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.

The Crime Of Sylvestre Bonnard

Unfortunately my copy of the title work of fiction is not one of the Bodley Head collection of the works of Anatole France, illustrated by Frank C. Papé. It is, however, an early Folio Society volume of 1948, complete with dust jacket.

This charming little tale, first published in 1891, was the author’s first novel. In his usual flowing, poetic, prose he gives us a story of relationships spanning generations. With a delightful delicacy he describes the beauty of human emotions, not omitting scoundrels. As usual, I will not reveal the details. The work has always been in print for anyone who wishes to read it.

Lafcadio Hearn’s translation has been used by permission of The Bodley Head. The translator has provided a useful introduction.

Book illustration, by 1948, had moved on from the Golden Age of elegant draftsmanship exemplified by Mr Papé. The more impressionistic lithographs of Harold Hope-Read are quite a contrast to the careful lines of the earlier illustrator.

Once the reader peers through the murk of the artist’s well balanced designs and deciphers the suggested expressions of the people in the images it is possible to recognise his fidelity to the charming text.

This evening we dined on Lidl ready-made curries. Mine was chicken jalfrezi; Jackie’s was chicken korma. These acceptable meals were followed by Belgian buns.

The Plague

This afternoon I watched the BBC broadcast of the Six Nations rugby match between Scotland and Ireland.

The following three paragraphs have been taken from http://www.beautifulbritain.co.uk/htm/outandabout/eyam.htm

The site contains more information and relevant details.

‘It’s hard to imagine that the quiet village of Eyam, off the A623 in Derbyshire, could have such a fascinating, yet tragic story to tell. But …. at the end of August 1665 bubonic plague arrived at the house of the village tailor George Viccars, via a parcel of cloth from London. The cloth was damp and was hung out in front of the fire to dry, thus releasing the plague infested fleas. On 7th September 1665, George Viccars, the first plague victim, died of a raging fever. As the plague took hold and decimated the villagers it was decided to hold the church services outdoors at nearby Cucklett Delf and, on the advice of rector William Mompesson and the previous incumbent Thomas Stanley, villagers stayed within the confines of the village to minimize the spread of the disease. Cucklett Delf was also the secret meeting place of sweethearts Emmott Sydall, from Eyam, and Rowland Torre, who was from a neighbouring village. They would call to each other across the rocks, until Emmott Sydall herself became a victim of the plague. Six of the eight Sydall family died, and their neighbours lost nine family members.

To minimize cross infection, food and other supplies were left outside the village, at either the Boundary Stones, or at Mompesson’s Well, high above the village. The Earl of Devonshire, who lived at Chatsworth House, freely donated food and medical supplies. For all other goods, money, as payment, was either purified by the running water in the well or was left in vinegar soaked holes. The Riley graves, close to Riley House Farm and approximately 1/2 mile from the village house the bodies of the husband and six children of farmer Elizabeth Hancock. All died within a week of each other. Because of the high risk of infecting her neighbours she had the traumatic task of burying them all herself. Even more tragic is that the infection probably came to her family when she helped bury another villager’s body. Twelve months after the death of George Vicars, the plague was still claiming its victims, and on 25th August 1666 Catherine Mompesson, wife of the recently appointed rector William Mompesson (aged 28) , died of the plague. She had loyally stayed with her husband and tended the sick, only to become a victim herself.

The Plague in Eyam raged for 14 months and claimed the lives of at least 260 villagers. By 1st November 1666 it had run its course and claimed its last victim. Eyam’s selfless villagers, with their strong Christian convictions, had shown immense personal courage and self sacrifice. They had prevented the plague from spreading to other parishes, but many paid the ultimate price for their commitment.’

It would be fascinating to know whether, when he wrote ‘The Plague’, Albert Camus, Algerian winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, had known of the story of Eyam during the 17th Century bubonic plague. He has certainly written a convincing account of life during an enclosed confinement at the mercy of such a pestilence.

Camus stated of his work, first published in 1947 that ‘I wish to express through the plague the suffocation which we have all suffered, and the atmosphere of threat and exile in which we have lived.’ This is an undoubted reference to the German occupation of France. On a broader scale the book could be seen as a metaphor for any oppressive invasion.

As usual I will not reveal details of the tale. There is in fact very little plot, but the writer has evoked the initial disbelief, subsequent reluctant acceptance, psychological isolation, resignation, and despair of most, along with exhausting resistance of a few.

I have not read the original French of ‘La Peste’, but I believe Stuart Gilbert’s translation reflects the author’s flowing, insightful, prose.

My Folio Society edition of 1987, which I finished reading today contains an informative introduction by Derek Parker, and is illustrated with

Linda Kitson’s muscular drawings.

The essential difference between the English village and the town depicted by Camus is that of voluntary sacrifice and imposed isolation.

This evening we dined on Mr Chan’s excellent Hordle Chinese Take Away fare, on trays on our laps while we watched a recording of the earlier match between Wales and Italy.

Master & Commander

I entered New Hall Hospital on 9th January, intending to persevere with Patrick O’Brian’s ‘Master & Commander’. This despite the fact that I cannot really concentrate on reading in my post-operative condition.

This novel is the first of the author’s acclaimed series of 18 works focussing on 18th century seamanship. Whilst I could admire the skilful research and the accurate presentation of seagoing life during O’Brian’s chosen period the book’s first hundred or so pages had not engaged me.

Mine is the 2008 edition of the Folio Society, illustrated with contemporary maps and paintings; and detailed drawings of ropes and rigging. It is the immense amount of technical detail that tied me up in so many knots that I could not enjoy the undoubted excellent characterisation offered by the writer.

Back at home, I opened it again, where a telltale bookmark slipped out from between pp 324/5. My practice of leaving bookmarks in my books is featured in ‘Bookmarks’. A secondary bonus is that this will remind me that I have already read the work. That I had no memory of this one demonstrates that I had struggled equally ten years ago.

This time I abandoned the effort and turned to ‘Treasure Palaces’, edited by Maggie Fergusson. This, a Christmas present from Tess and Mat, is a perfect recovery project: short chapters, each a description of a variety of authors’ chosen museums, contrasting their first, childhood, experience with a more recent one. Completing my reading today, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This evening we enjoyed a second sitting of Hordle Chinese Take Away fare.