Will July be the second consecutive month in which I have my chain listed and partly written and then the end of the month arrives before it gets any further? I hope not. I did manage an alternative post in June so it wasn’t an entirely barren month on the blogging front. And there’s plenty of July left. Let’s see what happens.
Thanks as usual to Kate, at booksaremyfavouriteand best, who does all the organising. The background can be found here. I’m always astonished that no matter how varied the chains and with the vast numbers of books to choose from, there is invariably at least one book from mine which appears in someone else’s. This month I share a title with Kate herself, albeit one that we arrived at by very different routes.
For July, Kate has chosen for our starter a book which was everywhere fifteen years ago: Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss. I remember it vividly and remember equally well the circumstances of my life at that time. (And immediately comes the paradox in which that period seems like yesterday and yet so long ago.) Perhaps because my personal memories are so strong from those years I instantly connect this book to the person who gave it to me. A self-described pedant, I quickly realised from him how little I knew about grammar and equally quickly found myself fascinated by the rules and the art of a well-constructed sentence. (An art I’m still struggling to master.)
Thus, despite the many directions that lead from this book, my first link connects through friendship and leads me to another book given to me by a dear friend some ten years later. From a book which was ubiquitous to a book which few will have encountered, I cherish Letters from a Cornish Garden by C C Vyvyan (1972) because of the thoughtfulness of the giver. C C Vyvyan was Australian born with a Cornish mother and she herself married a Cornish baronet. On his death she inherited his estate and ran it for over forty years. She was well-travelled and wrote a number of books on gardening and on Cornwall. She had an enduring friendship with Daphne du Maurier who wrote the forward to this collection and was of course a literary craftswoman herself.
Letters from a Cornish Garden was the last book by C C Vyvyan published in her lifetime. Chloe Marr (1946) by A A Milne is the last novel by another author, also with a brace of matching initials to open his name. Chloe is described as ‘irresistibly beautiful’ and her life ‘a whirlwind of dinners, holidays, romantic trysts and parties’. But no one really knows who she is. I picked this book up from a charity shop, drawn by the evocative 1920s illustration on the cover. It’s a short leap to the next link: F Scot Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925). The double consonants appear in the title this time. The plot is set firmly in the 1920s with its fill of parties and glamour and bright young things. It also features a protagonist who is not what he seems.
From one modernist writer to another – and from GG to JJ – my next link is Dubliners (1914) by James Joyce. I expected to like The Great Gatsby and didn’t. I didn’t expect to like Dubliners and I did. (Not enough to attempt anything more from Joyce. Not yet at least.) Dubliners is a collection of 15 short stories of varying length depicting middle-class life in the city at that time. I enjoyed my own reading of it and I’m looking forward to the audible version read by Chris O’Dowd which can only enhance the experience.
Fitzgerald was a great admirer of Joyce but afraid to approach him. Sylvia Beach of the legendary Parisian bookshop, Shakespeare & Co, arranged a meeting which is described in an article from Lit Hub that arrived via my inbox at precisely the right moment. Wouldn’t it be marvellous to have been a fly on the wall at that time! Both writers have a hand in creating the next link which takes us to another modernist writer about whom I have no misgivings.
A handwritten list survives from Fitzgerald in which he noted the essential books he believed everyone should read. My next link is drawn from that list (and finally moves us away from double initials) to a writer who epitomises the art of the short story for me.
The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield is an exquisite short story which I remember reading before I had ever heard of her and at a time when I was far from a fan of the form. That story has remained with me for years. I’ve since read others of hers and found more favourites but this one will always have a special place. One of its strengths – alongside the beautiful and sharply-crafted sentences – is its depiction of a time and a place, very much like Joyce’s collection in Dubliners.
And so to the final link. Katherine Mansfield was much admired by Daphne du Maurier who made mention of her in her letters to another of her long-standing friends, Oriel Malet, with whom she corresponded for many years. Oriel Malet was the pen name of Lady Auriel Rosemary Malet Vaughan. Daphne was twenty years her senior and a well-established writer when they met in the fifties. Auriel, though critically regarded, was never well-known. Letters from Menabilly: Portrait of a Friendship shares Daphne’s letters to Auriel, interleaved with pieces by the younger writer who for a time lived a bohemian life in France and must surely have visited Shakespeare & Co. The book was published in August 2014, just a matter of months before Auriel’s death: another last last published work.
As a child Daphne had unknowingly lived opposite Katherine Mansfield. She wrote of her admiration for Mansfield in her letters to Auriel and which I learned about through the brilliant something rhymed blog which has since become a book in its own right. I wonder if Daphne ever knew that in 1918 Katherine spent time in Looe – not so far from Ferryside where Daphne’s love for Cornwall was cemented, and where in 1931 she wrote her first novel.
Friendships and admirations, Cornwall, letters, gardens, short stories: all links in the chain this month (along with double initials). But mostly I am thinking of the writers in this chain. I’d like to think that none of them would have had need of Eats, Shoots and Leaves, though I imagine they would certainly have opinions on it. I’d also like to think that Lynne Truss would in turn, approve of each of them.