Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Monday, 17 October 2011

A book now part of my DNA

Three combined novels that gripped and moved me in my youth: The Complete History of the Bastable Family, by E. Nesbit. I haven’t opened the book for a while yet, as I do, the gripping and moving starts all over again.

We are the Bastables. There are six of us besides father. Our mother is dead, and if you think we don’t care because I don’t tell you much about her, you only show that you do not understand people at all.

Perhaps “British” should be inserted before “people” for these are very British stories. As in the better known Railway Children, the children are left to their own devices.

They decide to restore the family fortunes and fail. Cast down by their father’s (brief) disapproval (Your lot is indeed a dark and terrible one when your father is ashamed of you. And we all knew this, so that we felt in our chests just as if we had swallowed a hard-boiled egg whole. ) they form the New Society For Being Good In, a project later disparaged. Reforming their horrible cousin Archibald turns out equivocally.

These are moral stories but, at its best, the morality arrives by accident. Oswald, the eldest child, is the narrator and his style (to me the most brilliant element) is that of a teenager conscious that the burdens of adulthood are just round the corner. The books were written at the turn of the century, I read them in the late nineteen-forties. It was if the action was occurring in the street outside. The concerns were my concerns, the opinions my opinions.

My recommendation is you don’t read them. I can’t bear the thought we might disagree about their merit. Please click pic; it deserves it.

13 comments:

The Crow said...

A book that well-loved deserves to have its binding restored, or at least repaired. That way, Zach can pass it down to his grandchildren someday.

You do read those stories to him, don't you?

marja-leena said...

Looks like my copy of Grimm's Fairy Tales in Fnnish. Well-loved indeed. Not sure If I'd ever read that author though I was a real bookworm as a kid.

Er, 'the turn of the century' - which one?

Fedorovna said...

Edith Nesbit was one of the founders of the Fabian Society. She married a creep called Bland when already well advanced in pregnancy and lived with him while he also pursued a relationship with another woman (and produced more children by both of them) in the same house. Her writing sustained the whole family. You may be interested, BB, to know that she spent a lot of her childhood living in various parts of France.
She lived for a period a few yards from where I live now and a local park was created in her honour a few years ago. Designed for children (of course) it is now mainly used by dog-owners and the children are restricted to a small enclosure. A matter of no small irritation to me as you can perhaps tell.

Barrett Bonden said...

The Crow: I think the stories would be a bit too old for him at the moment - the three books are adult length. As to re-binding here's a bit of dialogue from the Jana story. The Englishman is lending J some books:

"Don’t try and read them cover to cover, dip in, taste them, chuck ‘em into a corner if they don’t suit. Don’t for God’s sake treasure them as things. Books are what they leave behind, they’re not interior decoration. You can stuff a paperback into your pocket and if it falls out lost you buy another. Better still don’t replace it, force yourself to rely on what you can remember.”

How much of this is me and how much him? The answer is some. Some, on the other hand, is heresy. But it's him that speaking, not me.

M-L: Turn of the century. Yes, I thought about that but I'm off the hook in the next sentence where I refer to the forties. I fear I attach no significance at all to 2000 (or 2001 as some prefer) though Mrs BB, my brother and I did consume a bottle of 1983 Cheval Blanc on the night. I've just checked the tallest price for that and there's a place in Bridghampton, NY, offering it at £535 the bottle.

Fedo: Careful about those anti-doggie remarks. I can't afford to lose any more names from my shrivelled list of links.

I think I knew about the Fabian society, perhaps because I attended one of their meetings where Shirley Williams spoke. Hence, almost in the dark ages. Also (vaguely) that she was exploited. In fact the third of the three novels I refer to - The New Treasure Seekers - is much more episodic than the other two (The Treasure Seekers, the Wouldbegoods) and probably represents work done under the financial gun. However I regard the first two as masterpieces.

herhimnbryn said...

I can smell that book and feel the cover and pages. Wonderful.

I have a shelf full of books like that from my childhood. They were some of the first items to be unpacked when our household goods arrived in Oz from the UK.

'Swallowing a whole hard-boiled egg'. A great description for shame!

Hattie said...

Oh thank you thank you. I got it on my Kindle! For $1.99 along with some other pieces. Isn't that amazing? Just the kind of read I have been looking for!!!!!!

Plutarch said...

Oh dear. Another book which I never got round to reading. And nnother book added to my reading list. I can rarely resist a recommendation. Kindle, here I come.

Barrett Bonden said...

HHB: Was it Aldous Huxley who wrote (fictionally) about the feelies, possibly even the smellies? I apologise for not being able to offer these features as a means of confirming your instincts. For what it's worth I've just popped round into the second bedroom where the book is shelved and have taken a huge sniff, detecting a very faint smell of cigarettes. Since no one at that time in our family smoked cigarettes (my father was a cigar man) I assume this is down to the previous owner: J. Crawshaw, Holmleigh, Northfields, Dewsbury, Yorkshire, but don't hold your breath. The book was acquired (for ten shillings, I see - quite a hefty sum at the time) somewhere round about 1947 or 48 and it's probably safe to say Mr Crawshaw, whose handwriting is both primitive and uncertain, now lives elsewhere whether it be terrestrially or celestially.

Hattie/Plutarch: I deliberately disrecommended this book. Caveat emptor

earlybird said...

Never heard of this one. I will take your disrecommendation seriously.

The stories I enjoyed most as a child were the ones where the parents/guardians were absent. More recently, Harry Potter was parentless.

Parentless heros and heroines continue into adult reading too eg Becky Sharp, Jane Eyre, Dorothea Brooke.

Barrett Bonden said...

EB: My disrecommendation was a bit left-handed: as one gets older one's critical faculties develop and one is better equipped to defend one's choices. Less so when the choice dates back to one's early teens and where emotion plays a larger part. What I was saying was, for almost irrational reasons, I didn't care to face up to anyone slamming into the Bastables.

Interesting to see Dorothea referred to as a heroine. She should be, of course, as she is an infinitely complex creation. But alas our mind tends instead to turn to the less subtle but more memorable Casaubon, the idol of all intellectual ass-draggers. As a magazine editor I often had to deal with C's paler shadows and quite frankly I cursed the man.

earlybird said...

I totally 'got' why you disrecommended it. I feel like that about some books now.

Casaubon - hurumph!

Hattie said...

Sorry. I'm into it! That's what you get for sharing. I get such a kick out of it. It reminds me of things my mother told me about her girlhood in a big family, where it was impossible to control the kids and everyone was kind of indulgent of the mischief they got into.

Rouchswalwe said...

I clicked the pic. You were right, BB.