprepossessing physical appearance. Have you watched the Vera series on DVD? That came out first in the U.S., and the books have trickled into publication following the show's success.

Ava Gardner: The Secret Conversations by Peter Evans
I found this a little lurid for my taste, though I am a huge Ava Gardner fan - I even went to her museum in North Carolina! This makes an interesting companion to the ultimately more satisfying Ava Gardner: "Love Is Nothing."

Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp
This charming book does for parlourmaids what Mary Poppins does for nannies - both are outsize characters, though Cluny is more whimsical than magical. Margery Sharp is also the author of the Miss Bianca children's book series, which inspired the Disney film The Rescuers.

Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
Another whimsical character, this one modern-day, living in Oregon, and working at a library! This is a slim novel, a fast read, but so very rewarding. Very lyrically written, not a word out of place - it might be my favorite of my readcation books.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
Not my favorite by Allende, and in fact it took me a while to get into it, but in the end I found it enormously affecting. Did you catch her A Word With Writers event at the KiMo last November?

Ultimately, my readcation experience was a lot of fun! I curled up on my couch with my cats and took naps around reading. Because I had the whole week, I did get a little restless and ended up doing some other things that took me out of the house - and at one point got caught out by a friend with no physical book on hand! (I did have a library book on the Kindle app on my phone, though.) If you have a few days off owed to you, or a long weekend coming up, I highly recommended a therapeutic readcation. It does a mind good!