Monthly Archives: June 2016

Summer Celebration of Trollope

It is debatable whether Trollope would have found cause for celebration in the result of the referendum on whether to continue the UK’s membership of the European Union or to leave. His Victorian perspective, based on the UK’s position as the world’s leading industrial nation and the centre of an Empire on which the sun never set, would probably have led him to concur with the view, oft-expressed in jest these days, that in the event of fog in the channel (the meteorological equivalent a decision to leave the club by the UK) the situation could be summed up as “the Continent now isolated”. Thus the result of  yesterday’s vote would most likely be a matter of supreme indifference to him. A 21st Century perspective, reflecting the change in the UK’s position and reduced status in the world, might be less sanguine.

However, given the Jupiter’s political stance is best summed up in unqualified support for the Liberal Party under the Prime Minister Plantagent Palliser, we can perhaps turn our attention from current political controversies to the Trollope Society’s Summer Celebration of Trollope taking place at the Royal Horseguards Hotel tomorrow. The evening will include the formal welcome of Lord Fellowes as a new Vice President of the Society, a screening of “special content” from his recent production of Doctor Thorne, a performance of the specially commissioned cello piece Barchester Prayer and excerpts from the play Lady Anna: All At Sea. Here at least, I trust, there will be harmony.

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A question of Upbringing

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Memory is fragmentary and episodic. Particularly childhood memories. The memories are frequently adrift in a blank sea of childhood, not anchored to a specific time, though often they are perhaps moored to a specific place. Thus Anthony Powell’s first volume in his Dance To The Music of Time sequence, focussing on the youth of the narrator, Jenkins – not unreasonably regarded by many as a proxy for Powell himself, appears as four (or perhaps five, depending on how you’re counting) isolated episodes. Indeed, they are surely episodes rather than incidents for a single dramatic action is not the focal point of any of the fragments but rather a collection of impressions.

Jenkins, the narrator, selects the episodes which for him have particular significance or resonance in his life with the benefit of hindsight. In this respect he has the authorial power which Trollope exercised frequently in his novels, of providing the reader with glimpses, tantalising at times, but at others reassuring, of future events which will arise in the lives of his protagonists. Thus he is able to comment on a leave-taking between two characters, Stringham and Templer, which includes the earnest, and very British, invitation that they must meet again the following week, with an aside which reveals that they would not meet again for several years. This continual cycle of meetings and partings, is what Powell characterises as the Dance.

Frequently Jenkins will refer back to the earlier episodes in subsequent conversations with other characters only to find that they do not share the feeling of the significance of those episodes which he himself feels. Thus Stringham fails to recall that Jenkins’s Uncle Giles intruded into the rooms he shared with Stringham and Templer at the public school they attended in the first episode recounted in the book but does recollect that this was on the occasion when Templer had got into trouble with the House Master for being late back from London as a result, it turned out, of an assignation. These differing perspectives on events are something which the mature Jenkins, as narrator, comments upon as an authorial aside.

The life described in the book is that of a privileged, upper-middle class world. The boys attend a public school and go up to university (or not as the case may be) as a matter of course. They travel abroad, to Kenya and to France, without comment. They prepare to take up roles in the City, in the legal profession or in the military – where the senior regiments of the guards and the household cavalry are the assumed to be the natural homes for them.

The lower orders, I can think of no more appropriate term in this context, are represented but little and then are often the butt of the schoolboys’ humour. Le Bas, the housemaster at the school, and would be poet, struggles to exert his authority over his charges. His paid position is automatically inferior to their privileged one. He is, therefore, fair game for their prank which lands him in an awkward position with the police. And giggling girls are picked up casually by Templer and then dropped when they have served their purpose and have ceased to be amusing pastimes.

This upper-middle class world in some ways resembles that Trollope described in his political series or that Galsworthy wrote about in his Forsyte novels – albeit both were concerned with slightly earlier periods. The comparisons spring to mind not only because of the milieu described but also because they are conducted over lengthy cycles of novels. A key difference here, though, is that the perspective is that of an insider. The narrative is first person rather than third person. This gives the sequence a stronger affinity perhaps with Proust’s A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.  Indeed, the opening sequence of Powell’s novel, charts a very similar process of the older man falling into a reverie about his younger self through an external cause – in this case observing a wintry street scene with snow falling rather the smell of a madeleine biscuit. Somehow this gives the reader a greater sense of immersion in the world described rather than the view of an outside observer. It also ensures that Jenkins, in spite of his role as reactor rather than actor in the scenes which unfold, nevertheless places himself at centre-stage in the story.

Over all the book is a pervasive hangover from the War – what we know as the First World War.  It colours people’s perspectives. Older characters make much, or little (as befits their situation), of their involvement in the war and its aftermath. M. Dubuisson emphasises his war record as a token of his experience and, like many of the characters, notably Sillery and Widmerpool, is greatly concerned with who you know rather than what you know. They all wish to establish connections which give them influence and, however slight, a feeling (illusion?) of power or control over their own and others’ destiny.

It will be interesting to see how these supposed influences act out over the sequence of novels.

 

 

 

 

 

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Bodies From The Library 2016

I am off to the British Library shortly to begin the final preparations for tomorrow’s Bodies From The Library conference. We have a fantastic programme lined up with leading authorities on Golden Age Detective Fiction speaking on a range of topics that we hope will prove both entertaining and informative.

I also happen to know that the conference sponsors, Harper Collins and the British Library, will be making available a number of titles not yet in the bookshops giving conference attendees an exclusive chance to buy their copies before they go on general sale. I’m dying to mention the titles but I am sworn to secrecy.

Click on the link below to see an animated programme and for your opportunity to get your ticket for the conference if you haven’t already done so.

Trailer for the Bodies From The Library Conference 2016

 

 

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Matching books in series

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I was delighted at the weekend when I went to The Book Barn at Temple Cloud, a few miles from where I live, and found in amongst the million plus second hand books that they boast they have on their shelves a copy of Books Do Furnish A Room. This is book 10 of Anthony Powell’s series A Dance to the Music of Time. It was the last one missing which was thwarting my efforts to get a complete set so I could read them in sequence. I thereby reveal myself to be both anal and a completer-finisher type in a single sentence.

I got eight of the dozen books in a single go at a jumble sale held some time ago to raise funds for a local museum. I have gathered the others together since then through religious perusal of the shelves of second hand and charity book stores wherever I find them. I have also made repeated visits to The Book Barn and checked out their “P” section at regular intervals.

It should be satisfying to have a complete set but, of course, it is never that simple. Like with my collection of James Bond novels, acquired as a teenager, I have an unreasonable desire to have a consistent set all from the same edition.

I am resigned in the case of the Bond books to knowing I am doomed to failure as that particular Pan edition was collected in my youth at the time of the Roger Moore incarnation of Bond in the films, with the result that there was not a version of Live and Let Die produced in the format of the edition in which I collected all the books. There was only the film tie in version. I managed to trade in my copy of the film tie in version of The Man With The Golden Gun for a second hand copy of the book in my preferred edition but, sadly, there never was, so far as I have been able to discover, an edition of the original The Spy Who Loved Me produced in the set I collected – it being the sole item in the Bond canon that  was out of print at the time.

So I now face the irritation of having finally completed my set of A Dance to the Music of Time but having failed to obtain a complete, consistent set of a single edition. Two-thirds of the set are the Mandarin edition featuring cartoon illustrations by Mark Boxer. I should point out at this point that these eight are not the eight I bought at the jumble sale (£1 each, as indeed have they all been as it happens). No.  Book 2 of the series, A Buyers Market, and book 8, The Soldier’s Art were in that original bulk purchase and are a William Heinemann hardback and a Fontana paperback respectively. The latter features a cartoon cover illustration by “Marc”.

I have subsequently bought a couple more books in the Mandarin edition – including the final missing link, book 10, Books Do Furnish A Room and another Fontana paperback, again featuring the cartoon illustration by “Marc” on the cover. I also got hold, after much searching, of a copy of book 3, The Acceptance World but this is in a paperback edition by Flamingo, which, though featuring a cartoon cover by Mark Boxer – he of the Mandarin series – is otherwise significantly different from that Mandarin edition.

Thus my complete set is now drawn from four different editions and the completist collector in me is as frustrated by that fact as the Yorkshireman in me is reluctant to shell out more money – even at £1 a time – to replace the oddballs with the correct series edition should I encounter them in future.

Ah the pains that mingle with the pleasures of book collecting. But at least I can now get on and read the damn things!

 

 

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