Dottie B. (Louisville, KY)
Review of The Typewriter's Tale
The Typewriter's Tale is an enjoyable novel especially for readers who know something of the famous James siblings—Henry, William, and Alice. In the process of rewriting his novels for a new edition, Henry James is one of the novel's central characters. The author of The Typewriter's Tale Michiel Heyns gives the word "typewriter" two meanings—the machine itself as well as the person who takes dictation and types for a living. That character is Frieda Wroth from whose point of view the novel is told. As Mr. James's "typewriter," she is privy to the everyday occurrences in the household, including the entertaining of Henry's guests. Thus the reader gets acquainted not only with the habits of Henry James but also those of his frequent guests, Edith Wharton, Morton Fullerton, and finally Hugh Walpole. We learn about Henry's problems with the publishing industry, about the eating habits of several members of the James family, and about how Frieda's spiritualism operates via the machine as she imagines conversations with Morton Fullerton. The novel is not fast paced yet is a compelling read.
Janis H. (Willow Street, PA)
A new meaning to watching paint dry
Michiel Heyns reincarnates Henry James's 1907 Garden Room, where he dictates his novels to Frieda Wroth, The Typewriter, at Lamb House in Rye, England. Written in Jameson style complete with compound complex sentences and vocabulary, which SAT Prep students should appreciate, and I might add, punctuated correctly, as I know for certain because I checked the online website OWL from Purdue University, Heyns employs subtle humor to develop the multi-layered Frieda, the manipulative Morton Fullerton, and the flamboyant Edith Wharton. Suffragettes emerge in the background urging women to fight for equality, but the choices are few; hence encouraged by Aunt Frederica, Frieda, "whose future, though very indefinite, had never included a vision of 'taking dictation' that would deprive her of any independent agency," and the "chronic regard of Mr Dodds, an apothecary, whose placid courtship as well as his persistent odor of the tincture of iodine she had been fleeing, graduates from the Young Ladies Academy of Typewriting.
"The worst part of taking dictation is the waiting." (First line in book) "at the point from which the school-child, comma, with eyes raised to the wall, comma, gazes at the part-colored map of the world. Full stop." . . . "she clattered obediently after him, then halted, while he continued his treading of the carpet." Then, the dashing Morton Fullerton, a long time friend of James, bursts unannounced through the doors of the Garden Room, and Frieda is smitten.
At this point I realized two important facts: I was smitten with the Mr. Heyns's writing; and I wanted to peek into the mind of Henry James whose works I have not given much thought in the past forty years.
I conclude that I could have researched more about Edith Wharton, but why dispel the fond memories I have of her characters, that I am not sure of the accuracy of Mr. Heyns's portrayal of her and Morton Fullerton, although I do recall mention of their affair from past readings. Neither I am not sure if Mr. James would have been so easily duped by their actions and their use of him.
What is most important about The Typewriter's Tale is Frieda's coming of age. The effects of her betrayal to Mr. James weighed heavily on me throughout the book. Her telepathic communication with Mr. Fullerton via the machine, the typewriter, not the person Miss Wroth, and her interpretation of his physical silence after their afternoon fling in the local hotel was both sad and humorous. The mutual understanding of Frieda and James at the novel's conclusion reaffirmed Henry James brilliance and Frieda's awareness of herself.
It takes a committed reader to accept The Typewriter's Tale pace, its structure, and vocabulary usage. I admit that I did have to reread some paragraphs and check the meanings and part of speech of some of the vocabulary; but, the quasi love triangle of Wroth, Fullerton, and Wharton, the mutterings of the James's servants, and the recognition of some of the phrases from his novels create an interesting trip back to the 19th century.
I did enjoy the book.
Carol T. (Ankeny, IA)
If you are fond of Henry James, you'll find The Typewriter's Tale to be just the ticket; full of long, delicious, delectable sentences, themselves filled with admirable adjectives, fulsome feelings, and sensitive sensibilities. A good weekend's read.
Portia A. (Monroe Township, NJ)
Fact and Fiction Mixed
The book is centered around the young woman who was employed by Henry James as his typewriter, (the transcriber, not the machine). In the story she is Frieda Wroth, in reality she was Theodora Bosanquet. Most of the characters who appear were real people and my experience was much enhanced by the use of Google to understand who they were.
The author has mixed fact with fiction to write a very good book.
Viqui G. (State College, PA)
An Independent Typewriter
I enjoyed this charming novel, set in the early 1900s, once I got "into" the writing style that author Heyns adopts from Henry James. Frieda Wroth, the Typewriter, is a bright and talented young woman from limited means who is eager to experience a world beyond the confines of Rye and Mr James' employment. She falls in love with the charming Mr. Fullerton very quickly and then chooses to interpret his actions and inactions with a skewed sense of reality. As a result, she makes a few bad decisions, but she finds her moral compass at the end.
The story is complicated with a lot of delightful dry humor. As a reader I was rooting for Frieda and I was relieved that Frieda eventually chose the "right" actions. This would be a great read for a literary book club.
Cheryl P. (Lebanon, PA)
The Typewriter's Tale
Thoroughly entertaining front cover to cover.
Patricia L. (Seward, AK)
The Typewriter Spews
"…nothing inhibited Mr. James as painfully as the need for conciseness…" laments his typewriter, 23 year old Frieda Wroth. In 1908 rural England, Frieda is employed by Mr. James to transform his dictation to written word by means of the new invention by Remington, typewriter referring to the person who uses the mechanism rather than the modern application of the word to define the machine itself. Frieda, being the person most qualified to comment on Mr. James penchant for wordiness due to the nature of her position.
Heyns, a South African English professor and James expert, has written a novel from the perspective of the typewriter, who Mr. James assumes to be a tool to make his writing task more efficient. Yet, the typewriter is privy to all comings and goings in the rustic abode and gets caught up in the trite intrigues that appear to have occupied Mr. James and his literary colleagues when not attending to their creative profession.
The best, though for some quite possibly the worst, aspect of The Typewriters Tale is the verbose nature of the prose. "These great cosmopolitan caravanserais combine in the most absorbing way in the world an air of cynical lawlessness and extreme fastidiousness; one feels they would countenance everything except one's being late for breakfast." is but one example. Heyns has considerable depth of knowledge about Henry James and utilizes it to craft a rather ordinary story. But his understanding of James artistic talent of molding the English language into feasts of words is coveted. This book is recommended for those who enjoy gorging on the language used to create the story as opposed to supping on the tale.