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Books. Tomes. Publications. Texts. And a marvellous festive treat from @BL_Publishing !

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It’s the usual story on the Ramblings: despite my best intentions, books *will* keep finding their way into the house… In fairness, I have bought very few of them, and I *have* piled on the floor in one of the Offspring’s ex-bedrooms at least 100 volumes to be sold or donated or passed on to friends. So the house rafters will hopefully survive for a little longer, and in the meantime I thought I should share some book pictures – because, let’s face it, we all get vicarious pleasure from seeing other people’s book hauls!

First up, the charity shops. I should just avoid them, I suppose, but *do* pop in every week – and mostly I’m good, reminding myself that I have plenty to read at home.

However, the previous weekend I couldn’t resist another Allingham (I kind of think I might have read this once, but I can’t remember) – it sounds good and was terribly cheap! The Capote short stories is a book I haven’t come across in my second-hand book searching, and I blame Ali – she’s reviewed Capote’s short stories glowingly, and although I’ve read his longer works I haven’t read this, so I had to pick it up.

The rather large volume that is “Middlemarch” is a Bookcrossing book – they have a little selection in my local Nero, and since I always have a coffee there on a Saturday I always check the books out. I have a very old and gnarled Penguin of the book, but the type is so small that it’s off-putting – so I figured this might spur me on to read it. It’s in almost new condition with decent size type and lovely white pages (as opposed to the brown and crispy ones of my old book) so that’s a bonus!

However, the bestest find (so to speak) of recent weeks is this lovely!! I’ve written about Anthony Berkeley’s works before on the blog – I love his Golden Age fictions, as he brings such a twist to the format, and in particular the British Library Crime Classics reprint of “The Poisoned Chocolates Case” was a really outstanding addition to their range. It seems the BL are not the only ones going in for classic crime reprints (although I would say they are leading the field), as this is a Collins reprint which seems to be part of a series of ‘Detective Club’ reissues. A lovely hardback in a dustjacket, for £2 not to be sneezed at. I can see myself picking this one up very soon!

Then there are the review books…. gulp. As you can see, a few have been making their way into the Ramblings – some rather substantial and imposing ones amongst them, particularly from the lovely OUP. The hardback Russians are calling to me, particularly “Crime and Punishment”, which is long overdue a re-read. Then there’s another edition of the quirky and entertaining Stella Benson from Mike Barker.

As for the Christmas paper… well, you’ve probably picked up on social media and the like that the British Library have a rather special volume planned as their Christmas Crime Classic this year, and this is what popped through my door, beautifully wrapped.

Early Christmas present – has to be good! This will be the 50th British Library Crime Classic, and it’s being released in a hardback with special extra material. Inside, it looks rather like this:

Isn’t it beautiful? The story itself sounds wonderful enough, but the book comes with an exclusive essay on the history of Christmas crime fiction, as well as an introduction, all by the marvellous Martin Edwards. And the book itself is beautifully produced, with the usual gorgeous cover image, plus a ribbon bookmark (I *love* books with a built in bookmark). What a treat! Part of me wants to devour it straight away, and part of me wants to wait until Christmas – what torture. Thank you, British Library!

So – some fascinating incoming books, I feel, and yet more difficult decisions to be made about what to read next. At least there’s not much risk of me running out of things to read…. 😉

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All Virago/All August – Taking on a controversial title…

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My first read for AV/AA is one I mentioned in a recent post, and it’s a controversial one on the LibraryThing Virago group, strongly dividing opinions; I refer of course to George Eliot’s novella “The Lifted Veil”. Written close on the heels of Eliot’s first novel, the successful “Adam Bede”, “The Lifted Veil” clocks in at less than 70 pages and is almost brief enough to be a short story; but Eliot’s publishers were not happy to put it out, and her next novel “The Mill on the Floss” was more of what we would now consider a typical Eliot book. So what *is* “The Lifted Veil” and why does it cause so much difference of opinion?

lifted veil

The story is narrated by one Latimer, a man of fragile health and sensibilities. Plagued by illness as a child, and doted on by his mother, he is always going to be a disappointment to his father; the latter tends to favour his elder son Alfred, son of his first wife and much more of the traditional hunting-shooting-fishing type. However, Latimer discovers that he has a gift that the rest of his family do not, and one it is better to keep quiet about – that of clairvoyance or second sight. This comes to light when he has a vision of Prague, having never seen it or visited it, and after this the visions keep coming. One in particular concerns a ‘pale, fatal-eyed’ woman he has never met, but who turns out to be betrothed to his brother. And the woman, whose name is Bertha, proves to be the one person whose soul Latimer finds it impossible to see into.

Of course, our young clairvoyant falls headlong into an obsession with Bertha who plays him for all he is worth. And although his brother is engaged to her, Latimer has had a vision of an older version of himself married to Bertha – although the circumstances are not the happiest. So when Alfred meets with an accident, Latimer’s fate is set out for him…

To say more would give away the twists and turns of the plot, so I shan’t – I shall only mention that there is a scene involving a corpse which seems to cause a lot of consternation but which frankly I found quite mild. If you think about “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, “Dracula”, “Frankenstein”, any number of Wilkie Collins books or indeed anything by Poe, then you’ll see that much of the fuss probably comes from the fact that a tale of darkness and gloom of this type is simply not what’s expected from Eliot.

George_Eliot_by_Samuel_Laurence

However, as Melusine commented on an earlier post, the kind of science on show here is the sort that was extremely popular at the time. There is mesmerism and phrenology and of course the clairvoyance, and as the excellent afterword by Beryl Gray points out, these ‘sciences’ were all the rage amongst the Victorian populace and Eliot herself was fascinated by them. So her story reflected what was going on around her in the world and is therefore by no means anachronistic. I also thought the book was exceptionally well written and very gripping; Eliot gets inside the head of her somewhat sickly and doomed protagonist really well, making him utterly convincing

However behind all the melodrama is something that’s consistent with the rest of Eliot’s writing and that’s a moral purpose. Neither Latimer nor Bertha are what we would call a ‘good’ or ‘normal’ person, for whatever reason, and so to a certain extent they get what they deserve. Had Latimer not been so prey to his visions and so unhealthily obsessed with Bertha then events might not have turned out as they did. If the veil had not been lifted and he had not been able to see into people’s hearts and minds then his life would have been a very different and perhaps more straightforward one. Bertha, for her part, was a manipulative tease from the start so really can’t expect any better than she gets. And the business with the corpse is also to serve a moral purpose, to allow an accusation to be made to a guilty person in a most dramatic way. Let’s face it, authors like Dickens were not averse to plenty of melodrama and set pieces, so let’s not beat George Eliot up about it!

So in summary, I really enjoyed “The Lifted Veil” a lot – for a short work it packed a big punch and had plenty of food for thought. It also made for a gripping short read and I think it’s been unjustly maligned. My first read for All Virago/All August, and it’s a successful one!

Exploring my Library: George Eliot

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Perhaps it’s a little arrogant of me to regard my collection of books as a library; nevertheless, I do have quite a lot and I don’t spend enough time with those I already own, instead getting distracted by shiny new tomes that appear. However, there was some talk of George Eliot on the LibraryThing Virago group recently, and she’s also turned up on some blogs I follow. This set me thinking about the Eliot books I own, which I’ve mainly had for decades, and I was inspired to dig them out.

eliots

As you can see, I do own quite a few by this classic British author, but as I browsed I found myself wondering how many I’d actually read…

silas

Perhaps the oddest looking one is this rather strange American edition of “Silas Marner”. I had a few of these cheap classics which I picked up in the early 1980s, but I’ve replaced most of them over the years because they’re not particularly easy to read and they don’t look that nice. Obviously this one slipped through the net…

penguins

Penguins, however, are usually much nicer! These three are part of the Penguin English Library and date from around the same time. A bit bedraggled but more easily read than the American one.

pans

I also have a number of Pan classics from the time (definitely some Brontes) – they’re quite attractive, although the paper (like the Penguins) doesn’t age particularly well.

amos barton

This is a more recent acquisition – a slim Hesperus Press volume I obviously picked up at some point and then just slipped onto the shelves with the rest of the Eliots without reading…

eliot viragos

And finally, two slim Viragos. “The Lifted Veil” gets some real stick on the LibraryThing group – not a popular title!

So – which of these *have* I read? The answer is that I’m not really sure. I think I might have read “Adam Bede”, “The Mill on the Floss” and “Silas Marner” – but this would have been back in the early 1980s and I kept no kind of record of what I was reading at the time. I’m 99.9% sure I’ve never read “Middlemarch” which is a failing on my part, as it’s so highly recommended by so many people (including Virginia Woolf).

Digging about on the shelves to find these was fun – I reconnected with books I tend to take for granted as they’ve been around for so long. I’m trying to read from the stacks more (and I think all of the books I’ll be tackling for The 1947 Club and the Jean Rhys Reading Week are ones I already own) – so it’s a useful exercise to go back to shelves and go through what you actually own. I may well share more of the collections in my library here soon  (if you’d care to see pictures of my books…) – and I really should read more George Eliot!

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