The Drover’s Wife, a short story by Henry Lawson published in 1896, has a plot that unfolds over an afternoon and a night, marked by time phrases like “It is near sunset” and “It must be near one or two o’clock”. The story is an excellent example of Australian realism, well-told with dry, short sentences, few adjectives or adverbs but plenty of active verbs, all of this good for keeping the tension on, as you’ll see in this mid-point paragraph.
A bit of background: A drover has been gone from home for six months. His wife and children are alone in their bush hut. A snake has slid under the floor boards and a thunderstorm brews. The dog, Alligator, is wildly interested in the snake.
Near midnight. The children are all asleep and she sits there still, sewing and reading by turns. From time to time she glances round the floor and wall-plate, and whenever she hears a noise she reaches for the stick. The thunderstorm comes on, and the wind, rushing through the cracks in the slab wall, threatens to blow out her candle. She places it on a sheltered part of the dresser and fixes up a newspaper to protect it. At every flash of lightning the cracks between the slabs gleam like polished silver. The thunder rolls, and the rain comes down in torrents.
Alligator lies at full length on the floor, with his eyes turned towards the partition. She knows by this that the snake is there.
The Sleeper Awakes. It’s 1890s England when an insomniac falls into a sleep-like trance and awakes 203 years later to find he is the Master of the World. But while he had been sleeping, the masses had been oppressed, and they now find he has awoken and hope he will rescue them. One hundred and ten pages into this 220-page H.G. Wells novel, the sleeper, Graham, decides to reveal himself to the multitudes of people waiting:
“Will you let them see you, Sire? said Ostrog. “They are very anxious to see you.”
Graham hesitated, and then walked forward to where the broken verge of wall dropped sheer. He stood looking down, a lonely, tall, black figure against the sky.
Very slowly the swarming ruins became aware of him. And as they did so little bands of black-uniformed men appeared remotely, thrusting through the crowds towards the Council House. He saw little black heads become pink, looking at him, saw by that means a wave of recognition sweep across the space.
Yesterday I was teaching migrant English using an abridged version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Speckled Band. I enjoyed it so much, I sought out the original unabridged version and found some lines in the middle of the story that reveal Conan Doyle’s sharp wit and great sense of rhythm. It’s also clear at this point that Sherlock Holmes has the suspect worked out and now simply has to nail him. Here, Holmes’s associate, Dr Watson, records an exchange between Holmes and the suspect, who is screaming at him furiously:
“I know you, you scoundrel! I have heard of you before. You are Holmes, the meddler.”
My friend smiled.
“Holmes, the busybody!”
His smile broadened.
“Holmes, the Scotland-yard Jack-in-office!”
Holmes chuckled heartily. “Your conversation is most entertaining,” said he. “When you go out, close the door, for there is a decided draught.”
Ailsa from wheresmybackback challenges us to find photos of things evoking the colour brown. Check out her photos of bog brown water and a ginger brown castle.
Here in Canberra there’s a large written sculpture on a hill in the new Arboretum, a special place planted with masses of trees to replace all those that burnt in destructive fires ten years ago. The words ‘wide brown land’ come from a poem by Dorothea Mackellar published in 1908: Core of my heart.
Unfortunately, while the Arboretum is a promise that this land and its people can recover from fire, the threat is always with us. There are massive fires burning right now, closer to the coast. And the burnt trees, the pall of smoke, the tumbled bricks of houses – 192 homes destroyed so far – evoke the colour brown, once the fires are under control. The photo below is from the Daily Telegraph web site:
At the centre of Great Expectations is a paragraph about Pip’s love for Estella, about his great expectations to win her heart. Though I’ve read this novel several times, I’d never thought of Dickens as romantic until today when I read this paragraph separately from the rest of the story:
Far into the night, Miss Havisham’s words, ‘Love her, love her, love her!’ sounded in my ears. I adapted them for my own repetition, and said to my pillow, ‘I love her, I love her, I love her!’ hundreds of times. Then, a burst of gratitude came upon me, that she should be destined for me, once the blacksmith’s boy. Then, I thought if she were, as I feared, by no means rapturously grateful for that destiny yet, when would she begin to be interested in me? When should I awaken the heart within her, that was mute and sleeping now?
A few days ago in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet, I found an account of Sherlock Holmes performing one of his earliest deductions, at exactly the middle of Part I. You can read about it here.
Halfway through Part II of this short novel, Doyle wrote a short paragraph that was not about scientific deduction but rather about an eerie countdown, guaranteed to keep the reader turning pages. The character John Ferrier is given a deadline – 29 days – to hand over his daughter in marriage to one of the Mormon men. The next morning, at the breakfast table, his daughter points upwards:
In the centre of the ceiling was scrawled, with a burned stick apparently, the number 28. . . . That night he sat up with his gun and kept watch and ward. He saw and he heard nothing, and yet in the morning a great 27 had been painted upon the outside of his door.
Infinite – like grains of sand on the beach, the number of numbers, stars in the sky, dots on an Aboriginal painting . . .
When I bought this painting in Fitzroy Falls, NSW, from the artist Marie Barbaric of the Dunghutti Nation, she wrote its story on the back of the canvas for me:
One day an elder of our Nation was walking with his daughters, they came to a waterhole and the father told his daughters to wait by the pool till he returned from hunting. . . . While he was away a hunter came from another tribe and wanted to take one of the sisters for a bride. . . . The sisters ran to their father, and to help hide them from the young hunter, he threw his daughters to the stars. . .
Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet is the first of his novels about the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr Watson. I turned to the physical centre of the book to find its change of direction, and came across a long paragraph describing a Mormon caravan of wagons, horses, walkers, and toddlers, all making their way towards the West of the great North American Continent. The Mormons are a source of some major players in the story.
However, the novel has two parts, and I found at the centres of Part I and Part II the kind of mysterious statements that urge the reader to read on and discover how Sherlock solves the crime.
Halfway through Part I, a shonky detective, Lestrade, believes a murderer has written part of the name Rachel on the wall, in blood. But Sherlock’s logical reasoning produces a different theory on how the man was murdered:
“Poison,” said Sherlock Holmes curtly, and strode off. “One other thing, Lestrade,” he added, turning round at the door: “‘Rache,’ is the German for ‘revenge’; so don’t lose your time looking for Miss Rachel.”
Marianne from East of Málaga challenges us this October to find photos of pairs. She defines it: A pair is a set of two things used together or regarded as a unit.
These lighthouse feet made me stop and look twice – the rust in its reddishness turns deterioration into art. The lighthouse is set on a big concrete block so its feet were at my eye level as I wandered around it.
And a pair of nights ago I photographed a pair of bottles and two pairs of eyes on a pair of sons. We were in a restaurant provocatively named Me and Mrs Jones (that’s not a pair).
Marianne likes us to spread the blog love, so I’ll tell you I loved a poem I read here. In fact I printed it out and stuck it on my fridge.
And I read a blog about amazing historical embroidery at the Burrell Collection in Glasgow, including a video demonstrating how women kept their arms out of the way of crinoline skirts, here.
Today I’ve found a book on my shelf which I’d forgotten about because it’s not memorable, despite its fame as a prizewinner. I’d bought it and read it because of an excellent piece I knew by the same author; it was about translating, a thing I love to do. So, I know he’s a great writer. I don’t think, however, that Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending, the reflections of a self-indulgent older man, deserved a big prize. Nevertheless, it has a middle as all writing does, and the narration on pages 75 and 76, at the rough centre, is well-written, the work of a close observer.
Here the narrator is lunching with his ex-wife, discussing an issue which has arisen about one of his ex-girlfriends, ‘The Fruitcake’:
There was a silence. We ate. Then Margaret tapped her knife against my plate.
“And if the presumably still-unmarried Miss Veronica Ford happened to walk into this café and sit down at our table, how would the long-divorced Mr Anthony Webster react?”
She always puts her finger on it, doesn’t she?
“I don’t think I’d be especially pleased to see her.”
Something in the formality of my tone caused Margaret to smile. “Intrigued? Start rolling up your sleeve and taking off your watch?”
I blushed. You haven’t seen a bald man in his sixties blush? Oh, it happens, just as it does to a hairy, spotty fifteen-year-old. And because it’s rarer, it sends the blusher tumbling back to that time when life felt like nothing more than one long sequence of embarrassments.