Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2011

Travelling Lit

Today, two more gifts: Jean Genet's Thief's Journal and Evelyn Waugh's When the Going was Good, which is subtitled 'Everything the author wishes to preserve from his pre-war travel books'. This seems revisionary.

It has a fabulous beginning, from 'A Pleasure Cruise in 1929':

In February 1929 London was lifeless and numb, seeming to take its temper from Westminster, where the Government was dragging out the weeks of its last session. Talking films were justbeing introduced, and had set back by twenty years the one vital art of the century. There was not even a good murder case. And besides this it was intolerably cold...People shrank, in those days, from the icy contat of a cocktail glass, like the Duchess of Malfi from the dead hand, and crept stiff as automata from the draughty taxis into the nearest tube-railway station, where they stood, pressed together for warmth, coughing and sneezing among the evening papers.'

In his introduction of 1945 Waugh says …

I'll be Home for Christmas

My parents still live in George, a small city on the south western South African coast, flat and spreading, named for George III and celebrating its two-hundredth anniversary this year. Provincial and predominantly Afrikaans, George was a pleasant place to grow up, but young adults move to larger cities like Cape Town, Durban, or Johannesburg if they can.

Like many provincial cities, I suppose, it is an intellectual dry-spot. We weren’t taught to relish reading or studies at school; we didn’t have a library of our own, and the school system encouraged parroting, not critical thinking. People here live outdoor lives. The beach is so nearby; the mountain so close. You can drive your bakkie across the pass to the Karoo and to the hot springs.

When I went regularly to the George library as a girl – a flat-roofed, squat building which was trying very hard to be Cape Dutch, but obviously built in the 60s - I’d pick crime novels, science fiction, fantasy, regency romances. I now consider time…

Finally, Fiction

At last! The term is done and I have read a novel. Published in the last thirty years. Julian Barnes’ Flaubert’s Parrot.

Avoid if you dislike narrative pretension or digressions or books which are not quite clear about their genres. Stay away if you dislike novels which point to themselves and their sisters, and which are called by their admirers post-modern.



[David Hockney's Felicite Sleeping, With Parrot: Illustration of 'A Simple Heart', for Gustave Flaubert, print, 1974]

Based on your qualifications, Flaubert’s Parrot may be only slightly a novel.. It is a pseudo-biography of the author of Madame Bovary, assembled by the narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, as he explores and problematizes literary biography, characterized by his search for the ‘real’ parrot which inspired Un Coeur Simple. It is a primer of how to experimentally collect and whimsically group the data of a literary life: by chronology (Braithwaite/Barnes includes an optimist’s and a pessimist’s chronology), Fla…
I just read the following in George Herbert's Temple -

O let no that of any thing;
Let rather brass,
Or steel, or mountains be thy ring,
And I will pass... ('From The Search')

And thought of this,



the view from Camp Casey on Whidbey Island in the Puget Sound. This week I find myself missing pine and mountain and salt water.

Just in Time

In much of the secondary reading for my course, I find myself immured in horribly glib words like ‘discourse’, ‘signification’, ‘reified’ etc. in a way that no longer meaningfully refers to structuralist criticism but is a kind of easy way of saying nothing while looking like you went to graduate school. (‘Discourse’ has a particularly bad rep, though it is, I admit, difficult to avoid it.) Reading journal essays and Cambridge Companions one gets the horrible and hollow feeling that these were published out of the desire for tenure and not academic inquiry. And that is why I am so grateful to Helen Cooper, a professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature who was at Oxford and is now, alas, at The Other Place.

Her 2004 book The English Romance in Time: Transforming Motifs from Geoffrey of Monmouth to the Death of Shakespeare has not only saved my essay on romance this week but is proving to be a genuinely interesting read. Romance is one of those genres which can bore you to death, o…
Though I frequently lecture people on my feelings about the unhelpfulness of dividing the world into male-things and female-things, I find myself wondering about the existence of the female epic, and what that might look like?




(Image of Penthesilea from the Flemish Tapestry, 'The Triumph of Fortitude', 1525)

To Camelot

This week we step away from the Renaissance into the world of Medieval Romance. The writing of a romance, a genre almost entirely consisting with arranging and juggling inherited courtly and popular motifs, seems worlds away from a modern conception of the ideal work of literature as original. And yet – the perpetuation of Arthurian-based television programs and movies seems to suggest we’re as susceptible to retellings as our medieval ancestors. G and I confirmed this by spending an inordinate amount of time on youtube watching (generally awful) trailers of King Arthur, Tristan + Isolde, Merlin, the Mists of Avalon, b, Camelot etc. The best – I tried to convince G – is obviously First Knight. It might be light on the adultery and magic, but it has cheese: tinny armour and swords, a misty Round Table montage, dark-haired Richard Gere crying, a leaf turned into a cup for forest rain-water.




I have, however, just become aware of Bresson’s Lancelot du Lac and Rohmer's Perceval le Ga…

A Jonsonian Encomium

The man of the week is Ben Jonson: ruddy, large, convivial, viciously witty, convict, convert, pedant, satirist, playwright, poet laureate. How has it taken me so long to meet him? His characters – tricksy, seamy, comic London underbelly figures – seem to be the Jacobean forebears of Dickens’. (Sir Epicure Mammon, Justice Overdo, Dol Common are the easy friends of Bumble, M’Choakumchild and Vholes).

Jonson’s best speeches, however, clearly belong to his puritans. Here is the wonderfully named Zeal-in-the-land Busy (nearly beat by Tribulation Wholesome in The Alchemist, responding to a puppet show in Bartholemew Fair (1614)

Busy: Down with Dagon, down with Dagon! ‘Tis I will no longer endure your profanations...I will remove Dagon there, I say, that idol, that heathenish idol, that remains, as I may say, a beam, a very beam, not a beam of the sun, nor a beam of the moon, nor a beam of a balance, neither a house-beam nor a weaver’s beam, but a beam in the eye, in the eye of the Brethren;…

All aboard

I found Macaulay's 1926 novel at Arcadia on St Michael's St. for 75p. I shall add this to my growing Penguin stash and put it alongside Macaulay's World My Wilderness. If I could find a Penguin edition of the Towers of Trebizond, I would probably dislocate my back in a spasm of glee.

First sentence:

A Mr. Dobie, a clergyman, wearying of his job, reliquished it, ostensibly on the grounds that he did not care to bury dissenters or baptise illegitimate infants, but in reality beacuse he was tired of being so busy, so sociable, and so conversational, of attending parish meetings, of sitting on committees, calling on parishioners and asking them how they did - an inquiry the answer to which he was wholly indifferent.
Wodehouse's letter's published in a new volume. I would buy this if the bank statement was more generous. And this is the most interesting sentence from the review:

'In a superlative run of clichés – "gone with the wind", "one with Nineveh", "in a word" – Wodehouse revels in, and revives, the contained sphere of an exhausted language (a "small world" of its own) and makes it a little larger.'

Incidentally, the editor of the letters, Sophie Ratcliffe, was one of my lecturers last year. She spoke on Victorian poetry and - though this seems ignorant and naive and potentially condescending of me (I hope not) - she seemed too young and pretty to be lecturing to callous freshers.
Michaelmas is nearly halfway through. The trees are reluctant to shed their leaves. Though the temperature rises and falls the hours of daylight announce the deepening of autumn. On Saturday, on the river, I waited for my stroke and watched the geese, ducks, swans, gulls, the riverboats and their winsome crews. I saw Christ Church in the distance.

I have forgotten what I want this blog to be. As I become integrated into life here it’s more difficult to step aside, to romanticize and tie up. British customs have stopped seeming British and just seem expected. The blog was originally meant for book reviews, but I’m not reading enough books, at least the sort that I was practicing for. I have, however, just finished Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 trilogy. I suppose I’ll try to coalesce my thoughts on this in the next two or three days while writing on Chaucer (again) and taking tentative steps towards Milton. And I can’t help feeling that writing one’s opinions on dead authors is fraught with da…

Tales of the City II

Barcelona as a whole, if taken from the motorway, or by train, is monstrously ugly. Its outskirts have the same shambly, cheap, urine-stained, graffitied, weedy looks of cities which are interchangeable. It could have been Johannesburg. But in the Gothic Quarter it is another city: a city of terraced balconies that jut like stiff mantillas above the streets, the damp stone tiles and the tickly smell of sewage. Clothes are strung from balconies or extended wires; ferns and spiked plants explore or gingerly poke out from between the bars; pigeons and noisy green parrot-like birds shoot up to the roofs or are keep in domed iron cages; doors of vehement graffiti overlaid by political posters or advertisements or slogans. But the rhythm of the city is exhausting, continual wearing alleviated by the home one makes in it, no refuge for tourists.



And still, we are fortunate. When winding around the streets of the Quarter, we stumble across the front of a church in a small plaza. There are wel…

Tales of the City

It’s been an embarrassing lapse of time. Spain was so vivid that it’s been almost entirely bleached out in the past weeks, from over-exposure. We were the least experienced, least prepared visitors, crippled linguistically and clinging to the dictionary and phrasebook. We tried, in order to offer some degree of cultural respect, gesture of friendship. We looked foolish.

In Barcelona, on a searingly hot day, I sought an iced mocha. We went, exhausted, into the Hotel Zurich, a rather posh place (we discovered too late) near the Place de Catalunya. I’d like an iced mocha, I said, embarrassed, flustered, thirsty. The waiter, a distinguished man of impeccable carriage, said a reluctant ‘si’ and began slowly fumbling around for the espresso machine. All of the waiters eyed me up in a tut-tut manner before a younger man approached me in order to tell me it wasn’t possible. No, no, no, said all the others, relieved that the truth had been told at last, that they could leave iced mochas to Star…

Claro, hablo castellano!

Tomorrow I start for Spain; a week in Catalonia. As one of my favourite parts of going on holiday is planning which books to take.

This is what’s accompanying me (you might notice a curious lack of Medieval and Renaissance titles):

As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning – Laurie Lee

A birthday gift from a friend. Lee’s autobiography from his journeys in Spain in 1934.

Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell

A classic of the Spanish Civil War. Long overdue.


The Skeptical Romancer: Selected Travel Writing - W. Somerset Maugham

The part of which concerns Spain. Trips to China for reading variation.

After the Death of Don Juan - Sylvia Townsend Warner

An accidental find. I’m a fan of Sylvia’s, and this was written during the Civil War and apparently reflects some of the turmoil in against the backdrop of eighteenth century Spain.


Hemingway’s For whom the Bell Tolls I read in Oxford. Am very much considering – as an antidote to overindulgence – Vladimir Sorokin’s Ice Trilogy, but we’ll see what the …

Summering in Somerset

The Archers is real. I walked into the midst of it in Milverton a few weeks ago. A and I went with our friend L to visit her home in a village in Somerset. L’s mother is a popular children’s author and, even coming from Oxford, A and I acknowledged the utter unreality of life in a manor hour in Somerset during a week of fete-ing and festivities.




The Old House, as the Milvertonians call it, was once the house of the bishops of Taunton and Deane, including Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury from – to – during the reigns of Henry VIII and his son Edward, and executed under Mary. The house has recently come into some excitement as, during a remodelling, a rare mural of Henry – somewhat caricatured and perhaps hastily covered up when the political climate rapidly changed - was discovered behind the plastering in the hall. For the 10 Parishes festival and in tribute to the presence of Henry, L’s mother wrote a play dramatizing the King’s Great Matter, starring the village Amateur Dram…
Finally finished David Foster Wallace's Pale King and my review is up on the Cherwell website here . DFW has become something of a summer obsession, so this conclusion is satisfying.

Contrary Gardening

The British film director Mike Leigh, as I understand it, has a reputation for depressing British naturalistic dramas (at least in HMC discourse). Happy-Go-Lucky (2008), with its ebullient heroine, Poppy, traversing a shabby London accompanied by wind instruments, had its frightening moments (Poppy in a car with a mentally unstable driving instructor) but resolved itself with Poppy and her friend swanning around in a rowboat.
Another Year (2010) seemed more of a gamble.

We were promised a cheerful movie with a bit of melancholy. It began hopefully. As the title suggests, the film is structured by the seasons. Spring begins - after a medical interview with a grim-faced woman (Imelda Staunton) who has trouble sleeping and cannot remember ever being happy - with a long-married couple working peacefully in an allotment. The gardening threads through the film and provides a competent metaphor for a script dealing with the relations between people. At the nexus of the web of relationship i…

A bit of night-poetry

Maybe it’s the coffee, but there’s something owl-like and night-birdish about tonight. A night for contemplating one’s mortality; your ghostly reflection in a window. When the summer began, it seemed to stretch forward limitlessly. Now there’s just a month to go and half of that will be spent abroad or with family.

In preparation for Michaelmas we’ve been attacking (or rather slogging through) our lists of Middle English romance & the Renaissance. My vote is all for the latter: I may have started off wrongly by reading the most exciting: the plays of Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, John Webster, Thomas Kyd, and John Marston. That leather-and-sweat world of the playhouses and the pox, Walsingham’s spies, the censors and the uneasy hand of royal favour. Elizabeth & Mary, James and Charles. The age of cross and conquest, the stake and ship. (The best line so far goes to Marlowe’s Tamburlaine: ‘I will confuse those blind geographers/ That make a triple region in the world…’) And…

England in August

Friday was my first English birthday, my golden birthday, and the day was as thoroughly English as I could have hoped. It began in a shower of rain. Disappointment tempered with the promise of Wellies. A and I went up the road, clinging to each other beneath my gaudy umbrella, to the Jericho café for a delicious English breakfast. There is nothing like being indoors and eating beans on toast with hot coffee and seeing all the poor passersby miserable and beans-on-toast-less.

From thence we braved the buckets of rain on a dirge-march to the train station, our launching pad to the morning outing to Gloucestershire. A had been to Stroud for a wedding a month before and her praise of the Cotwolds village’s sweetness and many virtues made for an excellent excuse to get out of Oxford. And who can avoid the pleasures of a train? (So fast, so transportative.) And who can deny themselves the experience of waiting at Didcot Parkway? (Or Didders, as insiders assure.)



We arrived in Stroud at mid…

Thronesing

An apt diptych from last week: the mornings were spent teaching the elements of plot to German high school students; the evening spent indulging in HBO's new fantasy series, Game of Thrones (indulging my respect for stoic Sean Bean with a ponytail, and and my perving over the Northern English accent).



In brief, Game of Thrones is about a kingdom on the brink of internal war. Destined for conflict are those loyal to the King and his family, and those loyal to his right-hand man, Lord Stark, Lord of the North, and his clan. The King's wife's family, the Lanisters, are gold-laden schemers, and the King, considered a usurper by some, faces another family contesting his right to hold the throne.

Game of Thrones offers nothing to the viewer tiring of convention. There is little evidence of originality in the plot (aside from the interesting concept of a winter which comes not yearly but without much warning, and after years of summer, to devastating effect), and no 'realisti…

Back to the Garden

I watched Terrence Malick’s 2005 film The New World twice in one day when I had the flu. A historical drama retelling the Pocahontas legend, the film submerges the viewer in natural images and sounds, recreating a landscape in the last stages of its innocence. Malick’s new film The Tree of Life, shares with its predecessor an obsession with origins, guilt and grace, and a sensuous cinematographic style which intoxicates through fragments.

In attempting to stage the story of one mid-century American family against the creation and development of the planet, the film revives an old method of Epic: the nuclear family as a metaphor for the drama of all natural existence. The film begins with news of a son’s death, a grief still present as the adult Jack (played by Sean Penn) remembers his childhood in Texas. These are memories are lush snapshots of a southern boyhood which seesaws between domination by an authoritarian father (Brad Pitt), who asks his sons to kiss him and to call him sir…
It is a truth universally (but mostly presently) acknowledged that reading Dostoyevsky and red wine is the best thing to do at the end of the week. Sitting in the kitchen, on the third glass, with a happy heart. (Somewhere down Walton Street my friend A, wrapped up in bed with a cold, is also reading the Brothers Karamazov.)

The sudden changes of mode – from philosophical to slapstick, from passionate to comedic – are a delightful jolt. Here’s a paragraph during the dramatic (but mostly blustering) trial of Dmitry Karamazov which, with all its paranoid specificity, makes me think of Bolano and a host of East-European twentieth century writers:

‘Moreover, he himself hated his feet; for some reason he had all his life found his big toes unsightly, especially one thick, flat toenail on his right foot that curved down awkwardly like a hook and would now be exposed for all to see. Utterly ashamed, he became ever more arrogant and intentionally provocative. He ripped off his shirt.’

Picture at an Exhibition

I went to the Ashmolean with a friend yesterday to see the Macedonian exhibit (was largely underwhelmed). Afterwards we strolled through a few Western art displays. Though I love museums, I find them tiring. I feel like I must see everything, but one can only ever run through and experience the whole effect (the museum as a collage of people and places and periods) or focus on several pieces but try to just stay in front of them and see them. I am bad at practicing the latter approach, and tend towards the former. But yesterday J and I took our time and it was not unrewarding if only for this piece.



This is Barna de Siena’s mid 14th century Crucifixion and Lamentation which used to be a part of a diptych. The accompanying plaque said that it is rare to find the crucifixion and lamentation as a part of a single scene, and this makes it a powerful devotional image.

I am quite unresponsive to the Crucifixion (I find the blood rather comic in it’s energetic arching), and Mary Magdalene is …

Mods (and Rockers)

I write this - ejected from my well-beloved room in the eves of Rathmel – from Jericho, the trendy wine-barred Victorian bricked suburb of Oxford, overlooking a narrow overgrown garden tumescent from today’s grim humidity.



Its ninth week and most first-years have started their prelims today. The ritual begins with the layers of subfusc, the pinning of the carnation, and the mortar-board carried (never worn) into the exam hall. Once you arrive at the place of examination, you’re directed to a marquee where candidates mill around like animals awaiting slaughter, black-and-white dressed penguins with marvelously English faces who tear through notes, select the correct amount of highlighters, assume superiority (if you take PPE) or exaggerate the expectation of certain failure (English). You delay nervousness (or increase it) by looking at the large seating chart. Then there are the announcements: no bottled water with screw caps, no carbonated water, no cellphones. There are more announc…

June ends

Yesterday was Midsummer, the longest day of the year; over sixteen hours of light mostly masked by the rain. In coming to England I imagined that the day before, Midsummer Eve, would be my high festival. We’d go into the woods to do the rites with twigs and herbs and light a fire and dance around it wildly and yell full-throated, and drink nettle-tea, or sweet wine, and watch the smoke rise. Out on the meadow, or in a copse. Instead I was preparing for Mods. Yesterday, Midsummer’s Day, was spent writing theory in a post-apocalyptic hellhole in Summertown.

I’m going to pretend today is Midsummer’s Eve. There’s a garden party in the quad, and the wind turns a fierce corner. The sky is alternately sullen and gleeful. We might be rained out, or hear the night birds.

I will midsummer-ly console myself with my favourite part of my favourite book: Midsummer’s Eve in I Capture the Castle, which is pure indulgence to include here (but which I will do anyhow):

There wasn’t a breath of wind as I …

Sober sub fuscing

‘It is farely easy to be topp in English and sometimes you may find yourself even getting interested. If that happens of course you can always draw junctions and railway lines on your desk
- ‘How to be topp in English’, Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, How to be Topp

The culmination of three terms: Mods, my first-year examinations, begin this afternoon. I am to take a taxi north to Summertown – we are taking them at Ewert House rather than the Exam Schools – for the next four days until we finish in victory, or at least exhaustion, on Friday. Intro to literature, Victorian, Twentieth Century, Medieval, finis.

Wearing, as per instruction:

(for women) white blouse, black ribbon tie, dark skirt, dark tights, both mortar board (or soft cap) and gown are worn

with the white carnation that signifies today's the first exam.

Most important is my wall of secular saints above my desk, watching me suspiciously to see if justice will be done to their work. I must say that Beckett looks the most …
Just learned of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor's death. Am somewhat heartbroken, though death at the age of 96 is not, I imagine, unexpected. I have been waiting for the third volume of his autobiography, and the news that he had decided to learn to type a few years ago just encouraged the possibility that it might appear. And now never got the chance to crash his Grecian villa. A sad day.

Fragments of Woolf

Yesterday at my tutorial on Virginia Woolf, I stopped and thought how funny it was – (embarrassing, sentimental to note how cyclical) – that a year and a half ago I sat in a bookstore office at 6.30 in the morning with the phone pressed against my ear, listening as some person in an imaginary ivoried city read the first page of Mrs Dalloway to me and asked me to respond. And J was in the room listening to my answer on speakerphone, sitting against the same backdrop of books, the prints of the Brontës, Lawrence. And now I sit opposite him, reading my essay, quoting those same lines back to him.



(copyrightFrederic Lefebvre)

It was a day for Woolf: not only did the rain thunder down, vanish, and play havoc with the light (very Between the Acts), but I saw James Wood speak on Woolf and mysticism at St. Anne’s. I’m a long-time Wood fan and found his discussion of To the Lighthouse in the light of Woolf's religious and secular mysticism engaging (if not shattering). I hadn’t thought of…
The - it seems - infinite delay: essays and mealtimes and sleep. Skating backwards, losing at croquet.

And sometimes a little something else: I saw Tom Stoppard speak at the Sheldonian ten days ago and wrote a sliver for the Cherwell here.

Audenary Afternoon

I so clearly remember being moved by Auden’s ‘Funeral Blues’ in grade 10 English with Miss Scott and that uncomfortable corrugated iron prefabricated building next to the cricket pitch, the cheaply wrinkled photocopied handouts, it being one of the four poems we read a year (our ambitious syllabus) – ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s Day?’, ‘God’s Grandeur’, and something else (we didn’t care, poetry was an inscrutable equation every now lit up by a phrase or a word that was likeable for its own sake, but there was no meaning transferred).

The immediacy of the poem, the grief (‘Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead/ scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead’). I spent years trying to remember whether it was W.B. Yeats who wrote it, or W.H. Auden (same number of letters, etc). Now, I suppose this gives evidence of the development of personal taste, because I find it cloying (‘I thought love would last forever: ‘I was wrong'), coloured perhaps by the poem’s popularity, in the…

A Sudden Mania for Mallets

Though last night brought the first proper rain in the last six weeks, the Trinity term has begun and that means croquet. The college rule that forbids sports on the quad lawns – except for croquet, in Trinity – was the reason I moved here.

So, suitably wooed with the promise of Pimm’s on the green, but without any functioning knowledge of the sport (and, let’s get this straight, it is a sport), I joined a college team. Our first practice was on Thursday afternoon in the University Parks, with our first match against Somerville on Friday afternoon, leaving the team, all relatively inexperienced, with little promise of success.

O Croquet: the idiosyncrasies of your handbook, the polite but anguished repression of your players (and instructors) upon the fertile grounds of flirtation, the pun-ability of nearly all your terminology. One is required to know when to roquet, when to croquet, and how to do a rush, a stop-shot, and a stab. This is no easy clipping of the ball through the hoop (…

Revived Passions

Al men that walkis by waye or strete,
Take tentes yoe schalle no tauayle tyne.
Beholde myn heede, myn handis, and myne feete,
And fully feele nowe, or yoe fyne,
Yf any mournyng may be meete,
Or myscheue mesured vnto myne.
- Jesus, Crucifixion, York Cycle

It’s appropriate that Passion week has just finished and as I attempt to study for my collections, one of the things about Middle English Literature I’m currently most interested in are the mystery plays, those immense cycles put on by cities in Yorkshire and East Anglia, which culminate in the Passion. The cycle plays chronicle salvation history from Creation to Doomsday with individual pageants – chapters in the story of salvation narrative – written by guilds and performed on wagons traveling through the city streets.

Historically critics have treated the mystery plays as crude precursors to Shakespeare and modern drama, but there’s been a resurgence of interest in these plays (jagged, inventive, irreverent, boisterous) as national gems i…
‘That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
‘Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?’

- Eliot, The Waste Land



This April, the cruelest month has been fine and temperate. Today, the day after Shakespeare’s birthday and St. George’s Day, a day of hot cross buns and new leaves, the sacrifice is completed, the Waste Land renewed.

(failed) Day in the Life of an English Student

Today I:

Checked the weather, facebook, emails, various purposeless google searches
Watched episodes of three television shows & the beginning of one 90s film
Listened to internet radio and napped
Posting here. Ashamed of myself.


Slightly atoned for by dipping into Guardian review, hilarious letters of Philip Larkin (see picture, he obviously disapproves of my lifestyle) & cookies, after which I realize that life was more easily literary pre-internet – not an original thought admittedly – and that I am crippling myself with this laptop and Ethernet cable. Ways to change this? (Besides obvious and unpleasant unplugging of Ethernet cable.)

Friday is collections. On the upside - so's the Royal Wedding. No one can stop talking about it; the papers are buzzing. Thursday evening the British monarchy caused at least three separate conversations.

Lady Novelists

Apologies for anyone who’s talked to me about gender differences at all before, but this is perhaps hanging over from last night’s wine-heated kitchen conversation about gender and language (big surprise).

From The Voyage Out:

‘Persuasion,’ announced Richard, examining the volume:
‘That’s for Miss Vinrace,’ said Clarissa. ‘She can’t bear our beloved Jane.’
‘That – if I may say so – is because you have not read her,’ said Richard. ‘She is incomparably the greatest female writer we possess.’
‘She is the greatest,’ he continued, ‘and for this reason: she does not attempt to write like a man. Every other woman does; on that account, I don’t read ‘em.’

Of course, I’m not sure what I think about the ‘female sentence’, which writers like Dorothy Richardson, who I enjoy, sought to discover and perfect. I think I have less sympathy for it than I once did, because I’m not much a supporter of essentialism. I don’t think there is such a thing as an essentially female anything.

But this reminded me of t…
I’ve loved Virginia Woolf for a long time, and this vacation has sparkled because of her prominence on my reading list. But I’ve never found her funny, have never laughed out loud while reading, though I know she was supposed to have been a wit, a great impersonator and gossip.

I'm reading The Voyage Out, Woolf's first novel, for the first time, & I've just reached the scene of the engagement ball in a South American hotel where the awkward and inexperienced protagonist, Rachel Vinrace, seizes the piano to prevent the dancing from breaking up. At first the dancers protest that they can’t dance to her music, when her aunt Helen cries ‘This is the dance for people who don’t know how to dance!’ and all the characters who have until now been priggish snobs begin to cavort:


‘St. John hopped with incredible swiftness first on his left leg, then on his right…Hewet, swaying his arms and holding out the tails of his coat, swan down the room in imitation of the voluptuous dreamy …

Postcards from Kerry

Arrived back in Oxford from Kerry yesterday in time to catch the new flowers blooming, the sun out (and the city in an unexpected state of undress and joie de vivre), and the tail end of the Oxford Literary festival. In the space of the month in Ireland we missed the death of Liz Taylor and the publishing of David Foster Wallace’s Pale Kings (on my immediate to-read list) and had to catch stray headlines about Japan’s post-disaster recuperation and the Libyan situation on visits to the shop for milk and to the Lobster bar for the rare pool game, Guinness or glass o’ wine.



The house was in Kerry, in the tiny Charlie Chaplain-championed coastal town of Waterville. Waterville lies on the Inis Lough peninsula on the Ring of Kerry; the town is wrapped around the Banskellig bay (skelligs are, I believe, early Christian settlements on rocky outcroppings only reached by boat), surrounded by cow-and-sheep farming land, and touching Lough Currane.



Drives to Killarney and Kinsale involved death…