Thursday, 4 April 2019

Finding Dorothy - Elizabeth Letts SOCIAL MEDIA BLAST

So delighted to be part of the Quercus Books Social Media Blast for this engaging tale.

I never realised that the photo I’d seen several times in books, magazines and online depicting Judy Garland reading The Wizard of Oz with an older lady was showing me the widow of the story’s creator. Somehow it always seemed to me that the Wizard of Oz had always been and always would be, the thought that someone had created it seldom entered my head!

Last month Quercus Books sent me a teaser of Finding Dorothy, a two chapter pamphlet that whetted my appetite for this real thing. 
A novel, although it often read like a biography, so much so that I googled Maud Gage and L. Frank Baum and Maud’s mother!! (They’re all real and have their own Wikipedia pages!)

The book is a delight. In the Afterword the author states ‘Finding Dorothy streamlines Maud and Frank’s life stories, skipping over some events in their long life together.” But when you read it you get the impression of a seamless whole heading towards the cinematic masterpiece that is the Wizard of Oz.

The novel is structured with Maud’s life story unfolding chronologically interspersed with the widowed Maud’s determined intervention in the production of the film. It details her concern for the young Judy Garland. It shows the ways that she dealt with and interacted with various studio personnel in her untiring efforts to ensure that the finished film should match and stay true to her late husband’s story and vision.

To understand that determination and to wholeheartedly approve it clarifies indelibly as you read Maud’s story. From her girlhood in Syracuse through her mother’s desire for her to attain a diploma at Cornell University at a time when few women were achieving academic qualifications, to falling in love with Frank Baum in defiance of her mother’s dreams and raising a family Finding Dorothy paints a picture of a shrewd, yet determined woman, with a heart. 

But inasmuch as this book tell Maud’s story it also tells of the struggle of women in the twilight years of the nineteenth century.

‘Too much control can stunt a girl, sap her of courage, and render her weak.’ was Mathilda Gage’s opinion early in the book. ‘You’re old enough to learn that crying gets you nowhere. If you pinch yourself, it will remind you that it’s better to be strong. When you’re strong, then you can fight.

And fight Maud does, for everything she has, including children after one difficult pregnancy seems likely to prevent her having any more. Supportive and despairing alternately for her mercurial husband and his various enthusiastic ventures you cannot help but admire this feisty lady. Even when the chips are down she doesn’t give in either for her own family or her sister’s. She seems one of those rare people who can summon optimism when they most need it, ‘Was it possible? Was there really somewhere else -  somewhere at the far end of the rainbow that was better than this place? She certainly hoped so.’

She’s wise too and offers her sagacity to the young Judy Garland, ‘Magic isn’t materializing out of nowhere. Magic is when a lot of people all believe in the same thing at the same time, and somehow we all escape ourselves little bit and we meet up somewhere, and just for a moment, we taste the sublime.’

Frank’s idealism  grated a little at times and I felt Maud’s frustration but I also loved his unwavering love for his wife and family and the enthusiasm for all of his schemes. 

The insights into Judy Garland and her motivations are fascinating and illuminating. Fans of the star will enjoy these sections immensely.

The book also allows us a glimpse into the cultural and sociological climate of nineteenth century USA. How challenging life could be and how things could turn on a sixpence - or maybe a dime. Interesting too are the chapters which deal with the film, surely of interest to those who love that film and the history of filming in general. 

I am prompted to wonder how people who might not be familiar with the film will respond to the book? I imagine that is a minority and it’s certainly not an age thing. My friend’s two year old granddaughter accompanied by a three year old cousin regularly clamour to watch the film. They love it. But is a love of the film crucial to an appreciation of this book? I don't believe so. Part historical, part biographical it may be of interest to students of the womens’ moment, very topical currently. Certainly it’s an engrossing read. Elizabeth Letts has a fluent style and what also shines through is her love of the film and her admiration for the lady she is writing about,

My thanks to Ella Patel and Quercus Books for the opportunity to read this crock of gold. 

Please check out what these other amazing bloggers have to say about the book.

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