I suppose it’s my own fault for being naive. I meant to launch this blog with a review of the book officially first in my new reading list; which is to say, after sliding inexorably backwards in literary history since first conceiving this project, I finally managed to make myself draw a line in the sand at one particular work. Unfortunately, the work in question required an interlibrary. Oh, well, I thought, I’ll place it and fill in the time with some non-fiction; how long could it take, anyway?
Well, I’ll say this: it’s not *the* slowest interlibrary loan in history; I suffered that earlier in the year, working on a different project (three and a half months to get from one side of the city to the other); but it’s starting to push for the title… So here I sit, twiddling my thumbs while my blog template shakes its head sadly and gives me reproachful glances.
So— More non-fiction!
I don’t mean to say much about Ros Ballaster’s Seductive Forms: Women’s Amatory Fiction From 1684 To 1740, because I will likely be dealing with its main subject matter – the fiction of Aphra Behn, Delariviere Manley and Eliza Haywood – in context at a later date. I will say, though, that in its willingness to take the writing of these well-meaning ladies on its own terms and examination the political and social context of its creation, it provided a welcome counterbalance to the dismissive attitude of John Richetti’s Popular Fiction Before Richardson. Ballaster traces the various influences that shaped Aphra Behn’s fiction in particular, before showing how she in turn influenced other writers including Manley and Haywood. From the point of view of my own limited knowledge, perhaps the most interesting, if rather depressing, aspect of the book was the discovery that the most purely amatory writing of the three, that of Eliza Haywood, is ultimately also the most joyless, painting love and passion as inevitably destructive for the female sex. Ballaster also goes on to show how, under the increasing and ever-more restrictive demands of respectability, these three vital female writers were, over time, ruthlessly pruned out of the publicly acknowledged version of the novel’s family tree.
I was a little out of my depth with Life In The Georgian City, by art and architecture historian and BBC documentarian / presenter Dan Cruickshank and his collaborator, Neil Burton. Much of the hardcore architectural detail passed me by, I’m afraid; but on the other hand, the sections of the book dealing with daily life for the inhabitants of London during the 18th century were fascinating. Despite its broad title, the book does focus almost exclusively upon life in London purely, as Cruickshank admits, because of the comparative wealth of information that can be drawn upon. This study examines practicalities like house design and decoration and room arrangements; the evolution of house fittings such as lights, ovens, water and fuel sources, and (oh, admit it, you really do want to know!) sanitary arrangements; at how people of all sorts occupied houses of all sorts, and went about their daily lives; and at the rise of the garden. The book concludes with various case studies of specific elements of Georgian-built houses still standing in London (one of which, I gather, is Dan Cruickshank’s own). The text is well-supported by numerous photographs and reproductions of sketches and paintings.
More Dan Cruickshank. The Royal Hospital Chelsea: The Place And The People is an account of the famous military pension-house established by Charles II (at the prompting of Nell Gwynne, or so legend has it) partly as a refuge for those injured or disabled through militaty service, and partly as a barracks to serve as a standing warning to various disgruntled factions. The book is a deft sketch of the Hospital’s chequered history of threatened closures, political manoeuvring and financial chicanery, and a celebration of its survival into the 21st century. Cruickshank’s account has something for almost every interest, as it glances at the royal, architectural, military and political influences that shaped the Hospital – including the outright corruption of many given the task of running it. (Fun [?] fact: the famous Ranelagh pleasure gardens were built illegally on profits siphoned off from the Hospital.) The book is almost overflowing with sketches, paintings and photographs. An engaging read.
Currently reading: Factual Fictions: The Origins Of The English Novel by Lennard J. Davis. (Or to put it another way, no, my interlibrary loan still hasn’t arrived. Sigh…)