Skilful Chiselling

When John Corden visited us in February he was struck by our New Forest landscape which reminded him of studying Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” which he had read at school, where his English teacher had instructed the boys not to skip the first chapters describing the landscape because that countryside was one of the important characters in the book. He asked us whether Hardy had lived nearby. He had, indeed. On October 11th 2013 we had visited the thatched cottage in which he was born, not far away across the county border into Dorset. Jackie sits by the fireside which once warmed the budding writer.

I therefore returned to my Folio Society edition of the novel in which the terrain is indeed a major feature. An informative introduction by R.M. puts the work in the context of the author’s life and work.

Thomas Hardy writes an engrossing and intriguing tale of life and relationships among a few villagers sharing the remote setting. Such geographical proximity as there is does not exclude emotional distance, rivalry, and conflict. The author’s descriptions of the nature of the human inhabitants, the wildlife, and Egdon Heath itself is matched by sensitive dialogue. One might also say that the weather, which certainly reflects the action and moods of the protagonists, is also a significant character.

Peter Reddick’s robust, muscular, woodcuts depict the harsh reality of life at the time, and the noble strength of those who lived there then.

Endpaper maps of the fictional Wessex have Egdon Heath alongside what is The New Forest, and Reddick’s illustrations show a landscape largely unchanged in our National Park.


I have diverged from my usual practise of presenting the illustrations in full page scans because they are so small and so numerous that I would be flooding you with text. This has the advantage of enlarging and making more visible the artist’s skilful chiselling.

This evening we dined on lemon chicken; roasted new and sweet potatoes; crunchy carrots, and tender green beans with which I finished the Pinot Noir and Jackie drank Hoegaarden.


‘The Posthumous Papers of The Pickwick Club’ was the 24 year old Charles Dickens’s  serialised debut novel. Such publications in 1836 were the soaps of the period before television and a more leisurely age when reading was a main source of entertainment. The monthly instalments of these comic capers were eagerly awaited by those in many walks of life. Those who couldn’t read gathered round their more literate friends and colleagues, having contributed to the costs of library borrowing.

Today’s promotional merchandise boosting sales for blockbuster films and best-selling books like the Harry Potter series are no new idea. Pickwick inspired items were on sale when Queen Victoria came to the throne. There may not have been a market for replica football kits, but there was for Pickwick hats and coats.

The novel itself is really a series of short stories stitched together with the thread of what Mr Pickwick himself terms his “rambles” which were taken by coach and horses with groups of friends around the South of England. Interest was a little slow to catch on and the young author seemed to be feeling his way before picking up the pace with gusto. Gradually we become attached the characters introduced along the way.

Every so often what appears to be an extraneous story is introduced in the patched garment. These I found of varying interest.

As usual with Dickens, we learn much about the social, economic, and legal aspects of contemporary life. The author writes with fluidity; with remarkable knowledge of human nature; and with considerable humour. But, then, the world has appreciated that for almost two centuries,

All the strands are neatly drawn together in the closing stages when we learn the outcome of various relationships and their prospective futures.

Christopher Hibbert’s introduction to my Folio Society edition is scholarly and informative – I owe Pickwick hats and coats to him.

I have now finished reading the lengthy tome and can complete my posting of Charles Keeping’s

lively line drawings leaping exuberantly from the leaves of the book. I have written before about the artist’s fidelity to the text. What is also striking is his expressive rendering of the author’s characterisation. Keeping conveys the nature of his subjects with humour and accuracy. Some are grotesque caricatures; others gentle and sensitive souls. Comparison with the first and last of today’s selection will indicate that Charles Keeping can produce consistent individual portraits.

This evening we dined on smoked haddock, cod fish cakes, very tasty carrots, tender runner beans, juicy ratatouille and Jackie’s piquant cauliflower cheese, with which she drank Hoegaarden and I finished the Syrah.


This morning we visited Shelley and Ron’s home bearing flowers and cards for a particular occasion. Ron was otherwise engaged, but Helen was also present. We enjoyed coffee and conversation and returned home for lunch.

Having reached page 556 of The Pickwick Papers I am ready to reproduce another batch of Charles Keeping’s illustrations to the Folio Society edition.

Close perusal of the last double page spread comparing the author’s text with the lively line drawings will display the artist’s fidelity to Charles Dickens’s writing and the skill of whoever planned the layout of the book. Should it be necessary, a click or two will enlarge the leaves.

This evening we dined on roast lamb; roast potatoes and butternut squash; crisp Yorkshire pudding; crunchy carrots; tender cabbage; and very meaty gravy, with which Jackie drank Hoegaarden and I drank Finca Carelio Tempranillo Barrica 2015.

Keeping Dickens

Charle 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.

As I Lay Dying

Mat, Tess, and Poppy returned to their home at Upper Dicker late this afternoon.

Afterwards, I finished reading William Faulkner’s ‘As I Lay Dying’. The book was first published in New York in 1930 by Jonathon Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc. My Folio Society Edition of 2011 is enhanced by William Gay’s knowledgeable and insightful introduction, and by the evocative illustrations of Katherine Hardy.

Fifteen different narrators are the device by which the author tells the tale of an eventful burial trip. They alternate with each other in presenting chapters varying in length from one line to a mere handful of pages. We enter the hearts and minds of a stubbornly independent poor rural family as the individuals relate their thoughts and observations in most credible uneducated vernacular. The protagonists, despite a certain amount of stupidity, usually retain their dignity.

Practical, sometimes wry, common sense is expressed by characters outside the bizarre-thinking family whose determined isolation does not work to their advantage. The trip has different meanings to different members of the Bundren Family who are too proud to accept help from anyone. The story is a compelling one of which I will not reveal details.

The front board bears a giant fish

caught by the youngest son.

The mother of the family appears on the frontispiece,

and other full page illustrations appear at intervals.

Despite the title, this was not an unenjoyable book to read at the holiday period.

This evening, Becky, Ian, Jackie, and I dined on the Culinary Queen’s splendid beef in red wine, creamy mashed potatoes, mashed swede, crisp carrots, cauliflower, and broccoli, followed by Christmas pudding and custard, with which I drank El Zumbido Granacha 2018 and Becky and Ian drank Wairauru Cove 2018. These delights were consumed on our knees while watching Rocketman, the marvellous biopic of Elton John played by Taron Egerton

The Siege Of Krishnapur

In the afternoon of this day of steady rainfall Paul and Margery visited to deliver the painting by John Jones that Paul has now framed. We had an enjoyable conversation over tea and mince pies, and are very pleased with both the picture and the framing.

During the rest of the day I finished reading J.G.Farrell’s historical novel ‘The Siege Of Krishnapur’. Originally published by George Weidenfeld and Nicholson 1n 1973, mine is the Folio Society edition of 2008 with an excellent and insightful introduction by Hilary Mantel and evocative illustrations by Francis Mosley.

Without revealing anything of the story I can say that the clearly impeccably and aimlessly researched work takes us into the period of the Raj, its customs, its class divisions, and its beliefs. The pace of the narrative reflects the ebb and flow of action and reflection of such an event. There is dramatic action and there dull, energy-sapping periods. All the senses are so well engaged. Sickness and death are rife. We see how people are revealed in their true colours – some rising to the occasion, others failing or turning it to their own advantage. Barriers between the sexes are broken down.

The boards are embossed with this design by the artist which also runs across the spine.


Mr Mosley, especially with his chosen palette, has captured the essence of the time and place.

As, this evening, we left home to meet Elizabeth at The Wheel Inn, Jackie photographed arboreal fingers reaching for the full moon draped in dramatic clouds.

The staff at the community pub, having reserved a friendly table,

had placed us beside the log fire. Jackie also produced these two photographs.

Elizabeth and I both enjoyed crispy duck with ginger salad starters.

My main course consisted of oven baked hake wrapped in parma ham, lobster sauce, sautéed potatoes and asparagus. The ladies were both delighted with their roast turkey with all the trimmings. Jackie finished with Christmas pudding, and I chose Eton mess. Both were very good. Jackie and Elizabeth  both drank Warsteiner and I drank Ringwood’s Best.

The Evolution Of A Room

Today was hot enough for us to open doors and windows.

One of these was the stable door. It is my fond imagining that a horse was once kept in what became the garage, which we converted to

a utility room leading to a library, fronted by

a boarded trellis bearing clematises, solanum, nasturtiums, petunias, geraniums, etc.

I do hope this accurately describes the evolution of a room.

A few days ago I had taken my copy of J.L. Carr’s short novel, ‘A Month in the Country’ from my library, and I finished reading it this afternoon. Winner of the Guardian Fiction Prize for 1980, the book is a many faceted gem. Two men are linked by the fact of having survived Passchendaele and each having accepted commissions to uncover secrets of a medieval church. I will try not to reveal too much, but can say that in economical, well-placed, prose encompassing just 121 pages of my Folio Society copy of 1999 the author speaks of heaven and hell; of judgement, redemption, and damnation; of joy and pain; of culture and spirituality; of time and eternity; all with a slowly seething undercurrent of suppressed sexuality. It wasn’t heterosexual love to which Lord Alfred Douglas referred as ‘the love that dare not speak its name’, yet there are other reasons for fear of revealing feelings.

Ronald Blythe’s perceptive and informative introduction reflects the author’s style.

Ian Stephen’s detailed illustrations are true to the text.

The front and back boards are each printed with a copy of the artist’s engraving for the frontispiece.

Here are the rest.

Early this evening we took a brief trip into the forest.

From Pound Lane near Thorney Hill we watched ponies paddling in Whitten Pond, alongside which a young woman played ball with a pair of dogs.

On our return we dined on a second helping of Mr Chan’s excellent Chinese Take Away with which we both drank Tsing Tao beer.