Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Open The Door!



The Virago Modern Classics series so consistently pleases me that it makes the well of the world's good books seem quite bottomless. Part, though not all, of their stock in trade is the elegantly written bildungsroman by someone who then never quite equals her debut, from a time when people somehow made good writing seem a lot more effortless. Catherine Caswell published only one other novel after 1920's Open The Door!, but remained a woman of letters, writing two biographies, most significantly one of D.H. Lawrence of whom she was an early supporter in her role as newspaper critic, and a correspondent to the tune of several hundred letters.
The story itself traces 12-year old Joanna Bannerman to age 30, through a young widowhood and eventual happy remarriage; though it is not a quest simply to get herself hitched, rather a detailed and compelling accounting of her emotional and intellectual awakening generally. Raised in Glasgow in the late 19th century in an evangelical Christian family (a term which carried somewhat different connotations then than now, but still involved a rather narrowly circumscribed worldview and a lot of preaching to the benighted), her father has just died at the outset, an eventuality that then, as in modern American sitcoms, seemed to trigger a more difficult but also somehow more "interesting" time for the children. In 1890s Glasgow, the first order of business is to get to the more cosmopolitan Edinburgh, whence eventually to London.