Homework at the End of the World: Lockdown, Classics, and Snakes and Ladders

Turn on, tune in, drop out.  But we’re doing this through literature, not drugs.

It’s time to read the classics. We’ve got a lot of homework at the end of the world!  My copy of Don Quixote is on the night table, but I am also finishing up Anthony Burgess’s Enderby books, which are comic classics in their own right. 

And then there’s the Latin literature.  Much of it is comic, too.  

Why, you may wonder, would anyone want to read Roman comedy during lockdown?  Well, it’s fun for me, and it’s funny.  But I do love classics in other languages too,  and am thrilled that so many people are turning to the great books. According to essays  in The New York Times, The Guardian, and The Washington Post, people are reading War and Peace, Middlemarch, and The Decameron.  And sales are up at Penguin, according to The Guardian.

In the fifth (or is it sixth?) week of lockdown, the number of coronavirus cases here has climbed from seven to 5,000.  All I can say is, it is terrifying, but thank God we live in a sparsely-populated state.  Every day we wake up and are glad we’re well, but at the same time,  What fresh hell is this?    

I have a bookish discovery.  LET ME RECOMMEND THE BEST BOOK YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF,  Doris Langley Moore’s A Game of Snakes and Ladders, first published in 1938 and recently reissued by Furrowed Middlebrow. This is one of the most charming novels I have read, and I will certainly read it again and again.  A great theater novel!

At the end of World War I, Lucy and Daisy, actresses in a theatrical company, have become casual friends:   Lucy, a  witty, charming vicar’s daughter,  got the job for Daisy, a lower-class woman stranded in Australia after a bad marriage.  When the company arrives in Egypt, the social gap between the two  widens: Daisy absorbs herself in an affair with the rich owner of the company, while Lucy desperately saves money to return to London.  Lucy loses her money, her looks, and job after a long illness, mainly because of a decision of Daisy’s.  You will love Lucy’s story–she never loses hope but is stranded for years in Egypt–and you will  admire Moore’s graceful, dazzling prose.  

This is the best of the three books I’ve read by Moore, who was a novelist, a Byron scholar, and founder of a fashion museum.

6 thoughts on “Homework at the End of the World: Lockdown, Classics, and Snakes and Ladders”

  1. I’m all for a theatre book! I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a copy over here at the moment, as bookshop seem to be supplying from their stock rather than from ordering in. However I’ve added it to the TBR list.

    1. It’s frustrating, isn’t it? I miss bookstores. If you like e-books, this one is very cheap, $3.99, I think. But I wish I had a hard copy…

  2. I don’t have a single one of Furrowed Middlebrow’s books but I also have never seen one that I didn’t want–they seem to have such a knack for locating titles that hold interest for me.

    These are such strange times, aren’t they. On Friday they were discussing plans to open Quebec, the large province next to ours, which has been extraordinarily hit by the virus, and now they’re backtracking because they’ve had their single highest count of losses in a 24-hour period. People want contradictory things to be true and it’s very stressful and risky even under the best kind of circumstances amid the chaos. Keep on keeping on and staying well!

    1. I’ve enjoyed Doris Langley Moore and Rachel Ferguson, and I do like the Furrowed Middlebrow blog. But I don’t know much about the other authors!

      Let’s hope the governments keep backtrackng on the bad decisions!

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