Sunday, January 01, 2012

close on me now.

Bit of a hiatus, but not of deep artistic, or any other, significance. It's been Christmas, and then before that it was moving home, back from the leafy walks of 2.4 West Swindon to the steeps of Frome (or as I prefer to think of it in limestone terms, from the Upper Jurassic to the Carboniferous).

Somewhere in the middle of this, I finished my essay about Harry Martinson and Chickweed Wintergreen and Karin Boye and Swedish popular song, and put it on Intercapillary Space (in a rudimentary form, it has been coming to birth here on this blog since August). I think I've managed to blend enough matters of acute personal interest into this essay to more or less defeat the well-intentioned interest of any other person on the planet.

Another great blog has come to an end, or to put it another way (because I'd like to see this in a celebratory rather than elegiac spirit), has been triumphantly completed. This is Chris Goode's Thomson's Bank of Communicable Desire. Does anyone ever read completed blogs, though? You should read this one. In principle, I am against blogs coming to an end. Death comes soon enough, so why forestall it? That's why I don't like themed blogs. Let your blog be anything, let it change and grow.

I am reading something you might not expect (or might you?): Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, the first of a long sequence of books for children written in the 1930s. Since I'm being opinionated, let me say that it usually makes me sad to see grown-ups reading books for children. The reason I got to this place was that I accidentally discovered that these books had been read not only by my grandmother (who lovingly collected them all), but then by my father and his brother, and then by my sister. As for me, I remember the books very well, as impressive physical objects (they are early, though not first, editions). As a child staying at my grandmother's house, I often used to linger over the maps in the endpapers, and I used to ask Mutti what the stories were about and I enjoyed her telling me and talking about which ones were her favourites. But I'm now certain that I never read them myself; the only page I recognized was the first one. I liked books, I was a bookish child, but it turns out that often I only dreamed over these family treasures. (In the same way I recently discovered that I never had read the whole of Selma Lagerlöf's Wonderful Adventures of Nils.) To read these books now is to be re-admitted to secrets of my own family history. I discover, for example, where my father learnt to fill a kettle from a lake; Ransome is very informative about sailing and camping. And I discover one constituent of the ideal of a family that my father had in his head; he had to find it where he could. I asked him if he and his brother ever got the chance to make use of all this sailing lore. He laughed wryly. Of course there was no possibility of that, there was no money at all. (But at some stage the boys found out that their estranged father, Mutti's ex-husband, had gone and bought himself a boat; it rankled.)

Around Christmas I also finished Villette, one of the few nineteenth-century classic English novels that for some reason I've missed out on up until now (most of the others I read in university days). - Perhaps I should qualify this by saying that I'm referring to the acknowledged list of classic novels as represented by the Penguin English Library, circa 1977. And even so, I can think of quite a few others: Adam Bede, Daniel Deronda, anything by Thackeray or Disraeli or Reade, Wives and Daughters, Jude the Obscure... But anyway, Villette's reputation was HUGE, even though a lot of people hadn't actually read it. Anyway I'm fitfully writing about Villette for the Brief Hist. (And, thanks to my other sister, finally listening to Exile On Main Street in the car, another masterpiece that I missed first time around and that I somewhat associate with Villette in terms of reputation, obscurity, sprawl, over-ripeness and a feeling about it that is half awed and half queasy.)

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