Thursday, July 16, 2015
Thursday Bookshelf - MA-PL
This week, the shelves begin & end with poetry. Christopher Marlowe to Sylvia Plath. Kate Marsden's travel book, On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers, always makes me think of the anthropological tomes in the library of the Learned Society (With Camera and Pen in Northern Nigeria, Five Years with the Congo Cannibals) in Barbara Pym's Excellent Women. Maybe this was one of the books Pym had in mind when she came up with those titles. Jan Marsh's books on the Pre Raphaelites, especially the women as artists & muses, are wonderful, especially her book on Elizabeth Siddal, which looks at the myth making of her life - catching pneumonia in the bathtub modelling for Millais, Rossetti opening her coffin to retrieve his poems - & attempts to find the reality amongst the mythology.
Nicholas Massie's Nicholas and Alexandra is one of my favourite books, part of my obsession with the Romanovs & Russian history. I bought the battered Pan paperback in the 70s & read it many times. The beautiful Folio Society copy was a bit of an indulgence.
I bought Robert K Massie's Peter the Great & Brian Matthews' Louisa on the same day. I was in the city for a job interview. I didn't get the job but I bought these two book as well as Margaret Lane's The Tale of Beatrix Potter. Louisa is the story of Henry Lawson's mother, who was a remarkable woman. A feminist, she ran the first feminist newspaper in Australia & this biography was incredibly innovative at the time (late 1980s) because it combined fact with fictional recreations & the biographer's own experience. Two WWII Home Front diaries - by Mrs Milburn & Mrs Miles - sit side by side. Lucasta Miller's The Brontë Myth looks at the lives of the Brontë sisters through the biographies & theories about them. The way we look at their lives says so much about society's preoccupations & expectations, from Elizabeth Gaskell's determination to rehabilitate Charlotte to Freudian theories about Emily's mysticism & everything in between. Miller is writing a biography of another Victorian writer, Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L.E.L) & I'm looking forward to reading it.
The Mitfords dominate this shelf. I loved the Letters & still have a few of Nancy's novels & her letters to read. I love reading letters & diaries. I borrowed most of L M Montgomery's Journals through ILL & I'm not sure why I bought just one volume. I haven't read much of her fiction (only one Anne book) but the Journals were a revelation. Her life was so thwarted in some ways & she knew a lot of unhappiness, especially in her last years with her husband's mental illness. I found the last volume, especially, very moving.
John Mortimer's Rumpole books are old favourites. I've just read H Rider Haggard's She & kept hearing Leo McKern intoning She-who-must-be-obeyed, as I read. J E Neale's biography of Elizabeth I is another book I remember reading several times. Virginia Nicholson's social histories of women in the 20th century are wonderful, especially Singled Out, about the women who didn't or couldn't marry after WWI.
John Julius Norwich's Shakespeare's Kings compares the actual historical facts to Shakespeare's version & finds more correlations that you might expect. I want to read more Kate O'Brien & Margaret Oliphant & I have more of their books on the tbr shelves. I especially want to read more of Oliphant's Carlingford Chronicles as they've been favourably compared with Trollope's Barsetshire novels. The three volume Oxford English Poetry is a beautiful set of books, I often dip into them.
The Oxford Book of English Verse by Q (Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch) always reminds me of Helene Hanff & 84 Charing Cross Rd. The Oxford anthologies of ghost stories & literary anecdotes are also good for dipping into. Frances Partridge's diaries were part of my Bloomsbury reading a few years ago. Hesketh Pearson's biographies may be superseded by newer research & more open attitudes to his subject's private lives but I enjoyed reading them. I'd love to read his biography of Sydney Smith after reading his Letters a couple of years ago.
Sorry about the angle on this photo, I had to lay on the floor to take it! The boxset of the first ten Penguins was a bargain, marked down after the 50th anniversary of Penguin Books in 1985. They're facsimile editions of the first books published in Penguin (you can see more pictures here). Pepys' Diary was one of the most wonderful, immersive reading experiences I've ever had. I had lunch with Sam every day for several months & he was the most interesting, funny, shocking person I've ever eaten lunch with. My library used to host a Bag A Book evening with our local Borders bookstore where our patrons could come along & choose a couple of books for our collection. I was one of the team that worked on the night & the Borders manager offered us each a free book. I think he was a bit surprised that I chose Pepys instead of a big, expensive cookbook or gardening book. I think I got the bargain of the night. One day I'm going to read the complete Pepys.
Sylvia Plath was another of my favourite poets. I became fascinated as much by her life as her work & read her letters, diaries & every biography I could get my hands on.
Don't forget to click on the photos to see the whole shelf.
Next week, Plowden to Shakespeare.