May I Have This Book, Please? & Literary Links

May I have this book, please?

I am speaking of Two Way Mirror by Fiona Sampson, the new biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. When I read a review today in The Guardian, I was very excited. Oh, my God, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, I said ecstatically to my husband. Could we go to the bookstore and pick it up?

Unfortunately, we could not, because it will not be published here till August. This happens so often. Why can it not be published at the same time as the UK version?

Well, I can always reread Barrett Browning. I have a pink copy of Sonnets from the Portuguese and Other Poems, a little the worse for wear for being in the mudroom for ten years. I paid 40 cents for this at the Planned Parenthood book sale.

Of course we all read Robert Browning, but Elizabeth Barrett used to be overlooked. And yet readers everywhere know the opening line of her famous sonnet:

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Time to beat the gloom of February by reading some of her poems.

AND NOW FOR LITERARY LINKS.

  1. Will Self is writing a series of essays on reading for Lit Hub. And I think you will be especially intrigued by the autobiographical bits in the first one, How Should We Read?

Raised by bookish but undisciplined parents, I always felt I had just about the best introduction to reading imaginable: my American mother’s modish novels and zeitgeisty works on psychology mingling on the shelves with my English father’s English canonical tastes and his motley collection of philosophical texts (many of which came from my autodidactic grandfather’s own extensive library). And there were plenty of other books as well—acquired by my brothers or me at second-hand stores and flea markets. Nobody was remotely precious about these volumes: they were there to be read not revered. And since my parents had also decreed—in order to inculcate us with their own bookish tendencies—that we could have no television, reading was pretty much all we had to do: there was no street life in leafy middle class English suburbia in the 1960s, unless you liked watching lawns grow.

2. This week, the TLS published a review of Dorothy Whipple’s Random Commentary, first published in 1966, ” an assortment of writings from note-books and journals,” and reissued by Persephone.

Are you a fan of Dorothy Whipple? Persephone has been reviving her novels for years. I have enjoyed some of them, though I am not a mad Whipple fan. I remember reading a more or less “Virago vs. Persephone” article (in the Guardian?), in which one of the Virago editors said they never crossed “the Whipple line.” Well, Whipple is middlebrow, but some of the Viragos are too.

Anyway, the reviewer says,

We first meet Whipple in the mid-1920s. After her first love was killed during the First World War, she marries her employer, Henry Whipple, the director of education for Blackburn. She also struggles to establish herself as a writer, failing to sell a short story for five years. Modesty regarding her writing abilities and gentle wit suffuse these diaries. Whipple repeatedly berates herself for not working hard enough. Procrastinating, staring out of the window, or poking the fire – anything but writing: “When I have time to work, I don’t want to. When I haven’t time, I want to”. Whipple begins new drafts before finishing previous versions. Working on one book, she always wants to be working on another; “shaping and polishing” is her favourite part of the writing process. When her first novel, Young Anne (1927), is accepted for publication, the relief is palpable: “I’m not lost any more”.

Have a great reading weekend, whether you choose Elizabeth Barrett Browing, Dorothy Whipple, or someone else entirely.
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