A while ago I wrote here about Galsworthy’s eighth Forsyte novel, Flowering Wilderness (1932). That is the book in which the disillusioned war poet Wilfred Desert has just returned from Darfur, in the Sudan, where he had been kidnapped by fanatical followers of the Mahdi, and told he must convert to Islam, on pain of death. Having no Christian religious convictions, Desert acquiesces. When back in London he is looked at askance by those who had never been put into so challenging a position.
‘Tis cold ! Heap on the logs—and let’s get tight !
The Gods can turn this world for just one night.
I will enjoy myself and be no scorner
Of any nice girl giggling in a corner.
A blog reader alerts me to an exhibition in South London, which promises to be worth seeing. It is Remembering 1916: Life on the Western Front at the Whitgift Centre, Croydon. The website includes a fascinating photo gallery of artefacts, including the British gas helmet and rattle pictured here. The rattle was used to sound warning of a gas attack.
Mike Ashley knows his fiction magazines; he is, after all, the author of The Age of the Storytellers, that invaluable resource for anyone interested in popular fiction between 1890 and 1940.
Adventures in the Strand is his new book; it examines the long (1891-1930) relationship between the Strand Magazine and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, its most celebrated contributor.
Now I have to say that anyone who has previously read a life of Conan Doyle, or who has dipped into Reginald Pound’s history of the Strand, will not find anything startlingly new here. It is a trip through familiar territory, but it is an enjoyable trip. It suited me very well on a couple of train journeys, to Sheffield and back yesterday.
Browsing the Daily Mail for 1918, I was struck by this short report:
This is one of the carvings on the war memorial at Sledmere in north-east Yorkshire. It’s the only memorial I’ve come across that shows a scene like this – an unpleasant-looking German soldier deliberately setting fire to a church.
I’m always nosey about other people’s bookshelves, so was interested when the BBC News website featured a story about the books that Ernest Shackleton took with him to the Antarctic on the expedition that left England in August 1914.
This photo (by Frank Hurley) shows Shackleton’s cabin on the Endurance. Some people at the Royal Geographical Society have enlarged it closely to see the book titles.
The collection includes the Encyclopaedia Britannica, several reference books, and, unsurprisingly, books about polar exploration.
As well as these (and the prison diary of Alfred Dreyfus, which like the polar adventures he may have read as an exemplary epic of endurance) Shackleton also took with him a reasonably large selection of recent novels, some still famous, others much less so.
Since the list gives a good idea of the kind of fiction that might appeal to a man of action in 1915, heading South with the expectation of having time on his hands, I’ve spent a morning doing some light research into the novels, and discovering a little about each of them.
Yesterday I bought a new copy of Debits and Credits. My previous copy has been read to bits. It is an American (Doubleday, page & Co.) first edition of 1926, picked up somewhere by my father during his seafaring years. Its cover is stamped with a rather attractive picture of an ancient ship, which I hope you can just about see in this scan; the lettering has faded.
The cover features one of my favourite war paintings, Orpen’s ‘Thinker on the Butte de Warlencourt’. A soldier squats to ease the weight of his immense pack, and looks quizzically at the viewer, as though wondering how on earth the devastation around him could have been allowed to happen. A very human figure in the middle of a mechanical war, he sets the tone for Lawrence Dunn’s survey of the artists who went to the Front and fixed their experience into images.