But today, I've put a big asterisk beside "reading blog," and here it is, 10:30, and I'm determined to tell you something about my recent reading. A bit deterred, though, by noting that it's been -- gasp! -- nearly two months since we last chatted here.
Honestly? I just can't go back and tell you about the books I read in that time, however much I might want to. If I risk that, I'll be forever behinder and behinder, and you should see the stack of books I'm working with now (you will see those, in fact, and soon -- I'm thinking it's time for a photo or two).
For now, then, I think I'll just set out a few of the quotations I copied out way back in September, from Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, and that will have to do for Ms. Mitford until I get 'round to rereading those splendid novels. But do, please, chime in and share anything you have to say about this title or The Pursuit of Love or The Blessing or Don't Tell Alfred. I hope you'll forgive my scanty treatment of books that deserve much better, but I have to pick up the pace here or I'll never be caught up for year's end.
Here are the quotations that struck me.
First, given that I was beginning The Pursuit of Love precisely as the horrific plight of the Syrian refugees was getting the global attention it should have had much sooner, this passage reminded me that we need to learn and practice our humanity over and over again. One of the main characters, Linda, falls in love, after years in a boring marriage, with a Communist (quel scandale) with whom she travels to help the refugees from the Spanish Civil War. As Mitford's narrator describes it, this was "the greatest movement of population, in the time it took, that had ever hitherto been seen. Over the mountains they found no promised land; the French government, vacillating in its policy, neither turned them back with machine-guns at the frontier, nor welcomed them as brothers-in-arms against Fascism. It drove them like a herd of beasts down to the cruel salty marshes of that coast, enclosed them, like a herd of beasts, behind barbed-wire fences, and forgot all about them" (page 112 in the 1976 Penguin reprint, should you want to read in context).
May I comment here that I'm so proud of Canada's new Trudeau-led Liberal government for moving to honour a campaign commitment to resettle 25,000 Syrian refugees in Canada by January 1st. This is going to be a huge challenge, logistically, but there's no vacillation (at least not yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed). The university I just retired from is moving to sponsor at least one refugee and is setting up scholarships for Syrian refugee students.
I also loved this quotation, because I've so often experienced exactly this awkward social phenomena, and because the narrator is very young but still feels caught between visibility and invisibility, something that seems to occupy the thoughts of many an older woman. . .
Here is that young woman recounting the challenge of having to hold her own in social situations, despite shyness: "the protective colouring [which had previously allowed her to play the role of a silent spectator] was now going on and off like a deficient electric light. I was visible. One of my neighbours would begin a conversation with me, and seem quite interested in what I was telling him when, without any warning at all, I would become invisible and Rory and Roly were both shouting across the table at the lady called Veronica, while I was left in mid-air with some sad little remark. It then became too obvious that they had not heard a single word I had been saying but had all along been entranced by the infinitely more fascinating conversation of this Veronica lady. All right then, invisible, which really I much preferred, able to eat happily away in silence. But no, not at all, unaccountably visible again. (again, if you'd like to read the passage in context, it's from Love in a Cold Climate, page 36 in the Penguin)
Thee passage also reminds me of Lisa's recent comment that she finds "the most 'right is when I disappear into the event and the people around me. Become transparent, if you will. Transparent and content."
If I still had copies of the books with me, I'd thumb through them for examples of how very forward was Mitford's discussion of social and sexual mores. This is exemplified in frank discussions of extra-marital affairs and the different costs they exacted from women than from men (not surprisingly, this connects with Mitford's personal experience). More interesting to me was the pragmatic, understated recognition of homosexuality. not only in the outré appearance of the young heir from the colonies, but also in the fondly tolerant defense of "queers" and "queens" (I hope I'm remembering the language fairly here) by British characters against, particularly, an American social and political climber who accused them of contaminating society and being carriers of (the dread) communism. I wish I'd copied those passages out when I had the chance -- I did read them aloud to Paul at the time.
Also very forward was this surprising use of the conjunctive adverb "because" -- she anticipated its current use as a preposition by, what, six decades? (If you're interested in this bit of grammar trivia, you might like to read this post by Stan Carey. In the various discussions I've seen of the new usage, I hadn't seen anyone acknowledging Mitford's anticipation of the trend, and was happily patting myself on the back, until I came across this January 2014 comment by Catanea on Language Log's post on the topic . 'An example in the wild I've just run across:
Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate, 1949