More lovely books have arrived in the last couple of weeks. Lots of preorders coming home to roost as well as some surprises that I had no intention of buying but I couldn't resist such bargains. With Christmas just around the corner, I had to have this lovely anthology from Vintage, Round the Christmas Fire. There are some lovely treats such as ghost stories by Edith Wharton & M R James, diary entries from Francis Kilvert & Adrian Mole, extracts from Nancy Mitford's Christmas Pudding & Jeeves & the Yuletide spirit by P G Wodehouse. I've decided to make it my Advent treat & read one story every day. A lot less fattening than chocolate. Period Piece by Gwen Raverat is the latest memoir to get the gorgeous Slightly Foxed treatment & the binding is a beautifully Christmassy red. I love the Slightly Foxed Editions & have collected them all. I read Period Piece many years ago & loved it. Raverat was a member of the lovably eccentric Darwin family & this recollection of a Cambridge childhood is just glorious. Funny, witty & illustrated by the author. If you've never read it, you're in for a treat, perfect Christmas holiday reading.
Virago have been adding to their Modern Classics with the Emily books by L M Montgomery. I've only read the first Anne book but these looked so lovely & many people prefer the Emily books to Anne so I'm looking forward to reading them.
Angela Thirkell is another new addition to the VMC list & I love the beautiful covers of these reprints. Pomfret Towers & Christmas at High Rising have just been published & there are three more to look forward to next year. Desperate Reader has devoured them already & you can read her enthusiastic reviews here & here.
Lucinda Hawksley's new biography of Princess Louise, daughter of Queen Victoria, has received some press coverage due to the scandalous revelations of illegitimate births & love affairs. I've always been interested in Louise who seems to have been quite the rebel, an artist & sculptor who seems to have led a life far removed from that of most royal women. Lucinda Hawksley's previous biographies of Lizzie Siddal & Katey Dickens were excellent & I can't wait to read this one.
I was contacted by Michael Walmer, a publisher who is reprinting late Victorian/Edwardian books that have been overlooked by the other reprint houses. Simon at Stuck in a Book thought I might be interested as Michael is based in South Australia. Well, I was interested & Michael has kindly sent me two books for review, I Pose by Stella Benson, which Simon has been enjoying & The Twelfth Hour, Ada Leverson's first novel. The books are POD but are excellent quality. The covers are attractive & the fonts look like the originals. I'm looking forward to reading them both.
Now, the books I couldn't resist. My favourite remainders bookshop, Clouston & Hall, had a Special Selection of OUP World's Classics. At about $8 each, I wasn't going to refuse to look through the list, obviously. I've read the Willa Cathers before but it was many years ago & I'd like to reread them & I can't do that if I don't own copies, can I? I also bought The Paston Letters (I have Helen Castor's book on the Pastons, Blood & Roses, on the tbr shelves so this is an essential companion read), The Italian by Ann Radcliffe, A Sentimental Journey by Laurence Sterne, Gwyn Jones's History of the Vikings, Polidori's The Vampyre, & Dickens's Sketches of Young Gentlemen & Young Couples which is an early work reprinted last year for the Bicentenary. Luckily I'd read lots of the books on offer or I could have spent much more!
Edward Westray is a young architect sent to the former seaport of Cullerne by his employer to oversee the repairs to the Minster, St Sepulchre. Westray is a conscientious young man, intent on making his way in his profession. On his first visit to the church he meets the pompous rector, Canon Parkyn & the organist, Nicholas Sharnell. Sharnell & the Rector have little sympathy with each other & have very different ideas about the church. Westray also hears the story of the Nebuly Coat, the coat of arms of the Blandamer family, which is represented in the stained glass windows & monuments. The Blandamers are the local landowners although they've taken little interest in the church & its structural problems for some years. The current Lord Blandamer has been abroad & hasn't been seen for some years.
Sharnell offers to find Westray a room at his lodging house, a former inn called the Hand of God. The house has been renamed Bellevue House & is rented by a respectable but impoverished gentlewoman, Miss Euphemia Joliffe. Miss Joliffe lives frugally & is pleased to offer rooms to Westray. Her niece, Anastasia, lives with her & helps out with the work. Anastasia's father, Martin, had recently died & his life was a wasted one. He had become obsessed by the idea that he was the rightful Lord Blandamer & pursued his genealogical researches to the exclusion of all else. His mother, Sophia, had married Colonel Joliffe some years after Martin's birth & he never knew who his father was. The Colonel loved Martin as his own son but he was never satisfied. Even after Sophia abandoned her family to run away with a soldier, the Colonel indulged Martin above his own daughter, Euphemia.
Martin left his daughter with his sister for years at a time & returned only to sponge & run up debts before wandering away once more. His health suffered & he died still claiming that he was close to finding the proof that his mother had been married to Lord Blandamer & the current Lord had no right to his title & lands. Martin was taunted & laughed at for his fancies but his friend, Sharnell, indulged him & there were hints that there was more to his story than just imagination. Sophia had dabbled in painting & one of her pictures, a hideous still life of flowers & a caterpillar crawling along the bottom of the frame hung in Martin's room. Why should a London art dealer write to Miss Joliffe offering to buy the picture for £50? Who was the stranger who came to the house several times before Martin's death offering to buy the picture? Nobody but Martin saw this man so was he real or a figment of a sick man's imagination? Could there be a clue among Martin's jumble of papers?
Martin leaves the papers to Sharnell & he gradually became almost as obsessed with the quest as his friend. Sharnell drank heavily & his career had been blighted by drink. He told Westray the story of Martin & of his own strange fancies of being followed by a man holding a hammer. Is this reality or something supernatural? Lord Blandamer arrives in Cullerne after a long sojourn abroad & immediately offers to fund the church restoration, including the repairs to the bell tower that Westray has been urging. Blandamer befriends Westray & calls on him at the Hand of God where he meets Anastasia & hears of her father's obsession. Blandamer's motives are unclear as he pursues a friendship with Anastasia & seems to be searching for answers to questions of his own.
It's hard to say too much more about the plot of The Nebuly Coat without spoiling it. There are several ambiguities in the story that I'm still puzzling about days after I finished reading it. I read Falkner's The Lost Stradivarius a little while ago & this novel has similar elements of the supernatural. However, they're harder to fathom. Sharnell's man with the hammer could be real or could be a ghost or could just be a figment of a drunkard's imagination. St Sepulchre's is atmospheric enough without any supernatural additions. The building has a life of its own as it creaks & groans. Westray imagines he hears the arches of the tower whispering to him & Sharnell locks himself in to the organ loft when he practices alone at night.
I loved Euphemia Joliffe. She is loyal to her wastrel brother & loving to her niece who she has to support on very little. Keeping up appearances is everything. She is determined to pay his debts after his death but hesitates to sell her mother's awful painting because her mother painted it & her brother hung it in his room. She even paid to have the Hand of God inn sign painted over as she thought it blasphemous to live in a house with such a name, even though the old name keeps showing through. Cullerne is a melancholy place, full of lost souls. Once a thriving port, its glory days are long past as the channel silted up & destroyed business. The Blandamers have paid no attention to it for years & the church is in danger of falling down. Martin Joliffe's obsession is the catalyst for change for several people & I'm still puzzling over the meaning of the ending.
Summer has been slow in coming this year. There have been a few hot days but many cooler ones & quite a bit of rain which has been lovely for filling up my water tanks & watering the garden so that I don't have to. I've been very lucky with my veggie garden as a friend who grows heirloom tomatoes gave me some seedlings from her greenhouse & they're doing very well. They were a good size when I planted them about a month ago but they have taken off in this lovely weather & there are flowers on all the plants already. I have five varieties, a Black Russian, a Black Cherry, Tigerella, Rouge de Marmande & Red Pear. She also gave me a Butternut pumpkin & a Black Beauty zucchini which has flowers & a baby zucchini growing already.
Phoebe has always loved sleeping in the veggie garden. I think she enjoys the warmth of the mulch & she's always quite careful not to sleep on the plants just underneath them. This photo was taken just after the plants went in.
And this photo was taken a year ago. Nothing ever changes...
When she's not in the garden, she loves sleeping on the back porch.
Here's a couple of photos I took just the other day. I'll have tomatoes by Christmas at this rate! My Little Gem lettuces are my favourite veggie at the moment. I can just pick a few leaves for my lunchtime sandwich & it's so delicious & crisp that I seem to be eating lettuce sandwiches with just a sliver of cheese on top.
Lucky, on the other hand, chooses to sit on today's newspaper next to the radio,
or, when I'm sitting down for more than two seconds, on my lap.
Christmas is only a few weeks away & I love Christmas carols & songs so I'll be featuring them for the next few Sundays. According to the Penguin Book of Carols, Tomorrow shall be my dancing day is a very old song, probably dating back to the medieval Mystery plays. There was also a 15th century tradition of cradle prophecy carols where the infant Jesus would sit on his mother's lap & foretell his future & it may owe something to this as well.
The picture above is of the slipcase of my lovely Folio Book of Carols (the actual book is a replica of the one the angels are holding) & I'll be taking my carols from this. Only the first four verses are in the Folio book & I don't think I've ever heard the full carol which takes Christ from His Nativity to His Passion. The full version is much darker & probably more appropriate for Easter & the carol was often divided into three parts & sung at different times of the year.
This version was collected by William Sandys in his Christmas Carols, Ancient & Modern in the early 19th century.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day; I would my true love did so chance To see the legend of my play, To call my true love to my dance;
Chorus Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love, This have I done for my true love
Then was I born of a virgin pure, Of her I took fleshly substance Thus was I knit to man's nature To call my true love to my dance. Chorus
In a manger laid, and wrapped I was So very poor, this was my chance Betwixt an ox and a silly poor ass To call my true love to my dance. Chorus
Then afterwards baptized I was; The Holy Ghost on me did glance, My Father’s voice heard from above, To call my true love to my dance. Chorus
Into the desert I was led, Where I fasted without substance; The Devil bade me make stones my bread, To have me break my true love's dance. Chorus
The Jews on me they made great suit, And with me made great variance, Because they loved darkness rather than light, To call my true love to my dance. Chorus
For thirty pence Judas me sold, His covetousness for to advance: Mark whom I kiss, the same do hold! The same is he shall lead the dance. Chorus
Before Pilate the Jews me brought, Where Barabbas had deliverance; They scourged me and set me at nought, Judged me to die to lead the dance. Chorus
Then on the cross hanged I was, Where a spear my heart did glance; There issued forth both water and blood, To call my true love to my dance. Chorus
Then down to hell I took my way For my true love's deliverance, And rose again on the third day, Up to my true love and the dance. Chorus
Then up to heaven I did ascend, Where now I dwell in sure substance On the right hand of God, that man May come unto the general dance. Chorus
The Scots Kitchen is a classic book on the history & traditions of Scottish cooking. I couldn't resist buying this lovely new edition a little while ago & I've enjoyed reading it & browsing through the recipes.
First published in 1929, this new edition has been edited by Catherine Brown who also writes a biographical introduction on McNeill & has also helpfully edited the recipes to make them easier for modern cooks to follow. McNeill was an authority on Scotland's history & customs (she also wrote The Silver Bough, a book on Scottish folklore which I have on the tbr shelves). The book is not solely recipes. There's an extensive history of food in Scotland which I found fascinating. The footnotes were even more interesting & McNeill's partiality for Scotland is always in evidence. In the chapter on 17th century cooking, she laments the Union with England,
From a purely cultural point of view, Scotland lost more than she gained by the Union of the Crowns. She lost the old close contact with the most highly civilized nation in the world (France), and established a new close contact with a nation for whom efficiency, not culture; comfort, not elegance; manufacture, not art, were paramount things. She lost her reigning family - and the Stuarts, whatever their shortcomings as rulers, were genuinely aristocratic in temperament (in contradistinction to the Houses of Tudor and Hanover) and devoted to the arts...
There is no doubt as to where McNeill stands on the relative merits of Scotland & England! McNeill traces the history of Scotland through its food & is especially good on the influence of French culture & cuisine which began in the 16th century with the Auld Alliance between the two countries. However, she's just as interested in the regional dishes of the Highlands & islands & discusses the different ways of curing fish & the importance of oats as a staple part of the diet. She quotes from a wide range of texts from Dr Johnson to the novels of Sir Walter Scott & the early cookbooks published in the 19th century.
The recipes are arranged by ingredients from soups to cakes & shortbread. I was amazed at the many recipes for sheep's heads, seaweed & offal (calf's foot jelly with whipped cream, anyone?) but I admit that I'm really only tempted to try some of the cakes & puddings. I plan to try Broonie (Orkney Oatmeal Gingerbread), which was the first recipe McNeill ever collected,
One of my small companions at the island school I first attended gave me a slice of the 'broonie' whichj she sometimes brought as her midday 'piece'. I begged to know what was 'intill't' and the little lass replied, 'A peerie (little) grain o'flour, a peerie grain o'mayle (oatmeal), a peerie grain o'butter, a peerie grain o'shuggar, a peerie grain o'trekkle, and so forth. Years later, I managed to work out the proportions.
And here's the recipe,
Mix in a basin six ounces of oatmeal and six of flour. Rub in two ounces of butter. Add four ounces of sugar, a teaspoonful of ground ginger and barely three-quarters of a teaspoonful of baking soda, free from lumps. Melt two tablespoonfuls of treacle, and add, with a beaten egg and enough buttermilk to make the mixture sufficiently soft to drop from the spoon. Mix thoroughly. turn into a buttered tin and bake for from one to one and a half hours in a moderate oven till well risen and firm in the centre.
Another poem from STW's Selected Poetry. I love the atmosphere of warmth within & chill without that she conjures up so easily in just three verses. I wonder how long he's going away for? Is it just a quick trip to the shops or is he leaving forever? The poem is called The House Grown Silent.
After he had gone the wind rose, Buffeting the house and rumbling in the chimney, And I thought: It will roar against him like a lion As onward he goes. Seven miles before him, all told - Chilled will be the lips I kissed so warm at parting, Kissed in vain; for he's forth in the wind, and kisses Won't keep out the cold. Closer should I have kissed, and fondlier prayed: Pleasant is the room in the wakeful firelight, And within is the bed, arrayed with peace and safety. Would he have stayed!
Lots of enticing new books have made their way into my possession in the last couple of weeks, both bought & borrowed. One of the books I'm most excited about is Mrs Griffin Sends Her Love by Miss Read. Miss Read died just last year but had been retired for some years before that so a new collection of previously unpublished pieces is a real treat. There have been a couple of "new" Christmas books published recently but they were actually written by her editor & "inspired" by Miss Read & just didn't have the magic. This book is a collection of short essays & stories written for magazines like Country Life & The Lady. Her subjects will be familiar to anyone who loves Miss Read - rural life, childhood, teaching & the countryside as well as recollections of her collaboration with illustrator John Goodall & an account of how Miss Read was born.
I love Alison Weir's books & I've gobbled this one up already. Elizabeth of York : the first Tudor Queen was an absorbing read & I'll be posting about it soon.
More 15th century history with two books from authors new to me. I've been reading Susan Higginbotham's blog, History Refreshed, for some time now & I'm looking forward to reading her book about the Woodville family. Do I need to read another book about Richard III & the Princes in the Tower? Of course I do! I'm always interested in another view & Josephine Wilkinson's new book on the controversy was very tempting.
Greyladies are one of my favourite publishers & I've just bought their new edition of D E Stevenson's first published novel, Peter West, as well as Susan Pleydell's The Glenvarroch Gathering which was reviewed by The Captive Reader here. I'm always happy to add to my collection of Scottish domestic fiction. Greyladies will be publishing another mystery by Mabel Esther Allan in February & I'm already impatient to read it. Mum would have said my eyes were bigger than my stomach (or whatever the bookish equivalent is).
I haven't just been spending money, I've been borrowing from my library as well. This lovely pile of books have been added to the last lovely pile of books on my desk. If only I could borrow the time to read them as well...
Eat by Nigel Slater - his new cookbook. I'm looking forward to browsing & trying out a few recipes. Coming Home by Sue Gee - one of my favourite authors. Cornflower was lucky enough to hear Sue Gee speak at the recent Slightly Foxed Readers' Day. All Change by Elizabeth Jane Howard - the new Cazalet book. I love the Quartet & I've already heard good things about this one. The Assassination of the Archduke by Greg King & Sue Woolmans. Combines my fascination with royal history & WWI in the story of Archduke Franz Ferdinand & his death at Sarajevo. Meeting the Enemy by Richard Van Emden - more about WWI. A book about meetings between the combatants from opposing armies. Sounds like a fascinating & different angle to take. The Poets' Daughters by Katie Waldegrave - a biography of Sara Coleridge & Dora Wordsworth, daughters of famous fathers. I read a wonderful book some years ago about the sisters, wives & daughters of the Lake poets, A Passionate Sisterhood, by Kathleen Jones. I'm looking forward to seeing the effect fame had on these two young women who were great friends. Hebrides by Peter May - a beautifully illustrated book about the islands by an author who has written a crime series set there (which I still haven't read but definitely want to get to one day).
Plenty to be going on with, then, you'd be right in thinking. However, too many new books are really never enough so there'll probably be another new arrivals post in a few weeks because I also have the Emily books by L M Montgomery (newly reprinted by Virago) on the way as well as two more Angela Thirkells (also Virago), a new biography of Queen Victoria's daughter Louise by Lucinda Hawksley & an anthology of Christmas stories from Vintage. Watch this space!
I'm an avid reader who loves middlebrow fiction, 19th century novels, WWI & WWII literature, Golden Age mysteries & history. Other interests include listening to classical music, drinking tea, baking cakes, planning my rose garden & enjoying the antics of my cats, Lucky & Phoebe. Contact me at lynabby16AThotmailDOTcom