High five

WordPress have just informed me that it has been five years since I began this blog by registering it. Back in 2012 I had no real ambitions other than to post a few reviews and hopefully engage with a few likeminded bloggers. Now, in 2017, that remains the core ambition. I have nothing to sell, only ideas to share; I aim to receive no remuneration except informative dialogue and virtual friendship.

I’d like to thank all current followers of Calmgrove for remaining active and for sharing thoughts and adding ‘likes’ where appropriate. I myself follow sixty-odd blogs, not on a follow4follow basis but because they have interesting things to say or wonderfully crafted visual and wordy creations to share. If I am sometimes remiss in engaging it’s because of time and opportunity, not because I’m dismissive of your inspiring efforts.

I promised to rejuvenate my photoblog MyNewShy and my creating writing outlet Zenrinji — all that is ongoing and will emerge in due course — but for the moment I’m focusing on this literary blog, attempting a sensible regular schedule. I don’t intend to stop reading, so there’s every chance I shall be still here in five years’ time doing what I set out to do in a rather more optimistic era: exploring the world of ideas through books. I hope you’ll continue to join me in that exploration!

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.

Continue reading “To savour, and to save”

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.

Continue reading “Of blunders and pardons”

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.

Continue reading “Riddle-me-ree”

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”

The imaginist

Edmund Blair Leighton: The Piano Lesson

Jane Austen: Emma
Edited by James Kinsley and David Lodge
World’s Classics 1980 (1971)

How much more must an imaginist, like herself, be on fire with speculation and foresight! — Emma, Volume III Chapter 3

Emma thoroughly deserves its plaudits as an epitome of the author’s skills. Its status as Austen’s longest novel and the main product of her mature years ensures that any assessment I give is bound to be brief and inconsequential; but I’d be remiss if I didn’t add my own two-penn’orth of praise to the general applause.

Continue reading “The imaginist”

Austen’s powers

Examples of Regency dress

Twenty-seventeen is the bicentenary of Jane Austen‘s death, with the climax of the celebrations arriving on the fateful day of July 18th. Austen lovers the world over will be adding their own appreciations — as I too will be doing, discoursing on Emma, the last of her books to be published in her own lifetime.

I’ve posted a number of reviews, discussions and oblique references to the author over the years. For those who may be interested in what this newbie admirer of Austen’s powers has to say I’ve appended a list with links and also included a brief description. Feel free to indulge yourselves — or pass by!

Continue reading “Austen’s powers”

Mount TBR Checkpoint 1

Bookshop interior, Brecon, Powys

A post in which I have very little to say except to largely repeat myself

Bev Hankins over at My Reader’s Block set a challenge for readers to tackle their historic pile of unread books, and now it’s time to clock in at the first checkpoint. She’s laid out a loose framework to measure progress by means of questions and tasks.

Continue reading “Mount TBR Checkpoint 1”

A useful prosopography

Silhouette of “l’aimable Jane” pasted in an early copy of Mansfield Park (http://wp.me/pCurp-1zS)

Glenda Leeming, Who’s Who in Jane Austen and the Brontës
Foreword by Phyllis Bentley
Elm Tree Books 1974

What’s not to like about prosopography? Conventionally this is defined as a description of an individual’s appearance or life, but in general a Who’s Who offers a collection of such descriptions. These days prosopographies cover not just real-life biographies (mostly of historical personages, in Ancient Rome, say, or Victorian England) but also cast lists of fictional characters from literary works.

In Who’s Who in Jane Austen and the Brontës Dr Glenda Leeming lists all the characters found in the literary canons of Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters. Austen’s characters come first, plucked from the pages of Jane’s six novels (but not the juvenilia or unfinished writings like Lady Susan and Sanditon). They’re followed by seven of the best-known Brontë books — four by Charlotte, two by Anne and one by Emily (again, juvenilia is not included, nor Charlotte’s Angrian pieces written in her twenties). A short section on animals mentioned (particularly in the Brontë siblings’ writings) follows, and then a helpful list of characters book by book, noting the appropriate chapter when each first appears.

Phyllis Bentley’s foreword mostly renders any comments I might have perfectly superfluous. “This is a really intelligent and useful little book,” she declares, and praises Leeming’s notes for “vividly” presenting characters and personalities: “a nice tinge of irony, a very neat use of the novelists’ own words, a brevity decidedly marked by wit, make these notes pleasurable reading.” (Sadly, Bentley herself died just three years after this appreciation was published.) That brevity marked by wit is evident in the descriptions of the main protagonists, never longer than the equivalent of a page but containing everything you need to know.

Leeming also includes individuals mentioned only in passing, one line descriptions often providing no more than each writer herself offered. Opening at random I read of Goton in Villette (“Flemish cook in Mme. Beck’s school, with whom Lucy is a favourite”) or Miss Prince in Emma (“a teacher at Miss Goddard’s school”).

These days online sites freely and profusely provide such lists of characters; forty years ago though this would have indeed been “a useful little book” for readers losing track of which individual was being referred to, or what relationship they had to another individual. Here it is also done with sly humour, capturing the piquant observations of the novelists.

(By all accounts John Sutherland’s recent The Brontësaurus: An A-Z of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë also treats the novels with wit,** but as this work omits Austen altogether I’ll happily make do with Leeming for a while longer.)


** I assume Sutherland penned his own description of himself in the Guardian, where he is distinguished as “Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at UCL (“emeritus” being Latin for “scrapheap” and “Northcliffe” journalistic shorthand for “you cannot be serious”).” If so, then readers of The Brontësaurus (and indeed his other writings) must be in for a treat.

Brexit and books

The regrettable triggering of Article 50 — the notification of  the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union — has coincidentally led to a leak of a discussion document, purportedly from Whitehall. This suggests that withdrawal from the EU will not only restrict entry to the UK by economic migrants from Europe but that imports of books from the continent may also be restricted. And there’s more.

Continue reading “Brexit and books”