I made a trip to the library at the beginning of the long President’s Day weekend, hoping to find and discover a few things. I wanted to get a look at the books by and about Vera Brittain, Robert Graves, Edward and Helen Thomas, and Richard Jefferies. And I was in the middle of Ethan Frome at the time, so I thought I would glance at the Edith Wharton shelf, which would no doubt be beefier than those of any of the above writers.
Robert Graves, though, does pretty well. He wrote a lot of books, had a long career, and rather a swashbuckling literary and romantic life. I’ve been looking at and writing about other stuff, while trying to grab some sort of quick, coherent version of the Graves-Laura Riding scandal and connection. On my way back from the library I picked up the two Robert Graves books I had seen at the bookstore. The first one, by Richard Perceval Graves (not seeing a family connection as yet), cuts off just before the Laura Riding story begins. But the second one, subtitled “Life on the Edge,” by Miranda Seymour (1995), seems to have the tale in full, but I haven’t really gotten into it yet. All I know, from a quick look, is that Riding seems to be a stone crazy Rasputin of modernism, a mediocre talent who thought she was a goddess. Something like that. This story gets more intriguing all the time.
I picked up the Paul Berry and Mark Bostridge biography of Vera Brittain, but I haven’t opened it yet. I looked around for Brittain’s early novel, The Dark Tide, but they didn’t have a copy of it. There was a relatively recent book by her son that I glanced at.
The Richard Jefferies shelf was small, but rather interesting. There was no copy of After London, but I think it’s easy enough to find. I was intrigued by an Oxford Classics edition of Bevis, and I’m very curious about that children’s book–I wonder if there’s an edition at the great children’s bookstore around the corner from my house. There was an “Essential Richard Jefferies,” which might be helpful. But I settled on two books. The first is a 1968 edition of The Story of My Heart: An Autobiography. The second is an odd volume. The spine simply says “Literary Theories,” and at first I thought it was misshelved. It was a 1996 MacMillan paperback, and the full title is Literary Theories: A Case Study in Critical Performance, edited by Julian Moffreys and William Baker. Still no sign of Richard Jeffereies. It turns out to contain an unpublished Jefferies story: “Snowed Up: A Mistletoe Story.” There’s a brief biography of Jefferies and a note on the manuscript, and then the expected theoretical readings: structuralist; poststructuralist; psychoanalytic; feminist; marxist; new historicist; and a conclusion ‘deconstructing Richard Jefferies.’ This seemed to be an extremely strange book. I’m a fan of the Casebook series, and once started an appreciative post on this concept, but didn’t finish. A glance at the preface says that the editors believe the standard casebook texts are overlong and “overdetermined.” So they’ve chosen a short story by an obscure but perhaps classic, rising author, that no one has ever seen. I’ll admit I’m intrigued and I hope the story is good. It might even get me to finish my casebook post.
A fourth library book is Tolkein and The Great War, by John Garth (2003). Just because it could be kind of fun. I should note that the Tolkein shelf is large and growing rapidly, and there was a full series of lectures on Tolkein at Oxford last term, including a couple by Hermione Lee. It’s safe to assume that Tolkein will be read and studied much more extensively in this century than in the last, and that the scholarly and academic weight of his work is just beginning to be felt. So why not make him part of my current war studies?
Lastly, there’s Edward and Helen Thomas. The Edward Thomas shelf isn’t large, but is seems to have high quality and good books. I expect to return, but I came away with As It Was, by H.T., Helen Thomas’s autobiographical text, written right after she learned about her husband Edward’s death. And that’s where I started–it was a quick and easy read.