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.

Thérèse Raquin

Such was the critical outcry labelling the first serialisation of this novel entitled “Un Mariage d’amour” in L’Artiste between August and October 18th pornographic, that Zola provided a preface to the second, 1868, edition explaining his object and refuting the accusations. Certainly anyone seeking prurience would have been disappointed.

I finished reading my Folio Society edition of the work this morning.

Here are the front boards and spine;

and the title page and the frontispiece;

“The Passage du Pont-Neuf…” in which the story mostly takes place “is no place to go for a nice stroll”. “At night the arcade is lit by three gas jets in heavy square lanterns. These gas jets hang from the glass roof, on to which they cast up patches of lurid light, while they send down palely luminous circles that dance fitfully and now and again seem to disappear altogether. Then the arcade takes on the sinister look of a real cut-throat alley; great shadows creep along the paving stones and damp drafts blow in from the street until it seems like an underground gallery dimly lit by three funeral lamps. By way of lighting the shopkeepers make do with the feeble beams that these lanterns send through their windows, and inside the shop they merely light a shaded lamp and stand it on a corner of the counter, and then passers-by can make out what there is inside these burrows where in daytime there is nothing but darkness. The windows of a dealer in cardboard make a blaze of light against the row of dismal shop-fronts, for two shale-oil lamps pierce the gloom with their yellow flames. On the opposite side a candle in a lamp-glass fills the case of artificial jewellery with starry lights. The proprietress sits dozing in her cupboard with hands under her shawl.” Thus the author sets the scene reflecting the generally stifling mood that keeps the main protagonists trapped.

Thérèse has spent her childhood and adolescence suppressing any normal emotional and physical needs to the oppressive atmosphere created by her aunt and husband. Continuing into her young adulthood it is poignant that regular Thursday evening dominos with characterless acquaintances offers the only relief from crushing boredom and unconsummated marriage, until her passions are unlocked by the brutal advances of one who becomes her lover.

Desirous of freedom to marry each other the adulterous pair devise a not unexpected solution, the setting of which offers far more pleasant bucolic descriptions along the banks of the Seine.

Zola’s narration of the deeply destructive effect that guilt and delusional experiences have on these main protagonists careers along at breakneck speed displaying deep understanding of complex characterisation, in particular the part played by thoughts of terrified minds in tune with each other. Locked together in violent passion they can no longer make love.

Two characters who light the way to the ultimate conclusion are the now paralysed aunt who has no speech and can only use her eyes; and the not uncommon device of a haunting painting.

Far from being pornographic this is a grim tale of selfish transgression and inexorable retribution with few personnel and minimal physical activity.

Leonard Tancock’s introduction is useful and informative;

and the lithographs by Janos Kass in a powerful contemporary style.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s classic beef and onion pie; boiled potatoes; crunchy carrots; firm cauliflower and broccoli, and meaty gravy, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Return Of The King

With storm Isha on the way today I stayed inside and scanned the illustrations from the third of the Lord of The Rings trilogy, being a result of the redrafting by Eric Fraser of Ingahild Grathmer’s original drawings.

Here is the title page and frontispiece.

and here the pages complementing the text.

This evening we all dined on King’s House Chinese takeaway – a new outlet which delivers excellent food in good portions on Sundays.

St John’s Eve

The train ticket inserted into

suggests that I last finished reading this volume on a train journey from Nottingham to London Kings Cross between 19th June and 18th July 2009. The illustration above is of the title page and frontispiece.

After the preface to Volume I of Evenings on a Farm near Dukonka, yesterday I read ‘St John’s Eve’, the first story in the collection. This dreamlike tale apparently draws on the folk tales of the author’s native Ukraine

Gogol’s beautifully descriptive prose apparently effortlessly deploys luscious language fluently telling of witchery, devilry, practices and customs of days gone by, marriage, clothing, beliefs, and history. Our protagonist struggles with retaining memory of a significant occurrence involving a disappearing and reappearing stranger who no doubt had cast a spell. The writer employs good use of imagery, metaphor, and simile exemplified by “his memory was like an old miser’s pocket out of which you can’t entice a penny”.

Although I have no Russian, Constance Garnett’s translation seems to me to have retained the author’s free fluidity.

Philip Hensher’s introduction is helpful in placing Gogol’s writing in the context of his time and his seemingly horrific childhood.

Peter Suart’s illustrations display the nightmare quality of some of the stories. I will work my way through the book attaching these pictures with each of the tales in turn. The one above shows “He would sit in the middle of the hut … with the bags of gold at his feet”.

When closing the book we can admire the spine and front board designed by the artist.

PS. Please see koolkosherkitchen’s comments below for an important supplement to this review.

The Charterhouse of Parma

After another pleasurable and encouraging chiropractic session with Eloise this morning, I finished reading

Beginning with a stumble into the Battle of Waterloo by the idealistic teenage protagonist of this saga from Henri Beyle, who chose the pen-name of Stendhal – that of a small town in Prussia – and ending with the increasingly inevitable tragedy is a thrilling tale of passion and politics, of courtships and courtiers, of love and betrayal, of plot and counter-plot, of scheming and intrigue, of constancy and capriciousness, told with fluent prose displaying an in-depth knowledge of human nature which has kept this masterpiece in print for almost two centuries.

The writer offers skilled descriptions of place and person with a good grasp of dialogue. He understands violence, tenderness, and compassion, as felt and expressed by both men and women, and especially of lovers struggling with vows of constancy before God.

Action sequences carry us along at a rate; only the court intrigue sections drag for this reader. As we near the conclusion we know that the various “star cross’d lovers” as Shakespeare would have called them are heading for disaster, but we are kept in suspense as to who will suffer what and who will reap surprise benefits.

Stendhal must have employed much research in amassing the detail of this historical novel, as must have the translator C.K. Scott Moncrieff, whose work has provided the fluent English version.

The introduction by Gilbert Phelps puts the work in fine context.

Zelma Blakely’s illustrations cleverly incorporate elements of her design to frame her skilful wood-engravings which depict considerable depth of perspective.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s chicken and turkey jalfrezi or korma according to taste; garlic naan; plain parathas; and savoury rice with mango or scotch bonnet chutney with which the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Shiraz.

The Body-Snatcher

This morning I watched last night’s recorded rugby World Cup match between Japan and Samoa.

William Burke and William Hare, (respectively, born 1792, Orrery, Ireland—died January 28, 1829, Edinburgh, Scotland; flourished 1820s,  Londonderry, Ireland), pair of infamous murderers for profit who killed their victims and sold the corpses to an anatomist for purposes of scientific dissection.

Hare immigrated to Scotland from Ireland and wandered through several occupations before becoming keeper of a lodging house in Edinburgh, where Burke, also Irish-born, arrived in 1827. On November 29 an old pensioner died in the house, and Hare, angry that the deceased still owed 4 pounds in rent, devised a plan to steal the corpse from its coffin and sell it to recover the money he was owed. With Burke’s aid, the pair sold the corpse to Robert Knox, a surgeon, for 7 pounds 10 shillings. The profit led the two men, assisted by their common-law wives, during the following months to entice at least 15 unknown wayfarers into the lodging house, where they got them intoxicated and then smothered them (in order to leave no trace of violence). Afterward, they sold the corpses to Knox’s school of anatomy. Burke and Hare were exposed when neighbours and police discovered their murder of a local woman on October 31, 1828.

Hare turned king’s evidence and, along with his wife, Margaret, testified against Burke and his wife, Helen. Hare eventually was released, never to be heard from again. Burke was tried for murder, found guilty, and hanged. In his confession, Burke exonerated Knox of all knowledge of the crimes, but some years passed before Knox lived down the condemnations of the public and the press. Helen was released after the jury found that the charges against her were “not proven.” She later moved but was haunted by vigilantes seeking her death.” (https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Burke-and-William-Hare)

Burke and Hare were undoubtedly the models for those who supplied Stevenson’s Mr K with subjects for dissection in the title and final story of the Folio Society’s collection which I read this afternoon.

Our author put his own stamp on the story. Using lanterns and candle light illuminating snatches of a pitch black shape-changing figures and soaking precipitation to set the scene in his customary way. The alcoholic wreck of an accomplice of an extremely successful surgeon who as students had dealt in the trade of victims many years before, upon meeting him by surprise, is the vehicle by which Stevenson tells the tale of their crimes, giving us his own spine-chilling conclusion.

Michael Foreman’s frontispiece to the book illustrates this tale.

This evening we all dined on tender roast pork; roast potatoes sweet and standard; firm broccoli and carrots; piquant cauliflower cheese; meaty gravy; apple and other sauces according to taste, with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Grenacha Old Vines.

The Beach Of Falesá

This morning Jackie and I transported ten used compost bags of green refuse to Efford Recycling Centre.

After lunch I read The Beach of Falesá, being the next tale in my Folio Society collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s stories.

Five chapters progressing from largely well crafted dialogue with excellent descriptions of place and scenario, increasing apace to a thrilling crescendo of action provide romance, mystery, superstition, deception, blending of cultures, and sexual exploitation, from the pen of a master of narrative and suspense. There is a touch of the racial attitudes of the times, yet expressed with sensitivity.

Light, shade, and weather play their part in setting the scenes whilst engaging sight and sound, brilliantly portrayed by the use of a moving lantern’s effect on scale in a pitch dark eerie wood crackling underfoot at nighttime.

Here is Michael Foreman’s dramatic illustration.

Our young family arrived home in time for dinner, which included roast chicken thighs; creamy mashed potatoes; crunchy carrots, firm cauliflower, tender green beans and meaty gravy, with which I was the only imbiber – of more of the Montepulciano.


Although the temperature was warm outside this morning and the winds as strong as they had been throughout the night, there was no rain until it bucketed down from about 11 a.m. onwards. I therefore accompanied Jackie as she delivered the elderly Modus to the dealer and collected her sprightly four year old Hyundai i10.

In the meantime Ronan and a colleague from Tom Sutton Heating fixed an oil leak by fitting a faulty valve, and I remained inside for the rest of the day while heavy rain continued into the night.

I submitted

to Denzil Nature for this week’s challenge. All but the first picture are from my archives.

Reminiscent of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” is “Markheim”, the next of the Robert Louis Stevenson’s stories in my Folio Society collection, which I read this afternoon.

As Michael Foreman’s illustration shows, we learn pretty quickly that Markheim is a murderer, trapped by his fears into remaining in the victim’s shop wrestling with the consequences of his guilt and the temptations of the personification of his conscience.

The building itself, empty but for the corpse, brings dread as the perpetrator, anticipating there may be someone else within, searches for further riches which he knows he would squander.

Haunted by his imagination and his need for redemption, Markheim struggles over how to respond as the moment of discovery draws nearer. I will leave the author to reveal this.

Later, I watched the second half of the rugby World Cup match between Italy and Uruguay.

This evening we all dined on Jackie’s wholesome chicken and vegetable soup and fresh crusty bread, with which I drank more of the Côtes du Rhône Villages and no-one else did.

The Treasure Of Franchard

Knowing we were to expect gale force winds today, Jackie laid down garden chairs and Flo furled the parasols yesterday, but, because they have such heavy bases did not lay them down.

The gusts did it for us. 75 mph winds came through The Needles, just about 5 miles from us as the crow flies. They will continue throughout the night and most of tomorrow.

It is a measure of some improvement in my cold that I did venture out, if only briefly, onto the patio for these photographs, but no further.

On another afternoon of reading I enjoyed “The Treasure of Franchard”, a moral tale of the potential problems of riches. This short narrative of 8 chapters in my Folio Society collection of Robert Louis Stevenson’s stories contains delightfully descriptive bucolic prose, and penetrative insights into humanity.

Through the developing relationship of a loquacious doctor and a taciturn, yet questioning, boy the work is more obviously philosophical than some of the other stories. Ultimately it is the boy who emerges as the tutor.

Michael Foreman’s illustration features the pivotal finding of the treasure which is the vehicle for the lessons for the various protagonists.

This evening we all dined on Subway sandwiches produced by Flo and Dillon with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank Séguret Côtes du Rhône Villages 2021