Monday, July 20, 2009

The Long Affray and The Towers of Trebizond

Over the past couple of days Liberal Democrat Voice has posted (part 1 and part 2) several bloggers' summer reading recommendations. My own choices are in part 2 and I thought I would tell you a little more about them here.

My first choice - The Long Affray by Harry Hopkins - was one of a number of rural history books reviewed by John Patrick in the November 1987 issue of History Today. He wrote:

Rider Haggard hated poachers, describing them as 'cowardly villains recruited from among the worst characters in the neighbourhood'. He would have had little time for Harry Hopkins's The Long Affray (PaperMac).

This book, based largely on original sources, tells the story of the long-drawn-out war between landowners and poachers, and the efforts of such men as Cobbett and Bright to reform the game laws.

It is a lively, stimulating, committed book. The author is clearly outraged by the plight of the rural poor and the lengths to which landowners would go to pre- serve their game.

The evidence inevitably gives a biased picture. Prosecuted poachers figure in the records. Landowners – if there were any – who allowed labourers to take their game do not. Sometimes, too, Mr Hopkins lays indignation on with a trowel, and he perhaps overstates the wider importance of the conflict between the poachers and the preservers of game. But it is a worthwhile account of an otherwise neglected topic.

By one of those coincidences, the next book Patrick discusses in the article is by Keith Snell, who supervised my Masters dissertation on Richard Jefferies.

My second choice was The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay. The introduction Jan Morris (PDF file) wrote for a recent American edition of the book captures its appeal and explains its background well:

For although this is a very funny novel, witty, satirical, and sometimes downright farcical—a book to be read throughout for sheer pleasure—nevertheless it is a sad book too. It rides above its own comedy. It is a novel, a travel book, an entertainment, but it is also, I think, covertly confessional.

High-spirited, sociable, well off, Rose Macaulay lived and died a spinster, but not because she wanted to. The highly educated and extremely clever daughter of a schoolmaster, she had for many years been the lover of a married man, and this had led to her estrangement from the Anglican Church. Her lover had died in 1942, but if there is some trace of bitterness to her portrait of the Reverend the Honourable bigot, even a touch of cruelty, it is perhaps because she had felt betrayed or abandoned by such men of God.

By the time she published The Towers of Trebizond, in her seventy-seventh year, she had in fact been rescued from disillusionment, and returned to Anglicanism, by another clergyman, the Reverend J. H. C. Johnson—their correspondence was posthumously published in the 1960s. It seems unkind to say so, but without her lapse in faith this subtle and paradoxical novel would have been a far lesser work.

The sadness and loneliness that now and then informs its bubbly humor, the suggestions of quest that become ever stronger as the story proceeds, undoubtedly spring from her own spiritual and romantic unease, and give the book its profounder stature.

2 comments:

Davidboyle said...

Absolutely right. The Towers of Trebizond is one of the best books I've ever read. I read it in a beautiful Turkish bay, which may perhaps have coloured my enthusiasm. But it is one that stays with you.

David said...

Hold my camel.