Not so young grasshopper

Credit: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/vintage-grasshopper-label-image/

I finally decided to take a long hard look at the pile of books on my bedside table. I’d just finished Marie Brennan’s rip-roaring A Natural History of Dragons and was considering what to go for next. On that pile were

  • Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here, the first of those titles I’ve stalled on. Or — as I prefer to think of it — a title that I’m deliberating over. The fact is, where I’ve got to in ICHH is in many ways so close a parallel to what has occurred so far with Trump’s presidency that I find it too depressing to go on, for now at least.
  • Daphne Du Maurier’s Castle Dor. This time it’s the pedestrian pace adopted by Arthur Quiller-Couch that is fazing me. Maybe when I finally get to Du Maurier’s continuation things will pick up. At the moment it dulls the heart.
  • Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s The Storyteller of Marrakesh should be right up my street. Story-telling, mystery, a narrative about narration — I should be wallowing in the metafiction of it all. But maybe I wasn’t in the mood for it, having started in the depths (or rather mid-shallows) of the British winter. It will stay by my beside until summer is nigh.
  • After I read Emma I had a look at a commentary on it in A Brief Guide to Jane Austen, a commentary I’d avoided when I first read Charles Jennings’ discussion of all things Austen. My eye then was drawn by his section of Persuasion, but I stopped until I had too much of a preview of Austen’s last great novel. It’ll stay until I read that novel.
  • And that takes us to Persuasion itself, which I began immediately after finishing Emma, having been *ahem* persuaded it was more satisfying. But then I was distracted again, this time by a study I’d stalled on  been ‘deliberating’ over last year. This was …
  • Irene Collins’ Jane Austen and the Clergy which is a fascinating and detailed account of the author’s attitude to and treatment of clergymen in her fiction and in real life. Given that she was a clergyman’s daughter, the sister of two others and the cousin of four more, this study is already enlightening me, revealing how realistically she treats religious figures in her novels, whether Mr Collins or Mr Elton, Edmund Bertram or Mr Tilney.

And that takes me to now. Having just finished Marie Brennan’s fantasy — a wonderful romp which I shall be reviewing (soon, I hope) — I alighted on Henry James’s The Spoils of Poynton. I really wanted to read some James (any James in fact) in 2016, the centenary year of his death; but you can’t do everything, and so it is that this year will mark my first belated sniff at this author’s work.

That’s a typical snapshot of my grasshopper mind, a state that’s when it comes to reading hasn’t changed much since my childhood. Patience, young grasshopper is a injunction that could have applied to me then and, with a change of adjective, still applies now. And you? Do you have a pile of books in different stages of completion, which you’re deliberating over? Or do you finish what you start, with your equivalent of a bedside table relatively free of clutter?


April is nearly over, and like April showers it doesn’t seem to have lasted very long. In that time I’ve reviewed only three books: Jane Austen’s Emma, Joan Aiken’s A Bundle of Nerves and Glenda Leeming’s Who’s Who in Jane Austen and the Brontës (though of course I’ve only dipped into this last title, as it’s primarily a reference book). Poor show. But I have marked April Fool’s Day, Easter, St George’s Day and World Book Night — all in a bookish way — discussed Emma in a series of posts and signalled my progress on demolishing my pile of to-be-read books. So it hasn’t been too inactive a month.

To savour, and to save

The Human Eye (credit: http://thegraphicsfairy.com/vintage-clip-art-eye-diagram/)

Joan Aiken: A Bundle of Nerves:
stories of horror, suspense and fantasy

Cover illustration Peter Goodfellow
Peacock (Penguin) Books 1978 (1976)

Nineteen short stories are collected here, the majority originally appearing in Argosy — a British magazine which appeared between 1926 and 1974 and for which Joan Aiken was Features Editor (from 1955 to 1960). They are indeed ‘stories of horror, suspense and fantasy’, and though rather mild — if occasionally racy — by today’s tastes they were, and still are, perfect for the young teenage readership the collection aims at.

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Patronising

Durer’s St George and the Dragon. The crowned princess is lurking behind a rock. With a pig.

St George fought the dragon and killed it — or did he? Such doubt could make patriots go weak and quite giddy. Did he rescue a maiden and liberate a city like Perseus, it’s said, in ancient antiquity? Or is it a myth, a tale for the gullible from powerful leaders who claim they’re infallible?

The truth is that George has a past that is murky: perhaps Cappadocia (that’s now part of Turkey) or Palestine claims him. Yes, Christian martyr — but slayer of dragons? Well, that‘s a non-starter.

He’s patron of England, the Knights of the Garter, Teutonic Knights, Reichenau, Gozo and Malta. He’s chief saint of Portugal and also of Genoa, of Moscow and Beirut and, yes, Catalonia. God help us if they all decide to go fight, for how will George know who is wrong and who’s right?

Yet it’s the far right who often invoke him, their claims of supremacy based on pure hokum. For they would now see saintly George as outsider, a migrant or refugee, maybe Al-Qaida. To persecute him would elicit no qualms, and he’d not be received with wide open arms.


A post in rhyming couplets to mark April 23rd, St George’s Day

Of blunders and pardons

The manor house at Steventon (where Jane’s father was rector) — perhaps a model for Hartfield.

Following a review I’ve discussed the who, when and where of Jane Austen’s Emma, and then intimated I’d get onto the what. In this post I plan to briefly discuss the novel’s structure before bringing out some themes, chiefly by means of what the characters say. Needless to add, this is not meant to be an exhaustive or detailed analysis, merely a sketch of what has struck me about this superbly crafted novel.

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Riddle-me-ree

Not ellipsoid but ovoid

What needs to be broken before it can be used?

No idea? Here’s another clue:

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
yet golden treasure inside is hid

Still in the dark with this riddle? This witty doggerel by Luis d’Antin van Rooten gives another, perhaps more obscure, hint:

Un petit d’un petit
S’étonne aux Halles
Un petit d’un petit
Ah! degrés te fallen
Indolent qui ne sort cesse
Indolent qui ne se mène
Qu’importe un petit
Tout gai de Reguennes.

No? Another question then: what is former vicar’s daughter and esteemed Prime Minister Teresa May calling ‘ridiculous’?

Easter’s very important. It’s important to me. It’s a very important festival for the Christian faith for millions across the world. So I think what the National Trust is doing is frankly just ridiculous.

Lest you’re still puzzled, she’s complaining that in just one context giant chocolate manufacturer Cadbury’s dropped the word Easter from the promotion for their annual hunt.

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Of Highbury, in Surrey

I promised some musings on the subject of Jane Austen’s Emma, based on notes taken while reading it for the first time, and so here is my offering … while it is still fresh in my mind. As regular readers will be familiar from previous musings on novels that have caught my fancy, I’ve mainly based my thoughts on the four ‘W’s — who, what, when and where.

Here comes the customary warning of spoilers.

Continue reading “Of Highbury, in Surrey”