Tuesday 15 June 2021

Venturing Abroad, Ray Dorien

As I neared the end of my O level exams in the summer of 1963, my mother bought me a book from a secondhand stall that had lately started in Maldon market, run by a couple who brought a flavour of Elsewhere and Other to our acquaintance, with their early veggie outlook, their propensity for bare feet and mobile relationships. It was touching to have a present on what was actually my mother's own birthday, though, with hindsight, Venturing Abroad by Ray Dorien, a light sequence of travels in Europe before and after World War 2, looks a little like a nudge from my mother into leaving home, which wasn't going to happen for another couple of years. 

The hardback book has been on my bookshelves ever since, one of a loose collection of titles that have been complete in themselves, like The Vicissitudes of Evangeline or The Daughter of Fu Manchu. This week, as a result of a diary re-read, Venturing Abroad finally seemed readable. Beside the entry in the list of books at the back of my diary, there was an F, which probably meant Fair, or in the exam-speak that dominated my life then, Fail.

Most of Ray Dorien's forays into Europe begin at Victoria Station, which put me in mind of Henry Green's Party Going, most of which takes place there, in one of the dense fogs that London did so well in the early twentieth century. Henry Green is a writer. He can stand still with his party and chart the complexities of their going, or rather, not going, because of the fog. Ray Dorien needs not only a destination, but idle chat with fellow travellers, as well as an item — a plate, a hat, a blouse etc — around which to focus each chapter. Only incidentally does she refer, in what must be the post-war travels, to a town (St Malo), as a heap of stones, and to the lament about rationing she heard everywhere in Sweden. Otherwise, no politics, no context. 

The most startling detail to the reader now is the information that in the Italian Riviera, presumably in the 1930s, the local paper published a list of visitors currently staying in the area. Ray Dorien doesn't show up much in Google searches, only a few of her books. Thus my book can go back to the bookshelf in the bedroom with scarcely a fresh shadow on it. 

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