Monday, September 30, 2013

Cake, roses & Phoebe

I haven't posted about a cake for a while but I quite often bake on Sunday & take something in for morning tea at work on Monday morning. This time, my freezer was full & I'd just bought extra frozen food (peas, spinach & raspberries) to take advantage of a special deal for frequent flyer points. So, I decided to do something with the raspberries as I couldn't immediately think of a cake that needed peas or spinach. I found this recipe for a Raspberry Bakewell cake & it looks & smells lovely. Almonds are another favourite ingredient & there's almond meal in the cake as well as the flaked almonds on top. The mixture was more like a shortbread dough than a cake batter. Half the mixture was patted down in the tin, then the frozen raspberries scattered on top then the rest of the mixture finishing with the almonds.

It's early Spring here so I've also been preparing the veggie patch for summer planting & feeding the roses. The nursery where I bought the roses recommended feeding three times - Grand Final, Christmas & Valentine's Day - which is easy to remember. Well, Saturday was Grand Final Day so I was out yesterday morning flinging around the blood & bone. There's lots of growth already & dozens of buds so I'm looking forward to the blossoms.

And here's Phoebe on her way out the back door. She wasn't in the mood to pose so it's the best shot I could get. Lucky was asleep under her blanket so there's no photo of her at all. We're all enjoying these early Spring days & we've had plenty of rain for the garden lately. It's a lovely time of year.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Poetry - Virginia Graham

I've been reading Angela Thirkell's Cheerfulness Breaks In which is set during WWII & it made me think about Virginia Graham's collection of poetry published by Persephone some years ago. This poem, Final Gesture, brings to mind the indomitable middle & upper-class ladies of Thirkell's novel. With Remembrance Day only a few weeks away, I have quite a few books about both World Wars lined up to read, so there may be more Home Front poetry to come.

No, dear, I will not eat in the scullery!
I will go down with my colours flying,
and the dining-room table shall be laid
with silver, bright and satisfying,
and glass and fruit and lemonade,.
Though I be denied butter and butcher-meat,
and though there is no coal in the grate,
I will eat what I am allowed to eat
in pre-war dignity and state.
Not until I absolutely must
will I huddle in one room with all my relations,
relegating my furniture to decay and dust
and other such dilapidations.
My house shall be wide open as the air,
till it actually crumbles about my head;
and I shall sit in my sitting-room in a chair,
and sleep in my bedroom in a bed.
I cannot see why I should make life harder,
or indeed how it helps our Cause at all,
to spend the night on a camp-bed in the larder
and write letters in the servants’ hall.
Till I am broke, which granted may be soon,
I will sometimes buy a gramophone record or a plant in a pot,
and I will not drink soup from a kitchen spoon,
no, really, dearest, I will not!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Kate's Progress - Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Kate is fed up with life in London. She works in PR & shares a flat with two girlfriends but her love life is going nowhere. Her last two relationships have been disastrous & heartbreaking & she wants a change. When her grandmother decides to give her granddaughters their inheritance now so she can have the fun of seeing what they do with it, Kate is thrilled. She plans the Cinderella Project - putting her London life on hold for six months & buying a country cottage to renovate & sell.

Kate finds the perfect property in Bursford near Taunton where she'd spent holidays with her grandparents when she was at school. Little's Cottage is rundown & neglected but the price is right & Kate has served as a willing helper to her builder father & thought she could do most of the work herself. She doesn't realise that she's stepped right into the middle of a family feud by buying the cottage which is part of the estate owned by the Blackmores. Ed & Jack Blackmore are working to keep the family estate going without much help from their flighty stepmother Camilla. Camilla has a life interest in the estate as their father has died & she sold the cottage to Kate to finance her shopping sprees. Ed is immediately hostile to Kate although charming playboy Jack is more willing to get to know her.

Kate enjoys getting to know the locals including her neighbours Kay & Darren & the locals at the pub. Jack is only too willing to take Kate out & distract her from her work but she finds herself drawn to silent, brooding Ed who works in London during the week & will do anything to keep the estate together. She also becomes friends with Jocasta, Ed & Jack's much younger half-sister & becomes involved with Camilla's circle of friends. London begins to seems very far away & as Kate becomes more involved with the Blackmores & the local community, she wonders if she really wants to sell the cottage when the renovations are finished.

Kate's Progress is a charming novel with an attractive heroine, two potential heroes & an involving plot. Kate's country idyll isn't without a snake or two in the grass. One person at least isn't happy to see her in the cottage & leaves anonymous messages to frighten her away. Then there's Addison, a gorgeous American who seems very close to Ed & is obviously a part of his London life that he's kept private. This is a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tudor - Leanda de Lisle

The Tudors are the most fascinating royal family in English history. They've been immortalised in fiction, movies, theatre & popular culture for centuries. Leanda de Lisle's new book is a stunning retelling of this familiar story.

Rather than beginning at the battle of Bosworth in 1485, de Lisle takes us back to the real beginning of the Tudor story - the marriage of Welsh squire Owen Tudor to Katherine de Valois, the widow of Henry V. Katherine had no political power after Henry's death but her marriage to a servant was still a scandal. Her son, Henry VI, was fond of his Tudor half-brothers, Edmund & Jasper & it was Edmund's marriage to Margaret Beaufort that marks the beginning of the Tudor story in relation to the English crown. Margaret was a considerable heiress but more importantly, she was descended from the marriage of John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, to Katherine Swynford. The children of this liaison were given the name Beaufort & were legitimized by their half-brother, Henry IV, after their parents married. However, they were explicitly excluded from the succession, a point which was disputed throughout the 15th century & long afterwards.

Margaret Beaufort was only 12 when she married Edmund Tudor & he didn't wait to consummate the marriage. He died of the plague soon after so, it was as a 13 year old widow that Margaret gave birth to her son, Henry. Henry spent much of his life in exile in France & Brittany as the Wars of the Roses were fought between the houses of Lancaster & York. Eventually, with the help & support of his mother, Henry defeated Richard III at Bosworth & took the throne as Henry VII. Henry's marriage to Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, reconciled the two warring factions & was symbolised in the union rose which combined the red rose of Lancaster with the white rose of York.

Henry's reign was troubled by outbreaks of rebellion from Yorkists who were unhappy with his victory as well as the appearance of pretenders who claimed to be one of the Princes in the Tower. However, Henry consolidated his rule & by the time of his death in 1509, his son, Henry, peacefully ascended the throne. Henry VIII's struggles to have a son are well-known. The political & religious turmoil of the Reformation had an impact on the lives of all three of his legitimate children who all reigned after him. Edward VI, king at the age of nine, was influenced by his advisors to create a Protestant England. Mary, determined to take England back to Catholicism & Elizabeth, the most successful of them all, who took a middle way.

Henry VIII's determination to have a son was the result of the belief that a woman could not rule & it led to the break with Rome as he struggled to annul his marriage to Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn who had promised him a son. Katherine & Henry's daughter, Mary, wasn't considered a practical choice as heir. How could a woman rule? She would have to marry & then her husband would rule her & also the kingdom. It was only when Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife, gave birth to Edward that Henry believed he had truly provided for the future of England.

de Lisle tells this complicated story very well. I've read many books about this period so I was especially interested in the emphasis she gives to some of the forgotten women of the family. The 16th century was a time when women were not considered fit to rule yet most of the heirs to the throne at this time were women. Henry's sister, Margaret, married James IV of Scotland & after his death at the battle of Flodden in 1513 she married the Earl of Angus & had a daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas. As Henry VIII's niece, she had her own claim to the throne but she was the mother of Henry, Lord Darnley, who would marry Mary, Queen of Scots & combine their claims in their son, James. Margaret's story is fascinating & de Lisle brings her out of the shadows to show just what a determined, intelligent woman she was.

Henry's younger sister, Mary, first married Louis XII of France but the marriage was brief. She came away with some beautiful jewellery & was always known afterwards as the French Queen. Mary then married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk & was the grandmother of Jane, Katherine & Mary Grey, who came to prominence when Edward VI named them as his heirs (overlooking his half-sisters because of religious differences) in his Devise for the Succession, written shortly before he died. Jane famously did become Queen for nine days but Mary was able to defeat the coup & did her best for the next five years to roll back the religious changes of her father's & brother's reigns. Mary's failure to have a child meant that her success would always be limited as her heir was her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth.

Katherine & Mary Grey continued to be considered as potential heirs to the throne as Elizabeth refused to marry & her Council had to consider the claims of the Protestant Grey sisters against the possibly superior, but politically unpalatable claim of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. Perhaps fortunately, by the end of Elizabeth's long reign, the only realistic option as heir was the Queen of Scots' son, James VI. If Elizabeth had died of smallpox, as she very nearly did, in 1562, the rival claims of the Greys & Mary could have led to civil war with the added element of religious divisions.

In the Appendices to the book, de Lisle interestingly expands on some of the thorny questions brought up by the narrative. She explores the myths surrounding Jane Grey's mother, Frances & her husband, Guildford as well as the fate of James IV's body after Flodden, the quarrel between Henry VIII & his niece Lady Margaret Douglas & the life of Margaret Clifford, another granddaughter of Mary, the French Queen, & another possible heir to the throne. Tudor is full of interesting stories & de Lisle tells the story with great fluency & wit. She does an excellent job keeping the story intelligible which is not easy with a cast of thousands & several main characters with the same name. It's a wonderful introduction to the Tudor story but there's more than enough that was new to interest anyone who has read a lot about the period.

I read Tudor courtesy of NetGalley.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Poetry - Elizabeth I

I've just finished reading Leanda de Lisle's excellent book Tudor. In it she quotes this poem by Elizabeth I (picture from here). It was written in the 1580s after the departure of the Duc d'Alencon, her Frog, as Elizabeth affectionately called him. d'Alencon was Elizabeth's last serious suitor & the poem is full of regret & melancholy. Elizabeth was nearly 50 & knew that, even if she had married d'Alencon, she would be unlikely to have a child. The fantasy of the ever-youthful queen was fading fast.  de Lisle speculates that the poem is really about Elizabeth's feelings for Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the only man she really loved but was unable to marry. Maybe it shows Elizabeth looking back at the personal price she has paid as Queen &, for a moment, wondering if it was worth it.

I grieve and dare not show my discontent;
I love, and yet am forced to seem to hate;
I do, yet dare not say I ever meant;
I seem stark mute, but inwardly do prate.
      I am, and not; I freeze and yet am burned,
      Since from myself another self I turned.

My care is like my shadow in the sun—
Follows me flying, flies when I pursue it,
Stands, and lies by me, doth what I have done;
His too familiar care doth make me rue it.
      No means I find to rid him from my breast,
      Till by the end of things it be supprest.

Some gentler passion slide into my mind,
For I am soft, and made of melting snow;
Or be more cruel, Love, and so be kind.
Let me or float or sink, be high or low;
      Or let me live with some more sweet content,
      Or die, and so forget what love e'er meant.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle - Georgette Heyer

Sylvester, Duke of Salford has everything. Rank, wealth, good looks & pleasing manners. When he decides that it's time he married, he has a shortlist of suitable candidates. He's obviously not in love with any of these young women & doesn't see love as a necessary prerequisite to marriage. Salford's invalid mother worries that he has become arrogant & unfeeling. She had hoped that he might marry the daughter of her greatest friend, Verena Marlow. Verena died when her daughter, Phoebe, was only a few weeks old & she now lives with her father & his second family. Phoebe's grandmother, Lady Ingham, had given Phoebe a Season in London but it wasn't a great success. Salford's heir is his nephew, Edmund, son of his twin brother, Harry, who died young & a flibbertigibbet called Ianthe. Sylvester & Ianthe loathe each other & another motive for his marriage would be to encourage Ianthe to leave Edmund in the care of him & his wife when she marries foppish Sir Nugent Fotherby.

Phoebe Marlow is an intelligent young woman living miserably at home with a cold, uncaring stepmother. Her greatest friend is Tom Orde, son of the local Squire & her greatest love & interest is horses. She has literary aspirations & has written a novel using her experiences during the Season. She modeled her villain, Ugolino, on Salford, after dancing with him once & then being ignored by him at another party. Without knowing any of his personal circumstances, she made Ugolino a wicked uncle who has usurped his brother's place & kidnaps his nephew. The novel is about to be published anonymously with the help of Phoebe's governess Miss Battery.

Salford decides to please his mother by meeting Phoebe (he has no memory of their previous meeting) & is invited to stay by Lord Marlow. Phoebe is horrified at the thought of Salford making her an offer & persuades Tom Orde to help her get to London to see her grandmother. Unfortunately, the weather is dreadful & their carriage overturns in the middle of nowhere. Salford, returning home after Phoebe's flight, discovers the runaways at a country inn & helps them out of their predicament. Tom has broken his leg & Phoebe's reputation needs saving so, after a week snowed in at the inn, he sends her on to London. Their growing friendship is almost derailed when Phoebe's novel, The Lost Heir, is published & her authorship is soon revealed. Phoebe is horrified when she learns that she has unwittingly caused gossip as her book becomes the sensation of the season even while she is ostracised by the most respectable people. She had never expected silly Ianthe to take the novel as a true story, seeing herself as the heroine needing to save her son from the evil influence of his uncle. More than one misunderstanding has to be sorted out before we can get to the happy ending.

This is such a delightful book. It's a breathless read with so much happening that I couldn't bear to put it down. Phoebe is headstrong, thoughtless but also vulnerable. She's grown up knowing that she's of very little account in her family. Her father is ineffectual & her stepmother unfeeling. Only her half-sister Susan & Miss Battery, make her life bearable. Sylvester doesn't suffer fools gladly. He has always been deferred to yet has a strong sense of duty. He loved his brother & was devastated when he died. He puts up with Ianthe & really loves young Edmund so he's determined that he be brought up properly. Phoebe's horror at the thought of marrying him takes him by surprise but their growing friendship & his growing love for Phoebe surprises him. The minor characters, from Tom Orde to lady Ingham & Salford's servant, Keighley, are beautifully written. It's been too long since I read a Georgette Heyer & I'm glad I have several more on the tbr shelves.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers - Alexander McCall Smith

A new Scotland Street novel is always a treat even though I race through them in a day & then have to wait a year for the next instalment.

Bertie's seventh birthday is finally approaching & he's very excited - if only his mother, Irene, didn't insist that he invite as many girls as boys to his birthday party. He would also love a penknife as a special birthday present from his parents but he knows that he'll receive something non-violent & gender neutral instead. Art gallery owner Matthew & his wife, Elspeth are still getting used to being the parents of triplets. They decide that their wonderful Danish au pair, Anna, needs an assistant au pair but their choice isn't a complete success.

Angus Lordie, newly married to Domenica, has started sleepwalking & is encouraged by Domenica to see a psychiatrist. They also have a fascinating conversation about the order in which we think of the names of our married friends. Domenica feels that the order of the names is important & Angus is quite sure that everyone thinks of them as Domenica & Angus rather than the other way around. When their friend, Antonia, writes from her convent in Tuscany to invite herself to stay for a few weeks while she finishes writing her book on early Scottish saints, Domenica analyses every phrase of her letter in great detail. Antonia arrives accompanied by a nun from the convent, Sister Maria-Fiore, who has a talent for stating the obvious. The unfortunate affair of the blue Spode cup has not been forgotten by Antonia & causes some uncomfortable moments for Angus & Domenica.

Pat McGregor's love life seems to be improving when she meets an attractive young cabinet maker but their first date at a local bar becomes an embarrassment when Pat's father arrives accompanied by a very odd woman. Coffee shop owner Big Lou is always unlucky in love but decides that although her romantic relationships have been disastrous, she has a lot of room in her heart & in her life & becomes foster mother to young Finlay.

Irene Pollock wins a trip to a literary festival Dubai in a competition & Bertie & Stuart are eager for her to go. The trip doesn't turn out quite as Irene expected although Bertie & his father, while concerned for Irene's safety, settle down to enjoy their unexpected freedom.

As always, there are some very funny moments in this book as well as some poignant ones. McCall Smith's gentle humour & sense of the absurd is ever present & it's always a joy to catch up with the residents of Scotland Street.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Poetry - W H Auden

I've been reading the new Scotland Street novel by Alexander McCall Smith so a poem by Auden is appropriate today as Auden is one of McCall Smith's favourite poets. McCall Smith has just published a book about Auden called What W H Auden can do for you which is part personal memoir & part literary appreciation. So, here is As I Walked Out One Evening.

As I walked out one evening,
Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
'Love has no ending.

'I'll love you, dear, I'll love you
Till China and Africa meet,
And the river jumps over the mountain
And the salmon sing in the street,

'I'll love you till the ocean
Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
Like geese about the sky.

'The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.'

But all the clocks in the city
Began to whirr and chime:
'O let not Time deceive you,
You cannot conquer Time.

'In the burrows of the Nightmare
Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
And coughs when you would kiss.

'In headaches and in worry
Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
To-morrow or to-day.

'Into many a green valley
Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
And the diver's brilliant bow.

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.

'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.

'Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer,
And Jill goes down on her back.

'O look, look in the mirror?
O look in your distress:
Life remains a blessing
Although you cannot bless.

'O stand, stand at the window
As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
With your crooked heart.'

It was late, late in the evening,
The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming,
And the deep river ran on.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Just borrowed

Another lovely pile of books (and a DVD) that have just arrived at my library. I want to read all of them but I'm not sure how long it will take. Some of them may go back to the library a few times before I finally get to them.

Six Against the Yard is another of the wonderful Detection Club compilations that have been reprinted in recent years. This one features six authors - Margery Allingham, Dorothy L Sayers, Anthony Berkeley, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Croft & Russell Thorndike - who each attempt to create an unsolvable murder. A real life policeman, ex-Superintendent Cornish of the CID, attempts to work out what happened in each case. There's also an essay by Agatha Christie about the unsolved Croydon mystery where several members of a family were poisoned with arsenic.

The Novel Cure : an A-Z of literary remedies by Ella Berthoud & Susan Elderkin - a book to dip in to as it has suggestions for what to read according to your mood. So, if you're a Daddy's girl, in need of a good cry, feeling tired & emotional, not taking enough risks or wishing you were a superhero, there's a book for you.

Bertie's Guide to Life and Mothers by Alexander McCall Smith - the latest Scotland Street book. Lovely!

Dorothea's War by Dorothea Crewdson - the WWI diary of a nurse edited by her nephew. I'm looking forward to reading this for my Remembrance reading in November.

Bosworth : the birth of the Tudors by Chris Skidmore - I listened to a fascinating podcast from BBC History Magazine about this book. Skidmore actually ends with the battle, beginning his story with the birth of Henry Tudor & his life in exile. After reading Thomas Penn's excellent biography of Henry, The Winter King, I'm keen to read this. The account of the battle has also been informed by the recent discovery of Richard III's remains & the evidence of his final moments & burial. The discovery happened just as the author was completing his first draft.

Worlds of Arthur : facts and fictions of the Dark Ages by Guy Halsall - I find Arthur endlessly fascinating. Did he exist? What's the historical, archaeological & literary evidence? I'm always ready to read another theory.

Band of Angels : the forgotten world of early Christian women by Kate Cooper - I read a review of this book & was immediately interested as it's a subject & a period I know very little about. There were several women who were important in the spread of Christianity in the early years of the 1st & 2nd centuries. They were subsequently written out of the story as the Church become dominated by men although they are still there in the Gospels & other historical documents.

Now for the DVD. I love the 2004 adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South & not just because of Richard Armitage. However, I didn't know there'd been an earlier adaptation in the 1970s starring Patrick Stewart and Rosalind Shanks until I saw it listed as a forthcoming DVD release & naturally bought copies for my library. Doesn't he look brooding? I can't wait to watch this, does anyone remember it?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Deliverance - Ellen Glasgow

The Deliverance by Ellen Glasgow (picture from here) is a wonderful family saga set in rural Virginia in the years after the Civil War. It has everything you could want - romance, revenge, tragedy, self-sacrifice, family feuds & manipulative elders trying to control their children.

The Blake family are old money. They had owned their tobacco plantation for generations until the Civil War brought financial ruin. Mr Blake died soon after the plantation was sold to his former overseer, Bill Fletcher. Where Fletcher got the money to buy the land has always been a mystery but shady dealing is suspected. The Blakes - Mrs Blake, her daughter, Cynthia & twins, Christopher & Lila - are living in a rundown house on the outskirts of their former home, all they could salvage. Christopher was only ten when his father died & his desire for revenge has dominated his life ever since.

Fifteen years after the end of the war, the Blakes are still scraping a living, growing tobacco on their small plot of land. Mrs Blake is now paralysed & blind, & believes that she is still living in her mansion with all the luxuries she has known all her life. Her children & the few servants keep up the pretence, even though they are on the edge of poverty as they are afraid of the effect the truth would have on her fragile mental state. Cynthia takes in sewing & Christopher works in the fields. He even works in Fletcher's fields when he needs the money. Cynthia refuses to let Lila help at all as she wants her sister to preserve the white hands & pale complexion of a lady, no matter how impractical that is. Uncle Tucker, Mrs Blake's brother, also lives with the family. He lost an arm & a leg in the War but is the most contented of them all. He spends his days sitting on a bench in the sun, observing Nature & trying to advise Christopher.

Bill Fletcher lives with his grandson, Will, who he loves & spoils. His granddaughter, Maria, has been sent away to school to become a lady & returns home for a short time before she is to be married to a rich young man. Christopher is attracted to Maria but hates her because of her name & her family. He has always refused to sell his farm to Fletcher &, when he is forced by necessity to borrow money from him, will even deceive his mother when he becomes desperate to repay the loan rather than allow Fletcher to triumph over him.

Will Fletcher hero worships Christopher & Christopher uses this as the ultimate way to revenge himself on Bill Fletcher. He teaches Will to drink & gamble & deceive his grandfather. Will runs away from university, gets into debt & marries a young woman who is despised by his grandfather & eventually he is cut off & falls into poverty, helped only by Christopher who now begins to feel some responsibility for Will's plight. Maria returns home after the end of her unhappy marriage but her efforts to reconcile her grandfather & Will lead to tragedy.

There are many echoes of Wuthering Heights in this novel. Christopher saves a boy trapped in a runaway cart & then realises it's Will Fletcher whose life he saved. It reminded me of the scene when Heathcliff catches young Hareton when Hindley drops him over the bannister. They're both dismayed at the opportunity for revenge they've lost. When Christopher decides to take advantage of Will's affection for him, I was reminded of Heathcliff saying of Hareton, "And we'll see if one tree won't grow as crooked as another, with the same wind to twist it!". Christopher, though, has much more moral sense than Heathcliff ever did. His love for Maria looks set to be just as thwarted as Heathcliff's for Catherine as he refuses to admit his feelings & clings to his dreams of revenge.

I don't want the book to sound unrelievedly gloomy as it's not. There's a lot of humour, much of it quite black. One of my favourite characters was Mrs Susan Spade, wife of the local store keeper. Susan is self-righteous, uncharitable & always pleased to find fault with her neighbours. She delights in carrying tales to old Mr Fletcher about Will & his sweetheart, Molly Peterkin, sliding in all the malicious gossip about Molly that she can manage while the old man nearly has a seizure on the spot. Susan herself has never put a foot wrong of course & keeps her husband & their business on a tight rein.

There's also a gentler romance to counterpoint the stormier passions of Christopher & Maria. Christopher's sister, Lila, is courted by Jim Weatherby, a kind & generous man who has worshipped Lila for years before gathering the courage to speak to her. Cynthia is appalled by Jim's courtship as Jim & his family were poor farmers, never on the same social level as the Blakes. In some ways, Cynthia is as deluded as her poor, blind mother as she tries to stop Lila working in the kitchen as though she has a full social season of balls & parties to attend. Jim's patience & tolerance are tested to the limit as he bides his time, listening to old Mrs Blake's gracious condescension when she asks him about his farm & tells Cynthia to give him something to eat in the kitchen before he leaves.

Ellen Glasgow writes about the Virginia countryside with real feeling & her descriptions of the farms & the weather are beautiful. The novel is divided into five Books & each one ends on a cliffhanger. I was reading The Deliverance with my 19th century bookgroup & it was a struggle to stop at the end of each week's instalment. I did read the last two Books in one sitting because I just couldn't wait to find out what happened. I loved this book. The characters were real & I sympathised with Christopher & his sisters in their endless struggle to keep the farm going while keeping their true situation from their mother. 
The Deliverance is available as a free ebook from Project Gutenburg.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sunday Poetry - Austen, Shakespeare & Cowper

Another favourite movie of a favourite book. Sense and Sensibility is my second favourite Jane Austen novel (after Persuasion) & Emma Thompson's intelligent adaptation of the novel is one of my favourite Austen adaptations. The two poems I'm going to feature today aren't mentioned in the text but Emma Thompson has cleverly expanded on Austen's hints to create two scenes which point out the differences between Elinor & Marianne & the men they fall in love with.

At Norland, Marianne asks Edward Ferrars to read to them one evening. Edward's reading of Cowper, one of Marianne's favourite poets, is spiritless & tame in her opinion. "To hear those beautiful lines which have frequently almost driven me wild, pronounced with such impenetrable calmness, such difference!" We don't know which of Cowper's poems produced such a response but in the film, Hugh Grant, playing Edward, reads from Cowper's The Castaway, in his best hesitant, stammering manner. This dramatic poem of shipwreck, in Marianne's opinion, demands a suitably dramatic, impassioned delivery. Elinor, on the other hand, can see no fault in Edward's reading & Mrs Dashwood just says that Marianne shouldn't have given him Cowper to read but some nice prose.

Obscurest night involv'd the sky,
     Th' Atlantic billows roar'd,
When such a destin'd wretch as I,
     Wash'd headlong from on board,
Of friends, of hope, of all bereft,
His floating home for ever left.

No braver chief could Albion boast
     Than he with whom he went,
Nor ever ship left Albion's coast,
     With warmer wishes sent.
He lov'd them both, but both in vain,
Nor him beheld, nor her again.

Not long beneath the whelming brine,
     Expert to swim, he lay;
Nor soon he felt his strength decline,
     Or courage die away;
But wag'd with death a lasting strife,
Supported by despair of life.

He shouted: nor his friends had fail'd
     To check the vessel's course,
But so the furious blast prevail'd,
     That, pitiless perforce,
They left their outcast mate behind,
And scudded still before the wind.

Some succour yet they could afford;
     And, such as storms allow,
The cask, the coop, the floated cord,
     Delay'd not to bestow.
But he (they knew) nor ship, nor shore,
Whate'er they gave, should visit more.

Nor, cruel as it seem'd, could he
     Their haste himself condemn,
Aware that flight, in such a sea,
     Alone could rescue them;
Yet bitter felt it still to die
Deserted, and his friends so nigh.

He long survives, who lives an hour
     In ocean, self-upheld;
And so long he, with unspent pow'r,
     His destiny repell'd;
And ever, as the minutes flew,
Entreated help, or cried—Adieu!

At length, his transient respite past,
     His comrades, who before
Had heard his voice in ev'ry blast,
     Could catch the sound no more.
For then, by toil subdued, he drank
The stifling wave, and then he sank.

No poet wept him: but the page
     Of narrative sincere,
That tells his name, his worth, his age,
     Is wet with Anson's tear.
And tears by bards or heroes shed
Alike immortalize the dead.

I therefore purpose not, or dream,
     Descanting on his fate,
To give the melancholy theme
     A more enduring date:
But misery still delights to trace
Its 'semblance in another's case.

No voice divine the storm allay'd,
     No light propitious shone;
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
     We perish'd, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.

In contrast, Marianne can find no fault with John Willoughby's taste in literature. After their dramatic introduction, he visits the family & Marianne soon finds that their tastes coincide exactly. As Elinor says,

"Well, Marianne, for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr Willoughby's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott; you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported, under such extraordinary dispatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favourite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty and second marriages, and then you can have nothing further to ask."

In the movie, Willoughby recites one of Shakespeare's most beautiful sonnets, no 116,

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
   If this be error and upon me proved,
   I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

He even has a pocket edition of the sonnets which he carries with him everywhere - not that he needs it as he knows them by heart. Marianne is halfway in love before she knows it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Clock Strikes Twelve - Patricia Wentworth

Patricia Wentworth was one of the reliable second string of 20th century mystery writers. She's never mentioned in the same breath as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers or Margery Allingham, but her books are good entertainment & offer a satisfying puzzle in the classic tradition.

The Clock Strikes Twelve has all the elements of a classic mystery. It begins on New Years Eve 1941 at a country house in the English countryside. James Paradine, a wealthy industrialist, is holding his traditional family dinner but instead of proposing the traditional New Year toast, he makes a startling announcement. One of his guests has betrayed him by stealing a vital set of blueprints. Paradine knows who the thief is & he announces that he will be in his study until midnight waiting for the guilty person to come to him & confess. The guests seem confused & surprised but, obviously, one of them knows all too well that Paradine is speaking the truth. Is it Paradine's sister Grace, her adopted daughter, Phyllida or Phyllida's estranged husband, Elliot Wray? Could it be Paradine's stepchildren, Frank & Brenda Ambrose, Frank's wife Irene or her sister Lydia or his nephews Richard & Mark or even his secretary, Albert Pearson?

The evening had been awkward even before Paradine's announcement. Elliot Wray works for Paradine but hadn't seen Phyllida since their marriage broke up just a week after they were married the year before. Grace Paradine had never liked Wray & hadn't approved of his relationship with Phyllida & it was her interference that led to their estrangement. James Paradine is a rich man used to getting his own way & his family is used to obeying his wishes. Next morning, Paradine is found dead, having fallen from the parapet of the balcony outside his study. It becomes obvious that he couldn't have fallen accidentally & was unlikely to have jumped so someone must have pushed him.

The dinner guests staying in the house agree to lie about the events of the previous night & not mention Paradine's accusations. The police arrive & Superintendent Vyner soon discovers that Paradine's death was no accident & the house guests are obviously hiding something. New Years Eve parties don't usually break up before ten o'clock without a reason. Vyner manages to interview Lydia Pennington, who went home early with her sister & brother-in-law, before the others have a chance to see her & the true story is revealed very quickly. Everyone's secrets & hidden motives have a part to play as Vyner continues to gather his evidence.

Lydia Pennington then brings Miss Maud Silver into the story. Miss Silver was Wentworth's series detective, a spinster who has an aptitude for private investigation & is always seen with a piece of knitting at hand. Miss Silver is visiting her niece who lives in the same apartment building as Mark Paradine. Lydia runs into Miss Silver, knows of her reputation as a sleuth & convinces Mark to hire her on the family's behalf to find out the truth.Miss Silver's ability to ask pertinent questions & notice seemingly insignificant details put her several steps ahead of the police.

I enjoyed The Clock Strikes Twelve as an interesting example of the country house locked room mystery with a closed circle of suspects all with motives & hidden agendas. Although the book is set during WWII, the war doesn't really impinge on the action. The stolen blueprints were connected to Paradine's war work & a couple of the characters mention the war in relation to their jobs but it could be set at any time during the Golden Age of detective fiction. Miss Silver is often described as a lesser Miss Marple but while Miss Marple is an amateur who happens upon murder in the course of her quiet life in St Mary Mead, Miss Silver is a private enquiry agent. Her fame has spread by word of mouth, usually by the young women (or their boyfriends) she has saved from the gallows.

Reading The Clock Strikes Twelve sent me back to one of my favourite books of literary history & criticism, The Lady Investigates : women detectives & spies in fiction by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan. Published in 1981, this is a survey of lady detectives from Baroness Orczy's Lady Molly of Scotland Yard to P D James's Cordelia Grey via Marple, Silver, Harriet Vane & Nancy Drew among others. It's a lot of fun if you're at all interested in women as detectives or spies.

Open Road Media have recently released about 30 mysteries by Wentworth as ebooks as part of their classic mystery list which includes authors such as Mary Roberts Rinehart & Christianna Brand.

I read The Clock Strikes Twelve courtesy of NetGalley.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Bookstore - Deborah Meyler

Esme Garland is a young Englishwoman living in New York & studying for a PhD at Columbia. Her boyfriend, economics lecturer Mitchell van Leuven, dumps her just before she's about to tell him that she's pregnant. Far from home & living on a student visa, Esme gets a job at The Owl, her local second-hand bookshop. The Owl is home to a group of eccentrics, both staff & customers. George owns the shop & is obsessed with germs & nutrition. Luke brings his guitar to work & tries to educate Esme about American music. Many of the customers are eccentric & a number of homeless men drop in regularly with bargains to sell or to mind the shop for a few dollars.

Esme decides to keep the baby but doesn't tell Mitchell. When he finds out, he wavers between urging her to have an abortion & wanting to get married. Mitchell's family is descended from the old New York patrician families of Edith Wharton's Age of Innocence. His parents are cool & assessing, obviously thinking that Esme has trapped Mitchell into proposing. Esme is disconcerted by Mitchell's ever-changing attitudes & assumptions that she will stop working in the bookshop & even move to the other side of the country. Through all this turmoil, the staff & customers at the Owl become the centre of Esme's world. She has few friends apart from her neighbour, Stella, & feels increasingly alone. Mitchell may be rich & handsome but, for me, he was summed up in this one comment, "... I don't need to buy books. I've got the whole of the library at the New School, as well as my iPad. Why do people still buy books? They just take up space."

The main problem I had with this book was Mitchell. He was so unpleasant, so self-centred, manipulative, needlessly jealous & unsympathetic that I just couldn't see why Esme agreed to get back together when she'd so fortunately escaped from him in about Chapter 3. He obviously has some deep emotional problems but we never discover the source of these, only the results. Esme has an inconclusive talk with an old girlfriend of Mitchell's but it leads nowhere. Their on-again, off-again relationship just got in the way of an interesting story about an Englishwoman alone in New York coping with pregnancy & all the financial & emotional problems that this causes. Every time Esme dismissed Mitchell or he left in a huff, I thought there was the chance for this novel to become something more. The most interesting chapters for me were the scenes at the Owl. The interactions with George & Luke, Esme's stumbling attempts to fit in & the growing friendships she makes that sustain her through several crises. Unfortunately Esme's erratic waverings about Mitchell just irritated me.

There are no easy answers for Esme as she faces the prospect of bringing up a baby alone in New York. Although I was frustrated by Esme's relationship with Mitchell, I did enjoy the Owl & the discussions about books & music there. The Bookstore is a fantasy in some ways as I don't imagine that Esme could possibly survive on her scholarship & the few hours she works at the Owl. Apart from the fact that she shouldn't be working at the bookshop at all while on the scholarship. I liked the fact that there was no neat resolution at the end of the book but I'm not sure that the delights of the Owl outweighed the irritations of Mitchell for me.

I read The Bookstore courtesy of NetGalley.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday Poetry - W B Yeats

Educating Rita is another movie that I love & have watched many times. As you can see, I loved it so much, I bought the play (like Rita & Macbeth), the novelization of the film script & even the soundtrack on cassette. It was Julie Walters' first major role & one of the best parts Michael Caine has ever played. Julie Walters had played Rita on stage so she was the obvious choice for the film role although that doesn't always happen when movies are made of plays. Remember Julie Andrews & My Fair Lady? Luckily in this case, sanity prevailed & we were able to enjoy her wonderful performance. I've just watched it again & I could practically recite the entire script, I've seen it so often.

Rita is a young working class woman who wants an education. She joins the Open University to study English Literature & is assigned to a tutor, Frank. Frank is bored with his life & his students & he drinks too much. Rita's eruption into his rooms at the university is the catalyst for change in both their lives. It's such a warm, funny, moving story. Willy Russell wrote the screenplay from his own play & naturally he kept most of his own dialogue. The play was a two-hander so it's been expanded a little for the film but the central scenes are Frank & Rita sitting (Frank sits, Rita wanders around) in his office talking about books & life.

One of my favourite scenes is when Frank explains assonance to Rita.

RITA What does assonance mean?
FRANK (half-spluttering) What? (He gives a short laugh)
RITA  Don't laugh at me.
FRANK No. Erm - assonance. It's a form of rhyme. What's a - what's an example -erm-? Do you know Yeats?
RITA The wine lodge?
FRANK Yeats the poet.
FRANK Oh. Well - there's a Yeats poem, called 'The Wild Swans at Coole'. In it he rhymes the word 'swan' with the word 'stone'. there, you see, an example of assonance.
RITA Oh. It means gettin' the rhyme wrong.
FRANK (looking at her and laughing) I've never really looked at it like that. But yes, yes you could say it means getting the rhyme wrong; but purposefully, in order to achieve a certain effect.
(Act 1, Scene 1)

So here is The Wild Swans at Coole.

The trees are in their autumn beauty,   
The woodland paths are dry,   
Under the October twilight the water   
Mirrors a still sky;   
Upon the brimming water among the stones            
Are nine and fifty swans.   
The nineteenth Autumn has come upon me   
Since I first made my count;   
I saw, before I had well finished,   
All suddenly mount     
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings   
Upon their clamorous wings.   
I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,   
And now my heart is sore.   
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,     
The first time on this shore,   
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,   
Trod with a lighter tread.   
Unwearied still, lover by lover,   
They paddle in the cold,     
Companionable streams or climb the air;   
Their hearts have not grown old;   
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,   
Attend upon them still.   
But now they drift on the still water     
Mysterious, beautiful;   
Among what rushes will they build,   
By what lake’s edge or pool   
Delight men’s eyes, when I awake some day   
To find they have flown away?