Wednesday, 10 December 2014

I'd done university, I was considering the Outer Hebrides and maybe reading to an old lady, growing veg, gazing west. Meanwhile I read these Victorian, Edwardian wives: Mrs Henry Wood, Mrs Humphrey Ward, Mrs Amanda McKittrick Ross. I bought them in junk shops, it was a reason to forage and there were easy finds that fed, in the end, not the Outer Hebrides but the Complete Works of Mallarmé in rural Sussex and a PhD.

I read a sentence from East Lynne by Mrs Henry Wood – the book fell open in a hardback thread sewn way, at the beginning of Chapter XV – and began my odyssey through what I called bad literature, pre-Kindle, pre-strange attractor, a warm bath of plot, character, reversal, the improbable crushed by the impossible in sentences pitched high.
There went, sailing down the avenue to East Lynne, a lady one windy afternoon. 
Mallarmé dances with Mrs Henry Wood. Coevals, more or less. Mallarmé good (PhD), Mrs Henry Wood, bad (warm bath). Not as bad as some later sensationalists like Elinor Glyn (Would you like to sin on a tiger skin with Elinor Glyn?), but outrée in her day.
Oh reader, believe me! Lady–wife–mother! Should you ever be tempted to abandon your home, so will you awake. Whatever trials may be the lot of your married life, though they may magnify themselves to your crushed spirit as beyond the endurance of woman to bear, resolve to bear them…
These writers were the furthest back I could go, seduced by the loud-hailer prose and the exotic plot. This was the era of my grandparents. Not that they could read. Not that they sailed down avenues. Hurried back to the ghetto, more like. I started with the wives, and later moved on to the husbands: Benjamin Disraeli, Lord Bulwer Lytton, Harrison Ainsworth, happy ugly ducklings, purple prosers if not posers.

What would I have read to an old lady in the Outer Hebrides?

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