Daphne du Maurier’s letters to Oriel Malet

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have been following the Month of Letters February challenge for the past few years, I think since its first year. I missed last year, but I am back on course for 2018. In honour of Month of Letters, I usually try to write a letter themed post at this time, and so here is this February’s offering. I also hope to give an update on my letter writing progress too as the month goes on.

Letters from MenabillyMy letter themed post this time features one of my all-time favourite writers, Daphne du Maurier in correspondence with a fellow writer, Oriel Malet. The collection, edited by Oriel Malet is entitled Letters from Menabilly: Portrait of a Friendship (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1993). I have had this collection for some while and I don’t think I have ever got around to reading it properly. It was published in the same years as Margaret Forster’s biography of Daphne du Maurier, whom Oriel Malet credits in her acknowledgments. I bought the biography the same year it came out, but I think Letters from Menabilly came to me some years later as a second-hand bargain. The letters interspersed with Malet’s commentary chart the course of a thirty-year friendship between the women and their families beginning with their chance meeting in the mid-1950s.

Oriel Malet begins the book by talking about how, when and where she and Daphne du Maurier first met and how their relationship developed. She was still a young writer at this point whereas du Maurier was very successful and well-known. Malet at this point had heard of du Maurier but not read any of her books. They shared an American publisher, Doubleday, and first met at a London party hosted by the publisher’s wife Ellen Doubleday. They had shared a mutual dislike of social gatherings and being forced to meet new people, but when they found themselves waiting outside the Doubleday hotel suite for the hostess to arrive, they struck up an unforced conversation. Neither woman introduced herself and it wasn’t until the party began that Oriel Malet realised to whom she had been speaking. She described Daphne rather poetically thus, ‘she reminded me of a figurehead at the prow of a ship; alert, poised, looking into the distance yet perhaps laughing inwardly and no more at ease in so worldly as setting than I was myself’. If you look at this photo from the book you can see what she meant. They sneaked away from the party together and talked while Daphne packed for her return to trip to Cornwall. And the rest as they say, was history. The letters cover many topics and events in the women’s lives, but I just want to focus on one of the conversational threads for this blog post.Portrait of Daphne du Maurier

Literary advice

I was particularly interested in Daphne du Maurier’s generosity in giving advice to the younger writer. Over the course of the years the two women discussed writers (both of them were Katherine Mansfield fans) and writing in both general and specific terms. In one of the early letters in the collection, du Maurier gives Malet advice on a book that she is working on, saying ‘You don’t have to have a ‘plot’; it sounds like Guy Fawkes in his old cloak, creeping with a lantern’. The imagery is amusing but she goes on to explain her point, elaborating thus, ‘You don’t even have to have action  (think of Proust). But you must have a real reason for it all, a reason for the things you want to say’. Eminently sensible advice from a seasoned professional. In a later letter after reading a draft of a short story, du Maurier urges Malet to consider its potential as a novel,

I read your story going up in the train, and was absorbed by it. I love the way you write, and the things you write about, but my criticism would be that this atmosphere and story are wasted on a short story – you should develop it into a novel … I think you have the potential material here for a lovely long and interesting book.

The letters and Oriel Malet’s memories of her visits to Menabilly also weave in the progress of du Maurier’s own work. On one such visit, Malet recalls crossing a field and being afraid of a resident bull. Du Maurier was however more concerned with a flock of seagulls, remarking how frightening it would be ‘if all the birds in the world were to gang up together and attack us…..They could you know’. She was proved right in the disturbing short story ‘The Birds’ (from The Appletree, Gollancz, 1952) which was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963.

I was also intrigued by the importance of the Brontës’ early writing about the fictional world of Angria and Gondal. In du Maurier-speak, ‘to Gondal’ meant to pretend or to make-believe and the expression crops up several times during the course of the correspondence. In August 1963, Daphne wrote to Oriel,

If I pass a place I once lived (like at Hampstead), I often do a Gondal, whereby I go into it just as if it were still mine, and take my coat off, and somehow settle down, and then try to imagine the amaze surprise of the new owner coming in, and how one would behave in the Gondal just as if they were not there, and one was still in possession.  …

Another thing I Gondal about, is supposing one suddenly went and rang at a person’s house, who was a Fan- …

Du Maurier was fascinated by Branwell Brontë and the book she wrote about him, the Infernal World of Branwell Brontë appears to have been simmering in the background for many years. She was very knowledgeable about the Brontë family and visited Haworth with Oriel after being asked to write a preface for a new edition of Wuthering Heights in 1954.  Oriel later received a letter in which Daphne says the Macdonald Classics editor claimed that ‘he had never read anything before that gave him such a vivid and convincing impression of her [Emily’s] work and personality’. I was amused to note that the literary tone of this letter finished on a prosaic note however, mentioning a friend’s assertion that the Channel boats would go on strike as they were owned by British Railways. Daphne anxiously enquires of Oriel, ‘Do you think this is true?’ Clearly even best-selling writers have to be practical.

A note on the ‘in’ language in the letters

The first thing a reader notices in reading any collection of letters such as this, is that a private world is laid open for perusal. I would recommend not neglecting to read Oriel Malet’s helpful glossary of the du Maurier family’s expressions and nicknames before you start the letters, or you will be forever dodging back and forth to clarify the meaning of sentences, especially Malet took on some of these expressions and uses them in her reminisces. I found it strange to be grappling with family language because it did at times make me feel that I was an unwanted intruder into a private world. There is also the disconcerting feeling that it is all a bit childish for adults to be using what sometimes seemed like nursery language. For instance, Du Maurier refers to having a period as having a ‘Robert’ and ‘to wax’ meaning sex. On the other hand, her term ‘brewing’ for working on a story or plot makes perfect sense and conjures up a sense of the author intently and productively mulling over her characters and their actions.

Having said all of that, I found much to enjoy in the letters and the accompanying contextual passages. In fact, I am struggling to suppress an urge to re-read all of the Daphne du Maurier books I have ever read and to catch up on those I have mysteriously missed out reading to date. Another blog series methinks. Now on my mental TBR pile are books by Oriel Malet, as I must confess that I have never read any of her books.

I have also come across a post about Daphne and Oriel on a blog called Something Rhymed, which looks at female literary friendships.

Do drop me a line if you are a Du Maurier fan too!

 

Advertisements

Diary of a Provincial Lady

For this, my first post of the year I want to introduce the The Diary of a Provincial Lady (E.M. Delafield) to anyone who hasn’t come across her before. I have been meaning to read the book for ages (hence the need for this challenge and this blog in the first place) and I did finally get around to it last year. Although it isn’t a 2018 read, I wanted to talk a little about it before I put it back on the shelf. My edition is a Virago paperback (1984) which comprises four diaries of the Provincial Lady. It also contains an excellent introduction by Nicola Beauman. I have discovered that Persephone Books offer a lovely reprint, using the original illustrations by Arthur Watts and with an afterward by Nicola Beauman. This edition sorely tempts me (see illustration below).

Cover of The Diary of a Provincial Lady

The Provincial Lady began life as a series of articles for a weekly feminist magazine, Time and Tide when Delafield was well established as an author, already having eighteen books under her belt. The first Diary of a Provincial Lady was published in 1930, followed in 1932 by The Provincial Lady Goes Further, The Provincial Lady in America (1934) and The Provincial Lady in Wartime (1940). My internet searches have also yielded the information that our PL also went to Russia (published 1937), this book slotting in between America and Wartime. That must be next on my wants list! I have read though all four books in my volume, but in this post, I will confine myself to the first volume to give you a flavour of the Provincial Lady and her world.

Before talking about our lady diarist, I will just sketch in a few details about the author. E.M. Delafield is the pen name of Edmée Elizabeth Monica de la Pasture (1890-1943) whose mother was a well-known author. This explains the transition from ‘de la Pasture’ to ‘Delafield’ when she came to publish her own work. Her father was a Count, descended from a family fleeing the French revolution; Delafield went on to marry Arthur Dashwood third son of a baronet and they eventually settled in Devon. Delafield’s Provincial Lady draws on her own provincial life and experiences in this part of the world, however the husband and children in the books were apparently only very loosely based on her own husband and offspring. Her first novel, Zella Sees Herself (1917) was published after Delafield had spent most of the First World War as a V.A.D. She went on to become a very successful author before her untimely death at only fifty-three.

The diaries humorously detail the ordinary life experiences of the un-named Provincial Lady, dealing with servants, school, children, balancing the household budget and those all important social duties. The characters include the snobbish and wealthy Lady Boxe, Our Vicar’s Wife, a couple of old school friends, various neighbours and visitors. The immediate household consists of husband Robert, daughter Vicky (her son Robin is away at school but makes his presence felt in  occasional unsatisfying letters), French governess Mademoiselle, Cook and Ethel the parlour maid. A common theme in the book is the Lady’s endless efforts to balance the financial books. Receipts go missing, the contents of the cash box is never what it should be and polite letters arrive from suppliers and bank managers requesting settlement. Great aunt’s diamond ring is regularly pawned (though at a suitable distance from the village).Illustrated Provincial Lady

I was surprised how many little incidents struck a chord, despite the 1930s setting and the fact that the social background of the character is somewhat removed from my own. Here is she espousing modern parenting by discussing the question of the existence of Hell with her daughter Vicky:

Am determined to be a modern parent, and assure her that there is not, never has been, and never could be, such a place. Vicky maintains that there is, and refers me to the Bible. I become more modern than ever, and tell her that theories of eternal punishment were invented to frighten people … (Query: Are modern children going to revolt against being modern, and if so, what form will reaction of modern parents take?)

While reading the diary entries on the vexed question of Christmas shopping, I was amused to note that her caustic reactions to the cost of gift ideas given in magazines in 1930 are eerily similar to my own (most recently given voice to in reading gift guides in 2017 Christmas supplements). Her gift guide makes suggestions ‘individual and yet appropriate-beautiful, and yet enduring’. It goes on to say, ‘Then why not Enamel dressing-table set, at £94 16s 4d or Set of crystal-ware, exact replica of early English cut-glass, at moderate price pf £34 17s 9d?’ The Provincial Lady’s response is a tart ‘Why not, indeed?’ After briefly surveying the section for ‘Giver with Restricted Means’ (5 guineas) she settles for a ‘one-and-sixpenny calendar with picture of sunset on Scaw Fell, as usual’. During an exhausting shopping trip to London she agonises over a ‘really handsome’ card for her old school friend Cissie Crabbe against an ‘almost invisibly small diary’. She eventually settles on the diary as it will fit into an ordinary sized envelope. The glamour of Christmas shopping on a limited budget!

Finally, I note that our diarist has the eternal discussion with her offspring whether hand washing before meals ‘is, or is not necessary’. She notes in an aside:

(Mem: Have sometimes considered -though idly- writing letter to the Times to find out if any recorded instances exist of parents and children whose views on this subject coincide. Topic of far wider appeal than many of those so exhaustively dealt with).

This reminds me of a John Drinkwater poem that I knew as a child called ‘Washing’ , which begins ‘What is all this washing about, Every day, week in, week out?’ It’s nice to know that some thing never change! All that washing business baffled me too.

I did actually read all four books straight through, which was probably not the best idea. As Beauman points out in her introduction, the diaries were not meant to be read straight through, so repetition of phrases and events is noticeable as you go on. However, I don’t think that detracts from the humour of the books, or the sharp observation that Delafield applies to the mundane round of life. I have since found myself dipping back to read entries here and there which is a better way to read the diaries I think. These are books you could return to over and over again for escapist humour with a dash of vim.

Now all I need to do is to track down the remaining volume for my collection.

Best wishes for a Happy Reading Year to one and all! Drop me a line below if you have any New Year reading goals.

Picture Credits: Additional image from Persephone Books online shop.

The Long Summer of Reading (but not Blogging…)

Well, my unintended summer break from The Landing has proved to be much longer than I would have wished. Somehow, just getting back into the blogging frame of mind has proved remarkably difficult. Not so, my book-reading frame of mind I am thankful to say. I would go so far as to say that reading wise, this has been a moderately profitable summer. A few longstanding members of the TBR pile have bitten the dust, most enjoyably I might add. This has also encouraged a couple of related re-reads to add to the literary tally.

I find that I can spend ages planning how to read more efficiently around the Landing Book Shelves, but then at other times (such as the last few months), the reading just flows without any thought or strategy. Maybe it was the influence of summer, but as I said, I have been having a reasonably prolific mow through the shelves and stacks of books at Landing Towers and I feel quite virtuous as a result. So what did I actually read then, I hear you cry. I will attempt to give a reasonably coherent run-down, unless you merely want to skip to the gallery below for a pictorial view. I will just give a brief over view of my summer’s reading (in two parts) then I hope to get back into the swing of TBR pile blogging properly.

A brief gallop through the shelves (part one)

After a few literary adventures in the 16th and 17th centuries, ending up you will recall with the dramatic execution of Sir Walter Ralegh, I have unintentionally continued to travel further in time. I was not planning this chronological direction, but after embarking on a biography of novelist and diarist Frances (Fanny) Burney (1752-1840), I simply went with the flow. The biography of Fanny Burney: A Biography (Claire Harman, 2000) was another of this year’s Trinity Book Sale purchases, so almost doesn’t qualify as an item on the TBR pile (not by my usual standards of longevity anyway). Reading this excellent biography prompted me to re-read a novelised version of Burney’s life that belongs to my mum (I know, this is not technically not on the TBR pile at all), A Coach for Fanny Burney (Florence Bone, 1938). Reading this as a teenager was the first time of encountering the redoubtable Fanny Burney, as well as literary luminaries Samuel Johnson and Hester Thrale who befriended the debut novelist. As you can see, the book is now somewhat ‘foxed’ in condition but still perfectly readable. Returning to it after all of this time, I found the author’s style rather flowery and sentimental, though the story was still an enjoyable read.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A slim volume belonging to The Bookworm was my next choice, Lady Susan (Jane Austen, probably written in 1794 when she was still a teenager). This entertaining tale was a logical read to slip in here as Jane Austen was an admirer of Fanny Burney’s novels. From there, I moved on to Words & Pictures: Writers, Artists and a Peculiarly British Tradition (Jenny Uglow, Faber and Faber, 2008). I can’t remember buying this book, but it is a withdrawn library book so I must have bought it at a library sale. I do know that it has been awaiting perusal for some while. In three sections, Uglow looks at John Milton (1608-1674) and John Bunyan (1628-1688); William Hogarth (1697-1764) and Henry Fielding (1707-1754) and William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and Thomas Berwick (1753-1828). I like Hogarth’s work, but  I had never come across Thomas Berwick, who developed new techniques in wood engraving (see the illustration for an example). Reading the first pair of studies reminded me that I have never read Pilgrim’s Progress, which I last thought of doing while writing a blog post about Little Women. If you recall, each sister received a copy from their mother as a Christmas gift. You see, no sooner do I get through a bit more of the TBR pile than I realise that there is still much more to read!

Here endeth the first catch-up post – more to follow soon (I hope!)

 

E F Benson: Mapp and Lucia Revisited

In the last few months I have been becoming reacquainted with Emmeline Lucas (Lucia) and Elizabeth Mapp. A Christmas present of the complete 1985/6 London Weekend Television series on DVD prompted my excursion into nostalgia-land. The Bookworm and I have watched the series of ten episodes twice already by now and I am sure that this will not be the last of the Tilling sessions by any means. Benson based Tilling-on-Sea on his home town of Rye, in Sussex and Miss Mapp’s home Mallards on his own Lamb House (now owned by the National Trust). There is a more recent Mapp and Lucia series from 2014, but I haven’t yet got around to watching. It would have to be good indeed to stand up to Geraldine McEwen and Prunella Scales in the starring roles.

Every time you watch McEwen (Lucia) and Scales (Mapp) in action, to say nothing of Nigel Hawthorn (Georgie Pillson), you find something new; perhaps something funny, but also (as in the best comedy) some sadness. Moreover, the costumes and sets are an absolute joy to look at and lust over. Lucia’s outfits in particular are wonderfully elegant, although she does go over the top with her choice of headgear at times. She certainly wouldn’t get lost in a crowd, but presumably that was her intention. It isn’t only the women who get to wear exciting creations, as both Georgie Pillson and Algernon Wyse are rather natty dressers indeed, both having a nice line in waistcoats.

Having revelled in the television version after a gap of so many years, I have been re-reading some of the ladies’ adventures, beginning (not in the correct order) with Miss Mapp (1922, 1990). At the beginning of the book, Benson describes the forty year old Elizabeth Mapp in this way, ‘Her face was of high vivid colour and was corrugated by rage and curiosity; but these vivifying emotions as preserved to her an astonishing activity of mind and body…Anger and the gravest suspicions about everybody had kept her young and on the boil’. Obviously incorrigible curiosity and suspicion can be excellent for both mental and physical health, although I am not sure whether the spied-upon neighbours would have benefited to the same degree.

Alongside this account of life in Tilling, I have been reading short story collection Desirable Residences (1991) so I have been having a three-pronged Benson attack on my summer reading schedule. These stories originally published in magazines such as Windsor Magazine, Good Housekeeping, The Storyteller and Lady’s Realm range from 1896 to 1935. The title story in the collection (1929) is sadly the only Mapp and Lucia tale in the collection. It describes the Tilling-ites’ thrifty habit of letting out their homes for the summer and moving into a cheaper house for the duration. This is how it works:

Those who live in the largest houses with gardens, like Miss Elizabeth Mapp, can let them for as much as fifteen guineas a week, and themselves take houses for that period at eight to ten guineas a week, thus collaring the difference and enjoying a change of habitation, which often gives them rich peeps into the private habits of their neighbours. Those who have smaller houses, like Mrs Plaistow, similarly let them for perhaps eight guineas a week and take something at five: the owners of the latter take cottages, and the cottagers go hop-picking.

A wonderful holiday letting system indeed; it is one that Elizabeth Mapp in particular exploits to the full. Miss Mapp is careful to ensure that garden produce will be included in the rent she pays, so that she can lay in sufficient store of fruit for the winter. This seasonal house exchange is of course, how the music loving Lucia first came to Tilling from Riseholme, when she took Miss Mapp’s house, Mallards for July and August. This prompted her eventual relocation and her new role as the leader of Tilling’s exclusive society (thus displacing the out manoeuvred Miss Mapp). The rest, as they say is history.

I now feel compelled to re-read the later adventures detailing the battles between the social leaders, on which the television series was based. Perhaps I will put the inestimable Lucia at the centre of a future blog post, thus giving me a perfect excuse to read more Benson! Maybe I will also catch up with the more recent BBC Mapp and Lucia series over the next few months.

Watch this space for more Tilling tales…

Additional picture credit (shot of Rye): Steve Knox at English Wikipedia

 

Jane Austen: Letters to Cassandra

While continuing to keep up with the A Month of Letters challenge (now successfully completed), I have been browsing the bookshelves to remind myself what letter collections I have tucked away. Possibly one of the most famous letter writers in literary history was Jane Austen, whose main correspondent was her elder sister Cassandra. Perhaps it is more correct to say that, Austen’s letters to her sister have survived, whereas others have been lost (Cassandra destroyed many letters before her own death in 1845). After Cassandra’s death, the surviving letters passed to her great niece Fanny Knight and in due course, Fanny’s son published these letters in 1884.Jane Austen Letters

It is a sample of these letters that are published in My Dear Cassandra: Letters to her Sister (selected and introduced by Penelope Hughes-Hallett). The book is fully illustrated and features notes to contextualise the letters and excerpts from Austen’s fiction. It is a lovely book to own, though I have to confess that I do not remember when or from where I bought my copy. This collection was published as a hardback gift edition for Past Times in 1990 (paperback 1991) and it is clearly not intended to be a comprehensive, scholarly edition. However, as an introduction to Jane Austen, her letters and her world it is an excellent choice. As you start to read, you can see how Austen garnered the material for the novels yet to come. The reader can follow up references for further biographical reading, although this edition pre-dates Claire Tomalin and David Nokes’ biographies of Jane Austen (1997).

As you might suppose, this collection of letters has lain on The Landing TBR Pile for some years, so it is about time that I perused a few of the letters. I did not intend to read straight through, but of course, as the letters are presented chronologically, you read on to find out what happened next, as in any good novel. Not surprisingly, there are gaps in the story however, when they didn’t exchange the twice-weekly letters, due to being together. For instance, from 1801- 1805, there is more need of contextual prose in the absence of original letters, to keep the continuity of events flowing. The sisters corresponded when one or other was away on the extended family visits and duties that were common in that period. The one thing that is hard to appreciate is the frequency with which letters were delivered in the 1800s. We think that we are well connected now, but it is amazing to think that you could once have had an evening postal delivery. Back Cover Illustration

The problem with reading someone else’s letters is that you are peeking into to a different life and don’t know the dramatis personae. Add to that, a different century and an alien social milieu and even with the helpful notes (and they can inevitably only go so far) it can be difficult to put flesh on the incidents and people mentioned. Even so, what comes over is that Jane Austen was an observant student of human nature and enjoyed regaling her sister with various goings-on. She clearly had a great affection for family and friends but she enjoyed poking fun at various people.

Sometimes there seems to be a sharp contrast between her mocking of acquaintances, and her affectionate regard for her family. This letter from 1798, has an almost cruel throwaway comment about a neighbour, yet displays doting affection for her three-year-old nephew:

Mrs Hall, of Sherborne, was brought to bed yesterday of a dead child, some weeks before she expected, owing to a fright. I suppose she happened unawares to look at her husband.

We are very glad to hear such a good account of your patients, little and great. My dear itty Dordy’s remembrance of me is very pleasing to me – foolishly pleasing, because I know it will be over so soon. My attachment to him will be more durable. I shall think with tenderness and delight on his beautiful and smiling countenance and interesting manners till a few years have turned him into an ungovernable, ungracious fellow.

Her trademark humour is there in the line about the likelihood of the boy growing up much changed, but it is not as barbed as her comment about the bereaved Mrs Hall. I wonder what this woman was to Jane Austen that she felt the need to be so flippant. Maybe however, this was merely misfired humour in a family letter, which would never have seen the light of day if its author had not become famous. In a later letter, Jane Austen writes of how amusing Cassandra’s latest letter was, so I cannot help wishing that I could read it too. I assume that Cassandra’s letters were lost, but I have not researched this yet.

Inside TextTo finish, I will give you a snapshot of Austen’s experience at a dance in 1799, which conjures up vivid impressions of her fictional country balls:

I do not think I was very much in request. People were rather apt not to ask me till they could not help it; one’s consequence, you know, varies so much at times without any particular reason. There was one gentleman, an officer of the Cheshire, a very good-looking young man, who, I was told, wanted very much to be introduced to me; but as he did not want it quite enough to take much trouble in effecting it, we never could bring it about.

I wonder whether this young man regretted in later years, that he could not boast of having once danced with the famous author. How does that song go, ‘I’ve danced with a man, who’s danced with a girl, who’s danced with the Prince of Wales’ (Herbert Farjeon, 1927).

I definitely have more letters stashed away on The Landing, so perhaps I will have another delve later in the year. I don’t really need the excuse of A Month of Letters to read other people’s letters. Meanwhile, I will have a root around for the subject of my next blog post…

 

Penguin Books ‘Great Loves’ series: Leo Tolstoy and The Kreutzer Sonata

Today’s post on Leo Tolstoy means a return to my occasional Russian theme, though yet again it is a digression from the TBR Pile. There is however, a good reason for the latest diversion from the straight and narrow as it resulted from my first ever visit to The Secret Book and Record Store in Dublin. As with so many things, I can’t believe that it has taken me years to get around to exploring this treasure trove of books (I haven’t yet tackled the record stock). Of course, I couldn’t come out without buying anything could I? Not only that, I had to fetch The Bookworm and show her what I had discovered, so yet more book buying occurred that day.

The Kreutzer Sonata

A striking jacket…

One of my finds was a novella by Tolstoy, The Kreutzer Sonata published as one of Penguin’s Great Loves series of twenty examples of ‘the most seductive, inspiring and surprising writing on love in all its infinite variety.’ The book, originally written in 1889 apparently drew on Tolstoy’s own marriage (1862) to Sofya Andreyevna, which by all accounts was a rather stormy relationship. The introduction states that ‘together they had thirteen children’. The writer fails to point out that the brunt of that would have been borne (pun intended) by poor Sofya. Sadly, of the thirteen children that she bore, only eight survived to adulthood.

In The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy sets out his case against marriage and carnal love, with the story of a marriage that went disastrously wrong. The narrator of the sad tale is a train passenger called Pozdnyshev, who begins to relate the story of his life and marriage to a fellow passenger, after a disagreement between the travellers about love, marriage and divorce. I won’t go into too much detail about the plot, for those who haven’t read the book. Suffice to say that it isn’t a very cheerful read, as the main character can see no justification for marriage, or indeed any sexual relationship between men and women, as the result of his experiences with women. Pozdnyshev’s theory is that it is impossible to maintain a long-term relationship and that love and attraction does not last:

But when, as is most often the case, the husband and wife accept the external obligation to live together all their lives and have, by the second month, come to loathe the sight of each other, want to get divorced and yet go on living together, it usually ends in that terrible hell that drives them to drink, makes them shoot themselves, kill and poison each other.

If that was Tolstoy’s view, based on his own experience, then you can see why Sofya was not impressed that he chose to use that material in his book. But to be fair to Tolstoy, he seems to be saying, through his tormented fictional character, that marriage was not particularly good for women either, in particular so-called love matches. He goes as far as to compare the process whereby young women were taught to use their arts and finery to attract to a husband as immoral, saying that ‘As a rule we may say that while short-term prostitutes are generally looked down upon, long-term prostitutes are treated with respect’. Pozdnyshev goes on to say that ‘a woman is like a slave in a market or a piece of bait for a trap’. He rails against the idea of choice in a match, rather than the old-fashioned way of a matchmaker making a bargain. He maintains that it was fairer to both parties that way; less degrading than the prospective brides’ mothers parading them before men to take their pick.

Pozdnyshev then goes on to explain to his companion that the problems stem from women being so dominant. His fellow traveller is sceptical and asks how this can be so, when men have ‘all the rights and privileges’. Pozdnyshev puts forward his theory that this is to do with voting and has nothing to do with sexual rights, which is where the real issue, as he see it, lies.

No, it has to do with the fact that in sexual relations, she’s not the man’s equal. She doesn’t have the right to avail herself of the man or abstain from him, according to her desire, to select the man she wants rather than be the one who’s selected…And, in order to compensate for this, she acts on the man’s sensuality, so that he’s only formally the one who chooses… And once she has mastered this technique, she abuses it and acquires a terrible power over men.

And what do the wicked woman do to facilitate their seduction and domination of men? Well briefly, they go shopping. They are consumers of luxury goods, ‘keeping nine tenths of the human race in servitude, doing hard labour’ and have ‘turned themselves into such effective instruments for acting on [men’s] senses that [the men] can’t even speak to them with equanimity.’ So, in case you missed something there, what Tolstoy, through his mouthpiece Pozdnyshev, appears to be saying is that men are such poor weak creatures that they are unable to resist women’s lures. In other words, it’s all the fault of those pesky women using their fancy frocks (not to mention flesh) to get what they cannot get by legal and above-board means.

As you can probably imagine, the narrator’s marriage did not end well, but I won’t go into details and give away the ending. In The Epilogue to The Kreutzer Sonata (1890), Tolstoy explained his view on carnal love and marriage thus:

Let us stop believing that carnal love is high and noble and understand that any end worth our pursuit — in service of humanity, our homeland, science, art, let alone God — any end, so long as we may count it worth our pursuit, is not attained by joining ourselves to the objects of our carnal love in marriage or outside it; that, in fact, infatuation and conjunction with the object of our carnal love (whatever the authors of romances and love poems claim to the contrary) will never help our worthwhile pursuits but only hinder them.

I cannot help thinking that it was a pity he didn’t discover this view of carnal love before he caused his wife to endure childbirth thirteen times. It was rather late to get to be so high-minded about carnality.

After my Russian period, I’m not sure where I’m heading for my next post, but I will promise to try to stick to the TBR Pile…

 

Romans on The Landing: Ecce Romani

Today’s post is about a studious little side-project to my TBR Pile endeavours, though I am not sure whether it will be a long-lasting one or not. I have begun to tackle a cherished ambition to have a go at learning Latin, a language that I never studied at school. My impetus for this ambition fulfilment is that The Bookworm is taking Latin classes so I thought that I would keep her company. Now, to be absolutely clear about this, she is in her second year of Latin study, so it has taken me long enough to screw my courage to the sticking place and get on with a spot of conjugating. So, without even a thought of New Year resolutions, I have acquired a new Reading Challenge.

Ecce Romani

Four to go…

I am working from Ecce Romani: A Latin Reading Course, which was passed on to us by a friend, so I need not feel too guilty if this doesn’t work out. At least I won’t have spent a fortune on my texts. The edition I have is an older version rather than the more recently updated one, but I don’t think it will make much difference. After all, the language can hardly change, can it? The Scottish Classics Group wrote the series, originally published in 1971 (Oliver and Boyd, an imprint of the Longman Group). Longman reprinted the series many times, the edition I have being the seventeenth impression (2000). I am sure that many people must have memories, both good and bad, of studying along with Marcus, Sextus, Cornelia and Flavia. It reminds me of the Peter and Jane reading books from my school days.

I have Ecce Romani books one to four to work through and then I will see where to go from there (assuming I make it that far). Alongside, I thought that I might dip into the Cambridge Latin Course (Cambridge School Classics Project) series from time to time, as this is the text used by The Bookworm. Cambridge also has online activities to tie in with the books, which might be handy for vocabulary testing. Finally, if I feel truly brave I will tackle some poetry from the poetry anthology called Carpe Viam (The Classical Association of Ireland, 1993, 1998). I am not sure whether I will get as far as the Latin poetry any time soon but I do have good intentions.

Cambridge Latin

How far will I get?

On with the next chapter of my challenge…