Category Archives: Hartley, L. P.

A Conversation With Myself

I: You haven’t posted anything for a while. Have you given up?
ME: …er…no, I don’t think so.
I: Well, have you? Or haven’t you?
ME: No. I haven’t made the conscious decision to stop blogging; it just hasn’t happened.
I: What happened?
ME: Nothing really…work maybe…I always try to blame work. But I just sort of lost enthusiasm for posting anything. Strangely it was at a time when I was thinking of blogging about more than ‘just’ books, which had been my original intention when starting up this blog, that it all just crashed…I lost the enthusiasm.
I: Did you stop reading as well?
ME: No, in fact I was enjoying my reading as much as before, if not more.
I: What have you been reading?
ME: Well, I finished reading L.P. Hartley’s Eustace and Hilda trilogy, which was excellent, and carried on with more by him.
I: Such as?
ME: The Go-Between which I thought I should read as it’s his most famous work. I also read The Hireling; I had already watched the film version earlier in the year but really wanted to read the book.
I: Were they good? I mean book and film.
ME: Yes, certainly. The film of The Hireling was quite different than the book but both worked well.
I: What do you like about Hartley’s writing?
ME: He has great psychological insight into his characters, especially children.
I: Have you read any more by him?
ME: No, but I do have a biography of him that I intend to read soon.
I: Who’s the author?
ME: Adrian Wright.
I: No relation?
ME: Of course not. You should know that as well as me.
I: Ok. Keep your hair on. So, what else have you been reading?
ME: A real mish-mash really but I finally got round to reading Joseph Heller’s Good as Gold, which I’d been meaning to read for years.
I: Was it as good as Catch-22?
ME: No, but it was ok…funny in places…especially the family scenes…it got a bit strange at the end though. I felt that he could’ve done with a better editor, assuming he had one at all.
I: I suppose none of his other books can compare with Catch-22.
ME: Probably not. But when I read his second novel, Something Happened, I actually preferred it to Catch-22.
I: Did you watch the recent adaption of it?
ME: Of Catch-22? Yes. I liked it. It was better than the film.
I: So what else have you been reading?
ME: I don’t want to list everything…that would be dull…but the usual I suppose…fiction, some non-fiction…..I read Angela Carter’s The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, which I really enjoyed, and had hoped to blog about.
I: But you didn’t.
ME: No. And I’ve been reading some 18th Century works as well.
I: Such as?
ME: Diderot, Voltaire, Rousseau, Laclos, Sade.
I: All French I see. What is this thing you have with French writers?
ME: …er…I don’t know…it just sort of happens that way…I do intend to read some British writers as well.
I: Such as?
ME: Fielding, Defoe, Richardson, Austen…
I: Mostly male writers I see. And Austen is 19th Century isn’t she?
ME: Yes. But I’m thinking of a ‘long’ 18th Century. I just haven’t read much Austen and I want to read more by her. I hope to include Byron as well.
I: What prompted this interest in 18th Century literature?
ME: Well, I’m interested in the 18th Century…some of the historical characters….some of the events such as the French & American revolutions. I keep meaning to read Casanova’s memoirs but haven’t got round to it yet. But I had also intended to read some Sade…
I: Woah! Really! The Marquis de Sade! Are you some kind of sicko?
ME: …er…I hope not…but he’s a…
I: …pervert….
ME: …fascinating…
I: …sicko….
ME…character…
I: Are you sure? I mean have you read any of his work? It’s pretty strong stuff.
ME: Yes, I’m well aware of his works. I read most of Juliette when I was in my late teens/early twenties until I abandoned it…I felt emotionally numb at that point…But I read some biographies at the time and found him fascinating as a person. I didn’t know what to make of him, and still don’t.
I: So you thought you’d read more by him?
ME: Well, yes. But I intend to concentrate on some of his more ‘conventional’ works initially.
I: So none of his pervy stuff?
ME: Not at first, but I do intend to read 120 Days of Sodom.
I: That will be jolly. Why?
ME: I don’t want to be defeated by a book. I don’t want to be the sort of reader who doesn’t read something because the characters are ‘not nice’ or because they say or do nasty things.
I: So it’s a macho thing?
ME: Possibly…I hope not…but it may well be…
I: So have you read many so far?
ME: A few. Sade was a better writer than is generally credited. I wonder what sort of reputation he would have today if he’d restricted himself to his more ‘acceptable’ works.
I: He’d probably be unknown.
ME: Quite possibly. The shock value of his ‘libertine’ novels is why we remember him, and with good reason, but his other works are still quite revolutionary.
I: So, is there much available?
ME: Well, considering that Sade spent a large portion of his adult life in prison it’s amazing how much is available. A lot is now lost. His ‘libertine’ novels are generally available in various editions and his shorter works are now available in the OUP collections, as well as other versions, such as the small Hesperus editions. I have created a page here with as much information as I could find on his shorter works.
I: And this ‘Sade project’ has now expanded into an ’18th Century Literature Project’?
ME: I guess. It was when I realised that I really needed to read Les Liaisons Dangereuses before reading more Sade, and possibly Richardson as well, that I thought about reading more 18th Century works.
I: So you must be storming away?
ME: Not really. It’s going slowly. I’ve read Les Liaisons Dangereuses and a few others. As with 19th Century literature, I find it difficult reading one after another. I have to keep returning to the 20th & 21st Centuries.
I: So are you going to post anything about your reading? Sade or otherwise?
ME: I had intended to. And I still do. I just don’t know when.
I: But you may?
ME: I may. But I may not.
I: But you want to?
ME: I do.

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Filed under Carter, Angela, Hartley, L. P., Sade, Marquis de

‘The Shrimp and the Anemone’ by L. P. Hartley

Eustace and Hilda by L. P. Hartley is a single-volume edition of three novels: The Shrimp and the Anemone (pub. 1944), The Sixth Heaven (1946) and Eustace and Hilda (1947). This collection also includes and additional forty page story called Hilda’s Letter which, as far as I can ascertain, was first published in this collected edition in 1958. My copy is a Faber and Faber edition published in 1979 with a cover showing the two young actors from a BBC adaption of the whole trilogy. As far as I can tell this edition is out of print in the U.K. but there is an attractive looking U.S. edition (NYRB) available. The single volume edition of The Shrimp and the Anemone may also still be relatively easy to obtain.

The Shrimp and the Anemone begins with Eustace and Hilda playing on a Norfolk beach; Eustace is a rather sickly (he has a weak heart) ten-year old boy, who is afraid of almost everything, whilst Hilda, his fourteen year-old sister, is completely different—she has almost taken over the role of their mother who died whilst giving birth to their younger sister, Barbara. Hilda is more sure of herself and used to being in control. She also likes bossing Eustace about and sometimes takes a sort of sadistic pleasure in watching him squirm. However there is a strong bond between the two siblings and they both love each other very much. The book begins with Eustace calling his sister over to a rockpool, in which Eustace can see a sea anemone in the process of eating a shrimp. Eustace, who is concerned for the shrimp, convinces his sister to try to save it. She manages to pull the shrimp away from the anemone but not in time to save the shrimp and also results in disembowelling the anemone, thereby saving neither. The sensitive Eustace sobs whilst Hilda is less concerned. As the novel proceeds we can see that the two children’s relationship is similar to that of the shrimp and the anemone with Eustace as the shrimp and Hilda as the anemone. Eustace often feels subservient to his sister, as if he has no will of his own. When he does exert his will he feels guilty and becomes sick. In the novel a couple of events occur which result in Eustace and Hilda being separated and both experience this separation as painful and like a death.

L. P. Hartley portrays the children brilliantly, both their manners of speech and their thought processes. Although the concentration is on Eustace we also get to see things occasionally from Hilda’s point of view. Eustace is meek and is overly concerned with pleasing others. He is also scared of trying anything new. Eustace has been told that if he meets Miss Fothergill, an elderly wheelchair-bound rheumatic lady who is often to be seen on the footpaths near the beach, then he must speak to her but Eustace is utterly scared of her. Here’s a bit of dialogue between Eustace and Hilda as Hilda spots Miss Fothergill approaching on a footpath.

Someone was walking alongside it [the cliff edge], perhaps two people. But Hilda had better eyes than he and cried at once, “There’s Miss Fothergill and her companion.”
   “Oh!” cried Eustace; “let’s turn back.”
   But the light of battle was in Hilda’s eye.
   “Why should we turn back? It’s just the opportunity we’ve been looking for.”
   “Perhaps you have,” said Eustace. “I haven’t.”
   He had already turned away from the approaching bath-chair and was tugging at Hilda’s hand.
   “The Bible says, ‘Sick and in prison and I visited you’,” Hilda quoted with considerable effect. “You’ve always been naughty about this, Eustace: it’s the chief failing I’ve never been able to cure you of.”
   “But she’s so ugly,” protested Eustace.
   “What difference does that make?”
   “And she frightens me.”
   “A big boy like you!”
   “Her face is all crooked.”
   “You haven’t seen it—you always run away.”
   “And her hands are all black.”
   “Silly, that’s only her gloves.”
   “Yes, but they aren’t proper hands, that’s why she wears gloves. Annie told me.”
   Annie was the Cherrington’s daily ‘help’.

Eustace’s protestations continue whilst Hilda makes sure he doesn’t escape. Eustace ends up talking to Miss Fothergill and then, as he gets more bold, pushing her in her bath-chair. Although some of his fear has abated it returns when Miss Fothergill asks Eustace and Hilda to tea. This fear of visiting Miss Fothergill grows over the next few days, especially when Hilda reveals that she won’t be accompanying him so he’ll have to go on his own. Meanwhile Eustace is asked by Nancy, a girl he is besotted with, to go on a paper-chase on the day of the tea invitation. Uncharacteristically he exerts his own will, disobeys his parents, and goes on the paper-chase with Nancy—but he pays the price as he gets caught in a thunderstorm, falls ill, and is in bed for weeks. Eustace eventually has tea with Miss Fothergill and once he gets to know her, and gets used to her ‘deformities’, he becomes a regular visitor.

That afternoon marked more than one change in Eustace’s attitude towards life. Physical ugliness ceased to repel him and conversely physical beauty lost some of its appeal.

There is not much of a plot to The Shrimp and the Anemone, instead it is an exquisitely executed character study of the two children—how they interact with each other, with other children, with adults and how they change over time. There is however an event that happens which changes the course of their lives and as I will reveal details of this event below, you may wish to skip to the last two paragraph if you are planning to read this book. During one of Eustace’s visits Miss Fothergill dies and later it is revealed that she bequeathed a large sum of money to Eustace which will enable him to attend a public school and then university. Eustace is not told of this but he soon notices that his father and aunt, and others, have begun to treat him differently. The differences are subtle, but they now show him more respect, ask his views and defer to his wishes on occasions. His father makes plans for Eustace to attend a good school but when Eustace is told by a local coach-driver that he will soon be ‘going away’ he assumes, because of his weak heart, that he is about to die. Over the following days he becomes morose and listless and talks to Hilda of writing his will. Whilst playing on the beach Eustace tries to tell Hilda of his fears and when she realises what he means she explodes in anger and fear. She feels that he’s trying to escape from them. Part of Hilda’s identity is in taking care of Eustace and she feels threatened and rejected with his talk of dying.

“How dare you talk like that? I see how it is—you want to go away—you want to leave us! You tried before, the time of the paper-chase, but you had to come back. You had to come back from Miss Fothergill too. You think you’ll be with someone who loves you more than we do—that’s why you talk about dying! But I won’t allow it! I’ll stop you! I’ll see you don’t slip away!”

It is a highly charged scene which is then quickly defused when some friends arrive congratulating Eustace on his inheritance and praising him for his foresight in getting to know Miss Fothergill. Left alone again, Eustace and Hilda discuss the money without really understanding the importance of it and then run back home care-free.

I originally read The Shrimp and the Anemone for the 1944 Club last year but didn’t have time to write anything about it—Harriet Devine and Simon (Stuck in a Book) did post reviews though. It is an astonishingly good book and I’m impressed with Hartley’s lucid writing style and sensitive portrayal of all the characters in it. The children’s dialogue, their thoughts and fears is amazingly realistic. I had originally planned to continue with the other volumes shortly after but have only got round to doing so now—I decided to re-read The Shrimp and the Anemone before the other volumes and feel that it’s a book that I could re-read many more times. I am currently on the last volume, Eustace and Hilda, and hope to post reviews of the other two volumes as well.

My beaten-up, well-worn, well-read, secondhand copy is a joy to read and hold; its heft is reassuring and the clear white (o.k. they’re yellowing very slightly) pages make it even more enjoyable to read—these things shouldn’t make a difference, but they do.

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Filed under Fiction, Hartley, L. P.