Tuesday, 10 June 2008

About some books

That Leonora Carrington book I mentioned before turned out to be not brilliant, but quite entertaining, and I'm glad I read it. I suppose a lot of the ecological stuff was way ahead of its time. But from the introduction it sounded like her life was the more interesting, and utterly mad; she was launched as a debutante in London, but after a year or two ran away to join the surrealists. Thereafter she did odd things like giving her guests omelettes for breakfast filled with their own hair, which she had cut secretly while they slept. I don't know much about surrealism but I get the impression that it died a death when they were so thoroughly out-surrealed in the most horrible way by the opening of the death camps at the end of World War II. But I think Leonora Carrington is still alive, and still painting.

I can't entirely remember what else I've been reading. I read Our Mutual Friend, which took a bit of getting in to, but which I enjoyed by the end, though it does have a touch of the patient Griseldas about it. I also read Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly, which was a reasonable enough way to pass time. Also, Adrian Tinniswood's The Verneys, which I recommend very strongly. It's about the seventeenth-century fortunes of the Verneys from their remarkably complete surviving correspondence. They were an interesting bunch, and I really enjoy this sort of history. It treats the Civil War a little, forgive the pun, cavalierly, going straight from Edgehill to the captured king being sold to Parliament by the Scots, because Sir Ralph, the focus of the narrative is abroad at the time; but actually I really approve of this. You can get the English Civil War elsewhere. Now I'm reading a biography of Prince Rupert by a man famous for having a dead sister. I'm quite enjoying it except that his relentlessly pro-monarchy stance is getting on my nerves. The Parliamentarians are usually called simply 'the rebels' and Parliament is censured for not voting money to King Charles even though there's a foreign (Scottish) army on English soil -- completely skipping the fact that this is only the case because Charles took an army up there a year or two before to try to beat them into using the English prayer book, which turned out to be a complete fiasco, and hugely dubious on a whole number of grounds. Given Charles Spencer's own dealings with the monarchy he might not have been so whole-heartedly pro; but on the other hand I suppose it's pretty congruous with the subject matter. You get the impression that most royalists' attitude was something like 'he may be an idiot but he's the king'; many, including a Verney detailed in the excellent Verney book, thoroughly disapproved of most of what Charles was doing, but felt they had to uphold the institution. Alas for the Henry IX whom we never had. Anyway this biography promises not to concentrate only on the Civil War, so once we've got that over I should think it will be more easily readable for a roundhead puritan like me (though I notice Spencer not being very source-critical).

I'm quite interested in broad history in a dabbling sort of way; my academic interests are more specific and do not cover most of history, so when I write the above about the English Civil War I feel free to include opinion and approximation. I am interested to a similar degree in medieval agricultural practices, but unfortunately in my charters edition I have to pretend to be an expert and do things properly. It's very dull. Today's pain in the neck is the yoke or yokelet and open-field agriculture, which I remember we touched on briefly at primary school but which I haven't looked at since. Last time I went on a plane I had a fantasy about us crashing and someone else having to finish off my charters book; they had to give me a half credit because I've done at least half of the work, plus you have to be nice to the dead, especially in charters circles, which are old-fashioned and respectful.

BTW Cloetta Paris do excellent melancholy pop.

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