I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with.
Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
A joyless book. I recently read it a second time in search of at least one happy moment but found none. Flicking through the book today, I came across passage after passage of violent thoughts. Take these three:
* ‘Wretched inmates!’ I ejaculated, mentally, ‘you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality.’
* He dashed his head against the knotted trunk; and, lifting up his eyes, howled, not like a man, but like a savage beast getting goaded to death with knives and spears.
* The charge exploded, and the knife, in springing back, closed into its owner’s wrist. Heathcliff pulled it away by main force, slitting up the flesh as it passed on, and thrust it dripping into his pocket.
(The first line actually begins with the date 1801, but my WordPress theme formed a large block letter of the first character which made the date look ridiculous.)
The woman carried the bag with the axe and maul and wedges; the man had the billy and clean tucker-bags; the cross-cut saw linked them.
Squeaker’s Mate, Barbara Baynton
A late 19th-century Australian story about a tough pipe-smoking timber-getting woman whose back is broken when she is cutting down a tree. The man in her life, Squeaker, is good for nothing but she, his mate, has a dog who’s more useful…
This week I borrowed a library book, Poésies de F. Coppée, less for the poetry than for the detail in the book’s production. It packages poems like treasure. What you can’t tell from the photos below is that this book is just 10 x 16cm, fits nicely in one hand and is surprisingly heavy – 330 grams! If this is how poetry was published in Paris in 1871, I’d like to travel back in time to Alphonse Lemerre, Editeur, if ever I’m wanting a book published. And if this happens, you’ll know my book when you see it on the shelves in your favourite bookshop; it will look just like this:
Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.
There is a French saying which runs: ‘A dry fisherman and a wet hunter have the same sad look.’
Living Relic, Ivan Turgenev
One of Turgenev’s ‘Sketches from a Hunter’s Album’: a short story that could be told on canvas, so intimate are the descriptions, so charged the emotions. The reader is pulled into the wattle hut to sit beside the narrator in an unexpected conversation with a ‘living relic’.
All true histories contain instruction; though, in some, the treasure may be hard to find, and when found, so trivial in quantity that the dry, shrivelled kernel scarcely compensates for the trouble of cracking the nut.
Agnes Grey, Anne Brontë
Agnes Grey is trying to be independent and earn an income, albeit to help her poor parents. It is the 1840s and she has little choice but to work as a governess. Although she has no trouble finding a couple of jobs, her charges, the children, are unmanageable and their families unexpectedly scorn her.
I empathised with Agnes as she struggled to tutor pupils in their own homes, who feel free to run around the room or sit under the table or go into the garden and kill innocent chicks in a nest.
The opening line of Agnes Grey is a great piece of Brontë wisdom.
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
From today I’m going to attempt a self-imposed challenge: post 54 great opening lines from books on my shelves. After reading a post by Zany4Days about challenging himself to paint a watercolour every day for 30 days, 100 days, the whole year, I’ve decided to study the first few words in good stories, an activity which might, which should, affect my own writing. The opening lines that I post will be in English, but not all of them will be from English-language stories. Some will be my translations of great French opening lines. After browsing my bookshelves, I initially chose a figure of 50, but I could possibly come up with four more and make it 54, my age from today…
I’ll begin with the first line from a novel I read when I was 13 which gave me a plan for my life, a plan I haven’t always followed but, in hindsight, I see has often followed me. It begins with:
There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.