Square Haunting: Five Writers in London Between the Wars, by Francesca Wade

May 16, 2020 at 7:49 pm (Anglophilia, books)

  From the last section of Square Haunting:

In a sketch titled “London in War,” [Virginia Woolf] commented on the eeriness and disorientation of living in the city under siege: “Everybody is feeling the same thing: therefore no one is feeling anything in particular. The individual is merged in the mob.”

Now, walking the streets was a continual danger, maintaining the house a draining responsibility, the city ruled by an atmosphere of silence and suspicion. London, she wrote, “has become merely a congeries of houses lived in by people who work. There is no society, no luxury no splendour no gadding & flitting. All is serious & concentrated. It is as if the song had stopped—the melody, the necessary the voluntary. Odd if this should be the end of town life.”
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Woolf wrote movingly in her diary of the surreal quality of the blacked-out city, which seemed “a reversion to the middle ages with all the space & the silence of the country set in this forest of black houses”: “Nature prevails. I suppose badgers & foxes wd come back if this went on, & owls & nightingales…”

And nowadays, Kashmiri goats, too…

Anyway, I wanted to begin this review by quoting the above passages (and sharing that video) because I thought they seemed strangely relevant to the present moment.
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What a wonderful book this is! A delight for both the sense and the intellect, Square Haunting tells the story of five women as they struggle to find their place in the realms of academia, publishing, and public life in general. This endeavor has as its chief backdrop the tumultuous era between the two world wars. The author’s delineation of this fraught period is one of the book’s great strengths.

Here are the five women. in the order in which their stories are told:

Hilda Doolittle, known as H.D., 1886-1961, poet and novelist

Dorothy L. Sayers, creator of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, 1893-1957; she was also scholar of religion and French and Italian literature. She wanted very much to be known for these latter accomplishments, especially her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy

Jane Ellen Harrison, linguist and classicist, 1850-1928

Historian Eileen Power, 1889-1940

 

Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941. This my favorite image of her.

At one time or another, each of these women lived in Mecklenburgh Square, an area of London located within the Bloomsbury District in London’s West End. It is this happenstance that caused Francesca Wade to group them together in this  book. Although there was little, if any, interaction among them, they faced many of the same challenges, both in their professional and personal lives.

Also, they all produced trenchant and insightful prose.. Here is H.D. upon entering her war-damaged apartment:

“We came home and simply waded through glass,” she recalled, “while wind from now unshuttered windows made the house a barn, an unprotected dug-out. What does that sort of shock do to the mind, the imagination—not solely of myself, but of an epoch?”

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Wade gives us this description of Dorothy L. Sayers’s experience at Oxford:

Sayers’s contemporaries remembered tepid water, unpleasant food, and a general atmosphere of restriction, since their academic and social behavior was under constant scrutiny from opponents eager to cite the slightest misdemeanor as ammunition to demand a revocation of women’s place at Oxford. A female student recalled a don who began his classes “Gentlemen—and others who attend my lectures,” and another who insisted that the women sit behind him so he didn’t have to see them as he declaimed. Articles in the press constantly feigned concern that women were overworking, and that their minds and constitutions were not geared to such intensive toil.

This was the battle – or, one of the battles – Sayers was fighting when she wrote Gaudy Night, the culminating novel in the Wimsey/Vane series. These are the thoughts entertained by Harriet Vane, as she approaches the precincts of Shrewsbury College, Oxford, her alma mater:

They can’t take this away, at any rate. Whatever I may have done since, this remains. Scholar; Master of Arts; Domina; Senior Member of this University;… a place achieved, inalienable, worthy of reverence.

Indeed, so.

Meanwhile, of course, she’s trying to reconcile her life as a writer and scholar with her life as a possible wife – and to a Lord, no less:

(I recommend Jill Paton Walsh’s continuation of the series.)

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Prior to reading this book, I had never heard of Jane Ellen Harrison. She is a person well worth getting to know – a path breaker, a brilliant academician, and a fearless crusader for the right of women to nourish their legitimate intellectual hunger.

In her essay “Scientiae Sacra Fames,” Harrison wrote of the “delight of learning for learning’s sake a ‘dead’ language for sheer love of the beauty of its words and the delicacy of its syntactical relations…the rapture of reconstructing for the first time in imagination a bit of the historical past.” Women’s education had so long been constructed around its practical application to the life of a wife and mother that choosing a subject for pure stimulation felt like an act of delicious daring. Harrison considered “freedom to know” to be the “birthright of every human being”; she was furious when it was implied that any realm of knowledge should be considered “unwomanly.”

Among here many accomplishments, Jane Harrison mastered the Russian language and encouraged the translation and appreciation of Russian literature. This of course immediately endeared her to this Russophile – Спасибо вам большое, Jane Harrison! (Thank you so much, or literally, ‘a big thanks to you’).
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As with Jane Ellen Harrison, so with Eileen Power. Like Harrison, Power made her contributions to historical scholarship in the context of academia, in this case, Girton College, Cambridge. Power’s specialty was the Middle Ages, especially the lives of ordinary people during that era.

Eileen Power’s life is the story of her attempt to forge a new image for a woman intellectual, and create a way of living for which there was little precedent: not as the stereotype of a dowdy bluestocking, but as a professional who could entertain an international reputation while also enjoying fashion and frivolity, whose public status was defined not by her family but by her work.

Medieval People, an early work by Power, is available as a Kindle e-reader. I’ve only looked at the first few pages but it appears to be eminently readable.
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Perhaps mindful that so much has already been written about Virginia Woolf, Wade concentrates most particularly on her experience of the early days of World War Two, both in her and Leonard’s London flat and at Monk’s House, their home in the countryside. I’ve quoted some of that material at the beginning of this post. It comes from her journals, letters, and various writings; it is vivid and compelling. And I was pleasantly surprised by it, as I’ve never been able to get through any of her novels. I did, however, read A Room of One’s Own. Wikipedia says of that work:

An important feminist text, the essay is noted in its argument for both a literal and figurative space for women’s writers within a literary tradition dominated by men.

Woolf was bitter about the effort and expense involved in sending her brothers to boarding school and then to Cambridge, while she and her sister Vanessa received virtually no formal education. (Vanessa became a painter of great distinction. She was married to the at critic Clive Bell. One of their sons was  the writer and art critic Quentin Bell; his son is Julian Bell, artist and writer and author of the biography of Vincent Van Gogh that I recently read and greatly enjoyed.)

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A poignant final note about Virginia Woolf and Eileen Power. It is fairly well known that Virginia Woolf battled what was probably bipolar illness and other conditions causing emotional anguish and mental instability for much of her adult life. She committed suicide in 1941, leaving this note for husband:

Dearest,

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.

She was 59 years old.
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As for Eileen Power, she married Michael Postan, a Russian emigre who was both her colleague and her student. She was 37; he was ten years younger. They were deeply in love but their time together was cut tragically short by her untimely death. Her last letter to him is eerily reminiscent of Vieginia Woolf’s final missive to Leonard:

“Thank you my own darling…for making me as happy as a human being can be made and if I never see you again remember that no one could love you more.”

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Please know that there is so much more in this book than what I have herein covered. Give yourself a rare treat and read it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘But if you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?’ The Mirror and the Light, by Hilary Mantel

April 26, 2020 at 7:34 pm (Anglophilia, Book review, books)

  I have finished it: the third and final installment of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall Trilogy, all 784 pages of it. (Hardback count, though I read the e-book). And what a long, strange trip it’s been….

I’m really eager to read media reviews of this book, but I want to note my own impressions, first. Going back over some of the passages I’ve highlighted, I’m struck first of all by the wealth of sardonic humor. There’s the comment that appears in the title above, issuing from the angry mind of Thomas Cromwell. He and others have just witnessed the beheading of Anne Boleyn.

Here is how the novel opens:

Once the queen’s head is severed, he walks away. A sharp pang of appetite reminds him that it is time for a second breakfast, or perhaps an early dinner. The morning’s circumstances are new and there are no rules to guide us. The witnesses, who have knelt for the passing of the soul, stand up and put on their hats. Under the hats, their faces are stunned.

Hungry, after that? Ugh. But if it’s meant to deliver a jolt, it succeeds.

Later, with jaunty irreverence, he remarks to his son Gregory:

‘It would be like the late queen to pin her head back on, pick up the sword and chase me to Whitehall.’

Serving the King’s Majesty takes Cromwell on one heck of a wild ride. For him, and for those who pursue a similar career path, the sensation of being near to supreme power, and possibly even exerting influence over it, is intoxicating. Me, I would rather be out in some distant field, as remote from royalty as possible, harvesting flax or some other needful quantity, or laboring in a kitchen somewhere helping to fashion one of the unique repasts, such as the one described here:

The eels come in, presented in two fashions: salted in an almond sauce, and baked with the juice of an orange. There is a spinach tart, green as the summer evening, flavoured with nutmeg and a splash of rosewater. The silver gleams; the napkins are folded into the shapes of Tudor roses; the coverpanes at each place are worked with silver garlands. ‘Bon appétit,’ he says to the ambassador. ‘I’ve had a letter.’

Falsehoods, outright lies, artful dissembling, plotting, deceiving – no bad act is off limits at this glittering court. One false move, one unguarded word, and you can find yourself imprisoned in the tower, awaiting interrogation and God knows what else. Or, as Thomas Cromwell learns to his grief, acts off loyalty and resourcefulness can be turned into something else quite other by those same interrogators. Love can curdle and become hate in a matter of hours. – even minutes.

(In Act Two Scene One of As You Like It, Duke Senior, exiled from the court, has taken refuge in the Forest of Arden. Unexpectedly, he finds this a rather pleasant  experience:

And this our life exempt from public haunt
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones and good in every thing.
I would not change it.

It is much the better place, to be “exempt from public haunt.”)

Careful attention must be paid to who is who among a vast array of characters. Dame Hilary does provide a list at the front of the novel, and a very intimidating roster it is:

THE RECENTLY DEAD

Anne Boleyn, Queen of England.

Her supposed lovers:

George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, her brother. (Yes – her brother!)

Henry Norris, chief of the king’s privy chamber.

Francis Weston and William Brereton, gentlemen in the king’s circle.

Mark Smeaton, musician.

THE CROMWELL HOUSEHOLD

Thomas Cromwell, later Lord Cromwell, Secretary to the king, Lord Privy Seal, and Vicegerent in Spirituals: that is, the king’s deputy in the English church.

Gregory, his son, only surviving child of his marriage to Elizabeth Wyks.

Mercy Prior, his mother-in-law. Rafe Sadler, his chief clerk, brought up within the family: later in the king’s household.

Helen, Rafe’s wife. Richard Cromwell, his nephew, married to Frances Murfyn.

Thomas Avery, household accountant. Thurston, chief cook.

Dick Purser, keeper of the guard dogs. Jenneke, Cromwell’s daughter. (Invented character) Christophe, a servant. (Invented character)

Mathew, a servant, formerly of Wolf Hall. (Invented character)

Bastings, the bargemaster. (Invented character)

And on it goes, through The King’s Family and Household (8), The Seymour Family (5), Politicians and Clergy (12), Courtiers and Aristocrats (17), Household of the King’s Children (3), At the Convent in Shaftsebury (2), Henry’s Dynastic Rivals (7), Diplomats (8), In Calais (4), At the Tower of London (2), Cromwell’s Friends (5). Oh – and there are two family trees – the royal family, naturellement.

Am I trying to dissuade you from tackling this formidable tale? Heaven forfend! You surely do not want to miss out on all the fun. And besides, quite a few of the characters in the above accounting are quite minor. It’s just that – well, be aware, and keep your wits about you. (No doubt, Thomas Cromwell himself would advise the same.)

At one point, Cromwell’s son Gregory observes, rather artlessly: ‘It’s no treason to say all men are mortal.’ His father has a swift rejoinder: ‘No, but it’s not your best idea either.’ Then, reflecting on recent events, he thinks to himself:

…that was Anne Boleyn’s mistake. She took Henry for a man like other men. Instead of what he is, and what all princes are: half god, half beast.

With the death of Anne Boleyn, Henry is free to seek out a new wife. He already has is eye on the demure Jane Seymour, scion of the powerful, social-climbing Seymour clan. In the fullness of time, she provides him with the son he has been so desperately wanting – a true heir. The effort, however, costs her her life.

And so, back to the drawing boards; the search for Wife Number Four begins almost immediately. And for Thomas Cromwell, the previously invincible fixer, this is where things start to go wrong.

Hilary Mantel is a deeply gifted writer. She writes marvelous dialog; moreover, she can summon up, in a single sentence, an entire world. There’s this from Wolf Hall:

He remembers one night in summer when the footballers had stood silent, looking up. It was dusk. The note from a single recorder wavered in the air, thin and piercing. A blackbird picked up the note, and sang from a bush by the water gate. A boatman whistled back from the river.

The novels in this trilogy are written in the present tense. I don’t always like this mode of expression in fiction, but Mantel uses it convincingly here. It conveys a sense of unrelenting urgency entirely appropriate to the story. Something she uses that I find less convincing is the pronoun ‘he’ to designate Thomas Cromwell’s thoughts and utterances. Since most of the speaking in these novels – certainly in The Mirror & the Light – is done by men, it can be unclear at times as to who is doing the speaking (or thinking).

Cromwell is reflecting here:

On his journey today from London, he felt he brought guests: Norris and George Boleyn, young Weston, Mark, and William Brereton. As he stepped out of his barge they stepped out too; they stood on the banks of the Styx, waiting to cross. They died within minutes of each other, but that does not mean they are together now. The dead wander the lanes of the next life like strangers lost in Venice. Even if they met, what would they have to talk about? When they stood before their judges they edged away from each other, as if fearing contamination. Each man had made a case against the other, hoping he might save his own life.

As soon as Henry turns against someone – often for reasons known only to himself – he pulls away from that person and lets his minions mete out their punishment. Thomas Cromwell is no angel, but as this ineluctable process played out in his life, I developed a strong animosity toward Henry. It’s never a pretty sight, watching a third party carry out a powerful person’s dirty work. It is just plain cowardly, also lazy. As Isabella says in Measure For Measure:

O, it is excellent
To have a giant’s strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant.
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This next is a spoiler, if you don’t already know what happens: Cromwell’s path to annihilation is laid out in excruciating detail. I haven’t read anything as harrowing since the closing sentences of the story “Ideas of Heaven” by Joan Silber (in the collection by the same title).
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Portraits of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein – himself a minor character in the Wolf Hall trilogy – are hung on the same wall in my beloved Frick Collection in New York City. (El Greco’s portrait of Saint Jerome hangs between them.)
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Thomas More, left, and Thomas Cromwell

Henry VIII, by Hans Holbein

The first four wives:

Katherine of Aragon

Anne Boleyn

Jane Seymour

Ann of Cleves

This scene from the television version of Wolf Hall vividly conveys Anne Boleyn’s spitfire persona. She and Henry re examining a document  brought to them by Cromwell, superbly played by Mark Rylance. (Damian Lewis is Henry; Claire Foy is Anne.)

 

Hilary Mantel has been very generous with appearances and interviews. Here is a short piece that I found illuminating:

 

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The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals (1624)

April 13, 2020 at 1:38 pm (Anglophilia, Art)

Yes – It’s Frans Hals’s famous painting of the Laughing Cavalier. Except, chortled our (Osher Life Long Learning) lecturer Nora Hamerman, he is not laughing and he is not a cavalier!

He is obviously not laughing; rather, he is smiling in a somewhat secretive way. (It was considered bad form to portray a subject openly laughing – open mouthed, that is. The condition of the teeth probably had something to do with that proscription.) As for being a cavalier – meaning a knight or some type of nobleman – he was not that, either. Most likely he was a Dutch cloth merchant. Certainly his spectacular doublet is a fine advertisement for his wares!

Nora inquired whether any of us had actually seen this painting. “I have!” I exclaimed, delighted to recall my visit, several years ago, to London’s fabulous Wallace Collection. That’s where The Laughing Cavalier looks out with sly pleasure at delighted visitors.

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A Sultry Month by Alethea Hayter

August 12, 2019 at 7:48 pm (Anglophilia, Art, London, Poetry)

  One of my favorite books from the past few years is a nonfiction work entitled: A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846.

To begin with, Alethea Hayter’s powers of description are  formidable. They are shown in full spate in this passage, in which she brings the Duke of Wellington’s annual Waterloo Banquet to vivid life:

The low sunset light of that fiercely hot day came in through the six westward-facing windows of the Waterloo Gallery, competing with the light of the serried candles in the candelabra of the huge silver-gilt Portuguese Service, crowded with dancing nymphs, allegorical  figures of the Continents, camels, horses, scorpions, which stretched the whole length of the table. The colors were all fierce and bright–scarlet uniforms, shining white tablecloth, harsh yellow damask on the walls staring out between the crowded frames of the pictures captured in Joseph Bonaparte’s carriage at the Battle of Vittoria.

There was gold and sheen everywhere–gilding on the doors and ceiling, shutters lines with looking-glass, epaulettes, decanters, medals, picture frames, chandeliers, everything glared and glittered….

A Sultry Month has a wonderful cast of characters: Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, poets who against all odds made their love triumphant; John Keats, whose brief stay on Earth left us with much memorable verse; the Carlyles, Jane and Thomas, William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and Mary Lamb – the list goes on. But perhaps the most memorable among them is a painter of whom I had not previously heard. His name is Benjamin Robert Haydon.

There is a genre of painting  called history painting. The term refers not only to depictions of historical events but also to scenes from mythology and religion.  The works were usually large, colorful, and action-packed. The Abduction of the Sabine Women (1635-1640) by Peter Paul Rubens is a good example:

By the nineteenth century, this type of subject matter was increasingly deemed outmoded, especially in England, where it had never really taken hold to begin with. But Benjamin Robert Haydon believed passionately in its relevance and its rightness. He worked steadily and, some would say, stubbornly to embody the best aspects of history painting in his own art.

In 1817, Haydon gave a dinner party which, over the years has achieved a unique sort of fame. In attendance at this gathering were all of the luminaries mentioned above: Keats, Wordsworth, the Lambs brother and sister, the Carlyles, and others. Haydon had two purposes in presenting this entertainment. He wanted to introduce young Keats to the venerable Wordsworth, and he wanted all the guests to see his rather fabulous, if somewhat bizarre, canvas entitled Christ Entering Jerusalem.

The bizarre aspect stems from the fact that Haydon has included small portraits of his present day friends in this work. If you look closely at the three men at the extreme right, you can see Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, and Keats. (I’m pretty sure that the figure with the slightly bowed head is Wordsworth.) Apparently other of Haydon’s friends and acquaintances are also represented therein. Few of these individuals were particularly religious.

The occasion was a great success, at least in the eyes of the host. This is what he wrote about it later in his autobiography:

It was indeed an immortal evening. Wordsworth’s fine intonation as he quoted Milton and Virgil, Keats’ eager inspired look, Lamb’s quaint sparkle of lambent humour, so speeded the stream of conversation, that in my life I never passed a more delightful time. All our fun was within bounds. Not a word passed that an apostle might not have listened to. It was a night worthy of the Elizabethan age, and my solemn Jerusalem flashing up by the flame of the fire, with Christ hanging over us like a vision, all made up a picture which will long glow upon

“that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude.”

Haydon began writing his autobiography in 1839. He was still working on it at the time of his death in 1846. I think it quite marvelous that he quotes from “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud,” also known as “Daffodils,” a poem written by his  friend Wordsworth in 1804.

Portrait of Wordsworth by Benjamin Robert Haydon, 1842

 

Manuscript copy of “Daffodils,” held at the British Museum

There are at least two other books about Haydon’s “Immortal Dinner:” The Immortal Evening: A Legendary Dinner with Keats, Wordsworth, and Lamb by Stanley Plumly (2014), and The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817, by Penelope Hughes-Hallett (2002).

[A footnote, but an interesting one: Charles Lamb was a distinguished essayist. He is probably best remembered today for Tales of Shakespeare, on which he collaborated with his sister Mary. Mary was mentally unstable; in 1796, while experiencing a severe breakdown – what today we would probably call a psychotic break – she stabbed her mother to death with a kitchen knife. Charles remained devoted to his sister until his death in 1834. Peter Ackroyd’s novel The Lambs of London vividly recreates the turbulent events surrounding this calamity.]

I was completely spellbound by A Sultry Month; I look forward to reading it again.

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Dorothy L. Sayers and the Lord Peter Wimsey novels

October 25, 2018 at 9:09 pm (Anglophilia, Mystery fiction)

This delightful visual appeared in a recent issue of the London Review of Books. It reminded me of how much pleasure I’ve received from the Lord Peter Wimsey novels, both in print, on audio, and in the two television versions. (Click twice on this image and you should  be able to read the text in the center.)

The first set of Wimsey episodes for television were aired on Masterpiece Theatre in the early 1970s. Starring as Lord Peter is the inimitable Ian Carmichael. Carmichael seemed eminently to the manor born, the ideal aristocrat of early twentieth century Britain, whose sometimes foppish ways and ready wit conceal a razor sharp mind and a firm sense of justice.

Here’s a trailer that capture’s the flavor of Carmichael’s performance (with apologize for the breakup at 32 secs).

Later, to this depiction of Wimsey, Edward Petherbridge added a vulnerable heart. First broadcast in the late 1980s, Petherbridge starred in three episodes: Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, and Gaudy Night. Together these comprise the story of Peter’s ardent pursuit of detective novelist Harriet Vane. The course of this true love ran anything  but smooth – in Have His Carcase, Peter and Harriet have an argument that almost breaks them both, it is so full of anguish – and yet, and yet…

To my mind, theirs is an exceptionally compelling  love story. And a surprisingly modern one as well. Told mainly from Harriet’s point of view, it treats of a woman who is desperate to retain her personal autonomy in the face of plenty of pressure, much of it coming, discreetly but relentlessly, from Peter. His is a love that will not be denied, but he is ever the gentleman, acting with restraint and deep respect. He does not wish to curtail Harriet in any way; rather, he wants to set her free to flourish in a world they both value. Only when  she finally acknowledges this fact – and acknowledges her love for him – can she at last relent and give him the answer he so desperately craves.

There are eleven novels in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.  I’ve either read or listened to all of them save Busman’s Honeymoon, the last, which was based on a play of the same name. I’ve enjoyed every one of them, but these three are my especial favorites:

I confess that the lengthy disquisition on campanology with which The Nine Tailors begins nearly stopped me in my tracks. I would have given up save for the fact that I was listening to Ian Carmichael’s marvelous reading. When once the plot got under way, I was captivated.

Due to an automotive mishap, Wimsey and his valet Bunter find themselves temporarily stranded in the little village of Fenchurch St Paul. This is a remote area in the East of England, flat and prone, at least at the time this book was written, to episodes of high water. Indeed, the novel’s climax features a flood of near Biblical proportion. Up until that point,, Peter has been investigating a crime – actually several crimes, with the added factor of assisting the local rector with the bringing off of a marathon bell ringing event – nine hours straight!

Here’s a short video of bell ringing at Westminster Abbey:

In the television version, Wimsey is played by Ian Carmichael and Bunter, by Glyn Houston. The Reverend Theodore Venables  is portrayed by Donald Eccles in one of the most endearing performances in the entire series.

Donald Eccles as Reverend Venables and Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter

When I wrote about The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie, I included a quote by John Curran that exactly described my feelings upon reading that work. There is in that novel, he asserts, “…“…a genuine feeling of menace over and above the usual whodunit element.” I feel that the same is true of The Nine Tailors.

There’s a very insightful commentary on this program on the blog In So Many Words.

Here it is, the fateful bringing together of Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. It happens in a courtroom. She’s standing trial for murdering her erstwhile lover Phillip Boyes. She is naturally in fear for her life. Peter, who’s observing the proceedings, swiftly comes to two conclusions: one, she’s innocent; and two, she’s the only woman in the world for him.

This is the novel’s first sentence:

There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood.

  Finally, there is Gaudy Night. Many are the pleasures of this fine work. Returning to her alma mater by invitation from the faculty, Harriet is filled with justifiable pride at being a graduate of Shrewsbury, an Oxford college. (The actual college is Somerville, named for mathematician and science writer Mary Somerville.)

They can’t take this away, at any rate. Whatever I may have done
since, this remains. Scholar;, Master of Arts;, Domina;, Senior Member
of this University…, a place achieved, inalienable, worthy of reverence.

Despite Harriet’s success as an author, she cannot help longing for the insularity of the academic life:

As Harriet followed Miss Lydgate across the lawn, she was visited by
an enormous nostalgia. If only one could come back to this quiet place,
where only intellectual achievement counted , if one could work here
steadily and obscurely at some close-knit piece of reasoning, undistracted
and uncorrupted by agents, contracts, publishers, blurb-writers, inter-
viewers, fan-mail, autograph-hunters, notoriety-hunters, and com-
petitors ; abolishing personal contacts, personal spites, personal
jealousies, getting one’s teeth into something dull and durable ; maturing
into solidity like the Shrewsbury beeches — then, one might be able to
forget the wreck and chaos of the past, or see it, at any rate, in a truer
proportion Because, in a sense, it was not important The fact that one
had loved and sinned and suffered and escaped death was of far less
ultimate moment than a single footnote in a dim academic journal….

Alas, there is a serpent in this Eden. Although no murder takes place in Gaudy Night, there are a number of sinister and  very unnerving pranks being played on Shrewsbury residents. It is these that have brought Harriet back to the college. Can she locate the culprit, without involving the police? It remains to be seen.

Eventually Peter appears on the scene; he lends his support and unerring instincts to help her solve the mystery. And, inevitably, he and Harriet are  due for a final reckoning.

Edward Petherbridge as Lord Peter and Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane

Novelist Jill Paton Walsh has written four novels which continue the story of Harriet and Lord Peter. Of these, I’ve only read the most recent, The Late Scholar. I enjoyed it very much.

 

 

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British Royalty: an AAUW Readers discussion

July 21, 2018 at 4:16 pm (Anglophilia, Book clubs, books)

Inspired by the recent wedding of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry,, we members of AAUW Readers decided to read up on the British royal family. Here’s how the meeting went:

  That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, by Anne Sebba (recommended by Barbara). Just when everyone thought that the subject of Wallis Warfield Simpson had been done to death, along came Sebba’s book, replete with new and intriguing revelations.

I was reminded of a memorable scene described by Selina Hastings in her biography of Somerset Maugham. The year is 1936. Four men are seated a table, hunched over a radio – perhaps I should say “wireless,” this being England – listening to the abdication of speech of Edward VIII. One of the men is Maugham; the identity of two others I don’t recall; the identity of the fourth man was Graham Greene. (Oh, right: I should have designated him The Third Man.)

  Referring to Victoria, the PBS Masterpiece production, Pat filled us in on the culinary aspects of Victoria’s reign, especially as regards Charles Elmé Francatelli,  her chef from 1840 to 1842. I had never heard of this person, but I should have. His books, or versions of them, are available on Amazon. Some of the texts are available online, at Internet Archive, Project Gutenberg, and other locations. (See the Wikipedia entry for links to these.)

From The Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s and Butler’s Assistant (1861), here is a recipe for “The Stock Pot:”

Place in a well tinned stock pot, capable of containing about eight gallons, about ten pounds of leg or shin of beef, and an equal weight of knuckles of veal, cut into pieces; to these add the carcass of an old hen and a knuckle of ham; moisten with two quarts of broth or water; set the stock-pot on the fire to boil down sharply until the liquid has become reduced to a glaze .

The heat must then be slackened by placing ashes upon the fire in order to abate its fierceness, so as to allow the glaze to attain a light-brown colour, with out its being burnt and carbonized: if this latter accident happen, it tends considerably to diminish the stomachic qualities and flavour of the stock or consommé.

As soon as the consolidation of the glaze is effected, make up the fire, fill up the stock-pot, and when it boils, skim it thoroughly; after which garnish with six carrots, four onions, three turnips, four leeks, two heads of celery, and an onion in which twelve cloves have been stuck; season with three ounces of salt, and having allowed the stock to continue gently boiling for about five hours, remove the grease from its surface; and then proceed to strain it through a sieve into clean pans for use, as will be directed hereafter.

Charles Elmé Francatelli

Queen Victoria was the subject of several of the group’s selections:

 

Jean recommended Victoria and Albert: A Royal Love Affair, by Daisy Goodwin  and Sara Sheridan, while Sharon favored Her Little Majesty: The Life of Queen Victoria, by Carolly Erickson. Caroline brought We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals, by Gillian Gill. Debbie’s recommendation was Becoming Queen Victoria: The Tragic Death of Princess Charlotte and the Unexpected Rise of Britain’s Greatest Monarch by Kate Williams

Queen Elizabeth II came in for several mentions. Marge recommended Queen and Country: The Fifty-Year Reign of Elizabeth II, by William Shawcross, while Debbie favored Young Elizabeth: The Making of the Queen by Kate Williams.

You’ll note that two of the recently mentioned titles were authored by Kate Williams. Williams comes trailing numerous accolades from academia (including a PhD from Somerville College, Oxford, alma mater of Dorothy L. Sayers, Iris Murdoch, and numerous additional women of note); she is also a frequent TV commentator (see YouTube). Her biography of Emma Hamilton, the mistress of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, was a great read.

Suzanne recommended the following three titles:

The Royal Family: A Year by Year Chronicle of the House of Windsor, Paragon Books. I had a chance to page through this briefly; the pictures are gorgeous.

Figures in Silk by Vanora Bennett is a novel set in 15th century England. Main characters are John Lambert, a silk merchant with marriageable daughters, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who aspires to be king.

A Short History of England, by Simon Jenkins. Now this one looked familiar to me, so I began searching for it in one of my vast book repositories and lo! It was there. Yet another enticing volume, patiently waiting to be read.

To the right of A Short History of England can be seen additional titles by Sir Simon, plus three titles by my brother, Richard S. Tedlow   (and some health items that sneaked into the picture.)

  I began by recommending Restoration by Rose Tremain and film by the same name. Tremain’s wonderfully vivid and involving novel of late 17th century England centers on one of Charles II’s many peccadilloes and a hapless doctor, Robert Merivel, who is ensnared by  the King’s scheming. I remember really loving the film when it first came out. This trailer, however, makes it appear somewhat over the top, in several respects. It’s got a terrific cast, though, and might be enjoyable viewing, if one is in the mood for it:

 

   To Catch a King: Charles II’s Great Escape, by Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer and younger brother of Princess Diana. The book got off to a slow start but picked up steam fairly quickly, until I didn’t want to read anything else until I’d finished it. Charles’s great escape actually consists of several escapes, made possible by his loyal followers and often just barely succeeding. The forces of Oliver Cromwell hunted the Royalists relentlessly, but Charles and company always manages to stay a step ahead of them. I already knew the general outline of the story, but Spencer puts you right in the thick of events in a breathtaking way. Great story, great book.

 

 

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‘Holmes smiled. He was always warmed by genuine admiration—the characteristic of the real artist.’ – The Valley of Fear by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and The English Country House Mystery

March 25, 2018 at 9:37 pm (Anglophilia, Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

  The May 2017 issue of CADS 75 (Crime and Detective Stories) features an article by  Kate Jackson entitled.”Doyle’s The Valley of Fear and the Country House Mystery Novel.” The author had encountered an intriguing assertion made  by Zach Dundas in The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes. Dundas contends that The Valley of Fear  stood as  “prototype for the soon-to-be-classic English country-house murder mystery.” Jackson was intrigued and decided to investigate this claim.

In the event, she was not convinced; in fact, she believes that if there is a work in the Conan Doyle canon that prefigures the English country house mystery trope, it’s The Hound of the Baskervilles rather than The Valley of Fear.

Meanwhile, Jackson’s piece served as a reminder to me that I’d never read The Valley of Fear. So I set about remedying this omission. The result: I enjoyed this novella far more than I’d expected to.

I hadn’t realized that The Valley of Fear is in a sense a bifurcated novel. The first part describes a crime that by and  large replicates the classic country house murder scenario as we know it today (although it must  be recalled that The Valley of Fear is in fact a very early exemplar, having first appeared in The Strand Magazine between September 1914 and May 1915).

Then, much to my surprise, the scene suddenly shifts to the Great American West. According to Wikipedia, this part of the novel was inspired by the activities of the notorious Molly Maguires and by the renown and resourcefulness of Pinkerton Agency detective James McParland.

I never expected to be reading a Western by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It’s been a while  since I read this book, but one thing I do remember: I enjoyed it tremendously, especially the second half.

Forthwith, some excerpts from The Valley of Fear:

“A touch! A distinct touch!” cried Holmes. “You are developing a certain unexpected vein of pawky humour, Watson, against which I must learn to guard myself.”

(Wiktionary defines “pawky” as ‘Shrewd, sly; often also characterised by a sarcastic sense of humour,’ adding that the word originates in northern England and Scotland.)

The second speaker is Sherlock Holmes.

“You mean that he has a great income and that he must earn it in an illegal fashion?”

“Exactly. Of course I have other reasons for thinking so—dozens of exiguous threads which lead vaguely up towards the centre of the web where the poisonous, motionless creature is lurking.”

The first speaker is Sherlock Holmes:

“Have you ever read of Jonathan Wild?”

“Well, the name has a familiar sound. Someone in a novel, was he not? I don’t take much stock of detectives in novels—chaps that do things and never let you see how they do them. That’s just inspiration: not business.”

“Jonathan Wild wasn’t a detective, and he wasn’t in a novel. He was a master criminal, and he lived last century—1750 or thereabouts.”

“Then he’s no use to me. I’m a practical man.”

“Mr. Mac, the most practical thing that you ever did in your life would be to shut yourself up for three months and read twelve hours a day at the annals of crime. Everything comes in circles—even Professor Moriarty. Jonathan Wild was the hidden force of the London criminals, to whom he sold his brains and his organization on a fifteen per cent commission. The old wheel turns, and the same spoke comes up. It’s all been done before, and will be again.”

I’m no Sherlockian scholar, but it seems to me that Conan Doyle isn’t given sufficient credit for the eloquence and inventiveness of his dialog (not to mention the sheer wittiness when you least expect it). To my mind, this is one of the chief aspects of the stories that makes them so readable even more than a hundred after they were first penned. I should also add that as I was reading reading The Valley of Fear, the character of Holmes became particularly vivid to me. He increasingly came across as congenial; dare I venture, even at times, sprightly.

The English country house murder is almost a crime fiction subgenre unto itself. Novels and stories with this setting were fairly abundant during the Golden Age; that is, the era between the two World Wars. I found several “best” lists online, such as this one from the blog Crossexamining crime, and this  from The Strand Magazine. Regarding the first, having recently finally gotten around to reading An English Murder by Cyril Hare, I confess I was somewhat disappointed. Some Must Watch by Ethel Lina White has been recommended in numerous places, but I tried to read it more than once and had to give up. (This, despite very much enjoying White’s The Wheel Spins, the novel on which Hitchcock’s film The Lady Vanishes was based.) However, further down on the list I was pleased to encounter several favorites: Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer, The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie, and most especially Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers and The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey. Regarding this last, let me quote from an earlier post I wrote on The Art of the Mystery:

Franchise is one of my all time favorite novels. Tey drew her inspiration for it from two actual  criminal cases. An adolescent girl levels a bizarre, horrifying accusation against Marion Sharpe and her mother. The Sharpes, who live in genteel poverty in a house called The Franchise, are stunned and bewildered by this turn of events. They have no idea what this girl is talking about and claim never to have seen her before.  The clashing versions of reality give momentum to a narrative that is riveting from start to finish. Comic relief is provided by the elder Mrs. Sharpe, whose name fits the action of her tongue perfectly!

Of the ten titles enumerated by William Shaw for The Strand Magazine, I’ve read and enjoyed all but two: Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin and Blacklands by Belinda Bauer.I’m so glad that William Shaw makes mention of Reginald Hill’s On Beulah Height, a truly great novel in any genre. Shaw states simply: “Hill was a brilliant writer.” I could not agree more. Here’s a link to Celebrating Reginald Hill, an appreciation organized by the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain in 2012 . I felt very honored to be included in this company!

  One of my favorite short story anthologies is entitled English Country House Murders. Delightfully subtitled Tales of Perfidious Albion, it’s edited by Thomas Godfrey and was published by The Mysterious Press in 1989. (Rather curiously, both the paperback and a 1988 hardback edition have a different subtitle: Classic Crime Fiction of Britain’s Upper Crust.) This collection starts off with a bang: two terrific tales, ‘The Adventure of the Abbey Grange” by Conan Doyle and “A Marriage Tragedy” by Wilkie Collins. There are also stories by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, John Dickson Carr, and numerous others.

In his Introduction, Thomas Godfrey considers this question: “How to define  the English Country House Mystery?” He comes up with some lively suggestions, several of which are offered in a decidedly decidedly tongue in cheek spirit. To wit:

Authentic English Country House Mysteries should only be written by authentic English authors. (Americans and Canadians need not apply.)

Of course, there should  be a crime, with murder being preferred.

“Poison is the prescribed means for eliminating victims in English Country House Mysteries. The alternative is a good solid wallop on the head. (I find defenestration shockingly under-utilized and commend it to new practitioners of the art.)”

“The crime, whether attempted or successful, should take place in the house on the grounds. If events take the investigation elsewhere, the earliest possible return to the house is in order.”

There’s more, but you get the idea. English Country House Murders is available from Amazon and through interlibrary loan.

 

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A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846, by Alethea Hayter

January 14, 2018 at 1:51 pm (Anglophilia, Book review, books, France, London 2017)

While in London, I had the good fortune to find myself in the vicinity of the London Review Bookshop. (Sister-in-law Donna figured this out courtesy of the mapping function she employed with admirable dexterity on her iPhone.) Naturally that meant that I soon found myself inside the shop.   The cash register was at the back; there, I found issues of the venerable London Review of Books. I informed one of the young people staffing the desk that I subscribe to the review ‘back home in Maryland, USA.’ He immediately exclaimed, with booming gusto: “Cracking good mag, innit?!” Yet another wonderful British moment….

As it happened, I had a new issue waiting for me when I got back home. In it was a review of One Hot Summer: Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli ad the Great Stink of 1858, by Rosemary Ashton.

Reviewer Rosemary Hill observes that aside from the choking stench emanating from the Thames River, nothing else of great moment happened in London in the year 1858. It is therefore, she concludes, “the perfect subject for a microhistory.”

Hill continues:

Great events cast shadows over details which in an undramatic year, or season, can be more clearly seen. Alethea Hayter’s A Sultry Month, published in 1965, was one of the earliest and best examples  of what has become a popular  genre. Set in another heat wave, in 1846, Hayter’s account weaves together the famous, the obscure and the forgotten.

Hill enumerates just a few of the writers and artists who are featured in Hayter’s slender volume – Samuel Rogers, Jane Carlyle, Thomas Carlyle, Benjamin Robert Haydon, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett,  and Gräfin Hahn-Hahn (that’s her name alright – no mistake!). Hayter documents their lives and interactions so closely that “…from day to day and street to street, the sublime and the ridiculous appear in the proximity they occupy in life.”

Hill then goes on to make further observations on the microhistory subgenre:

This is surely one reason for the rise of microhistory, that it brings the texture of the past closer. It illustrates the ‘human position’, the way the momentous occurs ‘while someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along.’…When it is done well, microhistory opens out from its immediate subject matter and  the result is like looking through a keyhole and seeing a whole landscape.

Meanwhile, I had developed a strong need to get my hands on A Sultry Month. There is no e-book available; the physical book is out of print. I bought a used copy from Amazon.

I’m now about two thirds of the way through it. I am deliberately reading as slowly as possible, as I do not want it to end. I love it.

While Haydon was walking out of the northern fringe of London, Browning was sitting on the grass in the garden at New Cross, and was conscious of the immensity of the whole round earth under him, and saw it as an image of  the love that now supported all his life. At the same time Elizabeth Barrett was sitting on the drawing-room window seat in Wimpole Street, writing to him while he was thinking of her.

(Those of my generation may recall watching the play The Barretts of Wimpole Street on television in 1956. I was twelve years old at the time, and that production made an indelible impression on my  nascent romantic imagination.

Katharine Cornell as Elizabeth Barrett)

I had never heard of Alethea Hayter before this. Her obituary in The Guardian – she died in 2006 at the age of 94 –  says this of her works:

In all these books, she manages to unite the narrative sweep and urgency of a novel with impeccable historical and social research and a uniquely elegant style.

I will certainly be reading more books by Alethea Hayter. I’ve  already downloaded this one: 

*************
I can recommend yet another microhistory: The Return of Martin Guerre by Natalie Zemon Davis. This book came out shortly after the release of a terrific film Le Retour de Martin Guerre starring Gerard Depardieu. (And while you’re  at it, seek out Janet Lewis’s novelized version of this true story, The Wife of Martin Guerre.)

 

 

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Escape with me to the Twelfth Century….

January 9, 2018 at 2:14 am (Anglophilia, archaeology, Film and television, London 2017)

So this small fellow came to us a few days ago, courtesy of the British Museum Gift Shop:

He is a replica, fashioned in clay, of one of the Lewis Chessmen; specifically, the King piece. Below is a three quarter view of the King:

And here is the back, courtesy of the British Museum’s image gallery:

He is about four inches tall.

In her 2015 book Ivory Vikings, Nancy Marie Brown advances the theory that the famous chess pieces were in fact the work of a woman, specifically an Icelandic carver named Margret the Adroit.   Well, adroit she must have been, to have created these little marvels made from walrus ivory. (For more on this intriguing story, see The Economist article, “Bones of Contention.”)

Here’s the picture I took of the Chessmen at the British Museum:

Why did I feel the need to own a replica? Author Nancy Marie Brown, who got to handle the eleven Chessmen currently housed in Edinburgh’s National Museum of Scotland, expressed their allure nicely:

Out of their glass display case, they are impossible to resist, warm and bright, seeming not old at all, but strangely alive. They nestle in the palm, smooth and weighty, ready to play. Set on a desktop, in lieu of the thirty-two-inch-square chessboard they’d require, they make a satisfying click.

The British Museum puts out a myriad of publications. Among them is a series of booklets entitled Objects in Focus. I bought and read this one:

It’s beautifully illustrated and tells not only the story of the discovery of the Chessmen but also the history of the game of chess (a game, I should add, that I’ve never learned to play).

It turns out that there exist several versions of the story of the finding of the Chessmen. I particularly like one that originated in  book entitled The Archaeology and Prehistoric Annals of Scotland, written by Daniel Wilson and published in 1851. Wilson describes the way in which the action of the sea demolished a portion of a sandbank, thereby “exposing a small stone chamber.”

A local peasant investigated the structure and was alarmed to discover ‘an assemblage of elves or gnomes upon whose mysteries he had unconsciously intruded.’ Shaken and fearing for his safety, the peasant described what he had discovered to his fierce wife, who made him return to the spot and gather up the ‘singular little ivory figures which ad not unnaturally appeared to him the pygmy sprites of Celtic folklore.’

(Naturally I addressed our new acquisition thus: “What about it? Are you a pygmy sprite of Celtic folklore?’ He remained judiciously mute.)

Nancy Marie Brown notes that the Chessmen are clearly identifiable in the first Harry Potter film. Now I’m one of the few humans on the planet who have not seen this movie, but I was able to verify her statement with this YouTube clip:

All of the above has put me in mind of Ingmar Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal. In this film, made in 1957 and set in the Middle Ages, a disillusioned Crusader Knight challenges Death to a game of chess. The stakes could not be  higher.

Ingmar Bergman’s father was a Lutheran minister, and Bergman recalled visits they had made when he was a boy to various historic churches. Many of these contained distinctive wall and ceiling paintings; this was particularly true of Taby Church  in Taby, Sweden:

Brown says that the chess pieces used in the film were modeled on the Lewis Chessmen.

Here is the opening sequence of The Seventh Seal.

 

 

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‘…there is a haunted atmosphere, of evil, of struggling good in the ascendant, of the quiet, busy, Englishness of life.’

October 8, 2017 at 8:07 pm (Anglophilia, Mystery fiction)

  While I was sifting through a cache of old papers, a printout entitled “Agatha Christie: Overview” rose to the surface. It is from an article that I found on a Gale database on the library’s site some seventeen years ago.

I find these observations by J.B. Lethbridge to be intriguing and elegantly expressed:

Christie makes effective use of the reader’s unconscious, often making crucial references to its depths, with lines from great literature or nursery rhymes, about which there hovers in the darkness of half-remembered things the suggestion of the answer to the whole mystery….Then, too, she makes use of proverbs, folklore, local legend, Gypsy warnings and prophecies, old-fashioned and forgotten wisdom from nannies and gardeners.

Christie’s characters are always a trifle  thin, for she is not a fully-fledged novelist, but their psychology is convincing and consistent, and this together with her vivid and characteristic descriptions give them the illusion of more rotundity than they possess….

But it is this apparent thinness of characterisation, story, atmosphere, and setting which makes the books so enduring. They have something of the spare style of a more ancient literature: nothing superfluous, nothing irrelevant, just the very basic necessities of storytelling and character: but nothing missing either. And yet in the interstices there is a haunted atmosphere, of evil, of struggling good in the ascendant, of the quiet, busy, Englishness of life. Perhaps this is why her books are so popular world wide; they recall to the English an idyllic lost country, and to the rest, suggest the charming perfection of the English way….

But perhaps what most sets Christie apart from other detective writers is her homely and secure wisdom; never tendentious, Christie is a little like a favourite nanny telling sometimes macabre fairy tales to her rapt charges, interspersed with the quiet, wise, homely but firm advice and wisdom which only an intelligent and acute observer of the ways of men could accumulate and disperse almost unconsciously: rather like her own Miss Marple in fact.

That passage  about “an idyllic lost country” brought to mind these stanzas from “A Shropshire Lad” by A.E. Housman:

Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.

In the past twelve years, ever since my trip to Yorkshire reawakened my dormant love of England, I’ve seen these verses quoted over and over. In addition, I’ve read two crime novels with the same title, possibly drawn from the same source:

      I recommend both, by the way.

For me, the Miss Marple novels and stories most closely epitomize the qualities that Lethbridge enumerates above. I’m especially fond of The Body in the Library.   For one thing, I love the way the novel opens:

Mrs. Bantry was dreaming. Her sweet peas had just taken a First at the flower show. The vicar, dressed in cassock and surplice, was giving out the prizes in church. His wife wandered past, dressed in a bathing suit, but as is the blessed habit of dreams this fact did not arouse the disapproval of the parish in the way it would assuredly have done in real life…

Christie then comments that “Mrs. Bantry was enjoying her dream a good deal.” Poor Dolly Bantry! Her happy dream world is about to implode. Naturally, her first thought is to call for help from her most reliable and intuitive friend, Miss Jane Marple.

As for the filmed versions, I love Joan Hickson as Miss Marple. (These were made for television and filmed from 1984 to 1992.) Having none of the clownishness of  Margaret Rutherford, she portrays the elderly sleuth as if she were a kind of seer. She’s as the still center of every mystery she encounters, ranging her fragile physique and powerful intellect against a crime that personifies evil. Her goodness and steady belief in justice carry the day.

In The Body in the Library, retired Scotland Yard commissioner Sir Henry Clithering describes her as follows:

“The finest detective God ever made. Natural genius cultivated in suitable soil.”

Joan Hickson as Miss Marple with Raymond Francis as Sir Henry Clithering, 1984

 

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