The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

On the home run with this book now. After covering Disgust and Henry James' Odd Women last month, it is time to move on to the penultimate 2 chapters.

This month it is chapters 16 and 17 that I will make notes on.

Chapter 16 - Irony and Revulsion in Kipling and Conrad

This chapter examines, through many references to the novels of both of these authors, the use of irony and revulsion together, which was typical of the time. Revulsion, either in the characters or the reader can isolate and destroy 'social cohesiveness', whereas irony, with its 'mutual understanding' binds characters, or reader and characters together. The use of both can not only balance a piece of writing, but make it much more interesting.

Kipling wrote many books about torture, examining detachment and in particular the torturers point of view. Descriptions of the victims deliberately arouse disgust, and beyond any irony, isolating them further, reducing them to nothing. Clearly this can evoke powerful feelings in the reader (I found some of the passages very difficult to read). How detached can the reader be? At the time, some of the passages in his books were considered to be 'excessive' and Kipling himself described as 'rather nasty' a scene involving a leper in 'The Mark of the Beast', in a collection called Life's Handicap written in 1891. Kipling continually identifies with the torturer in the numerous torture scenes he writes about. In other stories revulsion is imparted through mixed race relationships, something Kipling felt strongly about.

Conrad concentrates more on using physicality to evoke revulsion, particularly 'fat greasy men' (p253) of which there are many in his books, and are afforded long distasteful descriptions that centre on the blurring of physical identity, generically, culturally or otherwise, by the conditions of obesity.

Conrad also writes about torture on occasion, but unlike Kipling, he includes the victims point of view.

Chapter 17 - Waiting: James's Last Novels

Kipling, Conrad and James all wrote about impurity and exclusion, but whereas Kipling and Conrad continued along this vein, James changed direction and in his last novels and wrote about lives changed by desire and the vulgarities that he saw therein.

In all of these novels run themes of waiting, lateness, being held up, at railway stations, for meetings etc., 'because everyone must learn to wait in a book about desire' (p268). The theme of delays and waiting are used to high effect in The Ambassadors where a male character struggles with his sexuality, missing encounters with women in a novel where 'He will always be too late' (p271). Self-suppression becomes the only way for him in an exploration of desire. It is here that his secret homosexuality is disgusting to him and waiting itself is the meaning and the point.

In The Golden Bowl we have a female protagonist who keeps herself waiting for the Prince's return, an endless wait that she chooses, and that James uses to convey feelings of desire and frustration.

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

By Rudyard Kipling -

Traffics and Discoveries

Life's Handicap (particularly 'The Mark of the Beast')

Plain Tales from the Hills

A Diversity of Creatures (particularly 'Sea Constables')

Weir of Hermiston

By Joseph Conrad -


Almayer's Folly

An Outcast of the Islands

Lord Jim

The Secret Agent

Heart of Darkness

By Henry James -

The Wings of the Dove

The Ambassadors

The Golden Bowl

Look out for the last 2 chapters from this excellent Literary Theory book next month.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tender: Volume I by Nigel Slater

I don't think that I have recommended a cook book before. I do grow veg in my garden, not much, but enough to use in cooking, and there is nothing better than planning a dish around ingredients that you have grown yourself.

I came across this book in the kitchen of one of our friends at the farm that I work on once a year in Devon. A substantial book the size of a decent house brick, it has a presence before you open it. Inside there is a healthy mix of writing in short headed paragraphs and lovely photographs. Each chapter is dedicated to a vegetable that you may grow yourself. It begins with a personal appreciation of that vegetable by the author, diary and tips on growing it, uses in the kitchen, what it likes to share a plate with, and then recipes to try.

Nigel Slaters prose has a gentle reverence that is never sycophantic, and often a humourous tone relaying the realities of gardening and cooking. He tells us about how he dug over his town house garden and filled it with fruit and vegetables, some of which were successful, others not so much.

I was drawn to the book on the shelf and when I opened it I wanted a copy straight away. It is a treasure, something practical, but also a good bedside read too. I have found it inspiring, full of ideas and beautiful too, just like my own garden.

If you like to use your own produce, or just fancy growing a few edibles yourself, you could do worse than this book.

I have already asked Father Christmas for Volume II which is all about fruit.

You can read more about Tender: Volume I by using the link.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

October Roundup

I love pumpkins and I have one of my own ripening in the window. He still has a couple of green freckles but is nearly orange all over. It has been great seeing him grow from a seed out of last years Halloween Pumpkin.

On to the books...

Read - 1 and a quarter books.

Completed - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Currently Reading -

The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

TBR Pile - Now at 109 (according to GoodReads) with no novels added in October

Challenges -

Finished The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton for #2 of my own 2011 challenges.

Reading The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende for #4 of my own 2011 challenges.

I have covered chapters 14 and 15 of The English Novel in History 1895-1920, the Literary Theory book I have been making notes on each month.

Wishlist Additions - Amazingly, after loads last month, there have been none in October.

Discoveries -

The 365 Penguin Classics to Read Before you Die daily calendar

Book Swept a blog that combines pictures, book titles and quotes in a very innovative and beautiful way.

Events -

World Book Night is taking applications for givers on next years event. Use the link to see the 100 most popular books voted for on the site.

Autumn brings warm evenings by the fire, perfect for spending time with a book. Winter is just around the corner, I see lots of reading time coming.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye