(image from The Beloved Woman)
Google Books (and Project Gutenberg, too) now has quite a few novels from one of my favorite guilty pleasures, Kathleen Norris. (Not the Kathleen Norris who is a poet and essayist, and who is still alive, but the Kathleen Norris who was the most popular women's novelist of the 1930s and 1940s (selling 10,000,000 books), peace activist, and early woman journalist.)
All her novels revolve around the same romantic linchpin: that marriage is sacred (she was a devout Catholic). I may snort at the plots that seem to tie up neatly with the convenient death of the bounder who is making the heroine unhappy (or, conversely, with the heroine's selfless realization that the bounder is her burden to bear and that her happiness will come, masochistically, from cooking that same burden hot dinners) but I really read them for her wonderful descriptions of the clothes and food of California society from the turn of the last century to the 1940s.
Ella thought her handsome, in a rather bold, savage way. Victoria was dark and rosy, with flashing eyes and [a] vivacious, almost nervous manner. She wore a dress of dark blue cloth trimmed about the high collar and wide cuffs and about the thick panniers of the skirt with scallops of gray silk, and a high straw turban turned back sharply from the face with two triangles of brim and massed with roses. This somewhat elaborate dress was snugly fitted into a narrow waist line; Victoria wore tan kid gloves, and high scalloped boots of tan kid. Her forehead, like her mother's, was covered with curled hair, and bangles jangled on her wrists, about her neck was a long gold chain that held the little watch that was thrust into her bosom. She was twenty-one.
"'Cucumbers, olives, salted nuts, currant jelly'", Mrs. Carew was
reading her list, "'ginger chutney, saltines, bar-le-duc, cream
cheese', those are for the salad, you know, 'dinner rolls, sandwich
bread, fancy cakes, Maraschino cherries, maple sugar,' that's to go
hot on the ice, I'm going to serve it in melons, and 'candy'–just
pink and green wafers, I think. All that before it comes to the
actual dinner at all, and it's all so fussy!"
Norris has a way of writing about dimity ruffles and oyster stew and silk "Chinese" pajamas that engender such a longing for you in those articles that it's hard not to book the first seat on the next train (not plane, mind you) to San Francisco, where, in her books, all these things are in such oversupply that it's the rare young woman who doesn't have at least two, if not all three, in her possession. If you have a little time (and don't mind reading on-screen) go ahead and click.
And, in fundraising news, a couple of folks have asked me to set up a Paypal button to donate; I don't mind doing so — are there other people interested? If the widget below doesn't work for you, here's the link directly to the ChangingThePresent page …we're up to $1000! Thank you!