Tuesday, 25 August 2009
I am really enjoying Paperback Reader's posts that bring together all the activity taking place for the Persephone Books reading week. I don't have much time to read many this week but I am already picking up lots of ideas for future reading.
Friday, 21 August 2009
Sunday, 16 August 2009
First page teaser - a letter from Juliet Ashton to her publisher Sidney Stark:
Now for my grim news. You asked me how work on my new book is progressing. Sidney, it isn't. English Foibles seemed so promising at first. After all, one should be able to write reams about the Society to Protest Against the Glorification of the English Bunny. I unearthed a photograph of the Vermin Exterminators' Trade Union marching down an Oxford street with placards screaming 'Down with Beatrix Potter!' But what is there to write about after a caption? Nothing, that's what.
Friday, 14 August 2009
One of my favourite buildings is Chichester Cathedral in West Sussex. The green, copper roof and elegant spire can be seen from the English Channel to the South Downs and are a beacon of home as Chichester is where I grew up.
Chichester Cathedral houses the tomb of Richard Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel and his wife Eleanor of Lancaster. This tomb was made famous by Philip Larkin as it inspired him to write An Arundel Tomb which was published in his 1964 collection The Whitsun Weddings.
An Arundel Tomb describes the stone effigies of the married couple - who are tenderly holding hands. On first reading, the poem celebrates their 'faithfulness in effigy' and seems to be a proclamatory poem about the longevity of love. However, I always trip over the final stanza and wonder if, in fact, the reality is that they never intended to be bound together for eternity and that Richard Fitzalan and Eleanor of Lancaster may not have loved each other at all. The final line seems to trail off in tone; a weak statement of hope.
An Arundel Tomb by Philip Larkin
Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd —
The little dogs under their feet.
Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.
They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.
They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they
Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,
Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:
Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.
Sunday, 9 August 2009
Yesterday I spent the day in Oxford. Perched on my rug next to the Thames I idly watched the rowing boats, motor boats, canal boats, punts and river birds parade past. I tried to catch up on some reading but the sound of the bells, river life and picnic chatter was far too distracting and my mind turned to, and agreed with, Hugh Lindsay's romantic desire to,
hear the bells, hear the footsteps, see the shadows move across the cobbles and the red leaves drift and the wind in the scholars' gowns. He wanted to know all day and all night that he was in Oxford.
Over time she 'forgets' her old life and sinks into the domestic routine; three children arrive and she,
remained at home, mending, making, ordering her household; and sometimes she went to tea with other such dim disciplined creatures and talked about education and ailments.
these weren't the children for whom she'd given up fun and friendship,worked, suffered, worried, taken thought, taken care, done without, suppressed,surrendered and seen her young self die.
I will be reading this again during the Persephone Books reading week, hopefully whilst perched on my rug, watching the shadows pass across the cobbles, listening to the bells and watching some river life in Oxford.
Thursday, 6 August 2009
Wednesday, 5 August 2009
What is the place for fairytales in 21st century society? I ask this because they have been on my mind recently. The current, free, exhibition at the V&A is Telling Tales: Fantasy and Fear in Contemporary Design which explores story-telling through decorative devices. The exhibition is divided into three sections, The Forest Glade, The Enchanted Castle and Heaven and Hell. All three section titles are strong themes within fairytales.
I got home from the exhibition and pulled my dog-eared copy of Hans Christian Andersen's Fairy Tales from the shelf. Doomed love, failed quests and death are all presented as inevitable yet the reader is held to account and asked to look at their own moral code to see how we ourselves can ease the burden of the human condition. Through good deeds The Little Mermaid can gain an immortal soul, which will take 300 years. But children can help shorten this sentence by being good to their parents - for every good child found The Little Mermaid's sentence is reduced by a year.
I am waiting for the remaining books on the Booker long list to come in to my local library which has led me to think about what makes the 'perfect library'. Should it be dark and musty or bright and clean? Millions of books stacked higgledy-piggledy or all in neat, orderly rows? Let me know about your favourite library.
In Disney's wonderfully saccharine animated film, Beauty and the Beast, the Beast gives Belle this huge library - the ultimate gift. With more books than she can ever read in her lifetime (or if she can, I am really inadequate). Belle was without a doubt my favourite Disney character as she had brown hair, brown eyes and was obsessed with books.
Moving away from the realms of fantasy, my favourite library has to be the University of London Library at Senate House (pictured below). Senate House was built between 1932-37 and was the inspiration for the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. As an English Literature student I would spend many autumnal days searching through the dusty shelves for books on anything from Woolf to early printing presses. The interior of the library is strikingly early twentieth century with parquet floors and original 1930s light fittings. It is a haven for those in love with modernist literature as the surroundings evoke the contents of the books perfectly. One of my best times at university was spent in the Special Collections room studying the original 1628 copy of The World Encompassed by Sir Francis Drake. A real opportunity for a 19 year old student.
The library does offer membership to non-students, so you can go and explore the literary idyll yourself.