Category Archives: Fiction

‘Witiko’ (Book Two) by Adalbert Stifter (GLM IX)

The first book of Witiko ended with Wladislaw(W), together with Witiko, retreating to Prague after the inconclusive battle at Mt. Wysoka. Wladislaw(W) allows free passage to those that do not want to fight alongside him, but those that stay must prepare for a siege and a battle. Wladislaw(W) holds counsel with those that decide to stay. Stifter seems to enjoy writing these formal meetings where important decisions are made as several have appeared in the book so far; he loves the formal structure of them, I feel, and he portrays them being held in a controlled manner—I’m convinced they would be more raucous than he portrays. After giving a summary of his leadership and his aims for the battle, Wladislaw(W) decides to visit King Konrad in Germany to ask for assistance in the coming siege. He is reluctant to call on outside help but feels it is necessary. Witiko is to accompany him on this misssion, whilst the defence of Prague is passed to Wladislaw(W)’s brother, Diepold.

It is not long after Wladislaw(W)’s departure before the enemy troops arrive headed by Konrad von Znaim. The siege begins but Diepold organises some attacks on enemy troops beyond the city. They know the local terrain better than the enemy and in one midnight attack they hope to draw the enemy into some marshland.

After some time they found three men standing in the grass. The men were surprised and taken along as prisoners. Soon they reached some campfires and the challenge came: “Konrad!”
They charged the enemy shouting “Wladislaw!”
The guards posted there were slain as were others nearby. They advanced to some tents, slaying or dispersing all who emerged or leaped up from the ground. Screams spread through the camp. Diepold forbade his men to set anything ablaze so they wouldn’t be illuminated by the glare. The numbers fleeing increased; whenever a group resisted, many were slain, others pushed back. Diepold was always hot on their heels, slashing with his sword. No space was permitted to arise between the pursued and the pursuers. Diepold charged into the enemy’s confusion like an ocean wave raging against the sandy shore, sweeping everything before it.

Diepold and his men manage to return to the city. The enemy soon start to attack the city with catapults, burning arrows, and other flammable materials whilst Diepold attempts more nightime attacks on the enemy. Here is another quote of the fighting during a raid.

They fought man to man with their swords, even their sword grips; they thrust, stabbed, hacked, striking at limbs and bodies with axes, clubs, spears, and poles. The shadow of death descended on many eyes; its darkness overtook many who would never again see father, mother, sisters and neighbours, while others sank down in the hurly-burly with shattered limbs or other severe wounds.

Meanwhile Wladislaw(W) entreats Konrad of Germany for help. Stifter gets another chance to describe all the formal conversations that this involves, the arguments and counter-arguments, but in the end Konrad agrees to help. Diepold manages to withstand the siege and on the arrival of Wladisalw(W) and Konrad of Germany the enemy armies disperse so that no further fighting is required…for now.

Before he can return home there is a small matter of a trial for Witiko; earlier on he had let some enemy troops escape when out scouting; he is not found guilty of treason but he did transgress military law. He gets a small fine and a slap on the wrist. Witiko then returns to Plan. At home he embarks on loads of visits to all the people we met in Book One. There is also a romantic interlude where he proposes to Bertha, whom he also first met in Book One, and they kiss. But Witiko has to prove himself as a worthy man first, by fighting in the battle expected the following year. Much of the rest of Book Two is taken up with Witiko’s wanderings; he leaves Heinrich’s house, he is ambushed, he accompanies Bishop Zdik to the city of Passau, he travels down the Danube to Vienna where he meets his mother, who is a guest of the Margrave of Austria. Witiko returns to Plan and through the winter months he prepares an army in order to be ready for battle in the spring.

Stifter’s style can sometimes be maddening; we get no psychological insight to any of the characters, not even Witiko, but we also have no idea, when he goes wandering, where he is heading to, or why. Sometimes an explanation, of sorts, comes after the events. Also, the conversations are all so stilted, or if we wish to be kinder we may say they’re stylised. In the formal assemblies and counsels this may be understandable but all of the characters speak like it all of the time. What follows is an example of his prose and dialogue. Stifter certainly captures the pedantic, boring language that was, most probably, used in a medieval courtroom. Many such sections of text are contained in Witiko, so if you’re tempted to read the book it would be useful to see if you can cope with this without falling asleep. I must admit I found it quite amusing.

Gervasius rose from his seat, and the duke resumed his.
From his chair he said, “Say the words I gave you to tell Konrad, Duke of Znaim and of the Premysl Line.”
Gervasius spoke, “You said: Konrad, lay down your weapons, submit to Duke Wladislaw, son of Wladislaw, ask for pardon for your guilt and you shall continue unmolested as a legitimate branch of the sacred Premysl Line.”
“Who heard those words you have spoken?” Wladislaw asked.
“The men you gave me as an escort, Zwest, Wecel, Zdelaw, Bohuslaw, and Casta heard the words I have spoken,” Gervasius said.
“Those men should speak,” Wladislaw commanded.
“I heard his words,” Zwest attested.
“I heard his words,” Wecel added.
“I heard his words,” Zdeslaw said.
“I heard his words,” Bohuslaw spoke.
“I heard his words,” Casta spoke.
“What words did Konrad, Duke of Znaim reply?” Wladislaw asked.
“Konrad, Duke of Znaim, replied,” Gervasius said, “I have been elected as the legitimate Duke of Bohemia and Moravia by the high nobles of these lands and must carry out my office. I shan’t submit to being slain, blinded or imprisoned in some castle by Wladislaw.”
“Do the other men also attest that Konrad, Duke of Znaim, said these words?” Duke Wladislaw asked.
“He said them,” Zwest attested.
“He said them,” Wecel added.
“He said them,” Zdeslaw said.
“He said them,” Bohuslaw spoke.
“He said them,” Casta spoke.
“Chancellor Bartholomaeus, write these words on the parchment,” Wladislaw ordered.
There was silence for a while.
“Have you written these words?” Wladislaw asked
“I have written them,” Bartholomeaus replied.

So, Book Three to go. I’m expecting more fighting, more wandering, more scintillating dialogue and maybe a wedding.

This was read as part of German Literature Month IX.

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‘Witiko’ (Book One) by Adalbert Stifter (GLM IX)

Witiko was originally published in three volumes between 1865 and 1867. The three-volume edition I am reading was translated by Wendell Frye in 2006 and was published by Peter Lang. Each book is about two hundred pages long; but it’s a large format book so it’s probably more like three hundred pages of a normal-sized book. It’s so big that I decided just to read it at the weekends so I don’t have to carry it to and from work on my daily commute. I’m hoping to get all three books read during this month, which is of course, German Literature Month.

Witiko is an historical novel that takes place in 12th century Bohemia and concerns a succession struggle that took place involving Witiko of Prčice. Although Stifter studied and lived in Austria for much of his life he was born in Oberplan (now Horní Planá), Bohemia which is in present day Czech Republic but was, in Stifter’s time, part of the Austrian Empire, then the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Having read several of Stifter’s books I was attracted to this massive novel but I had reservations, after all, I know next to nothing about the history of Bohemia in the middle ages. But, so far, this has not caused any major issues as the story seems pretty much self-contained. The occasional reference to an historical atlas or Wikipedia is all that is required as extra reading.

The story begins with a description of the landscape around the city of Passau and then we are introduced to a lone traveller who is making his way in this landscape. The year is 1138, Sobeslaw I is the duke of Bohemia and the traveller turns out to be Witiko.

The man was actually still a youth. He had a light mustache and beard encircling his chin, more yellow than brown. His cheeks were rosy, his eyes blue. You couldn’t tell the color of his hair since it was completely covered by a bowl shaped leather helmet made of such a firm solid material that even a rather strong sword’s blow couldn’t penetrate it. It rested on his head gathering all his hair inside; over his ears and toward the back was an extension to ward off a blow to the neck.

Stifter starts slowly; we are introduced to this young traveller who appears to others to be a knight though he says that he isn’t. He cares for his horse himself when staying at inns rather than have some stranger do so. On his travels he comes across a group of young men on horseback headed by a man dressed in scarlet. They mock and tease Witiko but eventually they talk. The ‘scarlet knight’ gives a long, confusing, account of all the past Polish and Bohemian kings and dukes and the wars they fought, leading up to the current duke Sobeslaw. The ‘scarlet knight’ reveals that he is Wladislaw, the nephew of the Duke Sobeslaw.

The story skips on a couple of years; it is now 1140 and Sobeslaw is gravely ill. Witiko, who is now employed by Sobeslaw, is summoned by him and given the task of finding out who the barons are intending to support as successor to Sobeslaw; there are two contenders, Wladislaw or Wladislaw. Yes, it gets tricky with the names here—there is Sobeslaw’s son Wladislaw, who I will write as Wladislaw(S), and Sobeslaw’s nephew, Wladislaw, the scarlet knight from earlier, who is the son of the Old Duke, called….you guessed it, Wladislaw. I will write the Old Duke as Wladislaw(D) and his son, Sobeslaw’s nephew, as Wladislaw(W). So Witiko travels to Prague and manages to sit in on the discussions in the Wysehrad over the succession of Sobeslaw. Stifter covers this in his slow, pedantic style, which could be quite dull, but I found it quite interesting to see how this early form of parliament dealt with such an important issue as the succession of a duke—how much of it is historically accurate is another question though. In the end Wladislaw(W) is elected to succeed Sobeslaw. On his deathbed Sobeslaw accepts the decision and asks his son, Wladislaw(S), to submit to Wladislaw(W) as he wishes to avoid a future civil war over the issue. However, after Sobeslaw’s death and the succession of Wladislaw(W), Wladislaw(S) flees Bohemia. Wladislaw(W) invites Wladislaw(S) to return, promising that no harm will be done to him or his family and that he will be ‘richly equipped and enfeoffed’.

After the death of Sobeslaw, Witiko returns to one of his mother’s farms in Plan. He helps out and then goes wandering about meeting local landowners.

He watched the villagers at their work and tried to get to know their ways: how they made their stores and divided them for consumption, how they bred their animals and made tools for the field, plows, harrows, rakes, shovels, as well as weapons, tubs, baskets and the like. He watched them making repairs and improving their houses with saws, hammers, and axes, or bringing wood to their homes by the easier method of using sleighs, or satisfying the other necessities of life in their few trades.

Because we never know what the characters are thinking we very often have to take everything at face value. These visits of Witiko’s are not random, they are planned; he is forming friendships and alliances that will be useful later on; he is networking. When a message arrives that Adelheid, Sobeslaw’s widow, has died we are unsure what to make of it; has she been murdered by Wladislaw(W)? Witiko attends a meeting of barons and is invited to further ones which he doesn’t attend. The barons are plotting against Wladislaw(W) and aim to support Wladislaw(S)’s claim to the throne.

It is now 1142 and war seems very likely. We are unsure who Witiko will support, probably because Witiko is also undecided. In the end he reasons thus: Wladislaw(W) was elected at the Wysehrad, Sobeslaw gave his approval of the decision and Witiko feels that the barons were opposed to Wladislaw(W) because of self-interest as Wladislaw(W) was helping protect the common folk against the oppression of the barons. Book One ends with a bloody battle in which Witiko and his men excel; but neither side wins, and so Wladislaw(W) decides to retreat to Prague to regroup and plan for an offensive.

This was read as part of German Literature Month IX.

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‘Revenge of the Lawn’ by Richard Brautigan

I have been reading Richard Brautigan’s collection of (very) short stories, Revenge of the Lawn, on my daily commute over the last few days as they’re easy to read and fun to dip into. Rather than attempt to review Brautigan’s wacky stories here are a few of my favourite quotes from the collection.

Her garbage had lied to me.

She opened her purse which was like a small autumn field and near the fallen branches of an old apple tree, she found her keys.

One day he decided that his liking for poetry could not be fully expressed in just reading poetry or listening to poets reading on phonograph records. He decided to take the plumbing out of his house and completely replace it with poetry, and so he did.

I sat down and looked the bus over to see who was there, and it took me about a minute to realize that there was something very wrong with that bus, and it took the other people about the same period to realize that there was something very wrong with the bus, and the thing that was wrong was me.

I was a child, then, though now I look like somebody else.

This might have been a funny story if it weren’t for the fact that people need a little loving and, God, sometimes it’s sad all the shit they have to go through to find some.

   ‘Satisfied?’ she said.
   She’s an Aries.
   ‘Yes,’ I said.
   I’m an Aquarius.
   We also had two pumpkins: both Scorpios.

They were healthy, normal sex fiends.

Whenever I see watercress, which isn’t very often, I think of the rich. I think they are the only people who can afford it and they use watercress in exotic recipes that they keep hidden in vaults from the poor.

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‘Waves’ by Eduard von Keyserling (GLM IX)

Waves by Eduard von Keyserling was first published as Wellen in 1911. This Dedalus Books edition was first published earlier this year and was translated from the German by Gary Miller, who also includes an informative introduction to the book. I must admit that I hadn’t heard of Keyserling until I read Tony Malone’s brilliant translation of Schwüle Tage (Sultry Days) from last year’s German Literature Month. In the introduction to the book Miller makes the point that Keyserling forms a link between nineteenth century realism and twentieth century modernism in literature; his work is sometimes described as ‘literary impressionism’. Keyserling was a rather odd-looking, sickly aristocrat from present day Latvia, whose books are largely about German aristocracy before the First World War; although limited in scope his depiction of these social elites were not uncritical.

Waves takes place in a seaside village somewhere on the Baltic Sea. We are first introduced to the elderly widow of General von Palikow, known as the Generalin, who has recently arrived at her lodgings at the Bull’s Inn. She is soon to be accompanied by a variety of family members such as her daughter Baroness von Buttlär, the Baroness’s husband and children, Lolo, Nini and Wedig. Also expected is Lolo’s fiancé, Hilmar von dem Hamm. Keyserling also intoduces us to a local privy counsellor, Knospelius, but it is the Countess Doralice’s presence in the village that arouses everyone’s interest because it is widely known that Doralice is living locally in a fisherman’s hut with an artist, Hans Grill, after running off with him, abandoning her elderly husband Count Köhne-Jasky. The thought of bumping into them is ‘very disagreeable’ to Baroness von Buttlär but the Generalin takes a more forceful attitude:

“You are the Baroness von Buttlär, are you not, and I am the widow of General von Palikow, and that means we are both fortresses, admitting no one who is not of our rank; and so we can sleep easy tonight, as if Madame Grill did not exist. We simply decree, Madame Grill does not exist.”

But this turns out not to be so easily achieved as everyone is fascinated, in one way or another with Hans and Doralice. The Baroness and Generalin initially try to keep their distance from them, but the Baroness’s children are fascinated by the couple and Lola’s fiancé, Hilmar becomes obsessed with Doralice. The Baroness remains hostile towards Doralice, seeing her as a threat to their way of life, the Generalin, however, becomes more conciliatory towards her as she realises she is not a monster.

Although we are introduced to Doralice and Hans via the gossiping of these aristocrats Keyserling soon shifts the point of view to Hans and Doralice themselves. In fact as the story progresses the aristocrat’s viewpoint fades away and we see things increasingly from Hans, Doralice and Knospelius’s viewpoint. Having run away with Hans to escape the Count’s suffocating attempts to ‘train her’ Doralice now seems to be in the process of being trapped by Hans’s plans of domestic bliss. Where the Count tried to mould Doralice into a perfect Countess, Hans now expects her to become a perfect housewife who will look after the home whilst he’s away working.

But before long the aristocrats’ paths soon cross with Doralice; Doralice helps Lolo when she swims too far out to sea. Although Frau von Buttlär is furious that Lolo has involved them with Doralice, Lolo and Nini are besotted with her and even the Generalin has a more pragmatic approach when she tells her daughter ‘She isn’t contagious — Lolo is in no immediate danger.’

When Hilmar and the Baron arrive there are more walks along the beach and more chances of meeting Doralice and Hans. Hilmar and Hans end up going on a fishing trip with the local fishermen and Knospelius hosts a party to which the aristocrats and Doralice and Hans are all invited. The party is a success. Knospelius enjoys arranging everything and commenting to the Generalin on the events as they unfold. Doralice is the queen of the ball and captivates all the men, young and old. Even the other women’s opinions of her softens.

Baron Buttlär led his wife out to dance, but only after she resisted for a moment: “But Buttlär, aren’t we the old folk?” Hilmar danced with Lolo, and Wedig, so red-faced and excited that it looked as if he were on the verge of tears, asked Doralice for a dance. Hair twirled there in the open space; red, gently trembling light penetrated through the trees and flooded over them. Behind the birches, though, something seemed to be burning, it was the sea glittering in the sunset.

In the days after the party Hans often goes to sea fishing whilst Hilmar visits Doralice to keep her company. Wedig is also found to be hanging around the Countess’s house, and Lolo too—everyone, it seems, has an interest in Doralice’s life. We sense that the novel is not going to end happily as events begin to crash in on the characters, especially Doralice. It could all become so melodramatic but Keyserling manages to steer us towards a sad, but beautiful, ending.

If you wish to read more quotes from Waves then click on the GoodReads link.

Waves was my first contribution to this year’s German Literature Month hosted by Caroline at ‘Beauty is a Sleeping Cat’ and Lizzy at ‘Lizzy’s Literary Life’.

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‘Second Harvest’ (Regain) by Jean Giono (The 1930 Club)

Jean Giono is one of those authors that I heard about years ago from Henry Miller’s writings; I am only just getting round to actually reading his works. I read the short story, The Man Who Planted Trees, earlier in the year and though I liked it, many of his other books appeal to me more. Second Harvest is one of those books; it was Giono’s third novel, published in 1930 (of course) as Regain. My copy is a beautiful Harvill Press edition from 1999 which makes use of a 1939 translation by Henri Fluchère and Geoffrey Myers as well as a series of lovely woodcut images by Louis William Graux—I always love books that have illustrations; it is something that should be encouraged.

Second Harvest is one of those books where the whole story is essentially revealed in the blurb but it is enough to draw the reader in to find out how the story unfolds. The story centres around Panturle who lives in a small Provençal village, Aubignane; a village that is on the decline and near to extinction as it only has three inhabitants. We initially find out about the inhabitants of Aubignane from some members of a nearby town, one of whom used to live in Aubignane. One of its inhabitants is Panturle (Panturle was a huge man. He looked like a piece of wood walking along.) He is in his forties and, since his mother died, lives alone . He relies on hunting for his food by setting traps and snares. He often talks to himself. Gaubert (Gaubert was a little man and all moustache) is a retired cartwright who used to make the finest ploughs but now, in his eighties, he is all skin and bone. When he gets bored he strikes his anvil to relive better days.

Whenever Gaubert felt bored, he took hold of the hammer with both hands, raised it, and struck the anvil. He went on like that, for no purpose, just for the sound, to hear the sound. His life was in each of those strokes. The sound of the anvil echoed through the countryside and sometimes came upon Panturle while he was hunting.

The third inhabitant is Mamèche, ‘the Piedmontese’ (She used to sit and sing at the edge of a bank. Then her husband died. Then her child died.). Her story is, indeed, sad; her husband was a well-digger and he died when a well collapsed in on him. Her little boy died from eating hemlock. But it’s not long before Gaubert decides to leave, taking his anvil with him, to live with his son in a nearby village. Panturle and Mamèche help each other out but Mamèche begins to act strangely—he would often find her outside standing still and talking to herself. One day Mamèche offers to find Panturle a wife and bring her to him. Then one day Panturle discovers that Mamèche has left. He is now alone in the village. Has Mamèche gone to find him a wife? He does not know.

The story now switches to two other characters: Gédémus, a travelling knife-grinder, and his young wife, Arsule, whom he treats as his servant. Gédémus is not brutal, he loves Arsule, but in a limited way. Before long Gédémus and Arsule arrive at Aubignane to find it apparently abandoned. When they stop outside Panturle’s house no-one answers.

Giono’s style of writing is beguiling, with its tales of peasants and farmers. He often anthropomorphises the natural world, where trees sing, streams grumble and the sun jumps; he also compares humans to non-human entities, such as comparing Panturle to a piece of wood (see above), or when Arsule’s body is described as ‘fermenting like new wine’. The Wikipedia page on Giono describes this period of his writing as displaying a pantheistic view of nature. It is a charming way of writing but Giono does not ignore the brutal side of nature as well.

The story has reached a pivotal moment with Gédémus and Arsule outside Panturle’s house. Rather than describe much more of the plot I wish to quote rather a long piece at this point which perfectly displays Giono’s style.

Soft green grass grew in front of the house. There stood the cypress too, and, as if on purpose, it was singing with its tree-voice, its sweet-sounding voice, inviting to the ear. Then there were bees which had lived under a tile and were humming in the air. And then, like a miracle, so unexpected that it made them rub their eyes, there was a small lilac tree in full blossom.
   “Let’s rest, Arsule, let’s rest.”
   Gédémus, lying on the ground, stretched himself out like a dog. “One could almost sleep.”
   No, she would not be able to sleep with that longing within her, like water carrying everything away. Her heart was like a crumbling clod of earth. She sat in the grass, with daisies between her legs. She was only an empty bag of skin; she listened to that bitter water, like fire, singing deep down within her.
   She opened her bodice and took out her breasts. They were hard and hot and she had one in either hand…
   Just at that moment she saw a pool of blood, thick as a peony, on the white threshold of the door.

Ok, I’m not quite sure why Arsule takes her breasts out when she’s having a rest, but maybe it was a common thing then. The blood is coming from Panturle butchering a fox he had hunted earlier. If you wish to find out more then you will have to read the book. Second Harvest is the third part in a trilogy called the ‘Pan Trilogy’: the first part is Hill of Destiny (Colline) and the second part is Lovers Are Never Losers (Un de Baumugnes). My understanding is that they can be read as stand alone novels as it is the style or theme of the novels that is the connection. I am certainly looking forward to reading the others.

Second Harvest was read as part of Karen’s (Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings and Simon’s (Stuck in a Book) excellent Year Club Reads. This time it’s books that were first published in 1930.

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‘Virtue’ by Marquis de Sade

Virtue was published by Hesperus Press in 2011 and consists of the novella Ernestine: A Swedish Novella and the short play Oxtiern, or The Miseries of Libertinism which is Sade’s own adaption of Ernestine for the stage. Ernestine was originally published in 1800 in the four-volume collection, The Crimes of Love (Les Crimes de l’amour, Nouvelles héroïques et tragiques) which was the only collection of Sade’s short fiction published in his lifetime. The stories were written, however, before 1788 when Sade was still imprisoned in the Bastille. These short stories lack the explicit sadistic sexual content for which Sade became infamous but they often concern contemporary morality and libertinage. In these short stories, which were intended for general publication, the libertines generally get their comeuppance which does not happen in his infamous ‘libertine’ novels such as Justine and Juliette. Virtue was translated by David Carter.

Ernestine begins with a frame story; the narrator describes his visit to Sweden, including the copper mines of Falun and Taberg. It is whilst being guided round the mines of Taberg by Falkeneim that he meets Oxtiern, who, the narrator is informed, is a Swedish nobleman who has been banished to the mines after being found guilty of ‘unprecedented crimes’. The narrator is intrigued by Oxtiern and wants to know how and why he ended up there, so Falkeneim tells Oxtiern’s tale which forms the main story.

The story begins in a small town, Norrköping, about fifty miles from Stockholm. Colonel Sanders, a widower, lives there with his beautiful daughter, Ernestine, who is sixteen years old. Ernestine is in love with Herman, who lost his parents at an early age, and who works for a local businesswoman, Widow Scholtz. But, Widow Scholtz, who is described as ‘an arrogant, imperious woman’ has a passion for Herman and things soon become complicated: Sanders approves of Ernestine’s and Herman’s betrothal but he does not want to upset Mme Scholtz, who is known to have a temper…and power; Ernestine knows of Scholtz’s interest in Herman and fears that Herman may be swayed by Scholtz’s money; Sanders begins to think it would be best for everybody if Herman married Scholtz rather than his daughter. When Herman declines Scholtz’s offer of marriage she warns him:

Herman, you do not know the woman you offend…No, you do not know of what she is capable…You will learn it perhaps too late…Leave at once…Yes, leave…

Six months go by before the arrival of Count Oxtiern. At a ball, held by Mme Scholtz, Oxtiern becomes obsessed with Ernestine and begins to charm her father, who is flattered by the attention of a count. This has, of course, been planned by Scholtz to draw Ernestine away from Herman but if she can’t have him then she is prepared to destroy him. Oxtiern and Scholtz now plot to get Ernestine and Herman as their respective lovers. Oxtiern tempts Sanders and Ernestine to Stockholm whilst Herman is left at the mercy of Scholtz. When Herman continues to resist Scholtz’s advances she decides to frame him for stealing from her and imprisons him. With Herman permanently separated from Ernestine she cruelly enjoys telling him that Ernestine is now Oxtiern’s wife and that this was achieved with Sanders’ blessing—none of which is true.

Scholtz has given up on Herman, who is now moved to Stockholm where he is due to be executed. Ernestine is meanwhile tricked into meeting Oxtiern on the pretext that she is to meet Herman, whom she hasn’t seen for months. In a quintessentially Sadeian scene Oxtiern attempts to seduce Ernestine, but with cruelty rather than flattery. He tells her that Herman has been condemned for robbing Scholtz and that Ernestine may be implicated in the crime as well. But if she willingly submits to Oxtiern then he will get Herman released and she can marry him (Herman). If she doesn’t submit then Herman will die and he will rape her anyway. Ernestine still refuses and reasons thus:

It is never permissible to commit one crime to prevent another. I know my lover sufficiently well to be certain that he would not want to enjoy a life that had cost me my honour, and what is more he would not marry me after my reputation had been blackened. I would have thus made myself guilty, without his becoming happier as a result. I would have become so without saving him, since he would certainly not survive such excessive horror and slander. So let me leave, sir. Do not make yourself more of a criminal than I suspect you of being already. I shall go to die near my lover. I shall share his dreadful fate. At least I shall perish worthy of Herman, and I would rather die virtuous than live in ignominy.

With this Oxtiern goes into a rage and Mme Scholtz cruelly draws back the curtain to show Herman, at that moment, climbing the scaffold. Oxtiern rapes the unconscious Ernestine at the moment Herman is being executed.

Against Mme Scholtz’s advice Oxtiern lets Ernestine free. The story does not end there but involves a duel where Sanders tries to get his revenge for the crimes committed against his daughter but Oxtiern is not to be outwitted so easily. This part of Ernestine also forms the bulk of the short play, Oxtiern, which is included in this edition. It’s interesting to see how Sade altered much from the story to make it work as a play.

Unlike his ‘libertine’ novels, in Ernestine Sade has the libertines punished for their crimes—Mme Scholtz is executed whilst Oxtiern is banished; but he is ultimately freed by Sanders and vows to perform virtuous acts from thereon. Knowing Sade’s other works I can only imagine him smirking to himself with this ‘virtuous’ ending, after having Ernestine raped by Oxtiern and then killed by her own father and having Herman executed for a crime he didn’t commit only to have Oxtiern surviving by showing some Christian repentance. Sade wanted to be taken seriously as a writer and with the ‘sanitised’ stories in The Crimes of Love he had hoped to be recognised as such. However, he was soon after arrested for being the author of the obscene works, Justine and Juliette, which he denied publicly. Even though his fame is due to these obscene works I feel that some of his more accessible works are worth reading even if they may still be too much for some readers.

You have no idea, my friend, of the effect of a young woman’s tears on all these weak and timid souls.

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‘Life: A User’s Manual (Ch. 51)’ by Georges Perec

I have been reading Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual for the last week. I have been taking it slowly and still have a little way to go but hope to finish in a day or so. It’s a fun book that can be maddening at times, and even dull every now and then (I find lists dull, there’s no way round it. Beckett also enjoyed lists and listing permutations of things, and it can be amusing in a way, but, at the same time…dull). But one list that is ‘not-dull’ comes about halfway through the book in chapter fifty-one.

Before I go any further I should point out to anyone who is unfamiliar with the book that it takes place at a specific point in time in a Parisian apartment block at 11 Rue Simon-Crubellier. We get to nose around in each apartment, see who is there and find out about their lives as well as the lives of the previous inhabitants; but the narrative is frozen in time—according to Wikipedia it is June 23, 1975, just before 8 pm; I haven’t seen this stated explicitly in the text yet but it can probably be inferred from the chronology at the back of the book. It is also worth noting that Perec was a member of the Oulipo group of writers who wrote inventive works using ‘constraints’ as a way to inspire their writing. As an example Perec wrote a novel without using the letter ‘e’ ( A Void in English).

So, back to Chapter fifty-one, and one of the characters, an artist called Valène, considers painting a picture of the apartment block, with the front removed and he will paint all the inhabitants of the building in situ, including himself. Perec then proceeds to create a list which we soon realise is a list of short descriptions of characters in the book so far and, as we don’t recognise all of them, characters who will appear in the rest of the book. Because the text used for the list is a monospaced typeface, possibly Courier, it is obvious that each list entry is the same length, which turns out to be sixty characters. We then notice that every ten entries are blocked together and there is a separator after 60 entries. There is another separator at 120 and another at 180….well, not quite, it ends at 179.
At this point it may be best to look at some images to see what I mean. You can click on the images below to see a larger image.

Perec’s ‘Life’, Ch. 51-01

Perec’s ‘Life’, Ch. 51-02

Perec’s ‘Life’, Ch. 51-03

If you look on the second image you may be able to see that a diagonal line appears from top-right to bottom-left. This is formed because of a further pattern that Perec has used. Line 61 ends with the letter ‘g’, the second to last letter in line 62 is also ‘g’, the third from last letter in line 63 is also ‘g’ and so on until we get to line 120 which starts with ‘G’ thus forming a diagonal of ‘g’s. Now that we know that the second block has this pattern we can see if the first and third blocks also have this pattern. Although it’s not so obvious we can see that there is a similar diagonal of ‘e’s in lines 1-60 and a diagonal of ‘o’s in lines 121-179, which together spells ‘EGO’. Why? I’m not sure there is one other than playfulness.

A quick internet search revealed a Wall Street Journal article by David Bellos, the English translator of ‘Life’. (The article can be found here but you may need to sign-in. I found I could view it ok on my phone but not on my PC, even when I turned my ad-blocker off.) In this article Bellos mentions that in French the diagonals spell ‘AME’, French for ‘soul’ and the German translator used ‘ICH’, German for ‘I’ and for Bellos EGO seemed the perfect choice for his English translation as it also means ‘I’ in Latin. Bellos mentions that AME appears nowhere else in the book.

But I wonder if there is any further wordplay used in this section. Have we missed anything? If Bellos missed anything then we English readers can’t help to discover any more. Also, why is the last block missing a line? Is there any further significance of the 60 lines/60 characters structure? I also wondered if there was a line that didn’t refer to a scene in the book, which would have been intriguing, but Bellos states that he connected each line summary to a story. But I still wonder….

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Filed under Fiction, Perec, Georges

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 Radetzky March Readalong: Part One


When Caroline, at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat, and Lizzy, at Lizzy’s Literary Life, announced that they were hosting a ‘Radetzy March Readalong’ I knew I’d have to join in. The Radetzky March is comprised of three parts and Caroline and Lizzy have asked those of us taking part to consider questions related to each part. Here are my answers to the questions on Part One.

What enticed you to readalong with us?
I have read a few books by Joseph Roth and have enjoyed them all but I hadn’t read his most famous novel, The Radetzky March, which is the only book by Roth to be included in Boxall’s list 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. The books by Roth that I have read are Hotel Savoy, The String of Pearls, The Hundred Days and, one of my favourite books, The Legend of the Holy Drinker. I’ll admit that The Radetzky March had never really appealed to me as much as Roth’s other books but when Caroline & Lizzy first made public their intentions I was reading Ring of Steel by Alexander Watson which was about the First World War from Germany’s and Austria-Hungary’s perspective and so I thought that it would be a good time to read a novel about the Austria-Hungaria military set prior to WWI.

Which edition/translation are you using and how is it reading?
I am reading a Kindle version of the Granta edition translated by Michael Hofmann. I bought it back in 2014 from Amazon when they were selling it off cheap. I have no issues with the translation.

Is the novel living up to your expectations?
Well, yes and no. It hadn’t appealed to me before as I’m usually reluctant to read military books; though in the past I have ended up enjoying some books, or sections of books, that have a military setting. The first chapter I really enjoyed but I felt that it read more like a self-contained short story than the opening chapter of a novel. I felt the next few chapters were a bit confusing as Roth jumps a generation to concentrate on Carl Joseph. I have now re-read parts of the book including the whole of chapters seven and eight and I’m enjoying it a lot more now. I’m now looking forward to Parts Two and Three a lot more than I was.

How would you comment on the first few sentences? Is this an effective opening? “The Trottas were not an old family. Their founder had been enobled following the battle of Solferino. He was a Slovene. The name of his village – Sipolje – was taken into his title. Fate had singled him out for a particular deed. He subsequently did everything he could to return himself to obscurity.” (Translation: Michael Hofmann)
The opening lines almost summarise the whole of the first chapter but hides enough to make the reader intrigued to find out more. I always like opening lines that draw the reader in. I thought they were effective.

Roth subscribed to Chekhov’s view that a writer “should not be a judge of his characters or what they say, but an impartial witness”. That doesn’t mean that we as readers need to be the same! How do you feel about the hero of Solferino’s crusade to return to obscurity? What are the ramifications of this for his descendants?
When the elder von Trotta discovers that the story of him saving the Emperor’s life has been used for propaganda purposes he feels as if he has been cheated of the truth. No-one he talks to can understand his level of indignation over this but it is enough for him to leave the military and move away. When he objects to this mythologising of this part of his life he just receives more honours. His faith in Emperor and Empire appears to be broken. His descendants, however, appear to accept their place amongst the aristocracy without question but this places a burden on them, and especially on Carl Joseph as he embarks on a military career, to constantly live up to the example set by the Hero of Solferino.

Carl Josef von Trotta follows his grandfather into the military. Is his life there honourable and meaningful? Is his fateful relationship with Dr Demant’s wife innocent?
Carl Joseph doesn’t seem to know quite how to behave. He doesn’t know how to talk to his servant, as he suspects his grandfather would have. He doesn’t feel comfortable with the other officers as he doesn’t share their enjoyment of drinking, womanising and playing cards. The military life in peacetime seems meaningless as he is denied the possibility of matching his grandfather’s achievement.

It is not clear whether Carl Joseph was romantically involved with Frau Demant: Demant’s father-in-law tells Demant that Carl Joseph was with his wife but Demant wants to believe that nothing is going on— Demant does not want to know the truth, whereas Baron von Trotta insists the truth should be told. Early on in the narrative everything suggests that Carl Joseph and Frau Demant’s relationship is not platonic. But once the duel has been declared Carl Joseph states that he was just escorting Frau Demant home on the night in question. This could be true but that does not mean that there was nothing going on between them before, or Carl Joseph could be dissembling. It is not clear why Demant left his wife at the theatre during the Second Act.

Strauss’s Radetzky March is heard almost as a refrain throughout this section. What is the significance of that?
As Strauss’s Radetzky March is jubilant and triumphant I can only assume that its appearance throughout the novel is ironic. As it has a military history it is relevant to Roth’s story.

Roth may not judge his characters, but his sights are aimed at other targets: the social order and the military code of honour, for instance. How does Roth critique these?
None of the Trotta men seem to be in control of their lives. When the Lt Trotta is enobled his old life is extinguished and he feels separated from his father whom he respects and loves. He forces his son, Franz, into a bureaucratic career whilst Franz forces his son, Carl Joseph, into a military career. Sons obey their fathers and subjects obey their Emperor. As aristocrats they have certain rights or privileges such as Carl Joseph’s apparent right to sleep with Sergeant Slama’s wife but they also have certain duties such as fighting duels to defend their honour—there is an excellent passage at the beginning of chapter eight which highlights this tension between rights and duties:

The officers went about like the baffling followers of some remote and cruel godhead, which simultaneously cast them as its colourfully disguised and magnificently decked sacrificial animals. People looked at them and shook their heads. They even felt sorry for them. They have many advantages, so people said. They can walk around with swords, women fall in love with them, and the Emperor looks after them in person, as if they were his own sons. But then, in a trice, before you’ve noticed anything, one of them has managed to offend another, and the offence needs to be washed away with red blood!…

Set in what was very much a man’s world, what do you think of the way Roth portrays the female characters?
Female characters are noticeable by their absence. A novel about the military is going to be mostly about men but the wives and mothers of the three von Trotta men are barely mentioned at all and there is no mention of sisters, aunts etc. I don’t think Carl Joseph’s mother is even mentioned; it’s as if male begets male. Carl falls in love with Frau Slama at an early love and doesn’t seem to get over her but one wonders if that is because she is the only female he has any contact with. Frau Demant is probably the most prominent female character in the first part.

Do you have any further comments on this section?
I initially struggled a little with my reading of The Radetzky March but I’m coming round to suspect that the trouble is with me. I sometimes find it difficult jumping from one author to another especially when their styles differ which is what happened here as I went straight from reading L. P. Hartley to Joseph Roth. I was also expecting the novel to progress slowly through the generations but instead it jumped from grandfather to grandson which was unexpected. I have sometimes found the narrative to be deliberately misleading but I’m getting used to Roth’s style—I don’t recall his other books being difficult in this way.

In writing this post I have re-read several sections and the whole of chapters seven and eight and realise there was a lot that I missed which I put down to reading large portions of the book under ‘hostile reading conditions’, i.e. noisy and disjointed. I’m looking forward to advancing to Part Two. I loved the beginning of Chapter Eight where Roth compares the years before and after WWI—Vishy quotes the whole section in his post.

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Filed under Fiction, Roth, Joseph

‘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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