Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mapp & Lucia & Herman

The Mapp and Lucia series by E. F. Benson contains so many quaint, droll, and hilarious lines that it's hard to choose a favorite, but I have picked out a few:

from Mapp and Lucia
"It was always wise to be polite to mimics" (39.)

from Queen Lucia
"Mrs. Quantock, still impotently rebelling,
resorted to the most dire weapon in her armoury, namely sarcasm. . . .

"Lucia had a deadlier weapon than sarcasm,
which was the apparent unconsciousness of there having been any" (74).

from Miss Mapp
" . . . the rain falling sad and thick . . . " (197).

Last year, I shared these novels with my former professor and current facebook reading friend, Herman Wilson. We agreed that one of the best thing about Benson's villagers is that they are not merely laughable, they are also lovable, even when they are misbehaving! Herman wrote:

"I've just left Miss Mapp, the dominant force in the society of Tilling (that delightful English village) and Miss Mapp, the book, with all the delightful "lesser" residents of the village. A pleasant, delightful read. The people are real to me, their concerns with the various aspects of their inter-mingling are real to me, their biases are real to me, and Benson's language is delightfully and sarcastically real to me.

"Throughout I found passages I wanted to share with you, but there were so many that I choose this one from the last part of the novel (just after Miss Mapp told the Contessa that she knew of the forthcoming marriage--the highest bit of gossip in Tilling): Miss Mapp spoke of her "two eyes" and the Contessa added "And a nose for a scent." Then Benson comes thru with a descriptive statement: "Miss Mapp's opinion of the Contessa fluctuated violently like a barometer before a storm and indicated Changeable." A barometer and Changeable--what a delightful and powerful image for Benson to plant in my mind. Love it.

"I am now ready for my journey to London to be with 'Queen Lucy' in Lucia in London. Yes, I ordered the missing novel. I just could not leave the Queen in her little village; I wanted to see her again in a large metropolitan area. I'm sure Benson will provide me with much pleasure again: his people fascinate me, but his beautiful and effective control of his language almost overwhelms me as a result of the precision he has as he takes me along on a pleasant journey."

Thanks Herman!

Last month, I included the following passage from Andrea Levy's Small Island, in which she describes the street view of a London house demolished by World War II bombings: "A house had its front sliced off as sure as if it had been opened on a hinge. A doll's house with all the rooms on show. The little staircase zigzagging in the cramped hall. The bedroom with a bed sliding, the sheet dangling. flapping a white flag. A wardrobe open with the clothes tripping out from the inside to flutter away. Empty armchairs siting cosy by the fire. The kettle on in the kitchen with two wellington boots by the stove . . . " (304 - 05).

I couldn't help thinking of Benson's similar, though much less distressing, description of the unexpected pleasure of making one's way down a village street blocked off from traffic, past houses undergoing repair: "Tilling did not mind this little inconvenience in the least, for it was all so interesting . . . while foot - passengers, thrilled with having entire contents of a house exposed for their inspection, were unable to tear themselves away from so intimate an exhibition" ( Mapp and Lucia, 181).

And this from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green: "We stared at the house for a while. The weird thing about houses is that they almost always look like nothing is happening inside of them, even though they contain most of our lives. I wondered if that was sort of the point of architecture" (139).

Cross - Section from
This Old House: A Day in Five Storeys
by Leo Hartas & Richard Platt

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Top Layer

Where I Lived ~ 1962 - 1967
Corner of Hickory Avenue & Baxter Street Road ~ Neosho, Missouri
Photographed by Rebecca Sprigg ~ my childhood friend and neighbor
[for more on my childhood home see
"Dream Road" & "The Days Were Long"]

"Our moments have blotted out theirs.
Maybe this is a necessary element of domestic living --
maybe it's the only way we can co - exist comfortably
with each other's past lives, each other's ghosts. . . .
it's not really our house at all is it . . .
It's like we're just the top layer.
And one day there'll be another layer right on top of us, squashing us down. . . . There are whole pieces of the past that lie just around the last corner,
closer perhaps then we'd like to think.
We may choose to forget this, but the house doesn't.
The house has seen it, done it, felt it all before."

Home: The Story of Everyone Who Ever Lived in Our House
(23, 16, 46)
by Julie Myerson

A few weeks ago(scroll down / or click "Our Island Home"), while writing a bit about Myerson's fascinating book, I was reminded of a couple of books that we used to check out from the Kingsessing Branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia back when Ben and Sam were little: Since 1920 (1992) by Alexandra Wallner (b 1946) and Our House: The Stories of Levittown (1995) by Pam Conrad (1947 - 1996) . Like Myerson, these two authors,and describe historical quests, similar for the under layers of history beneath their current dwellings.

Wallner, writer, home renovator and researcher, is "fascinated by the history and romance connected with old houses." Her book illustrates the changing street scape of a fictional village, starting in 1920 with a farmhouse and a barn raising on a private country road. Next come a a blacksmith shop, a bakery, and electricity; followed by more houses and paved side streets, a grocery store, and business after business . . . replaced, sadly, over the years by "Going Out of Business" signs and fire damage, leaving the old houses abandoned and dilapidated . . . until, at last, two decades of neglect are displaced by home renovation, public parks, and new families!

Conrad also blends fact and fiction, capturing "the families, the memories, the hard times, the good times," as children from the 1940s thru the 1990s narrate their experiences of growing up in the houses of Levittown, New York. Conrad's book is illustrated by Brian Selznick (of recent Hugo Cabret fame) and also includes a classic aerial photograph of Levittown in 1947, entitled "Moving Day."

In conclusion, Conrad observes that
"no matter where you are right now . . . right in the spot where your are standing, there used to be someone else, that at some other point in time, someone stood where you are standing, thinking their own thoughts. And someday in the future someone will stand there and wonder about you, wonder if there was ever anybody else.

Keep in mind that you are making memories.

Consider that something you take for granted today may be the one thing you might pine for someday, and there might not be any more of it left, but you'll remember its sweetness. Remember the curve of the sun in your bedroom window late in the day
. . .

Make sure you notice if the trees meet in an arch over your street . . . Take note of those people who are so familiar to you, and consider memorizing them for a time when they are gone.

And know that if anyone ever says to you, 'What will you always remember about this place?' you will know just exactly which story it is that you would tell them. . . .

'I believe in neighborhood . . . A place where families own their homes, where they work, play, make mistakes and celebrate their lives. I think it must have been wonderful to be a child in Levittown. . . . I had never lived in Levittown when I began this book, but now, surely, I have lived there in my heart' "
(64 - 67).

[Pam Conrad's observations ring especially true and sad,
knowing that she died of cancer the very next year at age 48. RIP.]