Touching Mrs. Dalloway

May 15, 2018 at 9:23 am (books, history, jane austen, london's landscape) (, , , )

Join the London Evening Standard in a “Behind the Scenes” look at the British Library. Yes, this is where you can see Jane Austen’s writing desk (on permanent loan).

NPG 3630; Jane Austen by Cassandra Austen

In the midst of the article comes the question: Why they let us touch “Mrs. Dalloway” (Woolf’s manuscript) without gloves?

I hate to say, but Have you ever LOOKED at the gloves typically handed out to handle materials? Rather disgustingly DIRTY! And, big. (I have neither small nor large hands).

Clean, dry hands is key.

In the article, not only is “Mrs. Dalloway” discussed, but also the “scary literary dungeons” – those areas DEEP in the bowels (six stories below!) of the facility – where manuscripts are kept in “special chambers filled with nitrogen, carbon dioxide and argon.”

A rotating exhibition of “treasures” from the vault gives even frequent visitors to the British Library something *new* to see.

[I confess, I cannot see where there is a video, of the curators; I only see “today’s headlines and highlights”, but perhaps a different browser would help]

“Experience a sense of history,” says one curator; and that indeed is a well-expressed summation. To touch, to read, to digest the information culled from a manuscript (like the letters, diaries, and drawings I work from) is “to experience” in the highest sense of the phrase.

Click on Jane’s eyes to Look Behind the Scenes. And, if you’re heading to London (or lucky enough to BE in London), check out the Standard’s “London’s prettiest and most Instagrammable BOOKSHOPS” article for some “treasures” you can bring home.

(I think my favorite to seek out next time is the Dutch barge bookshop, Word on the Watermoored on Regent’s Canal.)

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North Country Books returns!

May 9, 2015 at 12:10 pm (books) ()

One of my favorite Used Bookstores has returned to Brick & Mortar existence: North Country Books, once in Burlington (on Church Street, at the end) has now opened in Winooski, Vermont.

books_north country

Have to admit that I rarely go downtown – but last week I spotted an ad in 7 Days, and this week 7 Days has run a story of the bookstore’s reincarnation!

Why was North Country Books a favorite with me? For their healthy offerings of Literary Biography and History (especially of the United Kingdom). If you’re in the Greater Burlington (Vermont) area, do drop in – you will probably come out the door with a new book (or two…) under your arm!

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Say it ain’t so: Nicholas Hoare Bookstore

September 15, 2012 at 8:44 am (books, entertainment, news, travel) (, , , , , , , , , )

With an expired passport and no “enhanced” driver’s license, I’ve been unable to cross the US-Canada border for some time. Why, you might ask, don’t I just get the documents I need? Well, my mother’s older – never walked well; does worse now – she used to come with me. I always visited Marks & Spencer – if for nothing else, some tea and buscuits! That’s long closed. Used to attend a few productions of l’Opera de Montreal; but tickets grew more expensive as the CN$ came on par with the US$. You see my dilemma? All my favorite reasons for travelling north have slowly disappeared.

One thing along remained: the presence in Westmount of Nicholas Hoare Books. Here in Vermont we see Nicholas Hoare himself on our local PBS station. He sponsors some of their British offerings. So without visiting Montreal (and once CBC radio’s frequency got taken locally=no radio; and I got rid of cable=no CBC-TV), I never knew what had been going on behind the scenes: closure of their Ottawa branch, and the Montreal branch in danger!

Looking for their latest Random Notes, I clicked on “Blog” and there in three brief entries is much of the story. You can read their history yourself.

They are forging ahead as a sponsor of Vermont Public Television’s Downton Abbey (series 3) airings in 2013. I urge all British booklovers – in and around Montreal: Help keep Nicholas Hoare in Westmount!

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Some backstory:

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Vermont Bookworms

December 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm (books) (, , , , , , , , , )

Great article in our local “7 Days” magazine on bookstores — most of which sell used books (my personal favorites). I’ve been to most of them over the years. It’s always great fun to find a book you never ever knew about, sitting, dusty, on some piled upon shelf… But I have to admit that I internet book-look almost as much, intent on particular titles. The farthest away a book has ever come? Australia! That was a bio on Queen Charlotte (1976; the only one around really), by Olwen Hedley. She also wrote a terrific “biography” of Windsor Castle! (among other offerings, I see, when I search her name on bookfinder.com [my favorite site])

In fact, up in St. Albans this summer, I stopped by The Eloquent Page; I hadn’t been in since their move into the present building. Found a great book in which WILLIAM GOSLING (Mary’s father) was mentioned!!!

Unless you seek, you never find books you didn’t know to be out there….

Enjoy the article — and patronize these shops, if you get the chance.

Queen Charlotte, of England – royal bookworm?

Read: Miss Smith meets the Queen Read the rest of this entry »

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Martha Ballard’s Diary

December 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm (books, research) (, , , , , , , , )

As I hone the earliest chapter of my book — which will set the tone for the whole, I pick up once again a book owned since 1990: A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, based on her Diary, 1785-1812.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich won the Pulitzer for this history of Martha Ballard, Hallowell (Maine), and Ballard’s life as midwife.

I remember well finding this book. We used to have a small “family” bookstore not too far from where I lived in Essex (this, in the years before stores like Burlington’s Chasman & Bem and then the mega-mega Barnes & Noble in South Burlington). In its earliest years it was called The Little Professor; another branch (same owner? I’ve no idea) did once exist on Church Street, in Burlington — but I’m not sure it was still there at this time. In both shops, there were creaky wooden floors, the cash to the right of the door, and simple shelves along the walls and in the middle of the store.

In Essex, I always took a look at the foreign coins on sale in the case straight ahead from the door; bought a couple over the years: British shillings and old Irish pence. Then you came to the modest “History” section. Just four or five shelves, with room to display some books face on, while others just showed their spine-titles.

Crouched to look at the shelves nearest the floor is how I came face-to-face with Martha Ballard. Was it the title? Maybe it sat with its front cover peering straight at you. But I can bet it was the earliest book based on a diary that I purchased; as well, the earliest in which a woman from some historical period of the past was discussed.

Needless to say, my collection has grown since!

But it is interesting, as my book begins with Mary Gosling’s travels, in particular to Oxford, and I envision the hubbub of readying horses and carriages in the stables attached to a grand London home of a rich banker, to see that Ulrich begins with the mighty river of the Kennebec – frozen river, rushing river, spring freshets. There is much for a writer to learn in READING the writing of others.

So I close this brief mention of Martha Ballard, by including a link to a long-standing website in which the original diary — in transcription as well as in its handwritten form — can be seen: DoHistory.org. It is also a great opportunity for blog  readers to see an original diary!

Few realize that I wear many hats in this research: research “assistant”, transcriber, typist among them. Pick up any published book by a well established writer and there’s someone who helps find material, someone else who prepares material for the author. Sometimes I feel like a one-man band! Just wish I could pursue it 24/7. So this website is a wonderful opportunity for readers to see not only an original document, but what can be done with and to it. I sure wish I had the possibility of ‘enhancing faded ink’, as mentioned on this page. And as I’ve worked both with microfilm as well as original documents, the photos displaying glare retouched and shadows lightened shows what technology can do.

I have had such “technology” thoughts, when transcribing Augusta Smith’s 1798 diary (the Mark Woodford Diary) — she must have recorded IN PENCIL many of her petty purchases and wins or losses at cards, now only faint indentations on the page. Each gives information about life in English society at that moment, and is precious; I managed to decipher just a few — I’m sure “technology” could uncover more. Though few beyond me would revel in such ‘trivia’.

An interesting item to note is Ulrich’s discussion of earlier uses of Martha Ballard’s diary: an 1870 history of Augusta, Maine by James W. North; another History of Augusta by Charles Elventon Nash, in which “a third” of Nash’s 600-page book consisted of an abridgement of Martha Ballard’s diary (mainly birth/death information evidently); as well as a 1970s “feminist” history of midwifery. Each time Ulrich gives readers what those earlier authors thought of Ballard’s diary: “with some exceptions not of general interest”, “trivial and unimportant”, “filled with trivia about domestic chores and pastimes”. But life is “trivia”-filled and often not more than “daily chores”. Whenever I read about The Memoir of Jane Austen or Henry Austen’s short “biography” being negatively cited because they claim that Austen’s life was nothing more than “uneventful”, I ask myself: whose life IS truly “eventful”?? I could never say mine is. So what do present-day English professors really want Austen’s life to have been characterized as? Was Martha Ballard’s life “eventful”? To her, even the tragedies of her life were just everyday occurrences. But that can never remove from lives like hers, like Austen’s, like Mary’s or Emma’s, the human drama bound up in that very “trivia” of daily life.

Ulrich discusses how Ballard would be nothing more in the history books than a birth date, a death date and in between notations of marriage and children. But — because her diary was written, kept and still exists — she too exists.

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