The Garland

Jackie and I both had eye tests at Boots opticians this morning. After two years Mrs Knight required no change of prescription. I was given solution in my eyes to confirm the need for a cataract operation discovered two years ago, but declined on referral to NHS because it was not considered ripe enough. We will see if it is well enough matured this time. In the meantime it was a while before I could see with unblurred vision. However I eventually opened my current book.

Having reached the end of the first part of “Kristin Lavransdatter” by Sigrid Undset, I now realise that this lengthy tome is in fact a trilogy first published between 1920 and 1922, of which the first is translated in this edition as “The Garland”.

Kristin Lavransdatter is a trilogy of historical novels written by Sigrid Undset. The individual novels are Kransen (The Wreath), first published in 1920, Husfrue (The Wife), published in 1921, and Korset (The Cross), published in 1922. Kransen and Husfrue were translated from the original Norwegian as The Bridal Wreath and The Mistress of Husaby, respectively, in the first English translation by Charles Archer and J. S. Scott.

This work formed the basis of Undset receiving the 1928 Nobel Prize in Literature, which was awarded to her “principally for her powerful descriptions of Northern life during the Middle Ages”.[1] Her work is much admired for its historical and ethnological accuracy.” (Wikipedia)

I will therefore review each part in turn as I read them and bring it all together in a closing post.

Here we follow our leading lady from her childhood to her youthful marriage.

Undset has the gift of excellent prose in which to describe the essence of medieval Norway’s lands, terrain, weather, peoples and places. We learn how the characters of the family saga feel, think, dress, and struggle with conscience in an essentially Catholic country. The author follows the protagonists’ conflict between the laws of religion and the urges of the body and its emotions. She has deep insight into the minds of both men and women. This work was written at the time of her own conversion to the faith that forms such an important factor in it.

The action sequences are prolific and detailed, flowing along at a very fast pace.

“Light, fluted clouds were floating over the high, pale-blue heavens, and the sun was glittering on the dancing ripples of the water. It was quite spring-like along the shores; the fields lay almost bare of snow, and over the leaf-tree thickets the light had a yellow shimmer and the shadows ere blue. But in the pine-forests up on the high ridges, which framed in the settled lands of Akersbygd, there were glimpses of snow, and in the far blue fells to the westward, beyond the fjord, there still showed many flashes of white,” is just one of the many engaging paragraphs that keep us turning pages rich in metaphor and in simile like “at the words of the prayer, it was as if her longing widened out and faded little by little like rings on a pool”. She incorporates all the senses into sounds, smells, sights, touch, and taste. Her poetic imagery must have been very challenging for the translators.

There are many editions of this work, in individual parts or in the whole. It will be apparent that I would recommend it to my readers, but not in the edition I have, simply because almost 1,000 pages has,

necessarily, been so tightly bound as to need a very strong grip to prise apart the centres of the pages determined to conceal their edges. The leaves pictured here describe the burning of the church, the significance of the timing of which should become apparent without my suggesting it to readers wishing to follow the saga.

The book contains a few drawings in the helpful notes, one of which is of the Norwegian stave-church.

This evening we all dined from King’s House excellent Chinese takeaway with which I drank more of the Côtes du Rhône.

Generations Reading

Longer term readers may recall that we, as children, had comics like

The Dandy and The Beano delivered weekly to our home. These were eagerly awaited, but Chris and I had to wait until Mum had read them before we could get our hands on them.

Here, at Old Post House the situation has been turned around. It is Ellie who opens Jackie’s monthly Gardeners’ World and will have read it several times before Great Granny has her turn.

First Ellie inspects the inserts, then the magazine, then she shows it to Granny. Before she did this today she had sat on the floor reading it to

herself, as she did later with one of her books. Notice how gentle she is with the pages. She can identify each animal in this one.

I made considerable progress on “Kristin Lavransdatter”, well exceeding my 50 pages per day target.

The 60+ m.p.h. winds that had roared throughout the night did not subside until early evening.

Our good friend David Firth sent me a couple of e-mails of damaged fencing between our gardens.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s spicy chicken jalfrezi with a milder version including boiled eggs for Flo and Ellie; boiled rice with turmeric; fried paneer cheese and plain parathas, with which the Culinary Queen, Dillon, and I drank Kingfisher beer.

No Pressure

I spent much of the day making further inroads into

Including a few pages of notes this small print browned almost 1,000 pages paperback has laid on my shelves for 50 years because I found it daunting to begin.

How wrong I was. Two days ago I opened it in earnest. Racing through it today I realised that if I averaged 50 leaves a day it would take 20 days uninterrupted reading to reach the end. I have now reached p119, so I will aim for this. I won’t regard it as a deadline because I don’t need the pressure. The book will carry me along and I will only pause when it tells me I need a break. Let us see how it goes.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s lemon chicken, savoury rice, and tender green beans with which she drank Hoegaarden and I drank M&S Côtes du Rhône Villages 2022.

A Passage To India

Today I completed my reading of

This beautifully written novel, although first published in 1924, depicts the attitudes of the British governing classes, their relationships among themselves and with the Indians, themselves representing different cultures and beliefs. The barely concealed tensions and resentments between the various groups ready to explode as they eventually do during a court case inevitably exposing deep seated prejudices, not just between governors and the subjugated, but also among the different faiths within the sub-continent.

The truths of the pivotal accusation are dependent upon individual perceptions depending upon individual attitudes and fixed convictions.

With the benefit of his insightful characterisation Forster gives a profound, complex, picture of his protagonists with sensitive narrative. He has a mastery of dialogue. The prose flows along like the Ganges, and is full of examples of his descriptive skills, making good use of similes such as “three ladies…suddenly shot out of the summer-horselike exquisitely coloured swallows” , metaphors, adjectives and adverbs. Perhaps this paragraph is an extended metaphor in itself: “Going to hang up her cloak, she found that the tip of the peg was occupied by a small wasp. She had known this wasp or his relatives by day; they were not as English wasps, but had long yellow legs which hung down behind when they flew. Perhaps he mistook the peg for a branch – no Indian animal has any sense of an interior. Bats, rats, birds, insects will as soon nest inside a house as out; it is to them a normal growth of the eternal jungle, which alternately produces trees, houses, trees. There he clung, asleep while the jackals in the plain bayed their desires and mingled with the percussion of drums.” The descriptions of the significant Marabar caves are equally polished, as is that of the sensitive depiction of the punkah-wallah keeping the fan turning in the courtroom. This was a man of considerable beauty of the lowest caste performing a routine task with no understanding of what was going.

The book contains predictions that India will become a nation free from British rule; its own indigenous people will become one of equality was not considered.

Michael Holroyd’s informative introduction puts this classic in the context of the author’s time, his childhood, and his other work.

The bustling illustrations of Ian Ribbons requiring close study for interpretation perfectly reflect the book and its subject. The Header picture shows the boards and spine of the Folio Society’s production.

This evening we all dined on meaty sausages, creamy mashed potatoes, crunchy carrots, firm cauliflower, and tender broccoli stems, with which I drank more of the Malbec.

Vanity Fair

William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 serialised novel,

was adapted to an ITV 7 episode series in 2018. I have not seen that, but I have just finished a second reading of the nineteenth century original of such a saga appearing in regular parts, eagerly awaited at intervals by a keen public. Indeed, taken in steady, regular, chunks, this was the Victorian version of streaming.

Fay Weldon’s insightful and informative introduction offers as an explanation for the author’s active change of pace and continuous engagement of his readers, what would seem to be the economics of landing a publisher. The early chapters introducing the characters are remain staid and tentative until the rollicking narrative responds to the need to meet a monthly contractual deadline when a writer follows his subjects at an enthralling speed.

The 1815 battle of Waterloo is pivotal, from the point of view of those left at home, rather than the combatants.

We follow the fortunes and misfortunes of two upper middle class families; two beautiful women of contrasting natures – one kind and gentle; the other scheming and seductive; a falling out of the patriarchs and its consequences.

Thackeray’s descriptive powers and command of conversation, his deep understanding of human nature, and his knowledge of those of his chosen class, keep his characters alive to us through all the years during which his work has been continually in print.

We learn the customs of the times of the times, including the legal systems, the position of women; class and economic differences; attitudes to gaming and duelling. Some of the terms betray attitudes to race which grate to modern ears.

Roland Pym’s exquisitely drawn, composed, and detailed colour plates are delightfully apt for the period.

A book of 67 chapters perforce requires a certain amount of culling of the vignettes with associated examples of prose.

These are my choices.


The Anzin miners’ strike (FrenchGrève des mineurs d’Anzin), sometimes known as the great strike of the Anzin miners (FrenchGrande grève des mineurs d’Anzin), was a long strike of the miners of the mining company of Anzin (“Compagnie des mines d’Anzin”) in 1884 which resulted in the recognition of the unions’ right to strike under the so-called Waldeck-Rousseau law of the same year.[1][2] It brought together more than 10,000 strikers for 56 days and as covered by the press had a national impact. Émile Zola was inspired by it to write Germinal. (Wikipedia)

As an adjective, the word describes the early stages of development, as of an embryonic germ cell, and, by extension, of any system coming into being. It was the name of the seventh month in the French Revolutionary calendar, seen as the start of the Spring quarter, falling between mid-March and mid-April – the period in which Zola’s novel is set.

Beginning with horrific heart-rending depiction of the backbreaking work carried out by starving men, women, and children in dark tunnels so narrow and low as to render their tasks even more prone to injury than the dangers of collapsing openings, Zola shows us how they live, with barely enough income to feed themselves, let alone provide them with adequate clothing in their damp, unheated, homes, lacking even basic privacy in their overcrowded conditions.

The cold, wet, weather plays its part in ensuring that the workers spend their days in skimpy, soaking, garments. Trailing through sloshy mud fit to suck off shoes of those who have any, they drag themselves down the pits when too ill and exhausted to work. Many, especially the children, are killed, or maimed for life.

Even horses who, like small children have to push or tow containers on rails, are subjected to a life underground. When young they are lowered to the darkness in which they will spend decades until their corpses are hoisted hoisted back up in slings. At least the humans blink in the daylight at the end of their shifts when carried aloft in the cages that dropped them down at the beginnings.

The slightest misdemeanour or missing of targets results in docking of already meagre wages.

Zola focusses on one family group and the small community around them, contrasting with the comfortable conditions of the owning families, equally vulnerable to the economics of maintaining the mines.

Despite all this, the miners and their families accept their lot – too afraid the challenge the status quo. Although some manage their homes brilliantly in their circumstances, women in this community accept the often violent ill-treatment by their men. This is one of Zola’s repeated themes.

Promiscuity, adultery, and fornication seems to be the norm where even pre-pubescent sexuality is a main source of relief from grinding oppression.

The young couple who are the main protagonists in this tale respect each other too much to indulge their desires, yet their love remains an important thread.

This is a study of politics and precarious leadership subject to the vagaries of humanity ready, reluctantly to follow an angry, eloquent, character, turning against him when events don’t turn out well. We witness debates for and against direct action while people wrestle with fears of consequences.

Zola’s painstaking research gave him real insights into the processes, details of the operation of machinery, and the underground labour, such that one would feel he had lived the life. His descriptions of the environments, the terrain, the personalities, and their thought processes are crafted with care.

The action sequences are thrilling, often intense, and move appropriately at a fast or slow pace. The prose is as fluid as ever with conversations convincingly conveyed.

These illustrations by Berthold Mahn capture the mood of the book with insightful sensitivity.

Henri de Montherlant’s introduction is knowledgeable and informative.

I have refrained from further analysis of Zola’s sublime prose, since the sample pages, gathered together here for ease of reference, give interested readers the opportunity to judge for themselves.

My edition was published in 1942, the year of my birth, only 80 years from the first publication, which puts the conditions in stark perspective.

While I was working on this, Jackie and Ellie were having fun. Regular readers will know that our great granddaughter has an acute ear for music, repeating tunes and swaying accordingly.

She also enjoys listening intently to the ticking of a clock, sometimes having one in each ear.

As Jackie has shown in these pictures, she turns her back in order to concentrate without interruptions.

Read Along With Me Parts 5, 6, & 7

On yet another wet day I finished reading ‘Germinal’ by Emile Zola.

These are the illustrations from Part 5;

from Part 6;

and from Part 7. I will endeavour to publish my review, with a recap on all the sample pages, tomorrow.

This evening we all dined on succulent roast pork with crisp crackling; roast potatoes white and sweet; carrot and swede mash; crunchy carrots; broccoli stems; cauliflower, and meaty gravy with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the shiraz.

Read Along With Me Part 4

With today’s weather mirroring yesterday’s we stayed indoors and I made further progress with Germinal.

Here are the sample pages from Part IV. Again, clicking on any image will access the gallery enabling enlargement.

This evening we all dined on Red Chilli’s excellent home delivery which always arrives on time. My main course was Naga Chilli chicken, with which I drank more of the Shiraz.

Read Along With Me Part 3

I was out of bed and downstairs as quickly as I could be this morning, but

just missed the pinkest dawn.

These were, however, the clearest skies of a grey but dry day on which I made more progress on Emile Zola’s ‘Germinal’,

and scanned sample illustrated pages from Part 3, which can be enlarged with a click on any image to access the gallery.

This evening we all dined on meaty sausages; creamy white and sweet potato mash; piquant cauliflower cheese; crunchy carrots; tender spring greens, peas, and Brussels sprouts, with which Jackie drank Baywood Summer Berries fruity rosé and I finished the fitou.

Read Along With Me Part 2

This afternoon I watched recordings of today’s Six Nations rugby matches between Ireland and Wales and between England and Scotland.

During intervals I finished the ironing backlog we had begun yesterday,

and drafted the illustrations and text samples of the next Part of Emile Zola’s ‘Germinal’.

This evening we all dined on tender roast duck; crisp roast potatoes; crunchy carrots; firm broccoli and Brussels sprouts; and flavoursome gravy followed by Jackie’s tasty gooseberry and apple crumble with which I drank les quatre vents fitou 2021.