I Held One Back

Last night I finished reading:

One of Trollope’s shorter works, this deals with familiar themes concerning the status of women; socio-economic inequalities; intrigue and romantic entanglements. It is a tragic love story breaching differences in fortune, in social class, in geography, and in religion. As usual the prose flows along smoothly to the tale’s surprising, if inevitable, conclusion.

Given that the action takes place alternately in England and Ireland, the choice of the sensitive, and insightful Irish novelist and poet, Maeve Binchy to write the excellent introduction was most apt.

The generous quantity of Elisa Trimby’s drawings are faithful to the text. In particular she manages effectively to convey the emotions of her subjects. I was impressed with the appropriate flattening of perspective enabling her to depict a good depth of field.

In order not to give away the dénouement I have held back the last of the illustrations.

Much of this morning was devoid of Internet connection, which rather delayed my drafting of this review; and my listening to the England v. Sri Lanka men’s World Cup Cricket match.

In order to calm my nerves took a stroll round the garden.

The first two images of these day lilies are of those purchased from https://www.polliesdaylilies.co.uk which, containing our national collection, is situated very near to us.

These penstemons adorn Margery’s Bed.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s superb sausages in red wine; crisp new potatoes, carrots, and broccoli, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Pinot Noir.

Less Is More

Today the weather was cold and wet. For Jackie this meant continuing her planting between frequent showers. For me it meant ironing and finishing reading Muriel Spark’s classic gem, ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’. Even the World Cup cricket match between South Africa and the West Indies was rained off.

The short novel tells the story of a progressive, idiosyncratic, and rebellious teacher at odds with the ethos and management of a traditional girls’ school of the 1930s. Her style is spare, insightful, and elegantly simple. Ms Spark favours lean, lucid, language, lightly telling her tale. In case there is anyone who has neither read the book nor, like me, seen the 1969 film starring Maggie Smith, I will reveal no more of the story.

My copy is the 1998 Folio Society version with illustrations by the late Beryl Cook. The cloth-bound covers feature a design by Peter Forster.

Despite being a great fan of the artist and her particular comic style I have my doubts about the choice of her to illustrate this work. Miss Brodie is as romantic as she is zany, as ultimately tragic as she is stimulating.

The last pair of these illustrations is what in a different kind of publication may be termed a centrefold.

Cook has, of course captured the exuberantly comic nature of the book, but, I think, neither the author’s lightness of touch nor her sensitivity to her characters.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s spicy pasta arrabbiata and tender runner beans, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Cabernet Sauvignon.

The American Senator

Earlier in the week I finished reading

and awaited a day of dull weather to feature it in a post. Today was such a day.

The eponymous character plays very little part in Trollope’s story, but he is a device used by the author to criticise English cultural aspects including, The Law, Parliament, social inequality and customs including fox hunting. Given that Trollope was apparently a passionate fox hunter one can only imagine which of the senator’s views are also those of Anthony Trollope. The position of women as chattels of their husbands and of the lower, equally unenfranchised classes; the destruction caused by fox hunting; the sale of positions in the army and in the church in Victorian times are all subject of Senator Gotobed’s criticism. As usual I will not spoil the story, but to say that the tangles of love and the scheming related to its matches, largely by women, feature largely. At more than 500 pages the novel may seem daunting, but I found it a remarkably easy read. The descriptive prose flows apparently effortlessly. The dialogue is clear, and the insight into human nature admirable. Possibly because the work was originally published in regular instalments the chapters are short, averaging 6 pages. I found this a helpful aid to bedtime reading in that when I was falling asleep it was not too difficult to reach the end of each one. I enjoyed the book.

Louis Auchincloss’s introduction is thorough and helpful.

The elegant drawings of Shirley Tourret faithfully portray details of the text and of the period.

This afternoon Danni, her friend Vivien, and Ella visited. We had an enjoyable conversation and passed a laughing baby around.

This evening Jackie and I dined on starters of tempura prawns on a bed of cucumber, spring onion, and lettuce strips coated in sweet chilli sauce followed by creamy fish pie, mashed potato and swede; firm carrots and cauliflower. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Merlot Bonarda.

Stories

I spent this entire afternoon reading and listening to rain pattering on the windows.

Over several years some decades ago I was rash enough to collect Anthony Trollope’s entire oeuvre as presented by the Folio Society. It is the sheer volume of this work that prompts me to consider this enterprise rash. I doubt that I will ever finish reading all the books.

Like any other Victorian novelist in the age before blogging and television soaps, Trollope wrote at considerable length for the avid readers of his serialised instalments.

In order to try to catch up with my reading of this author, picked up again with a volume of stories, of a shorter length than the other books. I finished reading it today. This is

encased in

boards bound by cloth imprinted with this elegant design.

The contents are ‘The Parson’s Daughter of Oxney Colne; La Mere Bauche; Father Giles of Ballymoy; The Spotted Dog; and ‘Alice Dugdale’.

The apparently effortless prose flows along with excellent description, insightful characterisation, and well-placed dialogue. Trollope has a sound understanding of human nature and of his times. Without giving away any detail I can say that he deals will betrothal, match-making, scheming parents, gossip, and social standing. One apparent ghost story is ultimately humorous. Endings are not always happy, and there is one heart-rending tragedy. Most tales are set in England; there is one in France, and one in Ireland.

John Hampden’s well written introduction is informative about the author.

Regular readers will understand that I am enamoured of Joan Hassall’s careful wood engravings. Each story has a title page vignette; an introductory illustration; and, with one exception, a tailpiece.

Here they all are.

For our dinner this evening Jackie produced a fusion of her own savoury rice and succulent ratatouille; Tesco’s aromatic won ton and spring rolls; and Lidl’s lean meaty rack of ribs in barbecue sauce. The Culinary Queen drank more of the Sauvignon Blanc, and I finished the Garnacha.

Word Games

Sam, Holly, Malachi, and Orlaith visited again this afternoon.

Observed by Holly, and assisted by Sam, Orlaith enjoyed a game of Scrabble with me.

Although we were playing with a proper board and tiles, when my granddaughter tired, she decided she wanted to pause the game. If that isn’t twenty first century speak, I don’t know what is.

Jackie and Malachi played word games on Jackie’s laptop.

After this Mal was invited to make a selection from my library. He chose a Folio Society Sherlock Holmes collection.

We then dined at The Royal Oak. Jackie and I each enjoyed gammon steak with two fried eggs, plentiful chips and salad. The others different choices were equally good. Holly and I both drank Malbec, Sam’s beverage was Guinness, Jackie’s Diet Coke, with lemonade for each of the children.

Can You Identify Lord Byron?

Yesterday evening I finished reading

Is there such a thing as a Gothic Comic novella? If so, this is one. It is a rollicking prose gambol, lightheartedly satirising the writer’s contemporaries. There are numerous references to the works of his friends and acquaintances. Peacock loved playing with words, using some in a ridiculously pompous way, and probably inventing others. We may not understand all this nonsense that has been in print for more than two hundred years, but it will definitely provide fun. I won’t give away the story, but I will say that I understand that the author was once torn between two women, and there is possibly an autobiographical element to it.

As can be seen above, my edition is from The Folio Society of 1994. The work was originally published in 1818.

Marilyn Butler’s scholarly introduction sets Mr Peacock in place with his fellow writers.

The book comes in a slip case stamped with gold lettering. It is bound in cloth with one of the artist’s designs.

Mr Forster’s numerous exuberantly grotesque illustrations romp through the pages.

One character represents Lord Byron. Can you identify him?

This afternoon we visited Mum at Woodpeckers in Brockenhurst. We were able to see for ourselves that she is happily settled in.

As we approached the village I saw the potential for this shot in the distance. Jackie was driving at 30 m.p.h. I grabbed the camera, wound my window down, waited for a gap in the speeding undergrowth, took aim; and boy, was I chuffed at the result.

On our return I grabbed another image on the move, this time through the windscreen. It was only when I came to upload the picture that I noticed the dog.

These oaks viewed from Hordle Lane demonstrate that, despite the warmth and sunshine, they are still bereft of foliage.

Late this afternoon Sam, Holly, Malachi, and Orlaith, having arrived in England from Perth, Australia, checked into a nearby caravan site, then came to visit us. While we were enjoying a takeaway Indian meal from Forest Tandoori, Mat, Tess, and Poppy joined us. The jet-lagged family repaired to their caravan and the others stayed the night with us. I finished the pinot noir; others drank red wine or beer.

A Collaboration

One of Robert Gibbings’s diversions in ‘Trumpets from Montparnasse’ was his recounting of the request of his friend, Charles Ede of The Folio Society to produce a series of engravings for ‘The Discovery of Tahiti’ by George Robertson. This was a joint project with Gibbings’s publisher, J. M. Dent, published in 1955.

Naturally, this led me to my own copy of this work, in fact a 1973 reprint. I finished reading it this morning.

The transparent jacket to this slender volume reveals the embossed designs on the front and back boards and the spine.

Here is the frontispiece. Oliver Warner’s editing and his introduction are exemplary. He has modernised the spelling of his 18th century source, and interspersed summaries of sections from other seamen’s diaries when they provide amplification of the narrative. His explanatory footnotes and occasional correction of Robertson’s assumed facts are enlightening.

But, of course, my major interest was in the illustrator.

In order to produce reasonably large images of the woodcuts, I have scanned sections of the pages, with a little of the text by way of explanation.

Here is the dramatic opening paragraph,

and what was soon revealed to the crew’s delighted eyes;

and yet more.

This paragraph reflects the difficulty of establishing trust with no common language.

Sailors and islanders were fascinated by each other’s artefacts. In particular the nails of various sizes carried on board became the most valuable trading items.

Robertson never established the purpose of this place.

What nails could buy is suggested here.

Fresh food was also essential to the traders.

The artist’s final illustration admirably encapsulates what was clearly a very sad day for both parties of this 6 weeks’ acquaintance. The paragraph in square brackets is one of the editor’s additions.

I watched the last three matches of this year’s Six Nations rugby tournament. Before the England versus Scotland game we dined on pork spare ribs and a selection of Chinese starters, with which I drank Doom Bar. Jackie now has the cold as well, so this finger food suited us both.