An Epitome

The impending visit by storm Dennis determined that we batten down the hatches and stay indoors.

In the event the morning was quite mild so Jackie ventured out to Everton Nursery to purchase a couple of

double hellebores that she had heard they were stocking. One even held up its head at the prospect of being photographed.

I occupied myself reading more of The Pickwick Papers, from which

here are another half dozen of Charles Keeping’s splendid drawings. I will write more when I have finished the book, but this illustration of Sam Weller labouring over a love letter epitomises the artist’s adherence to the author’s description, even to the extent of resting his head on his left arm in his efforts to follow his letters across the page. (It may be helpful for anyone reading the text accompanying this illustration to know that ‘mother-in-law’ is an archaic term for stepmother).

This evening we dined on fine fusion fare consisting of tasty tempera prawns; a rack of pork ribs doused in plum sauce; savoury rice jam-packed with finely chopped omelette and vegetables; and tender mange-toutes, followed by moist and crunchy baklavas, with which the Culinary Queen drank Peroni and I drank Clos des Batuts Cahors 2017.

Keeping Dickens

Charle Keeping https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Keeping was probably my favourite contemporary book illustrator. So, when, in the late 1970s, the Folio Society sought members’ recommendations for pairings of books and illustrators, there was only one possible submission for me.

In 1981 the first of the Dickens series was published. Derek Parker reviewed it thus

in The Times on 4th of June that year. This cutting is slipped inside The Pickwick Papers, which I am currently reading.

Normally I do not feature a book until I have finished it. In the case of this tome I might be some time. I will comment on the text when that time comes, but I have decided to take my readers on a ramble through Mr. Keeping’s signature line drawings as far as I have got.

Here is the frontispiece.

Such pagination as the overflowing layout allows will indicate the publisher’s generous proliferation of penmanship exuberantly deployed.

I have scanned full pages in order to display the artist’s scintillating gems bursting from the text.

Should there be sufficient interest I will present further pictures as I turn the pages of the book.

While I occupied myself preparing this post Jackie photographed a crab apple tree full of sparrows debating whether to trust a new feeder.

Strong winds and very heavy rain had beset us overnight and this morning.

Later, all was reasonably calm and we took a short drive into the afternoon sun.

Clear streams ran down the gutters on Holmsley Passage where

the crossing gate and scudding clouds were reflected in rippling pools.

Trees on the skyline stood against the lowering sun as it peered from behind the clouds;

a mud-caked pony nibbled at yellow gorse;

and the hide of chomping cattle was tinged with red outlines.

Sunset occurred as we returned by Holmsley Road. That, too, was reflected in waterlogged terrain.

This evening we dined with Elizabeth at Lal Quilla. I enjoyed Goan King Prawn; Elizabeth’s choice was Lamb Chana; and Jackie’s Chicken Sag. We shared mushroom and pilau rice, a plain paratha, and Tarka Dal. Jackie and I drank Kingfisher; Elizabeth chose Cobra. The welcome, food, and service were as good as ever.

The First Gothic Novel

Jackie, as usual, drove me to and from New Milton for my trip to London to visit Norman for lunch, and Carol afterwards. I took my usual routes from Waterloo to their respective homes.

A woman also being delivered to the home station this morning, left her driver with a farewell that had me chuckling. ‘What?’ she asked, addressing him through the still open passenger window……… Then ‘sod off’, followed by a cheery ‘see you later’. I hadn’t caught what had provoked the imprecation.

A short while later she and I had a good laugh about it on the crowded platform.

It was a gloomy day in London, which is probably why I focussed on some of the more seamy aspects of the capital’s suburbs. Littered around a bench in the recreation Litterground at the far end of Preston Waye (sic) were beer cans, fag ends, and other debris from a party, the attenders of which had eschewed the bin provided. The bicycle rack Cycle rackUnderpants in phone boxacross the street from Preston Road tube station had not saved one owner from losing his wheels, and judging by the rusting condition of what was left of his transport he had decided to leave it where it was. Alongside this a pair of soiled underpants or panties lay on the floor of a telephone box. I didn’t investigate them closely enough to determine the gender of their erstwhile wearer.

Signal failures between Eastleigh and Basingstoke extended my outward journey by forty minutes and caused chaos at the end of the day when two train-loads left the terminus on one service, resulting in large numbers of passengers standing or sitting on the floors of the aisles. Squeezing past the standers and stepping over prone people on the way to the loo was rather embarrassing, especially as it was impossible not to touch them, and absolutely necessary to be careful where you did.

Horace Walpole’s ‘The Castle of Otranto’ dubbed by Andrew Graham-Dixon and others the first Gothic novel is a short book. I read it on the train. Published in the 1760s, the first edition rapidly sold out and has been in print ever since.

Harking back to the Middle Ages, as Gothic does, the book had all the necessary ingredients for evoking a romantic image of that period. There is a feudal tyrant, knights on a mission, damsels in distress, forbidding weather conditions, and a gloomy castle complete with dungeons, empty corridors, and a hidden passageway. The well-constructed plot, in five chapters, follows the form of Greek Tragedy, and the author borrows from Shakespeare devices such as his clown characters.

Walpole’s story was perfectly timed to engage the enthusiasm of his times for such tales, and spawned many others, such as Matthew Lewis’s ‘The Monk’, with which I continued whiling away my extended train journey.

Keeping illusrationMy Folio Society edition of ‘The Castle of Otranto’ is illustrated by Charles Keeping, one of my all-time favourites. He has a distinctive style and remains faithful to the text, nicely capturing the required mood. Here we have Isabella, a young woman fleeing the tyrant Manfred. A gleam of light in the gloomy castle depths renders her visible and displays the frightening path with rippling pools she has to tread.