The Classics Club Spin # 26 has been chosen and it’s number 11 which means that by the 31st of May 2021 I have to read Montaigne’s Essays. I’ve had this book by my bedside since 2016 which is when I read How to Live – A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. I really enjoyed that book and wanted to read more of what Montaigne had written, the thing that has been putting me off from the beginning is the fact that my copy of his essays is an old Penguin Classics paperback with really small print. I don’t need new specs, it’s just that after reading more modern books which have really big clear print I find the older editions uncomfortable to read to begin with, but I know that after reading just a few pages I’ll get used to it.
My last read for The 1936 Club is It Pays To Be Good by Noel Streatfeild. My copy is a 2015 re-print by Greyladies. This is the third book that I’ve read for the 1936 Club and and happily they’ve all been books that have been languishing on my shelves unread for quite a wee while (years).
Flossie Elk’s entry into the world had been difficult, in fact since then her mother had never felt quite right, her insides had a tendency to ‘flop’ and she was told by the doctors that Flossie must be her only child. The astonishing thing is that Flossie is such a beautiful child with white blonde curls, born to very ordinary parents. Her father George Elk is a greengrocer with an evangelical Christian leaning and he wants his daughter to grow up to be a good wife to a nice man, but her mother Fanny thinks that Flossie must be beautiful for a reason, and that she should make a career of her looks. Flossie was still a toddler when she realised that screaming her head off to get her own way was hard work, it was far easier to silently look at her father and fill her eyes with tears, no man seems to have been able to withstand her manipulative tears and hurt look for long. Flossie is thoroughly spoiled and really should come with a stamp on her forehead warning she is a danger to men, although to be fair she even manages to fool the sillier women that she encounters – such as her teacher at infant school .
At the start of World War 1 George joins the army and four years later when he hirples home the damage is done as Fanny has sent Flossie to a stage and dancing school with the result that Flossie thinks she is above everyone and she treats her poor mother like a servant. She manages to twist her father around her little finger and it’s not long before he agrees to her being on the stage.
At the age of 16 an audition results in Flossie getting a leading part in a London show, just because of her looks, in truth she’s not that talented but that doesn’t seem to matter. She’s chaperoned by Mouse who needs a lodger who will help pay her rent. Mouse has to train Flossie to seem like a well-bred young woman, not the common as muck girl that she really is. Flossie is a quick learner and in no time she has legions of men of all ages lusting after her. By this time her name has been changed to Virginia and her management have fed a rumour to the press that Virginia is the off-shoot of some sort of royalty and Virginia herself has started to believe it, she certainy behaves that way and her poor parents are completely forgotten.
There’s a lot more but I’ll leave it at that. Suffice to say that I really enjoyed this book although it’s quite a frustrating read as Flossie/Virginia is the sort of person that you would never get tired of slapping, and she doesn’t really get her comeuppance. I have a horrible feeling that there are quite a lot of her type around. Nowadays she would be described as being ‘a piece of work’ I suppose but by her own moral standards (and her father’s) she’s above everyone else in the book.
I’ll definitely have to track down more of Noel Streatfeild’s novels for adults as until now I had only read the books that she had written for young people.
I was really happy to see that Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell had been published in 1936 because it’s one of his books that I hadn’t got around to reading. However, I found it to be quite a depressing read although it’s obviously well written.
Gordon Compstock is a 29 year old poet, he has already had a volume of poetry published, but he doesn’t realise that it was really his wealthy friend Ravelston who was instrumental in getting it published, only 153 copies were sold. He had previously had a ‘good’ job in an advertising agency but had given it up as he hated the whole industry. His boss says he can come back if he changes his mind, but Gordon really doesn’t want to be part of the rat-race and commercialism.
His job in a second-hand bookshop fits in with his ideals, but he’s earning a lot less than he was and living in deep poverty, often not having anything to eat all day, especially towards the end of the week as his money has run out. He has had to ‘borrow’ money from his much older sister Julia, despite the fact that she’s really poor herself and works in a tea-shop. She has been brought up to put her brother first though, being the son of the family has meant that all the family’s efforts have been put into him, including a private education which might have been a big mistake as his schoolfellows realise he’s poor – and boys will be boys.
He has been in love with Rosemary for two years, but rarely sees her due to a lack of money. He won’t have Rosemary paying her half of any outings or meals out, that would be too shameful to him. They can’t visit each other in their rooms as their landladies don’t allow that. With his decent clothes in the pawn shop people avoid him, thinking he’s a tramp. As it’s the Depression there are plenty such about. Gordon almost wishes that there would be another war.
Gordon squinted up at the leaden sky. Those aeroplanes are coming.In imagination he saw them coming now; squadron after squadron, innumerable, darkening the sky like clouds of gnats. With his tongue not quite against his teeth he made a buzzing, bluebottle-on-the-window-pane sound to represent the humming of the aeroplanes. It was a sound which, at that moment, he ardently desired to hear.
He lives in hope of getting a cheque from a publisher that he has sent poems to and when an American magazine does send him $50 for a poem Gordon is ecstatic. The dollars equate to £10 and some shillings!! Gordon promises himself that he will keep £5 of it to give to Julia but he ends up going on a disastrous boozy bender and ends up in clink overnight.
Like many an artist before him Gordon realises that he can’t afford his scruples, it’s time for him to grow up and earn his £5 a week and join the rest of society. He even decides he must get an aspidistra, they seem to haunt him! They were apparently the mark of a respectable and aspirational middle-class life. Rosemary isn’t convinced.
Everyone rebels against the money-code, and everyone sooner or later surrenders. He had kept up his rebellion a little longer than most, that was all.
It would seem that this is a very autobiographical novel which is really sad as presumably some of the humiliating situations that Gordon experienced actually happened, or Orwell observed.
It’s Classics Club Spin time again – number 26. I only have nine books left unread on my list so I’m having to double them up.
1. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
3. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
4. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
5. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
6. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
7. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
8. The Trial by Franz Kafka
9. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
10. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
12. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
13. The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson
14. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
15. The Corn King and the Spring Queen by Naomi Mitchison
16. End of the Chapter by John Galsworthy
17. The Trial by Franz Kafka
18. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
19. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
20. Kenilworth by Sir Walter Scott
The Classics Club number will be chosen on Sunday the 18th of April. I’ve been meaning to get around to reading Dorothy Whipple’s High Wages for years now so I’m hoping that this one will come up, which is why it features three times!
Are you taking part in the spin this time?
I read Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome as my first book for the 1936 Club, it’s the sixth book in his Swallows and Amazons series and I can’t say that it was a favourite of mine. To be fair the the Swallows and Amazon children aren’t enjoying themselves much to begin with. It has been a dry summer and the ground is parched so there’s no water near the camping ground they intended to pitch their tents. This means that they’re having to camp out in the back garden and because of the fear of a camp fire setting the whole area on fire they aren’t even allowed to cook for themselves.
Nancy and Peggy’s Uncle Jim is on his way back home to the Lake District, he’s been having an adventure of his own in South America, searching for treasure unsuccessfully. The children hear a rumour of a long forgotten old gold mine in the nearby mountains and set about looking for it, they know it is in a cave with some heather nearby. But they’re upset by the appearance of a suspicious man that they name Squashy Hat. He’s roaming all over the hills and daubing paint on stones, they’re sure he’s also looking for the gold.
Things improve when Titty discovers that she’s able to dowse for water and they manage to dig a well which gives them good water, so they are able to camp out after all, and they can communicate with Mrs Blackett by using some carrier pigeons.
Other readers seem to have really liked this one, and it did win the Carnegie medal, but I was never going to enjoy the subject as the children went off every morning, all armed with their hammers, merrily attacking the Lake District mountains with them and crushing up loads of quartz. Even as a child I had an aversion to mines and quarries, especially quarries due to my beautiful local mountain being completely hollowed out for use as hard core for road building! I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series though.
The 1936 Club which is organised by Simon and Karen will be running from the 12th to 18th of April. That year was a very good one for publishing and I’ve already read quite a lot of books from that year as you can see from the links below. Of course I’ll be reading more during the fortnight starting on Monday, there are a lot to choose from!
The Deadly Truth by Helen McCloy was originally published in 1941 but was re-printed by Agora Books last month. It’s a Dr Basil Willing mystery, he’s a psychiatrist who works in New York. Unusually for him he’s spending the summer on Long Island, renting a cottage on an estate which belongs to Claudia Bethune. She’s a wealthy socialite, three times married and she loves throwing parties. It seems that she gets most of her joy from being cruel and nasty to her guests though.
Dr Roger Slater is a research scientist who is infatuated with Claudia, so when she visits him in his laboratory he can’t stop himself from boasting about a new truth serum that he has developed. But when Claudia leaves the lab he realises that she has stolen a small aluminium tube of the serum. He’s furious, he’ll get into a lot of trouble from his employers if they find out. It looks like Claudia intends to have fun with her guests by doctoring their drinks with the serum.
Things don’t go quite the way Claudia plans them to, she’s in for a very big surprise. Dr Basil Willing gets involved and his investigation uncovers blackmail and jewellery theft, it seems that just about everyone had something to hide.
I really enjoyed this one, not only for the mystery and investigation but I appreciated the author’s descriptive abilities. I like to know where I am when I’m taken into a room by an author and I think you can see from the description below that Helen McCloy was interested in painting the scene for the reader.
The curtains were satin brocade of buttercup yellow. The walls were washed a pale primrose, the ceiling a sour cream colour, and two mantelpieces of tawny ochre marble faced each other at opposite ends of the room. The parquet was blond, the woodwork ivory white, and the chairs were covered with petit point in the same faded buff and blue as the Chinese rug. There was a Chinese cabinet of brilliant black lacquer with a procession of mandarins eternally wending their diagonal way across its double doors picked out in tarnished gilt.
She has one character saying:
If I may be permitted to paraphrase Aaron Burr: Truth is whatever is boldly asserted and plausibly maintained.
The politicians of the moment seem to have adhered to that one well!
I was sent a digital copy of this book by Agora Books via NetGalley. Thank you.
The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon was first published in 2011 by Faber and Faber. The setting is London’s British Museum to begin with, but it isn’t in a Britain as we know it because Christianity has never taken over from the Norse religion, Thor, Woden et al are still worshiped. It’s a Wodenist culture.
Freya is a twelve year old girl whose parents have split up and have joint custody of her, she’s having a tough time coping with living in two different locations – and with her father’s work patterns. He has a new job as a guard at the British Museum and Freya is having to stay at the museum during his shift. While wandering about on her own she’s drawn to the display of the Lewis Chessmen, most of which were taken to London despite being discovered on the Isle of Lewis. The room houses treasures from a Viking silver hoard, and when Freya fiddles with one of the exhibits she’s catapulted into an adventure which features the Norse gods and the chess pieces which have come to life.
Oh, Mum, if you could see me now, thought Freya, as she stepped off the trembling rainbow into the realm of the Gods.
This was an enjoyable adventure, written by the author of the very popular Horrid Henry series (which I’ve never read). The book has some lovely illustrations by Adam Stower, some of which you can see here.
You can see images of the Lewis Chessmen here.
I love the Berserker, he’s the one chewing on his shield, he just makes me laugh!
In this week’s Guardian Review section Henry Eliot reflects on his favourite literary locations, you can read the article here. It’s the hottest literary locations to visit – when lockdown ends.
Lucy Jago has gathered together books about female friendship but the piece isn’t on the website. The only one that I’ve read on her list is Vera Brittain’s Testament of Friendship, but she also mentions Sula by Toni Morrison, Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan quartet, Sebastian Barry’s Annie Dunne and Bernardine Evaristo’s The Emperor’s Babe. For some reason this article isn’t appearing on The Guardian website so I can’t link to it. Have you read any of these books?
There was an article in the main newspaper about John le Carre who took out Irish nationality a while before his recent death. It was Brexit which pushed him to take the decision. You can read about it here.
Tom Gauld’s cartoon below gave me a laugh – I so agree!
I’ve had to resort to buying books online so here are my recent acquisitions.
Escape from Loch Leven by Mollie Hunter is obviously about Mary, Queen of Scots. Loch Leven Castle, which is close to where I live is one of the several places she managed to escape from. This one is aimed at those aged over 11 – I come into the category!
Evelyn Finds Herself by Josephine Elder is a girls’ school book, one of the best of the genre apparently. I certainly enjoyed reading it recently, it’s unusual that it’s set in a fairly ordinary day school, rather than a posh boarding school.
Val Forest in the Fifth by Evelyn Smith is another school story, I have hope that this one will be good, the author taught at Glasgow High School until 1923.
The remaining three are all by Elizabeth Goudge.
The Valley of Song
I’ve never read any of her books for young people so it’ll be interesting to see what they’re like anyway
The last book I bought for all of £1 and it was bought in an actual shop when the lockdown was lifted briefly last summer. I bought Every Woman’s Doctor Book just for the charm of the cover. It has no publication date on it but going by the woman’s hat and hair I think it must have been around the 1920s. It says in this book that women in labour should be lying on their side, that is obviously where I went wrong!
I think that bookshops will be opening again on April 26th, so not long now.