Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Because . . . Mitford!

I've been skittering around in various directions since I got back from our trip, trying to sort out what I want to do and how to organize my time to do it. Finally, I feel as if I'm moving back toward some sort of path, and while yesterday's list was far too long, it was a coherent list with do-able items. One of those items was "Write post for reading blog" but five other items got ticked off instead (and I ran in the morning and lunched with a friend for several hours in the afternoon -- not on the list, but both very enjoyable, and after all, I'm retired, and allowed to enjoy myself, right?).

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:
"He was terribly nice to me at your ball, I hadn't a bit expected that he would come to London for it because for one thing, knee-breeches."
Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate, 1949

Cool, eh? I'll just add that the quotation comes from page 94.
Okay, then. I'm back, and I'm planning to post more regularly again. In fact, I hope to post briefly in the next couple of days, just listing the books I read between Mitford and arriving home. Then a catch-up on what I read in my first three weeks here, and after that, I'll show you the stack I plan to cuddle up with over the next few weeks of fall storms and long dark evenings. . . And perhaps you can catch me up as well. . . Tell me, what have you been reading lately, and what yummy books have you got stacked by your bedside or comfy chair. We need to get reacquainted, no? If you've read Mitford, feel free to fill in the huge gaps I've left. 


  1. I learned a lot:
    1. Better to stop blabbing and be quiet because I havo so many problems ,even with words, and feel like not so smart toddler among academics
    2. That I am going to continue because I like this conversation too much
    3. That I didn't know about Mitford books at all 'till your talk with Annie. In my youth translation of Austin books were in Serbian and I read it in Cyrilic alphabet. Mitford was too subversive,or too frivolous, for comunism,who knows?
    I have read first two,pure pleasure,and learned more about life (and love) in England. She has something from Austin (still) and Oscar Wilde,lot of layers,you can just read it and be happy or go under surface. It is very hard to write lightly.
    I just finished Career of Evil from Robert Galbraith (aka...)and Garance Dorre ( girl just gotta have fun! And,so,I support your long lunches instead of writing here,from time to time :-))
    I have read Nicci French's Wednesday a couple weeks ago and now got Blue Monday. Next would be Missing Tuesday ( and something from books I bought and forgot, because (!) I got greedy for something new instead)
    More than 358 000 refugees passed through Croatia. Everyone got medical care if needed,food,clothes,blankets.... We built winter shelters and are still without wire fences. It is great that Canada provides future for lot of them

  2. After reading (or likely after reading the first chapter of) The Pursuit of Love, I became completely absorbed in the biographies of the Mitford sisters, so all subsequent reading of Nancy's fiction was done with their 'true' story in mind. She drew quite frequently on her own experiences and those of her sisters, I think. I wonder what the sisters thought of it all...they were certainly an interesting group. Nancy's characters seemed so accepting of all the events occuring around them and the frailties of their families and friends. The Bolter! Her daughter was so philosophical about her serial marriages (or non-marriages).

    On your advice I dipped into Donna Leon and now am on a Guido Brunetti binge...they are nice easy reads and of course...Venice! (Mater, I hope it is on your list...it is a strange and wondeful place. And this is likely obvious, but so, so, quiet.) The crimes seem secondary to me somehow so I'm more engrossed in the details of the story than in the suspence of 'who dunnit'.

    I bought My Brilliant Friend in the airport on the way home. I feel I need to brace myself when I read Elena Ferrante because she has a way of making me recognize things in myself (where Knausgaard shows me himself, Ferrante shows me myself...poorly worded but as close as I can get). This time, it is Elena's thought when the girls decide to breach the boundaries of their neighbourhood 'I felt far from everything and everyone, and distance-I discovered for the first time-extinguished in me every tie and every worry...' (this is pg 78-79 in my edition which was printed in Italy). I would describe myself as a home-loving person, and always before I go away I have doubts about doing so (I think this is not uncommon), but every time I travel I am shocked to find how completely I break from home and what a relief it is to just let go of everything and everyone. It is much more of an adjustment to come home.

    This is turning into a novel! So I will condense the rest: after visiting Paris, wrote 'Proust' in my notebook; spotted Elizabeth Minchilli leading a group tour in Rome (while eating one of the best lunches of my life in Monti), and Dottoressa, your English is wonderful and your comments are always so thoughtful.

  3. "Because . . . knee breeches"? This alone has me running for Mitford!

  4. Dottoressa, see what Georgia says, below -- I completely agree with her and you must never feel like a "not so smart toddler among academics." Every comment of yours adds something to the conversation. For example, Mitford, YES! Very much a novel of manners, so Austen, and then the arch commentary on society, on sexual roles, mores, etc. Wilde. . .
    I haven't got Doré's book yet, but I'm reading Allyson Walsh's -- a girl's gotta have fun indeed!
    I really like Nicci French's mysteries -- I find the whole notion of collaborating, especially for a husband and wife writer team, fascinating. . .
    Almost 400,000 refugees helped as they pass through your country of 4 million -- so 1 helped for every 10 Croatians. Really impressive! I hope that your new government will continue to show this kind of compassion, although I'm sure it exacts a big financial toll. . .
    Georgia: I haven't read any of the Mitford biographies, but oh, I'm going to. . . I have gathered that they inform much of NM's fiction.
    Glad you enjoy Donna Leon's mysteries. Venice is on my list, but this pull to a certain little girl in Rome may delay me somewhat.
    It's true what you say about EF as different from KOK. . . I wonder if some of that is gender. There's so much of Knausgaard that seems particularly expressive of a young-ish male perspective, and I'm becoming impatient with him in Book 2. My last box has EF's 4th volume and KOK's 3rd, and I bet you can guess which I'll begin first. I love that quotation you've cited! My apprehensions before travel are similar to yours, but then, like you, I feel freed in some deep, if temporary, way. (although not so much these days, with Internet potentially connecting us so thoroughly).
    Did you see Minchilli? Wonderful! (I once spotted David Lebovitz with a small foodie tour in Paris). Thanks for the rich, detailed comment -- What's up with Proust? Are you tackling Temps Perdu after Knausgaard?
    Style and Reason: I know, right?! If/When you get to read, be sure to tackle in the order Annie recommended to me, beginning with The Pursuit of Love. And let me know how much fun you have reading, if you get a minute. Meanwhile, thanks so much for commenting!

  5. Thank you and thank you! I have read TNMA book,like it very much,I waited to have it in real,paper,book.

  6. Ugh! I see I've misspelled Alyson Walsh's name again. So embarrassing! Just beginning her Style Forever. . . I wanted it in real paper as well.

  7. I just read " A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon" by Anthony Mara. I thought it was brilliant- a story of love, loss, and what binds us together. Run- don't walk!! I can't get it out of my head.

  8. Thanks BuffaloGall -- I've added it to my list.