The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own. -- Adam Gopnik



September 3, 2014

In Copperfield



As Mr. Abbott turned out his light -- about 3 a.m. -- and snuggled down comfortably in bed, his mind was already busy on the blurb that should introduce this unusual book to the notice of the world. The author might have his own ideas about the blurb, of course, but Mr. Abbott decided that it must be very carefully worded so as to give no clue -- no clue whatever -- as to whether the book was a delicate satire (comparable only with the first chapter of Northanger Abbey) or merely a chronicle of events seen through the innocent eyes of a simpleton.
      It was really a satire, of course, thought Mr. Abbott, closing his eyes -- that love scene in the moonlit garden for instance, and the other one where the young bank clerk serenaded his cruel love with a mandolin, and the two sedate ladies buying riding breeches and setting off for the Far East -- and yet there was simplicity about the whole thing, a freshness like the fragrance of new mown hay.
      New mown hay, that was good, thought Mr. Abbott.  Should 'new mown hay' go into the blurb or should it be left to the reader to discover?  What fools the public were!  They were exactly like sheep ... thought Mr. Abbott sleepily ... following each other's lead, neglecting one book and buying another just because other people were buying it, although, for the life of you, you couldn't see what the one lacked and the other possessed. But this book, said Mr. Abbott to himself, this book must go -- it should be made to go.

I think I've never been so happy to have been a sheep.

So many of our reading friends read and talk about D.E. Stevenson, and it was Bellezza who let me know that Miss Buncle's Book (first published in 1934) was a free Nook book one Friday.  But I'm not new to D.E. Stevenson, just lapsed. She was (like Angela Thirkell, and Elizabeth Cadell, and probably some others) a writer with a long shelf of old books who I 'discovered,' in the days before online library catalogs, by roaming through the stacks in search of something nice to read. {" 'Nice!' exclaimed old Mrs. Carter. 'It's certainly not nice. The word is misused nowadays to a ridiculous extent. The word nice means fastidious, discreet -- was it either fastidious or discreet for two people, whose names are being bandied about the world in a third rate novel, to rush off to Paris together? I suppose they are married,' added Mrs. Carter, in a tone which implied that she had grave doubts on the subject."} I'm not sure, though, whether I ever read this one; I meant to look it up, bu then I didn't.

I remember English villages, and fastidious, discreet romances, and obstacles overcome on the path to true love, but I don't remember the books being this delightful and funny. I think Mr. Abbott is right, and that if you haven't read this you should probably discover it for yourself.  But in a nutshell, it's the story of a mousy young woman, whose dividends do not come in, leading her to write a book, under the name John Smith, about her little English village, in hopes of earning some money. As she tells her publisher, she has no imagination, and can only write about the people and life around her.

If you're one of the people who reminded me about this book, or about D.E. Stevenson, thank you! I adored it, and I'm so glad there are at least two more books in this series. If you're new to all this, I would recommend picking up this book on a lazy weekend, perhaps one that comes at the end of a not-very-satisfactory spell of reading, but before you take up your resolution to read more and deeper books, because it's perfect for times like that.


2 comments:

JoAnn said...

I actually have a copy of this one!! Will take your advice and find the perfect weekend... very soon. Great review,Audrey/

Bellezza Mjs said...

Hmmmm, you've read it before me although I "bought" it when you did. I'm having an awful time reading anything with the start of school, but I'm so glad to know you liked it.mim sure I will, too.