Friday, June 29, 2007

Who really wrote this collection of letters?

Also in today's blog

Peter Pan and Peter Davies, publisher

A friend, who belongs to the book group of which I'm a member during the winter months in Spain, tells me that the book they have to read before the next group lunch is Letters of an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman.

"Have you ever heard of it?" she emailed. "There are no reviews on Amazon which is a bit unusual, especially as both D and S [two other members of the group] have a copy of the book."

I replied that I felt sure Google would offer some interesting info. However of the 70 links they provide the majority are to second-hand booksellers' sites offering copies of the book.

Apparently it was first published in 1934 by Peter Davies Ltd. Another edition came out in 1978, and the book was re-published by Mandarin in 1992.

Here are two extracts from a long piece about the book at The British Empire.

"This book purports to be a series of beautiful and eloquently written letters passing to an 'unknown' English Gentlewoman from an Indian Judge. It charts a fascinating literal friendship that covers the late days of the Imperial Raj. The letters began after a single chance encounter between the pair at a party: The wife of an English Colonel and the young Indian judge started a correspondence that was to last a lifetime. The letters only travel in one direction, but for imperial historians, that direction is almost certainly the more interesting of the two. They manage to cast light on all sorts of interesting areas of Imperial India, Burma and Britain by a highly gifted and literate primary witness."

"The letters chart the rise of the career of an Indian in the imperial judicial system with all the pitfalls and advantages that his position bestows upon him. He is initially posted to Burma where, as a young man, he is exposed to both the opportunities that Imperialism could offer an educated man like himself, but also the limitations and expectation of his position in a strictly heirarchical society. He finds that he is only welcome at the European clubs when he is accompanied by his European boss. If he tries to enter by himself, he feels the prejudices and antipathy of the ruling elite. He also works under what he regards as the best and worst of Imperial Britons."

No doubt you noticed the word "purports" in the first paragraph. At a site called Obsidian Wings, I read -

"…we are perturbed when we discover, for example that Letters of an Indian Judge to an English Gentlewoman was in fact written by an Englishman."

I couldn't find the source of the Obsidian Wings discovery, so perhaps will email the team running the site.

Nearly forgot : there's another page at The British Empire some readers might find useful.

It deals with – "Explorers, bureaucrats, soldiers, artists, scientists, writers, rich, poor, advocates and adversaries all played their part in the history of the British Empire. This section seeks to give brief descriptions of the acts and deeds of as wide a variety of individuals as possible. You may also find information on individuals connected to particular colonies or units in the relevant Maproom or Armed Forces Section."

Peter Pan and Peter Davies, publisher

Peter Davies, the first publisher of Letters of an Indian Judge was, apparently, the model for J M Barrie's "boy who never grew up", Peter Pan.

"It’s April 5, 1960…the day of the death and suicide of the respected publisher Peter Llewelyn Davies, founder of Peter Davies Ltd., considered an “artist among editors.” "

That is an extract from a novel called Kensington Gardens
by Rodrigo Fresán translated from the Spanish by Natasha Wimmer and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in June last year.

Apparently Peter Davies hated being associated with Peter Pan and eventually threw himself in front of a London Underground train.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A book set in Venice

Are your bookshelves in perfect order? All the books arranged by author or subject?

Our summer bookshelves were in order when first filled, but that's 21 years ago and they are less orderly now. Yesterday, for a reason I'll explain in a minute, I searched the shelves for books about Venice and found seven titles.

Venice & the Veneto by James Bentley [Aurum Press 1992 £14.95]
Venice : A Literary Companion by Ian Littlewood [John Murray 1991 £11.95]
Venice : Insight Pocket Guide [1992 APA Publications £3.99]
Venice by Eugenio Pucci [1974 Mercurio Series of Bonechi Guide 1200 lire]
Venice : The Rough Guide by Jonathan Buckley and Hilary Robinson [1993 £8.99]
Turner's Venice by Lindsay Stainton [1993 British Museum Press £14.95]
Visions of Venice : Watercolours and drawings from Turner to Procktor [1990 Bankside Gallery]

The last is a catalogue of a loan exhibition staged by the Royal Watercolour Society to celebrate the Bankside Gallery's tenth anniversary. It includes a wonderful painting called Santa Maria della Salute : moonlight by Sir Edward Poynter [1836-1919].

I'm debating buying a copy of it from AllPosters but can't quite bring myself to spend £43 on an unframed giclee print.

Last week the postman delivered a padded bag containing an addition to our collection of books about Venice. It was a present from the author of one of my favourite blogs. On the fly-leaf is written "To Anne Weale with best wishes from Michael Allen" which, as many of you will know, is the real world name of Grumpy Old Bookman.

Michael's book is called Mr Fenman's Farewell to His Readers and is published by his own imprint Kingsfield Publications.

As you can see, the front cover has a photograph of a gondolier. The back cover has another photograph of gondolas tied up near the Riva degli Schiavoni, a waterfront where I have watched the sun set while having a pre-dinner drink at a table outside my small but comfortable hotel.

[George Sand, Charles Dickens, Proust and Ruskin stayed at the Hotel Danieli, now very expensive. I stayed at the nearby but reasonably priced Hotel Paganelli.]

Above the photograph of the gondolas, we read : "Who is the mysterious Madame de Mentou? And what is her real name? These are the questions which the writer Thomas Fenman addresses in a brief memoir which was written a few months before his death. Fenman, who lived from 1761-1837, had a long and successful career as a novelist. But, although famous and widely read in his day, he was soon forgotten after his death. Now his puzzling memoir is made available in print for the first time. In a scholarly introduction, Michael Allen describes how he came to own the original manuscript of Thomas Fenman's Farewell, and gives an account of what is known of Fenman's life."

The book can be bought from for $8.78 [£4.40 GBP] plus the shipping cost which can be checked at the site before the prospective buyer enters their payment details.

Mysterious and thought-provoking, it would make an unusual and welcome present for anyone who loves Venice.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A librarian's blog and a castle in Spain

Also in today's blog

A comment from Sacramento on horses

This is an extract from a blog I discovered yesterday.

"Have just finished Matthew Parris's Castle in Spain, the story of how he found and restored, with his family, a ruined house in northern Spain. I enjoyed the articles in the Times about this venture, and it was good to catch up with the finished product, so to speak. I've also just started Sebastian Faulks Human Traces, which is proving gripping. As husband and I are going to France later this week, I'm also hunting out books to take with me So far I've collected Wild Mary, a biography of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham, Alexander Masters Stuart, a life backwards, Sarah Dunant's In the company of the Courtesan( I loved her Birth of Venus) Jed Rubenfeld's Interpretation of Murder and Manette Ansay's Blue Water. I tend to take too many books and end up not reading one or two, but cannot imagine being without a book to read or worse , having read all I've taken with me , and not wanting to re-read any. Two of these, the Jed Rubenfeld and the Alexander Masters are for the two reading groups I belong to. Last time we went to France, I finished the couple of books I took before we came home, so I've probably gone for overkill this time."

The reason I found this blog is because the blogger wrote a comment on my piece about Katharine Whitehorn on Monday. The comment was – "I learnt quite a lot of my basic cooking skills from Katherine Whitehorn's "Cooking in a bedsitter" when I left home to go and study in Manchester and share a flat with fellow students."

It was signed jaycee and, when I clicked on the name, I was whisked to a blog called written by a retired public librarian living in the south of England.

Like Omnireader, I read Matthew Parris's pieces about his property in Spain, but I hadn’t realised he had published a book about it.

The Amazon UK synopsis reads : "Walking in the Pyrenees, twenty years ago, Matthew Parris and his sister came upon a magnificent medieval house. It had crests and a date 1559 chiselled into the stone: its walls and foundations were intact but the ancient oak ridge timber supporting the roof had split and was ready to collapse into the rotten floors beneath. Renovation would be an epic undertaking a massive investment of time, money and emotion. And, the locals warned, nobody ever left L'Avenc with any money. A few years ago, Matthew (with his family's help) went back and bought the place. Astonishing and arguably idiot, his decision resulted in a phenomenal amount of hard work, and this hugely enjoyable book. Inspirational, instructional and utterly irresistible, this is the story of one man's dream to turn a forgotten ruin into his very own Castle in Spain."

A comment from Sacramento on horses

An American reader called Lorna very kindly posted the following comment.

"Anne, the reason that horses who break their leg have to be put down is because racing horses, in particular, are bred to run, not survive injuries. The Wikipedia entry on Barbaro has a really good explanation of what happens when a horse is injured, and the secondary injuries and infections they are subject to."

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dick Francis

I'm not sure how many Dick Francis titles we have on our bookshelves. A lot. For years we bought his latest paperback soon after it came out.

Last week, among several second-hand paperbacks Mr Bookworm had bought from a roadside stall, I noticed a Francis thriller I didn't remember reading.

10-lb Penalty was published by Pan Books in 1998. The dedication reads – "With thanks to my grandson Matthew Frances, aged eighteen, and to Weatherbys and No 10 Downing Street."

At Amazon UK a reviewer writes – "Dick Francis has written many fine crime thrillers. He always sticks to his winning formula and usually produces a readable book. However, over recent years this formula has begun to look a little too familiar. 10lb Penalty is just one book too far. The characters are totally unbelievable, the plot weak and the outcome predictable. I have read ever Dick Francis book published so far but 10lb Penalty is definitely my last."

I disagree with this review. Before reading 10-lb Penalty I would not have believed that I could become so engaged with a central character who is 17 at the start of the story and only 22 at the end of it. But, despite his youth, Ben Juilard is immensely likeable, as is his father, George Juilard, who starts the story as a candidate in a by-election and ends it with a good chance of becoming the next Prime Minister.

Both the horsey and political aspects of the story are gripping, though I did wonder why, in an era when human beings can have hips and knees replaced, a much-loved horse with a broken leg still has to be put down.

As you would expect, there are masses of sites about Dick Francis and his books. There's a long page about him on the Alabama-based Josephson Family Home Page where 10-lb Penalty is described as –

"… a very understated novel that has little to do with racing of the equine variety. Instead, the emphasis is on election techniques at the basic level: door-to-door canvassing, town hall debates and rubber chicken dinners. The obligatory horse connections come via Ben's efforts as an amateur jockey but the central mystery centers on who is trying to kill Ben's father. The plot proceeds with a noticeable lack of urgency; things proceed at their own pace and no one ever appears too excited. Despite this dearth of energy, 10lb Penalty is a better than average effort by Francis."

I can see that the British political background wouldn't be of much interest to an American reader. In the light of real world events at Westminster, I found it most entertaining.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Hardback or paperback? Which to buy?

Also in today's blog

Xcite Books advertisement in PN

Two pages in this week's issue of Publishing News caught my attention.

One was written by journalist Katharine Whitehorn – a columnist for the Observer for 37 years – about her autobiography, Selective Memory, to be published by Virago in September at £18.99

[When will publishers drop these silly .99 prices? Do they really think buyers are gulled into thinking the book is a pound cheaper?]

Ms Whitehorn was married to thriller writer the late Gavin Lyall for 45 years. She is Agony Aunt for Saga magazine.

Shall I buy the hardback or wait for the paperback? Having shelled out £19 all but a penny for Wild Mary last year and been disappointed, with the Whitehorn memoir I'm inclined to wait for the pb, or borrow my public library's copy.

Xcite Books advertisement in PN

The second page in Publishing News was a full-page advertisement headed "Xcite Books offer female readers quality erotic fiction that's seriously sexy!"

Below the heading were 12 book jackets, including books titled "whip ME", "spank ME" and "tie ME UP".

I suppose Publishing News can't afford to turn away advertising, but I wouldn't mind betting that not all the PN staffers and freelancers are comfortable with an ad for what many people, including me, will regard as porn.

The publisher of Xcite books is Accent Press and distribution is by Macmillan (MDL). I wonder if Richard Charkin [see link in right hand sidebar] knows and approves?

At the Accent Press site I read – "Accent Press Ltd is a dynamic publishing company. Founded by Hazel Cushion [see photo] in 2003, the company has already celebrated some major achievements. In February 2007 she was invited to meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace at a reception for 200 Women in Business. Hazel Cushion won the Pandora, Women in Publishing Award and Entrepreneur of the Year in 2004. She has recently been selected by The Daily Telegraph as "an inspiring woman"."

I wonder if Ms Cushion would have been invited to the Palace if the ad for Xcite Books had already appeared? It is not in the current issue of The Bookseller.

None of the 12 Xcite titles has the author's name on the cover. Instead we read "Edited by Cathryn Cooper" about whom, at the Lovereading site, we learn that as the "author of over 10 erotic titles she is the perfect person to select the very best stories for the Xcite anthologies."

And "It was being skint that turned Cathryn Cooper to sex. No job, lost house and business, then an opportunity came her way to write for Virgin’s Black Lace series. Having four novels for them under her belt as Georgina Brown, she appeared on their behalf on such programmes as Friday Night Live (HTV Wales) and Middle Ages, (HTV West).

Besides writing occasional features for a Bristol based newspaper, she also writes romantic sagas (under an entirely different name – she does not wish to give the library lenders a heart attack)."

Anyone who has read my Longwarden novels will know that I'm not a prude. But I don't believe that women being tied up and whipped is part of normal, loving sex, or that describing porn as erotica makes it acceptable.

As one of PN's subscribers, I'm put off by the Xcite Books advertisement and hope the magazine's management will think twice before accepting another ad of this type. Surely the publishers are deluding themselves if they believe there's a large female market for these books? My guess is that the majority of buyers will be the same people who buy the top shelf magazines in newsagents' shops.