Trilby, George du Maurier

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When I saw a few of you were reviewing du Mauriers I thought, I’ve got a du Maurier on a flash drive somewhere, Trilby, started listening, sounds C19th, must be historical. But of course Trilby (1894) is by George du Maurier (1834-1896), Daphne’s grandfather. Then to my further surprise I learned also that Svengali was was not an historical figure but du Maurier’s invention.

You’ll be pleased to learn that George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier was not of French aristocratic stock, escaped to London to avoid the guillotine, but was in fact the grandson of a tradesman, Busson, who left Paris in a hurry to avoid fraud charges. George studied art in Paris but seems to have lived mostly in London. He joined the staff of Punch as an artist in 1865 and all the drawings on this page are by him. I couldn’t find a name for the crowd scene in the artists’ studio but the others are “Au clair de la lune”, “Wistfull and sweet”, and “Repentance”. If you want to see more, the Project Gutenberg ebook (here) is fully illustrated.

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The novel opens with some lines from a French popular song –

“Mimi Pinson est une blonde,
Une blonde que l’on connaît;
Elle n’a qu’une robe au monde,
Landérirette! et qu’un bonnet!”

listening, there’s quite a bit of French which went straight over my head, but reading, I can make out the gist – and goes on to describe the large, airy studio above with views out over the street and to the Seine in the distance, walls lined with reproductions of famous paintings, a kitchen in one corner, a piano, and lots of sporting equipment. The studio is occupied by three English artists – Taffy, an ex-soldier, the Laird, and Little Billee. Taffy and the Laird paint for popular consumption, while Little Billee is more serious.

Enter two musicians –

First, a tall, bony individual of any age between thirty and forty-five, of Jewish aspect, well-featured but sinister. He was very shabby and dirty, and wore a red béret and a large velveteen cloak, with a big metal clasp at the collar. His thick, heavy, languid, lustreless black hair fell down behind his ears on to his shoulders, in that musicianlike way that is so offensive to the normal Englishman… He went by the name of Svengali, and spoke fluent French with a German accent … His companion [Gecko] was a little swarthy young man—a gypsy, possibly—much pitted with the small-pox, … and carried a fiddle and a fiddlestick under his arm, without a case, as though he had been playing in the street.

I don’t know what to say about du Maurier’s depiction of Jewishness. Racial/ethnic/religious stereotyping was so common up until the 1960s that what can you do but throw up your hands (I have been planning forever to review Scott’s Ivanhoe simply because the female lead is Jewish and favourably described).

Svengali and Gecko give an impromptu performance, on piano and violin, interrupted by a knock on the door and in walks a tall, beautiful young woman, dressed in an army greatcoat over a petticoat, an artists model from nearby, “Ye’re all English, now, aren’t ye?” she exclaimed. “I heard the music, and thought I’d just come in for a bit, and pass the time of day: you don’t mind? Trilby, that’s my name—Trilby O’Ferrall.”

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This is a book of two halves. In the first, Trilby hangs out with the painters, we discover she has an atrocious singing voice, she and Little Billee fall in love, on his twentieth proposal she gives in and says Yes, he makes the mistake of writing and telling his proper, middle class mother and she comes over to Paris. Trilby readily agrees with her that it would be a mistake for Little Billee to marry her. She goes away into the country, and LB goes into a decline.

Three years later the painters are now in London. At a party the latest singing sensation from Europe is being discussed –

“You are talking of la Svengali, I bet,” said Signor Spartia.

“Oui, parbleu! You have heard her?”

“Yes—at Vienna last winter,” rejoined the greatest singing-master in the world. “J’en suis fou! hélas! I thought I could teach a woman how to sing till I heard that blackguard Svengali’s pupil. He has married her, they say!”

“That blackguard Svengali!” exclaimed Little Billee … “why, that must be a Svengali I knew in Paris—a famous pianist! a friend of mine!”

“That’s the man! also une fameuse crapule (sauf vot’ respect); his real name is Adler; his mother was a Polish singer; and he was a pupil at the Leipsic Conservatorio. But he’s an immense artist, and a great singing-master, to teach a woman like that! and such a woman! belle comme un ange—mais bête comme un pot. I tried to talk to her—all she can say is ‘ja wohl,’ or ‘doch,’ or ‘nein,’ or ‘soh’! not a word of English or French or Italian, though she sings them, oh! but divinely! It is ‘il bel canto‘ come back to the world after a hundred years….”

“But what voice is it?” asked Little Billee.

“Every voice a mortal woman can have—three octaves—four!

The painters attend La Svengali’s first London concert. She is of course Trilby, mesmerized by Svengali into overcoming her tone deafness – but only it later turns out if she is looking him straight in the face – and also into marrying him.

There is an accident. Trilby becomes ill, loses her memory of being La Svengali. The rest you will have to read for yourselves. It is is well written, describing a London (and Paris) that I think du Maurier knew well, and I enjoyed it.

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George du Maurier, Trilby, first pub. 1894. Audio book: LibriVox (here)

(Daphne) du Maurier reviews:
Booker Talk, Jamaica Inn (here)
Brona’s Books, Jamaica Inn (here)
Brona’s Books, My Cousin Rachel (here)
ANZLitLovers, Rule Britannia (here)
ANZLitLovers, The Scapegoat (here)
Grab the Lapels, Rebecca (here)
Reading Matters, Rebecca (here)

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The Vicar of Wakefield, Oliver Goldsmith

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This was a very popular book once (back when there weren’t so many to choose from, 150 years ago) and I like old books, appreciate the formality of the language, so was happy to take my chances, despite a recent adverse review by Karen at BookerTalk, and downloaded it as an audiobook from LibriVox, to play while I “work”. I loved it, and incline to Lisa (ANZLL)’s view that it is a gentle satire on romances of the time – of which there may not have been very many. The Vicar of Wakefield was written and published in the 1760s. Robinson Crusoe, the ‘first’ novel only came out 1719, Eliza Haywood began writing in the 1720s, Fanny Burney was still a schoolgirl and Jane Austen was not yet born.

Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774) is often referred to as an Irish novelist. He was in fact the son of an Anglican clergyman in Ireland, so, of the occupying class, was educated at Trinity College and later at Edinburgh, and after living by his wits bumming around Europe, was by the age of 28 in London leading a dissolute life as a hack writer. Which is all background as to why his vicar’s homilies, while harmless enough, were probably meant to be read satirically.

In the first chapter the Rev Primrose is vicar of Wakefield – there is a Wakefield in England, in west Yorkshire, and the story is pretty clearly set in England rather than Ireland as I had initially supposed – raising six children on ten thousand a year, when the merchant to whom he has entrusted the management of his capital absconds with it and the Primroses are suddenly become poor.

His oldest son, George must call off his planned marriage to Arabella, the daughter of another wealthy vicar, and his two beautiful daughters, Sophia and Olivia, both given names from romance novels despite his wishes, must cut their cloth and more particularly their lace and ribbons, to suit their new circumstances. He finds a lowly position as a curate in the gift of squire Thornhill (Goldsmith was employed for a time at Thornhill Grammar School) in a distant shire, and there rents a small house and farm which is run by his second son, Moses. The other two children are young boys.

My house consisted of but one story, and was covered with thatch … Though the same room served us for parlour and kitchen, that only made it the warmer… There were three other apartments, one for my wife and me, another for our two daughters, within our own, and the third, with two beds, for the rest of the children.

Throughout, there are a series of calamities and coincidences in the manner of all the best romances, and the vicar is always both surprised and sanguine. Crossing a river on the way to their new home Sophia comes off her horse and is almost drowned while her father is looking the other way, until their travelling companion Mr Burchell plunges in to rescue her. Squire Thornhill is both a known womaniser and a considerate companion, paying constant attention to Olivia, but believed also to be considering marrying Arabella. Mr Burchell favours Sophia. He is always around, but disregarded.

When the morning arrived on which we were to entertain our young landlord, it may be easily supposed what provisions were exhausted to make an appearance. It may also be conjectured that my wife and daughters expanded their gayest plumage upon this occasion. Mr Thornhill came with a couple of friends, his chaplain, and feeder. The servants, who were numerous, he politely ordered to the next ale-house: but my wife, in the triumph of her heart, insisted on entertaining them all; for which, by the bye, our family was pinched for three weeks after. As Mr Burchell had hinted to us the day before, that he [Thornhill] was making some proposals of marriage, to Miss Wilmot, my son George’s former mistress, this a good deal damped the heartiness of his reception: but accident, in some measure, relieved our embarrasment; for one of the company happening to mention her name, Mr Thornhill observed with an oath, that he never knew any thing more absurd …

Moses takes one horse to market but is duped, so the vicar takes the other, and he is duped. Olivia elopes with Thornhill. Dr Primose goes off to rescue her. In a distant village they take adjacent hotel rooms and so meet up. On returning home they find their house burning down. Unable to pay Thornhill his rent, the vicar is imprisoned, along with the man who duped him over the horses. He’s told  Sophia has pined away and died. After an absence of years, George comes home and he too is imprisoned.

And they all live happily ever after. Really! It’s lots of fun. Read it for yourself.

 

Oliver Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield, first pub. 1766.

Available on Project Gutenberg (here), LibriVox (here)

see also reviews by –
Lisa/ANZLitLovers (here) who loved it
Karen/BookerTalk (here) who didn’t
My posts about other pre-Jane Austen writers –
Mothers of the Novel (here)
Evelina, Fanny Burney (here)

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

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Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) was Polish, a seaman, and one of the great writers of English prose. That is about what we “all” know of him. Researching, I find that he was born into the Polish intelligentsia in Russian- ruled Poland, was well-read in Polish literature, his father was if not a revolutionary, at least anti-Russian. He was mostly home-schooled, but received some formal education in western Poland which was under Austrian rule, spent four years in the French Merchant Marine, then another 15 years in the British merchant marine. He became a British subject in 1886, though shades of our own dual citizenship pollies, he was not released from Russian citizenship for another three years.

My introduction to Conrad came via The Secret Agent which I see my father inscribed for my 15th birthday in 1966 and which was the eleventh of Conrad’s 20 novels and novellas. I have always been a Conrad fan though I am not particularly knowledgeable about either the author or his work. Heart of Darkness (1899) I own, in a Bantam paperback together with Youth and Typhoon but I chose the Penguin cover above for its realistic portrayal of the river steamer at the heart of HoD. I also have a downloaded audiobook copy from Project Gutenberg, and when my cd player jammed (with 2 cds to go of a 19 cd SF space opera) this last trip, I dug out some old flash drives and re-listened to HoD (and Howard’s End).

The novel is framed as a story told by Marlowe, a captain in the merchant marine, to a group of his businessmen friends whiling away the evening on the deck of a yacht moored in the Thames estuary. This is an old-fashioned gambit now, but the writing is timeless, spare and descriptive (ie. both efficient and effective). It reminds me of the factoid I’ve quoted a couple of times recently that Murakami pares down his prose by writing first in English before rewriting in Japanese. Conrad, for whom English was his fourth or fifth language – after Polish, Russian, German and French – was probably also working from a limited – for a writer -English vocabulary.

While listening, I thought also of two other great writers who were contemporaneous with and stylistically similar to Conrad – Jack London and Henry Lawson, also self-taught, working men and who probably also worked from limited vocabularies. Conrad is described variously as being at the tail end of C19th Realism and at the beginning of C20th Modernism, and perhaps he, London and Lawson were just caught up in the zeitgeist, but I think also their similar backgrounds played a part.

The story is that Marlowe, at a loose end, and wishing to extend his considerable experience as a seaman by working as “a fresh water sailor for a bit” in Africa, applies to rellos on the Continent to gain him an introduction. This is soon achieved and after a cursory interview in a city like a “whited sepulchre” (Marseilles?) he finds himself making his way down the coast of Africa.

“I left in a French steamer, and she called in every blamed port they have out there, for, as far as I could see, the sole purpose of landing soldiers and custom-house officers. I watched the coast. Watching a coast as it slips by is like thinking about an enigma. There it is is before you – smiling, frowning, inviting, grand, mean, insipid or savage, and always mute with an a air of whispering, Come and find out. This one was almost featureless, as if still in the making, with an aspect of monotonous grimness.

Marlowe is landed, walks 200 miles to his station, finds his “ship” has been sunk in a shallow part of the river, spends months recovering and repairing it. Sets out on a voyage up river with various passengers to the isolated station of the famed Kurtz. Rescues Kurtz who is dying. Sails (sorry, steams) back.

The heart of the story concerns the atmosphere around Kurtz, who is believed to be favoured back home, and who is phenomenally successful at securing ivory for the Company, and so is regarded with both awe and jealousy by his colleagues. I’m not competent to add to the century of learned commentary around this great work, so this ‘review’ is just a token to say I’ve read it.

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French colonies in Pink (how counter-intuitive is that!)

The specific location is never stated, or not that I noticed anyway, but I believe is generally held to be the Congo River. My first thought was that the Congo was not then even a colony, but the personal possession of the Belgian King. However, more research shows that the French had a neighbouring colony (now Congo) which bordered the River, but only well upstream and hence the 200 mile walk.

Since writing the above I have read a learned introduction (in my 1960 Bantam edition) which states that Conrad’s intention was to expose the heartlessness of King Leopold’s rule of the Belgian Congo and that Marlowe in fact signed on in Brussels. Make of that what you will. My memory is that Marlowe talks all the time of working for the French. (Which reminds me that the one defect of the novel is that all the characters are so English in their speech).

In his initial remarks Marlowe muses on young Romans coming up the Thames to their British possessions:

They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness, The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look at it too much …

Not surprising maybe from an author whose own homeland was a colony, but heresy in the pre-War Britain of Empire.

We are made conscious all the time of the ill treatment of the locals, and of the worthlessness and casual brutality of the colonists. At one point Marlowe remarks that English villages would be deserted too if every passing party raided them for supplies and manpower. But I’m afraid that in the end I read these great works for the flow of the language, and am barely conscious – and not at all retentive -of the ideas being expressed. Not very satisfactory for a reviewer I know.

 

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness, first published 1899. Available (free) for download as an audiobook from Librivox (catalogue).

 

 

 

Draganned again

Journal: 024

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It’s time to imagine Dragan in a dress.

If I thought I had been Draganned last week, it only got worse! I upset a customer, Dragan got angry. I loaded my trailers on Thursday, he held me over (in Sydney) till Friday. We argued. He harangued me about how ungrateful I was. I spent all Friday stacking freight for one customer around the freight of another customer, on another driver’s trailers, and took off for Perth the minute we were finished. An hour out … it goes on and on. In the next 24 hours I was diverted around the countryside and swapped the combination I was towing twice, as other drivers had problems. And still we’re fighting.

I’ve had my truck serviced – the oil alone costs $600 – on the basis that the company will want me to do one more trip before Christmas, but that is looking increasingly problematic. Last night I picked Milly up from her Tuesday meeting and we went for a late meal at Neho, a Korean fusion restaurant in Vic Park. Very popular. Great food. And happy to squeeze us in before they closed the kitchen. Anyway, Milly: it’s time I stopped living the Legend and spent some time in Perth doing family stuff. So one way or another, no more Dragan in 2019.

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On the way here I listened to Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London (1933). I thought I had a copy at home and could write a proper review. As it turns out I have lots of Orwell, but not that one, not on the shelf where it should be anyway. What I do have is a biography, The Unknown Orwell (1974) by Peter Stansky & William Abrahams. They write:

It can be argued that of all the books he discovered while at Eton, the one that was most to affect him was Jack London’s The People of the Abyss. Years later it would have a direct influence upon the writing of the first book he was to publish, Down and Out in Paris and London. As an Etonian, [he] read of the ‘abyss’ and incorporated it into his fantasies and life. Written in 1903, the book was (and still is) a vivid,  powerful and appalling first-hand account of poverty in the East End of London in the summer of 1902 …

I was a big Jack London fan years ago, but that was one book I could never find. Orwell, born Eric Blair (1903-1950) was at Eton from 1917-21. From there he went directly into the Imperial Police in Burma, from which he resigned to become a writer in March, 1928. He began almost straight away to get essays accepted, including, in 1929, The Spike, an account of his experiences living as a tramp in England [And also the name of chapter in London’s book]. I say “living as” because it was clear he always had options available to him, to borrow or earn money, which real tramps didn’t, and his account was actually the conflation of a series of experiences separated in time. Interestingly, he says he never attempted to modify his Etonian accent, and in fact was sometimes offered, and accepted, better treatment on the basis of his obvious gentleman-ness. A ‘spike’ if you’re wondering was a dormitory for the homeless. Tramping was mandated by the law that specified a man (or woman) could only stay in a given spike once in any month. Amazingly, it was an imprisonable offence to enter a spike with more than a few pence in one’s pocket.

Although Paris precedes London in the book, he was actually in Paris after this, in the Latin Quarter, and became a scullion – my son says “dish pig”, a job he often turned to as he scraped through his seven year Bachelors degree – after having all his money stolen by a prostitute he brought back to his room. In the book, not to offend his mother’s sensibilities, he says it was a young Italian.

He put the two stories together and eventually found a publisher in Victor Gollancz, who also came up with the title. (I looked, unsuccessfully for a Gollancz cover, but don’t you love the one I did come up with). It was at this stage that he adopted the pen name George Orwell. Down and Out is journalism/memoir with the names changed, a form I think he used again in The Road to Wigan Pier (1937), but I’m pretty sure Homage to Catalonia (1938) which I reviewed here, is straight memoir.

Orwell, like London, was confirmed in his socialism by his experience of the actual living conditions of the underclass. But he had a strong libertarian streak which made it impossible for him to be a Party member, and which enables the Right to present him, wrongly, as on their side. He doesn’t judge his fellows, neither the fact that they have fallen so low, nor their behaviour, and is scathing of government policies which forced men willing to work to spend all their time and energy tramping between spikes and cheap lodging houses. He even suggests an alternative, accommodation with land attached which the homeless could use to grow their own vegetables. As it is, their principal sustenance was cups of tea, bread and margarine. I think that what he finds saddest is the loneliness, the impossibility of these men even meeting women, let alone being in the position to marry. He is also scathing about the cleanliness – or lack of – of French hotel kitchens, so you’ve been warned!

Orwell doesn’t mention the Depression. I have a very clear conception of the Depression years (1929-39) from Australian and American literature, but not so much from British and European lit. and perhaps anyway the bulk of his experiences predate the Wall Street Crash of September 1929 from which the Great Depression is usually dated. Stansky & Abrahams say extreme poverty (in Britain) was very similar in London’s and Orwell’s works, which are a generation apart, and no doubt right up to and beyond the War (as we see in Cotter’s England for example).

Last but not least, he relates some shockingly anti-semitic stories for no discernable reason, and I think it is more than “just the times”. Orwell is a writer I admire, and I need to follow this up.

 

George Orwell (M, Eng), Down and Out in Paris and London, first pub. Gollancz, London, 1933. Blackstone Audio, read by Frederick Davidson

Peter Stansky & William Abrahams, The Unknown Orwell, Paladin, London, 1974

More Orwell: Homage to Catalonia (here). 1984 (here)

Recent audiobooks

Ken Bruen & Jason Starr (M, USA/Ire), Slide (2015)
Terry Brooks (M, USA), A Princess of Landover (2009)
Irena Gut Opdyke (F, Poland), In My Hands (1999) – Holocaust memoir
CJ Box (M, USA), The Disappeared (2018)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel
Alexis Wright, Tracker (2017)

 

All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld

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Yet another woman farmer novel! Just a coincidence. Maybe. I listen to lots of indifferent fiction while I’m driving but the cover of this with its “Winner of the 2013 Encore Prize”, and “From one of Granta’s Best Young British Novelists” at least looked promising, even if it gave no hint that it might also be ‘Australian’.

Here are the facts. The audiobook is read by a woman with an Australian accent. The story is of a woman sheep farmer on an island off the coast of England who we gradually come to learn has escaped a traumatic past in Western Australia. She is a strong, tall woman with terrible scars on her back. Some of the WA bits are clearly researched rather than lived. Evie Wyld was born in and lives in England, and this is her second novel.

I listened on the way home from Sydney over the weekend and on my first day off thought I would do some googling. Evie Wyld was born in 1980 in London. Her mother was/is Australian and the family spent some time on Evie’s grandparents’ property on the NSW north coast. And …

All the Birds, Singing was the winner of the 2014 Miles Franklin. Who knew!

The shortlist for that year included, Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Tim Winton’s Eyrie and Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book – which may well be the book of the century let alone the year, what were the judges thinking! (My reviews here, here, here). Still, Wyld’s is a strong novel and a refreshing take on the Independent Woman, most reminiscent probably of Nikki Gemmell’s Alice Springs.

The story begins with Jake Whyte – an Australian woman – discovering a gutted sheep on her little farm on an isolated English island. For a long time she suspects the local kids but there is a ‘shape’ that moves in and out of the woods. The novel alternates backwards and forwards between England and Jake’s past in Western Australia. In the West she is a rouseabout in a shearing team out from Kambalda. I don’t think Wyld has ever seen shearing or been to the West, but if you haven’t either then you won’t notice. I can’t help myself saying though that Kambalda is a very ‘suburban’ mining town, built in the 1960s and doesn’t have any tin shed pubs.

Just as we are getting to know the shearers, the Australian chapters start moving backwards in time, first by hints, then by descriptions of her earlier life, held as a sex slave maybe by an old man on a remote property between Port Hedland and Marble Bar. And yes, that’s tropical cattle country, not sheep country. The boundary between cattle and sheep was always south of the Tropic of Capricorn and with the decline in the wool industry and the depredations of wild dogs has moved maybe 400 kms further south in the 20 years I’ve been back in the West. But anyway, the old man teaches her a bit about sheep farming which she uses to get her rouseabout job.

It’s too hot, but I like the way my arms feel like they’re full of warm oil, and sweat runs down them in sheets soaking the sides of my singlet. There’s an ache in the bottom of my spine from bending and lifting, but it beats lying on my bed at Otto’s waiting for the day to be over. I catch myself smiling as I throw another fleece onto the table and Denis nods to me, impressed.

It would unwind the narrative tension to say more about the situation she gets herself into with the old man, Otto, but it’s well done.

We go back further. School days in country Wyld has lived in, the NSW north coast. An Aboriginal boyfriend. A bushfire.

Back in the ‘present’, we meet the man she bought the farm off, who has retired nearby but helps her out from time to time, or provides commentary if she’s not in immediate danger; his delinquent son and the son’s girlfriend; and a well-spoken alcoholic she discovers sleeping in the barn and who never quite gets round to leaving. The ‘shadow’ keeps taking sheep. And throughout, the birds sing out or cry warnings. (Evie, there are no kookaburras in Western Australia).

A good book, very good even, but not in the same league as The Swan Book.

 

Evie Wyld,  All the Birds, Singing, 2013. Audiobook: Blackstone, Read by Cat Gould.

Sue, Whispering Gum’s review (here), but she seems also to have mentioned Wyld quite often in the context of awards and women’s writing. If you put Wyld in her search box it brings up ten or so listings. Check them out.

Lisa ANZLL has reviewed Wyld’s earlier After the Fire, A Still Small Voice (here) but All the Birds, Singing must still be on the MF TBR.

Recent audiobooks

Stuart Woods (M, USA), Quick and Dirty (2017)
Helen Sedgwick (F, Sco), The Comet Seekers (2016)
Yrsa Sigurdardóttir (F, Fin), Last Rituals (2007)
Rio Youers (M, USA), The Forgotten Girl (2017)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel.
Frank Moorhouse, The Drover’s Wife (2017)
I’ve been carrying around Peggy Frew’s Hope Farm, but woman farmer! so will start on Mary Grant Bruce, Billabong’s Daughter for AWW Gen 2 Week.

Who Does the Dishes?

Journal: 022

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Katherine Mansfield

Following on from my last, I got out of Sydney ok on Wednesday morning and dropped my trailers at Tolls, Perth late Friday, hopefully to be unloaded overnight. I’ve been asked to turn straight around, which I’ve agreed to, Milly’s away working on site till some time next week, but as I write, on Saturday morning, I’m yet to hear from work. Still, I can take today as a 24 hour break and leave this evening.

Despite what I wrote, I did pick up Mothers of the Novel for a while. The next authors after Aphra Benn are Delarivière Manley (1663-1724) and Eliza Haywood (1693-1756). Spender is furious that Manley worked with Jonathon Swift on the Examiner and succeeded him as editor, yet Swift is a celebrated satirist and Manley a forgotten ‘gossip-monger’. Alexander Pope describes her “as one of those shameless scribblers who, in libellous memoirs and novels reveal the faults and misfortunes of both sexes, to the ruin of public fame or disturbance of private happiness.” High, if unintended,  praise! Spender writes:

The entry I would like to see for Delarivière Manley in the history of letters would be as follows: A prolific and innovative writer who helped to develop the genre of fiction by her use of the epistolary form and her introduction of political satire.

I have Haywood’s The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) which I had better not read until next year, until I have some Australian reading out of the way. So I will put off dealing with Haywood until then. But Spender, in lamenting that Manley and Haywood had family duties which made it difficult for them to earn an income from writing, includes by way of illustration this extract from a letter from Katherine Mansfield in 1913 to her lover, John Middleton Murry.

… the house seems to take up so much time if it isn’t looked after with some sort f method. I mean … when I have to clear up twice over or wash up unnecessary things I get frightfully impatient and want to be working. So often this week, I’ve heard you and Gordon talking while I washed dishes. Well, someone’s got to wash dishes and get food, otherwise – ‘There’s nothing in the house but eggs to eat”. Yes, I hate, hate, hate doing these things that you accept just as all men accept of their women. I can only play the servant with a very bad grace indeed. It’s all very well for females who have nothing else to do … and then you say I am a tyrant, and wonder because I get tired at night! The trouble with women like me is – they can’t keep their nerves out of the job in hand – and Monday after you and Gordon and Lesley have gone I walk about with a mind full of ghosts of saucepans and primus stoves and ‘Will there be enough to go round?’ …. and you calling (whatever I am doing) ‘Tig, isn’t there going to be tea? It’s five o’clock’ as though I were a dilatory housemaid.

I loathe myself today. I detest this woman who ‘superintends’ you and rushes about, slamming doors and slopping water – all untidy with her blouse out and her nails grimed. I am disgusted and repelled by the creature who shouts at you. ‘You might at least empty the pail and wash out the tea leaves!’ Yes, no wonder you ‘come over silent’.

Well that all sounds very familiar. I didn’t go down the pub, or gamble, and I cared for and cooked for the kids when Milly was at her (part-time, manual) work. But I had satisfying full-time employment and on-going education, doing degrees part-time throughout our marriage, and Milly had neither, and I made no effort to back off, or take over housework, to give her space to do either of those things. Milly is not one who “rushes about, slamming doors” but she did try to talk and I couldn’t or wouldn’t hear.

Nine am. Still haven’t heard. My washing’s done, I’d better pay some bills, I’d better go and check my PO box! There’s not much left to do except the library for more audiobooks. Food I can get at IGAs along the way, got some very sweet mandarines from a roadside stand a couple of days ago near Mildura.

Spender has made some remarks about the influence of the middle classes on eighteenth century writing, and when I have time that is what I will be following up next.

 

 

Recent audiobooks

Jeff Abbott (M, USA), Panic (2005)
Gillian Flynn (F,USA), Dark Places (2009)
Camille di Maio (F, USA), The Memory of Us (2016)

Currently reading

Dale Spender, Mothers of the Novel. 

1984, George Orwell

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That I have reviewed two classics one after the other (Pride and Prejudice and 1984) is just a coincidence based on what audiobooks become available at my local library, but if I had the chance, classics would be all I read. And some new releases I suppose, one must ‘keep up’. Of course I’ve read them both before, but that’s why they’re classics – they stand, demand even, re-reading.

I pick up Orwells as a matter of course whenever I see them second hand and in looking for my copy of 1984 for this review I see I have a a few yet to be read – The Unknown Orwell, A Clergyman’s Daughter, Collected Essays, The Road to Wigan Pier, Coming up for Air – so expect some more reviews.

As a young man growing up, 1984 was in the distant future, a dystopia hanging over us in a way that is difficult to explain now that it is so far in the past. Later,  we congratulated ourselves that we had dodged a bullet, but what shocked me on this re-reading was Orwell’s prescience. The Introduction to my edition points out how many concepts from 1984 almost immediately entered the language:

… in common use by people who have never read the book – for example Newspeak, thought-crime, Big Brother, unperson, doublethink – most relate to the power of the state to bend reality.

These concepts, and particularly doublethink, “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them”, are at the core of right wing orthodoxy today.

1984 was Orwell’s last work, written in the immediate aftermath of WWII. The right, of course, promptly adopted it as an attack on Stalinism, which indeed it was, while ignoring any meaning it might have for their own tendency to totalitariansim. Orwell’s anti-Stalinism was not anti-communism, though the right and their fellow travellers in the ‘centre’ like to conflate the two. Orwell was clearly of the far left, he admired the anarchists in Spain, though he chose to fight with POUM who were basically Trotskyite (my review of Homage to Catalonia). The Republicans probably lost the war in Spain because the Soviet-supported Communists were as dedicated to defeating POUM as they were to combatting Franco. When the Republican government rounded up the leadership of POUM, Orwell was lucky to escape with his life, and this of course informs 1984, where the ruling Party is led by the Stalin figure, Big Brother and the shadowy opposition by Goldstein, clearly standing for Trotsky.

For a novel of such universal themes 1984 is suprisingly provincial. The ‘world’ it describes is the drab, post-war London of socialism, shortages and rationing. The world is divided into three blocs who have fought themselves to a stalemate. England belongs to the Oceania bloc of Great Britain, North America, South Africa and Australia, but Orwell makes no attempt to explain how English socialism prevails over US capitalism, nor how the UK is never overrun by Eurasia (Europe/Russia/South Asia).

Society is divided into Inner Party (Ruling Class), Outer Party (Middle Class) and Proles. The Inner Party rules by doing its best to prevent casual sex, channelling the resultant sexual frustration into political hysteria, with cameras and microphones everywhere so that the Thought Police may monitor every person’s activities, and children encouraged to report on their parents.

London today has an ‘Orwellian’ 500,000 cctv cameras in public spaces, though they’re probably not as informative as our communications and search records, with computer algorithms taking the place of the Ministries of Love and Truth in analysing and storing the resultant data, all available to the government and the police at the push of a button (or to you, if you want to watch, here).

At the core of the story is 39 year old Winston Smith, a minor bureaucrat whose job is to rewrite past newspaper reports so that they do not contradict current ‘truths’. Smith, who has one failed marriage behind him, lives a lonely and largely sexless life, though he did once give in to a hideously painted prole prostitute (for a socialist, Orwell is very ambivalent about the Proles). Smith is discontented with his life and has begun writing down anti-State thoughts in a journal he found in a junk shop. He becomes aware at work of a younger woman who appears to be paying him some attention. Although at first he fears she may be an informer for the Thought Police, he meets her and they become lovers, meeting first in parks then in a room he rents above the junk shop.

When they are, inevitably, betrayed the novel follows two courses, the Political and the Personal. Smith undergoes months of imprisonment, torture and indocrination to force him not just to agree with the Party, to engage in doublethink whenever he thinks he knows two facts which are at odds, but to internalise his agreement, to love Big Brother.

The Personal, the horrors of Room 101 which force Smith to disavow his feelings for Julia, his lover are well known, and anyway, as with many dystopian works, are merely a vehicle for the real message.

It’s clear that Orwell’s cynicism about ‘truth’ or about our leaders telling us the truth was a direct result of his participation in the war in Spain. In Looking Back on the Spanish War he writes,

As far as the mass of the people go, the extraordinary swings of opinion which occur nowadays, the emotions which can be turned on and off like a tap, are the result of newspaper and radio hypnosis. In the intelligentsia I should say they rather result from money and mere physical safety. At a given moment they may be ‘pro-war’ or ‘anti-war’, but in either case they have no realistic picture of war in their minds.

As a participant, he was able to make the comparisons first-hand between what was happening in Spain and what was reported in European newspapers:

I saw great battles reported where there was no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed… I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines’…

This kind of thing is frightening to me, because it often gives me the feeling that the very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. After all, the chances are that those lies, or at any rate similar lies, will pass into history.

The middle part of the book is taken up with Smith reading a critique of the Party, The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism, by the rebel leader Goldstein, a pretence to get us to absorb a lot of Newspeak and Doublethink theory.

The war between the blocs is explained as very little to do about territory gained and lost, and all to do with motivating members to unquestioningly support the Party – reprising the anarchist argument War is the Health of the State. In reality –

the war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact.

I won’t take the theory lesson much further except to point out the almost exact parallels between the orthodoxy required by the Party in 1984 and the contortions of apparently intelligent people on the right of politics today to hold, and to insist that we also hold, beliefs that are completely at odds with what we, and they, know to be true.

To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary.

Does that sound like Creationism to you? Does that sound like Climate-Change denialism? Like the arguments in favour of invading Iraq? Of course it does, because that’s how those in power work, in Orwell’s time, in our time.

 

 

George Orwell, 1984, first pub. 1949. My copy (not pictured above) Penguin 1989 with Introduction by Dr Peter Davison [I sourced the illustration from another blog (here) but couldn’t identify the illustrator. Tetiana Aleksina who often ‘likes’ my excursions into SF might have more info.]

George Orwell, Looking Back on the Spanish War, written 1943, first pub. 1953. Published with Homage to Catalonia, 1968.