Literary Ramblings

Reading

I thought about calling this post The Search for Mindfulness but realised it would be false advertising. I read an article about mindfulness in the Age at the weekend & realised I have a long way to go, especially when it comes to concentrating on one thing at a time! These are the books currently sitting on the table next to my reading chair. From the top – A Writing Life : Helen Garner and her work by Bernadette Brennan (I especially want to read the chapters on Garner’s non-fiction writing. I know there are holds on this at work so I have to read it soon); Desperate Remedies by Thomas Hardy (beautiful Folio Society edition with lovely woodcut illustrations. I’m trying to come up with a novel that I can lead discussion on for my 19th century bookgroup. The group has been going for over 10 years so we’ve read all the usual suspects. I thought Sybil might be the one, but no. This is Hardy’s first published novel & apparently has elements of the sensation novel in the plot so I hope I’m enthusiastic about it); Come In Spinner by Dymphna Cusack & Florence James. I considered this for the 1951 Club but didn’t read it. Then, I read a great review on a blog I’ve just discovered – Words and Leaves – & I’ve already made a start. It’s ANZAC Day today & the novel is set in a posh Sydney hotel during WWII so it’s appropriate reading. Words and Leaves has also pointed me in the direction of a great local tea company, McIver’s. I love tea & have already bought two varieties to try, Miner’s & Tramtracker. The Miner’s tea is already a firm favourite, I will be buying more. I realise I shouldn’t have explored the website further but I do covet the Dancing Wombat mug

The House of the Dead by Daniel Beer is a study of Siberian exile under the Tsarist regime. I’ve been fascinated by the Decembrist rebels ever since I first read Mara Kay’s novel The Youngest Lady-in-Waiting when I was a teenager. This is a fascinating look at Siberia, the system of exile, the punishments & the way that the exiles & prisoners influenced radical thought in 19th century Russia; Clarissa, you already know about; Venetia by Georgette Heyer is there because I want to read it before listening to this podcast; The Necklace and other stories by Guy de Maupassant is a new translation by Sandra Smith & I was tempted by the gorgeous cover. I’ve read two of the stories so far, which is a start…

ReadingMags

Then, if that wasn’t enough, on the other side of the table are these journals & magazines that I was going to read the minute they entered the house (please don’t look at the publication dates on some of the spines & I haven’t taken a photo of the coffee table where the rest of the magazines are lurking). That’s not Pride and Prejudice on the top, that’s my Kindle cover. I’m reading Clarissa on the Kindle when the book is too heavy. Of course, the only magazine I want to read right now is the latest edition of History Today on my iPad (I’m not telling you how many unread magazines are on the iPad) with articles on the Oracle at Delphi & Ethelred the Unready.

HillHowards

I probably shouldn’t be thinking about pre-ordering books but here are two which I just have to mention. I may have ordered them already but I couldn’t possibly comment. In 2009, Susan Hill wrote Howards End is on the Landing, a book about a year spent reading the books already in her house. Even though I obviously didn’t take any lessons from it, I’m very pleased that Jacob’s Room has Too Many Books will be published in October. From what I can gather, JRHTMB will be a kind of companion volume to HEIOTL, a meditation on books & life.

Martin Edwards, crime writer, critic, anthologist & consultant to the wonderful British Library Crime Classics series, has announced his next book, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, published in August. There are also another half-dozen new titles in the series due out by the end of the year including Continental Crimes, an anthology of mystery stories set in Europe & farther afield, Foreign Bodies (great title!), an anthology of translated crime stories & another Christmas mystery, Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith.

Persephone2

The new Persephone books for the (UK) Spring have just been published. Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane & Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham. I’m looking forward to reading both of them & also to the new Biannually which will hopefully arrive within the next week or so & be read immediately.

BooksMay14

Finally, I may have mentioned the word tsundoku before. It’s a Japanese word that describes someone who collects books without reading them (me, in other words, & probably quite a few of you reading this post). Anne Boyd Rioux mentioned the word on Facebook the other day & it reminded me of my friend Erika who writes a blog called Tsundoku Reader. I love Erika’s blog for many reasons, not least because most of the books she so enticingly reviews are in Japanese & not available in English translation. I have enough temptations as it is & no time to learn Japanese. Reading Erika’s reviews gives me such a flavour of Japanese life & the photos she uses to illustrate the blog are lovely. This post about comfort reads is typical. I would love to read Satoshi Yagisawa’s  novels about Morisaki Books. After reading The Tale of Genji last year, I plan to read more about Japan. Maybe when I’ve polished off everything on my reading table.

Sunday Poetry – W B Yeats

LuckyPorchApril17

I’m going to indulge in some photos of Lucky & Phoebe today with yet another cat poem. Both cats love lounging on the back porch, especially in this mild weather. I wish the humidity would go away but I’m sure we’ll get some proper, crisp autumn weather soon.

PhoebePorch

These photos were taken yesterday afternoon. Phoebe enjoys a good stretch

PhoebeAsleep

before settling down for a very long nap. Funnily enough, they seem to have taken over each other’s beds. I bought the purple fluffy bed for Phoebe & the futon (navy blue cover now very faded) for Lucky but they seem to have swapped over lately.

The poem is The Cat and the Moon by W B Yeats. I like the sense of kinship between Minnaloushe & the moon, the eyes of the cat mirroring the changes in the moon.

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet.
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon.
His changing eyes.

Clarissa – Samuel Richardson (progress report)

richardsonclarissa

Inspired by I’ve Been Reading Lately, I’ve been reading Samuel Richardson’s great epistolary novel Clarissa on the dates the letters in the novel were written. I’m now 500 pages in, only 1,000 pages to go! So, I thought it was time for a report on my progress with Clarissa now that I’m completely in the swing of things.

I have to admit that I haven’t always been able to read the letters on the exact day. Clarissa writes so much, her letters go on for pages (& the Penguin edition is a large format paperback with quite small print) & there were times when I almost gave up in despair at the amount she could write about the smallest incidents. Turning them this way & that, looking at them from every point of view, agonising over the implications of everyone’s behaviour. This is stream of consciousness 150 years before Dorothy Richardson (is she any relation to Sam, I wonder?) & Virginia Woolf. The Penguin edition is also heavy so it’s difficult to read when either of the cats are on my lap & impossible to take to work for my lunchtime walk. Luckily I also have the Complete Works of Richardson on my Kindle thanks to Delphi Classics so I’ve been reading the eBook as well as the paperback. So, I am up to date & looking forward to the next instalment. Once I’ve finished the book, I’ll be interested to read some of the other books in the Delphi edition, especially the Remarks on Clarissa & the biography by Sir Walter Scott.

So, now that the practicalities are out of the way, here’s a summary of the plot so far. Clarissa Harlowe is a beautiful, virtuous young woman in easy circumstances. Her grandfather favours her over her sister, Arabella, & brother, James, & has left her an estate. James is incensed by this & is determined to force Clarissa to marry Mr Solmes whose property adjoins the grandfather’s estate. This will enable James to gain control over the property as Solmes is completely under his sway. Arabella has been courted by Robert Lovelace, a wealthy man but with a dubious reputation as a rake. She declines his attentions but then is furious when he turns his attention to Clarissa. Clarissa is intrigued by Lovelace but his bad reputation gives her pause for reflection.

Clarissa’s family, including her parents, uncles & aunt, imprison her & try to force her to marry Solmes. Her mother is sympathetic but completely under the sway of her husband & son. Clarissa’s faithful servant, Hannah, is dismissed, & Arabella’s saucy maid, Betty, now waits on Clarissa, spying on all she does. Clarissa has been drawn into a correspondence with Lovelace which, when discovered by the family, incenses James who has fought a duel with Lovelace in the past. Clarissa’s only resource is writing letters to her friend, Anna Howe. The letters are ingeniously hidden in a hen house (Clarissa is allowed to walk in the garden & tend her poultry) & collected by Anna’s servant. Anna is my favourite character & her letters are a relief after Clarissa’s agonising. Witty, confident & loyal, Anna would offer Clarissa refuge but her mother, influenced by the Harlowes, has turned against Clarissa & forbids the correspondence (although, of course, it carries on regardless).

Lovelace contrives to meet Clarissa in the garden several times &, eventually, tricks her into running away with him. She is now in St Albans, living in an inn with Lovelace although they pass as brother & sister. Her virtue is still intact although Lovelace has designs on this. His letters to his rackety friend, Jack, expose all his machinations & the snares he is leading Clarissa into. He is plotting to get her to London, telling her that he has respectable lodgings organised for her & that he will leave her once she’s settled there. He’s also holding out the lure of recognition from his family. However, he is manipulating everyone, including Anna Howe, behind the scenes with the help of his servants to marry Clarissa or seduce her if marriage looks unlikely. Clarissa is adamant that she will not marry Solmes but she’s unsure about Lovelace as well. Obviously attracted to him, she doesn’t altogether trust him.

I’ll end with a quote from one of Clarissa’s letters to Anna which explains Clarissa precisely. How she’s getting hold of the paper, pens & ink to do all this writing, is a question that cannot be asked. The reader willingly suspends disbelief in the rush to find out what happens next.

And indeed, my dear, I know not how to forbear writing. I have now no other employment or diversion. And I must write on, although I were not to send it to any body. You have often heard me own the advantages I have found from writing down every thing of moment that befalls me; and of all I think, and of all I do, that may be of future use to me; for, besides that this helps to form one to a style, and opens and expands the ductile m ind, every one will find that many a good thought evaporates in thinking; many a good resolution goes off, driven out of memory perhaps by some other not so good. But when I set down what I will do, or what I have done, on this or that occasion; the resolution or action is before me either to be adhered to, withdrawn or amended; and I have entered into compact with myself, as I may say; having given it under my own hand to improve, rather than to go backward, as I live longer.

Sunday Song – Oscar Hammerstein

1951Club

As the 1951 Club draws to a close today, I thought I’d choose a poem or a song from that year. I was pleased to discover that The King and I by Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein was first produced in 1951 so here’s one of my favourite songs from the musical, Shall We Dance?

Here is the performance we’re probably all familiar with, Yul Brynner & Deborah Kerr (with the extraordinary voice of Marni Nixon doing the singing. Have a look at this clip on how they recorded the songs together) from the movie. And here is another performance of Yul Brynner & Patricia Morrison at the 1971 Tony awards.

(Anna sings)
We’ve just been introduced
I do not know you well
But when the music started something drew me to your side
So many men and girls are in each others arms
It made me think we might be similarly occupied

Shall we dance, on a bright cloud of music
Shall we fly
Shall we dance
Shall we then say goodnight and mean goodbye
Or per chance, when the last little star has left the sky

Shall we still be together with our arms about each other
And shall you be my new romance
On the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen
Shall we dance, shall we dance, shall we dance

(Interlude)

Shall we dance, on a bright cloud of music
Shall we fly
Shall we dance
Shall we then say goodnight and mean goodbye

(The King Sings)
Or per chance, when the last little star has leave the sky

(Anna Sings)
Shall we still be together with our arms about each other
And shall you be my new…

(Both Sing)
Romance
On the clear understanding that this kind of thing can happen
Shall we dance, shall we dance, shall we dance.

Death has Deep Roots – Michael Gilbert

1951Club

GilbertDeath

Victoria Lamartine is on trial for the murder of Major Eric Thoseby. The murder was committed in a small in the Family Hotel in Pearlyman Street, run by Monsieur Sainte, who came to London after the war. Vicky is another French refugee, assisted by the Société de Lorraine, an organisation set up to help French citizens in London, to find work after suffering imprisonment & torture by the Gestapo for her role in the Resistance in the Angers region. Thoseby had been the SOE contact in the area. He knew Vicky & she had been in contact with him after the war, trying to trace Lieutenant Julian Wells, the father of her baby. Vicky gave birth in a prison camp & the baby later died of malnutrition but Vicky didn’t believe the story that Julian had been killed by the Gestapo in the same raid when she was caught. Thoseby was at the hotel that night to meet Vicky & she was discovered standing over his body. The murder weapon, a kitchen knife, has her prints on it & the very efficient method used to stab Thoseby was taught to Resistance fighters during the war.

Nap Rumbold is the junior partner in his father’s firm of solicitors. He is surprised to be contacted by Vicky’s solicitors two days before the trial commences & asked to take on the case. Vicky was dissatisfied with her counsel, who obviously believed her guilty, & she had heard of Nap through Major Thoseby (they were wartime colleagues). Nap agrees to see Vicky & is impressed by her story. The police case is that Major Thoseby was the father of Vicky’s child & that she murdered him when he refused to support her. Nap believes her innocent but realises how difficult it will be to prove her innocence & discover the true murderer. Nap enlists Major Angus McCann, a private investigator, to pursue the London end of the investigation while he goes to France to look into the wartime roots of the relationship between Vicky & Thoseby. The investigation is complicated by the other guests at the hotel, including alcoholic Colonel Alwright & Mrs Gwendolyne Roper, whose evidence seems damning until her own activities are scrutinised.

This is a great combination of courtroom drama & adventure story. The background of the war & the French Resistance is exciting & Nap’s investigations in Angers reveal many secrets that desperate men would kill to keep hidden. The chapters alternate between the trial & Nap’s investigations & this structure works very successfully. I’ve always been a fan of courtroom drama (Witness for the Prosecution is one of my favourite movies) & the sober recounting of evidence contrasts well with the chapters in France as Nap tries to break through the obstructions of people who have many secrets. The wartime background is fascinating as the motives of everyone involved are untangled & the time constraints involved ramp up the tension beautifully. It was a real treat to have the opportunity to read Death has Deep Roots for the 1951 Club.

The 1951 Club has been a wonderful excuse to read & reread some terrific books. There are lots of links to more reviews on Simon’s blog here. As well as the two books I’ve reviewed, I’ve also listened to the audio book of The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, read by Derek Jacobi. This is one of my favourite books & I must have read or listened to it over 20 times. I’ve also reviewed My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier (I’m looking forward to the new movie very much. There’s a trailer here). Other reviews on the blog – The Blessing by Nancy Mitford, Round the Bend by Nevil Shute, There are so many more that I read pre-blog, 1951 must be one of my favourite reading years! One that brought back happy memories when I saw it in the Goodreads list was Désirée by Annemarie Selinko, a romantic novel about Napoleon’s first love. I’ve also read The End of the Affair by Graham Green, They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie, The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham (after seeing the TV series with John Duttine back in the 70s), Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary (a childhood favourite), Night at the Vulcan by Ngaio Marsh, Duplicate Death by Georgette Heyer, A Game of Hide and Seek by Elizabeth Taylor, An English Murder by Cyril Hare, The Lute Player by Norah Lofts & Florence Nightingale by Cecil Woodham-Smith. I’d recommend them all, even though I read many of them over 35 years ago. What a great year for publishing!

The Quiet Gentleman – Georgette Heyer

1951Club

HeyerQuiet

Gervase Frant, sixth Earl of St Erth, returns to Stanyon, his family home in Lincolnshire, a year after the death of his father & after several years as a soldier on the Continent. The unregarded son of his father’s first, unhappy, marriage, his return is disconcerting for his stepmother, the Dowager Countess, & especially for her son, Martin. Martin has been the spoiled darling of both his parents, treated almost as the heir, & the reappearance of his half-brother is a source of jealousy. The estate has been stewarded by a cousin, Theo Frant, a steady hand who has kept in touch with Gervase. Miss Drusilla Morville, the daughter of a local gentry family, is visiting Stanyon as the guest of the Dowager while her parents are on their travels.

Gervase’s quiet good manners soon recommend him to the Dowager & the rest of the household. All except Martin, whose resentment is plain. When Gervase rescues the beautiful young heiress, Marianne Bolderwood, after she is thrown from her horse, Martin’s jealousy is aroused. Marianne’s easy, flirtatious manners have led Martin to believe that she returns his love although she is too innocent to realise it. When Gervase’s friend Lord Ulverston arrives, the attraction between him & Marianne is obvious to everyone but Martin. He tries to force his attentions on Marianne at a ball at Stanyon by proposing to her & then tries to force Ulverston to fight a duel.

More seriously, Gervase is the victim of several “accidents” which could be something more sinister. Martin forgets to warn his brother of a rickety bridge & a rope pulled deliberately across the road trips his horse. When Gervase is shot while out driving, & Martin disappears, everything seems to be pointing in the direction of a jealous young man with murderous intent. But is this really the answer? Gervase is determined to avoid scandal but can he believe that Martin was not involved?

I love Georgette Heyer. Of course, there’s also romance as well as intrigue in this sparkling story. Drusilla Morville is a quiet, elegant young woman from an intellectual family who has an easy, companionable friendship with the whole family. She’s on the spot when Gervase is thrown from his horse & takes on the burden of nursing him after he’s shot. Her impeccable manners & competence impress Gervase but Drusilla will not allow herself to think of anything but friendship with a rich nobleman, her parents’ landlord to boot, who will surely marry an heiress. Gervase’s initial impression of Drusilla on his first evening at home,

” And who, pray, is that little squab of a female? Was she invited for my entertainment?Don’t tell me she is an heiress! I could not – no, I really could not be expected to pay my addresses to anyone with so little countenance or conversation!”

‘Drusilla! No, no, nothing of that sort!” smiled Theo. “I fancy my aunt thinks she would make a very suitable wife for me!”

“My poor Theo!”

soon changes as they become acquainted & he realises that she has plenty of humour & conversation as well as quiet good sense. She even discusses Mary Wollstonecraft’s life & work with Gervase quite matter of factly which I loved. Drusilla is one of Heyer’s older heroines & much more interesting to me than flighty Marianne Bolderwood with her beauty & her train of suitors. I also adored the Dowager Countess with her Lady Catherine-like pronouncements & her complete self-absorption. The mystery of the attacks on Gervase is absorbing, I loved the descriptions of the estate, the house & the countryside & altogether, this is now one of my favourite Heyer novels. My enjoyment was enhanced by listening to the audio book read by Cornelius Garrett, one of my favourite narrators. I like to listen to an audio book for 15 mins or so before I go to sleep but some nights I was desperately trying to stay awake for just a few minutes more to find out what would happen. I’ve listened to several Heyers on audio & enjoyed them all. I still have Frederica, read by Clifford Norgate in my Audible library but the next one I want to read is Venetia as I want to listen to the Backlisted podcast which you can listen to here or wherever you get your podcasts.

It was a real treat to read The Quiet Gentleman for the 1951 Club. Thanks Simon & Karen for the opportunity to read a book that had been in the tbl (to be listened) list for too long.

 

Sunday Poetry – Edward Thomas

EdwardThomas

It’s 100 years ago today that Edward Thomas was killed at Arras. I’ve always admired his poetry & it’s amazing to think that he only began writing poetry in the last few years of his life, encouraged by his friendship with Robert Frost. I’ve featured his life & work on the blog many times – here, here & here –  but today, here is his most famous poem, Adlestrop.

*Edited to add – here is a link to Nick Dear’s play about Thomas, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, which was repeated over the weekend. It should be available worldwide as I can listen to it in Australia & a friend in the US could also listen. Thank you to Barbara from Milady’s Boudoir for the link. Lynne at Dovegreyreader is also a Thomas fan & has marked the anniversary with a post here.

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

 

Sybil or The Two Nations – Benjamin Disraeli

DisraeliSybil Disraeli was one of Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Ministers. He was a consummate politician & a world-class flatterer, fond of calling Her Majesty his Faerie Queen & referring to “we authors, Ma’am” when discussing the Queen’s published Journals. Disraeli wrote several novels, mostly when he was a hard-up young man. Sybil is probably the most famous because it is one of a group of novels known as the Condition of England novels. Mostly written in the 1840s, these novels explored the effects of the Industrial Revolution in Britain & included Frances Trollope’s Michael Armstrong, the Factory Boy, Dickens’s Hard Times & Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton & North and South. Sybil is also famous for this quote, which seemed to encapsulate the situation in Britain at the time. Charles Egremont, brother of the Earl of Marney, is speaking to a stranger whom he has met wandering in the ruins of Marney Abbey on his family’s estate.

‘Well, society may be in its infancy,’ said Egremont, slightly smiling; ‘but, say what you like, our Queen reigns over the greatest nation that ever existed.’

‘Which nation?’ asked the younger stranger, ‘for she reigns over two.’

The stranger paused; Egremont was silent, but looked inquiringly.

‘Yes,’ resumed the younger stranger after a moment’s interval. ‘Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse and no sympathy; who are as ignorant of each other’s habits, thoughts and feelings, as if they were dwellers in different zones or inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food, are ordered by different manners, and are not governed by the same laws.’

‘You speak of – ‘ said Egremont, hesitatingly.

‘THE RICH AND THE POOR.’

One of these strangers is Walter Gerard, a factory worker who is passionate about the rights of the workers. He is a leading light in the Chartist movement, along with his friend, Stephen Morley. The Chartists wanted political reform, including an expansion of the qualifications for suffrage. Gerard’s beautiful daughter, Sybil, has been educated in a convent & plans to become a nun. Sybil is completely convinced of the merit of her father’s beliefs & has come to live with her father for a time before entering the convent.

Charles Egremont has just entered Parliament in the Tory interest. He has quarrelled with his brother, Lord Marney, over the payment of his election expenses & is at a loose end, trying to avoid his debts & reluctant to fall in with his brother’s plans for him which include marriage to a rich heiress. Egremont is instantly smitten with Sybil but, knowing of her father’s political beliefs, disguises himself as a journalist, & takes lodgings near their cottage, supposedly gathering material for an article. Stephen Morley is jealous of Egremont’s growing friendship with Sybil &, when his true identity is exposed, Egremont goes up to London to take up his seat. His ideas about the workers have been changed by his friendship with Gerard as well as his love for Sybil. Gerard goes to London as part of a National Convention of Chartists to present a petition to Parliament. When the petition is rejected, Gerard becomes involved in planning civil disobedience, leading to danger for himself & his daughter.

I can’t say that Sybil is an entirely successful novel. Compared to Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels, the characterization of the working class characters is hampered by Disraeli’s lack of knowledge of working people. He researched the novel by reading statistics & government reports. Gaskell researched her novels by living in Manchester & meeting the people. Disraeli’s strengths are the portrayal of Parliament & Society. These chapters are wonderful, although I found the political machinations hard to follow & often long-winded. These chapters are written from the inside. Lord Marney is a wonderful portrait of an obtuse aristocrat, dismissive of the claims of his workers & priding himself on paying what he calls a good wage to his agricultural workers which is actually just above starvation level. Marney & Egremont’s mother, Lady Deloraine, is a lively, politically active Society woman who, with her friend & rival, Lady St Juliens, have considerable influence behind the scenes. Charles Egremont is a typical younger son but he does change as the novel progresses through his contact with the Gerards which forces him out of his complacency & makes him face the callous arrogance of his brother & his class. There are also some exciting set pieces during the strike action & the scenes of the mob approaching Mowbray Castle.

Unfortunately, Sybil & her father are completely unrealistic characters. This description of Sybil is typical,

The form of Sybil Gerard was stamped upon his (Egremont’s) brain. It blended with all his thoughts; it haunted every object. Who was this girl, unlike all women whom he had yet encountered, who spoke with such sweet seriousness of things of such vast import, but which had never crossed his mind, and with a kind of mournful majesty bewailed the degradation of her race? The daughter of the lowly, yet proud of her birth. Not a noble lady of the land who could boast a mien more complete, and none of them thus gifted, who possessed withal the fascinating simplicity that pervaded every gesture and accent of the daughter of Gerard.

Gerard works in a factory (although we never see him there) for a kind employer who has educated Sybil & placed her in the convent. Sybil is like a young Lady Bountiful, visiting the poor on behalf of the nuns, speaking perfect English, beautiful, ethereal & pure. Gerard even has an ancient claim to the de Mowbray estate (the de Mowbrays are friends of the Marneys) which he has never quite abandoned. Sybil’s innate purity impresses everyone she meets, from cab drivers to jailers. Her feelings for Egremont confuse her because of her strong political beliefs but she does soften her stance through knowing him. Most of the working class characters are drawn to illustrate a point or a type & none of them came alive for me. For all my reservations though, I did keep reading because I wanted to know what would happen. I wanted to know if Lord Marney would get his comeuppance; if scornful Lady Joan Fitz-Warene (Egremont’s intended bride) would marry Alfred Mountchesney; what exactly Mr Baptist Hatton, an expert in heraldry & genealogy, knows about the true ownership of the de Mowbray estate & if Egremont & Sybil would live happily ever after.

Sunday Poetry – Jane Austen

AustenSock

Autumn is finally here. The clocks went back last night, the mornings have been crisp & today I’m wearing my beautiful mint-green Jane Austen socks. I’ve already posted some of my favourite autumnal poems & quotes trying to summon up the season so today, in honour of my socks, here’s a poem by the divine Miss Austen. This was written to her brother, Frank, on the birth of his son & contains the lovely lines about making a home. Jane, her mother & sister, Cassandra, were finally settled at Chawton & were enjoying the process of making a home.

I’ve also been thinking about Austen because I’ve been listening to a new (to me) podcast, Tea and Tattle. Miranda & Sophie talk about books, lifestyle & culture. I’ve listened to several episodes so far, on their favourite Jane Austen heroines & the trend for books about decluttering. The next episode of the podcast (due this coming week) will feature renowned Austen scholar Janet Todd & author Diana Birchall who blogs at Light, Bright, and Sparkling. Diana & I are in the same online reading group & it will be a thrill to hear her voice as she & Janet chat with Miranda & Sophie about their love of Austen.

My dearest Frank, I wish you joy
Of Mary’s safety with a Boy,
Whose birth has given little pain
Compared with that of Mary Jane.–
May he a growing Blessing prove,
And well deserve his Parents’ Love!–
Endow’d with Art’s and Nature’s Good,
Thy Name possessing with thy Blood,
In him, in all his ways, may we
Another Francis WIlliam see!–
Thy infant days may he inherit,
THey warmth, nay insolence of spirit;–
We would not with one foult dispense
To weaken the resemblance.
May he revive thy Nursery sin,
Peeping as daringly within,
His curley Locks but just descried,
With ‘Bet, my be not come to bide.’–
Fearless of danger, braving pain,
And threaten’d very oft in vain,
Still may one Terror daunt his Soul,
One needful engine of Controul
Be found in this sublime array,
A neigbouring Donkey’s aweful Bray.
So may his equal faults as Child,
Produce Maturity as mild!
His saucy words and fiery ways
In early Childhood’s pettish days,
In Manhood, shew his Father’s mind
Like him, considerate and Kind;
All Gentleness to those around,
And anger only not to wound.
Then like his Father too, he must,
To his own former struggles just,
Feel his Deserts with honest Glow,
And all his self-improvement know.
A native fault may thus give birth
To the best blessing, conscious Worth.
As for ourselves we’re very well;
As unaffected prose will tell.–
Cassandra’s pen will paint our state,
The many comforts that await
Our Chawton home, how much we find
Already in it, to our mind;
And how convinced, that when complete
It will all other Houses beat
The ever have been made or mended,
With rooms concise, or rooms distended.
You’ll find us very snug next year,
Perhaps with Charles and Fanny near,
For now it often does delight us
To fancy them just over-right us.

The 1951 Club is coming!

1951Club

Simon at Stuck in a Book & Karen at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting the 1951 Club next month, April 10th-16th to be precise. I love this idea, it’s practically the only challenge I ever take part in. Mostly because they choose such interesting years but also because I invariably have several books on the tbr shelves to choose from so I’m participating in a challenge & reducing the tbr at the same time.

1951

There are links on both blogs to lists of titles published in 1951 & all the information you need to join in. I’ve pulled these books from the shelves – two Greyladies titles by Josephine Elder, The Encircled Heart and Lady of Letters, Lucy Carmichael by Margaret Kennedy & Come In Spinner by Dymphna Cusack and Florence James.

GilbertDeath

However, just as I had virtuously planned to read one of these books that I already own, I read this post by Moira at Clothes in Books. Once you are thinking about 1951, books seem to pop up everywhere that were published in that year. I do like Michael Gilbert’s books & this one, about a murder trial with links to the French Resistance during WWII, sounds terrific. So, I bought the eBook.

HeyerQuiet

I also plan to listen to The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer, read by Cornelius Garrett.

Looking at the lists on Goodreads, I’ve also discovered that I’ve read a lot of books published in 1951 so I’ll be posting links to my reviews of those titles in 1951 Club week as well. It’s going to be wonderful, I can’t wait!