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Pete Bettess - Literature
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Literature

I like literature. I like poetry, especially nineteenth and twentieth century poetry. Some of my favourites are Shakespeare's sonnets, although I do not know them all, Thomas Gray's Elegy written in a Country Churchyard. This is crammed with well known lines, for example:

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.

and of course the line which is used by Thomas Hardy as the title for his novel:Far from the madding crowd.
Other favourites: Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I have the recent recording of this, read by Sir Ian McKellen and issued by the Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere. I find the recording very good.

In the Lake District we are very lucky to have Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Trust near at hand.
 


I like the Jane Austen novels, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, and of course Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. I like Kingsley Amis's novel: Lucky Jim, Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall and Scoop.

I have read Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu (Rembrance of Things Past), in English. It was quite a struggle, but I think that I got something out of it.

Anthony Powell

I like Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time and I have read it several times. I have recently amused myself by attempting to jot down some of the references to art in this novel sequence.

I love the section quoted below from The Acceptance World, Spring, page 678:

"Guggenbühl made a hissing sound with his lips expressing considerable contempt.

'Moscow Art Theatre is just to tolerate,' he said 'but what of biomechanics of Trummner-kunst has it? Then Shakespeare's Ein Sommernachtstraum or Toller's Masse-Mensch will you take? The modern ethico-social play I think you do not like. Hauptmann, Kaiser, plays to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, yes. The new corporate life. The socially conscious form. Drama as highest of arts we Germans know. No mere entertainment, please. Lebenstimmung it is. But it is workers untouched by middle class that will make spontaneous. Of Moscow Art Theatre you speak. So there was founded at Revolution both Theatre and Art Soviet, millions, billions of roubles set aside by Moscow Soviet of Soldier Deputies. Hundreds, thousands of persons. Actors, singers, clowns, dancers, musicians, craftsmen, designers, mechanics, electricians, scene-shifters, all kinds of manual workers, all trained, yes, and supplying themselves to make. Two years to have one perfect single production – if needed so, three, four, five, ten years. At other time, fifty plays on fifty successive nights. It is not be getting money, no.'

His cold, hard voice, offering instruction, stopped abruptly.

‘Any ventriloquists?' Umfraville asked. "

A section of the book which I find very affecting is as follows:

Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time , Autumn, page 37.

Later, from the pulpit, Popkiss, transformed now from the pale, embarrassed cleric of the saloon bar, orated with the ease and energy shared by officers and men throughout the Battalion. His text was from Ezekiel. Popkiss read the passage at length:

‘The hand of the Lord was upon me and carried me out in the spirit of the Lord, and set me down in the midst of the valley which was full of bones, and caused me to pass them round about: and, behold, there were very many in the open valley: and, lo, they were very dry. And he said unto me, Son of man, can these bones live? And I answered O Lord God thou knowest. Again he said unto me, Prophesy upon these bones, and say unto them, O ye dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus saith the Lord God unto these bones; Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and ye shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath into you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the Lord. So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied there was a noise, and behold a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to bone. And when I beheld, lo, the sinews and the flesh came upon them, and the skin covered them above; and there was no breath in them. Then he said unto me, Prophesy unto the wind, prophesy, son of man, and say to the wind, Thus saith the Lord God; Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain that they may live. So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came unto them and they lived, and stood up upon their feet , an exceeding great army ...'

Popkiss paused, looked up from his Testament, stretched out his arms on either side. The men were very silent in the pitch-pine pews.

'Oh, my brethren, think on that open valley, think on it with me .... a valley, do I picture it, by the shaft of a shut-down mine, where under the dark mountain side, the slag heaps lift their heads to the sky, a valley such as those valleys in which you yourselves abide ... Journey with me, my brethren, into that open valley, journey with me ... Know you not those same dry bones? ... You know them well.... Bones without flesh and sinew, bones without skin or breath ... They are our bones, my brethren, the bones of you and me, bones that await the noise and the mighty shaking, the gift of the four winds of which the prophet of old did tell ... Must we not come together, my brethren, everyone of us, as did the bones of that ancient valley, quickened with breath, bone to bone, sinew to sinew, skin to skin ... Unless I speak falsely, an exceeding great army ... '

In the following chapter, Powell writes of the Battalion singing a hymn:

‘Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
Pilgrim through this barren land:
I am weak, but thou are mighty,
Hold me with thy powerful hand,
Bread of heaven,
Bread of heaven,
Feed me till I want no more…'

Two Powell quotations that I like:
'Growing old's like being increasingly penalized for a crime you haven't committed.'
and
'Parents are sometimes a bit of a disappointment to their children. They don't fulfill the promise of their early years.'

Powell's style is somewhat patrician and this is parodied nicely by Craig Brown in his book The Lost Diaries , page 77.
March 12
Violet and I attended pre-luncheon drinks with the Somersets at Gloucester. Then on to the Gloucesters in Somerset. The Devonshires had brought Kent along. Halfway through the luncheon, the Butler informed us that Lady Avon was at the door. ‘Tell her to join us!' said Gloucester, drawing up a chair for her. She sat down and was halfway through her main course (medallions de veau, pommes Lyonnaise, epinards a la crème – all perfectly eatable), entertaining us with fulsome praise for a new lemon-scented shower gel, whatever that may be, when it emerged that the butler had misheard. She was not Lady Avon at all, but the Avon Lady.

Anthony Powell (allegedly!)

Nevil Shute

I like all the Nevil Shute books that I have read. I think that my all-time favourite is Pied Piper , about an old man, named John Sidney Howard, trying to get a group of children out of France, back to England, after the Germans had invaded, in 1940. I find it very touching. I have the audio book, read by Robin Bailey . Bailey is the perfect narrator, as his voice mirrors perfectly the tiredness and infinite patience of the old man. Another great book by Nevil Shute is No Highway . The title is a quotation from a poem by John Masefield , contained within his book ‘The Wanderer' about a sailing ship from Liverpool. The quotation runs:

. . . Therefore, go forth, companion: when you find
No highway more, no track, all being blind,
The way to go shall glimmer in the mind.
   Though you have conquered Earth and Charted Sea
And planned the courses of all Stars that be,
Adventure on, more wonders are in Thee.
   Adventure on, for from the littlest clue
Has come whatever worth man ever knew;
The next to lighten all men may be you . . .  

JOHN MASEFIELD

See other Masefield poems.

The novel No Highway is centred on the fatigue failure of a series of British airliners, named Reindeer, which crash with loss of life. The book was written in 1948 and eerily predates the very similar Comet crashes in the 1950s. Nevil Shute's real name was Nevil Shute Norway. He was a graduate of Oxford University and studied engineering there. Later he worked on the R100 airship under Barnes Wallis and he founded his own aircraft company, Airspeed, which eventually made a profit, before he turned to writing novels. He wrote an autobiography, Slide Rule. He emigrated to Australia after World War II. Barnes Wallis designed many things, including the famous ‘bouncing bomb', the tallboy bomb and the Wellington bomber.
Kingsley Amis and in particular Lucky Jim.

 

Evelyn Waugh and in particular the hilarious novel Scoop, about the naive reporter, Boot, sent out to the fictitious country of Ishmaelia, to report on a civil war, by the Beast (a newspaper).

 

 

 

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Page last modified August 25, 2015