The Light that Failed – Rudyard Kipling

I haven’t read much Kipling. I’ve never been very interested in his themes & the subjects of his books. I suppose I’ve been influenced by his reputation as the poet of the Empire & associated him with the jingoistic poem by Newbolt, Vitai Lampada, with the famous line, “Play up! play up! & play the game!” comparing war with a game of cricket. So, when my 19th century book group chose The Light that Failed as our next book, I wasn’t very enthusiastic.On the other hand, I’ve discovered some real gems through this group & there was a lovely new edition of the book by Victorian Secrets, so I put aside my prejudices & started reading.

The Light that Failed is Kipling’s first novel & is based on incidents from his own life. I knew a little about Kipling’s miserable childhood as I’d read a biography of his mother, Alice MacDonald, & her sisters who all married famous Victorians (A Circle of Sisters by Judith Flanders). Kipling & his sister, Trix, were sent home to England from India by their parents as so many children were at that period. They were sent to board with a woman who exploited them & mistreated them. All Kipling’s experience as a miserable little boy is evident in the first chapter of The Light that Failed. Dick & Maisie, two children boarded with uncaring Mrs Jennett, find happiness in escaping together to play with a revolver on the beach near their home. It sounds dangerous but the nearest thing to tragedy is that Maisie’s pet goat eats a few cartridges. Both children have parents or guardians far away but can only rely on each other as allies. Eventually Dick goes to school, only returning in the holidays & Maisie is sent to France by her guardians for further education. Dick & Maisie plan for their futures & Dick, already in love with Maisie, decides that they will always be together.

Some years later, Dick is an artist, working for a newspaper as a war correspondent with his closest friend, the writer, Torpenhow. He’s knocked around the world a bit but his talents as an artist are finally being recognized &, on his return from the Sudan, he becomes quite famous. He meets Maisie again, quite by accident, & discovers that she is also learning to paint. Dick has never forgotten Maisie & expects that they will pick up their relationship where they left off as children. Maisie, however, is quite cool & uncommitted. She is sharing a flat with a red-haired girl (we never know her name) & studying art. Dick pursues her, visiting on Sundays to criticise her work but his love is not returned.

Dick’s success goes to his head for a while & he starts producing potboilers instead of the work that Torpenhow & his other friends believe he is capable of. Dick takes Maisie back to their childhood home, to the beach where they’d played & escaped from Mrs Jennett, hoping to spark some response in her but this also fails. While they’re on the beach, Dick watches a ship sailing off to Australia & starts to get itchy feet. Maisie is completely uninterested in his plans, although she is sympathetic & pities him while being unable to return his feelings. She certainly has no intention of accompanying him on his travels & sets off for France with her flatmate to study.

While Maisie is away, Dick starts to experience trouble with his eyes & learns that he’s going blind, the result of an injury he suffered in the Sudan during the war. He refuses to tell Maisie & begins work on what he believes will be a great picture. Just as he finishes it, he loses his sight. Torpenhow cares for him when he falls into a fever & discovers the story of Dick’s love for Maisie from his ravings, which Dick had kept secret from his friends. Dick descends into misery & self-pity, desperate at the loss of his vocation & determined that Maisie shouldn’t feel obliged to marry him now that he’s helpless. Torpenhow puts his career on hold but, eventually, he has to set off for another war zone. Before he leaves, he goes to France to find Maisie & tell her what has happened.

The Light that Failed was a qualified success when it was published in Lippincott’s Magazine in 1891 with a happy ending which was not what Kipling had originally written. It was published as a book soon after with the ending we have here. Over the next few years it was reprinted several times with either the sad or happy ending but the 1892 standard edition which has been reprinted by Victorian Secrets is the book as Kipling intended.

The reviews were mixed. It was praised for the “good touches of character, excellent bits of description, deep knowledge of a certain kind of life.” But other reviewers were repulsed by “the pretentious brutality, the obtrusive and cynical coarseness, and the calculated sourness of its tone.” I thought it was a fascinating book, influenced not only by Kipling’s childhood but also by an unhappy ten year love affair he had with Florence Garrard, who was the inspiration for Maisie. The scenes in the war zone are beautifully done & also the scenes of Dick’s wandering in Egypt after he parts company with Torpenhow & his newspaper work before he returns to London to begin work as an artist.

The relationship of Dick and Maisie is also painfully believable. Paul Fox, in his Introduction to this edition, says that Maisie & the red-haired girl were lovers (as a reflection of Florence Garrard’s lesbian relationships) but I didn’t see that. There’s even some evidence that the red-haired girl falls in love with Dick. I thought that Maisie had been so damaged by her loveless childhood that she was almost incapable of returning Dick’s feelings or of sustaining any kind of relationship. Dick has held on to the idea of Maisie through all the lonely years they’ve spent apart & when they meet again, he assumes they will pick up their relationship from where they left off as children. Even back then, it was Dick telling Maisie that he loved her. Maisie allowed herself to be loved & she hasn’t changed when they meet again as adults.

The Light that Failed is a fascinating insight into the way that a writer uses his personal experiences as the basis for fiction. An author’s first novel is often based on their own life, especially when they begin writing at a young age. The Introduction, biography & reviews in this edition were useful in bringing out the connections in Kipling’s life & made it a very rewarding reading experience.

The downside of technology or Why sometimes paper books are best

On Saturday night, I was halfway through reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday on my e-reader. I’d seen the movie, with Ewan McGregor & Emily Blunt, a couple of weeks ago & thought I’d like to read the book as it’s meant to be a little more hard-edged & satirical than the movie, lovely though that was. So, knowing the reservation queue at work was quite long, I bought an e-copy. I turned a page & suddenly the e-reader stopped, the little turning arrows appeared & that was it. I couldn’t switch it off, get back to Home, nothing.

I reset it & got back to Home but now I can’t access any of my purchased e-books. When I tap on them, I just get a message, ERROR Protected by Digital Rights Management. But I’ve bought them, I’ve paid for them, I haven’t pinched or pirated them, they belong to me! I can access my free e-books, no problem.

The User Guide’s Troubleshooting section doesn’t mention this problem. The Sony Australia website was no help. I tried to send a comment but it wouldn’t go. I was told I’d used unauthorised symbols although I’d only used the symbols they approved of like. , ! ? I took out all the punctuation but it still wouldn’t allow me to send my question. I’ve found a Sony Reader Forum so I’ve posted my question there. Fingers crossed.

I’ve also had a problem with the Sony Reader software on my PC. It won’t Sync anymore & Windows just shuts it down. It looks like a Windows problem but Windows doesn’t have a solution & I think I’ll have to do something called a clean boot &/or uninstall & reinstall Sony Reader which I’m not confident enough to do so I have to wait until my personal IT guru, P, can come over to help me. Fortunately my e-reader has WiFi & I discovered that I could download e-books from some sites directly on to the reader that way without going through Sony Reader. But at the moment, I’m a bit off my e-reader.
Oh, & my printer is also on the blink. Technology is a wonderful thing – when it works.

So, yesterday afternoon, after I’d spent some time trying to sort this out, I decided to give up on the e-world for a while & sat down with Katie Fforde’s new book, Recipe for Love. Sometimes, old technology (& a good romance) is bliss.
Although I would quite like to finish reading Salmon Fishing in the Yemen one of these days…

Sunday Poetry – Thomas Carew

Thomas Carew (picture from here) was a diplomat & gentleman of the Court of Charles I. Influenced by Jonson & Donne, his poetry reflects the idle life of the courtier. This poem, Mediocrity in Love Rejected, seems to bear out that interpretation of his work. The speaker sounds very bored, longing for sensation – whether ecstasy or agony, I don’t think he’d much mind – as long as he could feel something.

Give me more love, or more disdain;
The torrid or the frozen zone
Bring equal ease unto my pain;
The temperate affords me none:
Either extreme, of love or hate,
Is sweeter than a calm estate.

Give me a storm; if it be love,
Like Danae in that golden shower,
I swim in pleasure; if it prove
Disdain, that torrent will devour
My vulture hopes; and he’s possessed
Of heaven, that’s but from hell released.
Then crown my joys, or cure my pain;
Give me more love, or more disdain.

Muriel Spark Reading Week – Emily Brontё : her life & work

It’s Muriel Spark Reading Week & I’ve chosen something a little different. As well as the novels she’s best known for, Muriel Spark also wrote several biographies, including this book on Emily Brontё. Actually, she co-wrote it with Derek Stanford. Spark wrote on Emily’s life & Stanford on the work. Interestingly, as most of Spark’s novels are around 100pp long, her biography of Emily is also just under 100pp. It seems to have been the natural length of her work, the length she was comfortable with.

I was interested to see what the novelist Spark would make of another novelist. Her intentions are set out at the beginning of the book,

The method employed in the following pages is of analysis rather than synthesis, through which it is hoped to promote some fresh thoughts on the subject. The following essay is planned to reconstruct Emily Brontё’s life story exclusively from documents concurrent with the events. The posthumous records will be found to add little in the way of information, although, of course, they enrich any Brontё narrative.

So, Spark will only use the letters, diary papers & recollections that were available during Emily’s lifetime. I found this a fascinating way to proceed. So much that is known of Emily was recollected or written down after her death, often once her genius as a poet & novelist was known. Using only the material produced during her lifetime, Spark gives us a pared down version of the Brontё story that allows us to hear as much of Emily’s own voice as possible.

Charlotte Brontё has been the main source for information about her sister. From the morning when Branwell appeared in his sisters’s room with a box of wooden soldiers & they each chose one, “Emily’s was a grave-looking fellow, and we called him ‘Gravey’.” to weave stories around; to her nervous inquiries to friends as to how Emily behaved in company. Charlotte took the lead in everything from the decision for herself & Emily to go to Brussels to study to the publication of their poetry & novels. Charlotte’s poignant letters to W S Williams (reader for her publisher, George Smith) chart the inexorable course of Emily’s last illness, “She is a real stoic in illness: she neither seeks nor will accept sympathy. To put any questions, to offer any aid, is to annoy…You must look on and see her do what she is obviously unfit to do, and not dare say a word…” Charlotte wrote the Prefaces & Biographical Notices that set the tone for both Emily & Anne’s reputations.

By going back to the original documents, especially the few letters & diary papers written by Emily, a different picture emerges. Emily certainly didn’t enjoy being away from home. Her brief periods at school & as a teacher, ended with a return to Haworth. Spark sees this not as defeat but as Emily creating the conditions she needed to work as she wished. She approved of the scheme to start up a school with her sisters only until she received a legacy from her aunt that meant she didn’t need to work. The diary papers Emily wrote on her birthday (to be put away & opened several years later with Anne) are the most important documents we have in discovering what was in Emily’s mind. They are full of snippets of information about her daily activities, her pets, what the family are doing as well as plans for the future. They’re written in almost a stream of consciousness with little concern for spelling or punctuation,

Aunt has come into the kitchen just now and said Where are your feet Ann Anne answered On the floor Aunt. Papa opened the parlour door and gave Branwell a letter saying Here Branwell read this and show it to your Aunt and Charlotte. The Gondals are discovering the interior of Gaaldine. Sally Mosley is washing in the back kitchin. November 1834

It’s a snippet of life in the Brontё kitchen with a bit of news about the Gondals (the imaginary people that Emily & Anne wrote a long-running saga about) dropped into the middle. A later diary paper, written in 1845, is full of family news & the tone is of contentment with her lot,

I am quite contented for myself: not as idle as formerly, altogether as hearty, and having learnt to make the most of the present and long for the future with the fidgetiness that I cannot do all I wish; seldom or ever troubled with nothing to do, and merely desiring that everybody could be as comfortable as myself and as undesponding, and then we should have a very tolerable world of it… I have plenty of work on hands, and writing, and am altogether full of business.

Muriel Spark sees Emily as the happiest of the sisters until the last period of her life. She had a real vision of herself as a writer & was able to create a life for herself at Haworth that allowed her time to write. Spark believes Emily was a natural celibate. She needed no relationships outside her own family & these completely contented her. She was single-minded about her work & allowed herself no distractions. Her idea of love was a universalised one which may have been unrealistic but which led to the universal declarations of love in Wuthering Heights. Catherine’s cry, “I am Heathcliff” is an example of this.

Spark sees Emily Brontё as a writer who fulfilled her promise as far as she could. Maybe her mind became unbalanced in her last months &, when she realised that she could not control the tuberculosis that was killing her, she gave in to it. I found this a refreshing way to look at Emily Brontё’s life. Muriel Spark brings a novelist’s imagination to trying to understand a woman whose posthumous reputation has overtaken the real life she lived.

Sunday Poetry – Thomas Lovell Beddoes

Sometimes a mention of an unfamiliar poet can uncover a tragic history. Thomas Lovell Beddoes (picture from here) was unknown to me before I came across this pretty poem in my anthology. Looking for some more information on his life led me to the Thomas Lovell Beddoes Society website where I discovered a little more about his unfulfilled life & tragic end. He was a nephew of the Irish novelist Maria Edgeworth & seems to have spent much of his short life wandering through Europe. He studied medicine & also wrote poetry & plays. His themes are love, death & the macabre. His death was shocking. He fell ill, supposedly from an infection caught from a cadaver he was dissecting. He tried to commit suicide as his health declined by severing an artery in his leg. The wound developed gangrene & the leg was amputated. Eventually he poisoned himself & died in 1849 at the age of 45.

His poetry was praised by many, including Lytton Strachey who called him “the last Elizabethan” as he was part of a movement to bring back Elizabethan drama. This poem, with its gentle tone & imagery from nature, seems far removed from the more macabre aspects of Beddoes’s life & work.

How many times do I love thee, dear?
Tell me how many thoughts there be
In the atmosphere
Of a new-fallen year,
Whose white and sable hours appear
The latest flake of Eternity:
So many times do I love thee, dear.

How many times do I love again?
Tell me how many beads there are
In a silver chain
Of evening rain,
Unravelled from the tumbling main,
And threading the eye of a yellow star:
So many times do I love again.

Letters to Vicky – Queen Victoria & Victoria, Empress of Germany 1858-1901

I love reading other people’s letters. A long correspondence between two people is even better. If one of the correspondents is Queen Victoria, it’s irresistible. This sumptuous volume was the main reason that I renewed my Folio Society membership. I wish I could show you some of the plates, they are so lovely & include several photos of the Royal family I hadn’t seen before. Unfortunately, I couldn’t take decent photos of them as the paper is quite shiny. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it. The treasure of this book isn’t in the plates anyway, it’s in the words.

These letters are a selection of the enormous correspondence between Queen Victoria & her eldest daughter, Vicky. Vicky married Frederick (Fritz) of Prussia in 1858 when she was only 17. The letters begin immediately after the ceremony & don’t stop until just before Queen Victoria’s death in 1901. Vicky was her parents’ pride & joy. Their eldest child, her father, Prince Albert’s, favourite, Vicky was intelligent, clever & beautiful. She was everything that the Prince of Wales, Bertie, was not. Bertie was always compared with Vicky & always to his disadvantage. Surprisingly, Vicky & Bertie had a loving relationship & remained friends, apart from a few political differences, for the rest of their lives.

Vicky & Fritz’s relationship was a true love match which was becoming less of a rarity in royal circles as the 19th century wore on. Both liberals & patriotic Prussians, they were at odds with Fritz’s father, the King of Prussia (later Emperor of a united Germany) & his chief minister, the militaristic, reactionary Otto von Bismarck. Prussian society was suspicious of Vicky as an Englishwoman & always suspected her of influencing her husband in the interests of England.

People spread at Berlin that I was unhappy at the success of our troops. They comment on everything I say, do, and put on, to my disadvantage. I cannot do the simplest thing without its being found to be in imitation of something English, and therefore anti-Prussian… I feel as though I could smash the idiots; it is so spiteful and untrue. I am sure I would almost quarrel with my real and best friends in dear England rather than forget that I belong to this country, the interest of which I have so deeply at heart –  more deeply, I venture to say, than a great many born and bred here. Vicky to Queen Victoria May 11, 1864

Vicky & Fritz had a long, frustrating wait for the throne as Fritz’s father lived until he was 90. Tragically, Fritz’s reign lasted only three months as he was suffering from throat cancer. All his liberal plans for his country ended in nothing. He was succeeded by his eldest son, William II, best known for his role in WWI. Wilhelm had become estranged from his parents & was completely under Bismarck’s influence so Germany’s road to militarism & an arms race with Great Britain was set.

The relationship between Vicky & her son is full of misunderstandings & thwarted love. William (Willy) had a damaged arm, the result of his difficult birth, & Vicky’s attempts to find a cure for his disability fill her letters to her mother during his childhood. Her love for her son is obvious as she & the doctors try treatments from sea bathing to physical manipulation of the limb.

I have written to the King begging him to allow me to send Willie to Osborne (to stay with Queen Victoria for the sea bathing) and I hope to have the answer tomorrow, and in that case would send him next week. I am so grateful to you for receiving him; though he looks much better now – I am sure it will do wonders for him! Vicky to Queen Victoria July 2, 1864

Unfortunately as Willy grew older, he came under the influence of his grandfather & Bismarck & grew to despise his father’s liberalism as soft & blame his mother for his disability.

Willie goes daily to his Grandpapa for all he wants and cuts his Papa, because it is a great deal more convenient for them but for us it is most painful and disagreeable. Please keep this to yourself, dearest Mama. I am not complaining of them but, our life and position which never was easy at Berlin has only become more difficult and more complicated in consequence, and I dread going back there very much. Vicky to Queen Victoria December 1, 1883

He grew more resentful as he grew older &, by the time of his marriage to Augusta (Dona) of Schleswig-Holstein, he was barely polite to his parents although his grandmother still had the ability to shame him into good manners. On the birth of Willie’s first child, Queen Victoria wasn’t above a little sly manipulation,

How absurd of Willie and Dona to call the child William. As they have not told me, when I write to Dona to thank her for her letter and some of the child’s hair I shall say ‘Of course you will call him Fritz after his two Grandpapas,’ and shall see what they answer. Queen Victoria to Vicky June 22 1882

Queen Victoria’s letters are a fascinating mixture of royal dignity, neediness & common sense. When Vicky first goes to Prussia, her mother bombards her with letters demanding to know everything she wears every day & wants to know the arrangement of her rooms, her health etc in a mixture of imploring & reproach.

Pray do answer my questions, my dearest child, else you will be as bad as Bertie used to be, and it keeps me in such a fidget.
I asked you several questions on a separate paper about your health, cold sponging – temperature of your rooms etc and you have not answered one!… My good dear child is a little unmethodical and unpunctual still. Fritz always answers all questions. Just write them down on a bit of paper – when you have time – and put them in your letter; never mind if they are old – only pray do answer them. Queen Victoria to Vicky February 22, 1858

Queen Victoria soon had Vicky on the lookout for a suitable wife for Bertie. Vicky had to inspect every Protestant princess in Germany & her comments on these poor girls are often very sharp but also shrewd. She knew that her brother would never be happy with a plain wife & she worked very hard to overcome her mother’s objections to beautiful Alexandra of Denmark whose family Queen Victoria did not approve of.

We are anxious to know as much about Princess Elizabeth of Wied and Anna of Hesse as possible, I think future choice of Bertie must lie between them… You know, dearest, we must feel very anxious about this choice and the beauty of Denmark is much against our wishes. I do wish somebody would go and marry her off – at once. If Bertie could see and like one of the others first then I am sure we should be safe.
Queen Victoria to Vicky December 18, 1860

In answer to your question about Anna of Hesse. I do not think her pretty – she has not a fine figure but a passable one. She has a very flat, narrow and upright forehead…She has an incipient twitching in her eyes… and her teeth are nearly all spoilt… she was too awfully dressed. She has a very deep voice, and rather a gruff, abrupt way of speaking, frowning when she speaks, partly to conceal her shyness and partly to conceal her eyes which are perpetually twitching while she is talking. Vicky to Queen Victoria December 21, 1860

Bertie did marry Alexandra & Queen Victoria grew to love her dearly although she wasn’t able to restrain Bertie’s love of frivolous society.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this fascinating book. I could quote passages endlessly about all sorts of subjects. I haven’t even mentioned politics, although I must admit I find all the family relationships much more interesting. There are births, deaths, marriages, scandals & Victoria & Vicky have opinions on them all. Victoria was very supportive of Vicky through all the stresses of her life in Germany, the death of her beloved Fritz & her growing estrangement from Willy. Vicky is patient with her mother’s eternal complaints about her poor health & sympathetic about the Queen’s often strained relations with her Governments & her heir. Vicky is homesick for Osborne & Balmoral. They grieve together over the deaths of the Prince Consort & other close family & friends.

I must just quote one more letter from Queen Victoria. She had published a volume of reminiscences, Leaves from the Journal of Our Life in the Highlands from 1848-1861, and was very proud of it.

I have such quantities of beautiful and touching letters from people whom I don’t know, or have ever heard of – all about my little book, but I send you none, and indeed have been doubtful of sending you the Quarterly with a review by the Bishop of Oxford as you seem to take so little interest in it and only mentioned it once. Queen Victoria to Vicky January 29, 1868

I do not know why you should think I am indifferent about the appearance of your book and what is said about it in the press – whatever concerns you and our home is of vital importance and greatest interest not of indifference. Vicky to Queen Victoria February 1, 1868

That mixture of hurt pride & neediness from the Queen & soothing love from Vicky is very typical of the letters. To the end of their lives, they wrote regularly & always with great affection & love.

The ending of Victoria’s last letter to her daughter, just three weeks before she died is moving in its simplicity, “I must, I fear, end for today to save the post. God bless you, darling child.” Queen Victoria died on January 22, 1901 & Vicky, already suffering from cancer, died on August 5 of the same year.

Calendar Cats

The Animal Aid shelter where I adopted Lucky & Phoebe are having a competition to choose the animals that will feature in their 2013 calendar. These are the photos I chose to enter out of the hundreds I’ve taken of the girls since they came to live with me last August. I think their personalities come through in these pictures. Phoebe is very much at home, relaxed & feeling entitled to every comfort. Lucky is a little more cautious but she enjoys some company & a comfortable spot to soak up the sun.

If you would like to vote for the girls, you can do this here. You’ll need to set up an account & make a donation (via PayPal) of at least $5 to vote. Every dollar equals a vote so your $5 donation gives you 5 votes. The 13 animals with the most votes will be featured in next year’s calendar. The animal with the most votes will be on the cover.

Animal Aid receives no government funding so all their work is funded by volunteers & donations. It’s a very worthwhile cause as there are so many unwanted animals abandoned or relinquished every year & Animal Aid do their best to care for these animals & find them new homes. You can read more about their work on the website here.

I hope you’ll consider voting for the girls & supporting Animal Aid at the same time.

Bookish things

My holidays have been lovely so far. Apart from a very cold day of rain & hail on Easter Monday (perfect reading weather), the weather has been unusually mild & sunny (which is also perfect reading weather). You probably won’t be surprised to learn that some books have made their way into the house. Above are a few books I bought from my favourite remainders booksellers, Clouston & Hall in Canberra. I’ve been buying from their mail order catalogues (& now their website) for nearly 30 years. The latest arrivals are two books by Patrick Leigh Fermor. A Time of Gifts & Between the Woods & the Water have been recommended by many people over the years so this was a perfect chance to buy them. The other book, Cat Detective by Vicky Halls, needs no explanation. I need all the help I can get!

The other books are from the Folio Society. I’ve joined up for another year. I always wait until they offer the books at half price & the time had come. So, you can see I’ve bought lovely editions of On The Eve by Turgenev, Moonfleet by L Meade Falkner & Holinshed’s Chronicles. I’ve always wanted to read the Chronicles as they’re the basis for many of Shakespeare’s plays & this edition has many of the original woodcuts & commentary by Michael Wood, one of my favourite historians.

However, the most exciting of my Folio purchases (& the main reason I renewed my membership) is this one. Letters to Vicky, the correspondence between Queen Victoria & her daughter, Vicky, the Empress of Germany. This is the most gorgeously produced book I’ve seen in a very long time. Folio Society books always have lovely paper & good bindings but this one is just glorious. The photos are also beautiful, including several of the Royal family that I hadn’t seen before. The letters have been selected from the six volume edition published some time ago. I started reading it last night & I’m loving it.

Vicky married Fritz, a Prince of Germany, at 17 & mother & daughter wrote thousands of letters to each other over the next 45 years. Even in these first two years of the correspondence that I read last night, Queen Victoria has talked about what she called the “shadow side” of marriage – pregnancy & childbirth. Vicky has complained about her new German family & made some very sharp, brutally honest comments about various German princesses being considered as brides for Bertie, the Prince of Wales. It’s just luscious. The only problem is that the book is very heavy so I need something lighter in weight to pick up when Lucky decides it’s time to sit on my lap or when my neck starts aching.

I also visited one of my favourite secondhand bookshops last week. I had gone to Camberwell to look for a dress to wear at a wedding I’m going to in June. I don’t enjoy shopping for clothes so I promised myself a look in Sainsbury’s after I’d been to three clothes shops. I didn’t find an outfit but I did find two treasures. This lovely Folio Society edition of Mary Russell Mitford’s Our Village with woodcuts by Joan Hassall. It’s one of the Folio Society designs I especially like. Small & square with faux-marbled covers. I also bought a Penguin Deluxe edition of Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. This was really silly as I already have two other copies of Ethan but I love this series & couldn’t resist. It was in perfect condition & half the price of the copy I saw in another bookshop the same day.

I’ve also discovered some news of forthcoming publications that I’m very excited about. This enthusiastic review of Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge at Book Snob made me wish again that I owned a copy of this book which has been recommended by every blogger I know. So, I was thrilled to discover at the end of the review that Daunt Books are reprinting Illyrian Spring next month. I’ve ordered it already, I couldn’t resist. Then, Dani at A Work in Progress mentioned forthcoming reprints of Helen Macinnes‘s spy thrillers. I haven’t read any of her books but Dani likes them & that’s good enough for me.

I know that Elizabeth Von Arnim is hardly a new name to most of you who visit this blog but Penguin have just reprinted Enchanted April as a Penguin Modern Classic. The rest of the world does catch up to us eventually! I wonder if they have plans for any more Von Arnim reprints? I’ve also almost finished cataloguing my tbr shelves on to Library Thing which has become just as addictive as I feared it would. I have almost 1000 books on LT although not all of them are from the tbr shelves. All my Persephones are on there but most of that 1000 are tbr. It’s a sobering thought & I’ve made a holiday resolution to stop buying books for a while. Apart from that preorder of Illyrian Spring, obviously. I wonder how long I’ll last?

We’re all in holiday mode here. I know it’s not Phoebe’s most attractive angle but she looks completely relaxed, doesn’t she?

This is a more dignified shot. She does love that purple velvet bed.

Winter in Thrush Green – Miss Read

After reading the obituaries & blog posts about the death of Miss Read last week, I just had to read one of her books. I realised that I’d listened to Winter in Thrush Green on audio not long ago as the plot came back to me with a rush but it didn’t matter. I enjoyed sinking into the atmosphere of autumn & winter in a Cotswold village & meeting the villagers of Thrush Green again.

There’s great excitement when the corner house is finally sold – & to an eligible single man or maybe a widower or maybe (worst of all) his wife is arriving as soon as the house is put to rights. Harold Shoosmith, who happily turns out to be a bachelor, has lived abroad for most of his life & speculation runs riot as to whether he’s been in the Army, Navy or Air Force & whether he spent his time in Africa or Asia. It turns out that Harold was drawn to Thrush Green after a lifetime working for a pharmaceutical company in Africa because of his admiration for the missionary, Nathaniel Patten, who was born in the village. Harold soon becomes involved in local activities & is in great demand as a guest at parties such as that given for Halloween by Dimity Dean & Ella Bembridge, friends who have lived together for many years.

The vicar, Charles Hemstock, soon becomes close friends with Harold. Charles envies his cosy domestic arrangements as the vicarage has been a cold, dismal place since Charles’s wife died. Charles is a kind, thoughtful man, much loved by his parishioners but sadly unable to cope with his slatternly daily help so his home is comfortless & lonely. Charles & Harold soon become involved in organising a celebration for the centenary of Nathaniel Patten’s birth & a committee is formed to organise the commissioning of a statue of the great man.

The village school is run by Miss Watson with Miss Fogerty as her assistant. When Miss Watson is attacked in her home by a thief, it is shy, fluttery Miss Fogarty who takes charge & shows her worth to her formidable headmistress. It seems possible that the same man responsible for the theft of Miss Watson’s few pieces of jewellery could also have been stealing Dotty Harmer’s eggs but, apart from Dotty’s idea of setting a man trap to catch the thief (if she can retrieve the trap from the county museum that her father donated it to), there are few clues to his identity. That doesn’t stop grumpy sexton, Albert Piggott, from playing sleuth in the intervals he can spare from tidying the graveyard & sipping a pint at the Two Pheasants.

Albert’s slovenly ways are about to get a shock from his old schoolfriend, Nelly Tilling. Now a widow, Nelly, plump & energetic, has set her sights on Albert, who needs taking in hand since his daughter, Molly, married Ben Curdle & moved on with him & his family’s travelling fair. Love is in the air as bossy Ella Bembridge realises that her cosy life with Dimity in their cottage could be about to change if she’s right about the growing attraction between her friend & Harold Shoosmith.

Winter in Thrush Green is another cosy, comforting instalment in the lives of the villagers of Thrush Green. I love the way that Miss Read describes the passing of the seasons, the coming of Christmas & the hazards of a hard winter. The delights of early spring end the book with the unveiling of the statue of Nathaniel Patten. Life isn’t all ease & happiness. The attack on Miss Watson & Dotty Harmer’s serious illness when she’s snowed in to her remote house, are good examples of how Miss Read doesn’t sugarcoat the realities of village life. Not everyone in the village is kind or honest & the intimate knowledge everyone has of everyone else’s business can be a curse as much as a blessing. This lack of sentimentality as well as the beautiful descriptions of nature & the endearing characters she creates are the reasons why I love to read her books.

Another reason why I love Miss Read is her love of cats. I’ve also just read Tiggy, a short memoir about one cat that crept into Miss Read’s affections. Tiggy is called a memoir & it’s a true story about one of Dora Saint’s cats rather than the fictional story of one of Miss Read’s cats. I admit I was confused at first because Miss Read’s cat in the Fairacre book is called Tibby. This is a very short book, only 40pp in my e-book version but it’s charming. The author swears off owning a cat because she’s lost several cats to the passing traffic & feels it’s not right to put any more cats in danger. Her mind is changed by the arrival of a little black & white cat, starving & with five kittens to feed. At first, Miss Read thinks that a hedgehog has been eating the bread & milk she’s left out at night but she realises that it’s a cat. She calls her Mrs Tiggywinkle or Tiggy after the hedgehog in Beatrix Potter’s story.

Tiggy’s determination to keep her family safe & alive impresses Miss Read so much that she can’t resist taking the family in. The story of how she gradually wins Tiggy’s affection & trust & then sets about taming the kittens & finding them homes would appeal to any cat lover.

Sunday Poetry – Lady Catherine Dyer

This is a beautiful poem that was used as the epitaph on the tomb of Sir William Dyer at Colmworth, Bedfordshire in 1641. This isn’t a portrait of the Dyers, I wasn’t able to find one, but, as it’s an unknown 17th century couple, & I think it’s a lovely portrait, here it is. There are pictures of the full epitaph (this is only the second verse but it’s the one most often reprinted) & the Dyer’s tomb here and here. I don’t know how long Lady Catherine had to wait to join her husband but, as they had seven children, and as the children are depicted as adults on the tomb, she may not have had very long to wait.

My dearest dust, could not thy hasty day
Afford thy drowsy patience leave to stay
One hour longer: so that we might either
Sat up, or gone to bed together?
But since thy finished labour hath possessed
Thy weary limbs with early rest,
Enjoy it sweetly: and thy widow bride
Shall soon repose her by thy slumbering side.
Whose business, now, is only to prepare
My nightly dress, and call to prayer:
Mine eyes wax heavy and the day grows old.
The dew falls thick, my belov’d grows cold.
Draw, draw the closed curtains: and make room:
My dear, my dearest dust; I come, I come.