Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mrs. Macbeth Reads Mr. Skeffington

Call me Mrs. Macbeth. The basement is flooded. And all the fumes of popular cleansers couldn’t freshen the damp basement. Not the stinging whiff of Lysol, nor the chemical floral scent of Febreeze. We’ve swabbed the puddles and turned on the dehumidifier but the damp wafts upstairs and all the clothes now smell like basement.

I've been too busy to read much this weekend, what with the washing mania and all, but I did read Elizabeth von Arnim’s short, pithy Mr. Skeffington. This charming novel is the lightest of comedies, the tale of a woman’s coming of age at 50. A different kind of coming of age: the charming Fanny Skeffington, a London beauty, has lost her looks after an illness and fears that her 50s will hold only horrors. Her awareness of aging coincides with frequent sightings of the ghost of her ex-husband, Job Skeffington, which drive her, unnerved, to seek advice from a "women's doctor" who hates women and abuses her for being single- and Fanny, thank God, walks out on him. She invents her own treatment, to visit men from her past for reassurance. Her ex-suitors include a sychophantic Oxford undergraduate; a misogynist priest; a rigid, narcissistic judge; and a wealthy, poetry-loving lord who, after Fanny dumped him, married a younger woman and started a family. Her adventures bring back different aspects of her self and past. Upset that she has lost her allure for men, she realizes that she has outgrown her need for these particular men's approval. She has had nothing but her beauty to rely on and understands that she has no inner resources. Von Arnim comments not only on beauty but on money and prejudice against Jews (Mr. Skeffington is a Jew): she isn't sappy and ends this with a twist. It's amusing, though not nearly as entertaining as Enchanted April or The Caravaners.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

You've made me want to read Von Armin more than any one has before. I've been told again and again to read _Enchanted April_ and _Elizabeth and Her Garden_ and I have one of them, but never have taken it down. Your account of _Mrs Macbeth_ reminded me of Carol Shields whose books I have thus far loved.