Moll Flanders

I have begun reading ‘Hours in a Library’, being a selection of reviews of the works of earlier writers by Leslie Stephen, which I think will lead me to visit for first or repeated occasions some of those authors. Stephen, the father of Virginia Woolf, is a skilled and humane writer of elegant, witty, and insightful prose who was a voracious reader, perhaps better known for his editorship of the Dictionary of National Biography.

The first of these “Hours” is ‘Defoe’s Novels’, of which I have read three. Sir Leslie ranks Defoe as beneath the very best authors, and ‘Robinson Crusoe’ as the best of his works. I had no memory of the other two, and did enjoy the story of Crusoe, based on the tale of Alexander Selkirk, as a child. I suspect that such memories I have of that have been because this, filmed at least once, has become part of our British cultural heritage.

Defoe began writing as a journalist, and his novels, coming over as detailed narrative lacking emotional input, perhaps reflect that. I first read “Moll” in 1965. Stephen prompted me to pick her up again. The subtitle of the work, first published in 1722, reads as modern day bullet points. It causes me to deviate from my usual practice of not giving such spoilers.

The Fortunes & Misfortunes of the Famous MOLL FLANDERS Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore, five times a Wife (whereof once to her own Brother), Twelve Year a Thief, Eight Year a Transported Felon in Virginia, at last grew Rich, liv’d Honest, and died a Penitent,

The narrator is the lady herself, with a story allegedly told to help others avoid the life which some would see as inevitable for a woman of her times. Perhaps this was the writer’s object. Very soon, despite her protestations of innocence, she learns how to use her charms to her best advantage, and to become a skilled manipulator. Maybe she did have no choice from the start. We don’t really know how she feels as she climbs the greasy pole of life.

I had been unaware of transportation to Virginia and am grateful for this historical knowledge.

Defoe’s prose follows a steady course in telling the story of a life. It does become repetitive and, for this reader, eventually boring.

My copy is from the Folio Society, 1965, with drawings by Nigel Lambourne. Whilst these are good enough for m to publish here, I will hold them back for future post in order to assist Peacock Computers in the site migration task.

This may be the most read of the author’s works. With those bullet points maybe more salacious details were anticipated. There were none of these.

I was not tempted to revisit ‘Roxana’.

Hours In A Library

During the night I began to realise that, although ‘Monkey’ by Wu Ch’eng En was snuggled up in the novels section of the library, there was no Gibbon among the shelves that I thought had been accurately filled yesterday. That meant that there had to be another History container somewhere among the 24 left to empty. This morning’s search demonstrated no such luck.
There were two.
Consequently another couple of hours was spent moving books along and adjusting the heights of shelves. After lunch it was the turn of Biography. In searching for the first of those, I came across a third History box. It was well into the afternoon before I could tackle the stories of people’s lives. Library progressThese were all on their shelves soon after our evening meal which consisted of liver, bacon and sausage stew with roast potatoes, carrots and beans, followed by a chocolate eclair. All delicious. I drank via di Cavallo chianti 2012 then got back to finish the last of the biographies.
Leslie StephenOver the past day or two I have spent so much time on the task of housing a lifetime’s book collection that I have often thought of Sir Leslie Stephen. Virginia Woolf took the name by which we know her from her husband Leonard. She was born a Stephen, her father being the eminent Victorian man of letters. Hours in a libraryThe reason he has come to mind is that the Folio Society edition of a selection of his writings is called ‘Hours in a Library’. I have spent many of these lately, but, I think, not quite in the way he did, which was in reading and writing. It seems a bit antisocial to hide away with a book, whereas sitting in company with one doesn’t to me.
Stephen was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography, the first volume of which was published in 1885 by Smith, Elder & Co. This is a record of the lives of notable UK people that continues in regular supplements today. From 1917 it has been produced by the Oxford University Press. The original edition ran to 63 volumes, which are now reproduced on the same sheets by OUP, albeit on thinner paper with one third of the number of tomes.
I do have the complete set which we are going to need more bookshelves and organisational ingenuity for me to keep. So it will be off to IKEA tomorrow.
Some OUP publications supplement my 23 of the original nineteenth century issue. How I came by these is a story worth telling. Sam and Louisa, when they were both quite young, had been given the task of hiding these books, individually wrapped, around the house and garden. I had the job of following their clues, as in an Easter Egg hunt, each one leading to another. I wondered when the supply would run out and how many there would be. They were a birthday present from Jessica who had found them in a second hand bookshop in Lincolnshire. I have never discovered any more, although, much later, I did find odd copies of the modern edition, with which to complete the collection, in a shop on Marylebone Road.