Archive for September, 2010

London: the Novel (book #82)

9 September 2010

Edward Rutherford, 1997.

Serious exposition going on here.

… the young man came up to Thomas.
“Secretary Cromwell will need you first thing in the morning,” he murmured. And then with a smile: “It’s been decided. We’re to draft the new Act of Parliament at once.”
… “What Act of Parliament?” she quickly enquired.
The young man looked uncertain for a moment, but then grinned. “It won’t be a secret after tonight anyway,” he said, “So I can tell you. It’s to be called the Act of Supremacy.”
“What’s to be in it?” she asked.
“Well,” he replied cheerfully, “Thomas knows better than I, but the main provisions are these.” He began to explain.

I like a bit of explanation, but this is ridiculous – just not how people talk.

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Where Texts and Children Meet (book #81)

9 September 2010

eds Eve Bearne and Victor Watson, 2000.

Watson identifies a genre of “camping and tramping narratives,” like the Fell Farm series:

The background … was the great agricultural depression that afflicted the British countryside until the end of the 1950s. … Since World War I, the young had left the countryside in their thousands, leaving a beautiful rather run-down rural landscape. Depressed rural Britain – appealing, mysterious, peopled by subservient farm worlers and full of dilapidated and half-ruined buildings – was infinitely appealing to the middle classes, who could see it as a lovely playground full of history and mysetery, and suitable for hiking, boating and all manner of adventures for children. The background to all those friendly and welcoming fictional farmers was, in reality, one of economic and social stagnation, in which farmers had to supplement their incomes in ant way they could. When farmers began to prosper and agriculture became intensive, an entire genre of children’s fiction was effectively wiped out by Common marker farming subsidies. And, at about the same time, the Beeching cuts closed down the railway branch lines that had taken so many fictional children by steam to their favourite holiday destinations.

Found some reviews of the FF books. One; two; three. What I remember most is a scene where they are picked up by the local policeman having got lost in the mist. They sleep on his living room floor but leave early before he and his wife are up, because they know the adults will take them home and they want to finish their expedition. What staid with me was concern for the policeman whose hospitality they effectively reject, and the class subtext – the children think he can’t understand their plans. I know I’ve only read two of the three books – I think the one I haven’t read is Fell Farm Easter. Must … not … buy …

I also need not to buy M E Atkinson’s books about the Lockett family, published 1936-1961, also in the camping and tramping genre, but set in the south of England.

Good stuff about Henrietta Branford. Margaret Meek Spencer discusses two of her books. Of Hansel and Gretel, wch I haven’t read, Spencer says

my admiration for the way Branford shows her readers how sentences work is unbounded. There is nothing here beyond the competence of a young reader’s writing, but the details add up to something worse than loss: ‘But when the moon came out there was no trail of crumbs. Ants had carried them off. Birds had pecked them up. Lumbering blackbeetles had clicked their pincers and gobbled them down. They were gone’. … the author lets the narrative carry feelings as well as actions and events.

Caspar has chewed the corner of the front cover of this book. It’s inter-library loan, so hope this won’t be a problem.

At Home: A Short History of Private Life (book #80)

3 September 2010

Bill Bryson, 2010.

Mentions the Anglo-Saxon door at Westminster Abbey – tree-ring-dated to the 10th/11th century. I can’t find a good picture of it online. Here ia a sermon about it. There is a not great picture here, complete with over-excitement. There’s an interesting series of dates for the wood in the room at the Oxford Dendrochronology Laboratory (search for Pyx).

Talks about average food consumption in 1851, compared with now:
almost 8 pounds of pears per person [must be per year I think], compared to three pounds now;
almost nine pounds of soft fruits, around double the current amount;
just under 18 pounds of dried fruit, compared to 3.5 pounds now;
31.8 pounds of onions, compared to 13.2 now;
over 40 pounds of turnips and swedes, compared to 2.3 now;
almost 70 pounds of cabbages, compared to 21 pounds now;
30 pounds of sugar, less than a third of the current amount

(He doesn’t reference the data so no way of knowing how reliable it is.)

He’s sent me on a hunt about John Harden, amateur artist and friend of Constable, wch I’ll post about separately.

I like the sound of the eighteenth century architect James Wyatt. Bryson says

Wyatt was an architect of talent and distinction – under George II he was appointed Surveyor of the Office of Works, in effect official surveyor to the nation – but a perennial shambles as a human being. He was disorganised, forgetful and perpetually dissolute. He was famously bibulous, and sometimes went on tremendous benders. One year he missed fifty straight weekly meetings at the Office of Works. His supervision of the office was so poor that one man was discovered to have been on holiday for three years.

Some lavatorial stuff. A French visitor to America in the late eighteenth / early nineteenth century (Bryson doesn’t give a clear date) “reported asking for a chamber pot for his bedroom and being told just to go out the window like everyone else. When he insisted on being provided with something in which to do his business, his bemused host brought him a kettle, but firmly reminded him that she would need it back in the morning in time for breakfast”.