Friday, 30 May 2014

A shadow of love

"That morning in my bunk I had read Wordsworth's great Ode in Palgrave's Golden Treasury.  Palgrave like Scott carried signs of my father's reading in the form of dog-eared pages and knowing so little about him I had followed every clue and so learned enjoy what he enjoyed.  Thus when I first entered the bank as junior clerk I had thought of it in Wordsworth's terms as a 'prison-house' -- what  was it my father had found a prison, so that he double-marked the passage?  Perhaps our home, and my stepmother and I had been the warders.

One's life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand.  Even if we have the happy chance to fall in love, it is because we have been conditioned by what we have read, and if I had never known love at all, perhaps it was because my father's library had not contained the right books.  (I don't think there was much passionate love in Marion Crawford, and only a shadow of it in Walter Scott.)"

Travels With My Aunt  Grahame Greene

Sunday, 18 May 2014

"The Mysteries of Udolpho"

" 'But you should not persuade me that I think so very much about Mr Tilney, for perhaps I may never see him again.'
'Not see him again! My dearest creature, do not talk of it.  I am sure you would be miserable if you thought so.'
'No, indeed, I should not.  I do not pretend to say that I was not very much pleased with him; but while I have Udolpho to read, I feel as if nobody could make me miserable. Oh! the dreadful black veil! My dear Isabella, I am sure there must be Laurentina's skeleton behind it.'
'It is so odd to me, that you should never have read Udolpho before: but I suppose Mrs Morland objects to novels.'
'No, she does not.  She very often reads Sir Charles Grandison herself; but new books do not fall in our way.'
'Sir Charles Grandison! That is an amazing horrid book, is it not?--I remember Miss Andrews could not get through the first volume.'
'It is not like Udolpho at all; but yet I think it is very entertaining.'
'Do you indeed! -- you surprise me; I thought it had not been readable.  But, my dearest Catherine, have you settled what to wear on your head tonight?  I am determined at all events to be dressed exactly like you.  The men take notice of that sometimes you know.' "

Northanger Abbey   Jane Austen

Monday, 12 May 2014

Phantom Listeners

"I liked war poetry best, the more savage the better, and knew by heart most of Siegfried Sassoon's and many of Wilfred Owen's and Robert Nichols';  and the gentle magic of Walter de la Mare worked as powerfully in the glare of the African bush as among the haunted shadows, moonlit orchards and crepuscular churchyards that inspired his muse.  Riding M'zee through the coffee plantation my sun-warmed spine would chill to a vision of a host of phantom listeners thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair; I would see, among spiky, yellow sodom-apples beside a winding path through the reserve, a bank of ancient briars so old that no man knows through what wild century roves back the rose; and the two worlds joined when a red-eyed dove puffing its iridescent breast in song would recall the smooth-plumed bird in the emerald shade, the seed of grass, the speck of stone that the wayfaring ant stirs, and hastes on.   And although the poet's twilit northern land of yew-trees and goblins, and our scorched and dappled plains and heat-stunned ridges, were as far apart in character as in distance, there lay between them a bond of magic, of the feel of things just out of sight, of the blundering owl, the four-clawed mole and the hooded bat, and their enigmatic reminder that blind as these three to me, so blind to someone I must be.

A parcel from the Poetry Bookshop was therefore the most exciting argosy to be looked for from an English mail."

The Mottled Lizard  Elspeth Huxley

Sunday, 11 May 2014

O Nightingale my heart

"O Nightingale my heart
How sad thou art!
How heavy is thy wing,
Desperately whirred that thy throat may fling
Song to the tingling silences remote!
Thine eye whose ruddy spark
Burned fiery of late,
How dead and dark!
Why so soon didst thou sing,
And with such turbulence of love and hate?

Lear that there is no singing yet can bring
The expected dawn more near;
And thou art spent already, though the night
Scarce has begun;
What voice, what eyes wilt thou have for the light
When the light shall appear,
And O what wings to bear thee t'ward the Sun?"

O Nightingale my heart   Robert Nichols
(courtesy of

Saturday, 10 May 2014


"I was half-way through the belt of trees above the water-meadow when automatically my hand went to my pocket, encountering the sharp edge of the flap of the unsealed envelope.  With no further intention in my mind I pulled it out and looked at it.  There was no address (or direction, as Mrs Maudsley called it, why I could not imagine) on the envelope: there never was.  But the open flap disclosed some writing which, at the moment, was the wrong side up.
 Among the complexities of our school code was a very wholesome respect for the Eleventh Commandment.   But we also had a strong sense of justice, and if we were found out we did not expect to be let off.

The rules about reading other people's letters were fairly well defined.  If you left your letters lying about and somebody read them, then it was your fault, and you were not justified in retaliation,  If somebody rifled your desk or locker and read them then it was their fault, and you were justified in taking vengeance…
...I had often passed round notes at school.  If they were sealed I should not have dreamed of reading them; if they were open I often read them -- indeed, it was usually the intention of the sender that one should, for they were meant to raise a laugh.  Unsealed, one could read them, sealed one couldn't: it was as simple as that.  The same rule applied to post-cards: one read a post-card that was sent to someone else, but not a letter.
Marian's letter was unsealed and therefore I could read it.  So why hesitate?
But I would not take the letter out of the envelope: I would only read the words that were exposed, and three of them were the same, as I could see from upside down.

   'Darling, darling, darling,
        Same place, same time, this evening,
    But take care not to---'

The rest was hidden by the envelope."

The Go-Between  L.P.Hartley

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Sylph of the Salon

"She started taking the women's papers Work-basket and Sylph of the Salon, devouring in their entirety all the accounts of first nights, race-meetings and parties, and becoming interested in a singer making her debut or a shop that was being opened.  She knew all the latest fashions, where to find the best tailors, the days for going to the Bois or the Opera.  She studied descriptions of furniture in Eugene Sue, and sought in Balzac and George Sand a vicarious gratification of her own desires.  She even brought her book to the dinner-table, and turned over the pages while Charles ate and talked."

Madame Bovary  Gustave Flaubert