Thursday, January 11, 2018

Have you heard the one about the rector and the physician who walked into the mausoleum?

One of those deliciously awkward moments that only Barbara Pym can make completely hilarious. From A Few Green Leaves.


Even though the interior of the mausoleum was not to Tom's taste, there was something attractive about the idea of chilly marble on a hot summer day, and he pushed aside the velvet curtain and went in.

'Ah, rector...'

Tom had not expected a greeting and was startled when he saw that Dr. G. was already inside the mausoleum. Tom had sometimes wondered why Dr. G. should, like himself, have a key to the mausoleum. Its inhabitants were surely beyond his help now.

There was something slightly ridiculous about the two men confronting each other in this way and in such a place, and after the doctor's first 'Ah, rector...' and Tom's response of, 'Well, Dr. G...' they stood smiling at each other, Tom's hand resting, almost in blessing, on a cool marble head, and the doctor appearing to be examining the contours of a marble limb as if he were probing for signs of a fracture.


Monday, December 18, 2017

Turning on the Radio to Rachmaninoff’s 18th Variation on a Theme of Pagannini

You can’t expect, always,
to find a ten
or a presidential pardon
in a forgotten pocket.
But you might, on occasion,
turn on the radio
to find Rachmaninoff rising
one moment out of madness
into lucidity
as lovely as a butterfly
lighting on your hand.

Published on December 18, 2017, in Poetry Breakfast. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Barbara Pym references Jane Austen



Reading Barbara Pym is sometimes akin to prepping for graduate studies in English literature. Here is one literary reference that I caught immediately. The first quote is taken from Pym's A Few Green Leaves.

"'Two eggs?' Emma asked. 'And how do you like them?'

'Oh, just as they come.'

'Boiled eggs don't exactly do that.' On the hard side, then, she thought, five minutes. A too-soft-boiled egg would be awkward to manage, slithering all over the place in the way they did. Not to be coped with by a person in an emotional state, though Mr. Woodhouse in that novel about her namesake had claimed that it was not unwholesome.

'I'll have some toast too,' she said, 'to keep you company.'"

And now the source material:

"'Mrs. Bates, let me propose your venturing on one of these eggs. An egg boiled very soft is not unwholesome. Serle understands boiling an egg better than anybody. I would not recommend an egg boiled by anybody else--but you need not be afraid, they are very small, you see--one of our small eggs will not hurt you."
--Mr. Woodhouse from Jane Austen's Emma. 


Robert Liddell on reading as a child


"Andrew read books with a concentration and intensity which made him deaf and blind to the outside world. Grown-up people (who tend to think that a child must necessarily be doing mischief to itself or to others, wherever its whole energy is happily occupied and it has forgotten their existence) were always annoyed when they saw Andrew reading. They tried every means of plaguing him; they took his books away, or told him that his eyes were tired, or that he must go out. Sometimes they just sat and talked, and were angry if he did not answer. In spite of their persecution, he generally managed to read four or five books every week. They would never believe that he read them properly, or that he remembered anything about them. They themselves were found of boasting that they never had any time for reading. This never convinced Andrew, who knew that reading was a necessity of life, and that grown-up people wasted hours of valuable time in uninteresting conversation."

Excerpt from Kind Relations by Robert Liddell

Monday, October 9, 2017

Excerpt from Kind Relations by Robert Liddell

"The descent to the drawing-room was therefore not awe-inspiring, as it often is to small children -- like going to church, only worse. Grown-ups have all the fearful attributes of a Calvinistic deity, with the added terror of being visible. It is no use pretending they are not there, because they insist on being talked to and kissed. God, on the other hand, can easily be pretended away. Of course you know He is there all the time; but He does not obtrude Himself, as grown-ups do. It is always possible, if you are terribly bored in church, to press your fingers on your eyelids, and to watch the colours that come and go. Of course you ought to be saying your prayers, but it is far more amusing to play with this natural kaleidoscope. God is not petty enough to mind about a little thing like that. And after all it is no one's business but His."


Monday, September 4, 2017

Excerpt from A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym


[Emma} was just in the act of cutting down some [roses] when she saw Tom approaching with Adam Prince.

'What a charming picture you make, with the roses,' said Adam smoothly.

Emma tried to think of a gracious answer to this rather obvious compliment. Then, before she had been able to produce anything, Tom, suddenly and ridiculously, burst into poetry.

The two divinest things this world has got
A lovely woman in a rural spot. 

There was a brief stunned silence, surely one of dismay, then Emma broke it by laughing. The two men must surely realise that she certainly wasn't lovely, not even pretty.

'Leigh Hunt,' said Tom quickly, attempting to cover up his foolishness. 'Not a good poem.'

He was hardly improving matters -- there had been no need to make that kind of critical judgement. 'I thought of taking a few flowers along to the church,' Emma said. 'Mrs. G. does want things out of people's gardens, doesn't she?'

'I like to watch ladies arranging flowers,' Adam said. 'It was one of the aspects of my calling that I most enjoyed.'

Tom thought this an unusual way of looking on the duties of a parish priest, but made no comment.


From A Few Green Leaves by Barbara Pym, EP Dutton edition, page 76.