Thursday, September 28, 2017



Bullaces, along with damson and sometimes other smallish plums such as gages and mirabelles, have been called Prunus institia, or (which I think is better) Prunus domestica ssp. institia

There seems to be no botanically-acceptable distinction between damson and bullace. Of the numerous distinctions that are claimed, the most credible is Mrs Grieve's, that damson fruit is somewhat oval whereas bullace fruit is round. Also, the word damson always seems to imply a dark purple fruit, whereas bullaces may be any colour including green and gold. And generally you more often hear of damsons in a garden context than a hedgerow context.

So perhaps the best way of seeing it is that the word "damson" is used to name a particular group of varieties of "bullace", which in turn vaguely designates those plums that are more sloe-like than most, i.e. with smaller fruit, downy twigs, and occasional thorns.

[In 2015 the subject was discussed on the Facebook Wild Flower Group. The following ID tips come mostly from Richard JD Smith and Richard Collingridge.

1 .Cherry-plum (P. cerasifera)
Thornless, more or less
Fruit round, ripens early (the earliest plum), sweet-tasting; purple, red, orange, yellow, white.
Flowers, earliest, with leaves

2. Blackthorn/Sloe (P. spinosa)
More fruits in a cluster than 3 or 4
Fruits small, globose, extremely astringent (skin) and sour (flesh). Black-purple (may look blue because of bloom)
Fruit-stones not or scarcely flattened
Flowers, later than 1, before leaves

3. Bullace (P. domestica ssp. institia, var "Bullace")
Shrub or small tree
Usually not or scarcely thorned, but sometimes thorny.
Fruits less in a cluster than 2
Fruit usually larger than 2 (typically about double the diameter); smaller than 4. Globose. Sweeter than 2, but skin may still be astringent. Black-purple, also yellow-to-reddish (e.g. "Shepherd's Bullace")
Fruit-stone more flattened than 2.
Upper leaf shiny
Twigs hairy
Flowers, slightly later than 2, with leaves

4. Damson (P. domestica ssp. institia, var "Damson")
Small tree
Rarely with any thorns
Fruit earlier than 3, larger and more oval than 3. Sweeter than 2. Purple.
Upper leaf not shiny
Twigs not hairy
Flowers, slightly later than 2, with leaves     ]

[Incidentally, some botanists use the name "Bullace" only for the few garden varieties sold under that name. They call everything else "Wild Plum", a name I would use only for Prunus domestica ssp. domestica (large fruits, flattened stones and hairless twigs).]

Bullaces, mixed up with honeysuckle.

Bullaces, showing a couple of thorns

Bullaces are a common plant around Frome. They often spring up as weeds in gardens and are then grubbed out.

The local Frome folk-belief is that these are a sort of worthless cherry unique to the Frome area and they never produce fruit. That is wrong on all counts.

It's true that the plants that spring up in gardens are never allowed to grow big enough to produce fruit. (Except in Laura's.)

But the fruit is a common sight in local hedges and thickets. For example, there's a fine harvest to be gathered next to Halfords on the local trading estate.

It's possible to eat bullaces raw as a survival food. You could even get to like them. They are a bit sour,  but are much more palatable than sloes.

The best way to eat them is as a jam, with some extra sugar. Bullace jam has the same virtues as damson jam. Some people say it's even better! 

The tedious challenge with bullaces is removing the stones. The stones are small and pitted, and the flesh does not come away from them cleanly. They float out during cooking, eventually.

Bullaces / Woodbine


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Evert Taube: Sjösala vals

Sjösala vals

G                                                                      D7
Rönnerdahl han skuttar med ett skratt ur sin säng
D7                                                         G
Solen står på Orrberget. Sunnanvind brusar.
G                                                         D7   
Rönnerdahl han valsar över Sjösala äng.
D7                                                              G
Hör min vackra visa, kom sjung min refräng!
Tärnan har fått ungar
och dyker i min vik,
ur alla gröna dungar
hörs finkarnas musik.
Och se, så många blommor
som redan slagit ut på ängen!
C                 D7                 G
Gullviva, mandelblom, kattfot och blå viol.

            Rönnerdahl jumped up with a laugh from his bed.
The sun is over Orr mountain, the southern wind rushing.
Rönnerdahl he waltzes over Sjösala field.
Hear my pretty song, come sing my refrain!
The tern has got her young ones
and is diving in my bay,
all the green dingles
            is heard
the music of the finches.
And see, so many flowers
            already blooming in the field
            Cowslip and almond-flower, cat's-foot and violet blue!

Rönnerdahl han virvlar sina lurviga ben
under vita skjortan som viftar kring vaderna.
Lycklig som en lärka uti majsolens sken,
sjunger han för ekorrn, som gungar på gren!
Kurre, kurre, kurre
nu dansar Rönnedahl.
Koko! Och göken ropar
uti hans gröna dal.
Och se, så många blommor
som redan slagit ut på ängen!
Gullviva, mandelblom, kattfot och blå viol.

             Rönnerdahl he whirls his rough legs
the white nightshirt that flaps round his calves.
Happy as a lark in the May sunshine,
He sings for the squirrels who are swinging on the branch!
             Scurry scurry scurry
ow dances Rönnerdahl!
! And the cuckoo calls
his green dale.
And see, so many flowers
            already blooming
 in the field!
            Cowslip and almond-flower, cat's-foot and violet blue!

Rönnerdahl han binder utav blommor en krans,
binder den kring håret, det gråa och rufsiga,
valsar in i stugan och har lutan till hands,
väcker frun och barnen med drill och kadans.
Titta! ropar ungarna,
Pappa är en brud,
med blomsterkrans i håret
och nattskjortan till skrud!
Och se, så många blommor
som redan slagit ut på ängen!
Gullviva, mandelblom, kattfot och blå viol.

            Rönnerdahl he weaves from the flowers a garland,
binds it around his hair, which is grey and scraggy,
            he waltzes
into his cottage and has the lute in hand,
wife and children awaken to trills and cadences.
! cry the children,
Daddy is a bride,
with a flower wreath in his hair
and his nightshirt for a wedding gown!
And see, so many flowers 
            already blooming in the field!
            Cowslip and almond-flower, cat's-foot and violet blue!

Rönnerdahl är gammal men han valsar ändå,
Rönnerdahl har sorger och ont om sekiner.
Sällan får han rasta - han får slita för två.
Hur han klarar skivan, kan ingen förstå,
ingen, utom tärnan
i viken - hon som dök
och ekorren och finken
och vårens första gök.
Och blommorna, de blommor
som redan slagit ut på ängen,
Gullviva, mandelblom, kattfot och blå viol.

            Rönnerdahl is old but he waltzes yet.
Rönnerdahl has troubles and is strapped for cash.
Rarely does he rest, he must labour for two.
How he gets by, none can understand!
            None but
the tern
in the bay - the one who dives -
and the squirrel and the finches
and the first cuckoo of spring.
And the flowers, the flowers
           already blooming in the field! 

           Cowslip and
 almond-flower, cat's-foot and violet blue!


The first part of each verse is an object lesson in how to make an entrancing melody using only two chords! In the Youtube performance Evert Taube seems to play a different chord in place of the first B7.

My own rendition:

Sjösala: About 25km due east of Stockholm, on the shore of the archipelago. I'd probably describe it as part of the mainland rather than a distinct island, but in this semi-submerged part of the world it's a moot point.

The common May flowers in Rönnerdahl's meadow are:

Gullviva (literally Golden Primrose) - Primula veris  - Cowslip.
Mandelblom (=Mandelblomma) literally "almond flower" - Saxifraga granulata - Meadow Saxifrage
Kattfot lit. Cat's foot - Antennaria dioica - Mountain Everlasting
Blå Viol (lit blue violet)  - Viola  species; given the location and colour, it must surely be Ängsviol - Viola canina - Heath Dog-violet.


One of Evert Taube's best-known songs. Here are some more:

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Monday, September 25, 2017

of crimson sheen

Comb Morion helmet, as worn by sixteenth-century border reivers

[Image source:]

Soon on the hill's steep verge he stood,
That looks o'er Branksome's towers and wood;
And martial murmurs, from below,
Proclaim'd the approaching southern foe.
Through the dark wood, in mingled tone,
Were Border pipes and bugles blown;
The coursers' neighing he could ken,
A measured tread of marching men;
While broke at times the solemn hum
The Almayn's sullen kettle-drum;
        And banners tall of crimson sheen
Above the copse appear;
        And, glistening through the hawthorns green,
Shine helm, and shield, and spear.

(The Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto 4 St 16*)

Scott's tetrameters in this, his first and probably greatest narrative poem, sometimes suggest a totally different meter, that of Gawain and the Green Knight and other stanzaic romances. Nowhere more so than here, where the alliteration is consciously heightened and the terminating "wheel" (though without a "bob") delivers the same refreshing effect, of giving us pause for breath.

The watcher is the hardy yeoman Watt Tinlinn, just returning from failed pursuit of the supposed son-and-heir who turns into a mocking elf. Scott's in the middle of one of his virtuosic Ariosto-like shuttles between different plotlines.

* There are two versions of the poem. In the First Edition of 1805, the stanza that I've quoted appears as St 13, not 16. Check it out here, where you can also have a look at Scott's extensive antiquarian notes, unfortunately absent from nearly all later editions:
The version of the poem that I've been reading  (and the one normally seen, e.g. here: has some differences from the first edition, e.g.

Canto 4 St 7 :  The four-line "wheel" is only in the revised version.
Cant 4 St 10 - 12: This extended episode, describing the Scotts' scattering of the Beattisons in Eskdale, is only in the revised version.
Canto 6 St 24 - 31 These stanzas were mistakenly numbered 25-32 in the first edition.

I don't know when the additions were made though I should imagine it was early on. They seamlessly improve an already excellent poem (a skill few revisers possess). The reason may be that Scott's poetic art was always based on a methodology of accretion. A skeleton was progressively enriched (the same sort of way that Jane Austen developed her novels).

The original idea for the poem, as recounted in the important 1830 Introduction, was to tell the tale of the goblin (or "elf"), employing the meter Scott had discovered a year earlier when Mr Stoddart recited from memory some passages of the unpublished "Christabel". In the poem as it developed, the goblin is not the most important element; border life, scenery and feuding occupy the centre. Scott had the idea of the minstrel and the frame-narrative after conversation with friends, who said that so original a poem needed a "pitchpipe" for the reader. (A nice image, that. We who as a point of honour resist making our poems accessible to unprepared audiences should maybe think again about it.)

On "Christabel", its influence on Scott, and Coleridge's resentment, see this post:

[Watt Tinlinn's "battered morion" should really have looked more like the one at the head of this post.]


Saturday, September 23, 2017


Gezi Park, May 2013

[Image source:]

I'm making a first few cautious forays into Andrea Brady's new book The Strong Room (Crater 42, Jan 2017). 

Title and opening stanza of one of the poems:

Gel Gör Beni Aşk Neyledi


We walk burning, itching, streaming all over,
cascading Mungyeong yellow. Love or its sister
forces has stained Cumhuriyet Caddesi
with blood but les pavés pressed
hand to hand dry flowers become barricades,
underneath, roots of the red apple.
We aren´t static, aren´t mad.
Come see what our revolution has done to us!

The full text is here:

The poem is about the Gezi Park protests beginning on 28 May 2013.  ("Diren Gezi" means "Resist, Gezi!"). explains various terms used in the poem, eg. çapulcu , the protesters' adoption of Erdogan's absurd description of them as "looters".

burning, itching, streaming = The police used tear gas. Tear gas is banned as a weapon of warfare (in various international treaties most states have signed) but it's permitted and much used by states to control their own citizens.

Cumhuriyet Caddesi = A highway in Istanbul, passing along one side of Gezi Park.

les pavés  =  paving slabs

dry flowers = As in the peaceful Portuguese revolution of April 25 1974, carnations were thrown.

The poem has this endnote: In solidarity / with apologies to Yunus Emre  *

[* To be strictly accurate there's a bar-shaped diacritic above the first "u" in "Yunus". I haven't worked out how to reproduce it yet (I also haven't seen that spelling anywhere else).]

Yunus Emre is a famous and popular Sufi poet, one of the earliest poets to write in Turkish. Andrea's poem is an improvisation on Yunus Emre's famous poem Gel Gör Beni Aşk Neyledi ("Come see what love has done to me"). Here's the first couple of stanzas in a translation I found online:

I’m walking, my heart ablaze...charred I’m burning!
Love painted me blood red.
left me neither sane nor mad
come, see what Love did to me

sometimes as the winds, I whirl
at times as dust on the path, I drift
sometimes as swift as a flood,
come, see what Love has done to me

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

the guardian moon and her comrade star

Crescent moon with Venus at evening

[Image source:]

I recently wrote a post about Emily Brontë's earliest dated poem.

Here's the poem again:

Cold clear and blue the morning heaven
Expands its arch on high
Cold clear and blue Lake Werna's water
Reflects that winter's sky
The moon has set but Venus shines
A silent silvery star

(In or before July 1836, age 17)

I've been reading Emily's complete poems in chronological order of composition, and now I've reached the other end of her output, some ten years later on. And suddenly there comes a flicker of memory of that early poem:

M.A. Written on the Dungeon Wall - N. C.

I know that tonight, the wind is sighing,
The soft August wind, over forest and moor
While I in a grave-like chill am lying
On the damp black flags of my dungeon-floor --

I know that the Harvest Moon is shining;
She neither will wax nor wane for me.
Yet I weary, weary, with vain repining,
One gleam of her heaven-bright face to see!

For this constant darkness is wasting the gladness
Fast wasting the gladness of life away;
It gathers up thoughts akin to madness
That never would cloud the world of day

I chide with my soul -- I bid it cherish
The feelings it lived on when I was free,
But shrinking it murmurs, 'Let Memory perish
Forget for thy Friends have forgotten thee!'

Alas, I did think that they were weeping
Such tears as I weep -- it is not so!
Their careless young eyes are closed in sleeping;
Their brows are unshadowed, undimmed by woe --

Might I go to their beds, I'd rouse that slumber,
My spirit should startle their rest, and tell
How hour after hour, I wakefully number
Deep buried from light in my lonely cell!

Yet let them dream on, though dreary dreaming
Would haunt my pillow if they were here
And I were laid warmly under the gleaming
Of that guardian moon and her comrade star --

Better that I my own fate mourning
Should pine alone in the prison-gloom
Than waken free on the summer morning
And feel they were suffering this awful doom

[No. 164 in Janet Regazi's edition, dated August 1845.]

* M.A. is a Gondal character, not known from other sources. N.C. : the Northern College. This was indeed a college, where children of the Gondal nobility were educated. But in the Gondal world every building has its dungeon.

Both Emily and Anne wrote "dungeon wall" poems. And in fact Anne's dungeon wall poem of 16 Dec 1844 "Though not a breath can enter here" had introduced the motifs of sensory exclusion and of being neglected by the free world.  Emily's poem meditates further on that. It passes to and fro between the captive's evocation of luminous late summer evenings and the absolute exclusion of those luminous evenings from the captive's present dungeon.

And a drastic choice looms. Since the captive's fate is forgotten by the people above, shouldn't the captive forget the world above? That is to say, forget her/his own memories? That impulse comes from within and we see it's driven by despair and disappointment but also by self-preservation. It's the residual connection with that other life, now thinned to memory, that is torturing.

It was written only a few weeks before "The Prisoner". Self-pity is explicit in this sketchy lyric, while the heroine of "The Prisoner" conspicuously defies self-pity and she mentions no friends upon this earth;  nevertheless, her pitifulness does seem to be an understood thing.

Anyway, "that guardian moon and her comrade star" means the moon and Venus.  The two have been linked since very early times.  As the brightest objects in the night sky, they often seem to have the sky to themselves, particularly during a misty twilight when fainter objects can't be seen. They sometimes appear quite close together: a waxing crescent with the evening star after sunset (as in the photo above), or a waning crescent with the morning star near dawn.  A fairly close conjunction takes place around 8 times a year (about half of them during hours of darkness)

[As on the well-known crescent-and-star symbol on many flags. This is often mistakenly identified with Islam, but Islamic thought deplores visual images, especially for the divine. The crescent-and-star was an emblem of the Ottoman Empire; its origins are pre-Islamic.]

Emily's poems usually speak rapturously of the heavens, and especially of these two comrades. In the sensation-starved and solitary life of Haworth, their appearance in a window was something that mattered. She saw them as nurturers and comforters.

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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

uk - france - spain - portugal - spain - france - uk

Monday, September 18, 2017

The moral cleanup in Measure for Measure

Pompey (Barzin Arkhavan) and Mistress Overdone (Amy Kim Waschke) in the Seattle Shakespeare Company's 2003 production of Measure for Measure
[Image source:]

I wrote in detail about Measure for Measure before.

During an empty Saturday last week I picked up the old Penguin edition in a charity shop in Westbury, sat in the van and re-read J.M. Nosworthy's introduction.

I felt there was a lot of accord between this editor's opinions and mine, but there was one glaring difference. Nosworthy regards it as firmly established that the Vienna of the play is in a state of deplorable moral decay and is in urgent need of reform. Whereas my reading treated this view of Vienna as pretty much a media illusion, a pretext for orators to thunder Something must be done when, actually, nothing can or will be done.

I think really I must have been wrong. Nosworthy argues that, apart from people (such as the Duke) telling us that Vienna's morals have been neglected, the evidence of such neglect is abundantly shown by the presence in the play of Lucio, Pompey, Mistress Overdone ...(Claudio and Juliet even, or the Escalus who protests  at the news of well-born Claudio being made an example of?).  And evidently there's many a production of Measure for Measure that takes great delight in creating a particularly seedy atmosphere. (E.g. Dromgoole's 2015 Globe production .)

Yet... I still find it hard to believe that Vienna in the play is really in a radically bad way. Is it much different to Elizabethan London, where the theatre companies set up on the south bank alongside the brothels, out of reach of the city authorities?

In Hamlet and in Macbeth Shakespeare's poetry creates for us the image of places (Denmark and Scotland) in terminal moral decline. (Such decline is seen as following from the vices of the ruler.) 

But when is Measure for Measure's Vienna ever described in those terms?

On the contrary, don't we see all sorts of redeeming features in the lively social lowlife of the play -- more, even, than in the Eastcheap of Henry IV?

In a way Measure for Measure is quite a soft-hearted play. Yes, it contains a bawd, a madam, a rakish gentleman .... but no actual young prostitute. (Whereas the figure of Doll Tearsheet in Henry IV Part II casts a significantly less merry light on what goes on in Eastcheap, and what happens when there's a crackdown too.)

A lot depends on our reading of the Duke's confidences to Friar Thomas in Act I Scene 3. By that time the moral clean-up is already in operation. The Duke says that this was his intention. Friar Thomas makes the reasonable point that the Duke ought to be leading the moral crusade himself. The Duke's explanation is ingenious but not altogether persuasive. And we are very swiftly given the impression that the real subject of the Duke's experiment is not the people's loose morals but how Angelo takes to his task. Angelo is like one of those volunteers for Psychology research from whom the real purpose of the test is withheld. The Duke has deceived Angelo about the reasons for his own absence. Furthermore in Act I Scene 1 he has conspicuously issued no special orders -- not a word there about Vienna needing a clean-up -- , so Angelo and Escalus are left having to work out the details of government. As Act II Scene 1 shows, Escalus differs largely from Angelo in what ought to be done: contrary to Angelo's expressed wish, he fails to whip any of the characters apprehended by Elbow. (Elbow is a remarkable reprise of Dogberry  - and Escalus' delightful laissez-faire advice to Elbow comes out of the same source..)
The estimable Shmoop tells us that the Duke "is fed up with the sinful ways of his people" ... which is an inference at best, not something he ever says.  The way the Duke tells it, it's with mild regret that the lion has slept for 19 years.

The baby beats the nurse, and quite athwart
Goes all decorum.

Yes.... Bit of a sense of anti-climax there...  Well how do you read it?  Impassioned?... or lip service?


Friday, September 15, 2017

the nations

Vego (a Swedish vegetarian/vegan food magazine): Summer, Autumn, Winter

[Image source:]

My life and theme remain defined by the statement of national identity that I was already issuing at the age of five, when asked to give an interesting fact about myself: I am half-Swedish. Nearly every post in this blog is in some way preoccupied with the thought of what nations are, or are imagined to be.  The significance of being uncertainly part of two different nations; the personal questions it raised in respect of who I thought I was, and how I should behave, and what I should feel, have never left me. I've lived all my life in England. An undefined sense of lack of congruence has driven my interests and obsessions. Not being able to more than half-identify with England or Britain, I've always felt very strongly the absurdities and injustices of nationhood, the imposition of nationhood. But this discomfort and this critique coexists with a secret patriotism. The "native land" (for which the Romans had a single word patria) remains a meaningful concept so far as my emotions are concerned, however often I might fear or loathe the manifestations of patria in others.

For several years now I've been labelling some of my posts by country, that is by labels such as Specimens of the literature of Sweden (Finland / Spain ...) though I've only bothered to do this with places that I write about quite often. Nations are an inevitably useful way to organize. But I do find myself questioning the approach now, even though I won't change it. I think it rewards a sort of prejudice that is perhaps venial but widely shared.

It's like this. Encountering the overwhelming riches of culture (I too, like Ashbery, always seem to be discussing an overpopulated world), we readers make choices. It's good to read (or "study") one or two topics or authors (or national literatures) in unusual depth; we learn things then that we will never learn from a merely superficial knowledge of everything. On the other hand we see the point of reading widely; we know all too well the limitations of mere specialism. So we follow the dictum: learn a lot about a few things, and a little about a lot of things. If I might counsel perfection, the perfect reader's profile would also have aspirations to a range of intermediate areas of sub-specialism: a select group of topics or authors in whom we will certainly never be experts but in whom we choose, sometimes rather arbitrarily, to take a closer interest than we can pay to most of the other worlds of literature. These interests begin and then they tend to grow. Fo instance, I'm more likely to read a book from Africa than a book from South East Asia. There's no particular reason for that, I've never been to Africa, it certainly isn't a value judgment, and I recognize (as many African authors also say) that Africa is too huge and varied for the term "African literature" to have much meaning. Neverthless, I just happen to have read a few (a very few) African books already, I've become involved somehow. And once I'm involved, of course I want to read more.

And then the counter-argument: that we all need, at rather regular intervals, to step out of our own ruts. Most likely, this post is going to kickstart me into reading something from SE Asia!

But this national-literature-consciousness is bound to my own era and indeed to the very completism against which I have often argued. The early (1950s) Penguin Classics on the shelves of my childhood (in those early days, Penguin Classics consisted of translations only: books originally written in modern English were out of scope) didn't then have black spines. Instead, they had a rather complex colour coding scheme reflecting the language or literature to which the book in question belonged. As far as I remember, it went something like this:

Red: Russian
Grass-green: French
Rich reddish-brown: Classical Greek
Purple: Classical and Medieval Latin
Orange: Middle English
Sandy brown: Arabic/Middle East
Olive green: German
Yellow: Indian and Far East
Mediterranean Blue: Italian
Slightly greenier Blue: Spanish
Shea-nut brown: Scandinavian

I think a younger reader will most likely read Murakami and Paulo Coelho and Mohsin Hamid and Roberto Bolaño without the slightest intention of "doing" the country from which the author hails, perhaps without the thought ever occurring to them that the book they are reading has anything to do with any particular nation or literature. That an author comes from Brazil is perhaps not intrinsically more interesting than that they come from Swindon or Hornsea. Besides, many contemporary authors no longer live in their country of origin but in a big city elsewhere.

And yet the question of nationality continues to seem important to me. Perhaps pessimistically, against a background question of "What gives significance to anything at all"?

An article I happened to read yesterday, about ideas of nationality that are something more than exclusive.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Rudyard Kipling: "Dayspring Mishandled"

Manallace and Lady Castorley (Costerley)

[All images are taken from ,  George Simmers' very interesting blog. These are C.E. Brock's illustrations for the original publication of "Dayspring Mishandled" in the Strand magazine (July 1928), when the story appeared alongside P.G. Wodehouse's Mulliner story "The Passing of Ambrose" and the latest chapter of Sapper's The Female of the Species. In this version the name is Costerley. It was changed to Castorley when the story appeared in Limits and Renewals in 1932.]

Kipling leaves the account of Castorley’s original sin very shadowy, but throws plenty of clues around. I think Craig Raine (in A Choice of Kipling's Prose, 1986) is obviously right to point out that the words

and, it was said, proposed to ‘Dal Benzaguen’s mother, who refused him

describe a cover-up story intended to save face for all parties. The truth is that Castorley refused her, having just become a man of independent means, and presumably having formerly seduced her with promises that he now reneges on. This, Raine argues convincingly, is the only interpretation that makes sense of the dying Castorley’s statement that “There was an urgent matter to be set right, and now that he had The Title and knew his own mind it would all end happily and he would be well again.”

Besides, the theme of public deception is a dear one to Kipling (e.g. in “The Gardener”); unlike the Zola that he so admired he was able to view these genteel hypocrisies sympathetically, and many of his best stories are structured around the tactful uncovering of long-nurtured secrets.  So Raine’s insight is compellingly Kiplingesque, but it is far from clearing up all the murk, and in fact Kipling did not intend it to be fully cleared up.


[Kipling directs us to his story of 1913, “The Village that Voted the Earth was Flat” . This is in several respects a companion-piece to “Dayspring Mishandled”; it shares some of the settings, e.g. hack journalism and the music hall, and has some seeds of  the distinctively witty style. It is also a story of revenge, but unlike “DM” exemplifies the all-too-common type of Kipling revenge story in which everything goes to plan and, in the words of Edmund Wilson, “The Wrong is made a guy from the beginning, and the high point of the story comes when the Right gives it a kick in the pants”. One character in it, Vidal Benzaguen, is a young music-hall star, adored by the young men of her time and on the threshold of international fame. Her fame is one reason why, in the later story, her mother can be naturally referred to by no other name than “’Dal’s mother”. At the same time the withholding of a name implies reticence about delicate matters.


‘Dal can be envisaged as about seventeen years old, which means that, though we are told she was born after the events in the opening pages of “Dayspring Mishandled” , it cannot have been very long after. In strict fact, this is impossible. The Graydon/Neminaka era is clearly the early to mid-1890s – and in fact the Dowson poem quoted by Manallace is of 1896. But the fictional date of “TVTVTEWF”, though basically contemporary (i.e. with 1913, the date of publication) is bound to be imagined as having taken place a few years earlier, as stories that describe fictional events of national scope always are. In fact, it must be 1904 or not very long after, since the death of Nellie Farren (a real music-hall performer) is referred to by one of the characters as if it’s fresh news. So there isn’t actually enough  time for Vidal Benzaguen to grow up. But this is to ignore the magical illusions of the music-hall, and of course the starry fantasy in which both stories are dipped, especially this earlier one. ‘Dal’s name is very possibly only a stage name. “Benzaguen” (more commonly “Benzaquen”) is Jewish, most frequent in Spain and France. “Vidal” is Spanish, French or (especially) Catalan – again frequently in a Jewish context. The two names fit like hand and glove. And she’s dark-haired; but her speech is pure London, with perhaps a touch of Irish (“Ah! Tell a fellow now...”). So one can speculate that Vidal’s mother was (possibly) Irish and (almost certainly) musical-theatrical herself. This gives point to two references in “DM”. The first is to Gilbert and Sullivan. Manallace’s first plan was to turn his story-idea into a comic opera; no doubt he envisaged ‘Dal’s mother taking the role of Gertrude. The second is the episode, briefly referred to in two widely separated sentences, in which a drunk Manallace has words with a negress in yellow satin, later named as Kentucky Kate, outside the old Empire. The Empire, in Leicester Square, was then a music hall. In 1894, a national sensation was caused by a moral crusade to prevent it being re-licensed. This was on the basis of indecency both off and on stage. The former charge referred to its promenade, in which beautifully dressed prostitutes touted for custom. Was “Kentucky Kate” a performer or a prostitute? Probably the former, but Manallace’s quote from Dowson’s poem (in which a man lying in a prostitute’s arms is haunted by memories of the true love to whom he claims to have been “faithful, in his fashion”) might suggest the latter. Was Manallace rejecting a proposition from Kentucky Kate, or was he making a passionate avowal about a mutual acquaintance?


The historical figure of Nellie Farren hangs over all this. She was a singing, dancing, comedy actress of the 1880s and early 1890s, especially associated with the Gaiety Theatre. Among other things she was a well-known performer in Gilbert and Sullivan operas such as Trial by Jury. Her popularity was unrivalled, but her career was cut short in 1892 by a spinal disorder that crippled her. She died in 1904. In “TVTVTEWF” the narrator, making avuncular conversation to the young Vidal (to whose sexiness he, like the young Olyett, is highly responsive – she “stood behind us all alive and panting”), has talked about Nellie as her famous predecessor in his own heyday. The details of this conversation aren’t reported; perhaps he said “You remind me of her”. Anyway, she captures Vidal’s imagination. Later she interrogates him: “Did you love Nellie Farren when you were young?” and he answers: “Did we love her? ... “If the earth and sky and the sea” – There were three million of us, ‘Dal, and we worshipped her.” The narrator, of course, is deflecting the personal nature of the question. On the other hand Nellie’s somewhat otiose presence in the story is surely meant to be seen as a touching personal tribute. But fan-worship grades quickly into passionate love when there is opportunity. In the same story Olyett, who “in common with the youth of that year... worshipped Miss Vidal Benzaguen of the Trefoil immensely and unreservedly”, later gets engaged to her. So I imagine that when, near the start of “DM”, we are told that Manallace “adored”  Vidal’s mother...” this subtly chosen word implies that his love began, though it did not end, as a member of the theatre audience.


None of this aside is definite enough to be turned into a piece of detective-work along the lines of John Sutherland’s books.  What it does do is illuminate some of the subtler shades of meaning in “DM” . For example it explains why ‘Dal’s mother would attract multiple admirers and why everyone who was part of the Neminaka scene would know who she was; as a popular entertainer, she was a kind of public property. And it explains why the Castorley who writes about “Bohemia” but lives in fear of being compromised would want to distance himself from her. One can construct a fairly melodramatic tale in which Castorley deserts Vidal’s mother when she is already pregnant with his child, in which the later “husband” was merely an arrangement to explain that child, and in which Castorley’s behaviour is in some way the cause of her paralysis and death – but the details of all this are meant to be unclear, and of course are all the more effective because they are, we gather, too frightful to be spelt out.]      


Raine’s insight does re-orient the story, putting a little flesh on the bones of Castorley’s undoubted beastliness. But while the story presents Manallace’s revenge as fully justified, it does progressively call into question whether anyone, even Castorley, can be finally condemned. A dying, duped and cuckolded man is always an object of pity. However awful his behaviour, how much of it was down to mere common immaturity, lack of self-knowledge, and characteristic self-centredness? A great crime does not imply a great criminal.


The moderation of this conclusion, refreshing as it is to a reader of Kipling’s work in bulk, wouldn’t be noteworthy in anyone else’s. Comparisons with Chekhov don’t exactly spring to mind.


Like all Kipling’s best stories, “Dayspring Mishandled” creates its own fictional world; style, content, setting and image. For example, it’s just about the only Kipling story that is genuinely funny (compare “Aunt Ellen”, above).


His private diversions were experiments of uncertain outcome, which, he said, rested him after a day’s gadzooking and vitalstapping.


... for ‘our Dan’, as one earnest Sunday editor observed, ‘lies closer to the national heart than we wot of’.


We were rewarded by the sight of a man relaxed and ungirt – not to say wallowing naked – on the crest of success.


‘and, after all,’ he pointed out, with a glance at the mirror over the mantelpiece, ‘Chaucer was the prototype of the “verray parfit gentil Knight” of the British Empire so far as that then existed.’


‘If I pull the string of the shower-bath in the papers,’ he said, ‘Castorley might go off his verray parfit gentil nut....’


The first and last of these quotations represent Manallace’s sense of humour, characteristically boyish and modest. The narrator’s tone is more sardonic, his humour grading into comments like “in which calling he loyally scalped all his old associates as they came up” and “an unappetizing, ash-coloured woman”. He is brisk, conversational, and effortless. Both humorists (like everything else in the story) merit our attention.

The narrator visits Manallace in his lab

The narrator doesn’t appear openly and in the first person until a few pages and a fair few years have passed; but covertly, he has already appeared twice, first as “a man” who guided Manallace home from Neminaka’s, later as “Some member of the extinct Syndicate” who wrote to Castorley asking for help towards a new treatment for Vidal’s mother. This somewhat furtive arrival in his own story is a hint that the narrator is meant to be identified as Rudyard Kipling himself (“‘Tell me what the tale was about, though. That’s more in my line.’”) Since he is effectively abetting Manallace in a kind of murder, there’s an element of confession about the story. Like Manallace’s disastrous ink recipe, later developments “entangled us both”.


Manallace’s interests, after April 1914 when ‘Dal’s mother died, and the night of the air-raid in which he learns the truth about how Castorley behaved towards ‘Dal’s mother, are murderous. “She seemed to have emptied out his life, and left him only interests in trifles.” But that was only “seemed”. When the narrator rumbles Manallace’s forgery, Manallace admits that “I owe my interests to Castorley”. It’s odd to express murderous hatred in terms of indebtedness. But in fact Manallace’s lethal intentions have required him, from the start, to get very close to Castorley, and to adopt a habit of sticking up for him (“The changes sickened me, but Manallace defended him, as a master in his own line who had revealed Chaucer to at least one grateful soul”). That’s before the narrator is in on the plot, but even afterwards Manallace continues to speak of Castorley with positively maternal affection: “I’m going to help him. It will be a new interest.... His book’s taking more out of him than I like, though...” And when he adds “And he’s just the sort of flatulent beast who may go down with appendicitis”, this hardly sounds like hatred in the first degree. His whole program, of conveying “our pleasure and satisfaction to them both”, of wrapping himself “lovingly and leisurely round his new task”, of creating “obligations” on Castorley’s part, begins to take possession of him. Manallace, who when we first meet him can produce an astonishing tale around a few random pictures, does not need anything much from his love-objects. He cared for Vidal’s mother (whose eyes betrayed her love for someone else) through years of total paralysis; and he is quite capable of caring for Castorley, a despicable egotist whom he has every reason to hate. When he comes to understand that Castorley is terminally ill, unloved and cuckolded, he throws the brakes on at once; but it didn’t need Lady Castorley to make him re-consider. Once confronted with the reality of Castorley’s suffering, he would have tried to back off anyway. Not possible, however; Manallace’s dilatoriness in fact accelerates Castorley’s decline.



            ‘Ah Jesu-Moder, pitie my oe peyne.

            Daiespringe mishandeelt cometh nat agayne.’


Gertrude’s lament to some extent applies to Manallace, whose life has become curiously distorted. But it applies with much greater force to Castorley, as he dimly perceives (“’Plangent as doom, my dear boy – plangent as doom!’”). Castorley is from the start preoccupied with a fear of being “compromised”. No doubt his severing of connection with Vidal’s mother arises from a panic about entanglement. His later refusal to assist in her treatment (“he had ‘known the lady very slightly...’”), though it repulses us with its cold-heartedness, is actually down to fear – of being compromised. He has set out to manipulate his way to a successful career, coldly choosing “a speciality”, flattering, fawning, and so on. But Kipling, both as narrator and author, is honest enough to admire the sheer hard work that Castorley puts himself to. He identifies with it of course. Castorley’s failure is inevitable, however, because he is not as conscienceless as he needs to be. His last speech is a poignant fantasy of setting things right again, but “Dayspring mishandled cometh not againe”.


Castorley’s blatant desire for official recognition, though always covered with a saving phrase about Chaucer, is for himself and his insecurities. He wants the knighthood because he wants to prove to himself that his careerism, though founded on a conscious betrayal of love (his own, as well as Vidal’s mother’s), was somehow justifiable. When Castorley’s anguished conscience finally does break through it remains intermingled with this stupidity: “There was an urgent matter to be set right, and now that he had The Title and knew his own mind...” 


“Dayspring Mishandled”, a story by an old, ill, distinguished writer about an old, ill, distinguished writer, is obviously unusually personal; or rather, it’s unusual for Kipling to focus on this particular element in his personal existence. But despite personal aspects of the content, the greatness lies rather in the very impersonal nature of the story that is produced; it is a great performance.  


Kipling, as Edmund Wilson and many others have pointed out, is an overt admirer of “doers”, but in the context of letters, his own profession, he can for once liberate himself (that is to say, from an over-insistent reverence for people who can do what he can’t) to write a perfect demolition of “doers”.  I mustn’t be vague about such precise art: it is a context of popular letters, and is alive from the first with sparkling awareness of the tawdriness, fakery, fun and optimism of that context. Clearly what is at issue here is not austere artistic vocations of the Jamesian sort; Castorley’s Chaucerian gambollings, though he obviously regards them as having a higher status (“‘Literature’”) than, say, Manallace’s historical tearjerkers, reflect the amateur and popular nature of literary studies, Middle English in particular, in that pre-Leavis era.      


This setting is marvellously suited to a tale in which the achievements of “doing” are understood to be irrelevant frippery compared to the real life-choices that a human being makes. Kipling has not really changed his spots. He still values “doing”, except when it is literary. (“Manallace made a reputation, and, more important, money for Vidal’s mother...”). Even a story such as this is based on the morality of Stalky & Co. But of Kipling as of everyone else, one may come to see that his weaknesses are also his strengths.


The context is in fact the centre of what makes the story great; the events seem to emerge naturally from it. That’s why Phillip V. Mallett, for example, could be so appreciative even though he didn’t know as much as we now do (thanks to Craig Raine) of Castorley’s wickedness. It’s also why a page or a paragraph of Kipling can be read on its own and is still great – I mean Kipling at his best - which you wouldn’t say of Chekhov. A great Kipling story is like a poem in this respect. It differs from most poems, I think, in that the author’s painstaking research and intricate craftsmanship are not something to be distinguished from the “lasting worth” of the work. In Kipling’s case, the research and the craftsmanship are precisely the things that matter, and it’s in their terms, vulgar and unsuggestive as they may seem, that we ought to discuss him.     


Manallace laying his trail


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Pruniers / Cerisiers : Mirabelle / Bigarreau

The Mirabelle is a kind of small edible plum grown in several countries across Europe but especially associated with the region of Lorraine in France.  The two main varieties are connected with the cities Metz and Nancy.

The oval Mirabelle fruit has golden skin, often specked or flushed with red. Mirabelles are widely used in fruit tarts and cakes, and they are the most common plum used for making plum brandy.
The Mirabelle de Nancy being very sweet and tangy is often eaten fresh, the smaller Metz variety being preferred for jams.

Some people call the Mirabelle plum Prunus domestica ssp. syriaca.  (According to legend, the tree was propagated from a wild plum found in Anatolia.) Other people place it in Prunus institia (alongside damsons and bullaces).

Though it looks an awful lot like a cherry plum (Prunus cerasifera) it is not regarded as one and it certainly doesn't come into bloom so early. Nevertheless, the two taxa are often confused; partly because they both have small fruit (and cherry plums are often yellow, among other colours);  partly as a result of confusion between the words "mirabelle" and "Myrobalan" (the cherry plum being also known as the Myrobalan Plum).

Mirabelle de Nancy

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Mirabelle de Metz

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And so from plums to cherries, or pruniers to cerisiers if you prefer.

"Bigarreau" is a word used in naming many sweet cherry varieties.

Ultimately the term comes from the Middle French "bigarrer", meaning to variegate.

The word came into 16th century Scots (OED begary). It didn't survive long but the Scots poets made excellent use of it.

Begaried is the sapphire pend
With spraings of scarlet hue,
And preciously from end to end
Damasked white and blue

The sapphire vault is variegated
with streaks of scarlet hue,
and from end to end exquisitely
patterned in white and blue.

(Alexander Hume, from The Day Estivall)

 "Bigarreau" therefore originally meant variegated, marbled, parti-colored. And it seems that the original Bigarreau cherries were white cherries with red-and-white skins. The fruits were also notably large and firm-fleshed, and it's actually this last quality that has become the defining characteristic.

Many growers still use the following tripartite scheme to classify the sweet cherries:

Prunus avium var duracina. Bigarreau Cherry.  Large fruits, hard-fleshed varieties.
Prunus avium var juliana. Heart Cherry. Large fruits, soft-fleshed varieties.
(Prunus avium var avium. Common or Wild Cherry. Small fruits.)

Bigarreau Napoleon - a famous variety known as "Naps" by cherry aficionados

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Consequently, many Bigarreau cherry varieties don't have mottled skins but nevertheless have the term Bigarreau in their name as an indication of type and ancestry.

Merton Bigarreau produced in the UK in 1924, from Knights Early Black and Bigarreau Napoleon

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Bigarreau Moreau - an old French variety, can be prone to fruit splitting

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Bigarreau Burlat - one of the most popular varieties in France

[Image source:]

I first became aware of the word "bigarreau" by a rather indirect means: I came across the bizarre word "bigarrå" in a Swedish detective novel and wanted to find out what sort of tree I was reading about. It seems that "bigarrå" is a more commonplace word in Swedish than "bigarreau" is in English.

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