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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Little K and Jane

The True Memoirs of Little K
By Adrienne Sharp
FSG, 2010

This novel is about the life of Mathilde Kschessinka, Russian prima ballerina and mistress of Czar Nicholas II. Narrated by Mathilde--"Little K" as she was affectionately known--the story follows her early life in the royal ballet on through the Russian revolution of 1905. Her father was also a dancer and under his direction, she became famous for her on (and off) stage performances. As a member of the royal ballet, she enjoyed being the center of society, with all of the perks that the tsar could bestow, including invitations to royal dinners and access to the young royal son. Thus began Little K’s infatuation and obsession with Nicholas II, and her determination to become his wife despite her lack of royal blood, including bearing his son out of wedlock. Her efforts are in vain, for of course Nicholas and his family are murdered, and Little K must find a way to escape with her son to the safety of Paris, where she is left with her memories of a glamorous and sad life gone by.

Other books by this author:
White Swan, Black Swan: Stories (2001)
First Love (2005)

Jane Eyre
By Charlotte Bronte

In early nineteenth-century England, an orphaned young woman accepts employment as a governess and soon finds herself in love with her employer, Mr. Rochester, who has a terrible secret.

After a traumatic and unhappy childhood as an unwanted ward of her aunt, Jane is sent away to school, where she finally makes friends and learns the attributes of honesty, dignity and self-esteem. Although she is considered to be “below” Mr. Rochester’s station, they fall in love and intend to marry when suddenly Jane becomes aware of his terrible secret. Unwilling to compromise her own values, Jane runs away and starts over again in another village, but she can’t forget Mr. Rochester and the life she could have had with him. Despite some initial misgivings over her decision to leave, Jane soon realizes she chose the right path until a series of events causes her to return to Mr. Rochester and check his well-being.

Other books by this author:
Shirley (1908)

I read these two titles very close together and couldn’t help but compare the characters of Jane Eyre and Little K. Although they lived more than a century apart and in different countries, they have much in common. They were both strong women who defied the accepted norms of their day and lived their lives the way they believed was right for them. They both had obstacles to overcome and people who disapproved of their actions, but each woman persevered despite opposition and did the right thing for herself at the time. Neither one was false to herself, and in her own way, did what she needed to do to survive.

But, the real question is: did I like either one of them? No, I did not, and for different reasons. Little K was a schemer and manipulator, always working out how to get her own way with Nicholas and other members of the government so often that she became distasteful to me as a character. Jane, on the other hand, was so “good” and righteous in her own belief system that I became inpatient with her inflexibility. At the same time, I admired both for their strong opinions and determination to get what they wanted, even if they both should have gone about it a different way – Little K by being more genuine and caring, and Jane by being more self-focused and impulsive.

Rating for both novels:

Other books you may enjoy:
The Kitchen Boy by Robert Alexander (2003)
Presents a novel based on the 1918 Bolshevik revolutionary murder of Czar Nicholas II and the rest of the Russian royal family as told from the perspective of the event's only surviving witness, a young kitchen boy.

Mistress Shakespeare by Karen Harper (2009)
Her engagement to William Shakespeare broken by his forced marriage to a pregnant Anne Hathaway, Anne Whateley pursues a clandestine affair with the bard that is complicated by Elizabeth I's campaign to eradicate Catholicism.

The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jane Rhys (1966)
In a prequel to Jane Eyre, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway lives in Dominica and Jamaica in the 1830s before she travels to England, becomes Mrs. Rochester, and goes mad.

The Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt (1991)
A young Victorian girl accepts a position as governess at Mellyn Manor, an estate shrouded in rumors of mystery and murder.

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