Monthly Archives: September 2016

Lundy: the island postal service

Lundy Postbox on Marisco Inn

In Trollope’s day, the Post Office included Lundy within its compass albeit the service to the island, located some 12 miles off the north Devon coast, was less frequent, slower, and more prone to delays due to bad weather than Trollope might have wished when he had responsibility for the area. Certainly the type of deliveries which resulted in the receipt of replies within the day featured in the novels of Trollope and others of his day could not be relied upon.

However by 1927 the Post Office had concluded that Lundy, with its population counted in tens rather than hundreds even, was no longer worth the effort of maintaining a service and deliveries and collections were suspended.

In 1929, Martin Coles Harman who had bought the island in 1924 decided to set up a replacement postal service. He also declared himself king and had Half Puffin and Puffin coins minted which were supposed to be equivalent to an English halfpenny and penny, for which he was fined £5 plus fifteen guineas (£15.75) expenses by the House of Lords. It is not recorded if he paid in Puffins.

The postal service continues to this day. Lundy Stamps can be purchased at the island’s only shop and can be posted at the island’s only post box – painted a rather fetching blue and installed in the wall of the island’s only pub: the Marisco Inn, which takes its name from the family which used to own the island.

From this postbox (pictured above) the mail is taken to Bideford post office on mainland Devon for onward delivery. Naturally I bought a postcard and stamp, which is franked specially on the island, and sent it second class (noting it is 10% cheaper than the normal UK second class price of 55p which pleased the Yorkshireman in me – I like a bargain).

It took only three days to arrive and that’s probably no worse than I might expect from the Royal Mail second class service. But how Trollope would have been pained at such tardiness.

I also took the opportunity to buy a postcard on the M.V. Balmoral, on which I sailed across to Lundy, and sent that card second class, posting it in the special postbox (pictured below) on board the ship. This also receives a special on-board franking before entering the normal Royal Mail service and also took three days to arrive. Fun to do but yet more cause for grief to Mr Trollope, I’m afraid.

Balmoral postbox





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The Soldier’s Art

You think you know someone and then they turn around and do something so surprising that you wonder if you ever knew them at all. So it is with Nick Jenkins, the narrator of Powell’s A Dance to the Music of  Time and arguably Powell’s own fictional alter-ego. I find myself part way through the first chapter of the eighth volume in the sequence and realise he is not the person I took him for. It would be unthinkable to be so astonished at a hitherto unrevealed facet of, say, Plantagenet Palliser’s character by the end of The Duke’s Children – the sixth in Trollope’s series of political novels in which he is a more or less constant feature. Indeed this was his seventh appearance if one is to take into account his fleeting cameo as a minor, young romantic figure in one of the Barsetshire novels (a youthful aberration that is perhaps out of character but not irreconcilable with his sober, maturer incarnation in the later series).

We have seen Jenkins/Powell be somewhat disparaging of the fictional author St John Clarke – a thinly veiled and rather unkind caricature of John Galsworthy – and reference D H Lawrence with apparent approval. But I am taken aback by his seemingly snobbish response, as a literary person, to Trollope when he encounters General Liddament reading a frustratingly unidentified Trollope novel during a lull in a military exercise. The book is described as small which might imply either one of the shorter novels but could equally be a pocket edition if a longer novel or even a part volume. 

The General “suddenly…raised the book he had been reading in the air, holding it at arm’s length above his head…he waved the small volume backwards and forwards, its ribbon marker flying at one end…

‘What do you think of Trollope?’

‘Never found him easy to read, sir.’

…General Liddament…seemed to share none of that indulgence for those who did not equally enjoy his favourite author…

You’ve never found Trollope easy to read?’ (Powell’s italics)

‘No sir.’

He was clearly unable to credit my words…

‘Why not?’ he asked at last.

…I tried to think of an answer…a few worn shreds of lobg-firgotten criticism were just pliant enough to be patched hurriedly together…

‘…the style…certain repetitive tricks of phrasing…psychology often unconvincing…sometimes downright dishonest in treating of individual relationship s…women don’t analyse their own predicaments as there represented…in fact, the author does more thinking than feeling…of course, possessed of enormous narrative gifts…marshalling material…all that amounting to genius…certain sense of character, even if stylised…and naturally as a picture of the times…’

‘Rubbish,’ said General Liddament. 

He sounded very angry indeed…

‘All I can say is you miss a lot…Whom do you like if you don’t like Trollope?’

For a moment I could not remember a single novelist, good or bad, in the whole history of literature…Seeking to nominate for favour an author not dissimilar from Trollope in material and method if handling, at the same time in contrast with him…in possessing great variety and range, the Comedie Humane suddenly suggested itself.

‘There’s Balzac, Sur.’

Balzac!'(Again Powell’s italics.)

General Liddament roared the name.”

I am reminded by the conclusion if this lengthy passage (for which I make no apology in quoting at length in a place devoted to Trollope) by a similar explosive exclamation at a crucial moment in the musical The Music Man. And in spite of my own liking for Balzac’s work, I have to side with the General in almost every particular in this debate. 

Jenkins may be expressing a commonly held literary view that Trollope was middle-brow comfort reading – a kind of equivalent in book form of school dinners with sponge pudding and custard that provided a source of comfort and reminders if home to small bits (and girls for that matter)of a certain class, torn from their family home and packed off to boarding school. This explanation was trotted out to account for the ride in popularity Trollope enjoyed during the war, accurately related by Powell, as an antidote to the depressing events of the time. The Soldier’s Art is set still in the period of the phoney war which Powell sends up at the start of the first two chapters by a deliberate juxtaposition of the military and unreal theatrical worlds. At the start of the book, Jenkins buys his officer’s uniform from a theatrical costumier who assumes he us an actor wishing to use it in a west end production. In chapter two, Powell refers to events in various theatres of the war – a conscious play on words- such as Greece which are going badly as “noises off in rehearsals that never seemed to end, breeding a wish that the billed performance would at last ring up its curtain…However, the date of the opening night rested in other hands than our own; meanwhile nobody could doubt that more rehearsing, plenty more rehearsing, was going to be needed…”

Immediately following the debate on Trollope’s merits between the General and lowly second lieutenant Jenkins, the General demonstrates a level of humanity and understanding if Jenkins’s plight as Widmerpool’s assistant at Divisional HQ that Jenkins would not have foreseen. The General, having concluded the argument, goes on to offer, almost in passing, a way out for Jenkins which, in spite of this being followed by a dramatic turn for the worse in the military exercise requiring the General’s immediate and full attention, he dies not forget. Indeed the General follows through as promised a few days later. 

In this, as in his liking for and defence if Trollope, I am wholly in the General’s camp. No doubt Trollope himself would have applauded the empathy for a subordinate shown by the General and approved of his supportive intervention on behalf of his junior officer. 

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Trollope in Spain

Trollope MP DVD cover

To celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Anthony Trollope the Madrid Players, an amateur theatre group based in Madrid, put on a performance of three short plays based on works by Anthony Trollope over three nights in the Centro Gallego in the heart of Madrid from April 23rd to 25th 2015.

Madame Brudo’s Lovers is an adaptation of a theme from Trollope’s play The Noble Jilt.  It focuses on the rivalry for the hand of Madame Brudo between the aged and portly Burgomaster Van Hoppen and the dashing young Captain Belleroache.

A chapter from The Duke’s Children shows how well Trollope understood the plight of women in Victorian England and finally a chapter from Orley Farm showcases Trollope’s ability to bring to life an array of characters in a comic scene that takes place in The Bull Inn in Leeds.

Here is a link to videos of the three pieces performed in the show.



With thanks to John McCourt who drew this to my attention following a meeting with Madrid-based Irishman Michael Connolly at the Yeats summer school in Sligo. Serendipity.

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The Valley of Bones

Unlike other books in the sequence, The Valley of Bones, does not slide around in time to any great extent but focuses on the period 1939-1940, known as the “phoney war”. Nick Jenkins, the narrator, has wangled his way into the army and is in training then subsequently posted with is unit to Northern Ireland in a reserve role.

The second chapter includes the most moving passage so far in the series. Captain Gwatkin (pictured above) apologises for taking out his anger on Nick after he has personally received a dressing down for shortcomings in his performance and that of his unit during an exercise.  He explains that he needlessly sent Nick out on a patrol without chance to eat when there was actually sufficient time, and gives him a bar of chocolate to eat, having noticed that Nick has none of that staple of army fare to keep him going. This honesty and straightforwardness is in contrast to much of the behaviour of the other characters in Nick’s social circle and makes Gwatkin a sympathetic character.

Gwatkin is one of several new characters who are introduced in this book. Only two army characters are drawn from his previous existence, David Pennistone, Nick having met him briefly at a party, and Jimmy Brent, who had been involved in a car crash as a fellow passenger with Jenkins in the first volume in the series. Several of the new characters are “from the ranks” – Welsh miners who have been called up or volunteered – and so there is a significant working class contingent taking highlighted roles for the second book in a row. However, Jenkins does not meet them outside the army confines and when he does go home on leave, he is immediately returned to the upper-middle class world that is isolated from the working class men of whom he is in nominal charge when at the camp.

In many respects I was reminded of Spike Milligan’s autobiographical Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall, which covers much the same period of training at home before going into action. There are the same apparently pointless routines and exercises and the focus on the correct way of doing things, not because it achieves the desired results, but because someone once thought it would do so and wrote it down in the manual that way.

Jenkins is reading Thackeray’s Henry Esmond in his spare moments between burst of hyperactivity on the orders of a remote headquarters and is not enjoying it.  In fact, he is frankly bored by it and in this it reflects his response to the tedium of army life. I can’t recall having read it myself but Powell isn’t selling it very well, so I think I will stick to Trollope.

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Mr Trollope and the Labours of Hercules

There was a great radio play on BBC Radio 4 on Monday, which you can still catch on the BBC iPlayer. Based on Trollope’s visit to the West Indies to survey the postal system in 1858. Written by Patricia Cumper, who is from Jamaica, the play draws on Trollope’s own words in his travelogue about his time there: The West Indies and the Spanish Main. It presents the events from the perspective of local man, Hercules, who accompanies him on his travels.

The play is prefaced by a warning that the attitudes portrayed are very much of their time but in the end it reveals Trollope to be more liberal than conservative in his views – albeit they would be shocking if held now. In this, I think the play is true to Trollope’s overall perspective even while quoting passages which would not be printable today.

This is a significant achievement on the part of the writer and I enjoyed the zest with which the cast (notably Paterson Joseph as Hercules, Justin Edwards as Trollope and Cecilia Noble as Miss Grant) bring the characters to life.

To listen to the whole play go to the iPlayer at:

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