I like the autobiographical lines Heywood Hill have chosen for their page -
"Anyway, for whatever reason, the bug of the senachie, the Highland teller of tales, seems to have bitten me early, and has never let go."
and on editing:
"I am not normally receptive to suggestions, which I suppose makes me an editor’s nightmare. I make no apology for this; they're my books..."
George MacDonald Fraser's daughter Caro Fraser is a writer, too, and I have on my shelf, though as yet unread, The Pupil, the first of her series of novels of legal life, all of which look very appealing. Do you know them?
I'm glad to read that Hilary Mantel is pleased with this portrait by the young artist Nick Lord. It is to go on show at the British Library later this month and will be the first image of a living writer to be hung there.
Its subject said, "I didn't want to look as if I was just sitting, contemplating the daffodils, but as though I might have an impact in the world". I think she's got her wish.
Here is RLS painted by John Singer Sargent, and here the same painter has captured him in an informal scene with his wife Fanny. Sargent said "he seemed to me the most intense creature I had ever met."
There are two portraits of Stevenson by Count Girolamo Nerli, and the sitter said of them "the oil [above] represents me as I am, the pastel as I would like to be”.
This last is a sad picture, I think, because it seems to speak of what might have been; it was painted two years before his death at the age of only 44.
Although he was a literary celebrity in his day, RLS's writing was greatly out of fashion for much of the 20th. century, but according to this article, critical interest has been increasing and "reading this Mozartian and mercurial writer remains for many as for
Borges, despite critical neglect, quite simply 'a form of happiness'."
This post will just scrape in before the 28th. of August is over, and the date is important because it is the 100th. anniversary of Robertson Davies's birth, something I confess I would not have been aware of but for this short piece this morning.
Happily, I still have lots of his books left to read, but those I have read - including Fifth Business with our own book group - have been marvellously rich reads, distinctive of voice, strong in narrative pull, and fascinating in content and ideas. If you've yet to discover his work, do try him soon (his three great trilogies, for example, Salterton, Deptford and Cornish, or The Cunning Man),
and as Martin Chilton says in that article, take one on a long journey* and you may find, as he did, that the miles pass very pleasantly.
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
The line, "the blue is all in a rush with richness" reminds me of another Hopkins poem The May Magnificat - which would also be appropriate today - and its couplet "And azuring-over greybell makes
/ Wood banks and brakes wash wet like
lakes", and elsewhere he wrote of "the blue-buzzed haze" and its effect on him. If, as Katherine Swift suggests, "blue is the colour of possibility", for Hopkins it had a deep spiritual significance.
I wonder how much Naomi Mitchison is read nowadays - I rarely see her mentioned. I had a copy of The Corn King and the Spring Queen at one time but fear I sent it - unread - to the charity shop during a purge of the shelves a while ago; I'd probably make a better fist of reading it now.
I have a lot of recent arrivals to talk about, similarly a lot of recent reads, but the catching up will have to wait for another day.
Today, with many thanks first of all to Mary without whose post I might have missed it, let me point you in the direction of an excellent programme on Edna O'Brien (who, at an unbelievable 81, still looks amazing!). I had the chance to meet her at publishing event a few months ago but sadly I couldn't go: she is a fascinating person and the documentary is one not to miss. As for her books, I have many of her novels, all read when I was in my 20s, I think, and of course her memoir Country Girl
has recently been published. Just by the way, Edna O'Brien has been the guest on Desert Island Discs twice, and you can hear the programmes or find her choice of music here. I wonder whether any castaway has ever chosen a recording of Edna O'Brien speaking - hers is a lovely voice to listen to, whether you're marooned or not.
But before we get to that, what do you think of the picture? It is of the two-year-old Virginia with her mother Julia Stephen and I found it on Read, Seen, Heard where Kihm, who describes himself beautifully as an unfocused generalist (join the club!), comments on what that small girl had ahead of her ...
To the quotation then, and this appears in Humphrey Carpenter's The Inklings. It is the academic Hugo Dyson* recalling his visits to Garsington Manor when he was an undergraduate and his hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell filled her house with members of the Bloomsbury Group and other writers and artists of the day. At Garsington he had encountered "all the people whom secretly one would have most desired to meet - and, as so often happened to a shy, insignificant person, when one did meet them one was filled with a kind of terror. They were kindly enough, but I found them alarming. They weren't, most of them, my weight. I do remember finding Virginia Woolf immensely beautiful and immensely frightening; and one of my fears - I don't think I was quite alone in this - was that she would speak to me one day (but she never did)".
*I'll digress a moment to the meetings of The Inklings, the Oxford discussion group at which the likes of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis met to talk and read their work aloud, and to report Dyson's reaction to Tolkien's reading another instalment of The Lord of the Rings: "Oh god, not another elf".
Another programme from the BBC's 'interviews with remarkable authors' archive, T.H. White being grilled by a probing, rather provocative Robert Robinson in Alderney in 1959, talking about Arthurian legend and English traditions and the business of writing. I do like the optimistic line, "... if you've got the guts to write a book and finish doing those 70,000 words, it's almost certain to be published by somebody ... anybody who can go on and do it, you'll get it published and it'll probably pay for itself".
Cumbrian farmer, conservationist, much loved author and illustrator - here, Peter Rabbit's creator is shown towards the end of her life, the background making reference to her second career as a countrywoman and noted breeder of Herdwick sheep.
- Harriet Lane's novel Alys, Always impressed and engrossed me recently (as you can tell from this post), and last week Harriet was on Woman's Hour talking to Jenni Murray about the book. Click here and then scroll down and click on 'Chapter 5' to hear that item from the programme.
Although John Buchan is famous for his adventure novels such as The 39 Steps and Greenmantle, a friend who publishes his work rates Witch Wood (Buchan's own favourite, apparently) as one of his best and says it would make a great subject for a book group discussion. I can't comment as I've still not read him at all, but though we're told not to judge a book by its cover, and by extension, perhaps, an author by his looks, that noble profile and air of seriousness would certainly draw me to the man's works.
I've been looking for a recent biography of John Buchan - in vain, it seems - but he does have an entry in John Sutherland's Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives, a book I have my eye on. Diplomat, journalist, lawyer, politician, novelist, biographer ... quite enough for this lesser mortal to hold him in awe. "It's a great life, if you don't weaken," he wrote; I see no sign of weakness in that face.
In 2004, some years after this picture was painted, I went to hear Dame Muriel speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. She was very much as I had expected, the sharp wit, the smiling countenance, the soft Scottish accent - but the inner core of steel, I suspect - and she was obviously savouring the adulation she got from her audience that day (you can read about it in this article). Has anyone read Martin Stannard's biography of her? I'd be keen to know more about the complex person behind the books. As to her most famous creation, here's a clip of fellow Edinburgh author Ian Rankin (whose doctoral studies were on Muriel Spark) talking about The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.