This morning I finished reading Flaubert’s ‘L’education sentimentale’. This long nineteenth century novel, more than twenty years in the making, is beautifully written, and has been a great help in brushing up a very rusty vocabulary. I have needed a dictionary at hand, and have had to be careful not to use some of the author’s antique or purely literary words or phrases in the supermarket. The writer of the more popular ‘Madame Bovary’, Flaubert must have been very disappointed in this work’s original reception. The world was not ready for a piece in which nothing much actually happens, until Proust came along, praised it and wrote his own great ‘Remembrance of things past’, as we translate it. Maybe the theme of the protagonist’s emotional life blighted by an unconsummated love for a married woman was not very fashionable either. I found his descriptions of scenes, events, thoughts, and emotions inspiring and educational.
I then began ‘La Porte Etroite’ by Andre Gide. When I bought this 1947 large format illustrated paperback edition in Wimbledon Village’s Oxfam shop earlier this year, the volunteer assistant looked fondly at it and said ‘I did that for A level’. ‘So did I’, exclaimed another customer.
This afternoon Jackie drove us to Romsey where we visited the Abbey. Actually begun before the Norman conquest, this building created for Benedictine nuns is largely in Norman style. One can only marvel at the structure with three tiers of arches and splendid stained glass like that lighting St. Ethelfraeda’s chapel. How those men more than a thousand years ago, with none of today’s equipment managed even the perpendiculars is beyond me. St. Ethelfraeda’s is just one of the side chapels. It contains, on the left-hand side, what is described as the ancient tomb of an abbess. Could it be hers? I notice this is not claimed.
Volunteers were preparing the abbey for a concert this evening. We had managed our timing well, for we arrived before the concert and after a significant funeral. Bob Smith, who told me he was the head guide of the establishment, recited a number of stories relating to this place of worship, and I am sure he had many more. He began with the tale of John Warren, styled ‘an intruder’ in the list of vicars on the wall. He had apparently got into the list by virtue of his brother’s rectorship in the seventeenth century. This brother gave him the position although he had not been ordained. Before Julitta Beatrice Walker came along and took on the research, this list was incomplete. She filled in the gaps, and became a source of all knowledge about the abbey. Bob said that what she didn’t know about it ‘could be written on the back of a postage stamp in block capitals’. Among other publications this Cambridge graduate has written ‘Romsey Abbey Through The Ages’. As we entered the abbey we had seen piles of funeral service booklets for Judy. This was Julitta. May she rest in peace.
Our evening meal was Jackie’s sausage casserole followed by trifle and accompanied in my case by Montpierre reserve Languedoc 2011, and in hers by Redbridge Creek chardonnay made on the other side of the world in the same year.