Friday, 25 April 2014

A scarlet letter

"This rag of scarlet cloth --for time and wear and a sacrilegious moth had reduced it to little other than a rag -- on careful examination, assumed the shape of a letter.  It was the capital letter A.
...
In the absorbing contemplation of the scarlet letter, I had hitherto neglected to examine a small roll of dingy paper, around which it had been twisted.  This I now opened, and had the satisfaction to find, recorded by the old surveyor's pen, a reasonably complete explanation of the whole affair.  There were several foolscap sheets containing many particulars respecting the life and conversation of one Hester Prynne, who had appeared to be rather a noteworthy personage  in the view of our ancestors.  She had flourished during the period between the early days of Massachusetts and the close of the seventeenth century."

Introductory to The Scarlet Letter   Nathaniel Hawthorne

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

"The Way We Live Now"

"It was an unusually respectable bookshop for this area of Soho, quite unlike the bookshop which faced it across the street and bore the simple sign 'Books' in scarlet letters.  The window below the scarlet sign displayed girlie magazines which nobody was ever seen to buy -- they were like a signal in an easy code long broken; they indicated the nature of private wares and interests inside.  But the shop of Halliday & Son confronted the scarlet 'Books' with a window full of Penguins and Everyman and second-hand copies of World's Classics.  The son was never seen there, only old Mr Halliday himself, bent and white-haired, wearing an air of courtesy like an old suit in which he would probably like to be buried.  He wrote all his business letters in long-hand: he was busy on one of them now.

'A fine autumn morning, Mr Castle,' Mr Halliday remarked, as he traced with great care the phrase 'Your obedient servant'.  …
'I wonder if you've got a copy of War and Peace?  I've never read it.  It seems about time for me to begin. … I need a change.'

'The Macmillan edition is out of print, but I think I think I have a clean second-hand copy in the World's Classics in one volume.  The Aylmer Maude translation.  You can't beat Aylmer Maude for Tolstoy.   He wasn't a mere translator, he knew the author as a friend.'  He put down his pen and looked regretfully at 'Your obedient servant'.  The penmanship was obviously not up to the mark.

'That's the translation I want.  Two copies of course.'  "

[Postscript:]  "Mr Halliday said, 'I have a little present.  A copy of that Trollope you asked for.  You won't need a second copy now.  It's a long book, but there'll be a lot of waiting.  There always is in war. It's called The Way We Live Now. ' "

The Human Factor   Graham Greene


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Jane Austen, or, Shades of grey?

"April had got into the way of reading Jane Austen less for pleasure than as a counteraction to those French books and Chinese and Egyptian prints and pictures which Barry liked her to study before he tried to follow out their instructions and illustrations in bed.  After his death she never knew how to get rid of his books -- too thick to burn and quite inappropriate for Oxfam  -- so they remained, parcelled up in their dreadful privacy on the top shelf of her wardrobe.  Hidden there they were as lost to her memory as were any occasional gleams of pleasure in past experience.  Happily now, she knew the value of her own bodily privacy.  She even enjoyed the privacy of her deafness, ignoring what she did not want to hear,  even when she happened to hear it.  In the same way she could contentedly block remembrance.

....with Tiger fumbling contentedly at her feet, she reopened Mansfield Park wondering, not for the first time, whether Fanny had not been rather more than an idiot to refuse Henry.  Perhaps so. Perhaps not.  Henry might easily have turned out to be an earlier Grange-Gorman.  She poked Tiger with her toe and read on peacefully."

Time After Time  Molly Keane

Sunday, 6 April 2014

"Lacon, or Many Things in few Words.."



"Mr Redding draws the following picture of Mr. Colton's lodgings in [Princes Street], London.

'His sitting-room was carpetless; a common deal table stood in the centre, and a broken phial placed in a tea-saucer served for an inkstand, surrounded with letter covers and paper scraps.  Four common chairs, one or two rickety, a side table holding a few books, half a quire of foolscap paper, and some discarded pens, on one side of the room, composed nearly all the furniture, fishing-rods and gun excepted.  Here he indited Lacon.  His copy was written on scraps of paper, blank sides of letters, and but rarely on bran-new paper.  It is untrue that his rooms were as bad as some penny-a-line scribbler made out in a newspaper sketch of him.  They were always clean …'  "

Village London. part 4,  Edward Walford,  quoting Cyrus Redding's Recollections on C.C. Colton, Vicar of Kew and Petersham

Saturday, 5 April 2014

"the sincerest of flattery"

"Elizabeth thanked [Bingley] from her heart, and then walked towards a table where a few books were lying.  He immediately offered to fetch her others; all that his library afforded.

'And I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit; but I am an idle fellow, and though I have not many, I have more than I ever look into.'
Elizabth assured him that she could suit herself perfectly with those in the room.

'I am astonished,' said Miss Bingley, 'that my father should have left so small a collection of books.
--What a delightful library you have at Pemberley, Mr. Darcy!'

'It ought to be good,'  he replied, 'it has been the work of many generations.'

'And then you have added so much to it yourself, you are always buying books.'

'I cannot comprehend the neglect of a family library in such days as these.'

'Neglect! I am sure you neglect nothing that can add to the beauties of that noble place.' "

Pride and Prejudice  Jane Austen