Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Romance of a Shop

After finishing The Story of an African Farm I moved onto another female author of the ‘New Woman’ movement (late 1800s); Amy Levy. I read her novel The Romance of a Shop (278 pages) and found it to be a rather interesting story.

Many of the aspects of the novel gave me a feeling of Jane Austen. This was mostly due to the characters themselves; however, many of them managed to break away from the somewhat submissive female character type that fills Austen’s novels. The Romance of a Shop accurately captures the struggle women faced during this time to find their place between the domestic expectations from others and professional wants of themselves. This isn’t just captured by the action of the story alone but by the four main characters; Gertrude, Phyllis, Lucy, and Franny Lorimer. The Lorimer sisters all embody different elements of the transitions women where undergoing at that time; from domesticated Fran, to entrepreneurial Getrude.

I think the one reason this book was so great to me, personally, was the fact that it was centered around establishing a photography business. As an avid-photographer it seemed to be more interesting to me than if, say, the book had been built around four women establishing an animal shelter for abandoned budgies! The photography business backdrop allowed me to become more engrossed into the trial and tribulations of the sisters.

Like the Olive Schreiner book in my last post, this was a Broadview edition of the novel and had another of those terribly dry and lengthy introductions. However, knowing how it affected my reading of the previous book I made sure I didn’t worry too much about getting bogged down with it; and how happy I was to not!

My only qualm (and don’t I always need to have one?) was the final half a page of the book (pre-epilogue). I was thoroughly happy that, up to that dreadful half-page, Levy had allowed one of her main protagonists (it could be argued the main protagonist) to be left in a very unhappy state and it would have fit very nicely into the novel; showing the struggles of women during this time and proving that a happy ending wasn’t always in store for those setting the foundations for future women. Instead of doing that, Levy took those final few short paragraphs and established a miraculous happy ending. I spit on your happy ending Amy Levy! That being said, it was counteracted by her making a bold move and killing off one of her main characters rather unexpectedly; I shall give you your due for that Miss Levy.

All in all, this is a very good ‘New Woman’ novel and I quite enjoyed reading it. Although completely different than The Story of an African Farm it still managed to capture the same sort of struggles that change inevitably creates.

On a side note;

I mentioned in my last post that I would write again if the Appendix of The Story of an African Farm changed anything for me and the answer is; it did!

One of the Appendices attached to the back of Schreiner’s novel contained one of her very short pieces; Dreams.

This is a very allegorical piece regarding the progression of women in her age and into the future. The piece itself was very interesting to read, both from a literal image-based level but also its rooted themes. However, it wasn’t the piece I wanted to focus on but the fact that it allowed me to better appreciate the allegorical elements of The Story of an African Farm that I somewhat took for granted during my reading of the novel.

So apparently those big Appendices are worth a read after all!

The edition I read was ISBN: 1-55111-566-2

Levy, Amy. The Romance of a Shop. Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2006. Print.

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