Family History

With my Chauffeuse out shopping today I finished reading

The front cover of my Virago Modern Classics edition, Number 234 of 1986, shows “The Opera Cloak” by William Strang.

The back cover contains the publisher’s accurate blurb on the novel,

after the last page of which is this description of the history and aims of the ground-breaking publishing house.

Not the best known of Vita Sackville-West’s works, this is the first I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It is a very well crafted book divided into four parts each devoted to interlinking the various protagonists and their perspectives. Without spoilers I cannot better the publisher’s description.

The book having first appeared in 1932, the author’s own social background is reflected in the class of the main characters and their efforts to adapt to the conflict-inducing winds of change.

The writing is easy and fluent with a straightforward vocabulary making good use of adjectives and adverbs and conveying the meaning with careful simplicity. Vita is a mistress of sentence length, able, with appropriate punctuation to write a prolonged description or to suggest much with a short line. One example that remains in my mind is “an owl hoots in the distance”, or words to that effect (I can’t remember exactly), during a late afternoon walk in a garden. With that short phrase the writer conveys the bucolic location and the time of day, without interrupting the conversation as the evening draws in. This spareness is a characteristic of her pictures of town and country; of buildings, gardens, and landscape.

Mrs Sackville-West chronicles exchanges between people in a natural way. She has a good understanding of struggles to engage; of cultural divides; and of expressed and unexpressed views, conflicts, and ambivalences. Her characterisation is complex and revealing.

Victoria Glendinning’s introduction is well-written, knowledgeable, and informative.

With sunset due sometime after 4.00 p.m. today, and then to have descended behind the buildings of Christchurch Road, I photographed it while there was still a glow in the clear sky

and pink tinges touching the few clouds to the north-east.

Elizabeth visited today with infant bedding for Flo sent by Frances. By invitation she joined us for dinner, which consisted of well-topped pizzas, Jackie’s delicious chicken stewp, and plentiful salad, with which the Culinary Queen drank Southern Ocean Western Cape Sauvignon Blanc 2021 and Elizabeth and I drank Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon 2021.


Lake on fieldStream overflowing

Heavy overnight rain had left lakes on the landscape and pools on the roads. Tractor tracks disappeared into a field now occupied by waterfowl. On my walk home from  car trip to Milford on Sea, I took one look at the overflowing stream alongside the footpath leading to the nature reserve, and decided to take the Park Lane route to the clifftop. As I received a sparkling cascade thrown up by a speeding motorist, I realised I may have been slightly mistaken in this.

Councillor Matthew Goode has been helpfully engaged in a conversation on Streetlife about the replacement of the footpath that fell into the sea last summer. Local residents are concerned about the time this is taking. It seems to me it would be rather rash to replace it before proper geological studies have been undertaken. It is easy to see where the next falls could possibly occur. The dog in the photograph was perhaps conducting its own survey.

Dog on clifftop

Crow on stumpCrowsWhenever rooks or seagulls find themselves a convenient post on which to perch, they are dive-bombed by relatives wishing to supplant them, and generally take off in a hurry. So it was this morning.

Later this afternoon, I finished reading Virginia Woolf’s novel ‘Orlando’. Woolf herself termed it a biography, which was why it was less popular with booksellers than with the reading public, because the shops believed biography did not sell as well as the fictional genre. Quentin Bell, in his introduction to my copy, describes the work as a prose poem.

James Joyce, in his lengthy novel ‘Ulysses’, manages to occupy no more than twenty four hours in the life of Leopold Bloom. The shorter piece from Mrs Woolf has Orlando, born at the end of the sixteenth century, still living in 1928, changing sex from male to female at the midway point, bearing two children, and reaching the age of just thirty- six by the end of the book.

Having met in 1922, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West’s friendship developed into a two or three year sexual relationship, perhaps culminating in this gift from Virginia to Vita, first published in 1928. The writer has found a fascinating form with which to celebrate her lover; her lover’s family, the Sackvilles; and Knole, their ancestral home. Orlando/Vita glides through three centuries of largely indulgent life in elegant surroundings described in beautifully flowing, opulent, and gloriously seductive descriptive prose. Woolf was having fun, even to the extent of calling it biography.

Vita Sackville-WestIllustrations of the adult, female, Orlando are photographs of Vita Sackville-West.

My copy purports to be no. 191 of a limited edition of 1000 of the Hogarth Press Collected Edition published in 1990. The £1 pencilled on the flyleaf suggests I bought it second-hand with no dust-jacket. Although the boards look genuine, I was surprised to find the book perfect-bound; containing several typographical errors; and a number of blank pages, not, as in Lawrence Sterne’s ‘Tristram Shandy’, deliberately left so by the author.Stamp

Two stamps, one superimposed on the other, giving an impression reminiscent of the London Underground, are in what my uneducated eye imagines to be Chinese. The only signs that the book may have been read before me were a few splashes of what I hope is coffee on the page edges; and pages 212/213 pasted in. Where has it been, and who drank the coffee?

Second-hand books do often give scope for such speculation.

Becky is, I know, not responsible for the stain, because that was in place when I lent it to her recently. She did, however, take the trouble to find the two missing pages of text on the internet and stick them into the blanks. Other empty pages should be part of the appendices.

This evening we dined on Jackie’s juicy chilli con carne and my plain boiled rice, followed by Pearl’s delicious Dutch Apple Cake with a.n. other’s cream. I started on an excellent bottle of Arene des Anges Costieres de Nimes 2013 given to us for Christmas by Helen and Bill.