-- But you will be ready to say, what was your hope in doing this? -- What did you look forward to? -- To any thing, every thing -- to time, chance, circumstances, slow effects, sudden bursts, perseverance and weariness ... Every possibility of good was before me, and the first of blessings secured. {Jane Austen, Emma}

April 20, 2014

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals

This doesn't usually happen, and now that it has I wouldn't recommend it {at least not for myself}, but last week I realized that I was in the middle of four books {six if you count the two audiobooks} and there was a looming due date for  this one. That makes seven, if we're counting...

The T. and H. is set in 1924, in a small town in Wales. Wilfred Price is a serious, dependable, well-mannered, thoughtful young man, living with his widowed father and building a business as an undertaker. He is the kind of young man who decides to read the dictionary, in hopes that having a bigger vocabulary will make it easier to find words for the things he wants to say, but he is also the kind of young man who has 1924-ishly lustful thoughts about the young women he meets, even when they are in mourning. He often reminds himself of what the wonderfully-named Mr. Ogmore Auden, his apprentice-master, would say in any given situation, from advice on how to talk to the bereaved to the counsel that once he is set up in business Wilfred should find a wife.

The first thing that happens, then, is that Wilfred goes on a picnic with Grace, who wears a new yellow dress and serves trifle in china bowls, and impulsively asks her to marry him. He immediately regrets his offer, but when he goes to her house to tell her that he has made a mistake, she has already told her shrill, critical mother, and her overbearing father. Wilfred wavers between ignoring Grace completely and telling her bluntly that he will not marry her. Then, he is called to purvey his superior services for a man who has died suddenly, and meets his beautiful, fragile daughter, Flora, who is also still grieving for the fiancĂ© she lost in the Great War.

There are thoughts and happenings that are sweet and funny, and others that are serious, and others that start in one mood and quickly turn to another, the way life does, and that's what gave this book its real charm. I loved it!

April 19, 2014

A beautiful day in the neighborhood...

Saturday morning, 5K before the Marathon on Monday. This is good for your heart, even if you're not running!

April 13, 2014

Happy birthday, Miss Welty

From today's The Writer's Almanac:

It's the birthday of writer Eudora Welty, born in Jackson, Mississippi (1909). She studied literature in college, and she wanted to pursue a career in writing or photography; but her father thought she needed a day job, so she moved to New York City to attend business school and study advertising. When she wasn't in class, she went to vaudeville shows, toured art galleries, and listened to jazz in Harlem nightclubs. She spent hours wandering the city, taking photographs of ordinary people in the early days of the Depression. She wrote: "Making pictures of people in all sorts of situations, I learned that every feeling waits upon its gesture, and I had to be prepared to recognize this moment when I saw it. These were things a story writer needed to know."
      After she got her degree, Welty moved back to Jackson. She worked for a while at Jackson's first radio station, writing the station's newsletter. She spent two years as the Jackson society columnist for a Mississippi paper. In 1935, she was hired as a photographer for the Works Progress Administration. That same year, she began hosting regular meetings with a group of other young writers, and they dubbed themselves the Night-Blooming Cereus Club, named for a mysterious cactus — once a year, the night-blooming cereus produced a single beautiful white flower that only lasted for one night. When their plants were about to bloom, residents of Jackson would post the news in the paper and invite everyone to an all-night party to watch it. Welty referenced the cactus repeatedly in stories, and in her letters she sometimes addressed friends as "you night-blooming cereus." The group created a motto for their club: "Don't take it cereus, life's too mysterious." Welty said: "Now that I think back on those days, I know they must have been very bad times indeed, but actually, I'm not sure we realized it, my friends and I." She felt that the Depression was less obvious in Mississippi than other places, since it was such a poor state to begin with. Welty and her friends played word games, went on picnics, drank bourbon, and listened to jazz on the phonograph. They loved to take the train down to New Orleans, but none of them had enough money to spend the night, so it was always a day trip. Welty took trips to New York to show her photos to publishers, but no one was interested, and neither were gallery owners — the only place she managed to get a show was at a camera shop.
      In 1936, Welty sent a story called "Death of a Traveling Salesman" to a literary magazine, and it was accepted. She said, "I had received the shock of having touched, for the first time, on my real subject: human relationships." It was the first story she had ever submitted, and she hoped that publication would always be that easy; but after that, she received a string of rejections. In 1937, she sent the story "Petrified Man" to Robert Penn Warren at his new Southern Review, and he rejected it. She was so upset that she burned her only copy of the story. Then Warren wrote to say that he had changed his mind, so she rewrote it from memory. Her stories began to be published widely in the South, and admired by fellow writers. But no one wanted to publish a book of her stories, convinced it would lose money, and asked if she would try a novel instead. Finally, out of the blue, a literary agent wrote her and asked if he could represent her. She didn't know what a literary agent was, but she agreed; he wrote back: "Wait! You don't know a thing about me. I may be a crook!" They hit it off, and he remained her agent until his death. He sent out her stories over and over, undeterred by rejections, and finally found a publisher for her first book, A Curtain of Green (1941).
      She wrote many stories and novels, including The Golden Apples (1949), The Ponder Heart (1954), The Optimist's Daughter (1972), and Moon Lake and Other Stories (1980), as well as her best-selling memoir One Writer's Beginnings (1984). She died in 2001, at the age of 92.
      She said, "I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within."

Getting to know her -- and reading some of her letters -- a few years ago was a wonderful and unforgettable reading project. 

April 6, 2014

Thinking Pink

Just back from a morning at the Museum of Fine Arts. I love to go there, for many reasons, but today I went there specifically to see an exhibit with the same name as this song.  How could I not? ... as someone who could find something pink in every corner of her apartment/office/closet/blog template/make-up drawer/dish cupboard/linen closet/refrigerator, and as someone who keeps saying she doesn't always have time to do the things she wants to do when what she really means is that she doesn't always make the time.
The exhibit opened with a quote from this song {and now I'm desperate to see the movie}, and was organized by a curator interested in the cultural history of 'pink is for girls.' It was very interesting to learn that this idea only took deliberate hold in the 1920s and 1930s, in part as a marketing strategy, in part as part of more strongly delineated roles for men and women. 
The displays explained that the name of the color comes from carnations, also known as 'pinks,' as does the snipped edge we make with 'pinking shears,' noting that an exquisite doll's dress from the 18th century is 'both pink and pinked.'  There's a man's suit of clothes, in mauvey-pink velvet, from the same period, and a portrait of two little boys, in white dresses with pink underskirts (noting that in early America, both boys and girls wore dresses until the boys were 'breached' at about 8 years old.)
And, oh, the dresses. I walked around this small exhibit two or three times, because it was hard to stop gazing at the embroidered silk evening coat from Liberty's of London {I had a beautiful pink silk jacket about 25 years ago, and I still wish I had kept it, just to be able to see that lovely thing hanging in my closet}, the beaded 'flapper dress' from the 1920s, a time when pairing pale pink and black {something I did just last Thursday} was considered 'daring and ultramodern,' to an evening dress pairing black with the 'shocking pink' that Elsa Schiaparelli introduced in 1939 {I don't love every pink}, to a rose-strewn Dior strapless evening gown from 1956 and a even-pinker rose-strewn Dolce + Gabbana dress from 1995 {loved those}. 

I also wandered through an exhibit showing Boston's connection with Impressionism, and an amazing gallery-full of quilts, and saw some of my old friends in the American wing, and the hundreds of flags made for us last year, which it was good to see again. ... but most of all, it was the pink.
{I'm sending this over to Dolce Bellezza's
'Dolci' fr
om this week,' because it was. :)}

April 5, 2014

The Late Scholar

      A blazing and golden autumn had transformed the city. A soft and gauzy autumnal mist drifted from the twin rivers, and tissue-wrapped the streets and buildings until nearly mid-morning. The plane trees on St. Giles were butter-yellow and adorned with little brown balls of seed-clusters. Carpets of gold were spread under the avenue of trees on Christ Church Meadow and the trees in the University Parks. Slightly overblown roses and clusters of rose-hips hung on in the Botanic Gardens, and the city was seized with the annual delectable contrast between the end of summer, and the start of a new university year. The autumn would be a time of beginning for ever after for each generation of students who arrived, recurring like the seasons, in that lovely phase of the year. ...
      And all day long from every quarter the clocks in college towers struck the time, taking, if you timed it, nearly twenty minutes from the first not to the last note, collectively approximate, however accurate one among them might be. Those bells insinuated themselves into memory, so that the sound of them would unwind generations of Oxford men and women back to their student days, and to their rash and joyful younger selves.
      In those streets you might have seen, that year, an older couple, walking together not hand in hand, but perfectly in step with each other, moving from one fine sight to another, seeming to walk in a dream. In Duke Humfrey's Library the man said to the woman, softly, 'And Bredon says no to all this...'
      Out in the courtyard again, the woman said to the man, 'Family tradition is a burden, Peter, which you should know better than most people.'
      'Give me time, Harriet. I'll get used to it,' he said.
      'Oxford feels itself again to me, Peter, she said. 'Does it to you?'

Jill Paton Walsh's mysteries, based on the characters of Dorothy L. Sayers are just so well done; after the new one, The Late Scholar,  was dangled in front of us, and then taken away again { :) } it was a treat to find the U.K. edition in the college library.  {The U.S. edition is now promised for June.}

Lord Peter Wimsey is now Duke of Denver, after the deaths of his nephew and then his brother, and he and Harriet live, with two Dowager Duchesses, at what is left of Bredon Hall.  Peter finds out, to his surprise, that he has also inherited the role of the Visitor to St. Severin's, one of the Oxford colleges, and that when a dispute arises among the Fellows, they can summon the Visitor to resolve it.

Peter, Harriet and Bunter travel to Oxford, where of course Peter and Harriet studied and later met. Peter is only supposed to decide whether the money-strapped College should sell a valuable rare book to invest in a land deal, but when he finds out that the Warden of the College has disappeared and several of the Fellows have been attacked, or died (or soon will), the plot thickens.

I mentioned that I just re-listened to the first of these books, and I did not find this one quite as wonderful. Very, very good, but a little more somber, a little elegiac, a little less delightful at every turn. That might be because the surrounding characters are a little less interesting, or it might be because all of my detectives are growing old. :)  But I did enjoy The Late Scholar, and I hope it's not the last.

{lovely image found here}

March 28, 2014

At least there'll be more time for reading...

Letter the First.
How often, in answer to my repeated intreaties that you would give my Daughter a regular detail of the Misfortunes and Adventures of your Life, have you said "No, my friend never will I comply with your request till I may be no longer in Danger of again experiencing such dreadful ones."
Surely that time is now at hand. You are this day 55. If a woman may ever be said to be in safety from the determined Perseverance of disagreeable Lovers ... surely it must be at such a time of Life.

from 'Love and Friendship,' by Jane Austen