I’m a total sucker for those British countryside dramas. They are those novels that take place in gossip-driven country gardens where a should-have-been-married-already-too-smart-for-her-own-good comes unexpectedly into their good graces. Her name is usually Fanny and people don’t know whether to be shocked by her short hair or her short skirts. Surely, at her lead, the youth of the town will cast off their innocence like moths drawn to Fanny’s libidinous flame. At some point war will be declared or will finally come to an end and sometimes both. In the happier endings Fanny will get married despite her sacred vows to spinsterhood. In those less larky tales, people go to tragic early graves but not until they have had sensational good time and possibly gotten a little bit pregnant.
I just finished Helen Simonson’s The Summer Before The War. Here, Fanny is a Beatrice and a staunch suffragette working to balance her gypsy latin scholars, her Belgian refugee boarder, the malevolence and benevolence of the upper crust and want of her own inheritance which is payable only upon the matrimonial aspirations she doesn’t possess. But where this story starts out very Stella Gibbons it quickly turns shades of Nancy Mitford…fair warning.
These are books that definitely satisfy a mood. They seem to occupy a desire to be read when my roses are in bloom and I want to prolong the idea of a cool, verdant spring before my desert abode is bitchslapped by the triple digit sirocco of summer.
Mood is typically how I pick something to read. I rely heavily on the chance encounter in a bookstore or the daytrip through the forgotten realms of my TBR piles. This bloggity stuffs where I am planning out a reading schedule for a whole month is a new business for me. I was feeling a little uncertain about my plan until clutz that I am, crashed into a floor fan. The fan proceeded to tipple into a shelf, wrapping around a cord which pulled over a pile of books. The rube-goldberg chain of disaster upended the small collection leaving, The Essential Melville at its peak. This book is a treasure of excerpts, letters and journals that I did not know we had collected along the way. Here, my careful plans had tumbled into kismet. The next day, while browsing a local second hand shop, I found of all the unlikely things, a copy of Melville’s Pierre or The Ambiguities. This is one of his lesser known works. I had, in fact, never heard of it. But it turns out it is the exact book I needed. It was written after Moby Dick and after Melville’s estrangement from Hawthorne. Many scholars have used the work as a way to understand Melville’s relationship to Hawthorne. I literally fate-tripped into the exact book I didn’t know I needed. (Sadly, my copy is not the Kraken edition with the Maurice Sendak illustrations which prominently feature a wide variety of well developed bums, which would have tied in nicely with my Fanny theme.)
So I’m feeling a little better about my month of Herman and Hawthorne. So I thought I’d kick start the month with a little verse. Monody was written by Melville around the time of Hawthorne’s death and strongly believed to be about the man himself. You be the judge.
To have known him, to have loved him
After loneness long;
And then to be estranged in life,
And neither in the wrong;
And now for death to set his seal —
Ease me, a little ease, my song!
By wintry hills his hermit-mound
The sheeted snow-drifts drape,
And houseless there the snow-bird flits
Beneath the fir-tree’s crape:
Glazed now with ice the cloistral vine
That hid the shyest grape.