Monday, October 31, 2011

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four Book...and Five

Simon at Stuck in a Book came up with this lovely meme a little while ago & now he's invited us to do it again. It's a great way to see what everyone else is reading & focus my mind on what I want to read next. So, here goes.

1. The book I'm reading now.

A Lighthearted Quest by Ann Bridge, one of the Bloomsbury Reader e-books I downloaded the other day. As it's an eight book series, I thought I should make a start. I've almost finished it & loved it so I'll be posting about it soon.

2. The last book I finished.

The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley which I loved & posted about here.

3. The next book I want to read.

Now, this is the hard part! As it's almost November, I've put a couple of books about WWI on the tbr pile. I've had these books for over 5 years so I'd like to read them soon. A VAD in France by Olive Dent was first published in 1917 & An Airman's Wife by Aimee McHardy is based on the letters between Aimee & her husband.

However, as it's Halloween, I probably should read a ghost story or two tonight if I'm brave enough. Maybe something by M R James as I have this newly reissued volume of his stories.

4. The last book I bought.

Well, I've been on a bit of a spree lately with e-books & other goodies but I can't go past the new Persephone titles for Autumn/Winter. Dinners for Beginners by Rachel & Margaret Ryan, No Surrender by Constance Maud & the one I'll probably read first, Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple.

5. The last book I was given.

Well, no one gives me books as I'm so hard to buy for. I can't imagine why that would be. Anyway, I've been sent a review copy of Victoria Hislop's new novel, The Thread. So, that will have to count as a gift, which it is in a way.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Roses in bloom

The first roses from Abby's rose garden are sitting in a honey jar next to me on the desk so I thought I'd share a few photos. The photos are a little blurry & they don't really capture the gorgeous colours & unfortunately you can't smell the glorious scent but I have successfully grown roses & I'm thrilled. These are Sophy's Rose & Noble Antony. They're covered in raindrops because it's been a showery morning. I took a chance & went out for a walk about an hour ago  - it was just as well I took my umbrella. I wanted to get these few roses inside before the wind blew them away altogether. The first of many honey jars full of roses this summer, I hope.

Sunday Poetry - Doomed Love

I was spoilt for choice in this section of Antonia Fraser's anthology of Scottish love poetry. Some of my favourite ballads were there - The Daemon Lover, Clerk Saunders & Lord Randal. But, I chose a poem I hadn't come across before by a poet I'm not familiar with. J F Hendry (1912-1986) was a writer & editor. Born in Glasgow, he served in the Royal Artillery during WWII & lived in Canada after the war, working at Laurentian University. The image of the compass in The Constant North reminds me of the metaphysical poets of the 17th century, especially John Donne, one of my favourite poets.

Encompass me, my lover,
With your eyes' wide calm.
Though noonday shadows are assembling doom,
The sun remains when I remember them;
And death, if it should come,
Must fall like quiet snow from such clear skies.

Minutes we snatched from the unkind winds
Are grown into daffodils by the sea's
Edge, mocking its green miseries;
Yet I seek you hourly still, over
A new Atlantis loneliness, blind
As a restless needle held by the constant north we always have in mind.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Rose Garden - Susanna Kearsley

I love time slip stories & I've enjoyed all of Susanna Kearsley's novels so I was predisposed to enjoy The Rose Garden. And I did! It's a beautifully romantic, engaging story that I read in 100 page gulps. Eva Ward is a PR consultant living in Los Angeles. Her parents are dead & her sister, Katrina, is dying. After Katrina's death, Eva takes her sister's ashes back to the house in Cornwall where they had spent happy summers with family friends. Trelowarth House is home to the Halletts. Uncle George is dead but his second wife, Claire, lives in a cottage in the grounds while her stepchildren, Mark & Susan, live in the big house. Mark runs a rose nursery & Susan has returned from Bristol to help, full of plans for tea rooms & enticements for tourists.

As Eva relaxes into the familiar rhythms of life at Trelowarth, she becomes aware of voices in empty rooms & one day she steps back into the past, back to Trelowarth in the early 18th century. She meets Daniel Butler & his brother, Jack, Daniel's friend & ally, Fergal O'Cleary, & Constable Creed, who will do anything to see the Butlers hang. The Butlers are smugglers but they're also distantly related to the Duke of Ormonde, who is planning a rebellion to put the Pretender, James Stuart, back on the English throne. It's 1715 & the death of Queen Anne has seen the Protestant House of Hanover preferred over the Queen's Catholic half-brother, James. James's supporters, the Jacobites, are plotting to overthrow King George & the Butlers are in the thick of it.

Eva's presence is disconcerting but she's soon accepted by Daniel & the immediate attraction between them grows stronger. Even Fergal, suspicious & anxious, accepts Eva & she masquerades as his mute sister, just over from Ireland, as she learns the ways of an 18th century household. Jack, with his easy ways & loose tongue, isn't allowed into the secret, & Constable Creed, who hates Daniel for personal as well as political reasons is a threatening presence in all their lives. Eva's knowledge of the future is a heavy burden as she researches the Butlers in the present day & becomes more involved in their lives when she slips through the barrier. Time moves differently in the past. Eva spends days with Daniel in the past but when she returns to the present, she's only been absent a split second. As her love for Daniel grows stronger, Eva has to make a decision about where her future lies & find a way to make it happen.

The Rose Garden is full of the magic of Cornwall. There are echoes of Daphne Du Maurier's Cornish novels, Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek & The House on the Strand especially. I loved all the detail about the roses & Susan's plans to make the business a success. I was equally interested in the modern & 18th century stories & that isn't always the case with time slip novels. Although, I must admit, Daniel Butler was such a romantic figure that I wouldn't have minded spending more time in his company. I could fully understand Eva's desire to stay with him & her growing dissatisfaction with the present. The 18th century Trelowarth was as real to me as the 21st century house. The characters were convincingly historical, their speech was different without any thees & thous which can be jarring. I could understand why Daniel & Fergal didn't want Eva to speak to strangers - her speech & manner would have been so strange. There's excitement, adventure, tragedy & romance in The Rose Garden, it's a compelling read.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Bloomsbury Reader

I was beside myself with excitement to discover Bloomsbury Reader, a new initiative of Bloomsbury Publishing to resurrect some fantastic authors in print on demand & e-book editions. Simon at Stuck in a Book posted about this last week & I couldn't wait to whiz through their list here. I'd read some months ago about Bloomsbury reprinting Monica Dickens who has enjoyed a little mini revival with Persephone reprinting Mariana & The Winds of Heaven in recent years. Then, when I saw the list & realised that I could download my choices onto my e-reader instantly, I was even more excited.

There are a few downsides to the Bloomsbury Reader website. There's no rhyme or reason to the listing. It's not alphabetical or any other order I can make out. There's no way to limit your search just to e-books so the same titles pop up twice in both formats but not together. There's no subject listing, not even fiction & non-fiction. You can search by author but you need to know who's there to do a usable search. There are no blurbs - well, there were no blurbs on any of the titles I looked at. With 57 pages to go through, it's a bit frustrating.

However, all is not lost. I pasted the ISBN into the search engine at The Book Depository & there are blurbs for most of the titles I was interested in. AND, the e-books are around 40% cheaper than the RRP so that makes them around $6.60AU. Much more reasonable than the print on demand physical books which I think are expensive at around $18 & I'd have to wait for them to arrive in the post. I can buy the Virago edition of Rose Macaulay's Told by an Idiot for $18 so why would I choose a POD edition instead?

So, I've had a little splurge & bought 9 titles. Personal Pleasures & Letters to a Friend by Rose Macaulay, Faster! Faster! & Late & Soon by E M Delafield, The Queens & the Hive by Edith Sitwell, Company Parade & The Road from the Monument by Storm Jameson, Kate & Emma by Monica Dickens & A Lighthearted Quest by Ann Bridge (because I read Fleur Fisher's review here & it sounds wonderful & if I enjoy it, the whole series is available from Bloomsbury Reader. So, quibbles about the website aside, I'm thrilled with this new venture & hope it's a success & that Bloomsbury keep adding authors to the list (in some sort of order & with blurbs please).

I'll leave you with a question. Margaret Irwin is one of the authors on the list & I loved her historical novels which I read many years ago. Does anyone know anything about another of her books called Still She Wished For Company? It looks contemporary rather than historical from the only cover I can find on the internet but I can't find anything on the plot. I'm also tempted by Phyllis Bentley's novels. I always remember her from Vera Brittain's diaries of the 30s. They had a tentative friendship wrecked by Vera's superiority & Phyllis's lack of self-esteem & touchiness. She was famous for her historical, regional saga, Inheritance, & there are more of her novels on the list. But, I have enough to be going on with at the moment. At least the tbr shelves on my e-reader are invisible.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cats, roses, spring etc

We've had very changeable spring weather over the last week. It was almost summery midweek then a cool change with rain swept through. Saturday was cool with a thunderstorm in the afternoon. Phoebe slept through the whole thing, Lucky burrowed under her blanket until long after it was all over. Abby was frightened of thunder too, she used to hide under my bed. Yesterday morning we woke up to fog but that cleared & it was a warm, humid day with more storms late in the day. Very tropical. So, as we were out early enjoying the sunshine before it got too hot, I thought a few pictures of the girls & an update on the roses was in order. There's no reason for this picture of Phoebe in the (thankfully) empty laundry basket except that she looks gorgeous.

I can't believe that it was only a month ago that the big tree in the front garden looked like this. Here's Phoebe in almost the same spot. Even a week ago there were only a few leaves & a little blossom. It always seems that overnight it shakes out its green glory.

Lucky always finds a sunny spot to start the day. In the garden...

or on the back porch.

And here's a picture of the girls together, one of the few I have as they're still happier in their own space. Actually, I think Phoebe has just invaded Lucky's space here...

Now, enough of this cat worship. The roses are looking wonderful & here are a couple of pictures of Sophy's Rose, buds just about ready to blossom, still sparkling with raindrops from Saturday night's storm. I can't wait!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sunday Poetry - Fainthearts

An anonymous poem this week about a fair lady & a knight (picture from here) who thinks he's going to get his heart's desire but is outwitted. If only he'd been bold instead of baffled! I always have questions about these ballads. Why was the knight out riding with two horses? Was he looking for an opportunity to take off with a willing young lady? Or did he make his squire walk?

Although the setting is medieval, the language & the repetition of "sir" sound more Victorian to me. The last two lines also remind me of the verse inscribed on the little Victorian box that Wilmet receives in Barbara Pym's A Glass of Blessings. The gift is anonymous & Wilmet has a lovely time speculating as to who the giver might be.

The Baffled Knight

There was a knight, and he was young,
A riding along the way, sir,
And there he met a lady fair,
Among the cocks of hay, sir.

Quoth he, Shall you and I, lady,
Among the grass lye down a?
And I will have a special care
Of rumpling of your gown a.

'If you will go along with me
Unto my father's hall, sir,
You shall enjoy my maidenhead,
And my estate and all, sir.'

So he mounted her on a milk-white steed,
Himself upon another,
And then they rid upon the road,
Like sister and like brother.

And when she came to her father's house,
Which was moated round about, sir,
She stepped straight within the gate,
And shut this young knight out, sir.

'Here is a purse of gold,' she said,
'Take it for your pains, sir;
And I will send my father's man
To go home with you again, sir.'

'And if you meet a lady fair,
As you go thro the next town, sir,
You must not fear the dew of the grass,
Nor the trumpling of her gown, sir.

'And if you meet a lady gay,
As you go by the hill, sir,
If you will not when you may,
You shall not when you will, sir.'

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Camomile - Catherine Carswell

Ellen Carstairs is a young woman living in Glasgow in the early 20th century. She's an orphan & lives with her brother, Ronald, & their evangelical Aunt Harry. Ellen is ambitious. She longs to write but her mother was a very unsuccessful novelist & Aunt Harry is alert for any signs of the same unsuitability in Ellen. She did manage to escape to Frankfurt for several years to study music & returns to Glasgow to earn her living as a music teacher at her old school. She also takes private pupils although it's not music that stirs her soul but writing. She rents a cold, miserable room from a neighbour just so that she can work without Aunt Harry interrupting her. The Camomile takes the form of a letter-journal Ellen writes to her friend Ruby, a fellow student in Frankfurt now living in London.

Ellen hasn't much in common with her old school friends in Glasgow or with her fellow teachers. She spends time in the Mitchell Library just so that she can be free to read what she wishes without enduring Aunt Harry's disapproval. There she meets a man she nicknames Don John, John Barnaby, an ex-priest & scholar who lives on the edge of poverty, sustained only by his love of books. John Barnaby encourages Ellen's writing & sends her stories to a London editor. It's John who explains the title of the book when he likens Ellen's writing to the camomile. "I see. It is like the camomile - the more it is trodden on, the faster it grows." And when I asked him who had said that, he smiled again and said, "An observant fat man called Falstaff." Ellen is conflicted about her writing. She feels compelled to do it but also knows how Aunt Harry & conventional Glasgow society feels about it.

There is no doubt writing makes me more irritable with her. Today I have felt quite desperate whenever she came near me. Now is this a sign that writing is wrong for me? I am deeply worried these days about this old question. Is writing - serious writing - simply a mistake for a woman? Ronald, as you know, thinks it is. But Ronald, I do think, is influenced here by Mother's unfortunate example. The worst of it is I know so terribly well what people mean when they say it is "a pity" that a woman should write. I can feel why it is so different from, for instance, a woman's singing or acting. Because, however severe the technique of these arts may be, they are in their effect womanly. But writing!

Ellen becomes engaged to Duncan, the brother of an old school friend. He's a doctor, on leave from his post in India. They're instantly attracted to each other & Ellen gradually finds herself swept up in the excitement of her first love affair. Once they're engaged, however, she begins to consider what marriage to a conventional man like Duncan will mean. They have lunch with a couple Duncan knows from his Indian station & it's a disaster. Duncan is desperate to impress them & encourages Ellen to look sophisticated, even buying her pearls for the occasion. Ellen realises that only a girl who will be sociable, go to parties & dances & not be "too intellectual" could be a suitable wife for Duncan in the middle-class hidebound colonial society he lives in. When the wife asks her if she's fond of reading, Ellen struggles to hide her real tastes because she knows they are too intellectual for this woman who despises trash & only pretends to know the authors Ellen mentions. Duncan doesn't share Ellen's misgivings,

He thinks I have grown "just a wee bit morbid," being too much alone with my thoughts, which is "bad for women." He believes the life in India, with its tennis and riding, jolly, rather superficial chatter and determined suppression of serious talk, will be the best possible antidote for me. How I hope and try to believe that he is right!... But he warns me to beware of one thing as of the devil. In India I must not speak of anything abstract or "superior," or of "high-brow works of art," unless I am content to be regarded as a bore and a blue-stocking.

Ellen's doubts only increase as she attends the conventional weddings of her friends & then when Duncan has to return to India early & refuses to marry her immediately so she can return with him. Duncan's complacent assumptions & the disapproval of a few people like Don John who Ellen respects, gradually lead her to realise that she has to make a decision. Does she have the courage to follow her dream of being a writer at the expense of the conventional happiness that society expects of her?

The Camomile is a very engaging novel. Written in 1922, Ellen is a radical misfit in the conventional world of narrowly religious Aunt Harry. Ronald is sympathetic but his sights are set on going to America. Her school friends follow the expected path to marriage without ever feeling the need to express themselves. Only her former music teacher Miss Hepburn is outraged by her decision to forego a career for marriage. Don John is quietly disappointed & retreats from Ellen's life. I enjoyed Ellen's determination to write & her descriptions of her great plans for the future & her struggle to find somewhere congenial to work & read. Ellen wants experience but marriage to Duncan may be too high a price to pay. It would also mean the end of her writing as Duncan's assurances that Ellen could continue to write have a a very hollow ring.

Catherine Carswell (photo above from here) wrote only two novels, this one & Open The Door! Both were reprinted by Virago in the 80s. She was a friend of D H Lawrence & lost a job at the Glasgow Herald when she praised his novel, The Rainbow. She later lived in London with her husband & son & was friends with writers including Storm Jameson & Rose Macaulay (of whom I'll have more to say soon). Canongate have since reprinted Open the Door! as well as Carswell's unfinished autobiography, Lying Awake. I downloaded The Camomile for free from Open Library. I was inspired to read The Camomile by Desperate Reader's review.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

An Autobiography - Anthony Trollope

I pulled Anthony Trollope's Autobiography off the tbr shelves a couple of months ago after reading Elaine's enthusiastic review. But, the moment passed, I went on to other things & eventually Anthony went back to the shelves. Then, last weekend, I read Christine Poulson's review at her blog, A Reading Life, & suddenly I knew what I would be reading that afternoon. I settled down & read almost half the book in one sitting. Reading impulses are like that! I'd read other biographies of Trollope, most memorably, Victoria Glendinning's, but reading about his life in his own words was an absorbing experience. I can only agree with Christine's description of Trollope as "the most lovable of writers."

I admit to rushing through his miserable childhood. My heart ached for the awkward, poor, ignorant, badly dressed, neglected boy who was sent to one dreadful school after the other. His father was a bad-tempered, difficult man with no business sense so the family was often on the edge of ruin. His mother, Fanny, was a formidable woman. She took some of the family off to America to start a bazaar, of all things, to set her son, Henry, up in business. She also wrote a book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, which caused a scandal with its blunt assessments of Americans & their way of life. The book was, of course, wildly popular in England & started Fanny on a career as a writer which kept the family afloat. Neither parent seems to have had much time for Anthony & never seemed to have noticed his misery. The family even had to move abroad to Bruges, where Fanny nursed her dying husband & two children suffering from consumption, all the time writing constantly.

Anthony's fortunes improved when he was employed as a clerk at the General Post Office in London. He got into debt as he struggled to live in London with no family support & earning a little money for the first time. He applied for a job as a Surveyor's Assistant in Ireland, was sent there with dreadful references from his superiors at the GPO but met with success. Living was cheap in Ireland, he enjoyed the work which entailed riding around the countryside planning mail delivery routes & he met with great kindness & hospitality from the local people. He also met his wife, Rose, although we don't get much sense of his family life at all from the book. He mentions children & says he was happy but we hear much more about his literary friends than we do about his family.

As the son of writers, Anthony always had ambitions to be a writer. He thought novels would be easier than poetry or plays (although he did attempt a play which was rejected by a theatre manager. He reused the plot of The Noble Jilt in Can You Forgive Her?) It took some years before he made any money by his pen. His first two novels were published at half-profits & he saw no profits from them at all. His first quiet success came with the publication of The Warden & Barchester Towers. Trollope had a very workmanlike attitude to the writing life. This shocked some of his original readers as his emphasis on writing as a profession rather than a vocation was not what was expected. He writes of his delight in earning his first £100 for Barchester Towers,

I am well aware that there are many who think that an author in his authorship should not regard money,- nor a painter, or sculptor, or composer in his art. I do not know that this unnatural self-sacrifice is supposed to extend itself further. A barrister, a clergyman, a doctor, an engineer, even actors and architects, may without disgrace follow the bent of human nature, and endeavour to fill their bellies and clothe their backs, and also those of their wives and children, as comfortably as they can by the exercise of their abilities and their crafts.

Trollope's descriptions of the tables he drew up at the commencement of each book showing how many words per day he needed to write to finish the book in a certain time; his descriptions of finishing a novel one day & starting a new book the next day, led to accusations that he was nothing but a writing machine, devoid of inspiration. Trollope advises young writers to be disciplined, not waiting for inspiration but writing a set number of words a day. Success means hard work although that doesn't mean that there weren't times when the excitement of his story didn't carry him away from his tables & careful plans,

When my work has been quickest done,- and it has sometimes been done very quickly - the rapidity has been achieved by hot pressure, not in the conception, but in the telling of the story. Instead of writing eight pages a day, I have written sixteen; instead of working five days a week, I have worked seven. I have trebled my usual average, and have done so in circumstances which have enabled me to give up all my thoughts for the time being to the book I have been writing.... And I am sure that the work so done has had in it the best truth and the highest spirit that I have been able to produce. At such times I have been able to imbue myself thoroughly with the characters I have had in hand. I have wandered alone among the rocks and woods, crying at their grief, laughing at their absurdities, and thoroughly enjoying their joy. I have been impregnated with my own creations till it has been my only excitement to sit with the pen in my hand, and drive my team before me at as quick a pace as I could make them travel.

Once Trollope had moved his family back to London, where he felt he needed to be in order to pursue his literary career, he found himself part of a literary milieu that included Thackeray, Dickens, George Eliot & George Henry Lewes among many others. He was still working for the GPO & regarded his literary earnings as the cream that allowed him some luxuries like his beloved hunting. He became a member of clubs & associations like the Garrick Club & he enjoyed his popularity with the enjoyment that only a man who remembered a lonely, friendless childhood can enjoy it.

I think that I became popular among those with whom I associated. I have long been aware of a certain weakness in my own character, which I may call a craving for love. I have ever had a wish to be liked by those around me,- a wish that during the first half of my life was never gratified. In my school-days no small part of my misery came from the envy with which I regarded the popularity of popular boys. They seemed to me to live in a social paradise, while the desolation of my Pandemonium was complete... My Irish life had been much better. I had had my wife and children, and had been sustained by a feeling of general respect.... It was not till we had settled ourselves at Waltham that I really began to live much with others. The Garrick Club was the first assemblage of men at which I felt myself to be popular.

What a disarmingly honest & touching thing to have written. Although Dickens's childhood was just as miserable & he was just as much an outsider, I can't imagine him ever writing anything so revealing about his feelings.

Trollope writes a lot about his method of writing, his relations with publishers & his opinions of other writers of the period. I found all this fascinating. His appraisals of Dickens, Eliot & Thackeray are so interesting. He doesn't seem to be a big fan of Charlotte Brontё (although he does admire the second volume of Jane Eyre set at Thornfield) but I was amused & surprised at this perceptive comment about Villette, "The character of Paul... is a wonderful study. She must herself have been in love with some Paul when she wrote the book..." Charlotte's unrequited love for M Heger had not, of course, been mentioned in Elizabeth Gaskell's biography of Charlotte & her letters to him would not be published until 1913.

This is such a good-humoured book. Trollope was writing near the end of his life, although he still had many books to publish. He left the manuscript (written in 1878) to his son, asking that it be published, unchanged, after his death. Trollope died in 1882 & the Autobiography was published the next year. Although Trollope had listed all the books he'd written at the end of the manuscript, his son could add another 13 titles published in the last 4 years of his life! Prolific, indeed. I've read quite a few of Trollope's novels but there are a lot more to read. I've been hoarding the last two Palliser novels for a few years now, not wanting to reach the end but I think I need to read The Prime Minister very soon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Æthelstan : the first king of England - Sarah Foot

Yet if one asked a group of educated Britons to name three Anglo-Saxon kings, few would now number Æthelstan among those they could recall. Alfred who burnt the cakes would top any list, followed swiftly by Harold (he who died with an arrow in the eye at the battle of Hastings) and then perhaps Æthelred the Unready, or Edward the Confessor. In his homeland, outside the few places with monuments to his memory, Æthelstan has become England's forgotten king, an almost entirely unknown figure of a remote past no longer seen as relevant to modern culture, or included in a national school curriculum.

In her new book, Sarah Foot sets out to remedy this & put Æthelstan back in the national consciousness, where he belongs. Æthelstan was the grandson of Alfred the Great & his achievements have been almost entirely eclipsed by those of Alfred. Yet it was Æthelstan, not Alfred who was the first King of Britain. Æthelstan not only inherited the kingdom of Wessex, he also became overlord of Mercia when his aunt, Æthelflaed, died. He then conquered Northumbria & eventually had all the rulers of the Scots & Welsh kingdoms paying him tribute & acknowledging him as their ruler. Æthelstan's achievements are even more remarkable because he reigned for only 14 years & had to overcome not only opposition at his accession but an invasion by disgruntled Scots & Scandinavian leaders that he defeated at the famous battle of Brunanburh.

Æthelstan was the son of Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great. He was Edward's eldest son, born around 894, but his mother, Ecgwynn, died young or was repudiated. Edward married again & his new wife produced a large family. Æthelstan was sent to Mercia to live at the court of Æthelflaed, Lady of the Mercians & her husband, Æthelred. When Edward died, Æthelstan was not the only candidate for the throne of the West Saxons, even though he was the eldest son. He was relatively unknown at the West Saxon court because he had spent his childhood in Mercia. His younger half-brother, Ælfweard, was proclaimed King but he died only a short time later. Æthelstan's other half-brothers were too young to succeed so, maybe reluctantly, the West Saxons accepted Æthelstan as King.

Æthelstan never married & there have been many theories to account for this. Producing an heir was vital so that the succession would be smooth & the family line would continue. Æthelstan was a notably religious man so he may have taken an oath of celibacy, similar to the oath that Edward the Confessor was said to have taken in the 11th century. Æthelstan may have felt that he should allow one of his half-brothers to succeed him. He may have feared that, if he died young, leaving a child as his heir, civil war could be the result. Although Æthelstan didn't marry, he was very shrewd in the marriage alliances he arranged for his half-sisters. His full sister, who may have been called Eadgyth, was married to the Scandinavian King of York, Sihtric. After Sihtric's death, Æthelstan used his family relationship to bring York back into his kingdom after many years of Scandinavian rule. His half-sisters were married to various European rulers - Eadgifu to Charles, King of the West Franks, Eadhild to Hugh, Duke of Frankia, Ælfgifu to Louis of Burgundy & Eadgyth to Otto of Saxony. These alliances made Æthelstan & England respected throughout Europe & allowed Æthelstan to pursue his passion for collecting religious relics. He also helped two of his nephews & a foster-son to regain their thrones after they had spent years of exile at the English court. All these diplomatic alliances & initiatives enhanced England's reputation.

Æthelstan was also a great warrior. He helped his aunt & uncle to recapture northern Mercia from the Danes under the overall lordship of his father, King Edward the Elder. Once Æthelstan became King, he led raids further north into the Scottish kingdoms, driving out the Danes & forcing the Scots King, Constantin, to become his vassal. Æthelstan's greatest test was the battle of Brunanburh in 937 against an invasion led by Constantin, the Strathclyde Welsh led by Owain (another client king) & Olaf Guthfrisson, the Norse King of Dublin. The site of the battle has never been definitively known, but Sarah Foot believes it must have been at Bromborough, near Chester. Æthelstan took both land & naval forces on the campaign, which was an amazing logistical exercise for the period. The details of the battle are only known through a poem in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle but it was a convincing victory for Æthelstan & his eldest half-brother, Edmund. If Æthelstan had been defeated, England would have been plunged back into the divisive days when Viking raiders had forged their own kingdoms out of England, creating the Danelaw where they ruled almost half of England. Æthelstan's victory at Brunanburh confirmed his title of King of Britain although he didn't live long to enjoy it. He died in 939, & was succeeded by his half-brother, Edmund.

Sarah Foot also considers the reasons for Æthelstan's disappearance from historical consciousness. The fact that he was succeeded by his half-brother rather than a direct descendant meant that his achievements weren't recorded as a father or grandfather's would have been. Although he was a religious man, his military exploits meant that he was never seen as a candidate for sainthood as Edward the Confessor was. He didn't have an Asser at his court to write his biography as Alfred the Great did. There are few written sources for Æthelstan's life & his achievements became lost in those of his grandfather & later Anglo-Saxon kings like Edgar.

Sarah Foot has written a fascinating & accessible account of the life of one of England's greatest kings. She looks at his religious life, especially his collection of relics & the gifts he made to churches & monasteries. She looks at the charters which set out the gifts of land he made to individuals & which are one of the key sources of information about the period. She examines the coins minted during the reign & analyses the different images of the king to try to understand what Æthelstan meant when he called himself rex totius Brittaniae, king of all Britain.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Sunday Poetry - Unrequited Love

I haven't been able to find out very much about today's poet, Marion Angus, apart from her dates, 1866-1946. Even the link on the website where I found this photo is broken. She was born in Aberdeen where her father was a minister & spent most of her life there. Her poetry was often based on the old ballad forms & written in Scots like this lovely poem, Mary's Song. Her work was out of print for many years after her death but a new edition of her selected poems was published in 2006. This poem is melancholy & heart breaking as unrequited love is. I think it's beautiful.

I wad hae gi'en him my lips tae kiss,
Had I been his, had I been his;
Barley breid and elder wine,
Had I been his as he is mine.

The wanderin' bee it seeks the rose;
Tae the lochan's bosom the burnie goes;
The grey bird cries at evenin's fa',
'My luve, my fair one, come awa'.'

My beloved sall ha'e this he'rt tae break,
Reid, reid wine and the barley cake,
A he'rt tae break, an' a mou' tae kiss,
Tho' he be nae mine, as I am his.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Recent arrivals

All my Book Depository preorders are coming home to roost! I ordered these lovely books months ago, as soon as I knew they were on the horizon, so it's been a real treat to come home & find packages on the doorstep this week. Vintage have reprinted Nancy Mitford's four historical biographies. I've bought Voltaire in Love & Frederick the Great but not The Sun King or Madame de Pompadour, which I already own. I also have the Capuchin editions of Christmas Pudding & Pigeon Pie to come but they're not published until the end of the month.

Alison Weir is one of my favourite writers of historical biography & her latest subject is Mary Boleyn. Mary has always been quite a shadowy figure. She avoided the fall of her sister, Anne, & brother, George but has been best known for having been the mistress of two kings - Francis I of France & Henry VIII. In recent years, Mary has been the subject of historical novels including Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl which started that dreadful fashion for headless women on book covers, as well as perpetuating some of the myths about Mary & her character & starting a few new ones. I'm looking forward to seeing what Alison Weir has managed to discover about the real Mary.

I've only become a fan of the novels of Georgette Heyer in the last few years. I didn't read Regency romances as a teenager which seems to be the time when most women fall in love with Heyer's heroes. I started reading her books with the encouragement of my online bookgroup, some of whom are big fans & know the books backwards. So, I asked for recommendations & read A Civil Contract which I enjoyed very much. I prefer the books with older heroines - I'm too old to have much in common with young flibbertigibbets - & since then, I've enjoyed half a dozen more including Lady of Quality, The Black Sheep, The Reluctant Widow & The Nonesuch. So, I was pleased to hear about this new biography of Heyer who was a notoriously private woman. I'd read Jane Aiken Hodge's biography but there was still a lot to be discovered & Jennifer Kloester has worked on her book for over 10 years. She had the help of Jane Aiken Hodge & Heyer's son & I'm hoping for lots of detail about how she wrote her books which are famous for the extensive research & accuracy of historical detail. There's been a bit of a kerfuffle in the Press already about comments Heyer made about Dame Barbara Cartland, accusing her of plagiarism. You can also hear an interview with Kloester & Katie Fforde on the BBC here. Just scroll down to Chapter 3 at the bottom of the page. Speaking of Jane Aiken Hodge, there's a novelist who I would love to see reprinted. Very much in the vein of Mary Stewart. I have fond memories of her romantic suspense novels, often with historical settings like Watch the Wall My Darling & Greek Wedding. Those 1970s Pan paperback covers bring back a lot of memories.

So, what to read first? I have no idea!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cooking the Books - Kerry Greenwood

I can't read Kerry Greenwood's Corinna Chapman books when I'm hungry. It's torture. If I'm stuck on a train or on a journey of any kind without rations, I just read something else. I sat down on Friday afternoon to begin reading Cooking the Books. It was grey & threatening rain. I had a cup of tea beside me, Lucky was asleep on the couch, Phoebe was asleep on my lap. An hour & a half (& a very loud thunderstorm) later, I was starving & had to upset sleeping cats to get to the kitchen & eat.

Corinna Chapman is a baker. She's a big woman, traditionally built as Alexander McCall Smith would say. She lives in Melbourne in an Art Deco building called Insula with her lover, Daniel, cat Horatio & an assortment of friends & fellow tenants. Her bakery, Earthly Delights, is closed for January, her assistant, Jason, has gone to surf on the coast & her two assistants, resting actors Goss & Kylie, have landed roles on a new soap, Kiss the Bride. When an old school enemy begs Corinna to help her out in a catering emergency, employing a little bribery to ensure success, Corinna is happy to oblige. Holidays aren't for her & she's bored. The job, baking for the production of Kiss the Bride at Docklands studios, means she can keep an eye on Goss & Kylie as well as be highly paid for doing what she does best - baking.

The kitchen is fraught & tense, as all commercial kitchens are, in Corinna's experience. The tension is also evident on the set where star Molly Atkins plays the prima donna on & off the set. Her downtrodden assistant, Emily, suffers most but stays on, hoping for her big acting break if Molly pulls a few strings for her. Who could be playing practical jokes on the leading lady? Chili oil in her scrambled eggs, mustard in her face powder & wasabi in the lip gloss is only the start of it. Then, Corinna becomes aware of other little conspiracies among the cast & crew. Emily seems quite different off the set & when Molly faints & Emily has to step in at the last minute, she is transformed. Cameraman Ethan seems close to Emily & very antagonistic to Molly. The writers, Gordon & Kendall, seem to be hatching plots they haven't written into the script & Tash, the director, just wants to keep Molly happy & get to the end of shooting with no disasters.

Corinna's lover, Daniel, is a private detective & his latest case is a hard one to crack. A young woman, Lena, who works for a firm of corporate lawyers, is desperate to recover some missing papers. Lena is being bullied by her employers & it soon becomes obvious that something dodgy's going on. The search for the papers leads Daniel to the haunts of the homeless & to deciphering clues left by the mysterious Pockets, a former banker, now one of the many people living on the streets, suffering from mental illness & alcoholism.  Pockets has "filed" the missing papers somewhere safe & obviously understands their worth. He leaves clues at various locations around Melbourne & Daniel & Corinna set off on the treasure hunt. Daniel is also employed by Molly Atkins to find the son she gave up for adoption at birth. All the clues point to Molly's son being on the set or in the kitchen at Kiss the Bride.

There's always lots of plot & subplot in Kerry Greenwood's novels. But, even the plot doesn't distract me from the ever-present food. Corinna's bread is legendary as are Jason's muffins. In this book, Corinna takes on Bernie, a young pastry cook, to help out while Jason's away & the two of them create some mouth-watering treats. The catering company has a different theme for the Kiss the Bride set each day. So, on Greek day, we have spanokopita, baklava & Greek shortbread. Hungarian day means apricot cake, hundred layer cake & raspberry cream roulade. You get the idea? I could practically smell the bacon & scrambled eggs for breakfast. Then there are the medieval recipes Bernie makes out of an old cookbook she found. Lots of marzipan, spices & fruit.

I also enjoy the setting of the novels. I love the fact that I guessed a couple of the clues in Daniel's treasure hunt (the fine lady on the fine horse, for example) because I live in Melbourne & I knew exactly what statue was referred to. I don't read many novels set in Melbourne but this series & Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher detective series set in the 1920s, are a lot of fun. There's almost as much food in the Phryne books but I especially love the fact that Corinna's a baker. I love baking & as well as eating, this book made me long to bake something, anything! There are recipes in the back of the book as well.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday poetry - Laments

I love this poem which I first knew as a song. There are many versions of the words of Waly, Waly. It's also known as The Water is Wide. This is only one of them. The version I know best was arranged by Chris Hazell & sung by Bryn Terfel on his lovely album of British folk songs. I couldn't find a video of Bryn singing this but here's a video of him singing Loch Lomond which is the link to the picture of Loch Lomond above (from here).

O waly, waly up the bank!
And waly, waly down the brae!
And waly, waly yon burn-side,
Where I and my love wont to gae!

I lean'd my back unto an aik,
I thought it was a trusty tree;
But first it bow'd, and syne it brak,
Sae my true-love did lightly me.

O waly, waly! but love be bony
A little time, while it is new;
But when 'tis auld, it waxeth cauld,
And fades away like morning dew.

O wherefore should I busk my head?
Or wherefore should I kame my hair?
For my true-love has me forsook,
And says he'll never love me mair.

Now Arthur-Seat shall be my bed,
The sheets shall ne'er be fyl'd by me;
St Anton's well shall be my drink,
Since my true-love has forsaken me.

Martinmas wind, when wilt thou blaw,
And shake the green leaves off the tree?
O gentle death, when wilt thou come?
For of my life I am weary.

'Tis not the frost that freezes fell,
Nor blawing snaw's inclemency;
'Tis not sic cauld that makes me cry,
But my love's heart grown cauld to me.

When we came in by Glasgow town,
We were a comely sight to see;
My love was clad in black velvet,
And I my sell in cramasie.

But had I wist, before I kiss'd,
That love had been sae ill to win,
I'd lock'd my heart in a case of gold,
And pin'd it with a silver pin.

Oh, oh, if my young babe were born,
And set upon the nurse's knee,
And I my sell were dead and gone!
For a maid again I'll never be.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Summer at Fairacre - Miss Read

I've written before about my love of Miss Read. Her books are so evocative of the English countryside in the 1950s & 60s, just at that point of change when the modern world was intruding on traditional rural ways. It's an idealised world but not sentimental. Miss Read's love of nature is unmistakable & is one of the delights of reading her books.

Summer at Fairacre takes place over a period of months from late spring to the first hint of autumn. Everyone delights in the warmer weather as winter finally ends & nature walks & gardening are the order of the day.

The unseasonable and chilly weather suddenly changed, and May became 'the loveliest month' which the poets praise.
Sunlight flooded the ancient schoolroom, and chalk dust danced in the slanting rays. The massive brass inkstand on my desk gleamed like gold, and little rainbows glanced from the glass over the photograph of our Queen, centrally placed on the rear wall, in the most honoured position...
The cherry tree in the Post Office garden dangled white flowers, and everywhere, it seemed, the fruit trees were breaking into a froth of blossom and tender green leaf. The lilac bush in the most sheltered corner of my garden was in full bloom, and the heady scent floated up to my bedroom window in the warm nights.

Miss Read is spared the threat of her house being given a good spring clean & bottoming by Mrs Pringle's bad leg flaring up. However, when this means that Mrs P decides to give up her job as school cleaner as well, Miss Read has a dilemma on her hands. Allow hopeless Minnie Pringle to wreak havoc or begin the search for a new cleaner - for her own house as well as the school. Mrs Pringle may be tyrannical & obstinate but she's an excellent cleaner & will be very hard to replace.

Miss Read's friend Amy decides to give her husband James a taste of his own medicine & takes herself off without warning for a few days. James is distraught &, on Amy's return after a relaxing time at a spa resort & in Scotland with her niece, Vanessa, becomes much more attentive. Henry Mawne, on the other hand, knows exactly where his wife is. Elizabeth has gone home to Ireland to try to convince a cantankerous aunt to leave her inconvenient house & go into a nursing home. Henry, meanwhile, is lonely & at a loose end & takes to visiting his single female friends in the evenings, causing gossip & upsetting their routines.

The Coggs family has its share of misfortune. Feckless Arthur is sent to prison & then Mrs Coggs is taken ill & goes into hospital. Miss Read's pupil, young Joseph, stays with her at the schoolhouse & they both enjoy the company. The school's Sports Day is a great success & Miss Read is secretly thrilled when Joseph wins a race. Miss Read is apprehensive when she's asked to give a talk on children's literature, especially when she learns that one of the other speakers is to be Miss Crabbe, a woman with very decided ideas on children's education who she's clashed with before.

The village jumble sale results in the usual drama & vying for prized positions among the ladies who run the stalls. Jumble sales always remind me of Barbara Pym but Miss Read's jumble sales have none of the subversive humour & gentle sarcasm of Pym. Miss Read is thwarted in her desire to buy a gorgeous chocolate cake but manages to buy a fruit cake instead. She witnesses Mrs Pringle's very decided ideas about selling shoes & watches a newcomer defeated in her attempts to get the better of the redoubtable Mrs P. The baking summer weather is broken by a tremendous thunderstorm that fills the water tanks & refreshes the gardens although its fury isn't appreciated by everyone,

The first distant rumblings of thunder came as the children played after school dinner. Then it came nearer, and vicious lightning cracked the skies. I called the children in, just as the first spots of rain began to fall.
Within ten minutes there was a deluge. Raindrops spun like silver coins in the playground, and the chalky dust at the edge of the field was first pock-marked and then turned to silt within seconds....
The noise was tremendous and awe-inspiring. Thunder crashed and lightning flashed, and I could hear some wailing from the infants next door. My own class was scared, but silent, under the onslaught. I pitied anyone caught in the storm. One would be drenched to the skin in a matter of minutes.

The end of summer resolves everything & life returns to normal with the approach of autumn. Miss Read's world is a very reassuring one & I love visiting Fairacre & Thrush Green from time to time. The beautiful illustrations in my Houghton Mifflin edition are by J S Goodall. There's a copy of Summer at Fairacre, and many other books by Miss Read, available at Anglophile Books. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Rose garden update

The roses in Abby's rose garden are coming along beautifully so I thought it was time for an update. The weather has been perfect lately. We've had a mixture of warm & cold days & last week we had over 60mm of rain which was just what the garden needed after a dry August.

This is the special Best Friend rose that a good friend gave me after Abby died. It's looking gorgeous & I can't wait to see the first rose bloom.

The football Grand Final was played last weekend so it's the traditional time to feed roses. It was too cold & wet to think about it then so that's a job for next weekend.

Here is the first bud, on one of the Noble Antony roses. Very exciting! If you'd like a reminder of the roses I chose, all the links are here & the beginning of the garden, just three months ago, is here.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

A Boy at the Hogarth Press - Richard Kennedy

Richard Kennedy was apprenticed to Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press in the 1920s. Kennedy's Uncle George got him the job as a kind of second chance for the 16 year old to prove himself. Over 40 years later, Kennedy recalled the two years he spent at the Press in this memoir. Richard Kennedy went on to become an illustrator & the book is full of his quirky line-drawings. The memoir is short, less than 100pp, but full of incident. Richard spends hours typing a short letter, only to spell accept as except & bring Leonard's wrath down on his head. He tries to be helpful by putting up a shelf to make the packing of books & leaflets more efficient. Unfortunately the shelf later collapses as Leonard & Lord Oliver sit under it.

They sat down facing us in two chairs and launched into a very profound conversation about Africa, during which I was aware of a series of creaks and then a sudden crack and, looking up, saw my shelf suddenly dip down at the corner. One or two leaflets floated gracefully down and alighted at the feet of the two men. But they continued their conversation. Another crack, the shelf dipped ominously again and more leaflets glided down, covering the carpet. But the two men continued unconcernedly puffing their pipes. ... Then, like a ship sinking, the shelf slowly started to subside, leaflets pouring off and floating down like snow flakes. I watched helplessly as they cascaded on to LW and Lord Oliver, burying them almost to their knees. They calmly rose, as if nothing had occurred, shook themselves and silently went upstairs.

I loved all the detail of the work of the Press. Packing up orders, the office politics & the suitability of Richard asking a young woman he works with to lunch (they are very soon put on different lunch breaks). The glimpses of Virginia are fascinating. Sitting with a typewriter on her knees as in the picture above (surely the most uncomfortable way to type), peering through the glass panel in the basement window, setting type while continually smoking her roll-up cigarettes. When Richard is given a manuscript by Ivy Compton-Burnett & asked to do a reader's report on it, he is thrilled. He consults his Uncle George who proclaims it a work of genius & that's what his report says. Leonard is dismissive & rejects the novel which is later published by another publisher & widely reviewed as a work of genius. Richard is triumphant but Leonard, of course, has forgotten all about it.

Richard is sent out as a rep to sell copies of Virginia's novel, Orlando, to bookshops & experiences the life of a commercial traveller. However, when he's left in charge at the Press while the Woolfs are on holidays, his days as a publisher are numbered when he gives instructions to the paper supplier that leave Leonard in a towering rage. He gets the sack & decides to become a journalist instead.

My lovely Slightly Foxed edition of A Boy at the Hogarth Press also includes A Parcel of Time, Kennedy's memoir of his childhood. Born in 1910, Kennedy's father was killed in WWI. His mother, an Anglo-Indian girl, never gets over this grief. She misses India, has had very little education, & feels at a disadvantage with her mother-in-law, Richard's formidable grandmother. She also feels burdened by Richard & her mental fragility is often at risk of breaking down completely. Richard's Nurse is his refuge, his only source of comfort & stability.

I found this a very sad book. Richard's mother, Norah, is adrift, afraid that her mother-in-law wants to take Richard away from her but resenting the tie he represents. If only the two women could have been friends, they would all have been much happier. But, Norah is ashamed of her lack of education & Grandmother is snobbish about Norah's family & Anglo-Indian heritage. The highlight of Richard's childhood is his discovery of drawing & his complete absorption in this new skill. His grandfather had been an artist but a highly respectable Victorian painter, a member of the Royal Academy, no Pre-Raphaelite loucheness there. Once Richard discovers his talent, he knows where his future lies. He considers his education a mere detour on the way to his true calling.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday poetry - Warnings

I'm not sure what it says about me that this melancholy poem has always been one of my favourites. I love this photo of gravestones in Kirkconnell churchyard (from here) but really, I wish the weather was a little more grey & windswept. Bright sunshine really isn't appropriate for this Gothic little ballad, The Unquiet Grave. I first came across it in my high school poetry anthology, The World's Contracted Thus, & a lot of my favourite poetry was first encountered there. John Donne, Browning's Last Duchess, & a lot of old ballads. The poem isn't just full of gloom & misery though, there's humour & a little exasperation in the dead woman's attempts to convince her lover to stop mooning around & get on with life. The alternative doesn't bear thinking about. I always felt he was a bit of a poser anyway, playing the role of a pale, wan lover.

'The wind doth blow today, my love,
And a few small drops of rain;
I never had but one true-love;
In cold grave she was lain.

'I'll do as much for my true-love
As any young man may;
I'll sit and mourn all at her grave
For a twelvemonth and a day.'

The twelvemonth and a day being up,
The dead began to speak:
'Oh, who sits weeping on my grave,
And will not let me sleep?'

' 'T is I, my love, sits on your grave,
And will not let you sleep;
For I crave one kiss of your clay-cold lips,
And that is all I seek.'

'You crave one kiss of my clay-cold lips;
But my breath smells earthy-strong;
If you have one kiss of my clay-cold lips,
Your time will not be long.

' 'T is down in yonder garden green,
Love, where we used to walk,
The finest flower that ere was seen
Is wither'd to a stalk.

'The stalk is wither'd dry, my love,
So will our hearts decay;
So make yourself content, my love,
Till God calls you away.'

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Four Hedges - Clare Leighton

I've been aware of Clare Leighton for a long time. Firstly, as the sister of Roland Leighton, Vera Brittain's fiancé who was killed just before Christmas 1915. Roland's death & the other bereavements Vera suffered during WWI were devastating for Vera as they must also have been for the Leighton family. Vera writes about them in Testament of Youth, one of my favourite books. Later, I came to know Clare Leighton as a wood engraver. Early editions of the Persephone Quarterly were illustrated with beautiful woodcuts, many by Clare Leighton, including the lovely one on the cover of this reprint of Four Hedges, called A Lapful of Windfalls.

Four Hedges is the story of a year in the garden of Clare & her partner, Noel Brailsford, in the 1930s. The garden was on a slope of the Chiltern Hills, exposed to ferocious winds & the soil was an unforgiving chalk. The four hedges were a necessary shelter for the plants within. Yet the struggle to cultivate the soil & grow anything at all is a part of the charm of the book &, I suspect, to Leighton herself. I don't think she would have been happy in an easy garden with fertile soil & no problems to overcome. She returns home from a visit to such a garden even more determined to succeed with the challenges of her own place. The hard work of the garden is welcomed & appreciated just as much as the fruits of the garden. Clare & Noel take delight in planning, reading catalogues & making lists as well as mowing the meadow & weeding. Their ambitions are lofty but realistic. The delight of the book is Leighton's intimate descriptions of the plants & animals that live in her garden. I'm not going to rhapsodise about the writing, I'm just going to let you enjoy a few passages along with some of the many woodcuts that illustrate the book.

And then rain falls, a gentle "growing" rain, as the villagers call it. They look upon it as a friend. To love rain one must live in the country. It falls for several days and the plants strengthen and swell. The faces of the villagers glow as we meet them and discuss it. I listen to it as lie awake one night. There is at first silence, for the rain has ceased. This silence is so dense as to seem to be black. Then comes the silky rustle of soft rain like the sound of a gentle wind in a ripening cornfield. Some while after comes the steady drip of the rain from the pipes into the rain-water tank.

These days of sun demoralise us. We should be working and gardening hard. But it is lovely to lie on my back under the chestnut tree, looking up at the sky; to feel patches of warmth moving over my body as the sun shifts behind different branches and leaves of the trees; to see the insects hover above me and to wonder if, with luck, one of the swallows that twitter high in the air will sweep low near my hand to catch the insects. But for some time now the sun has been behind the thicker part of the chestnut leaves.

For there is the same beauty in the shape of the scythe that is in all fundamental things, where shape has been determined by need; so does one think of the lines of a boat, or the curve of a waggon. The sun shines on his back and arms as he swings the scythe, a figure of clear-cut light and shadow. The grasses are so dry this rainless summer that it is like cutting wire; even the dew of early morning soon vanishes and the resisting grasses blunt the blade. Noel has to stop often to sharpen the blade. He holds it upright, stroking the blade with the whetstone along its length on either side. He stands thus ennobled, for there is no pose that is not lyrical and rhythmic when it is tied to the sweeping lines of a scythe.

It is no wonder that we spend so much time with the fruit tree catalogues, for they contain the most engaging descriptions. In them we learn that one apple tree is a "shy bearer". Another "is not suitable for orchards where cattle graze, as it has a weeping habit." ... The Irish Peach should be eaten from the tree. This would seem to make of apple eating a most serious occupation. We wonder if we have hitherto been too casual.... We read that Allen's everlasting is "a bad character," and it is with disappointment that we learn that he is so condemned merely because he does not ripen in cold years. Our malice whetted, we see that Beauty of Bath is "self-sterile," a condition not uncommon in that resort, and that Baumann's Reinette is "more pleasing to the eye than to the palate."

We should never take our gardens too seriously. It is hard to curb ourselves in this, if we have any love for our plants, even as it is difficult to take a walk round the garden without pulling up weeds... It is better to have a few weeds and untidy edges to our flower beds, and to enjoy our garden, than to allow ourselves to be dominated by it. To be able occasionally to shut our eyes to weeds is a great art. Let us relax in our gardens, and as a dear old countrywoman used to say, let us "poddle" in them. We waste else the very beauty for which we have worked.

My copy of Four Hedges is a reprint from Little Toller Books, an imprint of The Dovecote Press. It's a beautiful object as well as a delightful read, with lots of woodcut illustrations, and French flaps. Little Toller specialize in books about the English countryside & they have some very tempting books on their list. My only disappointment was that my copy of Four Hedges was misbound so I ended up with two Octobers & no December.

Without planning it, I've read two illustrated books in the past week. By coincidence, the other book was also being read by Lynne over at Dovegreyreader. I'll be reviewing it in a few days.