Moore, Miro and Bowling

08/09/2011

It’s been an odd last few weeks. Blissfully indulgent on the one hand; a weird, sort of phantasmic nether zone on the other. It’s the first time in well over a decade – since I was on school holidays, really – that I have had so much uninterrupted time at one stretch. And it’s a bit odd getting used to being master of my time, to not having each day defined by the strictly ordered schedule of the office day.

I’m trying to take full advantage of this luxurious space, despite the almost unbearably high anticipation, my ever ponderous belly and, consequently, slowing movements. I realise that soon enough I shall be looking longingly back to these schedule free days; soon enough my life will be ordered and defined by the baby’s patterns, needs, moves. It’s a great big, exciting, unknown.

So, in the spirit of making the most of maternity leave, I have been trawling round looking at art.

First, to Hatfield House, whose stunning grounds currently house 15 of Henry Moore’s bronze sculptures. It is truly, as the website describes, a monumental exhibition. Sitting amongst the exquisitely manicured gardens and the more wild, woodsy land surrounding the House, Moore’s works are resplendent. The smooth, flowing, full pieces simultaneously blend in with, complement and stand out amongst the natural setting. We had to really restrain ourselves from reaching out and running our hands along the smooth contours – they cried out to be touched.

My mum and I went on a gorgeous hot September day last week, the first warm day we’ve had all summer. Perhaps the most exciting discovery was that of a deadly mushroom in the woods. It would, if eaten, ‘liquidate your liver in 10 minutes’ said a knowledgeable woman, with botanist parents, who we had first noticed crouching down taking a photo of something on the forest floor. She told us this was the mushroom used way back when to kill people instantly by poisoning. A quick google search brings up the ‘Amanita phalloides‘ or ‘death cap’ mushroom, which I suspect it was (apparently it only lives for a few days). The alarms and warnings of imminent danger of course made me want to reach out and touch it, but I steered clear.

Back to London, trading natural toxins for vehicle fumes and hordes of people, and to the grand and gilded rooms of The Royal Academy. Nothing much took my fancy there (sadly, I’d missed the wonderfully shambolic Summer Exhibition and was too early for the Degas) apart from a small exhibition of Frank Bowling. One of his paintings had caught my eye on the website. I’d never heard of Bowling before, but in this one room show, I learned quite a lot, thanks to a good selection of his recent works and a documentary film showing on a small tv screen.

Bowling’s works are bright, thick splodges of paint that sit high on the canvas and exude vibrancy and motion. Mainly abstract, apart from some portraits he has done, it was fun to see if I could decipher or discern the shapes on the canvas from the work’s title. The works currently being shown at the RA are his most recent and on a much smaller scale than many of the paintings he has done in the past. I believe he did the ones shown while recovering from an illness. I was glad I’d gone and been introduced to this interesting, Guyanan (by birth) artist.

Finally, today, to the Tate Modern to catch the Joan Miro exhibition before it closes on Sunday. I had heard of Miro, had a vague image in my head of his style of painting, but nothing clear and I realised when I got there I didn’t really know a thing about him. It is a brilliant show, an extensive retrospective of his work over a lifetime. He worked right up until his 80s – a true, dedicated professional artist, who was committed to painting as a conduit to make a statement, to speak for people, to make a difference. World War I & II and Franco’s Spain was the backdrop to much of Miro’s work.

His very first works were realist but he quickly moves into the surreal style that not only made him famous but that he helped define as a movement. It was fascinating to follow Miro’s transformation as a painter, to see the way he responded to political situations and to see how his settings affected his works (he lived in exile in France for many years, as well as a brief spell in America). I particularly loved his wall size triptychs; alas, they were not available on the postcards in the shop. I quickly appreciated Miro’s skill as a painter and, by the end, truly admired his dedication to art and to making an impact. I shall end with the statement which most struck me most (handily captured in Tate’s little exhibition book).

‘In accepting an honorary degree from the University of Barcelona in 1979, at the age of 86, he spoke of the artist’s social responsibility:

I understand that an artist is someone who, in the midst of others’ silence, uses his own voice to say something and who makes sure that what he says is not useless, but something that is useful to mankind.’

Lyrical threnody to a pre-war age

06/09/2011

Mollie Panter-Downes speaks of a by-gone era in her elegiac, 1947 novel ONE FINE DAY. Writing it close on the heels of World War II, she captures the sense of loss felt by many a middle-class family, suddenly bereft of their servants or, more tragically, their husbands, their sons, and left to manage their houses and their lifestyles in an entirely new way.

Laura Marshall, the absent-minded, dreamy protagonist, longs for the old way, when she had a cook, two maids, gardeners – bustling, efficient helpers to keep her house in order, her large garden tended and hot meals on the table at the appointed hours. Now, with all her servants gone and the difficulty in procuring new ones tantamount, Laura reflects:

They were awkwardly saddled with a house which, all those pleasant years, had really been supported and nourished by squawks over bread-and-cheese elevenses, by the sound of Chandler’s boots on the paths, by the smell of ironing and toast from the nursery. The support, the nourishment, had been removed.

Yet despite this lament to a former, happily ordered time, this is not, ultimately, a sad or mournful book. Laura is, at heart, a hopeful, cheerfully philosophic woman who constantly looks for inspiration in her surroundings. Her ebullient nature helps her to appreciate the quietly stunning, spiritually uplifting pastoral landscape in which she lives and to see how she can adapt to and triumph over this new way of life.

Panter-Downes’ poetic impulses shine through in this wonderfully lyrical, beautifully told story. The poetic style does take a certain frame of mind to properly get into. I had tried to read it several years ago, but kept losing the thread. On maternity leave, as I now wait like a sitting duck for the little one to arrive, I have the time and space to devote to it. And I am so glad I did.

There was much in Laura’s family life to which I could relate: the deeply tender and loving, yet refreshingly tempestuous relationship she has with her husband Stephen; the lively, loving approach she takes with her 10-year old daughter Victoria; and her easy, mindful caring for their errant dog Stuffy. I loved the interplay between the family members, between Laura and the others in the village.

It was a joy to read, especially coming after Chekhov’s rather grim THE LADY WITH THE LITTLE DOG (& OTHER STORIES). I’d never read Chekhov before and it was a good introduction, despite the depressing subjects. He goes straight to the heart of deep human issues – poverty, spiritual desolation, desperation, fleeting love – and pulls no punches.

At a recent dinner party, the topic of marital infidelity came up, specifically the point was made that men err more than women. I took issue with that, citing Chekhov’s stories as an example of as many women as men having affairs – and this can’t be only in Russia. Whether men can rationalise it better and feel less guilt and thus move on to other liasons more easily, is, of course, another matter entirely.

With my new ‘maternity leave’ state upon me, as I wait with mounting anticipation for mini-babe, I am determined to devote more time to this blog and to reading and writing in general. When the baby arrives – who knows?! – but, for now, I shall try to keep to more regular posts.

Comments always welcome! Chao for now.

A lady of letters

17/07/2011

Diana Athill. I had only vaguely heard the name, knew she was a formidable editor in her day. A fellow publishing friend had recommended STET, Athill’s book recalling her life as an editor at the publishing house Andre Deutsch. The memoir had been sitting on my bookshelf for over a year, untouched. It was Persephone Books’ new collection of Athill’s short stories: MIDSUMMER NIGHT IN THE WORKHOUSE which opened my eyes to her brilliance as a writer.

Finely wrought, well constructed prose; a surprising, original voice. Athill immediately drew me in. She has a refreshingly unique, ‘real’ voice and embodies the essential characteristic of a good writer (as she defines it in STET), one who writes freely about her experience, about the way she sees the world, rather than in a highly self-conscious style, trying to emulate another’s voice. This distinction is often subtle, but nonetheless exceedingly important. Contrived texts – whether prose or poetry – quickly sour and I lose interest.

Never with Athill. Quite apart from her total lack of sexual inhibition and her frankness about having regular affairs – which provides salacious fodder for many of the stories – the plots are all pacy and captivating. I raced through the 200 page collection. My favourites are, perhaps, ‘The Real Thing’, ‘No Laughing Matter’ and ‘A Weekend in the Country’, but I enjoyed them all – each had their delicious moments to savour.

I have a found in Athill a writer whom I respect and admire and, as such, feel driven to read all she has written: several autobiographical accounts, two ‘documentary’ works and a novel. I’m on my way, having just finished STET. The latter certainly kept my interest, but I found the best bits were when she speaks of why she likes to read, what makes a good writer, a good editor, a good publisher, rather than some of the minutia about the business. While interesting – she doesn’t hold back from good hearted gossip or from giving her honest opinion – I wasn’t quite as gripped by these bits (even though I spent five years in the trade) and I can’t imagine many outside the books world would be entranced.

That is not to say I did not retain complete sympathy with Athill throughout, and found the memoir an intriguing, erudite, revealing – and, at times, poignant – look into the publishing world from the 1930s-1980s.

I shall end with one of my favourite bits from STET; where Athill articulates why books are important to her:

They brought home to me the central reason why books have meant so much to me. It is not because of my pleasure in the art of writing, though that has been very great. It is because they have taken me so far beyond the narrow limits of my own experience and have so greatly enlarged my sense of the complexity of life: of its consuming darkness, and also – thank God – of the light which continues to struggle through.

As Always, Julia

03/04/2011

Back in February (phew, it’s been a long time since I’ve written), my boss lent me AS ALWAYS, JULIA, the letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto: penpals, confidantes, ‘business partners’, lifelong friends.

It turns out  I knew far less than I thought about Julia Child. I have her two volume MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING in my row of cookery books in the kitchen and her name has been called up throughout my life as a doyen of cooking, a master in the field – a staple for most Americans, at least of my grandmother and mum’s generation. I also had a vague image of a tall, well-built, attractive, Nordic looking woman standing with an apron in front of a table, brandishing a rolling pin.

But that was the extent of my knowledge. Having now read Julia’s intimate and revealing letters with her penpal – to become dear friend – Avis DeVoto, I have peered into slices ofher  inner life and fashioned a clearer picture of who she actually was as a person. With her ubiquitous pearls, strong manner, loud voice, commanding presence and steely determination, she is a woman I admire, battling as she did to get through Le Cordon Bleu school of cooking in Paris and start a French cooking school for Americans with friends Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle. She then started to write what are now two of the best-selling cookery books in the world, carrying on the writing and cooking through many moves – her beloved husband Paul worked for the US government and was frequently moved – from Paris to the south of France, to Germany, to Norway.

Avis, from home in Cambridge, MA, expertly worked her many contacts in the political and publishing circles in Boston, to secure HarperCollins as a publisher for Julia, Simone and Louisette. Coming from a publishing background, myself, many of the letters read like good industry goss. It was fascinating for me to see life as it was in mid-20th century Boston – a life not too dissimilar to that of my father’s parents. The story keeps pace through the tragic and sudden death of Avis’ husband and HarperCollins dropping Julia, but Avis securing the eventual publisher Knopf.

After finishing the book, I had to, of course, watch the film retelling: Julie and Julia, starring the wonderful Meryl Streep and equally stunning Amy Adams. It is a film worth watching – my husband would say if only for the ‘onion scene’ – even if you haven’t read the book.

Now, I’m off to the garden to enjoy the sun, on one of the first proper spring weekends this year! Hurray for sun and flowers and warmth.

An intro to Trollope

10/02/2011

After living in England for over seven years, I have, at last, read Anthony Trollope. I started with THE WARDEN, the first in his seminal series the Chronicles of Barsetshire.

"Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows" (1831) by John Constable

Apparently the view of Salisbury Cathedral (well, at least walking round the Cathedral close) is what first inspired Trollope to write THE WARDEN. It is certainly a novel bound up in the life of a cathedral town:

… let us call it Barchester. Were we to name Wells or Salisbury, Exeter, Hereford, or Gloucester, it might be presumed that something personal was intended; and as this tale will refer mainly to the cathedral dignitaries of the town in question, we are anxious that no personality may be suspected.

Trollope does a fine job at painting a vivid picture of an insular cathedral community with all the power and pecuniary struggles, loves, hates and betrayals that abound. What he does less well is credibly fleshing out the characters. His descriptions were, I thought, rather stilted. Perhaps it can be put down to the overly ornate style of the time (mid-1800s), but there are other writers of that era who, arguably, capture the essence of a character, no, of a human being, more successfully. Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and Charlotte Bronte for three.

It’s the type of book that is very much meant for a certain mood or situation. When one is feeling in need of a bit of comfort, for instance, or is tucked up inside by a roaring log fire on a cold, rainy winter’s day or away on a countryside retreat, as it evokes a nostalgic, cosy world, despite the human treachery that goes on. For that reason, I shall go on with the series, not least because his most celebrated work BARCHESTER TOWERS is next; in fact, I mainly read THE WARDEN because I didn’t want to skip straight to BARCHESTER TOWERS.

On a whim this evening, on a rare night in, I picked up from my staggering bookcase an old Faber & Faber copy of  Walter de la Mare’s TIME PASSES & OTHER POEMS. I bought this edition in Oxfam; it was published in MCMXLIII – a prize for the first person to work out (without googling!) what year that is. Anyway, I thought I’d share this poem:

THE SONG OF THE MAD PRINCE

Who said, ‘Peacock Pie’?

The old King to the sparrow:

Who said, ‘Crops are ripe’?

Rust to the barrow:

Who said, ‘Where sleeps she now?

Where rests she now her head,

Bathed in eve’s loveliness’? —

That’s what I said.

 

Who said, ‘Ay, mum’s the word’;

Sexton to willow:

Who said, ‘Green dusk for dreams,

Moss for a pillow’?

Who said, ‘All Time’s delight

Hath she for narrow bed;

Life’s troubled bubble broken’? —

That’s what I said.

 

 

A singular talent

06/02/2011

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I got.

The blurb on the back of Henry Green’s PARTY GOING described the book thus:

A group of rich, spoiled and idle young people heading off on a winter holiday are stranded at a railway station when their train is delayed by thick, enclosing fog. PARTY GOING describes their four-hour wait in a London railway hotel where they shelter from the grim weather and the throngs of workers on the platform below.

There is nothing, admittedly, at all inaccurate or wrong about that description. It describes exactly what does happen in this concise work of 157 pages (almost a novella). But what the pithy blurb doesn’t capture, or doesn’t hint at, more precisely, is Green’s singular style. I was expecting a Waugh-esque romp, something akin to Anthony Powell.  Not at all.

It is a book unlike any I’ve ever read. Without any chapters or any real breaks – it is one paragraph after another, continuously for the entire book – it borders on stream-of-consciousness, more poetry than prose. At times, it can be difficult to follow. At the beginning, the characters blend into one, so quickly does Green flick between them, barely resting long enough to gain a clear enough picture to be able to distinguish one from the other rich, flighty, self-absorbed young things.

The characters themselves bring to mind Waugh’s Bright Young Things from VILE BODIES. Yet Green delineates them with a more obtuse, scathing eye – not missing a detail – giving them a sordid, psychological run through, bearing these young people’s foibles straight up while maintaining layers of nuance. I went through varying stages of emotion: disgust, disbelief, horrified fascination (there is a bizarre scene with a dead pigeon), and, ultimately a writhing acknowledgement of this privileged, monied class. But more to the point, I gained a shared admittance, a further understanding of human nature. We are, at the end, united in our base emotions, despite social standing or upbringing.

Green’s trenchant, subtle analysis spares nothing yet leaves much to be discovered; it merits a second read, and, for that matter, a third. Finally, towards the end, I ‘got it’ and it is then that each line took on a different meaning. I began to see what he was driving at through the rather insufferable characters.

Tim Parks describes the gorgeous confusion in his very good introduction:

… We feel completely disorientated, as if we had been mysteriously spirited off to some far flung outpost, some improbable possession we could never imagine had been annexed to the Crown. Kipling in India, Lawrence in Mexico, Joyce in Trieste, they are all and immediately more central to what has become English Literature, what we expect when we open a book, than this bizarre and beautiful comedy that is Henry Green’s great masterpiece.

It’s worth a read, though don’t expect to understand it the first time round.

Down the rabbit hole

12/01/2011

While lieing in bed over Christmas, recovering from swine flu, I returned to a childhood favourite, ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. Going back to this story, however, published in 1865, I was left asking myself if it was actually a childhood favourite?

I certainly had vivid images in my mind of John Tenniel’s illustrations of the rabbit and of Alice, of the Red Queen and the Mad Hatter’s tea party, Humpty Dumpty and Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

But had I actually read it all the way through? Although the eccentric characters stood out like blazes, my recollection of the plot was hazy. I had a vague memory of attempting to read it as a child, but not really getting into the story, finding it a bit slow-moving. The story just didn’t capture my young, fervid imagination like THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE or any of Roald Dahl’s hilariously imaginative romps.

Reading it now was an unexpected treat. I felt I could appreciate the story fully, in a way I never did or indeed could not have done as a child. The pictures, the images that stuck so fast when the story was read to me by my parents (I’ve now decided that must have been what happened) and that I then spent hours looking at, flared up again as I read the text – a 2001 Bloomsbury edition with lively illustrations from Mervyn Peake and an erudite, if turgid introduction by Will Self. I consider myself to have a reasonable vocabulary, but I needed a dictionary to hand when reading Self’s intro – 20 words I looked up – 20! Just to be sure. It was, however, a salutary exercise in vocabulary building.

Anyway. I loved the story this time round. Lewis Carroll has a wonderfully seductive voice and pulls you into an eccentric, utterly English world of wit, close-cut green lawns, hedges, tempers, tea, cakes, queens and kings and funny creatures. I was reminded of J K Rowling, C S Lewis and E M Forster (cf Forster’s short story: ‘The Celestial Omnibus’).

And, rather shockingly, I discovered, upon finishing ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and moving on to THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, that half of the characters I thought were in the former, were actually in the latter (the Tweedles and Humpty-Dumpty for starters).

Did you enjoy the Alice books as a child?  Have you come back to them as an adult and found it was an equally enjoyable, if startling, rediscovery?

Now I look forward to watching Tim Burton’s film adaptation.

Man or beast? Callous cad or sensitive seeker of the sublime?

09/01/2011

All, most likely.

Paul Gauguin, immortalised by his vivid, striking paintings, has been the subject of much debate. He shocked those who knew him when, in his late 30s, he quit his job as a stockbroker in Denmark to return to Paris to paint, leaving behind his wife and children. It is thought he never saw them again and much has been made of his subsequent behaviour in Tahiti: slumming it and living with various young women before succumbing to syphillis at the age of 54.

Somerset Maugham (cf last post: What defines a Lady?) penned his view of Gauguin through the stockbroker ‘Charles Strickland’ in THE MOON AND SIXPENCE. I was inspired to read it after seeing Gauguin’s paintings at the Tate Modern exhibition.

It is a sensitive, thoughtful portrayal of a painter tortured and held captive by his artistic impulses. ‘He seemed really to be possessed of a devil (p45)’, the narrator thinks when he first sees the painter in Paris, shortly after his move.

Maugham’s understanding – characteristically intellectual and deeply philosophical – does not, ultimately, pay credence to easy accusations or snap judgements. Through the narrator, a young English writer, the reader feels the same outrage and disgust at Strickland’s callous disregard for anyone else, for his deeply selfish nature that cares only for the painting he must do. But the longer you follow this struggling artist, the more you see the nuance in his seemingly insane quest (his paintings initially were seen as bizarre, outrageous). The further into the novel you get, the more you see how Strickland was in thrall to an inner beast which would not let him rest until he had given voice and face to it.

…the passion that held Strickland was a passion to create beauty. It gave him no peace. It urged him hither and thither. He was eternally a pilgrim, haunted by a divine nostalgia, and the demon within him was ruthless. There are men whose desire for truth is so great that to attain it they will shatter the very foundation of their world. Of such was Strickland, only beauty with him took the place of truth. I could only feel for him a profound compassion.

That same understanding, that glimpse of a genius is what Maugham left me with – that, and the deep, vibrant colours of Gauguin’s paintings, still fresh in my mind from our Tate visit last Sunday. Inspiring, indeed, but I am thankful to have escaped, personally, the unrelenting, passionate, destructive disposition of an artistic genius. I shall always, however, hold the utmost respect for that genuis.

To more domestic, mundane matters, I baked a deliciously moist Somerset Apple Cake this afternoon for a chum’s birthday. Served with a splash of thick, calvados creme, it was an indulgent treat after a delicious meal of Tuscan bean soup  and peas a la francaise.

 

 

 

Have a lovely rest of your weekend and here’s to a good week! Chao for now.

What defines a Lady?

06/01/2011

Not so easy to say. ‘A Lady’ could mean any number of things, depending on who you ask.

But for a quick fix, to find out just what makes up The Lady, read Rachel Johnson’s A DIARY OF THE LADY. It’s a riotous gambol through the eponymous publishing institution. Genteel, stiffly upright, dowdy – it is not. Or, at least, not now, since Johnson took the reigns as Editor in the summer of 2009. She vividly recounts her first year – in all its lurid, painful, cringing detail – and how she attempted to pull the venerable old ladies’ magazine out of the last century and turn it into a must-read mag for women over 45 (rather than over 75, apparently its prime demographic).

Rachel Johnson does not shy away from juicy anecdotes, gory car crashes; she is, as she freely concedes, terribly indiscreet. But hurray for that! What a bore the book would be otherwise. If it does, at times, grate and seem rather repetitive, the trials she went through trying to rejuvenate the mag kept me compulsively turning the pages. Funny, heartfelt, clever. It was also, yes, almost poignant at times, I think because it is so credible. I was drawn into the story. And I believed. Perhaps I am hopelessly naive, but it certainly appeared as though, by and large, Johnson was franker than not. I’d love to know the details she left out, but I delighted in the glorious industry gossip she does include.

I walk by The Lady offices on Bedford Street in Covent Garden every morning en route to work. I had certainly noticed them before, vaguely thought what a nice, old building it was, if a bit tired, but NOW. I look at the six-storey edifice with a very different gaze, trying to catch a glimpse of the chintzy Christmas decorations, or the saloon type entrance-way or, indeed, one of the many women who work there – perhaps the dear lady with the fuzzy slippers, or the stylish young contributers or Rachel Johnson herself, with Coco in tow. Or indeed, one of the Budworth clan (who own the mag).

And getting the inside scoop has, admittedly, intrigued and fascinated me to such an extent that I’m dying to look at a copy – but if anyone knows how I can get hold of one (apart from trekking up to Waitrose), please tell. I expected all the newsagents and supermarkets in Covent Garden would be stockpiled – or at least have one or two, but alas. I have been to half a dozen shops in the area as well as mega Sainsburys and Tescos in SW London and – zilch. Johnson does acknowledge the stock problem, but I don’t hold out much hope of ever finding one, because apparently fretting about stock in shops is a waste of time – subscriptions are the way forward. I imagine their sales would, however, improve just a bit were the magazine to be slightly more ubiquitous.

It was, overall, a fun, quick read that shed light on the magazine publishing industry – not so different from the book publishing industry, really, which made me (mostly) glad I am no longer in it! As glamorous and exciting and buzzy as the media world is: the reality is cut-throat, harsh and eternally rather grim.

Somerset Maugham, in 1919, in THE MOON AND SIXPENCE, put it best:

… there is in my nature a strain of asceticism, and I have subjected my flesh each week to a more severe mortification. I have never failed to read the Literary Supplement of The Times.

It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of a season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitter experiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a few hours’ relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefully written; much thought has gone into their composition; to some even has been given the anxious labour of a lifetime.

The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thoughts; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.

If a satisfactory conclusion for the writer, it is definitively not so for the publisher.

I’ll come back to THE MOON AND SIXPENCE next time. Until then, que te vaya bien!

One of the greatest love stories of all time

03/01/2011

Is, undoubtedly, JANE EYRE.

Rich, nuanced, sharp and full of feeling, Charlotte Bronte creates a compelling, sympathetic, heart-rending character in her heroine: Jane Eyre. I attempted to read this novel as a young teenager, but couldn’t get into it. The subject, the place, were too far removed from me at that point, and the story just didn’t grip me (although the film did). I couldn’t get on with it.

But now, what a contrast. I was mesmerised, totally spellbound for the week it took me to finish. I snatched every moment I could, at lunch, after work, on the tube, before bed until the wee hours – that is probably what drove me to illness, burning the late night candle. It is a powerful love story – erotic, tense, true.

The underlying message, in the Examiner‘s words (a contemporary newspaper): ‘to show how intellect and unswerving integrity may win their way’ is sound.

still from tv adaptation

Jane’s actions, although at times rather frustrating – she is so true to herself, so infuriatingly honourable I could hardly bear it – do play out for the best. Rochester’s and Jane’s relationship would not, otherwise, have been as rich, as powerful, as comparable – as equal.

I was totally enchanted and agreed with all the reviewers of the time, most notably Fraser’s Magazine:

Almost all that we require in a novelist the writer has: perception of character and power of delineating it; picturesqueness, passion, and knowledge of life … the actual suffering and experience … gives the book its charm: it is soul speaking to soul: it is an utterance from the depths of a struggling, suffering, much enduring spirit: suspiria de profundis.

Charlotte Bronte fleshes out the characters deeply, profoundly, so that one feels a genuine kinship and sympathy for them. I don’t often cry, but did, here, more than once. Go out: get it: read it.

To switch tack slightly, I have enjoyed a wonderfully unplanned four days this Bank Holiday weekend, and in addition to finally catching the Gauguin exhibition at the Tate Modern – vibrant palette, wonderful European paintings – making use of a wedding gift champagne tea at The Orangery in Kensington Gardens – have been doing some cooking and baking.

From John Burton Race & Angela Hartnett’s First Crack Your Egg! I got a wonderful recipe for cheese/poppyseed pastry and made a cheese, onion and bacon flan – with my own addition of broccolli – mmm. And tonight made the fabulously indulgent onion tarte from Plats du Jour, as well as some delicious cinnamon biscuits from Agnes Jekyll’s Kitchen Essays. Pictures to come!