Thursday, November 29, 2018

In NYorks

The lock at Ferrybridge undergoing repair in 1906. The bottle kiln in background was on Brotherton side of river, known as Glass House Yard.


Of all the books I'm in the middle of reading, perhaps the record-holder is Smollett's Peregrine Pickle ; the bookmark is my rail-ticket from September 1997. Yet in those twenty years I've only managed to reach the hero's unedifying attendance at Oxford, about a fifth of the way through. The reason for this glacial progress is that the book is at my friend's house in Yorkshire, a place I've visited all too rarely and briefly. Now, however, I'm here for a whole week!


On Blakey Ridge, the wind pouring up from Farndale in a steady, incessant assault on our cheeks and lips, which feel rubberized. The grouse glide and drop with a noise like clockwork running down. We're zigzagging along the old railway track. It was built to transport ironstone from Rosedale to Teesside. The population of Rosedale mushroomed from 200 to 4,000.Today it's back to 200.

[A fire at the inn; Peregrine has rescued his beloved Emilia, and his servant Pipes has rescued Emilia's cousin Sophy.]

Sophy observed that now Mr. Pickle had an indisputable claim to her cousin's affection; and therefore she ought to lay aside all affected reserve for the future, and frankly avow the sentiments of her heart. Emily retorted the argument, putting her in mind, that by the same claim Mr. Pipes was entitled to the like return from her. Her friend admitted the force of the conclusion, provided she could not find means of satisfying his deliverer in another shape; and, turning, to the valet, who happened to be present, asked if his heart was not otherwise engaged. Tom, who did not conceive the meaning of the question, stood silent according to custom; and the interrogation being repeated, answered, with a grin, “Heart-whole as a biscuit, I'll assure you, mistress.”—“What!” said Emilia, “have you never been in love, Thomas?”—“Yes, forsooth,” replied the valet without hesitation, “sometimes of a morning.”
Peregrine could not help laughing, and his mistress looked a little disconcerted at this blunt repartee: while Sophy, slipping a purse into his hand, told him there was something to purchase a periwig. Tom, having consulted his master's eyes, refused the present, saying, “No, thank ye as much as if I did;” and though she insisted upon his putting it in his pocket, as a small testimony of her gratitude, he could not be prevailed upon to avail himself of her generosity; but following her to the other end of the room, thrust it into her sleeve without ceremony, exclaiming, “I'll be d—d to hell if I do.” Peregrine, having checked him for his boorish behaviour, sent him out of the room, and begged that Miss Sophy would not endeavour to debauch the morals of his servant, who, rough and uncultivated as he was, had sense enough to perceive that he had no pretension to any such acknowledgment. But she argued, with great vehemence, that she should never be able to make acknowledgment adequate to the service he had done her, and that she should never be perfectly easy in her own mind until she found some opportunity of manifesting the sense she had of the obligation: “I do not pretend,” said she, “to reward Mr. Pipes; but I shall be absolutely unhappy, unless I am allowed to give him some token of my regard.”
Peregrine, thus earnestly solicited, desired, that since she was bent upon displaying her generosity, she would not bestow upon him any pecuniary gratification, but honour him with some trinket, as a mark of consideration; because he himself had such a particular value for the fellow, on account of his attachment and fidelity, that he should be sorry to see him treated on the footing of a common mercenary domestic. There was not one jewel in the possession of this grateful young lady, that she would not have gladly given as a recompense, or badge of distinction, to her rescuer; but his master pitched upon a seal ring of no great value that hung at her watch, and Pipes, being called in, had permission to accept that testimony of Miss Sophy's favour. Tom received it accordingly with sundry scrapes; and, having kissed it with great devotion, put it on his little finger, and strutted off, extremely proud of his acquisition.

(1758 revised edition Ch XXVII, equivalent to Ch XXX in the original text of 1751)


In Hovingham, on the Howardians. The baker, who is Swedish, has a poster of spice plants on the wall, titled "Nyttoväxter" i.e. useful plants. "Kryddpeppar" is Allspice (Pimenta officinalis), beloved in Swedish cookery. Rain threatens. A dark afternoon; we drove to Castle Howard but didn't get as far as the lake, instead we listened to the rain hammering on the roof of the garden centre, now in full-on Xmas mode. "Highland Spruce". A few streaks of rose and golden light at sunset.

[Pepper, an Indo-Aryan word that has meant many things. Even today, "pepper" means two entirely different ingredients in our kitchens. "Peppercake" means gingerbread or similar in many Germanic and Scandinavian languages, and even in northern British dialects. Peppermint is a natural hybrid between spearmint and water mint; apparently the name refers to its extra pungency compared with spearmint.]


Peregrine Pickle is a novel about the wellborn, the "people of condition", which is very apparent in the extract above where they are talking with some limited good sense about the anthropology of servants. Our reaction is typically mixed. Peregrine is not, on the whole, a lovable hero. When roguery is being performed by a wellborn hero (unlike Roderick Random in that respect), we become a bit more unsettled.  Then there's the connection with, the almost-plagiarism of Tom Jones. Smollett subjects the beefcake hero to a kind of critical torsion; how far can you twist this, and what's exposed?

Or is PP a Bildungsroman? Peregrine goes abroad and learns the difficult lesson of other cultural behaviours: for example, that a woman who publicly announces that she's leaving the room to have a wee is not necessarily available for sex with him.

In Ch XXXIV of the original edition, Peregrine and Godfrey go to take their revenge on the farmer's wife who "tricked" Godfrey (I.e. pretended to welcome his advances in order to lure him into her husband's hands). They plan to tie her up with her posterior sticking out of the window. But in the event Godfrey offers another way to make up their quarrel, and the farmer's wife agrees ("consents" doesn't seem the right word). Meanwhile Peregrine has a tumble with the maid. Neither  seems at all concerned about the ethics of this; nor does Godfrey seem bothered that Peregrine is the accepted lover of his sister. Smollett suppressed the episode when he revised the novel.

Smollett prefixed the story, "not but that they gave a loose to their gallantry without much interesting their affections, and amused themselves with little intrigues, which, in the opinion of a man of pleasure, do not affect his fidelity to the acknowledged sovereign of his soul ..."

Among the upper classes they had "certain notions of honour, which they never presumed to infringe, and therefore, no domestic tragedies took rise from their behaviour.

Among the lower class of people, they did not act with the same virtuous moderation, but laid close siege to every buxom country damsel that fell in their way; imagining that their dalliance with such Dulcinea's could produce no fatal effects; and that it would be in their power to attone for any damage the inamoratas might sustain. "

Smollett's version of Fielding's double irony leaves us uncomfortable, but it has the merit of being very revealing of class attitudes. The two authors are very different. Fielding delights in addressing the reader at relaxed length. Smollett, on the other hand, never steps away from the story at all;  instead, he pulls everything into it. One of Fielding's recurrent themes is attacking mealy-mouthed hypocrisy. Smollett, I think, isn't interested in that theme.


At Jervaulx. Wind blowing through our trouser pockets. The Monks' Frater, the Lay Brothers, the Chapter House, the meat kitchen, dorter walls; Cistercian. Benedictine previously?

Driving up Coverdale, the car-windows weeping. Vee-lined sheep in movement on the dark wall of a fellside. Penhill, Pennyghent, Brythonic, Aella at Craik, Elmet. Farmer with her sheepdogs.

Roulston Scar. Paths wet, gorse flowering, sour late bilberries. The heavens unsettled, a kaleidoscope of weather. Looking at it, and in it.



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