Saturday, June 4, 2011
Parnassus on Wheels - Christopher Morley
Worthy friends, my wain doth hold
Many a book, both new and old;
Books, the truest friends of man
Fill this rolling caravan.
Books to satisfy all uses.
Golden lyrics of the Muses.
Books on cookery and farming,
Novels passionate and charming.
Every kind for every need
So that he who buys may read.
What librarian can surpass us?
To forestall Andrew buying the Parnassus & going off on another of his journeys to find material for his books, Helen decides to buy the Parnassus herself. She finds herself on an adventure that will change her life. Helen has lived on the farm for years, as she says, “and hardly ever been away except for that trip to Boston once a year to go shopping with cousin Edie.” She’s feeling a little unappreciated by Andrew who is absorbed in his writing & occasionally his farm work & takes her for granted. She’s 39 & looking for adventure. She leaves Andrew a note and sets off with the Professor, who is going to show her the ropes for a day or two before he goes home to Brooklyn to write his book, Literature among the Farmers.
Dear Andrew, Don’t be thinking I’m crazy. I’ve gone off for an adventure. It just came over me that you’ve had all the adventures while I’ve been at home baking bread. Mrs McNally will look after your meals and one of her girls can come over to do the housework. So don’t worry. I’m going off for a little while – a month, maybe – to see some of this happiness and hayseed of yours. It’s what the magazines call the revolt of womanhood. Warm underwear in the cedar chest when you need it. With love, Helen.
The Professor is on a crusade. Accompanied by Peg (short for Pegasus) the horse & Bock (short for Boccaccio) the dog, he has travelled the back roads of America taking literature to farmers & small town shopkeepers & their families.
“Lord!” he said, “when you sell a man a book you don’t just sell him twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night – there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book I mean... And here I go loaded with everlasting salvation... I’m doing something that nobody else from Nazareth, Maine, to Walla Walla, Washington, has ever thought of. It’s a new field, but by the bones of Whitman it’s worth while. That’s what this country needs – more books!”
Well, I can’t argue with that! Helen & the Professor’s adventures include Andrew trying to track them down, tramps stealing the Parnassus & the Professor being thrown into jail. I loved the way Helen tells her story. Her narration is full of funny turns of phrase, “My feelings were as mixed as a crushed nut sundae.”, “We stood in complete dismay – I did, at any rate – for about as long as it takes to peel a potato.” Helen & the Professor fall in love, Andrew accepts that she’s not coming back & they set off for one last tour in the Parnassus before settling down in Brooklyn to open a bookshop & for the Professor to write his magnum opus.