Droll Tales 13

In truth, I am not sure how take the third tale of the second Decade of Honoré de Balzac’s scurrilous stories. And I am not sure that the publishers and their illustrators are either.

No doubt packed with the author’s double entendre one could take this as what The Folio Society edition entitles “The Edificatory Conversation of the Nuns of Poissy” – perhaps that is also tongue in cheek? – or do we understand the warnings against male fleas to be the consequences of consorting with men? Repeated reading suggests the latter to me – but also that there are many ways of getting round the difficulty. After all, this convent was the butt of jokes.

Mervyn Peake’s illustration demonstrates one refuge for disappointed suitors.

“The Merry Tattle of the Nuns of Poissy” is the preferred title of Gustave Doré’s publishers, while those of

Jean de Bosschère who, true to type is sure of how to interpret the prose, prefer “The Merry Quips of the Nuns of Poissy”

Further details of each of these publications is given in https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/ except that the second Decade is published by New York’s Covici, Friede in 1929. It is America’s first edition thus and is a limited copy. The illustrations are not protected by tissue but the book’s condition is good and is covered by a cellophane wrapper. 

Droll Tales 12

The second Tale of the second Decade of Honoré de Balzac’s Droll Tales bears the title “King Francis’s Short Commons” in the Folio Society edition

illustrated by Mervyn Peake.

This is a very short story concerning the French King’s spell of captivity in Madrid by the Emperor Charles the Fifth, during which his short commons were relieved by a series of ladies encouraging him to select a preference between those of France and of Spain.

The publishers of both Gustave Doré’s

and Jean de Bosschère’s pictorial interpretations each adopted “The Continence of King Francis the First”.

Further details of each of these publications is given in https://derrickjknight.com/2023/01/06/droll-tales-1/except that the second Decade is published by New York’s Covici, Friede in 1929. It is America’s first edition thus and is a limited copy. The illustrations are not protected by tissue but the book’s condition is good and it is covered by a cellophane wrapper. 

Une Vie

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Today I read the last few pages of

Maupassant is perhaps best known for his short stories. In his short life of 43 years these were quite prolific. This exquisite gem is his first novel.

I have to be even more careful than usual not to give away details of this life, which is the theme of the book, however, I will do my best aided by concentrating on the deliciously poetic prose. The straightforward fluid language is a pleasure to read, especially, as the work of a man, it is described most credibly from the perspective of a woman. He stints neither appropriately placed adjectives nor adverbs, and packs his evocation with similes and, to a lesser extent, metaphors. He has that skill of using weather conditions to reflect the emotional mood of his subject.

Maupassant has the ability to enter the mind of his main protagonist; to focus on her hopes, dreams, disappointments, fears, conflicts, and memories; and to engage our own feelings, both positive and negative, of varying strengths: we may become romantic or inspired to violence.

Not having read the original, I cannot judge the translation, but I feel certain that Katharine Vivian has produced a faithful rendition.

Mervyn Horder’s introduction sets the novel in the context of the author’s life and work, and of his time.

Hungarian/British artist Laszlo Acs’s well crafted lithographs are of splendid composition.

Although not stated, front and back boards are probably from his design.

The Grapes Of Wrath

On this, another day of rest and recuperation while recovering from a heavy cold, I finished reading

which, according to Studs Terkel in his excellent introduction, “Dorothy Parker, at the time of its publication in 1939, called ‘the greatest American novel I have ever read’ “. Like Terkel, who has surely read many more, I would concur.

The Folio Society produced this fine edition to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original publication. Without giving away too much of the story I can say that this is the tale of myriads of farming families driven from their rented lands by the Dust Bowl drought and the owners of their farms which could no longer provide their living. Terkel cites the 1988 drought as a repetition of the earlier natural disaster. And here we are again facing the consequences of worldwide similar events.

Firstly, this is a gripping tale focussed on the flight of one family and those they encounter along the way to the promised land of California. The prose is of the quality that was to win the author the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. The narrative flows along with intermittent lyrical notes. Speech is given in the vernacular which is natural and uncomplicated.

Steinbeck uses straightforward language to describe landscape, events, atmosphere, and character to a degree that takes us right there with him. We see, hear, touch, and taste, with all the protagonists; and empathise with their feelings.

We are reminded how shared adversity can both bring people together and divide them; we see generosity in that adversity and we see how fear of difference can turn to hate and violence.

The division and mistrust between the haves and have-nots reflects today’s chasms. If you have not yet read this novel I would urge you to do so. There are many lessons therein for all of us.

Terkel was an inspired choice of introducer because his prose is commensurate with that of Steinbeck. He places the work in history and in the writer’s oeuvre.

Annie Christensen’s muscular illustrations are, as can be seen by the pages in which they are set (except for the full page one), faithful to the text:

The diagonals crossing the front cover continue across the spine to the back board. The design is based on the artist’s frontispiece above.

My header picture is Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, from a California migrant workers’ camp in 1936.

This evening I dined on more of the chilli con carne while the others, except for Ellie, enjoyed beef burgers and chips. Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Gran Selone.

The Great Gatsby

This morning I finished reading

of which the above is the title page and the frontispiece;

and next the front boards and spine.

Tim Andrews has provided a knowledgeable and insightful introduction in which he states that ‘Fitzgerald’s fascination with the very rich and his concern with their corruptive and destructive power had been treated earlier in his fantasy, ‘The Diamond as Big as the Ritz’ ‘

As usual, I will refrain from giving away any of the story, save to say that it relates a truly terrible tragedy in the Shakespearian sense – the result of harbouring a long term dream.

The spare, elegant, lines of the illustrator reflect those of the writer, who wastes no words in which every noun, adjective, and adverb carries maximum weight and the narrative races along with the rhythm of the hedonistic Jazz Age of the 1920s, in the wake of the First World War.

Fitzgerald may well identify with his narrator, but he has no love for the profligate culture of the privileged rich who live for pleasure and exploitation. People of doubtful morals don’t seem to really care for others, despite their propensity for affairs.

We are kept engaged from the opening sentences, through the shocking surprise, to the carefully controlled closure.

Widely regarded as the author’s masterpiece I have no quibble with that, although I have not read much more of his work which is said to be variable.


This morning I finished reading

The book carries a useful introduction by Susan Hill and skilful woodcuts by Joan Hassall, who has produced a good likeness of the writer on the frontispiece.

Although I had previously read most of the longer works of Elizabeth Gaskell, one of my favourite Victorian novelists, I had never read this little gem before. This was begun as a brief entry into Dickens’s magazine, Household Words, and until the author was later persuaded to turn it into a novel was to remain as such. She did produce the novel which originally appeared in book form in 1853. Mrs Gaskell’s elegant prose and skill in story telling has produced a romance which is much more than the original concept of a description of the fading genteel society of mostly contemporary women and their subtle intrigues, clashes of personality, petty squabbles, and keen gossip. The characterisation is rounded and the people mostly engaging. There are joys and disasters, all finally brought to clear conclusions.

The captioned illustrations are interspersed among the text, while

a variety of relevant vignettes bring to a close many of the chapters and ultimately the book.

This evening we dined on roast chicken thighs marinaded in Nando’s lemon chicken sauce; a flavoursome combo of savoury rice from Becky and Jackie; a firm broccoli, followed by New Forest strawberries – the tastiest we’ve ever known – and cream. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank more of the Fougères.


After lunch I posted https://derrickjknight.com/2022/04/21/a-knights-tale-127-the-big-c/

Later I finished reading

The beautifully flowing descriptive writing in this short novel reveals the true calling of this precocious poet. The elegantly simple prose is packed with details of place, people, and events. There is no excessive padding. The introspective nature of the author is reflected in the emotional life of his main protagonist who is introduced in earlier sections, before we meet him through his diary. As usual I will not reveal details of the story, which involves insights into early 19th century Russian culture familiar to those of Lermontov’s class.

As always, the work of the translator was important. Reginald Merton seems to have caught the exquisite essence of the original in a language which I cannot read.

Peter Foster’s informative introduction puts the work and the author in the perspective of the times and the author’s literary contemporaries.

Dodie Masterman’s lithographs delicately suggest mood and atmosphere with use of muted colour and sparing detail. For example, the fifth picture in this gallery demonstrates that the encounter is not going too well.

I hope I am not giving anything away by saying that the design on the .front and back boards has reverberations both for the author and for his protagonists. Ultimately this book is an exploration of predestination.

This evening we dined at Lal Quilla, where my main meal was Chicken Jaljala; Jackie’s, Chom Chop Chicken; and Flo’s, Lamb Makhani; we shared pilau rice, sag paneer, and egg paratha. Jackie and I drank Kingfisher, and Flo, J2O. Food and service was as excellent as always.

On our way home Jackie photographed gulls at sunset from Milford on Sea.

‘Bleak House’ Comes To The End

Last night I finished reading my Folio Society edition of ‘Bleak House’ By Charles Dickens.

First published in instalments from March 1852 to August 1853, this is a superb novel from a writer at the peak of his powers. As is my wont I will not provide details of the story which other readers may wish to discover for themselves, save to say that, through the interminable case of Jarndyce v. Jarndyce, it is a scathing attack on the Court of Chancery, but so much more besides. The scope and complexity of the author’s work reflects that of the legal system itself.

A host of brilliantly depicted characters thread their ways through the narrative in a more thoroughly composed manner than in any of his previous works. There is an abundance of Dickens’s wit and humour and both bucolic and sordid urban descriptions.

There is romance and mystery awaiting resolution at the end of the book, when, as usual, the concluding situations of the panoply of protagonists and supporting characters are strung together like neatly tied bundles of Chancery papers.

There are also desperately tragic lives hopelessly ruined by conditions of the day.

Christopher Hibbert’s introduction is as knowledgeable and informative as usual.

Before lunch I scanned the last four illustrations by the truly inimitable Charles Keeping.

In ‘ ‘I beg to lay the ouse, the business, and myself before Miss Summerson’ ‘ Keeping has suggested the gulf between the speaker and his audience both by the use of the space in the double spread, and by the expressions on the faces.

‘Even the clerks were laughing’ has its own story to tell.

‘The mausoleum in the park’ is suitably forbidding;

and ‘Bleak House’ Mark 2 quite the opposite.

Following Flo’s lead of transferring barrow loads of compost to the Rose Garden yesterday,

Jackie, who had cleaned out the water fountain, and I continued tidying the

said Garden, now featuring plentiful forget-me-nots and bluebells.

Later, Flo spread more compost on the Pond Bed.

(Yvonne, you need read no further)

This evening we dined on Jackie’s perfectly cooked roast lamb dinner; complete with crisp Yorkshire pudding, sage and onion stuffing, and roast potatoes, including the sweet variety; crunchy carrots, firm broccoli, and tender cabbage; all with meaty gravy. Rice pudding laced with strawberry jam was to follow. The Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden and I drank Patrick Chodot Fleurie 2019.


This afternoon I posted https://derrickjknight.com/2022/03/29/a-knights-tale-119-the-foxton-staircase/

Later, I read more of ‘Bleak House’ and scanned three more of the inimitable Charle Keeping’s illustrations to my Folio Society edition.

‘She fell down on her knees’

‘Mr Grubble was standing at the door to his tavern’

‘Not only was the portrait there, but we found the original there too’

Meanwhile Jackie occupied herself with the preparation of dinners for tonight and for tomorrow.

Tonight’s chicken in Nando’s sauce was roasted in the oven.

With this tasty meal, the Culinary Queen drank Hoegaarden, Ian and Becky drank Tierra y Hombre Sauvignon Blanc 2021, while I finished the Tulga.

In The Nursery Field

Yesterday I received an e-mail stating that the probate grant application has been approved and I should receive it in 10 working days.

This morning I scanned six more of Charles Keeping’s excellent illustrations to my Folio Society edition of ‘Bleak House’.

‘Mrs Jellyby, in the midst of a voluminous correspondence’

‘She sat on a chair holding his hand’

In ‘Jo brought into the little drawing-room by Guster’ Keeping indicates he distance between elements of the scene by separating them with a little text.

‘Mr Squod catches him up, chair and all’

‘A street of little shops’

‘Miss Volumnia and the cousinship of the Nobodys’

This afternoon Becky and Flo went shopping and Jackie and I took a forest drive.

Sheep occupy a field about a mile along Christchurch Road heading west.

Newborn lambs suckle, frolic, and head butt in the nursery fields opposite. Today there were a number of twins, bearing the same identifying digits as their mothers.

It was quite a contrast to see two of the most massive porkers we’ve ever seen housed on Harpway Lane at Winkton.

Ponies grazed on the terrain outside Holmsley Walk Car Park;

the grey had just given the bay a resounding head bash before I took this shot.

Early this evening Flo burnt more slender twigs in the rusty incinerator.

This evening we dined on tender roast chicken; crisp roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding; crunchy carrots ; firm Brussels sprouts, and tasty gravy, with which Jackie, Becky, and I drank the same beverages as yesterday and Flo drank elderflower cordial.