Friday, May 7, 2021

Revelling in misfortune: MARY CLIVE (as HANS DUFFY), Seven by Seven (1933)

"For pity's sake don't try to abolish vice over here," said Lady Cadmium. "Nowadays the only decent house maids one can get are fallen women. Of course in my service fiat it doesn't matter so much, but"—her imagination swinging along,—"when we lived at Crashams I quite gave up the local registry and applied to the hospital instead."

Most readers, if they know Mary Clive at all, know her as the author of the much-loved Christmas with the Savages (1955), a part novel/part memoir tale of a very prim, anti-social 8-year-old girl's Edwardian Christmas with a horde of other children she considers beneath her. That book has been perennially popular since it first appeared, and is even in print now (!) from Puffin. Many fans of Savages don't realize that Clive (née Pakenham, sister of Pansy Pakenham, who also published two novels, and biographer Violet Powell, who was also the wife of Anthony Powell) had earlier published four novels under the pseudonym "Hans Duffy". And those who do realize likely find it impossible to get hold of any of them. They are mostly nonexistent outside the British Library or the Bodleian, but for whatever reason, the second, Seven by Seven (1933), is available in the U.S. for reading or downloading via Hathi Trust here


The novel follows the mostly cynical, jaded, superficial Sexton family through darkly funny trials and travails over a number of years. Led by the shallow Lady Cadmium ("Daisy, Lady Cadmium, had three sons and three daughters, their father dying when the youngest was born. This effeminate action shocked her."), the family has seen better days. Her children include Kate, who marries an aspiring politician; Orange, who believes (literally) that the world only exists when he is present (and feels he did a particularly fine job creating Oxford); Dan, who marries a wealthy American with a healthy sexual appetite, whose fortune saves the family home; Susie, who marries a charming good-for-nothing, is abandoned, and becomes a bestselling novelist; Wilfred, Susie's rather tragic twin; and Frankie, the youngest, largely ignored.

But it is Frankie who, becoming an observer in her inability to join in with the others, is ultimately perhaps the "main" character of the novel, though she appears less frequently than some of the others. She is often bewildered by her siblings and by the cynical high society around her, and decides to isolate herself in a cottage with her former governess. She is also, perhaps not coincidentally, the only one who can see the family ghosts the others are always bragging about. Her character is hilariously summed up by her favorite childhood game:

It was her own invention and she played it by herself. The rules were simple, you pretended you were a bear and sat under the writing-table motionless for hours on end with the waste-paper basket over your head. Through the bars of the basket you could see everyone perfectly while they probably never noticed you were there.

I can relate a bit to Frankie, I'm afraid…

Mary Clive looking rather irresistible,
photographed by Cecil Beaton,
from the National Portrait Gallery


Clive seems to be having a lovely time skewering the Sextons' continuing pretensions and social uselessness, but whether or not a reader will have the same fun will largely depend on how much one enjoys dark humor. For instance, here's Lady Cadmium gleefully commenting on the family home's remarkable terrace:

"It's a good twenty to thirty foot drop, and the masonry at the top is very rocky, so you're quite liable to fall over any time you lean against it. If you do it's certain death, of course, as there's a paved walk at the bottom. I believe someone was killed there once, but only a housemaid and her baby or something."

These are the classic monstrous gentry that we've met in Rachel Ferguson or Elizabeth Eliot, but the influence I felt most hovering over Seven by Seven was Evelyn Waugh, whose Vile Bodies had appeared only a couple of years earlier, his own skewering of the upper classes making giddy light of everything from car crashes to white slavery. It's hard not to see Waugh's influence in the following passage, for example:

"My eldest daughter," said Lady Cadmium, "is the only human being I ever met who literally tears her hair. She says she finds it such a comfort when she's worried."

Kate never said anything of the sort, but she certainly had a great many worries. Levington-Boyle was not such a catch as had been hoped. In one year the business in which he had been getting on so nicely closed down, he fell seriously ill with internal disorders and their first baby died. Since then they had been left two properties, to both of which he was attached by memories of early childhood and family ties. One was in Cumberland, the other in Co. Cork, but they resembled each other in that neither carried quite enough money for the upkeep. Their surviving baby, Nigel, had an accident which affected his spine. "I believe Kate revels in misfortune," said her mother.

Or for that matter in this passage later on about getting out the vote for Kate's husband, who is now running for Parliament:

"Tell Mrs. Wilfred Sexton when she comes in. She is keeping a special list for the weak-minded. We're making a strong push with them. The Liberals may have a few but I don't think Labour can have any. After all, there must only be a limited number, even in Crashington."

Which sounds a lot like the present-day playbook of certain political players…


The structure of Seven by Seven is a bit loosy-goosy, jumping across years from one chapter to the next with a sometimes bewilderingly large cast of characters that had me paging back and forth to remember who someone was. I found it was also a book to be best enjoyed in smallish portions, as the jaded cleverness and black humor became just a touch tiring in too large a dose. (The critical blurb Gollancz chose for the cover of the book could indeed be double-edged: "It is not often one can complain that a book has too much wit in it, but such a complaint might be justified, if ever, here.")

But all told it's a rather fascinating piece of literary history. One wonders why a Vile Bodies gets remembered and treated as a classic while a Seven by Seven fades into complete obscurity. Apart from the obvious fact of its author being a woman, I mean.

I'd love to be able to read Clive's other early novels—In England Now (1932), Lucasta's Wedding (1936), and Under the Sugar-Plum Tree (1937). But alas, that doesn't look terribly likely, so for now I'll be adding them to my Hopeless Wish List. Alas and alack.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Lost in time: RUMER GODDEN, Pippa Passes (1994)


As a general rule, I love Rumer Godden so much that, as the kids these days say, I can’t even. And I have to admit that, even though I know from past experience that late Godden is not everything that mid-career Godden was (see my brief mention of her final novel [along with an excellent mid-career novel]
here), I still had high hopes for this one. Widening world story, talented young ballet dancer making her way, a touch of romance, and Venice. What could go wrong?

Um.

Pippa Fane is 17 and with London's Midlands City Ballet, a school and dance company just building its reputation with an Italian tour, first stop Venice. Pippa has been selected for the corps de ballet, but the ballet mistress, Angharad Fullerton, sees bigger possibilities in her (in more ways than one, alas), despite the company director Humphrey Blair's occasional reluctance.

Pippa is immediately overcome by the romance and beauty of Venice--and then by the romance and beauty of Nicolò, the young gondolier she meets on her first night (and keeps serendipitously encountering everywhere she turns). Nicolò is of relatively humble origins, but conveniently speaks fluent English and has impressive connections as the private gondolier and protégé of a local Marchesa (the latter one of Godden's classic imposing women with hearts of gold), though his motives for romancing Pippa are mostly about the uses he can make of her in his pop band. (Pippa is a savant, as blessed as a singer as she is as a dancer.)

The novel begins much like a Mabel Esther Allan story—luscious setting, innocent girl (almost preternaturally innocent, in fact, considering the novel was published in 1994—Godden seems to have believed teenage girls hadn't changed since the 1950s), hopeless romance, golden opportunity thanks to an injury incurred by another dancer. It's quite charming, and initially reminiscent of Godden's earlier classic about a ballet school, the postwar A Candle for St Jude, which I loved and reviewed in the same post linked above. 


To some extent, too, the novel continues to read like it's from the 1950s rather than the 1990s, and if it had maintained that old-fashioned appeal, I might be giving it a thumbs up right now. But it’s very much as if some sleazy publisher read Godden's original manuscript and demanded that she "sex it up" in order to sell to 1990s readers. (Come to think of it, that might very well have actually happened.) Sadly, she took his advice.

It's clear from early in the story that Angharad, the dance mistress, has eyes for Pippa (and has apparently been infatuated with other young students in the past, as Pippa's friend Juliet tries to warn her):

'I understand myself only too well,' Angharad would have said had she been honest, and she seemed to see Pippa that morning as she had been in Angharad's bi-weekly class: 'lissome' was the word that came to Angharad for Pippa, lissome but strong; her skin had the cool smoothness of a petal. In Angharad's work she had, physically, to correct legs, arms, hands, necks and heads; it was a continual naked but legitimate touching - but Pippa's skin was so delicate that, 'Don't go into the hot sun,' Angharad wanted to tell her, knowing quite well Pippa would go into the sun. 'Well, the young throw away, with both hands, what they have.' Pippa's hair was brown - 'Mouse,' she would have said; Angharad knew how silky it was from when she had to alter the tilt of her head. Her eyes were deep blue and Angharad had seen how the long lashes curled against her cheek when Pippa, who had been so shy at first, looked at the floor every time Angharad came near her. 'And she works so hard and willingly in her efforts to please. If only she knew how she pleases me,' Angharad wanted to cry, but now in the office with Humphrey she managed to say, in her normal calm voice, 'Yes, I am keen. Call it instinct, Humphrey.'

Not a lot of doubt about what's going on there...

SPOILER ALERT:

I can't really talk about the strangely conflicted nature of this novel without spoiling a climactic moment, so if you are eager to read the novel, by all means stop here (and come back to finish the post after you've regretted your decision…).

So, we know that Angharad is infatuated with Pippa. Well and good, if perhaps slightly creepy considering Pippa’s youth. But most Godden fans will be quite surprised when Angharad maneuvers to have Pippa stay in her apartment "for her protection", premeditatedly gets her drunk at a nice restaurant, and then proceeds to, we could euphemistically say, assault her, but in fact it seems clear even from Godden's relatively veiled language that it's a rape pure and simple. Pippa fights her off and escapes, traumatized and bleeding, not quite the passive creature our sexual predator had expected, and finds Nicolò sleeping in his gondola nearby. He takes her to the Marchesa, who comforts Pippa.

Now, what bothers me here is not that the novel includes a rape scene. Such things do happen, and Godden had every right to explore the issues (she had previously wrestled with prostitution in Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy, and done so surprisingly effectively—and with far more of a modern sensibility and insight than in Pippa). It's not even that her compassionate approach to the victim (one of the Marchesa's first statements is "Poor Angharad") might rub some readers the wrong way in 2021. Compassion is entirely in keeping with Godden's philosophy, and is one of the things her fans love about her. (Though I might say that, again, the idea of a successful lesbian—in the ballet world, no less!—who is closeted and so desperately lonely as to rape a young girl, again suggests that Godden was not exactly up-to-date on the world around her in 1994). 

But what makes Pippa Passes a bit of a train-wreck, in my opinion, despite it's lovely setting and a charming, if rather vaguely delineated, heroine, is the bizarre insertion of a Jackie Collins scene into a Mabel Esther Allan story (and the later scene when Pippa has sex with Nicolò, though less disturbing because consensual, is somehow almost as awkward and off-putting in Godden's elegant language, again as if she felt she had to move with the times). There's such a conflict between the 1950s-ish sensibility that dominates most of the novel and the 1990s salaciousness of these two scenes that the novel feels absolutely anachronistic and jarring. It's difficult to imagine any reader of the novel who would not be either irritated by the unrealistically naïve and silly Pippa, or startled or offended by the sexual scenes disrupting their otherwise cozy read.

All in all, then, my advice to Godden aficionados, or those who are only just discovering her, is to stick with (and savor with all the delight and enthusiasm they deserve) her brilliant work from the 1930s into the 1960s—Black Narcissus, An Episode of Sparrows, A Candle for St Jude, The Greengage Summer, Kingfishers Catch Fire, In This House of Brede, China Court, etc. There are bits and pieces of the Godden magic in her later novels, but go to the treasures first. And unless you’re particularly intrigued by the idea of the heroine of a girls’ school story being set down in the middle of a 90s Cinemax movie, keep your distance from Pippa Passes.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

It was the least I could do: Pandemic book shopping

Just wanted to share how selflessly I've been supporting booksellers in the U.S. and the U.K. (and perhaps one or two in New Zealand) in the past year.


Of course, the cynics among you will assume that I've done this partly for selfish reasons. Not at all. I mean, for heaven's sake, who on earth actually wants a pile of old books like this?! Nope, it's all been purely out of the goodness of my heart.

And if you think that this pile suggests that I got a bit carried away while sheltering in place, perhaps I shouldn't mention that there are actually many more, but these were the most photogenic and blog-relevant... (Nor does it include a tiny bit of D. E. Stevenson purchasing that I highlighted here.) You'll even get reviews of at least a handful of these, which surely makes it all worthwhile. You see how good I am to you?

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

"He looks as though the police were after him": CAMILLA TRACY, Cousin Charles (1950)

"Look, Lydia, there's Charles running away over there. Shall we call him? Where is he going?"
"Into the woods. He looks as though the police were after him." 
"Oh, I expect Cousin James has just been horrid to him again," Penelope said, turning the pony's head for another jump. 
And Lydia, herself: "We'll say he's gone the other way if they come to look for him." For when all was said and done you had to defend that Charles. He was your cousin.
Camilla Tracy's charming, quirky, slightly uneven, one and only novel begins with Penelope and Lydia Goodwin visiting with cousins Thérèse Kelly (Tessa) and Charles Goodwin at the family estate of Campion. None of the girls particularly like Cousin Charles, who has a rather prickly personality, no doubt largely because of his emotionally abusive father, but there is a certain curiosity nevertheless, and they like his father even less.


Campion is now owned by their quirky childless cousin Norman, who loathes all men out of principle, and his sister Eleanor, a classic delicate lady with a heart condition, and it's not long before we realize that speculation is already afoot about who his chosen heir will be. The family's relationships are dizzying—Norman and Eleanor's mother divorced their father and remarried, producing more sons, so that the family tree included at the beginning of the book is essential indeed. (Surely, there must be an autobiographical element there—it's hard to imagine a first-time author producing such a complex cast of characters.) But the only other characters who really feature centrally are Norman's mother, Isabelle Kelly, who has been residing in Paris with her artist son Frederick and his daughter Tessa, and Hamilton Sheppey, the son of Norman's solicitor, who befriends Tessa and harbors undisclosed romantic feelings for her, and Miss Yates, initially a governess and then a sort of companion/housekeeper to Norman.

As Isabelle and Frederick lead a rather bohemian life and Tessa is beginning to grow up, they ask Norman to take over her care. From there, the novel makes sudden leaps forward in time, to the period of Tessa's coming out and her first balls, around the time that Isabelle and Frederick relocate to London and come back into her life, and then, with nary a mention of approaching war, to the very end of WWII and beyond. Lydia becomes a journalist, Penelope marries and has children, Tessa becomes more intrigued by Charles after he nearly marries an heiress but drops her at the last moment, and then succeeds in making his own small fortune.

In some ways, it's rather a muddle (and no doubt this muddled summary makes it sound even more so). It was difficult for me to get a handle on what the novel was actually about, though there were lots of charming and sometimes very funny passages. There is always, in the background, speculation about the future of Campion, and it emerges that Charles has his own ambitions about the property, but ultimately I don't think its main concern is with money matters. It seems, like so many other novels of the period, to really be about the symbolics of grand old houses and their gradual deterioration. Among the obscurities I've reviewed and/or that we've reprinted, Rachel Ferguson's Evenfield and A. M. Champney's Miss Tiverton Goes Out cover similar ground, as do even works as varied as Gone with the Wind and Rebecca.


It's also very much about nostalgia. Penelope and Lydia have fond memories of times spent at Campion, but view it primarily from a practical standpoint. Tessa, who spent the last part of her childhood there on her own, sees it as a place of isolation and comes to dread the house. Norman primarily treats it as a gift he will bestow on the most deserving person (though his final decision is the least practical of all the options). But for Charles it's something very different. Victim of a bullying father (also a good-for-nothing, gambling, manipulative freeloader), Charles found some of his only childhood happiness at Campion, where he could elude his father for long periods of time. For Charles, Campion symbolizes the possibility of happiness and represents the key to finally escaping his father's influence once and for all.

There are some really amusing passages here and there. For instance, Charles teaching Tessa the basics of ballroom small talk at her first ball:

The wailing throb of "Night and Day" carried them round the room again, then Charles, a little absently said: "Been to many dances lately?"

She had dealt with this six times already during the evening and answered mechanically:

"No, you see this is my first one."

Charles gave a little snort of laughter.

"That's quite the wrong answer. You ought to say: 'Every night this week—I'm really too exhausted to crawl.'"

"But I'm not."

"Is it really your first one? Are you enjoying it?"

"Yes, I think it's lovely."

"That's all wrong, isn't it?" he said, tightening his hold on her. "You ought to say the band's rather bad or just drawl: 'Are you going to the Poglingtons to-morrow?' or something like that."

"Then what do you say?"

"Me? Oh, I don't bother to answer. Why should I? I yawn and start talking to someone over my left shoulder."

"Do you? How very polite. Then what do we say?"

"Nothing. We have four minutes' silence. Then probably if I'm feeling very garrulous, I say, 'Been to any good shows?'"

"I suppose I wouldn't be allowed to like any of them if I had?"

"Certainly not. They're all too frightful for words. After that the conversation dies down again."

"We don't seem to be getting on very well, do we?"

"We're getting on beautifully. If either of us said anything more original the other would drop dead from shock."

But the only character I felt really attached to here was Lydia, and it's on her the other two passages I'll share focus. First off, how I relate to the demon that haunts her appearance:

Lydia seemed to have changed very little, Tessa thought, when Hamilton brought her to the house three-quarters of an hour later. Her hair was now cut short, but her dark eyes were still popping with curiosity, and she was—as she always had been—slightly untidy. But this she explained later was no fault of hers. She invariably started from home immaculately neat, but she had been haunted all her life by a personal demon who unhooked her clothes, loosened her buttons and disordered her hair before she arrived anywhere. There was nothing to be done about it unless she got herself exorcised.

And then there's the mystery novel she proposes to write:

"It's the hardest thing in the world to do—you have no idea what you're scoffing at," Lydia said, leaning across the table and forgetting to eat. "And mine's going to be in the highest tradition. I shall have an Oxford don for the detective, quoting such obscure poetry that nobody will be able to recognise or understand it. Then my minor characters will be so whimsical and engaging that every time one of them speaks, you'll shake with laughter and dissolve into tears simultaneously. The murderer—no, I think the murderess—will be an old lady of ninety-five who collects variegated seaweed."

I'm sure I'm not the only one who rather wishes Camilla Tracy had proceeded to write just such a mystery!

It's all a bit uneven, though such high points make it a pleasurable read. It drags here and there, as the plot seems to meander, but bang! the ending is really quite effective, and ties things together tidily. All in all then, if Cousin Charles isn't quite a buried treasure, it was still well worth a bit of digging to retrieve it. And that cover!

By the way, I hadn't done any substantial research on Tracy until after finishing the book. Her real name was Vera Benedicta Gage, born in London in 1899, and her teens must have been difficult, as she lost both of her parents (father in 1912, mother in 1916). On the 1939 England & Wales Register, she is listed as an artist, married to one Francis L. Birch. And her gravestone (in St. Peter's Churchyard in East Sussex) reveals that she was an Honourable, daughter of the 5th Viscount Gage. She lived until 1983, and it's rather sad she apparently never picked up the pen again.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The pretentious lady goes to Paris: MARTIN HARE, Diary of a Pensionnaire (1935)


I'm beginning to wonder just how many novels there were which were inspired by the success of E. M. Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady and its sequels. Just among books I've reviewed in the past year or so, there's Maud Batchelor's The Woman of the House and Elena Shayne's Everyday, quite different books but both surely inspired by Delafield.

And then there's Diary of a Pensionnaire, by Martin Hare, pseudonym of Lucy Zoe Girling, married name Zajdler. Presumably based at least loosely on Hare/Girling's real life situation, the diarist is a woman who has been left in a Paris pension due to her Polish husband's being suddenly called back to Poland, and the novel is her humorous record of the habits and eccentricities of her fellow pensionnaires. It begins, rather promisingly:

Curious desire, said to be shared by practically all wives, to know what it feels like to be a widow, at last gratified as husband is removed for indefinite period by Paris-Warsaw rapide from Gare du Nord. I weep; Yasha weeps. Pretty French vendeuse, in overall of peculiarly repulsive pink, flirts with conductor who ought to be attending to Yasha's bedding, and sprays him with perfume from tray slung round neck. Unfortunately sprays me also but omits to apologise. Creep out of the Gare very dispirited, inadvertently leave new gloves in autobus, and regain suburban Pension, kept by old friend of Yasha's, where have been hurriedly dumped to await his return. Unsuspected, but characteristic, deficiency of necessary papers responsible for inability to enter Poland with him at twenty-four hours' notice. No expectation of sleep.

(Of course, the next entry then begins, "Convinced of extreme personal heartlessness by excellence of night just passed.")

Thus on page two I was settling in for, at the least, an entertaining evening or two of amusing Delafield-esque humor. Even if it doesn't match up to Delafield herself, I thought (and none of these books really do--when the gods created the provincial lady, they threw away the mold), it must certainly be entertaining and good for some chuckles, right? I mean, how bad could it be?

And there were indeed some chuckles:

Interesting discussion during dejeuner as to surgical processes undergone by various music-hall favourites. Quiet Gentleman who takes patent medicine before each course declares that a certain lady has had les seins lifted so often that le nombril is now completely lost to sight. Cannot believe this to be true.

And the afternoon our lady spends with a school friend's joyless daughter Vera, who feels that "the true object of life is to Pass on Happiness," is suitably provincial lady-esque. ("Should like to tell her that she has certainly not Passed on Happiness today, but refrain.")


But, like in one of those eerie films where someone goes to an idyllic locale that initially seems perfect before little distressing things begin to happen, it soon became clear that something was a bit off with our pensionnaire. It might have been when she goes out shopping and finds her cheerful mood fading when she realizes that the men around her are paying her insufficient attention (though she assures us they always do when her husband is around). Or perhaps it's when she discovers that two friendly women who share a room are lesbians and is clearly distressed and worried that they are interested in her--though not worried enough to avoid them, as this presents her with a

unique occasion for finding out How It Is Done, which does not sound so morbid an enquiry in French language as in English. Blonde lady, when sounded, as veiled and unilluminating as all the books I have ever read on or around the subject.

And then there are the instances of what I found more poor taste than humor, as when the pensionnaire spots what appears to be a dead dog floating in the Seine, or her ongoing speculations about an elderly woman under whose chair there is always a mysterious puddle ("Must ask somebody what this can be, as it surely cannot be what it most resembles."). Was an elderly woman's incontinence widely considered hilarious in 1935?

In short, I managed something like 100 pages before realizing that the small bits of genuine humor here and there were far outweighed by my overall distaste for a narrator who always manages to feel superior to those around her. She is, I realized, the opposite of Delafield's wonderful, self-effacing heroine. In Delafield, the humor is in the diarist's own inability to fit in or maintain grace under pressure, something many of us can relate to very much. By contrast, our pensionnaire is always the one who's right, and those around her are merely ridiculous or embarrassing, and quite inferior. I don't relate to that at all. 

Far from making me feel cozy and comforted, this book was entirely bad for my blood pressure. Which just goes to reinforce yet again what a delicate balance this sort of writing must maintain, and what a genius Delafield herself was. 

Some of Hare/Girling's other novels sound almost as irresistible as this one sounded in reviews. It looks like I also have If This Be Error (1934) on my shelves, as well as Polonaise (1940), which I attempted once years ago and got side-tracked from (I don't recall actively disliking it, just happened to put it aside). So perhaps I'll see if either of those work for me. But I can't say that Diary of a Pensionnaire has inspired in me any particular eagerness to be inside this author's head again...

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Well worth a migraine or two: MOLLY CLAVERING, Touch Not the Nettle (1939)

You might recall (well, I kind of hope you recall) that a few weeks ago I announced the nine new Furrowed Middlebrow titles coming from Dean Street Press in June. I’ve reviewed most of the new titles elsewhere, but it’s those I’ve never got round to that haunt me.

In particular, having had the astonishing good fortune of finding a copy of Molly Clavering’s Susan Settles Down on eBay, I have to try to convey the excitement not only of getting, not too many months later, to read Clavering’s other three delightful Scottish comedies from the 1930s--Love Comes Home, Yoked with a Lamb, and Touch Not the Nettle--but also realizing (and letting out a giddy shriek that sent Andy through the roof, no doubt) that the last was a sequel to Susan.


To set the scene a bit, I’ve had a lot of excuses over the years for not getting round to writing about books, but these three did pose their own unique challenges. Without going into detail about the circumstances, and never mind how much indebted I am to the diligent soul who undertook this task, these books actually came to me photographed--meticulously, patiently, heroically, self-sacrificingly snapped, page-by-page, in some sacrosanct library which shall remain nameless (I didn’t ask which one, but the options are very limited), probably in violation of library policies (though I’m not entirely sure why that should be). These photos were carefully quality-checked and then compiled into three staggeringly large PDFs, which I was able, with some difficulty, to read on my Kindle.

Because the photos were presumably taken with at least a certain amount of surreptitiousness, they were shot at an angle, close to the desk they were resting on, meaning the top lines of each page were rather small and the bottom lines were large. But they were all readable, which was the only thing that really mattered, and what’s an occasional migraine in exchange for getting to read a Molly Clavering novel I never thought I’d so much as glimpse? They’re all terrific, but of course the high point was when I first opened Touch Not the Nettle and discovered familiar characters that I could hang around with for another 250 pages!

The most frustrating part of the reading process, actually, was that I’d be completely engrossed and wanting the book to go on forever, but my eyes would reach an absolute saturation point having read about 50 pages this way on any given day, so I would have to stop in media res, yearning for more. Other books, however good, paled by comparison.

Perfectly readable (at first)

Of course none of this is really a good excuse for not making decent notes as I read and being able to write proper reviews, but I’m afraid my enthusiasm for reading the books got away from my blogging instincts. However, I have just unearthed, as I’ve been sorting through the debris of the past few months and trying to get on top of things again, two quotations from Touch Not the Nettle that I had made notes of. Hopefully they’ll give a hint of what my undoubtedly brilliant full-scale review would have contained…

First off, Susan and her friend Peggy are discussing how difficult it is to get good help these days:

“Well, never mind her, Susan dear. There’s no need to worry about superior parlourmaids here,” said Peggy. “I’ve got a new house-tablemaid, like a young cart-horse, and about as destructive. She only came five days ago, and she’s broken something every day. And yesterday I told her she was to wait at lunch, and what do you think she did? Shut the dining room door, pulled out a chair, and sat down on it—to wait! Of course, Oliver began to laugh, and I had to tell her just to go away. She has done one good thing, though, and that was to smash the awful vase that the Miss Pringles gave Oliver and me for a wedding present. She managed that the day before yesterday.”

“Never!” exclaimed Susan. “Not that funerary urn painted with mud-coloured roses and magenta leaves?”

 

Peggy nodded solemnly, her blue eyes dancing. “It was in about seven pieces, so Oliver took them out to the tool-shed and pounded them to dust with a hammer.”

I still laugh when I read that. Subtle psychological humor it ain’t, but how often have I possessed items I would have liked to finish off with a hammer!

Next, if for no other reason I wish Clavering had written a whole series of novels about Susan so that we could have had more memorable visits from the ludicrous but intimidating Miss Pringles:

“Susan! The Miss Pringles!” she hissed, snatching the baby from his perambulator and flying with him into the house as if bloodhounds were at her heels.

The passionate desire for escape at any cost to which Peggy had so spontaneously yielded was a sensation all too frequently felt by acquaintances of the three Miss Pringles on seeing those notable women bearing down upon them. The Miss Pringles never merely arrived or came—their action was that of a small fleet of pirate vessels swooping on some rich prize and cutting it out from its attendant convoy.

Oh dear. One really wants a film adaptation to get a full visual.

But I’ll leave you with a quote from nearly the beginning of the novel, which reminded me that Susan was my kind of character:

“Old age really must be creeping upon me at last,” said Susan. “I find more and more that what I most enjoy is a quiet evening at home by the fire, with a book…"

Naturally, her quiet evening is almost immediately disrupted--by a visit from young Amanda, a relative whose ace pilot husband is missing (and none too sorely missed), complications with the embittered Larry Heriot and his spiteful sister Ruth, difficulties with the aforementioned, formidable Misses Pringle, and much more. Of course, it all works out in the end, but not before some distressing confusion, grave misunderstandings, and rollicking adventures. And in these early novels even more than the later ones, Molly Clavering offers vivid descriptions of scenery and local color throughout.

I’ve really grown quite infatuated with dear Molly, and I can’t wait for folks to get a chance to read more of her come June.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Credit where credit is due: DIANA SOUHAMI, No Modernism without Lesbians (2020)


I had to write about this book here because it might have been written with me in mind, and if the assertion of its title at first seems like hyperbole, by the last page you'll likely feel that, if anything, it's an understatement.

My interest in modernism goes back to my first discovery of literature and what it can do. My love for Gertrude Stein knows no bounds. And I have a particular interest in women writers and other creatives who haven't gotten the attention they deserve. Of the four women Diana Souhami spotlights here, one is an author included on my British & Irish Women Writers of Fiction list, one is the founder of the most famous bookstore of the period and the first publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses, one was an American who inspired lesbian artists (and others) worldwide, and one, well, one is Gertrude Stein, always named as one of the most important writers of the period even by people who can't bear to read her.

As soon as I came across No Modernism without Lesbians while browsing Book Depository around the New Year, I ordered it, and it turns out I'm far timelier than I usually am in writing this post, as the American edition is due on May 1. Diana Souhami has made a brilliant career out of documenting the most famous and influential lesbian artists of the 20th century, including writers Radclyffe Hall and Gertrude Stein, painters Hannah Gluckstein and Romaine Brooks, and great-grandmother of Camilla Parker-Bowles, Alice Keppel, and her daughter Violet Trefusis, novelist and lover of Vita Sackville-West. Her latest book clearly stems from the boundless research she has done on lesbian life, art, and culture in the first half of the century, and she seems to know everything about everyone who mattered during this period.


The first section of the book, about Sylvia Beach, was perhaps the most packed with new information for me. It's hard to believe what Beach—who had moved to Paris from the U.S. and opened the famous Shakespeare & Company bookstore across the street from her partner Adrienne Monnier's French-language bookshop—was willing to sacrifice of herself and her resources (and occasionally her friends' resources) in order to usher into print the greatest novel of the 20th century (according to the Modern Library), or at least the most famous and influential, and perhaps the most talked about and judged by people who haven't read it.

I confess that, having read Ulysses twice back in my foolish youth (undoubtedly without understanding most of it), I had rather expected never to tackle it again. But reading of Beach's passion for the book, her selfless aid to Joyce and his family (scarcely acknowledged and never repaid), and her unfailing belief that it was the crucial literary work of its time, so inspired me that I purchased a new copy of Ulysses—the extensively annotated Oxford World's Library edition, no less, weighing in at a bit over 1,000 pages.


I thought it would be interesting to see how I would experience it now, a hundred years later. It's still on my TBR shelves at the moment, but even just sitting there, and even despite the fact that it must seem distinctly old hat for today's literature students, it still somehow has the power to make me feel a bit edgy and avant-garde. It brings to mind how modern fiction helped me to break out of oppressive small town life (not coincidentally, modernists often wrote about doing just that) and out of a soul-destroying family life (ditto many moderns), and how reading Woolf and Joyce and Hemingway and Proust gave me a much-needed boost to find my own way. I actually recall carrying Ulysses with me to a public swimming pool in Washington DC, aged 25 or 26, presumably imagining that folks around me would be impressed, when of course most of them had surely either never heard of the book or had read it and merely thought it odd reading for poolside. Lord, what a little idiot I was, but also, how amazing the power of literature to change our lives and help us on our way. Flailing my way through Ulysses was part of what made me who I am today (however unlikely that might seem).

Also of particular interest was the section about Bryher, a fascinating figure whose excellent Blitz novel, Beowulf, I've mentioned here multiple times. Souhami mentions Beowulf only once, suggesting that Bryher was already at work on it during the Blitz itself, though it was not published until 1956. (I should note that Beowulf has now been reprinted in paperback and e-book—had that new edition not already been in process, it was high on my wish list for our WWII batch of books a couple of years back.)

But Bryher was much more than a novelist. Apart from her writing, her claims to fame include being the partner of American poet and novelist H.D. (Hilda Dolittle); helping Robert McAlmon finance the Contact Press in Paris (first publisher of an extraordinary array of young modernists—including Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, and William Carlos Williams); supporting James Joyce and his family before Joyce became world famous (what would Joyce have done without lesbian sugarmamas??); starting the experimental film company POOL; and lending financial support to Freud and the early psychoanalytic movement in Austria. This not to mention helping Jewish refugees escape from Germany in the years before WWII. I knew about many of Bryher's accomplishments already, but, supplemented by Souhami's revelations, I am in greater awe of her than ever.

Some of the interactions in No Modernism without Lesbians, and the accomplishments, will be familiar to even the most casual fans of modern art or fiction, but there are hundreds of little tidbits that I didn't know—connections I had never made, realizations that two things always encountered separately were happening simultaneously and shared much of the same energy. And in addition to Beach, Bryher, Stein, and Natalie Barney, the four women highlighted, there are cameo appearances by the likes of James Joyce (obviously), Djuna Barnes, Romaine Brooks, Dolly Wilde, Truman Capote, Marlene Dietrich, Janet Flanner, Greta Garbo, Radclyffe Hall, Winnaretta Singer, and Violet Trefusis, among others.

NMWL will make fascinating reading for anyone who enjoyed Square Haunting, The Love-Charm of Bombs, or other similar evocations of creative folk sharing the same swirl of cultural upheaval, and influencing, inspiring, and even repulsing one another in the process.

Friday, March 26, 2021

“My novels are hard not to put down”: IVY COMPTON-BURNETT, Men and Wives (1931)


I’m setting myself a bit of a challenge writing about Ivy Compton-Burnett, because Dame Ivy is a notoriously challenging author to write about (as well as to read). I love that she had the self-awareness to quip about her perpetual lack of mainstream popularity despite considerable critical acclaim (as quoted in the title of this post). And indeed, since her death in 1969, her books have continued to receive enthusiastic acclaim from the few while dodging any wider fanbase and peeping sporadically in and out of print.

Her original publisher, Gollancz, took the extraordinary step of releasing complete sets of her books in hardcover as late as 1984—something that happens with precious few modern authors and which reflects how seriously she was taken. Virago and Penguin Modern Classics published most of her novels in the 80s and 90s. The prestigious New York Review Books Classics have kept two of her titles, A House and Its Head (1935) and Manservant and Maidservant (1947), in print for a couple of decades now. In more recent years, Bloomsbury released e-books of most of her work (even including her disowned, autobiographical debut, Dolores (1911), the only one of her books not written in more or less the same unique, uncompromising style—primarily told via implausibly formal, philosophical dialogue and focused obsessively on the darker elements of nuclear family life in late Victorian years). Now, it appears that even those e-book versions have largely lapsed back out of print, so for her fans, few as they may be, it will be back to trolling second-hand shops and academic libraries to get hold of her.

Speaking of which, I must have discovered Dame Ivy when NYRB Classics released their two titles in about 2001. I loved both of them and went trolling second-hand shops for more. At a (now long defunct) bookstore on Irving Street in San Francisco, as I happily seized on and purchased a couple of her out-of-print titles, I remember being told by the owner that I would have had a wider selection to choose from but only a few days before, film director John Waters had been in the store and stocked up on Compton-Burnett himself. “You’re in good company,” she told me. Certainly interesting company, at least (whether John Waters would appreciate being called “good company” might be in some doubt), and I was sure I was on to something.


During my Dame Ivy kick of 2001-2002, I read six of her novels, and in the years since I’ve read a couple more, so Men and Wives makes my ninth in all, and my first since 2013. Though I always think of her as a favorite and even an “important” author, both generally and in my reading life, my sporadic indulgence in her work hardly suggests ardent passion, does it? And yet, when I noticed that, rather surprisingly, the San Francisco Public Library had five of her less well-known titles, I spontaneously put in holds for all five, and as soon as I glanced at the opening pages of Men and Wives, I fell headlong into it, shunting aside the other books I was already reading.

There’s usually a monster in Dame Ivy’s tales—often an egomaniacal, dictatorial parent. Here, that’s clearly Lady Harriet Haslam, a self-absorbed malingerer who whines and moans and stifles her three sons and one daughter as well as her dithering husband, Sir Godfrey. As with most of many members of this coveted character category (especially, it seems, in novels by women in this time period), Lady Harriet lavishes affection only with strings attached, and laces her devotions with scolds and mockery and devaluations:

“I am a torment to you all, and a burden on your hours that you never escape! But I am as much of a burden on my own, ten thousand times more of a burden. Griselda, my darling, don’t look distressed; don’t waste a thought on your harrowing old mother. Don’t think of me. Be happy.”

Ah, how many characters in novels by authors ranging from Barbara Pym to Richmal Crompton and from Elizabeth Eliot to D. E. Stevenson might have uttered those very same words! (And how they bring back memories of my own mother…)

But Lady Harriet has apparently behaved in this way for too long and her power has somewhat abated. Her children are grown, though still unmarried, and are no longer so easily cowed, and they and Sir Godfrey seem to share a subtle, mutually understood resistance to her, even while Sir Godfrey spouts his adoration and respect with every breath. Harriet is driven to more extreme measures, which I won't detail here, but even in her defeat (if that’s what it is) we see her influences passed on and her claws scratching at those around her.


There’s far too much here to unpack and summarize. There’s Bellamy the rector, whose wife has left him and set her sights first on the local doctor and then on Harriet’s oldest son. There’s Mr. Spong, a neighbor, who loses his wife and attaches himself, rather depressingly, to the Haslam family during their ups and downs. There’s a household of widowed and unmarried sisters, always available to comment on the misfortunes of others. And there’s the impassive butler Buttermere, before whom all censor their discussions, though he clearly couldn’t care less about any of them.

It will all sound familiar to anyone who has read one or more of Dame Ivy’s books. They’re all very much the same, though some are livelier than others, some more outright funny in their pitch black sort of way. To a large extent, they’re interchangeable (even to their titles, which are always conjunctive—Daughters and Sons, Parents and Children, The Mighty and Their Fall, The Present and the Past, etc.). And yet, there truly is something about them. I found myself thinking of Greek tragedy while reading Men and Wives—Aeschylus domesticated for the nuclear family but retaining many of the rudiments—passions, malice, vengeance, hubris, domination, jealousy—similarly stylized and formal, and always featuring a chorus of subsidiary characters to comment on the mayhem.

These novels are hard not to put down (at about the halfway point of Men and Wives, I found myself considering starting a different book, for a break if nothing else—the intensity, even leavened by dark humor, does take it out of one), but I resisted the urge, and ultimately, at the end of it all, I did—as I have eight times before—feel I’d experienced something rather awesome.

And now, there’s four more of Dame Ivy’s books on my shelves. Do I feel like another awesome experience right away?

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Tweet tweet?

I remembered just in the past couple of days that March 10th was officially the eighth anniversary of my blog. Though I have sometimes been an abysmally bad blogger, or a mysteriously absent blogger, there are some of you who might have actually been reading the blog for eight years now (and a big thank you for that, as well as to those who found me more recently).

A few years ago, not long after I started working as a co-publisher of Furrowed Middlebrow books with Dean Street Press (our first books were released in 2016, which also seems impossible--time really does fly!), Rupert at Dean Street suggested it might be a good idea for me to have a Twitter presence. Four and a half years later, I've decided to follow his suggestion. (You see what Rupert has to put up with working with me--it takes a while for an idea to sink in.)

Yep, believe it or not, there is now a Furrowed Middlebrow Twitter account, @FurrowedMiddle, and I've now issued my first profound tweets. For those who know nothing about Twitter (i.e. me, about two weeks ago), there's a maximum length of 15 characters for a Twitter handle, "FurrowedMiddlebrow" is 18 characters, you do the math. Andy and I brainstormed for abbreviations, clever variants, etc., but they were all either too distant from the blog name or even more lame, so @FurrowedMiddle it is.

I have to explain what finally seduced me into becoming a twit (surely there should be an umbrella term for folks who tweet, and that's the obvious one). A couple of weeks ago, Rupert emailed and said (paraphrasing), "I know you're not into Twitter, but you might want to have a look, as Lissa Evans [television producer/director and author of novels including Their Finest Hour and a Half and Crooked Heart] and Lucy Mangan [Guardian journalist and author of bestselling non-fiction including most recently Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading] have been tweeting about our books." Good heavens! This in addition to a mention at the Washington Post here, thanks to commenter "kate208"…

So I figured out the password to the personal account I hadn't used since 2014, logged in, was suitably impressed and appreciative to be getting such kind and wondrous attention, and then ... got completely sucked in and starting reading tweets from everyone I could think of (authors, fellow bloggers, publishers, maybe just a quick glance at Cher's--whew she's intense!), decided this was pretty cool, discovered that Hermione Lee's next bio is of Anita Brookner which sounds like a dream come true, discovered Francesca Wade's next book will be about Gertrude Stein which, ditto, and now I'm hooked.

I'm hoping that Twitter will provide a way to share some of the author quotations, contemporary reviews, miscellaneous reading, random thoughts, and stray tidbits that I come across and think "I really should do something with this for the blog," but never get round to compiling into a post. Twitter is a bit more "ready aim fire" than a blog is. So I hope it will be entertaining for you in its own way, if you choose to follow. I'll also link to new blog posts, of course, so you can keep up with the blog that way as well.

I would also like to ask for help and suggestions from those of you who are also on Twitter. I'll be feeling my way for a time, so please don't hesitate to comment here or email me with ideas, tips, critiques, and cautionary tales.

Only a few days into my vacation and already getting into trouble...

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Coming back to life with D. E. Stevenson

Well now. This has been considerably more of a blog break than I originally planned. Apologies for that, and for depriving myself of the lovely feedback, support and inspiration I get from your comments.

I think I mentioned that right in the midst of my planned break of a couple of months, my colleague went out unexpectedly on what turned into a three and a half month medical leave. As our team (dealing with the legal side of child dependency cases) was not only deemed essential, but sadly saw a considerable increase in cases in the past year due to the added stress of covid and its related lockdowns, financial impacts, school closures, etc., this made for a quite intense few months for me. I was generally working from home three days a week, fortunately, which made all the extra work a bit more manageable (no commute time really does make quite a difference), but though I actually did quite a lot of reading, I was largely reading for sanity and survival and had no bandwidth left for sharing my thoughts (not that they would have tended to be worth sharing under the circumstances), nor did the idea of sitting at a computer to write blog posts seem enticing after spending far too much time every day in front of a computer anyway. The best I could do many nights was to sit with Andy watching TV or a movie, and then pass into a coma by 10:00 at the latest.

I wrote a very little bit about the reading I did late last year in my FM Dozen post after Christmas, but it wasn’t until a bit after that that I found myself, after too long an absence, once more reading that most revivifying of all authors—D. E. Stevenson, of course—and felt just the beginnings of an urge to rejoin the outside world. Around the same time, I started puttering with research on the 300+ new authors I’ve come across for my list since my last update there 30 or 40 years ago (or perhaps not quite that long, but it feels like it). Progress is slow, but that anything at all has been happening is encouraging, and I’ve already come across a couple of intriguing authors to explore (and added a couple of new books to my TBR shelves), which is always a source of inspiration to keep going with it…

But back to DES. Somehow I had reached the faulty conclusion that I had already read most of her best work, and what remained was only to be resorted to in case of dire need. There are the marvelous Miss Buncle books, of course, and the four Mrs Tim diaries, and other highlights like Spring Magic, The English Air, The Baker’s Daughter, and the Vittoria Cottage trilogy. Other quite good titles too. But I had been assuming that most of the rest were DES in “romance” or melodrama mode (or worse, in sci-fi or spy novel mode—though it's true that all of those efforts have their defenders, and in a pinch I’ll take any of them). Most importantly, I feared that they would lack her irresistible humor and playful charm.

A comment to that effect in an email to Jerri Chase—one of the world’s leading experts on DES—led to her setting me straight. (And whether or not that particular correspondence with Jerri had anything to do with any possibility that Dean Street Press might publish some of the remaining out-of-print DES titles is something I of course couldn’t possibly comment on at this juncture…) Ahem. But since Jerri was the one who had urged me to read Spring Magic when it was still languishing out of print and unappreciated, and since that book immediately became one of my favorites (and a popular reprint for DSP), I tend to listen to her recommendations…

My "little splurge"

So, I had a little splurge on Abe Books (using the term “little” quite loosely). DES’s books, especially the ones still out-of-print, are not cheap, and I’m really not a fan of the cheap Fontana or Collins paperback editions with their (often) ghastly, inappropriate covers. Factor in that some of these (and even some later hardcover editions) are abridged or otherwise edited from DES’s intent (see here for the definitive site by Susan Daly, another of the world experts on DES, with anything you could possibly want to know about her books, including the mistreatment they’ve received at the hands of other publishers), not to mention my fondness for intact dustjackets, and it was a foregone conclusion that I’d be finishing up my Christmas gift cards (and then some) in no time.


I began my DES renaissance with Young Mrs Savage, a 1949 title which combines immediate postwar concerns with a holiday story perfectly calibrated to soothe my COVID-deprived wanderlust. Dinah Savage is a young widowed mother of four who steadfastly rejects all offers of sympathy for her state but is nevertheless having trouble making ends meet, is tired all the time (aren’t we all these days?), and remains haunted by unresolved issues from her troubled marriage. Although I can’t claim that my distinctly benign winter stresses compare to those of Dinah’s, they were sufficient for me to be living vicariously through her when her twin brother Dan returns from the military, decides she simply must have a holiday (again, why does no one ever decide this about me?), and sends her to stay with their unflappable Nannie at Craigie Lodge, in a beautiful coastal town in Scotland.

No one who knows D. E. Stevenson’s work will have trouble fleshing out the events of the novel—old friends, new acquaintances, awkward misunderstandings, and perhaps the tentative beginnings of a new lease on life. But that makes it no less delightful to read, and DES has real insight into how one can overcome past unhappiness to make a fresh start. It was just what I needed at a challenging time, and it’s one to hold in store for a re-read when I again need some uplift.

From there, I moved to what I feared was dangerously late in DES's career (her final novels not being, by most counts, among her best). The Musgraves was published in 1960, and I feared melodrama or tormented love, but instead got an absolutely irresistible family story—set in the Cotswolds, no less, so just as satisfying, wanderlust-wise, as coastal Scotland.


Following the death of her beloved husband, Esther Musgrave believes she will never be happy again. But soon, her "natural buoyancy" and the problems and adventures of her three daughters—difficult, unmarried Delia, cheerful and practical Margaret, and young Kate just out of school—bring her pleasure and purpose anew. DES clearly has a liking for widows as heroines, and Esther, like Diana Savage, provides her with ample opportunity to show a woman (this time approaching middle age) beginning to re-embrace life after loss. There's the local Dramatic Club's troubled new production, the arrival of an attractive widow with a hint of scandal about her, and the return of Esther's long-estranged stepson.

Plus, although I didn't know it yet while reading, there's also a character here who recurs from The Tall Stranger, published three years earlier, a character readers may not be exactly happy to meet again, but whose appearance certainly adds some zest. (No spoilers!)

The story rollicks along in classic DES style, and I ate it up like candy. You know how much I love village stories, and this turned out to be an excellent one. Before moving on, though, I have to introduce the Bloggses, local residents, and provide a glimpse of their unique way of generously sharing their newest acquisition: 

Soon after the arrival of Puggy the Bloggses bought a 'telly'; (it was essential to have one, because all their neighbours had 'tellies') but none of them liked it much. The fact was they were all great talkers and they found it more interesting to exchange news of their daily doings and the gossip of Shepherdsford than to look at and listen to the daily doings of the outside world, and they soon discovered that it was more comfortable to sit and talk quietly than to shout and bellow at each other with the 'telly' turned on full blast. Of course they turned it on full blast when a neighbour dropped in to see them because that was the right thing to do, but neighbours often brought news—interesting news about other neighbours—which the Bloggses wanted to hear. 

"I dunno why we got the danged thing," declared Mr. Bloggs one evening when the 'telly' had been particularly troublesome. "I couldn't scarcely 'ear a word Danks was saying. It's just a nuisance, that's what." 

"I couldn't 'ear Mrs. Danks neither," said Mrs. Bloggs with a sigh. 

"We can turn it off now they've gone," said Flo, suiting the action to the word.

The Bloggses provided me a much-needed chuckle in all the craziness.

Immediately after, it happened that I turned to The Tall Stranger, not realizing the connection with The Musgraves. No need at all to read the two novels in any order--there is merely an overlap of one fairly significant character and mentions of a few others.


In The Tall Stranger (1957), we are introduced to Barbie France, who, following a sort of breakdown and a dreadful time in hospital in London, comes home to Underwoods, the lovely house in the Cotswolds where she grew up. Barbie's kind Aunt Amalie, her indomitable companion Miss Penney, and the beauties of nature aid her rapid recovery, only dampened by a troubled romance with Amalie's stepson Edward, a childhood friend Barbie hasn't seen in years and whose character seems to have changed in the intervening time.

When Barbie eventually returns to her successful career as a decorator, new challenges and pleasures await, include a delightful trip to a castle in Scotland, which bears fruit both professional and private, though difficulties with Edward have a way of persisting. Naturally, all works out for the best, and I couldn't stop reading this one either. It has very nearly the sparkle and spirit of a Miss Buncle or Spring Magic, and will certainly belong on a re-read list, too, whenever I need some inspiration or just a fantasy trip to the Cotswolds and Scotland!

I didn't take good notes on any of these, because I was only treading water at the time and my thoughts might not have borne repeating, but suffice it to say I loved all three of these "lesser-known" DES novels, and I owe a debt of gratitude (yet again) to the glorious D. E. Stevenson for providing some much needed literary therapy and making me feel like part of the real world again. Thanks also to Jerri for recommending these titles. And as you can see from the photo above, I have quite a few more to getting on with…

I should mention that my work colleague returned to work at the beginning of March, which is why I'm reasonably coherent and capable of writing this post. Not only that, but I'm taking a vacation next week to stay at home, read books, do research, get some exercise, and indulge in a couple of afternoon naps. So you might actually start hearing from me again more than every three months!

NOTE: The comment function on Blogger is notoriously cranky. If you're having problems, try selecting "Name/URL" or "Anonymous" from the "Comment as" drop-down (be sure to "sign" your comment, though, so I know who dropped by). Some people also find it easier using a browser like Firefox or Chrome instead of Internet Explorer.

But it can still be a pain, and if you can't get any of that to work, please email me at furrowed.middlebrow@gmail.com. I do want to hear from you!