If you read that delightful blog Savidge Reads (and if you don't, you really should) you will know that Simon Savidge's amazing Gran passed away recently. And now, in her honour, Simon has asked people to read one or more novels by her favourite author, Graham Greene, in the coming month. I think that's a great idea and I will be joining in. I've read and enjoyed a couple already and look forward to reading some more. There's even a helpful link to Greene's bibliography on Simon's blog. So let's get to it!
No, not David Cameron -- no giving up called for there, as I knew from the start he was going to be a dead loss. I'm talking about the penultimate novel in the Palliser series, which I chose rather at random as a follow on to the Barchester chronicles.
Could it be that my love affair with Anthony Trollope is over? I do so hope not -- perhaps it's just one of those temporary disagreements that will happen in any relationship, and which AT himself depicts so delightfully in so many great novels. But I'm afraid I have decided on a trial separation, at least from this novel, having read only half of it.
What happened? Well, Ferdinand Lopez happened. Lopez is a central character in the novel, and, though admittedly the first time we meet him he is behaving in a slightly dodgy way, I took to him tremendously. Intelligent, attractive and charming, he has won the heart of Emily Wharton and loves her sincerely in return. But the chances of their being able to marry seem slim, because Emily's father, a highly conservative QC, dislikes Lopez intensely. And why? Because not only does he have a foreign name -- said to be Portuguese -- but Wharton believes him to be Jewish and definitely (therefore) not a gentleman.
Now I thought Wharton was a ghastly old stick in the mud, and rejoiced when circumstances forced him to agree to the marriage, though I thought it was extremely mean of him to deny Emily the £60,000 he had intended to give her if she married the man he wanted her to marry, pretty, and pretty boring, Arthur Fletcher. The young couple could really have done with the money, as Lopez was trying to set himself up in business, which seemed to be something to do with importing guano from South America. I was also glad when he found favour with Glencora Palliser, the wife of the new prime minister, and hoped that with her support he would manage to get a seat in parliament.
But alas, as time went on, I saw that I was barking up the wrong tree, or backing the wrong horse, as far as Trollope was concerned. Glencora's husband disliked Lopez, probably for the same reasons as Wharton, and forced her to withdraw her support from him. So he didn't get elected, and I'm afraid he started behaving rather badly. And at this point, having had recourse to some summaries of the novel, I realised that things were going to go from bad to worse, and that's when I decided to give up.
That may seem very weedy of me, but unfortunately the novel was showing me aspects of Trollope which I found quite disturbing. I knew he was keen that men should be gentlemen, but I wasn't aware of how deeply this might affect his view of certain characters and in fact it was impossible not to think that he was showing himself as not only snobbish but also anti-semitic. And if that wasn't bad enough, he was evidently condemning Emily for marrying without her father's consent, and Glencora for making friends who her husband didn't like. Women should be obedient, seemed to be the message here.
Of course you could say that all this makes the novel even more interesting, and probably it does. Indeed I will certainly go back and finish it at some point. After all, why should we read novels only if we agree with the political and social views of their authors? And in any case, it seems to me that Trollope's attitude to Lopez must be ambivalent -- there's so much apparent sympathy for the man in the first chapter. So maybe I'm missing the point?
It's interesting, though, that this isn't the only novel of Trollope's that I've abandoned before the end. I did the same thing with Can You Forgive Her, because I got so irritated with Alice Vavasour, who dithered between two lovers and ended up choosing the boring one. And I've not re-read The Small House at Allington because of my irritation with Lily Dale. You might well say it was time I grew up and got a bit more objective -- time I started admiring Trollope's amazing skill in creating characters who are so real that people find themselves identifying with them too much, for better or worse.
For the moment, though, I'm giving this novel a rest. Not so for Trollope, though. I've just got my copy of Victoria Glendenning's biography, and I'm also planning to go back to the beginning of the Palliser novels, as I think it was a mistake to plunge in to such a late one. I suspect when I do start The Prime Minister again -- and I think that it's called for to start again at the beginning rather than go on from where I left off -- I shall be reading it from a rather different perspective. Just shows -- we're never too old to learn.
A kind occasional visitor to this blog sent me this picture a few days ago. It's by the Danish artist Poul Friis Nybo (1869-1929). For reasons that have never been clear to me, the Danish painters of this period had a special liking for painting women from the back. I have shown you a few on here before, and have some others lined up. This one is apparently coming up for auction at Christies, though I couldn't find it on their website, so if you are a rich art collector you can go along and buy it for yourself.
And now, if the reader will allow me to seize him affectionately by the arm, we will together take our last farewell of Barset and of the towers of Barsetshire. To me Barset has been a real county, and its city a real city, and the spires and towers have been before my eyes, and the voices of the people are known to my ears, and the pavement of the city ways are familiar to my footsteps. To them all I say farewell. That I have been induced to wander among them too long by my love of old friendships, and by the sweetness of old faces, is a fact for which I shall perhaps be more readily forgiven, when I repeat, with some solemnity of assurance, the promise made in my title, that this shall be the last chronicle of Barset.
So writes Trollope in the final paragraph of the final novel in this tremendous series. And I too have a hope, that the reader will excuse me if I say a small tear came into my eye when I got to the end and realised that I would never hear any more of the lives of so many people I have got to know and love (or hate) over the past few months of devouring the Barsetshire Chronicles. Actually when I say hate I tell a lie, because even the most monstrous characters -- most notably Mrs Proudie -- are impossible not to love or at least feel a terrible fascination with.
I have now read the whole series, including re-reading all the ones I had first encountered many years ago. All, that is, apart from The Small House at Allington, and there's a reason for that, which is that I'm afraid I cannot stand Lily Dale. Lily, who is the heroine of The Small House, reappears in this novel, and I was on tenterhooks -- as I'm sure Trollope fully intended us to be -- as to whether she would see the folly of her ways and accept the man who has loved her so steadfastly for so long. I suppose I'd better not say whether she does or not, because although there were times when I was sorely tempted to flick forward to see what the outcome was going to be, I managed to hold off, so I suppose I'd better avoid spoilers.
If you haven't read any of these novels you won't have an idea what I'm on about. Lily and her lover are in fact secondary to the main plot of this final novel, which deals with the agonising uncertainty surrounding the loss of a cheque for £20. That doesn't sound like much, does it? But according to Measuring Worth, it was the equivalent of about £1,500 in today's money. Quite a theft, then, in any circumstances, but when you know that the person suspected of stealing it is a clergyman, Mr Josiah Crawley, you will realise what a shocking situation this is.
Josiah Crawley is no ordinary clergyman. Born a gentleman (something of great importance to Trollope), with one of the most brilliant academic minds of his generation, he has lived for most of his life in abject poverty. This is the result, as Trollope is not slow to tell us, of the shocking inequality in the pay of the clergy. The total income of the Crawley household is £130 a year, a ridiculously small amount considering he has a wife, two daughters and a son. So for many years he, or rather his devoted wife, has accepted occasional handouts from his old friend Arabin, the Dean of Barchester, and his wife Eleanor. To say that Crawley is a proud man hardly encompasses the situation. He finds it almost unbearable that he sometimes has to accept money from his friend, but there are times when he cannot do otherwise to save his family from ruin. And as this novel begins, he has done just that -- unwillingly taken £50 in cash from Arabin. Soon afterwards, however, he has handed a cheque for £20 to the butcher, and it is this cheque that he is now accused of stealing. And unfortunately he is unable to account for where he got it from.
All this is bad enough, and for most of the novel Crawley is awaiting his trial and probably imprisonment. But matters are made much worse by the fact that his daughter Grace, a lovely and highly educated girl, has formed a relationship with Major Henry Grantly, the son of the Archdeacon. Henry is most anxious to marry Grace, but his father is furious, saying the marriage will bring disgrace to the family, and Grace will not consent to marry him unless his father is happy for her to do so.
Such are the nail-biting issues that make this final novel such an incredible page turner. I'm tempted to say that this has been my favourite novel of the series, but I expect I've felt that way about each of them in turn. But I have to say that Crawley is an absolutely fascinating character who, as I read somewhere, may have been at least partly based on Trollope's own father. He is both admirable and exasperating, brilliant and idiotic, sometimes almost insane but also the most principled and good hearted man you could hope to meet.
So -- a great joy to read, and to find that most peoples' lives are wrapped up in a pretty satisfactory way. A couple of them come to a final close, others make rather strange choices, but all in all it is possible to look forward to future happiness for the majority of these characters who have become so real over the course of these extraordinary novels. Hooray for Trollope, I say.
As the heatwave continues, I've been thinking I might take off for the beach tomorrow, complete with my new beach umbrella (€8.90 in Super U, a bargain, probably owing to the not terribly attractive mustard yellow colour) and of course a book.
These girls don't have an umbrella, but it looks like the sun is going down so it must be cool enough not to need one. The painter is Harold Harvey (1874-1941), and as he lived most of his life in Penzance, in Cornwall, I assume this -- just called On the Sands -- shows one of the very beautiful beaches in that lovely part of south west England.
The beach I'll be going to is one of the glorious ones on the Cancale peninsular, near St Malo, about 45 minutes drive from where I live. Not much further away is the beach in the picture below, painted by the Canadian artist Clarence Gagnon (1881-1942), entitled The Beach at Dinard. This must have been painted on a much cooler day than we are expecting tomorrow, judging by the fact that everyone is so fully clothed. Dinard is a lovely town but a bit too full of people for my liking.
Let me begin by saying that I have not read Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes, though everyone whose reviews of The Exiles Return I have read seems to have done so. If you have no idea what I am talking about, well, Edmund de Waal's book mentions his grandmother, Elizabeth de Waal, the author of this novel. Indeed the novel would probably never have got published had this not been the case. Written in the 1950s, it sat around for 60 years until Persephone brought it out recently for us all to enjoy.
An exile herself, de Waal writes with great sympathy of those who are returning to their old home -- in this case Vienna -- after the second world war. most of us would perhaps think this would be a happy state of affairs. After years away from place we grew up and loved, what could be more wonderful than to get back to the old haunts, the streets we knew so well, and to hear the language of our childhood. But this is not the case with the exiles of this sensitive novel. Professor Kuno Adler, coming back from a successful but empty life in America (and having left his successful but empty wife behind) is completely thrown by the changes in the city he remembers so well, and by the fact that he is offered a job of a far lower status than the one he had overseas. Lonely and disoriented, he wonders if he did right to come back. Theophil Kanakis, on the other hand, is not seeking the past but has an eye to the main chance -- returning a rich man, he imagines, and soon finds, a crumbling 18th century palazzo to restore in which he can live his decadent and luxurious life. Last of all there is Marie-Theres -- Resi -- who, though technically an exile, has been raised and educated in America and has no memory of her birthplace. Resi has been sent to stay with one of her aunts, to whom she is as much of a puzzle as she was to her parents. Resi is beautiful, but seems completely devoid of feeling, emotion, even thought. She did not mix with the others, she did not conform, and by the studied politeness in her manners she seemed to surround herself with a kind of vacuum she allowed no-one to penetrate.
Really, this is a sad novel about sad people. Fortunately, Kuno Adler finds some happiness and fulfilment by the end, but the same cannot be said for Resi, whose only venture into feelings ends tragically. While I found it interesting and often perceptive, I can't really say that I enjoyed it enormously, though I'm glad it read it. I wonder if we will see any more of Elizabeth de Waal's so far unpublished novels? I'd certainly be interested to read another.
Yes, we've had women reading letters, women writing letters, women dreaming happily or sadly over letters, but never before a woman tearing up a letter. I saw this rather amazing painting for the first time a few days ago on a blog I read regularly called Cosy Books. Darlene, who writes the blog, lives in Canada but is a great lover of London, where this was painted, though she saw it in the National Gallery in Ottowa, where it lives.
The painting, just called 'The Letter', is by the great French artist James (originally Jacques Joseph) Tissot (1836-1902), who spent most of his working life in London. It apparently depicts 'Lady Holland vigorously tearing up a letter from her adopted daughter, Marie Liechtenstein'. Well! Being a bit of a terrier when it comes to interesting facts, I was keen to know more. Marie, it turns out, was a foundling, adopted at three months old by Henry Fox, 4th Baron Holland, and his wife, the former Lady Augusta Coventry. It was rumoured that she was in fact Henry's daughter, and as I know quite a bit about Henry, who was a bit of a lad to say the least, I think this is pretty likely. Anyway, be that as it may, she was brought up in London, turned out vey pretty, and made a fine match to Prince Louis of Liechtenstein, quite an achievement considering the mystery of her origins. She had four daughters, wrote a celebrated history of Holland House where she was brought up, translated books from German into English, all before her tragically early death in 1878 at the age of just 26.
But what of the letter, you may be asking? Well, she is said to have become estranged from her mother (all this is thanks to Wikipedia) but I must say I find it hard to believe that Tissot would have painted a society woman tearing up a letter from her daughter in a rage even if they were estranged. As the painting is dated 1878, the year of Marie's death, I wonder if the letter is carrying that sad news, and the mother is experiencing a mixture of guilt and grief?
Rather a sad story all round, really, so here's a picture of the little girl in happier days, painted by George Frederick Watts.
The year is 1891. News has reached London that the great detective Sherlock Holmes has met his death after a terrible fight above the Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. Many people will regret his passing, but none more so than his loyal landlady Mrs Hudson. She is already missing his powerful presence in the house, but she is also getting increasingly troubled by people knocking on the door and asking if the great man can solve their problems. Thus it is that she, together with her new maid of all work, the sparky, uneducated East End girl Fanny Annie Grubbins, decide to take up what Fanny Annie calls detectivising for themselves.
So yes, these are crime novels, and the lady detectives prove to be remarkably adept at solving the mysteries even though this means they have to step outside the confines of their safe lives in 221b Baker Street. But the greatest strength of the books is the delightful characters of Mrs Hudson and Fanny Annie, and the highly entertaining comedy of their interaction. Mrs H is a respectable middle-class widow, a great churchgoer and a keen supporter of many worthy charitable causes, while Fanny Annie has been more or less scooped out of the gutter to be given a chance to better herself. But as they start working together, each discovers that they have things to learn from their very diverse partner. Mrs H has some education and knows her way around the more respectable areas of London, but Fanny Annie has a huge fund of native know-how, gained from her upbringing in the seedy underworld of the East End. She is, moreover, extremely willing to learn, and throws herself into her new experiences with admirable enthusiasm.
Each of the three novels can stand alone, as each sees the ladies solving a separate crime. But I'd recommend reading them in the order of their publication: The Detective Ladies of Baker Street is the first, followed by Jack the Nipper, and finally Death Holds a Seance. Then you can see the development of the ladies' relationship and also that of Mrs H with Inspector Trengrove of Scotland Yard -- there seems to be an attraction between them, but the Inspector can't accept that detective work is a suitable job for a lady. Perhaps we will hear more about this as further novels appear, which I for one hope that they will.
So far these novels are only available on Kindle and Kobo, but paperbacks are due out later this year.
This lovely painting, done in 1905, is by the American artist Jean McLane (1878-1964). Here's something I found about her, and the picture, online:
The identities of the enchanting children depicted ...are not known. Her own children were frequent models for her paintings, though MacLane also painted many commissioned portraits of other children. Following his 1940 interview with the painter, Ernest W. Watson observed, "From the cradle up through the years her youngsters were constantly sketched and painted. Hundreds of drawings and scores of canvases record those joyous years of loving and painting, when, as she has said, she wished for three lives to devote to children: 'One in which to supply their every need, one in which to be entirely free to paint them, and one just to bask in the miracle of them!'"