Where I try to write a “straight” book review: “Mrs Ames”

A pre-Lucia and Mapp novel with the same ingredients but less hilarious – if Benson’s humour, always in the understatement, may be called hilarious – perhaps because less mature. However, there comes a portrait and pains of a woman, and the novel takes a new direction. Not as funny as Lucia & Co but perhaps more rounded and definitely not Wodehousian.

I am glad I re-read this book. I shall probably make a post of it on my blog and link it here.

When I first read this novel, I was enthralled by the Mapp and Lucia books and therefore was slightly disappointed by the seriousness I could find sometimes in “Mrs Ames”. It is true: it is not as funny as the best known EF Benson fiction. It was written before and could be seen as a draft, though I think it is not. It is another way to treat the same topic.

“Mrs Ames” takes place in Riseborough that will become Riseholme – and it has the geography of Rye. This is the same enclosed community, with gossip at his heart, and futile occupations, business and middle-class characters who deem themselves important. There is the same battle for supremacy as leader of the village, the same women who are strong women – and others are mostly stupid and funny -, the same men who lack strength and are dominated by women.

However, there is something poignant in the “sovereign” of Riseborough: Mr Ames discovers that she is not young any more and that her husband might well be attracted by her cousin Millicent (Millie) who is younger than Major Ames, himself younger than his wife. The novel tells of her efforts to conquer him again, of love that has become a routine but flares again. Does Millie love Major Ames? Does Major Ames love Millie? Does he love his wife?

Who are women? What are they? What are men? Who leads a married couple? What do the middle-classes do that is so important?

These are some of the issues of this novel and the questions it asks to its readers. It might easily bring to our days, using our context, as these questions are eternal.

All this unfurls upon the usual background of dinner parties, tea parties, feasts, fancy balls, cooking, dressing, golf rounds, and most of all disordered and almost hysteric gossip.

A very enjoyable Benson. And a book that reads carefully as there are serious issues at stake. It may be slow for some who will see mostly its little awkwardness. But there is more than that and I do regret that they were not more Benson novels like this one. It is funny AND poignant.

Poetry is honey for the soul (12) – Ellen Moody

Poetry is honey for the soul

Ellen has already contributed to this collection of poems chosen by blogger readers for other blogger readers. Her first choice was this poem by Judith Wright:

Today she suggests two poems linked by the same theme of birds. The first is well-known as it is “The Ode to a Nightingale” by Keats, read by Stephen Fry.

 
The second is less known. It has been written by Fleur Adcock, originally a writer from New -Zealand. Here is her biography and bibliography:

 http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poet/item/21582/29/Fleur-Adcock

After the celebration and joy, there has come the reality check.

“The Way Out”

 (by Fleur Adcock)

The other option’s to become a bird.

That’s kindly done, to guess from how they sing,

decently independent of the word

as we are not; and how they use the air

to sail as we might soaring on a swing

higher and higher; but the rope’s not there,

it’s free fall upward, out into the sky;

or if the arc veer downwad, then it’s planned:

a bird can loiter, skimming just as high

as lets him supervise the hazel copse,

the turnip field, the orchard, and then land

on just the twig he’s chosen. Down he drops

to feed, if so it be: a pretty killer,

a keen-eyed stomach weighted like a dart.

He feels no pity for the caterpillar,

that moistly munching hoop of innocent green.

It is such tender lapses twist the heart.

A bird’s heart is a tight little red bean,

untwistable. His beak is made of bone,

his feet apparently of stainless wire;

his coat’s impermeable; his nest’s his own.

The clogging multiplicity of things

amongst whch other creatures, battling, tire

can be evaded by a pair of wings.

The point is, most of it occurs below,

earthed at the levels of the grovelling wood

and gritty buildings. Up’s the way to go.

If it’s escapist, if it’s like a dream

the dream’s prolonged until it ends for good.

I see no disadvantage in the scheme.

 

Poetry is honey for the soul (11) – ML Kappa

Poetry is honey for the soul

Marina gives us regularly news from Greece in her blog:

https://athensletters.com/

I follow it with the utmost assiduity: politics, economy, society, refugees, literature, Ancient Greece, Grecian Islands, myths, history, traditions -her blog is always full of information. Its full name is “Letters from Athens – A blog about life and times in Greece”.

Today, she invites us to read or re-read a poem by Constantin Cavafy, which sounds oddly relevant to our times.

unnamed (2)

C.P. Cavafy is widely considered the most distinguished Greek poet of the twentieth century. He was born in 1863 in Alexandria, Egypt, where his Greek parents had settled in the mid-1850s.

During his lifetime Cavafy was an obscure poet, living in relative seclusion and publishing little of his work. A short collection of his poetry was privately printed in the early 1900s and reprinted with new verse a few years later, but that was the extent of his published poetry. Instead, Cavafy chose to circulate his verse among friends.

Cavafy was an avid student of history, particularly ancient civilizations, and in a great number of poems he subjectively rendered life during the Greek and Roman empires.

Among his most acclaimed poems is “Waiting for the Barbarians,” in which leaders in ancient Greece prepare to yield their land to barbarians only to discover that the barbarians, so necessary to political and social change, no longer exist.

Greek-Persian_duel
Greek and Persian warriors in a duel

 

WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS

What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

 

The barbarians are due here today.

 

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?

Why do the senators sit there without legislating?

 

Because the barbarians are coming today.

What laws can the senators make now?

Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.

 

Why did our emperor get up so early,

and why is he sitting at the city’s main gate

on his throne, in state, wearing the crown?

 

Because the barbarians are coming today

and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.

He has even prepared a scroll to give him,

replete with titles, with imposing names.

 

Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today

wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?

Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,

and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?

Why are they carrying elegant canes

beautifully worked in silver and gold?

 

Because the barbarians are coming today

and things like that dazzle the barbarians.

 

Why don’t our distinguished orators come forward as usual

to make their speeches, say what they have to say?

 

Because the barbarians are coming today

and they’re bored by rhetoric and public speaking.

 

Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?

(How serious people’s faces have become.)

Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,

everyone going home so lost in thought?

 

Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.

And some who have just returned from the border say

there are no barbarians any longer.

 

And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?

They were, those people, a kind of solution.

 

Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard

(C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems. Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard. Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition. Princeton University Press, 1992)

unnamed (1)
A sample of C. Cavafy’s handwriting
unnamed
A street of Alexandria  where C. Cavafy was born

Poetry is honey for the soul (10) – Alison Hope

Poetry is honey for the soul

Ali stood at an uncomfortable place last week: 

her poem was published on this blog just before my appeal to help for The Little Family. 

This was awkward and she might not have received the whole attention she deserved. 

Therefore, I post it again.

Ali is a well-known blogger, “specialised” in book reviews. She has her own blog and writes daily about a new book (better than I do and makes me feel lazy…). Here is the address:

https://heavenali.wordpress.com/

for the few of you who would not know her yet. She is connected with books: buying books, lending books, reading groups, reviewing books, participating in book groups, in book events, creating them sometimes. I cannot imagine her without a book near at hand! Which is certainly exaggerated as she loves flowers and many other things.

When I asked her if she wanted to contribute, she asked for some days of thought, then sent me the following poem, comment and illustrations. I was surprised to see “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” by Robert Frost that Phillip had already chosen. For the foreigner that I am it seems one of these poems that haunt you all your life long – and I begin to fall under its spell myself.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer  

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake. 

The only other sounds the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep, 

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

There were lots of poems I could (nearly did) choose for this, many deeper, seemingly more complex pieces than this. Yet I kept coming back to this poem, one I first heard probably as a child. I love the deceptive simplicity of the poem, yet the images it evokes remain, and tell a story – albeit a simple one. The reader is left wondering about where the traveller might be going – what are those promises – and to whom were they made?

The poem reminds me -always of my dad – he died eight years ago. I can remember him quoting – on several occasions, though what those occasions were I can’t recall – that final haunting stanza – so it is a poem I always associate with him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would you, please, help The Little Family? – continued

 

demander-de-laide

First and foremost, I want to thank you. To thank you all and each of you who have taken time to read my last long post. To thank you who have shown that you cared by clicking on the “like” key. To thank you who have written a comment, an encouragement, a sign of indignation, ideas to help.

You may not imagine how much of a comfort these signs of support may be. The sudden feeling that what we live is really not normal; that, yes, things ought to be done to change the situation; that these inertia and negativity are not to be borne without a word; that we have a right to live normally; and that what we ask is not extraordinary but the facts and deeds of any life.

Thank you.

Since my cry for help, two days ago, I have received news from a French non governmental organisation that I had contacted. It is called l’Office chrétien des persones handicapées (OCH – Christian Office for Handicapped Persons) and is situated in Paris. You don’t have to be a Christian to appeal to it, although we are Roman Catholics. This Organisation listens to people who have problems either because they are handicapped or because they are family or friends or relatives of handicapped people. It has a legal counseling small department as well: I have been given the name and email address of a legal advisor upon whom I have called today.

Being Roman Catholic, I also emailed the services in charge of the care of “the ill and disabled/handicapped” of our local bishopric in Périgueux. They may show spiritual concern but also material help, indicating local charities. These might help in turn in giving alms to do the great spring/summer cleaning of the house and the cutting of the grass. Thank you for pointing to me the resource of charities of which I had not thought.

I have emailed Anne-Fleur’s financial administrator for the nth time, stating our needs once more, as I have stated them to you. I have received the receipt that says that the email has been opened but this is automatic: I have no answer, even an acknowledgement of the email.

The Head of the local Agency that provides the “Socialising/ Shopping/Cleaning Lady” and should be providing the team of cleaning ladies and the gardener is on holidays for the week. If she were to give an answer, that would not be before next week.

Things cannot evolve with lightening speed. But they have moved in two days – largely thanks to you. I was disheartened when I wrote the last post: I feel better today and when I feel better, The Girls feel happier.

We still need you, your presence, your ideas, your support, your suggestions, and your reassurance.

Please, do not leave us now: we are at the beginning of the road towards normality. Please, still comment; at least, click on “like” to show you have read. And if you are kind enough, share on social media.

The Little Family thanks you.

Poetry is honey for the soul (10) – Alison Hope

acacia blos

Poetry is honey for the soul

 

Ali is a well-known blogger, “specialised” in book reviews. She has her own blog and writes daily about a new book (better than I do and makes me feel lazy…). Here is the address:

https://heavenali.wordpress.com/

for the few of you who would not know her yet. She is connected with books: buying books, lending books, reading groups, reviewing books, participating in book groups, in book events, creating them sometimes. I cannot imagine her without a book near at hand! Which is certainly exaggerated as she loves flowers and many other things.

When I asked her if she wanted to contribute, she asked for some days of thought, then sent me the following poem, comment and illustrations. I was surprised to see “Stopping by woods on a snowy evening” by Robert Frost that Phillip had already chosen. For the foreigner that I am it seems one of these poems that haunt you all your life long – and I begin to fall under its spell myself.

 

stoppingby woods (2) (1)

 

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer  

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake. 

The only other sounds the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep, 

And miles to go before I sleep.

 

There were lots of poems I could (nearly did) choose for this, many deeper, seemingly more complex pieces than this. Yet I kept coming back to this poem, one I first heard probably as a child. I love the deceptive simplicity of the poem, yet the images it evokes remain, and tell a story – albeit a simple one. The reader is left wondering about where the traveller might be going – what are those promises – and to whom were they made?

The poem reminds me -always of my dad – he died eight years ago. I can remember him quoting – on several occasions, though what those occasions were I can’t recall – that final haunting stanza – so it is a poem I always associate with him.

snowywoods (2)

Poetry is honey for the soul (8) – Hammad Rais

     Poetry is honey for the soul

Hammad Rais is a blogger I met “by accident” in the blogosphere. I think we were under the same tutorship of WordPress, and he came to my rescue because I had not understood something – as usual. Hammad is from Pakistan, Karachi to be more precise. As months have passed, I have met his family, his parents, parents-in-law, his “lovely wife, Jia” (this is how he introduced her to me), their son Uzair who has just started going to his first school – a Montessori school – and whom I consider as an honorary nephew (!!!); we have worked on some posts together, Hammad and I, to make his country known by Westerners; we have exchanged e-mails, re-blogged and tweeted each other’s blogs.

Hammad is well known by the WordPress community. I do invite you warmly to have a look at this blog (of which I give the link at the end of this post). You will discover another way of life and at the same time our same fundamental way(s) of life and values. In times of non-understanding and violent refusal between the West and the East, it is the beginning of a healing process to go, read, comment, exchange with the One who seems on the other side of a breach. 

Only to state that we are essentially the same.

Hammad blogs about his life life in Pakistan, photography, memories, poetry… I have chosen one of his last “attempts” as he calls them: he says he is no poet but words sometimes bubble this way and no other! .

BRICK BY BRICK

We build up our lives too
Just like our homes
There is a kitchen
Where we make dreams and hopes
A living room which is,
Full of happiness and joy, for everyone
Basement is underground
To store up the memories, good and bad, both
Lawn in front
To plant the future of us and our generations
We have washrooms too
To cleanse ourselves from life’s hardships
A Reading room
To learn not only about ourselves but also about the world.
WP_000134
This is a photograph of Hammad’s home (light and shades),
also published on his blog.
And here is the link to his blog: 
(All texts and images protected by laws and regulations of copyright)

Poetry is honey for the soul (6) – Diane Reynolds

          acacia blos Poetry is honey for the soul

 

Diane Reynolds is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and Publishers Weekly among other publications. She teaches literature and writing at the university level and also holds an MDiv from Earlham School of Religion. Her book, “The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer” has been released last month.

I asked Diane if she might consider participating in “One poem a day: readers turned bloggers”. She accepted and gave me two suggestions: one is Johnson’s Creation (https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/creation). The other is a poem she wrote after cutting and arranging wild irises into a jug or pitcher. Diane also gave photos and ¨painting (irises by Van Gogh), underlining that they might illustrate both poems.

Of course, even if she says she is no poet, I chose her text.

 

vase-with-irises-1890

Purple

irises

suspended

in a pitcher

amid leaves and nature’s green wire spirals.

On the pitcher

blue and white glaze

Woman reading

Cat, tail curled upward

Sheep lying in a patch of shade.

Irises,

Picked from a meadow

Abutting cut lawn.

Massed in a factory pot.

Against artifice nature etched.

 

cda623e1-c481-4802-aa77-8c004dc016c22cc070c9-8fdf-4cca-ab15-f07e0dcb0c23

Poetry is honey for the soul (4) – Robert Frost (and Phillip)

Poetry is honey for the soul

Phillip invites us to discover or re-discover the apparent simplicity and clarity of his favourite poet Robert Frost. Silence is best (although this reminds me of Schubert) but there is a lot to think.

STOPPING BY WOODS ON A SNOWY EVENING

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village, though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer 

To stop without a farmhouse near

Between the woods and frozen lake

The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake

To ask if there is some mistake. 

The only other sounds the sweep

Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep, 

And miles to go before I sleep.

ravillious

 

Illustration by Eric Ravilious

 

 

 

Phillip has no blog but works a lot on Facebook on his page but also on several groups, artistic, historic, about women and their history, about photography. He is well-known and sows joy and pleasure wherever he goes. Ah! One last word: he is a great cat lover and his photos of his favourite friends are always here to comfort his human friends.

Phillip has helped me through difficult patches with a quote, a painting, a little something I have found on my Facebook page when I opened it. I know he does the same with all his friends but will almost grumble if mentioned…