Feeds:
Posts
Comments

love in the sun

(One of my Librarything Christmas secret Santa gifts from last year, thank you Jane)

Leo Walmsley was not, I confess, a writer I had ever heard of before Jane sent me this copy of Love in the Sun re-printed by the Walmsley society. He was I have discovered a writer of quite a number of books both fiction and non-fiction. The first edition of Love in the Sun coming with a quite glowing introduction by Daphne Du Maurier – which Jane kindly printed out and sent to me with the book.

“We were in love and we knew what we wanted. To have a little house close to the sea, a garden, a boat…”

In a very autobiographical novel, Walmsley tells a fairly simple story. It is the story of a young couple, who rent an old army hut in a secluded Cornish cove during the depression of the 1930’s. Seeking to escape the speculation and gossip of the Yorkshire, fishing community from which they originally come, they only want peace and privacy in which to rebuild their lives. He is awaiting a divorce, dodging creditors, writing a book and with just a small amount of money on which to live for a while, requires cheap accommodation and a vegetable garden. The woman with whom he intends to spend his life is Dain, his constant support will be joining him in just days. On Christmas day while in St Jude, Cornwall, he meets a shipwright who later that day first shows him the army hut which will become his and Dain’s home.

“I looked at the hut, with my heart pounding inside me. Wasn’t it almost the very thing that we wanted? We’d imagined a fisherman’s cottage, on a lonely beach, or perhaps on a little island. It would be primitive and dilapidated, and of course, unfurnished, but we’d have the excitement of putting it to rights, of furnishing it ourselves. Wasn’t that hut almost as good as such a cottage? Wasn’t the place almost as secluded as an island? It was out of sight of the real sea, but was there not an outweighing advantage in having a cove and a waterway one could use in all weathers? Why should we wait? Why should we be parted?”

Although reasonably sound the hut is in a bit of a state and soon the couple get busy setting it to rights, furnishing it simply and sorting out the vegetable garden. They intend to live simply, eating mainly what they can grow and catch, while sending off marine samples to a science laboratory for a few shillings a week. On their first night in the hut a storm rages above them, the holes in the roof soon anointing the pair in rain water, in the ensuing clean-up they find a half drowned kitten and take her into their new home – naming her Choo-i. Meanwhile our unnamed narrator gets down to writing his book, the affectionate story of his home town and the people he knew there, the fisherman and their wives.

Over the course of the story – there are a number of incidents which punctuate the idyllic life the couple have found themselves, a life they come to appreciate more and more. They buy a small boat and begin fishing in earnest, feeding themselves and Choo-i with the resulting catches. When a face from the past threatens their privacy, fearing discovery by gossips and creditors, the pair take measures to avoid a meeting with the mate of a ship at anchor nearby. However, friendship is sometimes to be found where we least expect it, and the couple find their quiet life enhanced by such a bond.

The book is finished, and cried over, and then the manuscript must be typed up. Then it has to be sent out, the two of them can’t help but dream, of what could follow; the author himself at one minute certain of success, the next just as certain of miserable failure. The divorce is finalised, a quiet private marriage takes place, a baby already on the way. Problems with money, the loss of their precious boat, they face together and with good cheer. With the first book published, the pressure is on to produce a second and for it to do well.

Their idyll is threatened, the couple’s togetherness and extraordinary good luck (which never seems to desert them throughout the course of the book) is required to get them through.

I was sorry that I didn’t love this book in the way Jane obviously does, I wanted to, and felt I must have missed something – perhaps I did. Although I liked the book, it has real charm, it’s engaging with an idyllic setting, I had a couple of reservations; the endless good luck the couple experience seemed a little contrived to me, and the book as a whole a bit over-long (416 pages). Surprisingly I didn’t take to our narrator particularly (I didn’t dislike him – but he came across as rather cold). Oh dear that sounds grumpy – and I don’t mean it to, overall it’s a good book, I loved the setting, the idea of that Cornish cove will stay with me, for a few days I definitely wanted aspects of that life.

leowalmsley

auntsass

During the 1940’s P L Travers, most famous of course for Mary Poppins, wrote three stories which she gave away to friends as Christmas gifts. It is to these special gifts that the title refers, the setting of the stories not actually being Christmassy. Virago has now reproduced these stories in a particularly beautiful sounding hardback edition (my edition a paperback review copy won via Twitter). The new edition, printed on board with illustrations by Gillian Taylor. A perfect Christmas gift in itself I expect it will be turning up in a few Christmas stockings this year.

These charming autobiographical stories concern the real life characters of P L Travers Australian childhood. Remembering three influential figures from her childhood, P L Travers shows how friendship sometimes comes along in unexpected packages. In this case; an eccentric great aunt – Aunt Sass of the title, a Chinese cook and an Irish, foul mouthed former jockey.

The original inspiration for the character of Mary Poppins, Aunt Sass born in 1846 was a character I instantly fell for. Christina Saraset already seemed quite an old woman to the author as a child, yet she lived to the ripe old age of ninety-four. With her indomitable spirit and her own peculiar grasp of history, this unmarried lady became the matriarchal figurehead of the family, around whom a host of stories were woven.

“Right and wrong were Aunt Sass’s favourite subjects. Her remembrance of the Sphinx was that ‘the huge ugly thing terrified your Great-aunt Jane. They had no right to put it there –just where people are passing!’ Of the Pyramids, all she had to say was that ‘Your Great-Uncle Robert was disappointed that they were not larger.’

Ah Wong became the family’s cook on their Australian sugar plantation, when he inexplicably turned up to take the place of their previous cook. Ah Wong was popular with everyone in the household, but the children’s governess, which possibly helped to endear him further to the author and her siblings.

“He was proud of us however, particularly the girls. He distinguished between myself and my sister by calling us Big-fellow Little Missy and Small-fellow Little Missy and continually assured our mother that we would fetch good prices when the time came to sell us in the market”

With his long, neat pigtail, his sing-song English Ah Wong took his place at the centre of family life. His exotically scented, little hut, neat as a pin, housed his prize possession a tiny Chinese tea set. When the children hit upon the shocking realisation that their friend is not Christian, they set about an ill-thought out plan to have him baptised. Ah Wong’s story ends beautifully and very poignantly many years later when the author was working as a journalist.

Johnny Delaney is another member of the household during P L Traver’s childhood, a groom, stable man – who like Ah Wong becomes a favourite of the children, someone who advises – in his own inimitable way, protects and instructs, and is never forgotten. In his hut – a place of intense privacy, where the children aren’t admitted, Johnny undertakes his mysterious ‘life’s work’.

“He and the earth were brother and sister, scored on their visible surface, because of the pits at the heart. But on earth there are men with pick and shovel to set that dark mass free. They mine it to glow on human hearthstones and redeem itself in flame. For Johnny there were no such mediators. His bitter tongue could not say the words, nor his seared face give evidence. His love was heavy and silent within him. Not even the children could make it speak.”

These memorable figures and their stories are endearingly charming, and this slim volume will surely delight existing P L Travers fans and those being introduced to her work for the first time. It is easy to see why these people had such an effect on young P L Travers, people who coming into her life at exactly the right time, leaving their mark upon a young girl’s impressionable mind, a young girl destined to become a famous storyteller, giving the world one of the most loved and memorable characters. It seems fitting therefore, that finally, the stories of three people who played a part in the childhood and young womanhood of this writer, should now be shared. An endearingly, touching little collection, that could be easily read in a sitting, but many readers will want to savour.

P L travers

temporarykings

With the eleventh volume in Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time we are really drawing close to the end of the dance, and for me there was a real feeling of the world moving on. Everyone is naturally considerably older than when we first met them, and there is also a lot of time spent looking back, remembering those already passed on, past glories and past scandals too. Looking back over this novel, I am amazed by how much Powell packed into it, so many old friends and new mysteries to be grappled with.

As Temporary Kings opens we find Nick Jenkins in Venice for a literary conference, it is about ten years since the events which concluded the previous novel’ Books do Furnish a Room’, Nick now in his early fifties. Here we are introduced to Dr Emily Brightman, one of Nick’s contacts at the conference, along with American Russell Gwinnett who is working on a biography of X Trapnel whose story was told so memorably in ‘Books do Furnish a Room’. Here Powell reveals what happened to poor X Trapnel in the ten years since the end of the previous novel, Trapnel remains one of the most memorable of Powell’s characters for me. Gwinnett is eager to meet with those who knew Trappy, and is particularly curious about the infamous (by now almost legendary) (Lady) Pamela Widmerpool, who handily, along with her husband, (now Lord Widmerpool) is also in Venice. Here we are in familiar Powell territory with people from the past turning up at the most unlikely times, often years after they were last encountered, and nobody ever seems surprised to run into old friends this way.

“In the course of a dozen years or more of the Widmerpools’ married life many stories had gone round, the least of them lurid enough to imply the union could barely persist a week longer, yet it had persisted. They remained together; anyway to the extent of living under the same roof. That phrase did not, in fact, define the situation realistically.”

Pamela is seen in the company of American film maker Louis Glober who has serious designs on Pamela himself. Widmerpool and Pamela are fairly unaccountably still together, although no one seems to quite understand why this is. Reference is made once more to Pamela’s apparent complex sexual problems, which we are meant to believe make her act the way she does. By now Pamela is in her late thirties, still a strikingly beautiful woman, as talked about as ever, her behaviour, if anything is worse. Pamela’s name is linked with that of a French writer whose death in somewhat odd circumstances has recently been reported in the press. Relations between the Widmerpools is obviously still dreadful, with Pamela making veiled reference to an unpleasant incident which is only fully revealed toward the end of the novel, the two rowing publically during a visit to the Bragadin Palace. Also in Venice at this time, is Ada Leintwardine (now married to Quiggin) with whom Nick visits Tokenhouse (an employer from Nick’s past), and Odo Stevens now married to Rosie Manasch.

Back in London, we meet Bagshaw again who opens his house to Gwinnett while he is working on his book. Here there is a quite peculiar incident with Pamela Widmerpool appearing naked in Bagshaw’s hall seen by a couple of members of the household, and apparently causing Gwinnett to leave hurriedly. Nick starts to hear rumours about Widmerpool’s involvement with a man called Belkin (whom Widmerpool seemed to have been looking for in Venice), and Sunny Farebrother predicts that Widmerpool may soon be arrested for spying. What Widmerpool has been up to is not entirely clear, and never completely cleared up either, as so often with Powell things remain just a little out of reach and veiled in mystery. A Mozart party is given by the Steven’s and Nick’s old friend Moreland conducts, Glober arrives with Polly Dupont (daughter of Jean and Bob Dupont) now an aspiring actress. Bizarrely old Mrs Erdleigh is also in attendance, issuing dire warnings for Pamela. There is an altercation between Glober and the Widmerpools as the party comes to an end.

There is an ending of a more permanent kind for two of Jenkin’s immediate circle, reminding us should we need it, that things are wandering toward their conclusion. I am now very much looking forward to the last novel in this sequence, just a few more weeks and I will have completed the entire sequence.

anthonypowell

Slamming the bedroom door.

classics clubDuring November the Classic Club asks:

“Which argument made by an author do you most support or agree with (or disagree with).”

With her 1848 novel The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Anne Bronte was clearly saying that women so long having had their lives, happiness and very safety placed into the hands of the men in their lives, should; like her heroine Helen Graham, where possible, take that responsibility upon themselves. Her feminist stance is certainly something I agree with, and has made Helen Graham, one of my favourite heroines in classic English literature.

“When I tell you not to marry without love, I do not advise you to marry for love alone: there are many, many other things to be considered. Keep both heart and hand in your own possession, till you see good reason to part with them; and if such an occasion should never present itself, comfort your mind with this reflection, that though in single life your joys may not be very many, your sorrows, at least, will not be more than you can bear. Marriage may change your circumstances for the better, but, in my private opinion, it is far more likely to produce a contrary result.”

Anne Bronte allowed the character of Helen to be outspoken, independent and strong, and as such it was claimed by critics of the day that she was unfeminine. What Helen did, was to take charge of her own life, and in doing so find a way to be happy, and safe. She removed her son from his father, and for some time lived independently of her husband.

“You may think it all very fine, Mr. Huntingdon, to amuse yourself with rousing my jealousy; but take care you don’t rouse my hate instead. And when you have once extinguished my love, you will find it no easy matter to kindle it again.”

thetenantofwildfellhall1That a woman should take charge of her own life, walk away from an abusive partner, remove her son from the malign influence of a violent and drunken father, is perhaps a less shocking idea to us today, than it was in 1848. At the time of its publication, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was met by a wave of controversy, although it was at the same time an enormous success. Critics called it “coarse” and thought the subject matter unsuitable for women to read. In one particularly famous scene Helen slams her bedroom door against her husband, following his continued abuse of her, this, going against the sexual politics of the times. Helen’s escape of her husband, supporting herself under an assumed name was also contravening English law. A married woman at this time had no independent legal rights, she was unable to sue for divorce, own her own property or have sole custody of her children. In 1913 the writer May Sinclair said:

“the slamming of Helen Huntingdon’s bedroom door against her husband reverberated throughout Victorian England.”

There are many people who claim the Tenant of Wildfell Hall to be one of the first truly feminist novels. It is also incidentally, an absolutely brilliant one, every bit as powerful and compelling as those Victorian readers found it to be.

 

thehotel2

First published in 1927 The Hotel was Elizabeth Bowen’s first novel, published following two collections of short stories. For a first novel it is very assured, remarkably so, written with great insight and subtlety.

In a hotel on the Italian Riviera, a certain kind of genteel English tourist spends the summer during the 1920’s. Here we meet spinsters Miss Pym and Miss Fitzgerald, unassuming and a little stuck in their ways, as the novel opens there has been an upsetting quarrel. Mrs and Miss Pinkerton are used to having things just their way, the exclusive use of the bathroom opposite their rooms’ just one of the comforts they have come to rely on. Sydney Warren, an attractive, scornful young woman, at the hotel with (and at the expense of) her cousin Tessa Bellamy, who’s vague ailments keep her largely to her room.

“Miss Pym never went near the tennis courts, but a prospect of walking down there and appearing with Mrs Kerr was delightful (poor Emily, scrambling alone in the hills!) She abandoned a plan she had, still embryonic, of going down to the shops, and wondered whether their two names – her own and Mrs Kerr’s – might not, henceforward, begin to be coupled. She had a quiet little thrill and held open the swing-door with gratitude, almost with reverence. Mrs Kerr with a vague inclination of the head passed out before her. They crossed the gravel together under the hundred windows of The Hotel.”

Popular middle-aged Mrs Kerr is glamorous and quietly manipulative, and Sydney falls under her spell. Mrs Kerr is subject to a great deal of speculation from the other guests, sought out and admired, Sydney can bask a little in the glow of her aura although her fledgling friendship with Mrs Kerr becomes the subject of a little mild spite.

Middle-aged clergyman James Milton is a late arrival at the hotel, and not aware of the unwritten bathroom law – he relaxes from his arduous journey with a soak in the Pinkerton’s bathroom. His transgression is hardly a good start, and at first he is viewed by his fellow guests as a fairly unexciting prospect. The pretty Lawrence sisters are also popular with several of the guests, they are cynical and witty, and quite conventional, Veronica Lawrence is wearily certain about her eventual future being that of an inevitable marriage. Unwittingly Veronica’s attitude to love and marriage has quite an influence on Sydney, leading her to make a surprising decision. The Lawrence girls; trying to throw off their conventionality, with their air of world weary cynicism, but their very conventionality is infectious. Sydney is as influenced by them as she is by Mrs Kerr, and between both of these outside influences she becomes less and less certain of what she wants. James Milton is very much in the market for a wife, and it is probably not so surprising that he should look towards Sydney.

It is when Mrs Kerr’s twenty year old son arrives at the hotel that we begin to see her cool manipulation in action. Ronald and Sydney don’t entirely hit it off at first, but as Sydney seems to be drawing closer to James, it hardly seems to matter.

“ He pushed his way back into the drawing room, now quite vacant and in yellow shade from the awning. He sat down on a sofa, leaning back, crossing his legs, and waited for his mother to appear in the window, as she almost immediately did, and after a moment’s blank stare into the dusk to perceive him and come over royally. She did concede, and generously he could approve the concession, a few words back over her shoulder, perhaps to Miss Warren out there. Then she sat beside him, most beautiful in the half light, her attitude settling into complete repose as silk settles into folds.”

Bowen is a master at observation, and here she has recreated the claustrophobia of a genteel hotel, and the chilly relationships that exist behind its rarefied exterior, brilliantly.
The world of the hotel one of tennis and bridge, cliff side-walks, picnics and dining room conversation, is not an entirely comfortable one. This is a closed, privileged world, set among the olive groves and sunshine of the Riviera, everyone knows just how to behave, yet there is little sense of real enjoyment. Before the summer ends Sydney falls further and more resolutely under the spell of Mrs Kerr, neither she, Roland or James will be left untouched by the intensity that has risen up between them all.

Elizabeth Bowen’s writing is absolutely sublime, I find she needs to be read slowly, there is perhaps little in the way of plot, but really who needs plot? There is in fact a lot going on in the polite conversations, the side long glances, unspoken passions and future hopes. My favourite Bowen novels (I have yet to read them all) so far remain Death of the Heart and The House in Paris, but this is an excellent novel, and would actually make for a great place to start for anyone new to Bowen.

Elizabeth bowen2

the bookshop book

There is something very special about a bookshop, for many of us the lure of a bookshop is so strong we can hardly ever just walk past. The window displays, the events that booksellers dream up to tempt us inside, the eclectic mix of titles inside, differ greatly from shop to shop. Sometimes it feels as if an independent book shop is such a rare a thing that it’s right up there with unicorns. Certainly I am saddened by the lack of them here in Birmingham, yet this wonderful book by Jen Campbell, serves to remind us that bookshops are very much alive, and in many cases increasing and thriving.

The Bookshop Book has been chosen as the official Books are my Bag book for 2014. It really is a delightful book celebrating bookshops around the world, and the dedicated, book loving obsessives that put their all into the opening and running of them. If you have ever curled up with a large cup of tea and a roomful of fellow bibliophiles and just talked the afternoon away about all things books – you will understand the deliciousness of this book. It is a vicarious exploration of extraordinary bookshops, where you will meet a whole host of book loving friends, people who really do get what it is that makes us booky types tick.

I encountered so many memorable places and people in this book, mentally making a list of places I really want to visit (some of them rather an impossible dream). There were some places I already knew; a favourite bookshop of mine is Barter Books in Alnwick, so I was delighted to see it featured and read the story of how it started. It is years since I was in Northumberland, but it really made me want to go again soon. There are the book towns around the world which have sprung up, some with the assistance of Richard Booth –who started the book town of Hay on Wye – another of my favourite booky places.

“When driving into Hay, you first come to the children’s Bookshop, which is a mile out of town and full to the brim with Enid Blytons and old school girls’ annuals. Judith, who runs it, and her husband, who was a watchmaker, actually built the shop themselves. Further on, in the centre of the town there’s the Cinema Bookshop – a bookshop in a converted cinema; Ashbrook Garage, which sells books on cars; Fleur de Lys, which sells books on trains; Book Passage – a corridor of books; Mostly Maps (I think you can guess what they sell there) and the Broad Street Centre, which houses the stock of twenty different booksellers under one roof.”

However I have now found out about many more places I know I would love just as much. The Book Barge in Lichfield started by Sarah Henshaw certainly captured my imagination, books and barges, what a magical combination! Now Sarah plans on taking her book barge to France, and has written her own book about her project. We also discover bookshops in oatmeal mills, in old railway stations and converted churches, bookshops that sell coffee and cakes, a bookshop that also sells hats, shops with beds in for people to stay, the list is endless. In Canada there is an antiquarian book vending machine in a shop called The Monkey’s Paw (great name) and a man who bought, read and reviewed one every week, no matter what it was. We meet Khaleb Omondi in Kenya, who began by selling his old school books by the railway tracks before opening a small shop with money he borrowed.

“When Khaleb Omondi’s father died in 1992 he had to drop out of college and move to Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi, to live with his uncle. He found work in the city cleaning offices, and in the afternoons he’d set up a stall and sell things by the railway tracks. In Kibera there was a sacred feeling around books, he realised: education was almost a sacred concept. He brought out his old school books to see if they would sell and despite the people of Kibera having hardly any money, they bought them; they wanted their children to learn”

In New York there is a secret bookshop, the owner forced out by raising rents, you need to ring and make an appointment and secure the address before going. Sebastian in Mongolia sells books to herders, while Andrew and Sally Wills at the Old Inlet Bookshop in Alaska run the furthest-west bookshop on the road system in mainland USA (there’s another shop in Alaska not reachable by road).

In between the myriad stories of bookshops and their owners, are booksish facts and wonderful things; little snippets of booky gossip and history. One of my personal favourite bookish facts is that Ernest Hemmingway was once a spy for the KGB, but was so rubbish at it they dispensed with his services. The Bookshop Book includes interviews and quotes from many famous writers, who share their own memories of bookshops, the importance of bookshops in their lives, and even their experiences of working in them.

“I remember my annual trip to a bookshop after Christmas, with one or more book tokens in hand. A crisp book token seemed much more valuable than cash, because it was purely for my pleasure; nobody could expect me to save it like pocket money, or spend it on birthday presents for any of my family of eight”

(Emma Donoghue ; author of Room and Frog Music)

This book really is must for anyone who loves a great bookshop or a great story; because bookshops are full of stories, some of the most remarkable are the tales of how these shops came into being. The Bookshop book has made me realise just what extraordinary and often magical places bookshops are, and what an amazing (slightly mad) and wonderfully committed bunch of people booksellers are.

With thanks to the publishers for the review copy.

Campbell Jen

fightingfrance

Fighting France: from Dunkerque to Belport is a small collection of essays, written by American novelist and short story writer Edith Wharton at the beginning of the First World War while she was living in France.

“The signs over these hotel doors first disturbed the dreaming harmony of Paris. In a night, as it seemed, the whole city was hung with Red Crosses. Every other building showed the red and white band across its front, with “Ouvroir” or “Hopital” beneath; there was something sinister in these preparations for horrors in which one could not yet believe, in the making of bandages for limbs yet sound and whole, the spreading of pillows for heads yet carried high. But insist as they would on the woe to come, these warning signs did not deeply stir the trance of Paris. The first days of the war were full of a kind of unrealizing confidence, not boastful or fatuous, yet as different as possible from the clear-headed tenacity of purpose that the experience of the next few months was to develop. It is hard to evoke, without seeming to exaggerate it, that the mood of early August: the assurance, the balance, the kind of smiling fatalism with which Paris moved to her task. It is not impossible that the beauty of the season and the silence of the city may have helped to produce this mood. War, the shrieking fury, had announced herself by a great wave of stillness. Never was desert hush more complete: the silence of a street is always so much deeper than the silence of wood or field.”

As a consort to the president of the American chamber of commerce in France, Edith Wharton was given unique access to life at the front. In these essays Wharton meets with French soldiers, seeing for herself the impact upon everyday life, the devastation and desolation in once beautiful villages along the Western Front.

In many ways this book – though gloriously written, as one would expect from the pen of Edith Wharton – is rather out of step with the world we live in now. It reads rather like a piece of flowery propaganda at times, which in itself I think is fascinating, showing us as it does the spirit of patriotism that everyone it seems wanted to show the world. Edith Wharton was a fierce Francophile, and there’s no doubt where her sympathies lay here, the French are brave and stoical, the Germans evil, laying siege to the French countryside, destroying its villages. Written in 1915, it is hardly surprising that this is her view – it couldn’t be expected that it should be otherwise, it is probably only now with the distance of time that we are able to acknowledge, faults and heroisms on both sides.

They are grave, these young faces: one hears a great deal of the gaiety in the trenches, but the wounded are not gay. Neither are they sad, however. They are calm, meditative, strangely purified and matured. It is as though their great experience had purged them of pettiness, meanness and frivolity, burning them down to the bare bones of character, the fundamental substance of the soul, and shaping that substance into something so strong and finely tempered that for a long time to come Paris will not care to wear any look unworthy of the look on their faces.

During this year in France, Edith Wharton was able to tour various parts of the front, she appears fairly matter of fact about her presence in these places, but when we consider how close she was at times to the fighting this becomes a quite extraordinary chronicle. She focuses mainly on the deserted and war ravaged villages, and shows us temporary hospitals and soldiers’ messes and once poignantly encounters injured soldiers, suffering with no one to care for them. The soldiers set up little temporary villages right behind the lines, where they were able to live almost normally between engagements, and in the company of the her party and their guide Edith Wharton was able to meet these men. Wharton’s descriptions of landscape are just lovely, in her company the breeze rustles through the trees gently, while birds sing over head in trees alongside summer meadows.

“As we sat there in the grass, swept by a great mountain breeze full of the scent of thyme and myrtle, while the flutter of birds, the hum of insects, the still and busy life of the hills went on all about us in the sunshine, the pressure of the encircling line of death grew more intolerably real. It is not in the mud and jokes and everyday activities of the trenches that one most feels the damnable insanity of war; it is where it lurks like a mythical monsters in scenes to which the mind has always turned for rest.”

As an early twentieth century travelogue by a great American writer, Fighting France is a beautifully rendered little piece, locations exquisitely described with obvious affection. As a first-hand account of France during the first few months of The Great War, however, it is rather over blown and very one sided. The final section – entitled The Tone of France is particularly objectionable – as Wharton appears to speak for the whole of France, allowing her admiration of the French spirit and patriotism to descend into terrible generalisations. However I can’t help but also see something rather interesting in Fighting France as a social document, and I wonder what it might have been like had Edith Wharton written these essays with some greater distance to the war.

This was my eleventh read for the Librarything Virago Group’s Great War theme read (I have rather neglected it of late) links to my other Great War reads are on my reading challenges page.

Edithwharton

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,535 other followers