Library Book Group member Margaret Cain asks: Could these stay-at-home times be an excellent opportunity to discover some less familiar classic authors?
With bricks-and-mortar libraries across the authority closed, I’m pleased to report there are several sources of digital ebooks that are free to download:
- Quite a few are available free to library users through the Library Service –www.wokingham.gov.uk/libraries/library-services/e-books
- Project Gutenberg – www.gutenberg.org – hosts a library of over 60,000 ebooks, digitised by volunteers.
- Girlebooks – http://girlebooks.com/ – publishes classic and contemporary ebooks by American and British female writers.
Together, they offer more books than you could read in a lifetime, so they’ll certainly see you through the lockdown, however long it lasts!
Project Gutenberg and Girlebooks specialise in out-of-copyright books; you won’t find anything post-1950. Both offer different download formats, including text and pdf, so you don’t have to be a Kindle owner to download a book.
Neglected literary treasures
Between them, these sites cover all the usual suspects: Hardy, Austen, Trollope, the Bröntes, Dickens… but could I also put in a plea for some of the lesser known authors available on their platforms?
Often when you embark on ‘a forgotten classic’, you soon see why it has been forgotten! But in the Classics Book Group, which normally meets once a month at Wokingham Library, we have really enjoyed downloading and reading authors sometimes overlooked as being in ‘the second division’; among them:
- Edith Wharton – We’ve all heard of Henry James but possibly not his contemporary and friend. From the rural poverty of ‘Ethan Frome’ to New York high society in ‘Age of Innocence’, her range is remarkable. By the way, it’s said that the idiom ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ was coined for her wealthy family.
- E.M. Delafield – Perhaps you have enjoyed the ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ series, but have you read her much more sombre ‘Consequences’? It’s about the constrained life of Alex, a typical upper middle class girl in the late 19th century, who opts out of the marriage market by bravely reneging on the only marriage proposal she is ever likely to receive.
- George Gissing – As well as the fairly famous ‘New Grub Street’, Gissing wrote the marvellous ‘The Odd Women’. Published in 1893, the novel takes as its subject the excess of one million women in Victorian England in the shape of the Madden sisters, raised with no way of earning a living, and Rhoda Nunn, a ‘new woman’.
- Arnold Bennett – Bennett’s works look at the everyday life of Potteries folk in the Victorian Midlands. I particularly enjoy ‘Anna of the Five Towns’, which tells of Anna Tellwright’s struggle for independence from her miserly and dictatorial father’s restraints, against the backdrop of a Methodist revival.
- Katherine Mansfield – In the early 20th century, this young New Zealand writer was a pioneer of the modern short story form. Virginia Woolf said hers was the only writing she was ever jealous of. I find Mansfield the more accessible, yet equally innovative, writer. The Katherine Mansfield Society makes her often poignant stories available as pdfs: https://www.katherinemansfieldsociety.org/short-stories-by-katherine-mansfield/
Some of these authors’ chosen themes – the woman question, class, poverty, blighted lives – may not make for the most uplifting subject matter, but they are immersive reads. This makes them the perfect retreat for anyone wanting to step out of our present troubling times for a while.