JUDY KRAVIS

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Monday, 22 February 2021

The Fortunes of the Farrells

 The Fortunes of the Farrells by Mrs George de Horne Vaizey has been on my shelves since I was about fourteen. I did the bookstall at CND jumble sales around then. The woman who brought in The Fortunes of the Farrells said that she'd loved it when she was my age. She gave me the book, a handsome, illustrated edition published by The Religious Tract Society in 1907. Mrs George de Horne Vaizey's original name was Jessie Bell. She grew up in Liverpool. Ruth and Mollie Farrell are put through trials, like Tamino in The Magic Flute, not by the Queen of the Night, but by rich Uncle Bernard, who's fading away at The Court somewhere outside London, and has no heir. The Farrell sisters, along with two nephews from the other side of the family, Jack Melland and Victor Druce, are invited for three months so Uncle Bernard can observe them and decide who should be his heir. He would prefer a male heir, he said. But Jessie Bell, Mrs George de Horne Vaizey, wants justice for her girls. Especially her wild impulsive Mollie. She satisfies the needs of her story and her conscience, her sense of justice between two covers. Jack and Mollie. Ruth and the doctor back at home, who has already proposed. An Oirish female sense of justice and triumph. Victor and Lady Margot Blount, that's a story as yet untold.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Le Grand Meaulnes

I haven't read any french for a long time. And since we're not travelling. Let's travel. Not just to the Sologne in the département of Cher, but to the french language and who I was when I first read Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. I was 20, and so prepared, somehow, for the long imagining and distress, the yearning and restlessness of la France Profonde at the turn of the 19th/20th century. Those literate past tenses striking out for paradise. Il put imaginer longuement.

I have three copies. A  Livre de Poche was the first, and possibly the only one I read. A hardback Harraps with long introduction and notes, from 1968, I read for the first time this week. My copy belonged to Patricia Carroll, student at a private school in Lewes run by Rosemary Rose, where I taught for a term or two. I don't know how I came by her copy. It smells of ether. 

On page 18 Patricia has written in biro: search for the ideal. We talked about that, ideals and wandering to fulfil them, if ever. She came from Wicklow. She talked about borrowing my house with her boyfriend one weekend. I remember standing outside the school and pointing out the direction of my house, about five miles away.

The third copy is a trade paperback from 1967 with wraparound cover, a still from the film showing an empty heathland, the end of the world on a sunny day. La Fête Étrange, Le Domaine Mystérieux. Begin here. I met someone in Paris who had worked on the film and gave me the book. There was going to be a trip to the Sologne, the next day, or the one after that. The way my journalist friends were going to Berlin the next day, from the Gare de Lyon; or they'd drive, start early. 

I didn't ever go to the Sologne; or to Berlin. I can't find that edition of the book. 

The first half of Le Grand Meaulnes has stayed in my head for more than half my life.  A layer called Epineul-le-Fleuriel. Meaulne-les-Alliers. Imagine growing up in Epineul-le-Fleuriel. Like living in a Mozart slow movement. I was hazy about the second half of the book, the moral shifting and plot resolution. I liked the Epilogue. Meaulnes on the road again, his young daughter on his shoulder.

Now, many years later, I read the french, the vocabulary and the turn of the phrase. I enjoy looking up rural french words I've forgotten, like the flora/fauna around a fête champêtre at the end of the nineteenth century, on the banks of the river, the form from which a hare springs. 

C'est là que passaient nos matinées; et aussi dans la cour où Florentin faisait pousser des dahlias et élevait des pintades; où l'on torréfiait le café, assis sur des boîtes à savon; où nous déballions des caisses remplies d'objets divers précieusement enveloppés et dont nous ne savions pas le nom ...

Reading Alain-Fournier is a bit like watching the young Steve McQueen as Nevada Smith in some splendid landscape in the American West. Never mind the story, take me to the river. From the beginning again. Le Domaine Mystérieux is found, and lost, and found and lost. At the end of the book le Grand Meaulnes is on the road again. His friend François, our narrator, watches him go,

Je m'étais légèrement reculé pour mieux les voir. Un peu déçu et pourtant émerveillé, je comprenait que la petite fille avait enfin trouvé le compagnon qu'elle attendait obscurément. Le seule joie que m'eût laissée le grand Meaulnes, je sentais bien qu'il était revenu pour me la prendre. Et déjà je l'imaginais, la nuit, enveloppant sa fille dans un manteau, et partant avec elle pour de nouvelles aventures.

Friday, 12 February 2021

WHY PRAY?


Hi Judy love

It is such a lovely letter you sent me. I’m so glad all your families are OK even if they are thousands of miles away — with gorgeous sunshine. And then of course one of you’re family is in Innishannon. That must be nice for you.

I do agree with you that if people did what they were supposed to do and wear masks & washed their hands it would help so much. We are doing the same thing as you and being what they called “cockooned” — think I’ve spelt that wrong.

As you know we are Jehovah’s Witnesses and we have a lovely

PTO

magasine I think you would like to read — particularly the last page is helpful. I hope you enjoy it.

Please keep in touch and let me know how your family is getting on.

Much love and take

care

Gai


This letter arrived in the post this morning and I read it on and off for the rest of the day, pushing at the boundaries of this new person I now am— according to Gai, whom I have never met, let alone written to — who has distant family in gorgeous sunshine and one in Innishannon, which must be nice for me; even though we are all cockooned it’s good to know there’s another family cockoon just down the road. 


The magazine showed a worried man, hands clasped, and the words: WHY PRAY? 




Tuesday, 9 February 2021

This week, chill February, back in the early/mid twentieth century: I am Jonathan Scrivener by Claude Houghton. Penguin Book number 54. My copy, bought in 1976, Second Impression 1937, came with an embedded receipt from Kingston's Ltd. Smart Wear For Men & Boys, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, Upr. O'Connell St, 10, South Great George's Street and 109 Grafton Street DUBLIN. 

I like these extras. Reminds me of Mabel, my french teacher at school, who said she didn't like taking books out of the town library because you might find things in them. Hairs, she said, shuddering.

By the stove on a winter's afternoon, Jonathan Scrivener is just the thing. Dated and ignorable if you like. Repetitive. Such consistent withholding, teasing. Who's telling the truth and how many reassurances do we need? Cubist, recessive, coming at human mysteries from all sides. London in the 1920s. Surfaces and mysteries. The idea of the modern. After every large war there's a new modern. Jonathan Scrivener embodies all that and more.

This could be source material for Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night, a traveller. I haven't ever wanted to re-read Calvino. Jonathan Scrivener has been on my shelves for forty-five years and I haven't re-read him either. 

An expansive graze over 1920s London and a need to be clever, to be ordinary and garrulous and then retreat to a library. An elastic book, to be read in bursts. Characterizations. Elements. This portion or that of London venues, London society.  Through many pages we fail to meet Scrivener through the chat and occasional reflection of a small crowd of people. Claude Houghton's youth laid bare. Let's suppose.

Earliest Penguin Books did not have blurbs or authors' lives or photographs. You enter via the Penguin on the title page, a perky version in the 1930s, then the printing history on the verso and then Part One. You're in. By halfway so far in you feel impatient and would read the last few pages in short order. If Scrivener turns up, he's not going to be Godot.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

The Squinancy Tree

South by William Sansom and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me by A.E. Coppard. Vintage Penguins, 870 and 595. William Sansom went to Uppingham School and thence to Bonn to learn German. Later he travelled and lived a little in various parts of Europe including Spain and Hungary. 

If in doubt, go South, young man.

William Sansom is doing the Grand Tour. Putting up at hotels and gazing out from terraces with all his Graeco-Roman education. The leisured traveller with time for style. I don't entirely like him, but I can sense him, compile him in my mind's eye. His slicked-back hair in the manner of Heurtebise in Cocteau's Orphée. Apologetic. Faux-modeste. He pays homage, he describes. 

There lay the fine wide Place Masséna. On one side a garden of palms led to the milk-blue sea. But elsewhere rose a warm geometry of classic, arcaded buildings washed in pinks from pale rose to dark terra-cotta; hundreds of rectangular shutters were picked out in greens, olive to lizardly yellow.

A.E. Coppard was the son of a tailor and a housemaid. Left school at the age of nine to work as errand boy for a Jewish trousers maker in Whitechapel during the period of the Jack-the-ripper murders. He's on a journey.

In the great days that are gone I was walking the Journey upon its easy smiling roads and came one morning of windy spring to the side of a wood. I had just rested to eat my crusts and suck a drink from the pool when a fat woman appeared and sat down before me. I gave her the grace of the morning.

He overwrites nature as a natural must. As faery/ploughman, with a wicked sprint. Take the squinancy tree.  The squinancy tree drops red petals into the princess's bower in  'Princess of Kingdom Gone', princess of a tiny kingdom, she slips from its bower into dark velvet water.

I know squinancywort from the flower book of my childhood. Relative of woodruff. Squinancy tree is new. Googling the squinancy tree brings me to several non-functioning Armenian websites, plus a reference back to A.E. Coppard and the princess of a tiny kingdom.

At the back of my copy of Penguin 595 there is a phone number, Epping 2491, in my father's decided script. Maybe he was ringing about the squinancy tree. 

I went on alone and in the course of the days I fell in with many persons: stupid persons, great persons, jaunty ones. An ass passes me by, its cart burdened with a few dead sprays of larch and a log for the firing.  An old man toils at the side urging the ass onwards. They give me no direction and I wonder whether I am at all like the ass, or the man, or the cart, or the log for the firing. I cannot say.