No. 53: Goblin Market, Christina Rossetti

So, here it is! My first post of the year.

2016 threw its doors open. I ran in, grateful for the new start, and am now standing, slightly disillusioned, in it’s shabby blue hallway.

Thirteen Little Black Classics read, 67 to go. *Gulp. An overwhelming prospect.

The Classic to kick off 2016 is Goblin Market, chosen by my beloved Grandma (affectionately dubbed ‘Silver Spice’ since I was a sprog, as she was such a cool Grandma that she could be the sixth member of the Spice Girls). You might remember I visited her in Plymouth back when I read The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake.

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This is not my first time reading Goblin Market. In my second year of uni, I read the poem for a Womens Writing module, having first fallen in love with Rossetti’s poetry as a teen. Most probably feeling worse for wear from a devastating cold or self-inflicted misery, I just couldn’t fathom the narrative poem.

Two friends and I were late for the Goblin Market lecture, which was based in a  particularly poky classroom. We arrived two minutes after the lecturer, a dishevelled man in his late thirties. He had shoulder length hair, a beanie permanently pinned to his head, plaid shirts and cable knit cardigans galore. The girls on my course fancied him, alarmingly, as the one eligible male member of the English faculty.

We rushed into the room, where the front three desks directly under the lecturer’s nose were the only unoccupied seats. We shuffled in, plonking our bags on the desks and removing our coats while the lecturer fussed over the projector screen, flustered and fraught.

When ready, he patted down his body, unable to locate his lecture notes. It was the most disjointed lecture, the six slides on the projector screen failing to trigger his memory and offering no illumination to the thirty students.

If possible, the little I had garnered from reading the poem prior to the lecture trickled away as I sat there, listening to his confused ramblings.

“I just wish I had my notes!” he howled  every five minutes, apologising profusely.

As the lecture came to a close, I put my coat back on, exchanging raised eyebrows with my friends, and picked up my bag, under which I discovered HIS NOTES.

I felt so guilty. I ruined that entire room’s understanding of the poem, and made a brilliant literary man question his own mind.

I considered harbouring them all to myself for about 30 seconds, but the notes were a tangle of nonsense. Much like if you were to read my notebook for this blog – they make sense to no-one but me.

The guilty feeling soon returned and so I simply binned them, never choosing the text for any essay or exam as self-punishment.

As a result, I approached this Little Black Classic with some trepidation.

Goblin Market is reminiscent of a Grimm fairy tale. On the surface, it appears to be a fable-like story for children. But it’s riddled with dark complexities and tensions bubble beneath the surface. It’s a strange mix of being both sentimental and sweet, and slightly uncomfortable.

The poem opens

“Morning and evening / Maids heard the goblins cry: / Come buy our fruits, / Come buy, come buy”

These goblin men offer countless tempting fruits – from apples and oranges, peaches and raspberries, to mulberries and pomegranates, damsons and dewberries.

Two sisters, Laura and Lizzie, enjoy the great outdoors and hear the goblins’ market call

Lizzie warns Laura “Their evil gifts would harm us.” She reminds Laura of a girl called Jeanie, who ate the goblin fruits. Jeanie sought the goblins out but could never find them again and was driven mad. She, “Who should have been a bride,” was driven to an early grave, so consumed with desire.

Laura doesn’t listen to her sensible sister, and pays for the goblin fruits with a precious golden curl from her head. She gorges on the treasure trove of fruits. She “never tasted tasted such before” and “sucked until her lips were sore.”

Saucy!

Like Jeanie, Laura can’t find the goblin men again, wanting to take Lizzie to experience their delicious fruits. So the two sisters go about their domestic lives.

“They lay down in their curtained bed: / Like two blossoms on one stem”

They milked the cows, baked, churned butter, sewed. But

“one content, one sick in part; / One Warbling for the mere bright day’s delight, / One longing for the night.”

Here we have one sister who is modest, well behaved, virginal. The other is rebellious, unsatisfied and corrupted. The descriptions of her eating the forbidden fruits are very erotic. She is that classic Victorian idea of a fallen woman.

Lizzie can’t bear to see her sister pine for the fruits, and watches her fade away, like an addict. Laura even stops carrying out her domestic duties, she’s so consumed with desire.

How atrocious.

Wanting to see her sister happy, Lizzie goes in search of the goblin men on Laura’s behalf. She soon finds them (or they find her) but they don’t allow her to take the fruits away. They insist she eats there with them but she is defiant.

What follows is an attack. They force their fruits on her. They elbow, jostle, bark, tear, soil, stamp, pinch, kick, maul and mock. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s rape-like.

“White and golden Lizzie stood”

She refuses to open her lips. She sacrifices herself and her own purity for her sister and, when the goblin men finally tire and abandon her, she loyally runs home to Laura.

“Come and kiss me. / Never mind my bruises, / Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices.”

And so, in a particularly homoerotic scene, Laura eats the fruits from Lizzie’s body. She passes out and her sister lovingly revives her back to health.

When they grow up and have children of their own, the both warn their daughters of the goblin men.

“For their is no friend like a sister”

I loved this poem. I can’t understand why I didn’t enjoy it at university. It has so much drama, and two different but flawed women at it’s core.

I couldn’t help but think of my own sister, who is my most loyal friend. You might remember her from The Beautifull Cassandra, when I wrote of our comparison to the Dashwood sisters.

This was made all the more real this week with Alan Rickman’s sad passing, which both Katy and I were devastated by. He was our Colonel Brandon! I’ve been in Sense and Sensibility mode ever since, and the devotion of the sisters in Goblin Market reminds me of the Dashwoods. Katy is the Lizzie to my Laura, the Elinor to my Marianne!

I can remember one slide from that disastrous lecture. It showed an artwork by Dante Rossetti, the pre-Raphaelite artist and Christina’s brother, in which the two sisters lie  innocently together, sleeping, and was created for the poem’s original publication.

I set upon seeing this in the flesh, so to speak, which seemed even more appropriate as my sister is an art historian (see my Circles of Hell post).

I made my way to the British Library, my first trip to an academic setting setting since university. (Have no fear, library users, I frequent local libraries).

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It was incredibly exciting. I love visiting the British Library for exhibitions anyway, but stepping into a reading room, lined with hard-working students, and great volumes of brilliance, was thrilling. I collected a small maroon box, and headed to my chosen seat.

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nside, a delicate book of leaves was tied with a bow, like an ageing gift. I carefully untied the ribbon, and opening the crackling cover to reveal this…

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It was beautiful, and utterly thrilling to hold a second edition of the poem. The artwork is abundantly pre-Raphaelite. Look at their hair, their fairy-tale serenity. Beautiful!

My friend Lois and I then headed to the Alice in Wonderland display, currently showing at the British Library, where the Rossettis were mentioned several times.  Did you know that Lewis Carroll was friends with the Rossettis, and mirrored Dante’s style when drawing his own Alice, or that Christina’s book ‘Speaking Likenesses’ is an imitation of Carroll’s Alice stories, in which little girls are rewarded and punished depending on their behaviour…?

I finally feel strangely rewarded after hiding those lecture notes!

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Thank you so much for choosing this poem, Silver Spice! I don’t think you could have picked a better Classic for your Granddaughter, and her sister.

Next time I will be blogging about H.G. Wells’ A Slip under the Microscope.

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No. 54: Sinbad the Sailor

If you’re looking for pure escapism this Christmas, Sinbad the Sailor is an excellent choice.

It’s taken from One Thousand and One Nights and is jam-packed with adventure in exotic lands – there are barbaric creatures, rich jewels, great ships and cunning escapes. Everything you can expect from an adventure story.

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We’re introduced to Sinbad the Porter, a poor but pious man who is seduced by the bustle of a great household in Baghdad. The master of this household, an older and handsome man, welcomes the Porter and feeds him.

This man of the household is Sinbad the Sailor, who tells his visitor, court and us the readers stories from his travels.

In his first story, Sinbad finds himself abandoned on a strange, desolate and foreign shore, where he stumbles across an enormous egg belonging to a rukh – an enormous mythical bird of prey. He unties his turban and manages to lasso this to the foot of the bird, in the hope that it flies to civilisation and carries Sinbad with it.

Instead he is dropped by the rukh in a vast pit of vicious snakes, with carcasses all around him.

With plenty of cunning, some physical strength and a good dollop of luck (as is standard with the hero of any epic) Sinbad manages to make his way home to Baghdad.

He’s a devout Muslim, and while he is the master of a great household, with countless slaves and great riches, he is a humble man. Take his line

“We belong to God and to him do we return.”

Despite the horrors he experienced, Sinbad was consumed by wanderlust and set sail from Baghdad for great adventure once more.

In his second tale, he and his crew encounter a great brute of a creature – part man, part beast – who holds the men captive and eats them carelessly for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As their numbers dwindle, and in a turn of events remarkably similarly to Odysseus and the Cyclops (which, I note, is a Little Black Classic), Sinbad and his men heat up two spits in a fire and burn through his eyes, therefore blinding him and enabling their escape.

After returning home, Sinbad again craved to sail the seas and experience the world.

On an exploration he met a tribe who infamously fed wanderers to fatten them up and drug them before eating them, sometimes without cooking them first.

Sinbad can see through the cannibals’ act and so refuses to eat, making him gaunt and very unappetising. They essentially forget about him and he is able to once more escape.

He finds civilisation and sets up business as a saddle maker, gaining the custom and respect of the King, who gives him a beautiful bride.

Sinbad and his wife live happily, until Sinbad learns a local custom; upon the death of one partner, the other will be buried with their betrothed’s corpse, the sentiment being that husband and wife should not be separated in life or in death.

When Sinbad’s wife dies, he is lowered into the tomb with her, accompanied by just a chunk of bread and a flask of water, protesting he is a foreigner and should therefore be exempt from this local custom.

He strolls around the tomb to find countless pairs of corpses. When new corpses and their living companions are lowered in, Sinbad brutally kills the living and eats their provisions.

Eventually he escapes and is collected by a ship of passing tradesmen.

As we the readers, and Sinbad the Porter, listen aghast and horrified at these confessions, Sinbad the Sailor insists he has even better stories to tell tomorrow.

I admit Sinbad’s stories are not in the least bit festive and in many ways are utterly horrifying. The last in particular was truly terrible, and is easily one of the most barbaric things I have ever read (barbaric but brilliant!).

But they are entirely engrossing and action-packed, as myths and stories from ancient lands are intended. Bards were required to spin a long and excellent yarn to keep households entertained and I was similarly completely enthralled, which made for a brilliant diversion.

The past month has been a bit of a weird one.

My social life has been in full swing in the build up to Christmas and I’ve been trying to keep busy. Life has gone a bit skewwhiff for me.

When I feel low, the things that I love often lose their gloss; I’ve been putting off writing, my knitting is collecting dust. Sometimes my nails haven’t even been painted ­– it got that bad.

You don’t need me to tell you that every story – including our own – has ups and downs. But as my Mum says, ‘this too shall pass’. Personal loss, health issues, heartbreak, work troubles, fallouts with friends, family feuds. Like in any story, they might stay with us forever, but the pain does lessen with time. I’m massively generalising and trivialising here but hopefully you get my sentiment – an emotion is most probably at its most concentrated at the time of an experience.

I think we can all agree that the world has seen a lot of tragedy in 2015. Too much tragedy. I’m hoping for a more peaceful year, a fresh start, although we all I know I loathe winter and as a general optimist am not myself in January and February – good luck to my housmates, Poppy and Daisy (if only my name was Lily).

Fortunately, reading never loses its appeal. In fact reading has been my saviour of late. The highlight has been The Penguin Lessons (ironically given to me by my lovely friend Claire – who chose this week’s Little Black Classic – after a group of us knitted scarves for a set of display penguins. I’m serious).

Due to Christmas festivities and some upset I am pretty knackered and very much looking forward to being back in my family home for a festive fortnight.

I couldn’t be more different to Sinbad, who was restless to leave his home and explore the world, encountering all manner of people and creatures and adventures.

I’ve been puzzling over how to celebrate Sinbad for a couple of weeks. Monsters are rare in London (if you discount commuters), exotic lands non-existent and alas my bank balance simply wouldn’t allow a voyage to foreign shores, sadly.

But then I did have Sinbad to transport me away from my humdrum life. So I decided I would celebrate by letting him do his thing while I did mine. I have decided to wave to Sinbad from afar, like a loyal friend holding their mate’s bag while they board the big roller coaster. Plus, I need a quiet night in. I have made the most of living in London these past couple of weeks – I’ve wined, dined, danced and sung to the max. The result is a tighter pair of jeans and scratchy throat. I need to hibernate for a good few days.

So I am writing this from this scene

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My glorious bed. My throne! My friend Lois kitted me out with writing materials for Christmas, including a fountain pen because, in her words, every writer needs a good pen. We agreed a desk would be ideal, somewhere I can sit and think properly, ideally with an awe inspiring view of undulating countryside, though it must be said I’m very fond of my view of Tower Hamlets.

So here I am, mulling over Sinbad the Sailor with a glass of mulled wine, looking forward to a decent night’s sleep; a contrast to Sinbad in that great cavernous tomb where he struggled to get any shuteye. I’m fantasising about returning home, much as Sinbad did after his own adventures, both exhausted and nostalgic. But I’m happy to stay in a similar state of relaxation for the next couple of weeks. I’m leaving the adventures to Sinbad.

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Thank you Claire for choosing Sinbad and taking me on your own adventures – penguins and spectacles (you’ll get the reference)!

And I would like to say a wider thank you to all of my nearest and dearest – for all of your support and kindness in all capacities, and for indulging me when I harp on about books and all manner of nonsense. I’m raising my mulled wine to you.

Next year (eek!) I will be blogging about Goblin Market.

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Wishing you a Merry Christmas and all good things in 2016. And I mean all of you – including YOU!

No. 50: Anthem for Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen

It has been entirely fortuitous that this Little Black Classic has fallen into step with Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day.

I asked my friend Becky to choose for me after we attended Alice’s Adventures Underground together back in July, which I mentioned when I blogged about Mozart’s My Dearest Father.

And so here I am, a poppy pinned to my lapel, and the Great War poet sitting before me.

For any readers who perhaps aren’t familiar with this poppy the British wear from early November, or what Remembrance Sunday or Armistice Day are, I will come to this shortly. But for now I would like to greet Wilfred Owen and give him the attention he duly deserves.

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As with most Brits, I became familiar with Wilfred Owen at school. We studied the World Wars in depth for GCSE History and travelled to the battlefields of France and Belgium to better understand the terrible warfare that those fields witnessed from 1914 to 1918.

Reading Owen this month transported me right back to the battlefields and the British, French and German graveyards that we visited on that Battlefields trip.

In contrast, I read this Little Black Classic on a train down to Plymouth where my Mum’s family are from – you might remember from The Voyage of Sir Francis Drake.

Passing through Devon’s idyllic valleys, surrounded by folding hills dotted with frothy sheep, and blanketed with Autumnal trees, I couldn’t have been more far removed from the horrors of war.

But Owen brought it right to my train carriage.

A soldier himself, Wilfred Owen poetry’s strips bear life in the trenches. Unlike other primary sources, his direct experience and elevated language makes for highly emotional reading.

The very first poem in this Little Black Classic, ‘1914,’ perfectly summarises the terrible darkness that the First World War cast over the world in its first stanza

“War broke: and now the Winter of the world / With perishing great darkness closes in. / The foul tornado, centred at Berlin, / Is over all the width of Europe whirled”

The second poem of this collection is arguably Owen’s most famous, and transports me right back to my History classroom. Once I could have probably dictated ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ entirely from memory.

It’s a completely evocative poem. It perfectly captures the horror, the grime and futility of life in the trenches. It’s packed with filth and fear.

I can’t highlight sections for you here, I just wouldn’t do it justice. The poem should be read in its entirety.

So here it is. If you’re going to read something, please skip the rest of my blog and just read this:

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It’s those closing, ironic words that are so haunting. “Dulce et decorum est / Pro patria mori,” meaning “It is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country.”

Similarly, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ draws a line under the terrible deaths of these young men who were mown down unceremoniously.

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In contrast, the poem called ‘From My Diary, July 1914’ depicts the opposite of gruesome warfare. Instead, Owen fantasises about the idyll and beauty of the natural world, like “Birds / Cheerily chirping in the early day” and “Stirs / Of leaflets in the gloom; soft petal-showers.”

This calm jars with the chaos of the other poems in this collection.

Owen paints all types of soldiers. In ‘S.I.W.’ He gives us a soldier who kills himself, unable to bear the trenches any more, and in doing so disgraces his proud father, while in ‘The Letter’ it’s a man writing home to his sweetheart, instructing his friend to finish the letter if he is killed in action.

‘Mental Cases’ shows us the impact of shell shock, today more commonly known as post-traumatic stress disorder, while ‘Disabled’ presents men of all ages left physically scarred and dismembered.

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I think perhaps the most poignant of lines for me is taken from ‘A Terre’:

“We used to say we’d hate to live dead-old, – / Yet now… I’d willingly be puffy, bald, / And patriotic.”

This really is a terrific collection of poetry. You don’t need to know anything about the First World War to read it; the collection simply gives some sense of life in the trenches and the devastation of war.

One hundred years might have passed but, in my opinion, these poem should be read and re-read to remind us.

During and after the First World War poppy flowers sprung up in the battlefields of Belgium and France, becoming an appropriate, blood-red symbol for the horror that took place.

And so, as led by the British Legion, many Brits wear a poppy on their lapels in early November to show that they are thinking of those that have given their lives in combat – both in the World Wars and in more recent conflicts.

All proceeds from poppy sales go toward financial and emotional support for members and veterans of the British Armed Forces.

This is not to say that every Brit wears one, and no one is expected to wear one. It is a matter of choice.

The second Sunday of the month is Remembrance Sunday where church services and parades are held across the country to remember the fallen.

Even in my home town, the smallest town in Kent, the local people gather on the high street to watch local organisations march up to our own war memorial.

On Remembrance Sunday this year I headed to the nation’s largest Remembrance ceremony at the national war memorial – the Cenotaph.

Every year the Royal Family, key members of Parliament and service men and women, along with the general public, line the streets to pay homage to those who have fought for our country and the commonwealth. The proceedings are televised.

This year, I grabbed my camera (and a much needed coffee) and made my way to join the throngs.

Upon exiting Westminster station, I saluted Big Ben and walked along Parliament Street to Whitehall, claiming my spot as near to the Cenotaph with some sort of a view.

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To be honest, it wasn’t much of a spot. I was about three people deep in the crowd, despite having got there an hour and a half early. I saw a fair amount of the proceedings through other people’s cameras. You can imagine how deep the crowd was behind me once events actually kicked off.

I was between Big Ben and the Cenotaph, the Royal Family and other dignitaries joining from the other side, down from the Mall and Trafalgar Square. If you want to see pictures of these figures laying their poppy wreaths at the foot of the Cenotaph click here.

I did, however, watch the various marching bands arrive and we saw the thousands of veterans march, to applause, along to Westminster Abbey after the proceedings. Both were utterly thrilling. Here are some pictures of the various bands.

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At the bottom of this blog, you will find my countless shots of the veterans.  There were thousands of them. It was amazing to watch them pass in all their uniforms, all shapes, sizes, nations.

Remembrance Sunday entails various songs and prayers but the main event is the two minute silence.

When Big Ben struck 11am (a wave of electricity still runs through me whenever I hear Big Ben chime – it’s one of my favourite sounds), cannons fired and silence answered.

I wasn’t sure what to expect on a London street, the pavements packed with onlookers.

But deafening silence reigned. No child spoke or cried. Cameras stopped clicking. All I could hear was the flapping of a plastic poncho, modelled by a lady ahead of me, and a bird singing. It struck me how unusual it was to hear a bird chorusing on a thriving London street.

The two minutes concluded with more cannon fire and the Last Post, which always manages to bring a tear to my eye.

I’m posting this on 11th November, Armistice Day, when the cannons of the First World War stopped firing at 11am in 1918 and the conflict ceased.

A two-minute silence is traditionally held at 11am on 11th November every year. Whether at school, or at work, much of the nation stops for two minutes to think and pay respects to our fallen.

Very poignantly, Owen died exactly one week before the signing of the Armistice on the 11th November 1918.

And so, this year, when my office stops for those two minutes, I will be thinking about Wilfred Owen and Dulce et Decorum Est.

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Thank you, Becky, for your brilliant choice of Little Black Classic. ‘Enjoyed it’ isn’t the phrase, but I did really appreciate these poems.

Next time I will be reading Sinbad the Sailor.

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As promised, here are just a few (no, I’m serious) of the veterans who marched along Whitehall.

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No. 72: Miss Brill, Katherine Mansfield

I have been enormously excited to read Miss Brill. My friend Claire selected it after we visited the Ladybird by Design exhibition back in August. Her choice of classic came with a glowing review.

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The book consists of three short stories: Marriage à la Mode, Miss Brill and The Stranger. Importantly, a woman stands at the core of all three stories – the thread that binds the three together.

Marriage à la Mode and The Stranger appear remarkably similar. Both magnify an amorous husband, hankering for his wife having spent time apart from her. Both wives, in contrast, are distracted and apathetic.

The wife in Marriage à la Mode seems to prefer the company of her extensive group of glamorous friends. In a particularly cruel moment, she reads a charming love letter from her loving husband aloud to her (in my opinion) pretentious friends, before the party laugh hysterically.

“… laughing, sneering, jeering, stretching out their hands while she read them William’s letter.”

She immediately realises the error of her ways and decides to write her husband a love letter in return. She is soon distracted by her clamouring friends and promises herself she will write to him later, the implication being that she is preoccupied with her friends and doesn’t.

In The Stranger, a husband is reunited with his wife after she has returned from what seems to be a cruise, where she befriended everyone from the passengers to the captain himself.

The introductory quote summarises the wife perfectly – distracted and brief.

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The wife reveals to her husband that a man, who suffered from a heart condition, died in her arms when the two were alone together on board the ship. She makes it clear their relationship was perfectly innocent, she was simply there when it happened.

But alas, for her husband, she had

“Spoilt their evening! Spoilt their being alone together! They would never be alone together again!”

They were both great short stories – easy to whip through and I loved their fractured endings.

Miss Brill, however, was the star attraction. My friend Claire had first read Katherine Mansfield in school and fell in love with her short story The Doll’s House.

Having never encountered Mansfield before, I settled down on a train earlier this month to tuck in.

Miss Brill is an English Teacher living in France and we follow her on her usual Sunday routine.

The opening line immediately drew me in

“Although it was so brilliantly fine – the blue sky powdered with gold and great spots of light like wine splashed over the Jardins Publiques – Miss Brill was glad that she had decided on her fur.”

This fur is integral to the story. It takes on a life of its own, later mirroring Miss Brill herself

“Little rogue biting its tale just by her left ear. She could have taken it off and laid it on her lap and stroked it.”

And so swathed in her beloved fur, Miss Brill heads for her traditional constitutional around the public gardens, enjoying the live band who sounded “louder and gayer” that day.

She observes every minute detail of the band – the conductor’s new coat, a new musical phrase – along with all the parties that emanate out from the band, before perching on a bench where she can better people-watch.

“She had become really quite expert, she thought, at listening as though she didn’t listen, at sitting in other people’s lives for just a minute while they talked around her.”

I could entirely relate to this. I relish people-watching, whether sitting at a pavement cafe with a cappuccino on holiday in Venice, or leaning by a fountain with a dodgy latte in Trafalgar Square, just down the road from my office.

Miss Brill watches children play, the band trumpet, lovers meet. She nostalgically recalls regularly reading a newspaper to an old man who would doze in the public gardens.

“How she loved sitting here, watching it all! It was like a play. It was exactly like a play.”

A pair of young lovers enter stage left. The hero and heroine, as Miss Brill names them, approach the bench.

Sitting alongside Miss Brill, the young girl is evidently hesitant to kiss her hero. The boy queries her hesitation.

“Because of that stupid old thing at the end there? … Why does she come here at all – who wants her? Why doesn’t she keep her silly old mug at home?”

The girl giggles, “It’s her fu-fur which is so funny … It’s exactly like a fried whiting.”

Her usual routine includes calling in at a local bakery en route home to purchase a slice of honey cake, sometimes with a crowning almond, and putting the kettle on for an accompanying cup of tea.

Alas, on this occasion, Miss Brill passes the bakery by, heading straight home.

She arrives back at her “little dark room” where she sits for a long time. She removes her fur, not bearing to meet it’s eye, and places it back in its box.

The story’s closing words are

“But when she put the lid on she thought she heard something crying.”

Poor Miss Brill! My heart broke for her. I resented those young people and their vicious words wounding an innocent, isolating her even more in “her room like a cupboard.”

The closing image of the fur, her familiar, on some level grieving for her is just brilliant. You can picture the entire scene, Miss Brill here performing her own play for us.

Having finished the book, I decided to honour Miss Brill by donning my own fur coat and taking a stroll around a public park.

Please rest assured that my fur is very much a fake (£80 from Zara, Autumn 2014). Depending on what I wear it with, the coat can make me feel fabulously glamorous, like Elizabeth Taylor, as I clip-clop around London, or a bit like I’ve stepped out of an old dusty wardrobe, like Narnia’s Mr Tumnus.

I thought about Miss Brill and, having been written in the 1920s, assumed that she wouldn’t leave home without a hat and gloves. I therefore chose a suitable set and left my flat.

I was to meet my lovely friend Lois for a stroll but alas she had a rather heavy night on the town the night before and overslept. We were booked in for an exhibition at 11am, and she was running half an hour behind schedule.

Rather than taking in the sights of Hyde Park, where I could picture Miss Brill strolling of a weekend, I found a nearby public garden that I decided would do just as nicely. We’re very lucky to have so many public gardens in London.

And so, rather appropriately, I sat on a bench wrapped in my fur and people-watched on a lovely Autumnal morning. I saw young couples walking dogs, children whizz by on scooters, women in joggers carrying eggs and sliced bread for their breakfast and an elderly man with a walking stick stretch his legs.

Lois texted me “are you wearing your fur?” having spotted me from the opposite side of the park (I’m hard to miss in that fur). She collected me from my bench and we were on our way.

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It made for a delightful morning, particularly as, lucky for me, there were no cruel words. If only Miss Brill had experienced the same.

Thank you Miss Brill Claire for choosing this Little Black Classic. You’re right to love Mansfield and thank you for introducing her to me!

Next time I will be reading Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth.

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No. 39: The Old Nurse’s Story, Elizabeth Gaskell

This is my tenth Little Black Classic on the blog, hurrah!

Things we’ve learnt thus far:

  1. I don’t necessarily enjoy fiction. Take Mayhew and Hakluyt.
  2. Mrs Beaton might have provided inspiration to this years Great British Bake Off, but her chicken pie is truly heinous.
  3. I enjoy a drink in the blog. See Hafez, see Hebel, see Kenko.
  4. Hardy’s marriage was genuinely sad.
  5. Mozart swore. Which was surprising.

I regarded the tenth Classic as a landmark, so I asked my marvellous Mum to choose it. A huge fan of the BBC’s adaptation of North and South, she picked Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story.

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I know North and South well, having studied it at school alongside Dickens’ Hard Times. They were hard times indeed. Believe it or not, North and South offered genuinely light relief.

At university, North and South formed part of my dissertation, which looked at the birth of the publishing industry in Victorian England.

‘What a hoot!’ I can hear you say ‘Do tell us more! We are fascinated by the serialisation of novels and the first commuter market that required affordable, decent fiction for railway travellers.’

Perhaps another time, dear friend, for now we should turn to the Classic itself.

This particular Little Black Classic comprises two short stories. I’ve chosen to focus on the first, which the Classic takes it’s name from. But the second, called Curious, if True, makes for very entertaining reading – it depicts a gathering of fairytale character at a dinner table. What’s not to like?!

The Old Nurse’s Story doesn’t star such nostalgic characters.

As the title implies, the story is told by an Old Nurse, who fits more of a governess role. For those of you who don’t know, a governess was very common in Victorian Britain. She was usually a young woman, employed by a relatively monied family, and her role was that of a nanny and educator – she was teacher, nurse and friend. Perhaps like a modern day au pair.

Hester, the old nurse, takes us back to her seventeenth year when she cared for a little girl called Rosamund. When Rosamund is sadly orphaned, she and Hester move into Furnivall Manor House, Northumberland, occupied by distant relatives of Rosamund’s.

Isolated on wild moorland, an entire wing closed off from residents, the Manor is pretty damn creepy from the get go.

Upon entry to the house the two newcomers find a hall “so large, and vast, and grand” with a chandelier and organ, and countless imposing portraits.

Hester and Rosamund encounter a motley crew of residents. James and Dorothy, a husband and wife, both fill housekeeper-type roles; Agnes is their maid; Miss Furnivall is the elderly lady of the house; and Mrs Stark her companion.

The whole feel is unsettling. Dorothy and James are welcoming, but Miss Furnivall and Miss Stark are chillingly aloof, particularly the lady of the house who “looked so cold, and grey, and stony, as if she had never loved or cared for anyone.”

As winter sets in, Hester becomes aware of the old organ playing, usually soon after tucking Rosamund in for the night. “I used to hear it booming and swelling away in the distance.” Assuming it’s Miss Furnivall practicing her playing, she asks Dorothy and James about its provenance. Both refuse to speak about it, seeming shaken that she should ask.

Agnes then reveals

“she had heard it many a time but most of all on winter nights, and before storms; and folks did say it was the old lord playing on the great organ in the hall, just as he used to when he was alive; but who the old lord was, or why he played on stormy winter evenings in particular, she either could not or would not tell me.”

To add to the mystery, Hester goes to investigate the eerie organ and finds it smashed up inside. Understandably, “my flesh began to creep a little.”

On one snowy day, when Hester returns from church, she cannot find her dear Rosamund anywhere in the great house. Everyone searches for the child, even Mrs Furnivall “trembling all over,” but to no avail.

Hester runs out into the snowy moors desperately, bumping into a lowly shepherd who holds the near dead child in his arms.

When she is revived, the child reveals she watched the snow falling out the window when she saw a pretty little girl who beckoned to Rosamund. The little girl led Rosamund to a set of holly trees where a lady sat, weeping. Upon seeing the two little girls, she “smiled very proud and grand, and took me on her knee, and began to lull her to sleep.”

As Hester points out, however, there was just one set of a child’s footprints in the snow.

Cue morbid organ music.

Hester relays Rosamund’s tale to Mrs Furnivall, and the old woman shrieks “keep her from that child! It will lure her to her death! That evil child! Tell her it is a wicked, naughty child.”

The plot thickens when, one day, Hester and Rosamund are playing and the little mysterious girl appears outside

“dressed all unfit to be out-of-doors such a bitter night – crying, and beating against the window-panes, as if she wanted to be let in. She seemed to sob and wail … when, all of a sudden, and close upon us, the great organ pealed out so loud and thundering.”

Hester does all she can to protect Rosamund, physically pinning her to the floor to avoid her running out to the ghostly child.

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***SPOILER ALERT*** Ignore this section if you want to read for yourself!

After this event, Hester forces Dorothy to speak.

Dorothy reveals that Miss Furnivall had a sister, called Maude. Both sisters fell in love with their father’s musician, and he courted each in turn while their father practiced his beloved organ.

The musician married Maude in secret, and the two had a baby girl, whose identity was kept from the old lord. When Miss Furnivall learned of her sister’s disgrace, however, she told her father, who banished both Maude and her child from the house, sending them out in to the thick snow.

One November evening, when snow is falling thickly, Hester and the other residents can hear ghostly voices and the cold wind screaming outside. The door to the locked east wing bursts open, and four ghostly apparitions appear – the old lord, a younger Miss Furnivall, Miss Maude and her little girl, aka Miss Rosamund’s freaky friend.

In a strange occurrence, the scene of banishment is played out for the living – the ghosts frozen in time before the disgraced mother and daughter go to meet their snowy doom. The old Miss Furnivall begs the ghost of her father to save them from their fates. The short story closes with Miss Furnivall warning us

“What is done in youth can never be undone in old age!”

***SAFE TO LOOK***

This story was an absolute corker. I couldn’t put it down.

This Gothic tale seemed a real digression from Gaskell’s usual social commentaries, which tend to explore themes of class, family and the impact of industrialisation.

The Old Nurse’s Story really made me think of Jane Eyre, my absolute favourite book. A young woman is charged with caring and educating a little girl in a large, eerie, isolated house. The young woman also senses another living force in the house. I won’t reveal what that force in Jane Eyre is, for anyone that haven’t read it (but seriously, where have you been? Go and read it!).

Gaskell and Brontë were in fact friends, and Gaskell wrote Brontë’s biography, so it’s entirely plausible that Jane Eyre was a source of inspiration.

Having put the book down, I set upon visiting a grand haunted house like Furnivall Manor House. In a dark, damp, cobwebbed corner of my brain I recalled Ham House in Richmond is haunted.

I checked online, and sure enough there are accounts of the supernatural – an old woman scratching at a bedroom wall, inexplicable footsteps, the strange smell of tobacco and the ghostly apparition of a cocker spaniel.

Delighted at this find, I grabbed my camera and Tim (I was too terrified to go it alone).

We set out on a truly beautiful Autumnal Sunday, disembarked at Richmond and walked along the Thames to reach Ham House. With sunshine overheard, we passed cows, geese, rowers and dog-walkers. It was truly idyllic, and not in the slightest bit creepy.

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When approaching the house itself, however, it did begin to feel a little ominous. It is certainly grand, but doesn’t exude any real warmth unlike other stately homes. It’s literally dark in colour, and eerie busts stare down at you as you approach the house.

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I thought that the description of Furnivall Manor House is actually very similar to Ham House.

“Only in front of the house was all clear. The great oval drive was without a weed; and neither tree nor creeper was allowed to grow over the long many-windowed front.”

Upon arrival in the house, you find yourself in a large, light entrance hall, with portraits glaring down from the walls at us intruders, again like in Furnivall Manor House. From here we were directed through to the chapel and grand staircase, both rumoured to be haunted.

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In the case of the chapel, there are accounts of the ghost of the Duchess Elizabeth of Lauderdale, who died in Ham House, crying as she looks over a dead body, understood to be that of her husband, while a man stands behind her with his hand on her shoulder.

*Shudder.

The chapel was indeed a bit creepy – the photo below doesn’t do it justice. But then what low-lit chapel is not creepy?

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The staircase, on the other hand, was most definitely eerie. Decked in dark wooden panelling and floorboards that creak and crack, grand paintings are fixed to the walls and a chandelier swings overhead.

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At one point, Tim fell deathly silent and turned very pale. I asked him what was wrong. He said he could hear a ticking, despite there not being a clock in presence. Then, we both heard a clock chime before a lowly gust passed the both of us, like something had walked between us.

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*Jokes.

We literally didn’t experience anything.

But I could entirely imagine the great organ from The Old Nurse’s Story being placed here, playing inexplicably in the depth of winter. I could even envisage the ghostly apparitions confronting the living in the space at the foot of the stairs, and the roguish musician courting both sisters in the beautiful grounds.

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It makes for a perfect Halloween’s story and, those of you interested in haunted houses, Ham House does offer a Halloween ghost tour in search of the supernatural.

Thank you, Mum, for picking The Old Nurse’s Story – it was excellent! Perhaps you might like to borrow it?

That makes ten Little Black Classics read, 70 to go. Hurrah!

Next week I will be blogging about Katherine Mansfield’s Miss Brill.

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No. 25: Circles of Hell, Dante

Good news – I’m alive and well! Feeling very conscious and rather guilty that I haven’t blogged in while, which will be explained in due course.

I said as much to one friend, who in turn said I shouldn’t feel guilty – writing should be fun after all. This was excellent advice (she’s wise beyond her years) but I’ve still been really keen to get this blog posted.

So here I am, at last. In actual fact, I read Dante’s Circles of Hell a few weekends ago, when summer was on the brink of falling. It was a hot, sticky day – a perfect reflection of the fiery flames of hell.

I’d not read any Dante before. Our paths crossed here and there at uni but never long enough to form a real bond.

My future brother-in-law (now, that is fun to say!) chose this Little Black Classic and I’ve been so excited to read it. I’m a bit of a Classical nerd, something I’m sure I will discuss when reading more specifically classical texts. Dante draws on so many ancient poems and myths, so I was enormously excited to read it.

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Circles of Hell is taken from Dante’s epic poem Inferno, which is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso, altogether forming his Divine Comedy.

As the three books imply, this was not going to make for jolly reading, which, it must be said, I was rather looking forward to. I relish a misery read.

Dante was a thirteenth-centry Italian poet and was inspired by the Greek poet Homer, who wrote The Iliad and The Odyssey, and Virgil, the Roman poet who wrote The Virgil.

In the Circles of Hell, the poet transforms himself into a character, who in turn is led through the circles of hell with Virgil as his personal tour guide. Please keep all arms and legs inside the moving vehicle at all times etc.

In the first canto of this Classic, called Gates of Hell, Virgil explains to us that those who are sent to the circles of hell “were void alike of honour and ill fame.”

Each circle behind these gates are intended for a particular type of sinner, with each specific fate designed to reflect that sin. Specifically, Virgil leads Dante and readers to pass through the circles of the lustful, the gluttonous, the wrathful, thieves and traitors, to name but a few.

As they are incredibly detailed and at times a little ambiguous, I thought perhaps I would touch on some stand out moments in Circles of Hell.

In the second circle, intended for the lustful, Dante sees some favourite faces from Classical myth – Helen, Paris, Achilles, Dido, Cleopatra to name a few.

One of the damned tells Dante

“There is no sorrow greater / than, in times of misery, to hold at heart / the memory of happiness.”

I really lingered over this. I think this is wonderfully melancholic and very perceptive. There are instances when life seems truly blue and happy memories cannot comfort but rather do the reverse. We all enjoy a good miserable wallow on occasion.

In the third circle, for the gluttonous, we meet Cerberus, another popular mythical creature:

“Cerberus, weird and monstrously cruel, / barks from his triple throats in cur-like yowls / over the heads of those who lie their drowned. / His eyes vermilion, beard a greasy black, / his belly broad, his fingers all sharp-nailed, / he mauls and skins, then hacks in four, these souls.”

Three-headed Cerberus makes Fluffy from Harry Potter look like Lassie.

But Cerberus isn’t the only creature to reside in the underworld. There are harpies, which are

“human from neck to brow, / talons for feet, plumage around their paunches, / they sing from these uncanny trees their songs of woe.”

*Shudder*. These are not the woodland creatures that I know and love. Take this charming stag that, this past weekend, I had the pleasure of meeting. He settled not two metres from our picnic for a lethargic break, like a loyal dog.

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‘So what’s the appeal of visiting Hell?’ I hear you ask. ‘Why would Dante be crazy enough to want to visit these monsters?’

Well, friends, he does encounter Cerberus and co., but Dante has the luxury of making a passing visit. Like us, the reader, and unlike the pour souls who now reside in fiery inferno for all eternity, he can leave.

Plus, he also has the opportunity of talking to the eternally damned, which is pretty cool.

For example, in the circle for thieves, one chap says:

“It pisses me right off … / far more than being ripped away from life, that you have got to see me in this misery.”

I could go on and on. Blood, tears, snakes, monsters, misery, shame, horror, slime, slobber, violence. The Circles of Hell has it all.

But Dante, in turn led by Virgil, leads us away and back in to the light.

The closing words of this Little Black Classic are my favourites, possibly of any of the Classics I have read thus far.

“Now we came out, and once more saw the stars.”

And thus, on the UK’s August Bank Holiday Monday, I set out for the iconic National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, one of my favourite places to London. It’s the beating heart of the city, with the Mall, Westminster, Soho, Piccadilly etc. branching off it like pulsing veins.

In contrast to the sunny day in which I read Circles of Hell, the bank holiday was dreary and wet. It poured and it poured. Constantly. A subtle indication that Autumn had arrived.

And so, like a true Brit, I headed out in to the rain with a sniffle and eternal optimism in tow… “It looks like it’s trying to brighten up.”

It did at least allow for this photo, in which I channelled my inner Gene Kelly. I had ‘Singing in the Rain’ stuck in my head for the rest of the day, much to the dismay of everyone around me.

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The Gallery is spectacular to explore. Like yours truly, you don’t need to know anything about art, you can just stroll leisurely before heading for a reviving cup of tea in the cafe.

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It seemed appropriate to head out in search of art. My sister, who you hopefully remember from The Beautifull Cassandra, studied Art History at uni.

Mum says that with my sister’s art knowledge and my love of books, new worlds have been opened up to her, which is a lovely thought. It certainly does mean that I’ve been lucky to see a lot of art in recent years with my sister, who can point out things I wouldn’t ordinarily notice in a painting and explain it so eloquently that even I, a total simpleton, can understand.

With her and my future brother-in-law (!) in mind, I wondered the halls of the Gallery, passing all of its treasures.

Here I found Bartolomé Bermejo’s Saint Michael Triumphs Over the Devil, and turned into one of those irritating people who look at life through a camera lens, rather than just enjoying the exhibit for what it is.

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It must be said, Saint Michael looks pretty calm for someone about to plunge a sword through a monster. Heavenly, ethereal, angelic – or a bit lifeless? I was instead drawn to the the Devil, a bat-like creature that leers and laughs at St Michael and visitors of the National Gallery.

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Prior to visiting the Gallery, I had earmarked two other paintings that I wanted to visit with Dante in mind. Which is where I come to the delay in this blog post…

Alas the National Gallery has been undergoing ongoing and indefinite room closures in retaliation to the threat of privatisation of public services. In a nutshell, an outside firm has been tasked with managing hundreds of Gallery employees, and there is a threat that employees who don’t transfer may lose their jobs.

Many staff have worked at the Gallery for decades, and so it’s a pretty huge deal to possibly have their jobs sold off.

Due to this, I checked the Gallery’s website every day for a week for more information, hoping the two rooms I needed would be opened to the public. I work on the Strand, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square and the Gallery. (Yes, I am very very lucky. No that’s not sarcasm, I truly am lucky!)

I eventually emailed the Gallery, explaining that I wanted to publish my blog pronto and was waiting on these paintings being revealed to the public.

Within 24 hours I had a reply, and one of the wardens (who has worked at the Gallery for some 12 years) very kindly unlocked the two rooms that I needed so that I could take some photos.

I was taken behind the scenes of the gallery, through motionless, echoing hallways and giant locked doors, masterpieces looking down at me from their painted walls.

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Here I was finally able to see Luca Giordano’s Mythological Scene with the Rape of Proserpina, which features our three-headed friend Cerberus.

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Needless to say my pictures don’t do the artworks any justice. But, if I’m honest, Cerberus here seemed a little pathetic compared to Dante’s depiction. This guy with the staff looks like he’s throwing the monster a treat.

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It was an epic painting – huge. But I was rather underwhelmed by Cerberus.

We then headed for David Teniers the Younger’s The Rich Man Being Led to Hell, a much smaller painting in contrast to the previous but I found it far more compelling.

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It’s hard to take your eyes off the struggle between the fat, well-dressed rich man and the smirking devil. But if you look around them, there are strange wide-eyed toads and and lizards, who along with a band seem to be goading them along into hell’s fire.

I found it difficult to leave – it was like the devil was drawing me into his lair.

Eventually I did leave and, like Dante, was pleased to once more see the stars.

Thank you to my brother-in-law-to-be Matt for choosing this Classic! Matt, please speak to Katy for far more educated artistic thoughts.

Next time I will be reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Old Nurse’s Story.

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No. 51: My Dearest Father, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

My Dearest Father is a touching collection of letters between Mozart and his father, Leopold, penned while Mozart travelled around the continent with his mother.

The father and son touch upon music, with Mozart describing the sounds various pianos and organs produce in the Little Black Classics’s very first epistle. But the exchange is largely of a more personal nature.

The letters begin with what seems like a careless, self-absorbed young man and an over-protective, rather interfering father.

Wolfgang was 21–22 years old at the time of writing these letters. His personality is abundant in the first letter – he speaks gleefully about music, offers brutal opinions and isn’t afraid to swear.

Take, for example, a lyric he composed in relation to a new acquaintance in the first letter:

“O you prick, lick my arse.”

(Sorry, Grandma! It was Mozart, not me, remember!)

Along with sharing so much, their address to one another makes it clear that the two have a great respect and love for one another; Mozart begins his letters with “Mon très cher Père” and Leopold opening with “Mon très cher Fils.”

‘My dearest Father / Son’ for those of you that, like me, are not natural Francophiles.

(Apologies if that was enormously patronising. I genuinely am appalling at French. Ask anyone who knows me).

Tensions do simmer, however. It soon becomes apparent that Mozart’s handle on money is not a strength of his and causes his father much concern.

His father appears to micro-manage Mozart and his budgeting, querying precisely what his outgoings have consisted of.

Mozart clearly inherits his honesty (see earlier insult) from his Father, who in one letter remarks “your long and unnecessary stay has ruined everything.” Seems a bit harsh.

In all honesty, I found Mozart’s father rather irritating. He’s what my Mum would define as a ‘helicopter parent,’ hovering over his child constantly and imparting his unwanted opinion.

He obsesses over Mozart’s handling of money and interferes:

“In your 2nd letter from Mannheim you should at least have said that the journey cost us such and such an amount and we’re now left with – –, so that I could have made arrangements in good time.”

It’s like a stream of consciousness. Why can’t he simply let Mozart realise that if the money runs out, it’s his responsibility to earn more?

I was even more bemused to realise Mozart’s Mother is travelling with him. Leopold says:

“Your dear good Mama told me she’d keep a careful note of your expenses. Good!”

So why can’t Leopold trust his wife to keep a watchful eye on her son and his wallet?

He even passes comment over Mozart’s friends, warning that some might want to keep company with him for his money alone.

Mozart, in comparison, is remarkably patient, defending himself and taking full responsibility:

“We are not incurring any expenses that are not necessary; and what is necessary when travelling you know as well as we do, if not better. That we stayed so long in Munich was the fault of no one but myself.”

Mozart comes across very well in these letters. He’s patient, funny, excited and, as said previously, evidently respects his father hugely.

I grew tired of Leopold’s nagging, which occupies the majority of the letters.

But the subject and tone took a turn for the worse and I soon warmed to the synonymously worried parent.

In the third to last letter, Mozart writes:

“I have some very disagreeable and sad news for you, which is also the reason why I have been unable until now to reply… My dear mother is very ill… she’s very weak and is still feverish and delirious”

He talks at length about this, before he writes of music – symphonies he’s written, orchestras he’s conducted and song lyrics. It’s clear he’s trying to distract himself and his Father from an impending loss, signing off

“I kiss your hands 1000 times and embrace my sister with all my heart. I am your most obedient son”

Alas, six days after writing this, Mozart writes once more:

“my mother passed away peacefully; – when I wrote to you, she was already enjoying the delights of heaven.”

This is the first Little Black Classics I’ve read with real, human experience. Hafez and Kenko offered snapshots of their own, but these letters sew together two people’s shared experience.

Mozart was real and his Mother genuinely passed away soon before he started writing to his Father, warning her she was unwell.

The letters are genuinely heartbreaking – if you’re in need of a therapeutic cry, I recommend.

What is lovely, is the ever evolving relationship that floods and ebbs between them, almost like the season’s Kenko described in A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees.

Having begun with an eye-rolling attitude toward Leopold Mozart, I read his final letter, which concludes this collection, with my hand over my mouth in sympathy for him.

On this occasion he addresses his letter to “My Dear Wife and Son”.

“This morning, the 13th, shortly before 10 o’clock, I received your distressing letter of 3rd July. You can well imagine how we are both feeling. We wept so much that we could scarcely read your letter.”

He second guesses his wife’s behaviour during her illness, knowing her so well:

“I expect she ate some meat. She waited too long to be bled. Knowing her very well, I remember that she likes to put things off, especially in a foreign place, where shed’s first have to enquire after a surgeon.”

His Father heartbreakingly second-guesses, however, that his wife is no longer alive: “I now know that my dear wife is in heaven.”

Write and tell me all the details… Write to me soon – tell my everything – when she was buried – and where… Your honest and utterly distraught father”

I really struggled to know how to celebrate this Classic. I didn’t much feel like celebrating, more mourning for Mozart and his family.

The only appropriate course of action seemed to be writing to my own dear father and nearest and dearest.

On a selfish note, but with Mozart’s thrifty Father in mind, I am broke. And I mean cheese-and-pasta-for-dinner broke.

No spontaneous tickets purchased for the proms to listen to Mozart’s symphonies in all their glory for me, I’m afraid.

There is no need to feel sorry for me. My money has been spent on literary fun that I absolutely do not regret, so there was plenty to write home about.

Plus I need as much writing practice as I can get – blog, postcard, tweet, post-it note. I’m fortunate enough to work with books daily, but I work with others’ words rather than my own. Any writing is excellent practice.

My parents are currently slurping on mojitos in Havana, before heading to a favoured hotel on the Cuban coast. So it seemed that writing to my Dad, Our Man in Havana as he has affectionately been dubbed, along with a few other loved ones, was an excellent notion – he would have post to greet him on his return.

I made a much needed, restorative cup of tea, unpacked my drawers of delicious stationery (I’m a sucker for any stationery from Waterstone’s or Stanfords – take note) and set to.

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I’ve had a very jolly time of late and, as said previously, literature has featured a lot. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will be only too aware of this i.e. those of you who are sick to death of ‘book’ and ‘bookblog’ hashtags. Sincere apologies, chums.

A friend and I visited the House of Illustration in Granary Square, King’s Cross, for the Ladybird by Design exhibition.

A wealth of childhood memories flooded back, as they would have had for my parents and Grandma, I’m sure. There were so many beautiful artworks and fascinating exhibits showing the idyllic illustrations, like a peephole into utopia.

I particularly remember the Ladybird fairytale books from my childhood and specifically The Big Pancake, which is infamous in my family.

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My sister loved the story and asked for it repeatedly to be ready to her. Both Mum and Dad read to us a lot when we were little, and Dad was so fed up with The Big Pancake that he hid it from my sister. It provided a few weeks of respite.

I, on the other hand, had a ladybird pram when I was tiny. On one occasion, Mum said it was story time and I ran off to choose a book. I was gone a good few minutes, and Mum began to wonder what I was up to, before hearing the tinkling of the pram’s bell.

I appeared, my beloved ladybird pram tacked to the brim with books. A bibliophile from a very young age!

Another friend and I visited Alice’s Adventures Underground, last week. The immersive theatre experience, celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland, sorts spectators into suits and takes them through Alice’s adventures in disjointed order.

I, for example, chose ‘drink me’ (naturally), talked to Alice through the looking glass, ate one of the Queen of Hearts jam tarts, visited the Caterpillar’s smoke filled den, joined the revolution against the tyrannical Queen, had a delicious cocktail at the Hatter’s tea party, danced with a walrus and played flamingo croquet. Curiouser and curiouser.

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It was enormous fun – if you’re London based I highly recommend – and gave me lots of inspiration for an Alice-themed tea party I’m holding next week. Watch my Instagram and Twitter to see how it goes!

So there really was lots to write home about. I chose some appropriate Ladybird postcards for the occasion and a Robin card for Dad.

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As a sidenote, I typed this blog up listening to Mozart, a digression from my usual playlist, and it wasn’t at all unpleasant. In fact, I often found myself typing furiously in time with the orchestra.

Perhaps I’ve found my new medicine for lifting writer’s block. Thank you Mozart!

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And also a big thank you to my housemate (who moved out a week ago today!) Alice who chose this Little Black Classic on Father’s Day. I hope you and Greg have a space in the new flat ready for a bookshelf!

Next I shall be blogging about Dante’s Circles of Hell.

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