A place to call home: Howards End

Early on in “Educating Rita” the heroine characterizes Howards End as “one crap book.”   When I heard that line, I mentally crossed Howards End off my books-to-read list.    Rita is a funny and engaging character so if she said the book was crap, then crap it must be.  Ten years later, I saw the Merchant-Ivory film and realized I might have been hasty.  More than twenty years have lapsed since then and I am still rereading Howards End, both on paper and as an e-book.  It’s a best friend of a book and I can’t believe I nearly missed it.

Howards End is about many things but mainly its about the connections we have, the connections we make and how they affect our lives.  To begin with, two English sisters named Helen and Margaret Schlegel bump into an English family named Wilcox when they’re all on holiday in Germany.   If these two upper-middle class families had stayed in England, they probably would have stayed strangers since, beyond nationality, they haven’t much in common.  The Schlegels live in London and spend their time supporting progressive causes and the arts, (In American terms they would probably be called liberal elites) because they inherited most of their income.   The Wilcoxes live in the country, are very conservative and are still building their wealth from their own business ventures.  But meet they do and conflicts begin to spark.  Then Helen Wilcox accidentally walks off with the umbrella of a poor clerk named Mr. Bast and he follows her home to get it back.   The third element falls into place and all of their lives will change.

There are other connections in the book (such as Mrs. Wilcox’s emotional bond to her home, the house named Howards End) but when people talk about this novel, they mean something else when they use the  phrase “Only Connect”.   It’s Margaret Schlegel’s plea for everyone to recognize we are all human with good and bad traits. That’s hard to do when we classify people by their backgrounds, their income or their political beliefs.  I’d like to quote the book here:

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die. 


Seen from Margaret’s point of view, it seems to me we tend to live fragmented lives.  The lawyers tend to hang out with lawyers, teachers with teachers, etc., and while that’s reasonable (they have a lot in common) it can also be isolating.  Taken past a certain point and we can forget the “other fellow” has a reasonable point.  Take it even further and groups of people are designated “less than human” and genocide begins.

  But Howards End is not a sermon or a philosophical discussion, it a story with wonderful characters.  There is gentle humor here (every family has their own version of sweet but clueless Aunt Juley or a bossy Mr. Wilcox) and love for the English countryside because the author, E. M Forster loved the Hertfordshire country he lived in as a child.  I understand the fictional house, Howards End, is based on private home named Rooks Nest House.  What lucky people live there now!

  For Howards End is about a home, not just another house.  A home that protects and nurtures those that live in its walls and seems almost to take a hand in determining who will own and care for it.  It’s a home that transcends time touching ancient history in the ancient wych-elm beside the house and accommodating the future with the newer improvements.  In other words, it’s a home for everyone.  Where everyone can connect.

At the Other End of the Timeline: Tensy Farlow & the Home for Mislaid Children

I like literary archetypes.   To me, they’re the puzzle pieces a person can assemble to understand the canon of Western Literature.   Anti-heroes, tricksters, mentors and shadows are all wonderful but my favorite is the orphan-hero.   His search is for home, his judgments are his own and like all archetypes he/she morphs to reflect the values of whatever era he’s created in.**  If yesterday’s Oliver Twist lives at one end of the Hero/Orphan timeline, then Tensy Farlow in Tensy Farlow & the Home for Mislaid Children resides at the other.

As I said yesterday, Oliver is a sweet kid and everyone’s victim.  Graceful and sympathetic beyond his circumstances, his victory is in surviving long enough to be rescued by kind adults.   Well, that’s fair, given Victorian Times.  Unprotected kids were nature’s victims and the best any of them could hope for is a reasonable adoption.   But that’s not very heroic.

Orphan heroes in today’s take charge of their own fates and everyone else’s.   They’re brave, caring individuals who stand up to tyrants, tall and small, and they often rescue the adults.  I realized this a few years ago when I was working on a long research paper tracing the evolution of Orphan/Heroes.   I noticed these orphans advanced from being victims to adventurers, then promising proto-citizens to redeemers and  usually the male characters advance a bit in front of the girls.   As I got to the end of my search, I found lots of orphan boy heroes rescuing the world with bravery, super powers, and what-not, but I couldn’t find any recent corresponding girls.  There were supporting girl characters but not a center heroine that fit the bill.  Then I found Tensy Farlow, a heroine for the contemporary fantasy age.

When Albie Gribble finds the abandoned Tensy in a pile of laundry, all he sees is an abandoned  baby girl.  He doesn’t know Tensy is being looked for, which is all to the good.  You see, each  human in Tensy’s world has a guardian angel to keep as much evil at bay as possible..  Unfortunately, some angels do their job better than others.  Some angels are forgetful or forgotten and some angels become demons, opening the world for wickedness.   And, although Tensy Farlow can see guardian angels, no spirit looks after her.  Tensy has no angel at all.

Tensy Farlow & the Home for Mislaid Children is a children’s novel in the same literary vein as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Graveyard Book.   In other words, the setting is a bit gothic, most of the characters have odd English-sounding names (like Howard Humberstone and Matron Pluckrose) and very improbable things happen.  Like many fantasy books, it has the eternal struggle between good and evil but the the hope of redemption is not a ring-bearing hobbit or a wand-waving wizard.  Instead, the fate of the universe comes to rest on the bony shoulders of a  orphan girl with flyaway red. curly hair, especially good eyesight and a mind of her own.  Trust me, she’s somebody special.

For anyone who thought Children’s fantasy stopped with J. K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket or Neil Gaiman, take a look at this book from Australia.   It’s worth the look.  You could end up believing in angels.

** If I tend to use male pronouns in talking about universal types, that’s how I was taught during a less-enlightened century.  I hope I make it clear that as far as archetypes go, I believe neither gender has a monopoly, nor should they.  Fiction, in my opinion, should be the last place to accept limitations.

The Villans of Oliver Twist

Full disclosure:  I love the novel Oliver Twist but I can’t say I love the title character.  He cries far to easily for my taste and he’s altogether too sweet for words.   Dickens wanted to show Oliver’s basic gentle nature couldn’t be corrupted by the environment he lived in but basically his protagonist is a Casper Milquetoast.  When people are kind to him, he laps it up and soaks them with tears of joy.   When they are unkind, he leaves and cries on himself.  A very soggy kid, needing someone to rescue and rehydrate him.  Occasionally, Oliver will stand up to a bully but on someone else’s behalf, like his dead mother. In this book it’s a lot easier to like the bad guys.

They have all the best lines in this book.  No one has ever developed supporting characters as thoroughly and lovingly as Charles Dickens and the villains in Oliver Twist are either strong and bad (like scary Bill Sikes) or weak and bad.  You know who the fun ones are, right?

Of course there’s Fagin.  A fence and corrupter of children, Fagin sees himself as the ultimate pragmatist.  People do have a habit of buying things that burglars are likely to steal but that’s not Fagin’s fault.   All he does is take the stolen goods off the burglars’ hands and send them back into the economy to be purchased again.   And he doesn’t put the stray children into London’s streets, does he?  Of course not.  Fagin will tell you, he’s providing a service getting those children shelter (in abandoned, unsafe buildings) and teaching them trades.   All right, he trains them to become petty criminals, but Fagin didn’t criminalize their behavior.  That was the work of Parliament.   That’s our Fagin, the man with a reason for everything.

 Then there is the wonderful Beadle Bumble (you can tell what a bumbling, bumptious oaf he’s going to be with that name) who takes careful inventory of Mrs. Corney’s possessions before he proposes marriage to her.   He’s so pompous and mean to everyone else, you can’t help but cheer when the coy Mrs. Corney becomes his tyrant after marriage.  English majors, feminists and law students all cheer when, apprised that the law assumes a man is in charge of his wife’s behavior, Bumble responds, “ If that’s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor; and the worst I wish the law is that his eye may be opened by experience—by experience.”

The weakest of the bad boys is Noah Claypole, a sniveler if  there ever was one.  He’ll bully half-starved orphans because he’s better fed and knows the names of his parents (That’s all the genealogy Noah knows but it’s enough) but turns up his nose at snatching handbags because old ladies tend to fight back.  Big, bad Noah Claypole has to take ‘the kinchin lay,’ when he becomes a full-time criminal.  That is he steels the errand and pocket money from children who still have their moms.   His zenith is achieved when he becomes a stool-pigeon.

One of the characters that rarely makes it into an adaptation is Charley Bates, a friend of the Artful Dodger and fellow pickpocket.  Charley stands out against the rest of the bad guys because he’s cheerful.  Unlike the saturnine Dodger and Sykes, Charley  spends most of his time laughing.  He’s just as much a pickpocket as the Dodger but Charley can’t help seeing the funny side of life.   When he witnesses the violent side of crime, Charley rethinks his options and becomes an honest man.  

 And then there’s the Artful.   Jack Dawkins, ladies and gents, immortalized forever as The Artful Dodger.   Although he’s not as adorable as Jack Wild portrayed him in the 1960’s musical adaptation (where huge hunks of the story were chopped off) The Dodger steals every possible scene in Oliver’s life story and has to be transported to Australia to keep from absconding with the ending.  He’s cunning, naughty, impudent, deceitful and a wonderful counterpoint to the perpetual victim, Oliver.  

In the end, Twist is a serious story about the effects of poverty and I am glad that the book helped some real people and that the fictional Oliver eventually obtained enough security to stop dripping tears at the drop of a hat.  He deserved a happy ending, as did the poor of Victorian England.   But if Mr. Dickens had written sequels, as so many writers do these days, I wish he had told of Jack’s life in Australia.   The Dodger Down Under would have sold!

Lest we forget: Taylor Caldwell’s The Balance Wheel

Veteran’s Day is coming up and I can’t help thinking about a poem called “Ode of Remembrance” by Laurence Binyon.   It reads (in part)

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

Those verses and this holiday were to memorialize the veterans of the first World War, the war that was supposed to end all the others.  Well, we know what happened after that.  Despite the enormous cost, wars continued to flourish, large and small, and although no one publicly prefers sending soldiers into battle, the soldiers keep being sent.  Taylor Caldwell explores the reasons and pressures that lead in to war in her book, The Balance Wheel.   It’s an old-fashioned novel in many ways but some of its themes are contemporary.

As the balance wheel among four adult brothers, Charles Wittmann is a very busy man.  Most of his time and energy are consumed either managing the tool factory his father created or his siblings, the materialistic Joe, Wilhelm, the aesthete and Fred, a rabble-rousing, proto-Marxist.   What extra time Charles has is devoted to his teen-aged son, Jimmy. When a government representative visits and talks of imminent global conflict, Charles has to broaden his concerns  to protect his family, his business and his town.  

After that, Charles Wittmann caries the burden of Cassandra, able to see his country’s future but unable to change it.  The reader watches the approach of war through his eyes, knowing his efforts for peace will be swept aside in the end as his family gets swept into history

The novel suggests that families and communities are microcosms of the nations they occupy and that war occurs when intelligent, well-meaning governments and leaders don’t actively work (like Charles) to keep peace or resist evil.  That may or may not be true.  What cannot be disputed is that when governments fail in these tasks, it is the citizens who pay.   Treaties can be negotiated or border-lines redrawn, but no agreement can revive sacrificed soldiers.  No general can bring back the dead.

The only ways to honor their sacrifice are to remember the dead and work to keep others from joining their ranks.   (Or, to quote Mother Jones, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”)   The Balance Wheel tries to do both.   It’s not a soldier’s novel like A Farewell to Arms  or All Quiet on the Western Front although the soldiers are in it.  It’s about how everyone loses in wars. It’s one way to remember the Armistice.

Growing up with a Gem: The Domestic Novels of Shirley Jackson

Readers love a seldom-read story or an under-praised author.  To appreciate a less-known work or author is the a mark of a book connoisseur and readers delight in being seen as connoisseurs.    Without knowing it, my sister and I trained to be gourmet readers when we grew reading  the work of an under-appreciated writer.  You may  or may not have heard of Shirley Jackson but do you know about  her books Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons?

When Ms. Jackson’s work is recalled (which isn’t often enough) she is remembered for disturbing tales such as The Haunting of Hill House, We Have Always Lived at the Castle and the short story, “The Lottery”.   These are artful, unsettling, well-constructed narratives that leave the reader with the impression they would not want to meet Ms. Jackson in a dark alley.  The titles Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons may sound like more “tales of terror” but these are something different.  These stories would be called domestic humor.

Now domestic humor has never enjoyed a great reputation.  The same critics that sneered over the pulp paper tales of crime and science fiction in the 1940’s ignored the later stories about raising kids in the suburbs, largely because of it’s female target audience.. And though the detectives and space explorers have finally achieved a certain level of respect from the cognoscenti, domestic humor is still literature’s the unwelcome step-child.  So, like Rodney Dangerfield, this work “gets no respect.” But the snob who derides these books because of their catagory is a fool.

Yes, these are family stories, but they are told without sentiment or saccharine.  If anything, Ms. Jackson’s humor is tart, like a dry summer wine. The children are depicted as fully developed characters with individual voices and opinions.  Also, there’s a faint air of disturbance in these tales.  Blankets disappear at will, imaginary playmates send very real presents and a toddler changes names without notice (I sympathize with the child, now a man, who was Barry, B, Mr. B., Mr. Beekman and finally, Beekman to his family and all the world all before he entered first grade.)  There’s an air of logical lunacy in these stories that is familiar to anyone with children, bureaucracies  or a sense of the absurd.  And the prose is as clean as a whistle.

Like I said, my sister and I were raised on these stories.  At first, our Mom read them aloud, then we read them to ourselves at lunch or to each other for pleasure.  When I left for college, I tried to pack Mom’s collection of Shirley Jackson.  My sis tried the same thing years later but each time Mom stole them back out of our luggage.  That says something, considering Mom would lend us shoes, hose or money.  Her Shirley Jackson’s books were off limits. We had to find our own copies.  We did.  I hope, so will you.

There’s Always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm

So intones Judith Starkadder, at the beginning of Stella Gibbon’s comic masterpiece Cold Comfort Farm.  To Judith Starkadder this statement is a curse and a warning but it’s more of an opening salvo in the war of English novel types.   On one side are the moor, mud and fen school of Novels where the clouds are always lowering, the males are always glowering and life is eternally soiled.  Opposing this school of brooding romantics is the pragmatic, organized and cheerful Flora Poste, a Jane Austen heroine in 1920’s regalia.  Can an intelligent girl with a will of her own “tidy up” the morbid and moribund Starkadders?  Can she overcome their devotion to sukebind and jumping into the well?  And can she break Aunt Ada Doom’s preoccupation about seeing “Something narsty in the woodshed”?

Since this book satirizes many novels that aren’t widely read these days, I worried some readers might not get the joke. However my spouse (who mixes up D. H.Lawrence with T. E. Lawrence) got it immediately so read away.  It’s a hilarious satire of English literature but never mind that.  You’ll love the gloomy Starkadders who live in Cold Comfort Farm and the ridiculous, pedantic Mr. Mybug (his real name is Meyerburg but in rural accents that comes out “Mybug”) who wants to write a book proving the Bronte books weren’t written by three sisters but one brother.  Then you’ll cheer for the breezy heroine who threatens to clean up everything and turn the Starkadders into a semi-functional, if not completely respectable family.  It’s amazing what a determined woman can do.

If you haven’t read, this try it and look for the reasonably faithful film adaptation made in 1995.  And remember, avoid the combination of sukebind and summer evenings if you live in a place called Howling.  You’ll be tempting Nature to make things untidy!

The Book that gave us “The World…”

If you ever run across a group of serious readers,  those people who see books as magic carpets and TARDIS boxes that guide us to understanding, you will always find they accord certain books special significance.   “This book,” they’ll say, “was my world at one time.  This is the book I picked up, read and re-read for weeks.  This book dominated my imagination. It changed the way I looked at life, at least for awhile.  I’m a different person now for reading it then and reading some of it now takes back to when it was new.”  For me, one of those books is The World According to Garp by John Irving.

Garp’s first wave of popularity had already crested when I first picked it up.  It was one of the first “adult” novels I read as an adult.  As a precocious reader I had consumed many adult volumes before then (YA lit was a thing of the future) but I approached those stories from the perspective of a child with parents and authority figures to tried to regulate my reading.  I doubt if any of them would have recommended The World According to Garp .  Luckily, I didn’t have to sneak-read John Irving’s novel once I picked it up but by the came account, I couldn’t skip over the explicit and violent aspects of T. S. Garp’s life just because they were explicit and violent.  There was something about the narrative (like its hero) that demanded acceptance on its own terms. Oh, there’s plenty to laugh about in Garp (Doesn’t the adult life hold laughter?) but it is laughter in the face of experience, not the innocent silliness every age can enjoy.  Actually, one of the themes in The World According to Garp suggests is that laughter is a miracle that occasionally occurs in the face of life’s experiences.  One of the miracles that make us keep living.

Another great lesson in Garp is acceptance.  Garp has to accept his mother’s choices in life, the vagaries of fate, responsibility for his own mistakes, when they come, and the outcome of others’ mistakes as well.  It’s a hard lesson and one I need to relearn from time to time: mistakes are always going to be made.  What we do with that knowledge and how we react to it measures how much joy we allow to stay in our lives.

Garp’s other certainty is death and the last line says “In the world according to Garp, we are all terminal cases.”  Yes, but before there is death, there is life, lots of it, if we’re lucky.  Life, with all of its potential for laughter, sorrows, lunacy, serendipity, ambiguity, tragedy and ennui, perhaps  even transcendence and art.   It’s a heck of a ride, suggests John Irving.  Worth the price, according to Garp.

You Know You Make Me Want to….Shout!

For a now-decreasing segment of the population, the Beatles are a cultural reference point we share.  We grew up learning to twist to “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” or teaching ourselves to play instruments by mastering the licks and leads on their records.   Our parents hated their innovation (My mom snapped off the car radio in the middle of “Hey Jude” when I was 9 moaning, “What will they be playing when you’re in high school?”) but couldn’t deny the brilliance of the words and music.   We didn’t care what they thought and we didn’t understand the source of the brilliance; we just accepted the Beatles when the band existed and missed them after the group broke up.

Almost eleven years after the breakup came Shout, the first book that put the band and the phenomenon they created into a kind of historical/sociological context.  The book would have sold well if it had been published six months earlier: it’s an interesting, well-crafted book and there was a ready audience of hard-core Beatle fans.  Instead it came out in the aftermath of John Lennon’s murder, when much of the world seemed to be grieving and it sold like hot-cakes.  Shout didn’t assuage the emotional pain but it gave the world more information about the group we had loved (and now irrevocably lost) and put that information into historical context.

In a way, Shout became almost a code-breaker for mid-level fans of the Beatles.  (I mean those who loved and played their records but not so obsessed they hunted down the musicians and their family members.)   The references to Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields became clear.  What also became clear were the incredible runs of good and bad luck the band members faced during their chaotic ride into pop-music history.   On the plus side they lucked into a manager who cared about them and a record producer with the skills and imagination to create a lab space for genius.  They also met death and grief long before they knew success and at least some of their initial popularity probably came from two nations needing emotional relief from political scandal and assassination.

Shout‘s best work comes in showing how the world changed with the Beatles if not because of them and how those changes were reflected back in their music.  From the conservative post-war years when adolescence was viewed as phase of being “junior adults” to the late 1960’s when it almost seemed to be the tail wagging the dog of the Western Hemisphere, the Beatles were there, either experiencing it first-hand or writing about it in their music.  Like the rest of us, they were creatures of their upbringing and like most people (I think) they spent their time trying to cope with whatever life brought them.  It’s just that a combination of their talent and circumstances meant they had to cope with problems many of us manage to avoid and they had to do this in the world’s spotlight.

Sometime, long after I have gone, that spotlight will finally dim on the band from Liverpool and Philip Norman’s book will become just another collection of words filed away on some digital shelf.  But until then, people who want to know about the Sixties will take Aaron Copland’s advice and listen to the Beatles.   And people who want to know about the Beatles and the impact they made will read Philip Norman’s Shout.  And that’s all right with me.

The Book that Stays: Jane Eyre

Many people read the Bible throughout their lives.  It teaches and comforts them and never becomes tiring.  I like that kind of relationship with a story, where the characters are so developed and the narrative so strong that the book reveals different strengths as you re-read it at different points in your life.   I suppose the book I’ve had the longest relationship with is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

I first tried reading Jane when I was in junior high, too young to understand most of it.  The part I did understand was the child Jane of the first nine chapters.  Here was a fearsome little girl, capable of attacking a bully or standing up to adults when necessary.  Since I didn’t have the nerve to do either, I loved the little hellion and cheered her on.  I didn’t really understand her friendship with the gentle Helen Burns (like Jane, I have too much original sin to identify with the saint-like Helen) but I was sad to see her go, with an exit that still gives me a chill.  Imagine waking up next to a corpse!

Teens and twenties are high times for romance and that’s when I dwelt in the middle section of Jane Eyre.   Mr. Rochester is one of the mysterious, fascinating bad-boys of gothic literature that shy governess types are drawn to (He may be the prototype for that character) and for awhile I imagined every guy I was attracted to was a Mr. Rochester.  Most of them had nothing in common with Mr. R., especially his lethal secret.  But if you are a guy and you want to know why so many girls are fascinated by bad boys, take a look at Jane Eyre.   The reason shows up in Chapter 12 riding a big black horse.

Like all works of this type, the boy isn’t as much bad as misunderstood and the course of true love eventually runs smooth but the mechanism that gets them there is the spiritual side of Jane Eyre, a part I didn’t begin to understand until my 40’s.   I had read the book many times by that point  (“Yeah, here’s the prayer and pleas to Heaven…I’ll just flip past these exhortations”) but Jane’s reliance on her faith wasn’t something I could identify with until I’d developed some of my own.  Jane learns to set boundaries to protect herself, even with those she loves, and she has to accept she can’t control any actions except her own.  The fact that she does that and refuses to pity herself or act like her life is over when she’s alone makes her a hero of mine.  That’s the kind of character I want to emulate.

Jane Eyre’s story ends when she’s around thirty years old and her creator died at 38, two ages I passed a long time ago.  Still this novel comforts me and the heroine helps me every time I re-read it.  Home seeking and home loving Jane appeals to my domestic side.  Self-sustaining, courageous and independent Jane reminds me of the women’s movement.  Accepting, spiritual Jane points the way to redemption.  Either way, the lady is far ahead of me and I always enjoy hearing her story.  Jane Eyre isn’t the Bible but it’s a book worth reading.  It’s a book that stays.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

I may not believe in fate but I do believe in Serendipity, that sunny-natured cousin between Destiny and Coincidence.  I’ve benefited from too many “happy accidents” in my life to believe otherwise.  My “best friends”, my husband, my home and my career all appeared when I was ready to find them, usually long after I had quit looking.  Some of the books I love presented themselves the same way but the first time I recognized this was when I found, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.

 I was around twelve, a bit old for the book’s target audience, but I was looking for a story to enchant me, preferably set in England and very cheap because I didn’t have much spending money.   Even at that age I’d learned that the cheapest volumes in any bookstore are usually on the classical shelves and that is where I found Joan Aiken’s tale of an alternate England where James II sits on the throne and people shoot attacking wolves from moving trains.  “Wolves” is a thrilling and well-paced kid’s book and very Dickensian in its execution.   The heroes were sympathetic and believable, the villains are terrifying and the characters had the most evocative names: imagine a governess named Miss Slighcarp, searching the rooms of a country estate while the mysterious Mr. Grimshaw lurks in the library.  Standing in the bookstalls, I felt like I had been transported into some Victorian version of the board game “Clue.”  I had fallen in love.

I still love the book although I see the influences more readily.  Besides the Dickens,  there’s a Bronte influence in the plot as well as a touch of Roald Dahl. That’s part of what makes it good   and I’d bet Wolves influenced its share of contemporary “kid-lit” writers like Rawlings, Gaiman and Lemony Snicket.  By the way, if you manage to lay hands on a copy, try to find the one with the red/black/white cover drawn by Edward Gorey.   The drawing is a perfect match.

Wolves is the first in a series of stories Joan Aiken published about this alternate universe but I never found the sequels as interesting, mainly because they didn’t go back to the two heroines of Willoughby Chase, Bonnie and Sylvia Green.   I may go back and try them again but few things can match the happy accident of that day in Dodge City, Kansas when I reached out in hope and picked up The Wolves of Willoughby Chase.   I can only compare this to baseball: this story ripped the cover off the ball and sent the cork center to bounce somewhere past the parking lot.