Thursday, April 18, 2013

EDITH OLIVIER, The Love-Child (1927)


Edith Olivier is perhaps my favorite of all of the truly obscure writers I’ve come across (truly obscure = not a single work in print and virtually unknown to most readers, which seems about as tragic to me as a literary oversight can be).  Since I’ve now read all of her novels and am working my way, with typical obsessiveness, through all her other works (in fact, thanks to Andy, I now have her memoir, Without Knowing Mr. Walkley [1938], on my bedside table ready to be dived into before bed tonight), I decided it was time to write about her here.

What I love about Olivier is something that’s true of most of the writers I’m passionate about.  She creates her own unique world.  She is quirky, eccentric, and downright odd, but always original.  Most of her novels are completely unpredictable—I never know what direction she will take, and for me that’s incredibly rare.  Predictability isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and sometimes it’s exactly what one wants, but it’s rather exhilarating sometimes to realize you genuinely have no idea where a story is going.  (That's not quite so true, plot-wise, of this one novel, but it's still true in terms of how Olivier takes the story there, and believe me, it's true of all her other works.)

Olivier’s plots are extraordinary, and often border on the fantastic (or, in the present case, cross firmly into that realm), but they don’t even follow predictable fairy tale trajectories.  On the one hand, she was the daughter of a canon and granddaughter of a bishop, and there is a surface of strong traditional morality in her work.  However, I find that this morality is often subverted—by characters who are puritan to the point of madness, for example, or by situations in which a strict moral view only makes matters worse.

Olivier has the ability to espouse very traditional, even sentimental, views while pointing out minuscule but peculiar details that complicate and undercut those traditional views.  She accepts the peculiarities as if they were the norm, tossing them into her sentences in passing as if they were irrelevant, and somehow at times this produces an almost magical effect, as if there’s so much more meaning than lies on the surface.  In this respect, she sometimes reminds me of Barbara Comyns, another brilliantly odd writer who accepts the bizarre as a given.  Olivier is more subtle than Comyns, but if you look for the oddity, it’s certainly there.

Olivier with Cecil Beaton
Edith Olivier has very little web presence, and some of what there is comes from her connections with photographer Cecil Beaton and artist Rex Whistler. Daughter of a canon she may have been (not to mention cousin of Sir Laurence), but in her middle and older years she also surrounded herself with younger, mostly gay, male artists, and the circles in which she moved add an intriguing layer to her own story. 

In the past couple of years, several bloggers have written enthusiastically about The Love-Child (1927), her first novel and the only one of her works to have been reprinted at all in recent decades (by Virago in the 1980s—now long out of print again and increasingly hard to find), but sadly a roaring silence remains in regard to her other novels.  I love the fact that Olivier is getting any attention at all, but in future posts I hope to make my best case for her other novels.

Painting by Rex Whistler of Olivier outside her house

The Love-Child, written when Olivier was already 55, has a strong element of fantasy, a technique apparently in vogue with novelists in the 1910s and 1920s, including David Garnett, Stella Benson, and Sylvia Townsend Warner, whose Lolly Willowes is (apart from being my favorite novel of all time, as I’ve already mentioned ad nauseum…) a perfect companion piece for Olivier’s novel.  Both works focus on “spinsters,” though Olivier’s is only at the ripe old age of 32, and both feature exploits perhaps supernatural or perhaps hallucinatory. 

In fact, both novels leave open to interpretation just how many of the events described are “real” and how many are eccentric fantasies on the part of women whose grasp on reality may not be all that firm.  In that sense, both novels may have a claim to being “postmodern,” though it’s more important that both are highly enjoyable reads.  That they manage to hide serious commentaries on the position of unmarried women between the wars within entertaining and beautiful tales is the icing on the cake.

As The Love-Child opens, Agatha Bodenham, has just lost her mother, with whom she lived in mutual reserve:

Strange that she should feel it so, for she had always been solitary—a solitary child, a solitary girl, and now, at thirty-two, a still more solitary woman.

She and her mother were women of peculiarly reserved natures, finding it hard to make friends, and holding their country neighbours at a distance. So reserved, too, that they had been barely intimate with each other, living through their days side by side without real mingling of experiences or sharing of confidences. Indeed, they had neither experiences nor confidences to share.

Agatha realizes that this loneliness is not so much new as forgotten, and recalls that in her childhood she had faced a similar (or perhaps even more important) loss of companionship, when her governess, Miss Marks, had smothered Agatha’s imaginary friend, Clarissa—“the caustic drops of Miss Marks’ common sense fell like a weed killer upon the one blossom of Agatha’s imagination.”

Agatha’s analysis of this loss, now that the memory of it has returned, is striking and sad:

And as the old memory came back, it seemed to Agatha that in losing Clarissa, she had not only lost a real playmate, but she had also lost the only being who had ever awoken her own personality, and made it responsive—she had lost something without which she had grown as futile as a racquet idly striking the air, against no ball.

I think this passage is important, and on my first reading I missed the way that it’s echoed poignantly in the novel’s closing scene.

“The one blossom.”  “The only being who had ever awoken her own personality, and made it responsive.”  These are achingly sad realizations to have about one’s past, and it seems that not only did the loss of Clarissa result in loneliness, but it may also have smothered Agatha’s ability to relate to other people at all.

Although the novel initially seems playful and light, there is no doubt how real Agatha’s sadness and loneliness is.  There is a genuinely heartbreaking undercurrent to the novel, though it is done with enough subtlety that I felt the novel was a comedy when I first read it.

Somehow, Agatha’s loneliness gradually brings Clarissa back.  She first appears only in Agatha’s dreams, then in her waking hours—though still visible only to Agatha, so that Agatha is driven to go on an extended trip to the coast so that her servants won’t think she’s gone mad—and finally Clarissa becomes a fully visible, “living” little girl.

This phenomenon is given a sort of “scientific” basis by a passage Clarissa reads from “Sturm’s Reflections” (which, it turns out, is a real book, Christoph Sturm’s Reflections on the Works of God, first published in the 1770s):

We often see two bodies approach each other without being impelled by any external force. The cause which produces this effect is called Attraction, or that principle whereby the minuter particles of matter tend towards each other…By this is most satisfactorily explained the motions of the Heavenly Bodies…These spheres, separated from each other by immense intervals, are united by some secret bond…This power of attraction is in some degree the cause of the juices circulating in the capillary vessels of plants and animals…The Supreme Wisdom manifests itself in the government of the Celestial bodies, and is equally apparent in that of Rational Beings.

Um, sure.

But anyway, Agatha and Clarissa speculate on what would happen if the heavenly bodies got too far apart, and Clarissa loves playing games about what would happen if she got too far from Agatha and she blinked out like a light.  (This seems to nearly happen for real in one scene when Agatha faints and Clarissa sees the world go dark while herself vanishing from sight.)

Edith Olivier in 1927, the year The Love-Child was published

At first, Agatha’s relationship with Clarissa is perfectly narcissistic—Clarissa shares Agatha’s games of fantasy, shares her likes and dislikes, and shies away from any show of affection from others:

But she hated being kissed by the manageress and the chambermaid when they said goodbye, and she ducked her head and turned away her face with unconcealed distaste, holding on to Agathaʹs hand with a return of her old shyness. Agatha was sorry that these kind women should be snubbed in this way, and their affection for Clarissa gratified her, but, nevertheless, she was inwardly delighted by the childʹs fastidiousness. Clarissa was her own. Hers only.

But Clarissa soon begins to “age,” from being the eleven-year-old she was when Agatha first “created” her, to being a teenager and then a pretty young girl.  She meets a superficial neighbor girl, Kitty, and then a boy, David, who brings his automobile into their lives.  The fact that it is the advent of the automobile into Clarissa’s life, as much as the advent of David himself, that provides the first hint of discord between and Agatha, is interesting, both in its portrayal of life in a small village where a local man’s taxi is the only car, and in its highlighting of the fact that Clarissa’s very modern love of automobiles is in conflict with Agatha’s old-fashioned terror of them.  A generation gap with a twist.  (And I suppose David was hardly the only man of the period to be liked first and foremost for his car!)

After David takes both Agatha and Clarissa to a concert, Clarissa is exhilarated and becomes discontented with the world of fantasy she shares with Agatha:

Clarissa, on the other hand, had found in [their fantasies] her nearest point of contact with the real world of adventure. She had thrown herself into them perhaps more completely than Agatha, and they had satisfied her because she almost believed they were true; but now at one touch of the outer world, she had understood that what she wanted was life itself.

But Agatha’s own response to the concert remains primarily self-absorbed:

It was a new thing to her to listen to music, to follow the intertwining melodies, and to feel the completeness of the chords as they fell upon her untrained ear, and she seemed to have found something she was waiting for. It was as though a very delicate little instrument had been slowly and exquisitely created, chased, and polished, the strings wound round the carved ivory keys, and then tuned, tuned, tuned in some silent workshop by a spirit worker: and now, all of a sudden, a bow was laid across the strings, and the first low tone drawn from them.

ʺShe is my instrument,ʺ thought Agatha. ʺThe music within her is mine. And now it is being called out, articulated: and she and I hear it together.ʺ

Although I find Agatha a quite sympathetic character in her loneliness and missed opportunities, even I have to acknowledge that this passage is creepy.  And from this point on, the playful fantasy takes a turn into the Gothic—even to the point of bringing to mind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at times.  Agatha’s (rather belated) realization of David’s interest in Clarissa doesn’t make things any better:

She was immediately aware of an emotion in David which was akin to her own. He, too, wanted to possess Clarissa. Agatha hated him.

Soon after this, the group goes to a nearby lake.  Agatha, anxious not to allow Clarissa to go rowing with David alone, mendaciously asserts a passion for rowing despite her fear of it, and is then surprised when Clarissa declines to go rowing at all.  Agatha and David end up on a surly boat ride together, not speaking but only listening to Clarissa and Kitty talking on the shore, and it is in this scene where there seems to be an odd and revealing shift in perspective (or else I’m reading too much into it, which could also be the case).  The passage goes like thus:

David could not follow the talk, but he took such a course that, while Agatha in the stern of the boat had her back to the girls most of the time, he could watch Clarissa as he rowed. She was lying full length on the grass, leaning on her elbows, and holding up the little rush basket on a level with her eyes. Her white hands caught the light as she rapidly twisted the rushes, passing them in and out of each other with a sure touch. Then she swung herself round to see what Kitty was doing, and both the girls laughed at the muddle she had made.

What seems interesting here is that, eighty percent or so of the way through a novel that has almost entirely followed Agatha’s point of view, we are now told that Agatha has her back to the girls, that it is David who is watching Clarissa during the boat ride.  And yet we are told exactly what the girls are doing—from David’s point of view.  I don’t claim to have any radical, brilliant interpretation of this, but I wonder if it could be revealing.  Does it symbolize that Clarissa now truly has a life of her own and is not reliant on Agatha?  Does it suggest that she has now become merely a part of David’s fantasy life instead of Agatha’s?  Or is this some intuition on Olivier’s part about women as objects in our culture—objects of narcissism for their mothers, objects of desire for men? 

On the other hand, I have to point out also that Clarissa in this passage seems thoroughly oblivious to both Agatha and David, so perhaps if there is a feminist message in the scene, we should look for it in that fact?  Perhaps she’s not interested in being anybody’s object at all?


[SPOILER ALERT?]

The ending of the novel is foreshadowed throughout, so I’m not sure it’s even a spoiler (and this is absolutely the only one of Oliver’s novels where one could say that the main event of the ending—though not the details surrounding it—are foreseeable), but the ending is so important to the book that I couldn’t think how to really discuss the novel without revealing it.  If you really don’t want to know, however, consider this fair warning.

David invites Clarissa to a dance, but on the night of the dance Agatha is sick with a headache and Clarissa refuses to leave her side.  David comes to get her, and she comes to the window of Agatha’s room.  She refuses to speak:

ʹSomething has happened,ʹ he thought. ʹThat woman is a vampire. She has put some spell upon Clarissa. Thereʹs something uncanny in her power,ʹ

In short, she goes to the dance with him, they return to the garden, he tries to kiss her, and at that moment, Agatha cries out from her window, seeing them together, and Clarissa disappears:

And as that cry was heard, Clarissa went. In one moment she had been beside him, slim and silver, like a ray of the moon; and in the next, she was lost. The shadows had swallowed her.

The loss of Clarissa seems to be a permanent one (though Olivier’s publisher, in a note to her about the novel, refused to believe it and asserted his belief that she would return), and causes Agatha to sink back into the numbness in which she has lived much of her life:

Whatever had happened to Clarissa, it seemed to be something which had stunned Agathaʹs will into a deadly acquiescence and her mind into oblivion.

David imagines that Agatha has murdered Clarissa out of possessive jealousy, but at the same time he flirts with his earlier notion of her as a vampire:

She was revolting—terrible, and yet there was something of grandeur about her, a grandeur which she had never before possessed. She had grown thin, and the bones of her face had almost the dignity of death. The skin was drawn over them with an unnatural whiteness, so that the face looked almost like a mask, and in this mask were set eyes which seemed to have been torn from a living face and maddened by the torture of their tearing. He had never observed Agathaʹs eyes before. They had been merely episodes in a face that was practically featureless. If he had thought of them at all, he would have said that they were pale and without colour. Now they suddenly appeared much darker than he remembered, but in their darkness were flecks of light, which in a horrible way recalled the serene dappling of Clarissaʹs fawn-like eyes.

Is it that Agatha has actually re-absorbed Clarissa?  Clarissa’s personality is perhaps now just flecks in Agatha’s personality like the flecks of Clarissa’s eye color in Agatha’s eyes?

I’ve never been sure exactly what to make of the novel’s crucial final scene (and that’s why I’m doing this “spoiler” at all).  But on this reading of the novel, the passage I quoted earlier—about Agatha being “as futile as a racquet idly striking the air, against no ball”—stood out for me.  Some time has passed, and a servant observes Agatha in the garden:

She evidently fancied that the girl was still with her, and with her as a little child again.

Now, in the garden, Helen saw Miss Bodenham playing at ball with someone who was not there. She ran about gaily, calling to the other player, throwing the ball, clapping her hands, and laughing.

Then she flung out her arms, and taking an imaginary child by her two hands, she danced her round and round.

Helenʹs eyes were full of tears.

But when she looked at Agathaʹs mindless face, she saw that it was quite happy.

This—particularly the fact that Clarissa seems to be “with her as a little child again”—seems to suggest that Agatha has now gone mad—something she already feared she might be when she first began seeing Clarissa.  Or perhaps she has been mad all along?

But such an ending makes me wonder about what Olivier herself thought of the relationship between Agatha and Clarissa.  It certainly calls into question whether Clarissa is outgrowing Agatha, as at first seems to be the case, or whether it might be more accurate to suggest that Agatha is “ingrowing” Clarissareturning her to her role as a purely narcissistic figure of comfort and companionship.  Imaginary friends can perhaps be less trying than real ones, who have an annoying tendency to think for themselves. 

In part, Olivier may have taken inspiration from the death of her beloved sister a year or so before she began writing the novel.  Close in age, both unmarried and living happily together as spinsters since the death of their father, Mildred had formed an enormous large part of Edith’s life, and the loss was a tremendous one.  It was only when writing an introduction for a memorial volume dedicated to Mildred that Edith discovered a knack for writing, and suddenly found herself, in her fifties, writing a novel.

So perhaps Olivier is exploring the imaginary, emotional relationship she might have been experiencing in her memories of Mildred and her loneliness without her—in the way that those in mourning may still hear the voices of their loved one, or wake up forgetting that they are gone?  

Yet, the Oliviers’ lives were nothing like Agatha’s.  They had many friends and entertained frequently.  So Olivier must have been sympathetically imagining how her devastation at the loss of Mildred might have affected a protagonist who had led a more isolated, socially deprived life.

Rather surprisingly gothic the novel may turn out to be, but there is no doubt also a profound empathy for Agatha, and for me this provides the novel with a depth far beyond its fairy tale quality.  She may be a kind of Dr. Frankenstein.  She is certainly selfish and possessive and emotionally stunted, but still, we can see how she became those things.  We can sense the fundamental desperation and sorrow of her life. 

And for me, it was difficult not to be touched that final scene, as she joyfully plays with the loved one she has lost—“The only being who had ever awoken her own personality, and made it responsive.”

Thursday, April 11, 2013

H. E. BATES, A Breath of French Air (1959)

I wrote a few days ago about my book-buying orgy at the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library Spring Book Sale.  I know I won’t get around to writing about all of the new finds I picked up, but I thought I’d report briefly on the first one I dived into, since I had so much fun with it. 

I’m sure I have actually heard of H. E. Bates before.  I must have glanced at his novel Feast of July (1954) at some time or other, which is actually in print and was made into a movie, and I’m sure I’ve heard of his story “A Month by the Lake” (though admittedly I get it confused with J. L. Carr’s novella A Month in the Country).  He apparently wrote many other novels, including one based on his World War II experiences, called Fair Stood the Wind for France (1944), which looks interesting. But if you had asked me who he was a few nights ago at the book sale, I would have been at a loss.  

Which is why I unforgivably passed up a lovely hardcover of The Darling Buds of May (1958), the first (as I know now but did not know then) of Bates’s “Pop Larkin” series of humorous novels about a large (and growing), joyful, and eccentric English family.  It was also in great shape and had a lovely intact dust cover, and I had it in my hand alongside A Breath of French Air, which as it turned out is the second in the series.  But, since I had never heard of any of them and have been burned before by excitedly buying everything in sight by an author only to feel let down later, I decided one was enough for starters.  You see?  Non-buyers’ remorse sucks.

At any rate, I started A Breath of French Air last night and had nearly finished it before I finally got so sleepy I couldn’t focus on the words anymore.

In this novel, the prolific Larkins, Pop and Ma and their seven offspring, along with Charley, the new husband of their oldest daughter, Marietta, are feeling down in the dumps because of a particularly cold and rainy British summer and decide to head off to France for a month to get some sun. 

H. E. Bates

From there, the plot is completely predictable—jokes about the lascivious and hard-living Larkins trying to speak French, about the French hotel manager’s horror at the Larkins’ shocking and destructive behavior, about the Larkins’ horror at the hotel’s somewhat lacking accommodations, about French food, and about how the Larkins ultimately overcome, make friends, improve the hotel, and happily return home.
It’s all been done a thousand times.

And yet, I admit I was completely seduced by it and was laughing out loud so much that Andy was starting to glare at me as he tried to work on the computer.

For example, much is made of how, shall we say, ample Ma Larkin is, especially in the chest region, and how happily she will breast feed her youngest child, Oscar—in private, in public, in a hotel lobby, etc.

“What’s up?” Pop called.

“He says he wasn’t aware that one of the children was so small.”

“Tell him we’ve only just had him,” Ma said and moved herself as if to expose her bosom to larger, fuller and more public gaze.  “I’m trying to fatten him up as fast as I can.”

When the chair Ma is sitting on in the hotel lobby finally collapses beneath her weight, and the hotel manager is scolding her, Pop leaps to the rescue with what he recalls of his French lessons:

With incredible swiftness Pop came forward to defend Ma.  Irately he strode over to the man in pince-nez and struck the desk a severe blow with his fist, speaking peremptorily and with voluble rapidity.

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?” he shouted, “and comment ça va and comment allez-vous and avez-vous bien dormi and qu’est-ce que vous avez à manger and à bientôt san fairy ann and all that lark!”

The little man in pince-nez looked as if he’d been hit with a poleax. ... A moment later Pop and Ma started to go upstairs, followed by the children, Ma still laughing, Pop glad in his heart of the excellent tuition by given by Charley in various French phrases likely to be of use in emergency.

It’s all quite silly, of course, and it’s wish-fulfillment comedy at its simplest—the Larkins are nothing if not happy and always have a solution for everything, to the consternation of those around them.  Pop even sums up his philosophy:

He supposed that if it came to a definition he would say that being alive was his relidge—that and earth and woods and flowers and nightingales and all that sort of lark and enjoying it and not preventing other people doing so.

This is opposed to the philosophy of the sister of one of the several women in the novel who find Pop irresistible (and with whom he flirts with the complete, comfortable blessing of Ma, who knows she keeps him sufficiently occupied and doesn’t need to worry):

“Got to lacerate yourself, according to Iris.  Beds of nails.  Fakir stuff.”

“Sackcloth and ashes?” Pop suggested.

“Dishcloth and wet breeches,” Angela Snow said, “that’s Iris.  A positive wetter.  Even says damp prayers.  Sobs away half the time.”

This attitude, along with the Larkins’ borderline “free love” perspective on romance, was clearly cultural as well as comedic.  The 1960s were just around the corner and would make much of these ideas that were just beginning to sprout in most of the mainstream in 1959.  It also reminded me of the pure joy of reading the now highly obscure novels of American writer Mary Lasswell, written in the 1940s and 1950s, about a similarly boisterous and hard-living trio of middle-aged women.  It might be possible to come up with some complex and profoundly intellectual reading of A Breath of French Air, taking all of its sociological and psychological implications into consideration, but ultimately for me it was just a tremendously entertaining few hours’ reading.  I have a feeling I’ll have to be checking out the other of the Larkin novels, and perhaps even try some of Bates’s more serious writing.

If the passages quoted above don’t seem funny to you, then the book will likely not be your cup of tea (though you should imagine Pop Larkin gazing at you pityingly for your inability to appreciate the simple joys in life).  But here’s one more taste for good measure—and just in case you think that the laughs are all at the expense of the French language, this is the hotel chef’s attempts to graciously acknowledge the Larkins’ praise of a special meal he has cooked:

“I sank you, ladish and jentlemens,” Alphonse said.  He had learned these few words of English off by heart from the second cook, who had once worked in Whitechapel.  “Blast and damn, merci, mesdames et messieurs, blast and damn, sank you!”

Perhaps I should consider ending my future blog posts with a hearty, “Blast and damn, thank you!”

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friends of the SF Public Library Spring Book Sale (aka UH-OH)


Clearly, I'm doomed.

Perhaps that seems melodramatic, but still…

For many years, I've reassured people that I'm not one of those crazy book collectors.  I just like reading books.  If I really like a book, or think there's a high probability that I will like it, then I may want to own a copy of it.  But while I, like most readers, enjoy having a nice copy of a good book—good binding, nice font, quality paper, that kind of thing—it has never mattered much to me if a book is hardcover or paperback, I'm happy with used books even if they're a bit seedy-looking, and I couldn't care less about first editions or even, really, for signed copies.

[As a side note, this indifference to either physically or emotionally valuable books is perhaps because I was scarred for life in the 1990s by irreparably marinating a pristine first edition of Grace Paley's Collected Stories when I overwatered a plant sitting on top of my bookcase.  To confess fully—in the interests of vainly trying to achieve some kind of closure for the trauma—I should add that the book was not only signed by Paley, which would have been quite bad enough, but that she had gasped with pleasure when I handed it to her and said it was the first copy she had seen of it.  She then inscribed it, "For Scott, a first signing of this book.  –Grace Paley."  I know.  I know.  Add to that that she was undoubtedly the most gracious and friendly writer I've ever asked to sign a book (she even called me "honey") and it should be apparent why I don't feel I can be trusted with a book signed by any author more significant to me than Danielle Steel.]

At any rate, this resistance to being a "collector" started getting chipped away in the past few years as I've become increasingly interested in more obscure writers, many of whom have been discarded from libraries over the years.  I've had to resign myself to purchasing some of those writers' books just in order to have a chance to read them.  And then I can't bring myself to get rid of them in the periodic purges I used to engage in to clear bookshelf space, because I might never be able to find them again. 

But perhaps more than anything, the dastardly influence of the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library has sealed my fate.

Tuesday was the massive Friends' Book Sale, which, as Bay Area booklovers know to the detriment of their already overloaded bookshelves, is an incomparable orgy of book buying—in a huge warehouse with an impressive view of San Francisco Bay.  This has been an annual ritual for Andy and me since 2008, and it became bi-annual two years ago when they initiated the spring book sale as well the autumn one that's been going on for ages.

It's quite the adventure—recklessly driven shopping carts, rabid second-hand booksellers brainlessly trolling for profit with their heinous barcode scanners, book geeks rifling the tables so intently they wouldn't notice a moderate earthquake or a diminutive fellow booklover trampled underfoot—it's just surprising I've never seen obsessive fans in a knife fight over a particularly nice Maeve Binchy edition.

Best of all, the books are cheap ($3 hardcovers, $2 paperbacks) and there are lots of random, wonderful finds to be uncovered.  Not surprisingly, I always bring home a cart full of books, and although I sometimes have buyer's remorse, I'm more prone to the much more insidious non-buyer's remorse.  (Take my advice, if you think you might want it, take it.  You'll just wish you had later, and if you do regret a purchase, at these prices you can probably recoup the money by selling it at a good second-hand bookstore.)

But this time was particularly fun, since I finally realized that, for a lover of obscure novels, the hardcover fiction sections are the real Shangri-La.  And I've discovered, too, that I am easily seduced by dust covers.  There’s something about old-fashioned dust covers from the 1940s and 1950s that makes them ridiculously tantalizing for me.

You see?  Doomed to be a collector.  I'm already thinking about where in our one-bedroom apartment I can squeeze yet another big bookcase without ending up single again…

So what did I find?  Here are the highlights:


H. E. BATES, A Breath of French Air (1959) (dustcover intact) - Apparently part of a highly successful series of humorous novels about the Larkin family, this seems to be the second book of the series.  I had never heard of it, and so (dammit!) I violated my own advice and passed up a second title in the series.  Hard-learned lessons…



DODIE SMITH, A Tale of Two Families (1970) (dustcover intact) - I would have sworn I had already researched Smith, but I had never heard of this novel.  How could I resist?


MARGERY SHARP, Cluny Brown (1944) and The Stone of Chastity (1945) - particularly lovely dustcovers intact for both





ROSAMOND LEHMANN, The Ballad and the Source (1945) - dustcover intact, AND with its original Book-of-the-Month Club flyer, which for whatever reason makes it even more fun for me



ELIZABETH CADELL, I Love a Lass (1956) - ex-library, but with dust cover and in excellent shape



EMILY KIMBROUGH, Now and Then (1972) and Time Enough (1974) - dustcovers intact—well, more or less—for both

MARGARET KENNEDY, The Feast (1950) and Lucy Carmichael (1951) - dustcover intact for the latter.  (I guess it’s time to actually read some more Margaret Kennedy, since I got an earlier novel, Return I Dare Not (1931), at a previous library book sale.  So far I’ve only read The Constant Nympth (1924), so I better get to work.)



ROSE FRANKEN, Claudia and David (1940) and Another Claudia (1943) - I'd never heard of Franken, but it seems these were part of a very popular series, which spawned a successful radio show and other adaptations.

LOUISE ANDREWS KENT, Mrs. Appleyard's Year (1941) - Kent's books were highly recommended on the D. E. Stevenson discussion list and I've been meaning to get around to them for ages, so here's my chance.

MARY JANE WARD, The Snake Pit (1946) - Another one I'd never heard of, but it was apparently a bestseller at the time and was made into a successful movie with Olivia de Havilland.

ROSEMARY TAYLOR, Ridin' the Rainbow (1944) - dustcover intact.  Appears to be a sort of humorous memoir of life in the Western U.S. (by the author of Chicken Every Sunday, for what that's worth!).  I almost passed this one up, but it reminded me of my discovery of Mary Lasswell's Suds in Your Eye, which I similarly stumbled upon at the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library shop a while back and which started my ongoing love affair with Lasswell's big-hearted, beer-swilling, elderly women characters.




RONALD BLYTHE, Akenfield: Portrait of an English Village - I've been meaning to read this forever, and it happens to be a beautiful British edition published by Allen Lane.

FELICIA LAMPORT, Mink on Weekdays (1950) - dust cover in pieces, but irresistible.  A humorous memoir about growing up rich in Manhattan?  Just too odd to pass up.



ORIEL MALET, Beginner's Luck (1953) - Okay, this appears to be a girls' dancing book—not my usual cup of tea—but it's by the author of Persephone's Marjory Fleming (1946), so I thought I'd give it a try.


Plus, a few more paperback odds and ends.  Two new Viragos—Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices (1941) (which has a bookcrossing.com tag, the first I've ever come across—all the things I've found in used books could be a post all its own!) and Winifred Holtby's Poor Caroline (1931).  An Oxford Modern Classics edition of Nigel Balchin's WWII novel The Small Back Room (1943).  And how could I resist pristine copies of volumes 2 and 3 of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time for a grand total of $4 (even if I haven't read volume 1 yet…)?

I also finally picked up Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which has been recommended to me repeatedly, even though I don't usually read contemporary writers.  And I grabbed Keith Roberts's Pavane (1968), recommended because I loved Connie Willis's Blackout and All Clear, even though I don't usually read sci-fi.

I don't know where to put them all unless I convert our refrigerator to a bookcase, but at least there will be plenty to write about here in the coming months…
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