30 July 2013

Zadie Smith: NW (2012)

Much has been written about Zadie Smith's NW, and I have no intention to add a great deal to that. But Smith does seem to represent a very interesting side of modern English literature: in NW above all, I think, her concerns are with the experimental, and that is rather unusual in an English novel: David Foster Wallace? Oulipo? McSweeney's? The American postmodernists? Probably all are influences.

Although I've read Smith's White Teeth (2000) and On Beauty (2005) but not The Autograph Man (2002) it's probably safe to suggest quite boldly that NZ (2012) is her most accomplished novel so far. This is a confident, diverse work that varies considerably in style. The first part mainly concerns Leah and the model seems to be watered-down Joyce with a kind of homage to Guillaume Apollinaire's concrete poetry thrown in – the page with text that resembles a tree, and a mouth with central 'T O N G U E' and the briefly described teeth arched round it, etc; then the second section dispenses with the previous dashes for speech and to some extent turns more conventional in its following the final days of Felix; the third part is Nathalie's and is divided into 184 sections; the very short fourth part follows Nathalie and Nathan's journey from Willesden to Hornsey Lane; and the even shorter last part is Nathalie seeing Nathan as the killer of Felix.

Throughout there's a love of the finer inflexions of modern speech that probably betrays the influence of Wallace, and there's a delightful, almost Oulipian playfulness: the obsession with the number 37 and its inclusion as four discrete extra chapters in between the normal number sequence in Leah's part, as well as its omission as a chapter number in Nathalie's part – meaning that the sequence actually jumps from 36 to 38 and ends at 185.

A number of literary quotations are inserted in the text, and some of the chapter titles in Nathalie's part allude to literature: one is called 'Rabbit', another 'Run, Rabbit', and 'Angst!' seems to suggest Updike's Rabbit Angstrom; there are also chapters titled 'Jane Eyre', 'Rumpole', 'Brideshead unvisited', 'John Donne, Lincoln's Inn, 1572', 'Sir Thomas More, Lincoln's Inn, 1494', 'L'isola che non c'è' (a translation of Peter Pan's 'Never-Never Land'), 'Doublethink', etc. Also, there are (or sometimes appear to be) references to the cinema: 'That Obscure Object of Desire', 'Vivre sa vie', 'Contempt', 'Speed'; and pop culture: 'Nirvana', 'Parklife', 'Beehive' (about Amy Winehouse), 'Holes' (suggesting Mercury Rev?), etc. It's also interesting that there's a chapter called 'The Number 37', which just happens to fall on...page 184.

NW is not just cleverness but concerns a number of serious issues, among them being: life in modern north-west London, class, ethnicity, the internet and modern technology in general, how people relate – or perhaps more importantly don't relate – to each other, but above all there is the continuation of Smith's theme from On Beauty: how fucked up people are.

29 July 2013

The Portico Library, Manchester

I only discovered the existence of this subscription library last week, and then only noticed it quite by chance when walking up Mosley Street (this being on the corner of Charlotte Street) on Saturday.

'PORTICO LIBRARY – 1806
THOMAS HARRISON ARCHITECT
(1744–1829)
RICHARD COBDEN   JOHN DALTON
ELIZABETH GASKELL
SIR ROBERT PEEL
THOMAS DE QUINCEY
PETER MARK ROGET WERE
READERS HERE'

Joseph Brotherton in Weaste Cemetery, Salford

 
Today, the phrase 'decent politician' has for many years seemed almost automatically an oxymoron  – on the other hand Joseph Brotherton (1783–1857), the first MP for Salford, was a very good man indeed. He was a staunch opponent of slavery, a pacifist, and one of the founders of the Vegetarian Society.* He became an MP in 1832, one of his principle concerns being the employment of young children in factories, and was instrumental in pushing through an act in 1848 that made it illegal for women and children to work for more than ten hours a day in mills or factories. He was also teetotal and a strong advocate of education: Salford was the first municipal authority with a free library, a museum and an art gallery.

Brotherton was the first person to be buried in Weaste Cemetery. The people of Salford raised the money for this thirty foot monument, which is the tallest in the cemetery. His funeral procession had 120 carriages and crowds took to the streets.

I've not yet exactly located the itinerant statue of Brotherton, which has a vexed history, but when I do so I shall add it to this post.

* Joseph's wife Martha published Vegetable Cookery (1812), the first vegetarian cookery book. Today the Vegetarian Society still has its head office in Greater Manchester, in Altrincham.

John Parry in Weaste Cemetery, Salford

 
'IN MEMORY OF
JOHN PARRY,
MEMBER OF THE
LITERARY AND PHILOSOPHICAL SOCIETY
OF MANCHESTER,
AN EARLY DIRECTOR OF THE
MECHANICS INSTITUTE IN THE CITY,
AN ARDENT STUDENT AND WORKER
IN THE CAUSE OF SCIENCE.
 
HE DIED 27TH JANUARY 1866, AGED 66.'
 
Parry had a common name, which makes it difficult to pinpoint references to him, but all the same he doesn't appear to have published anything.
 

Dodie Smith in Old Trafford, Greater Manchester

609 Stretford Road, Old Trafford, Greater Manchester.
 
'DODIE SMITH
1896–1990
Author of
"One Hundred and One Dalmatians"
lived here as a child.
It was so quiet and semi-rural
that the corncrake could
still be heard.'

I assume that the final sentence on the plaque is a quotation from The One Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956), although I can't find a reference to it anywhere on the internet.

Smith was born in Whitefield, Bury but on the death of her father moved with her mother to the home of her maternal grandparents, William and Margaret Furber. In her first autobiography, Look Back with Love: A Manchester Childhood (1974), she mentions William as one of the reasons for her becoming a playwright. She also lived here with aunts and uncles, and gives her uncle Harold, an amateur actor, as another reason. When her mother Ella remarried in 1914, she moved to London with them.

Smith published eleven plays, nine novels and four autobiographies.

26 July 2013

Lionel Britton Recognised as a Working-Class Writer

After all the (almost studied) exclusion of Lionel Britton from books dealing with or mentioning working-class literature, it's very refreshing to find him included somewhere for once. Rather belatedly, I've just discovered The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction (2011) by editors Brian W. Shaffer and Patrick O'Donnell et al, and the first volume of it – Twentieth-Century British and Irish Fiction – includes a section titled 'Working-Class Fiction', which is by Aaron Kelly and includes a sizeable paragraph on Lionel Britton (p. 407). This is most welcome, although there are a few minor errors: Britton didn't go to Russia in the 1920s, and he didn't go there to seek Soviet citizenship: he made his application some time before 1920 (but was rejected), but he didn't in fact visit Russia until 1935 (at the expense of the International Union of Revolutionary Writers). Also, it is not certain that the protagonist Arthur Phelps dies in Britton's novel Hunger and Love (1931) because the narrator leaves it open.

Kelly also mentions John Sommerfield as a working-class writer, although recently Nick Hubble (via a biographical essay by Andy Croft) pointed out the error of including him in this category: Sommerfield's father was a self-educated journalist, and John Sommerfield went to University College School, Hampstead with such students as Stephen Spender and Maurice Cornforth.* This reminded me of the assumption that the obscure J. C. Grant – author of the slightly bizarre mining novel The Back-to-Backs (1930) – was of working-class origin, whereas I discovered that his father was a (probably relatively comfortable) journalist.

*Nick Hubble, 'John Sommerfield and Mass-Observation', The Space Between: Literature and Culture, 1914–1945, Vol. 8:1 2012: 31–52 (p. 31).

24 July 2013

Rev. Edward Gregory in Langar, Nottinghamshire

The Rev. Edward Gregory (1744–1824), M.A., was born in Harlaxton, Lincolnshire and came to Langar in 1776. He had keen interests in botany and astronomy and built an observatory in the rectory grounds. On 8 January 1793 discovered a new comet. Two days later he wrote of his findings in a letter to Dr Nevil Maskelyne, the Astronomer Royal, sending a further letter a few days after that, and the comet – also observed by the astronomer Pierre Méchain – was named Gregory-Méchain. There is a link below to the two letters Gregory sent to Maskelyne.

St Andrew's, Langar, 2013.

A wooden tablet hangs inside the church above the south door, with details of Gregory's posthumous gift to the poor of the parish:

'MEMORANDUM
The Revd Edwd Gregory, Rector
of Langar cum Barnstone, by
will, dated 23rd Octr, 1824, directed
the dividends of £107.7.8 stock
in the three per cent. consolida-
ted Bank Annuities, it being
£3.4.4 per Annum. to be received
by the Rector of the Parish for
the time being, and by him
applied to such charitable uses
as are directed by the said will,
and as appear by an Extract
therefrom entered in one of the
Registers of the said Parish.'


Gregory's tomb is now illegible, but many thanks to Finbarr Connolly for the Stamford Mercury link with the inscription copied here, although the date of death (see comments below) is questionable:

'H. S. E.
Edvardus Gregory, e familiâ Gregory de Harlexton, in comitatu Lincolniensi,
hujus Ecclesiæ per XLIX annos Rector.
Vir priscâ pietate et verē Christianâ imbutus,
lenis, pacificus, hospitalis, suis jucundis; omnibus humanus;
Philosophiæ Naturali et præsertim Astronomiæ deditus,
Obiit VIII die cal. Nov. Ann. Dom. MDCCCXXIV'
Ætatis suæ LXXX.
Monumentum hoc Patruo dilecto Georgius et Edvardus G.
Mærentes posuêre.'

 Near Gregory's tomb is the grave of the six-month-old William Butler, the writer Samuel's brother:

'IN FAITH
of him
who calleth little children
to come unto him.
Thomas Butler
Rector of this Parish
and Fanny his Wife,
sorrowing,
but not with bitterness,
nor without hope:
have placed this Stone
to the Memory of
WILLIAM, their Fourth Child,
who died Janry 4th 1839.
Aged 6 Months.'


Thomas Butler greatly restored St Andrew's in 1860.

The two letters:
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
'Mr. Gregory's Account of the Discovery of the Comet'

'Tomb Thumb House' in Prestwich: Spoof?

There's a mosaic of local features in Longfield Shopping Centre, Prestwich which contains a tile incorporating a brief, old newspaper article that reads:

'No. 10 Church Lane, more than 150 years old, could easily be missed.
EMPTY
For the entire front of the Tomb [sic] Thumb house measures just about 6ft. across––and it narrows as you go inside. The greatest distance between the fire-place and the opposite wall is barely 3ft.'
 
Now, I know that the saying 'If it's not on the internet it doesn't exist' is not quite true (although it's mighty close), but I still find it slightly surprising that there appears to be no mention at all of this curiosity online: after all, the internet is like a trawl net for the bizarre as well as the mundane. The article looks real enough, but could it be that it appeared on April 1? And what's that human face in the picture that looks as if it's where a window should be? Very odd.

Other Sculptures in Worthington Park, Sale, Greater Manchester

Worthington Park, Sale, where there are several chainsaw wood sculptures by Tim Burgess. This is called 'The Wizard', and was created from a tree stump in 2008.
 
This one is 'Snail Bench' and includes a snail trail that I missed.
 
I couldn't see any details for this sculpture.
 
Here again, there were no details.
 
'The Worthington Park Lions' were unveiled in 2006, although the name of the artist is not mentioned.
 
Finally, the park's newest (June 2013) acquisition is an obelisk in the sunken garden inscribed 'Companionship is to the soul / As sun is to the garden'. I've no idea of the origin of this quotation and I'd probably be doing the author an injustice if I suggested Patience Strong, but the sculpture was put here by the Cyril Flint Volunteers, a charity whose purpose is to befriend lonely elderly people.

23 July 2013

Helen Allingham in Altrincham, Greater Manchester

16 Market Street, Altrincham.

'HELEN M. E. ALLINGHAM
1848–1926
WATERCOLOUR ARTIST
HER FAMILY LIVED IN THE AREA 1849–1862
SHE MARRIED IRISH POET W. ALLINGHAM 1874.
ELECTED FIRST WOMAN MEMBER
ROYAL WATERCOLOUR SOCIETY
1875'
 
And to see what her work is all about:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
The Helen Allingham Society

James Prescott Joule in Sale, Greater Manchester

James Prescott Joule (1818–89) was born in Salford and died in Sale. He came from a brewing family and distinguished himself as a physicist, with the unit of energy, the joule, being named after him.

 
From the 1870s Joule lived at 12 Wardle Road, Sale, where he died on 11 October 1889.
 
 
'772.55

I must work the works of
him that sent me, while it is day:
the night cometh, when no man can work. S. JOHN, IX. 4
 
JAMES PRESCOTT JOULE,
D.C.L., LL.D., FRS.
Born Christmas Eve, 1818.
Dies 11th Coctober, 1889.
Also of
MARY JOULE
Sister of the above
Born 18th January, 1823.
Died 19th May, 1893.
"Thy will be done."'
 
An interpretation panel in Worthington Park describes the significance of 772.55 as '[Joule's] 1878 determination of the weight in pounds that could be lifted one foot by the same amount of energy required to heat one pound of water by one degree'.

 
This memorial to Joule in Worthington Park, Sale, is by John Cassidy and was unveiled in 1905.

The J. P. Joule, a Wetherspoon pub in Northenden Road, Sale.

Robert Bolt in Sale, Greater Manchester

13 Northenden Road, Sale, Trafford.
 
'ROBERT BOLT
(1924–1995)
Playwright and Screenwriter
Author of
"A Man For All Seasons"
was born in this house
15 August 1924'
 
The play A Man for All Seasons was published in 1960, and turned into a screenplay by Bolt for the film that was released in 1966. It's probably slightly less well known that Bolt also wrote the screenplays for Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

Richard Buxton in Prestwich: Artisan Naturalists #3

 
'In Memory of
RICHARD BUXTON,
THE BOTANIST.
AUTHOR OF THE MANCHESTER
BOTANICAL GUIDE,
WHO DIED JANUARY 22ND 1865
AGED 81 YEARS.'
 
Richard Buxton (1786–1865) was déclassé, born at Sedgley Hall Farm, Prestwich to parents who moved to Manchester when he was two years old, his father John being reduced to the status of a labourer until his death.

Richard began learning to make children's shoes at twelve. At sixteen he was still illiterate, but painstakingly although with great enthusiasm taught himself to read and write.

In Where There's a Will, There's a Way! Or, Science in the Cottage; an Account of the Labours of Naturalists in Humble Life (1873), James Cash describes how Buxton went 'botanising' on Kersal Moor and met handloom weaver and botanist John Horsefield, the President of Prestwich Botanical Society (see link below for my Horsefield post).


The above daguerrotype of the sixty-five-year old Buxton was taken in 1851 by photographer John Benjamin Dancer (1812–1887), who arrived at Buxton's house with the geologist Edward William Binney (1812–1882) shortly after he'd had breakfast. Apparently Buxton believed they'd 'entrapped' him, and his expression clearly reveals his feelings. This is hardly surprising: even allowing for Buxton's camera shyness, Dancer seems to have (very stupidly) added to his subject's discomfort by thrusting a bunch of flowers into his hand. (And to make things even worse, the glimpse of the chair back initially makes it look as though Buxton's jacket is badly torn.)

My other artisan naturalist posts:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
John Horsefield in Prestwich: Artisan Naturalists #1
James Percival in Prestwich: Artisan Naturalists #2

22 July 2013

James Percival in Prestwich: Artisan Naturalists #2

A few days ago – which was a week after I'd spent about twenty minutes searching for James Horsefield's grave in St Mary's churchyard, Prestwich – I discovered a website called 'The Artisan Naturalists', which contains a page on the Prestwich Artisan Naturalists, and it (belatedly for me, of course) gives directions where to find Horsefield's grave, but it also told me of the existence of two more graves of artisan naturalists there: Richard Buxton and James Percival, who were both buried very close to Horsefield. It goes without saying that I had to return.

In Loving Memory of
JAMES PERCIVAL,
BOTANIST, OF SMITHY BRIDGE NR ROCHDALE,
WHO DIED AUG. 17TH 1902, AGED 74 YEARS.
HE HAD NO FAVOURITE FLOWER BUT LOVED THEM ALL.
ALSO OF ELIZA, HIS BELOVED WIFE,
WHO DIED NOV. 20TH, 1900, AGED 77 YEARS.
ALSO OF NATHAN, THEIR BELOVED SON,
WHO DIED SEP. 2ND 1858, AGED 1 YEAR.'
 
Not a great deal is known of Percival, although 'The Artisan Naturalist' notes that he was born in Hope Square, behind the present Friendship Inn. If he ever published anything, the British Library has no record of it.

Ethel Carnie Holdsworth in Blackley

'In Memory of
ETHEL HOLDSWORTH
DIED 28TH DEC 1962
AGED 78 YEARS.'
 
The tiny gravestone of prominent working-class writer Ethel Carnie Holdsworth (1886–1962) stands in Blackley Cemetery. Born in Oswaldtwistle, Holdsworth began by writing poetry when working as a winder in a cotton mill. She was the daughter of a strong SDF member, and she became a staunch feminist and socialist. She came to the attention of Robert Blatchford, who briefly employed her in London as writer and editor for Woman Worker. This was in the second half of 1909, although the reason for her dismissal – possibly her perceived political extremism – is unknown.
 
Holdsworth began writing novels in her thirties, and is perhaps most noted for Miss Nobody (1913) and This Slavery (1925).
 
Below are links to two of her novels:
 
–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
Ethel Carnie Holdsworth: Helen of Four Gates (1913)
Ethel Carnie Holdsworth: The Taming of Nan (1919)
 

19 July 2013

Raffles Hotel, Singapore

This is one I should have put up a few months ago. Raffles Hotel, Singapore was established in 1887 by Martin and Tigran Sarkies. It is named after Stamford Raffles (1781–1826), the British statesman and founder of Singapore, and of course has strong colonial associations. Famous patrons included Somerset Maugham, Noel Coward, Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling and Hemingway.
 
 
 
There are many signs such as this around the place just to remind you of where you are.
 
 
 
Raffles Courtyard is impressive too.
 
 
 
'Where else should one partake of the Singapore Sling but at Raffles Hotel?', the advertising sign reminds you.
 
A plaque next to the Long Bar sign relates:
 
'The precise origin of the Long Bar are [sic] shrouded in mystery.
Legend has it the a rather longish bar was
 constructed by the Sarkies Brothers, the original proprietors,
in the early years of this century in the
Hotel's Main Building.
 
Here the inventive barman Ngiam Tong Boon
served up his original Singapore Sling and Million Dollar Cocktails.
In the intervening years the location of the Long Bar
moved several times.
During the 1989–1991 Restoration of Raffles Hotel,
the Long Bar was given a new home,
where Mr Ngiam's recipes are prepared
in the traditional manner.'
 
Many people do 'partake of' this readymade blue, very sugary and rather alcoholically weak concoction which will cost them, after taxes and current conversion rates, the equivalent of over £16 a glass because, well, it's just something you have to try once, isn't it, and have your photo taken, grinning beatifically in front of your glass of Singapore Sling in the Long Bar so you can upload it to FaceBook, YouTube or your blog or whatever? Well, not for us thanks.
 
Another tradition, which is encouraged in the Long Bar, is to chuck the shells of the nuts you've grabbed from the bar counter onto the floor. Or the tourist might like to take home a bag of nuts, along with a bought Singapore Sling glass, as a souvenir.
 
The nuts and the shells attract pigeons, so the Long Bar is caged.
 
 
Nice capitals outside.
 
And don't forget where you've been.
 
Addendum: I've just noticed this blog post, and really like the reasoning:

–––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––
'Agnes' Pages: Raffles Hotel, Singapore'