On the Use of Books

People like me sometimes express disquiet about the future of the book. The digital is taking over. Young people prefer their phones to a paperback. And so on.

This week, though, I learned something that suggests the book still has at the very least a certain cultural cachet.

I paid a visit to the workshop of a craftsman, a skilled carpenter who makes excellent furniture. He was in good spirits, because during lockdown his business has not slumped. In fact it has been doing surprisingly well. Businessmen and others are putting in lucrative orders for bookcases, which they need in order to give themselves an impressive and prestigious background during video chats when working at home.

As Anthony Powell’s ‘Books’ Bagshaw might have put it: Books do furnish a Zoom.

War Illustrated

Peter Jackson’s film They Shall Not Grow Old is technically astonishing, but some things about it worry me. One of these is its use of pictures from the magazine War Illustrated, published weekly between September 1914 and February 1919.

I bought some 1916 issues on Ebay recently, and they have made interesting reading.

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‘the word known to all men’

Tom Deveson’s comment on my Y.Y. post reminds us of Joyce and his linguistic taboo-breaking. Robert Lynd was cautious about this:

‘There are things that even hardened war veterans do not like to see in cold print.’

It’s interesting to see the association of swearing and the war. Even civilians like Lynd had gathered that the war was an obscenity-rich environment, where even those brought up carefully might become hardened to the most basic kinds of language.

This reminds me of a theory I’ve been forming for some time. I am not an especially obsessive Joycean, and those who know more about the subject may shoot me down in flames for this, but I might as well explain my idea here, in the hope that it might interest someone.

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Y.Y?

On Ebay again, I’ve bought a job lot of David Low caricatures as issued as supplements to the New Statesman in 1926.

Most are named, but one is puzzling me:

The initials Y.Y. are foxing me – though I have an idea that I ought to know who this is. Can anyone enlighten me?

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Tipping a policeman

I’m indulging myself during this tedious lockdown by re-reading Arnold Bennett’s Imperial Palace (1930). At the moment I’m wondering about something that occurs in the episode where dynamic Gracie Savott parks her car outside Smithfield market, and asks a policman to keep an eye on it.
On leaving the market, ‘she resumed her dark cloak, tipped the policeman before Evelyn could do so, and slowly climbed into the car’.
I’ve come across the custom of tipping policeman before in novels of the twenties, especially detective novels.
These days, though, I’ve feeling that I’d be regarded with some suspicion if I offered our local community police officer a fiver for services rendered. So – does anyone know when the custom of tipping policemen ended? My guess would be somewhere about the Second World War. Am I right?

Douglas Goldring, Patrick Hamilton

I’ve just realised that I never mentioned on this blog that I recently wrote a review of Douglas Goldring’s The Fortune (1917) for the Sheffield Hallam Popular Fiction blog.

Goldring’s book is remarkable for its depiction of James Murdoch, a man who objects to war not on religious or political grounds, but because it seems an unnecessary and sentimental enterprise. The scene in which he defends his attitudes to a military Tribunal is very well done. Read the review here.

Goldring’s novel is a dissection of English attitudes, as is another book I’ve recently reviewed for the Sheffield blog, Patrick Hamilton’s Impromptu in Moribundia (1939). You can read about it here.

Max Beerbohm and ‘Tubby’ Clayton

Idle in the lockdown, I did a bit of exploring in Ebay, a site where I’ve not ventured much recently. I bought myself this print, a drawing of Rev. P.B. ‘Tubby’ Clayton by Max Beerbohm, one of a set of lithographs of current notables that Max drew for the Spectator in 1931.

I have a small collection of Beerbohm prints (with a display of his caricatures from Vanity Fair in our dining room, and a few from The Poets’ Corner scattered around the house) and copies of almost all of his books. I’m mostly a haphazard collector of things, but Beerbohm is one of the few authors and artists for whom i’d like to be a completist.

But what I want to ask is – why ‘Tubby’ Clayton? I can’t think of anyone less like Max, a non-religious aesthete who avoided all kinds of earnestness, than Clayton, the humane padre who was the moving spirit behind Toc H (Talbot House) the building in Poperinghe that offered teetotal rest and relaxation to soldiers. There was a chapel upstairs, but soldiers were under no pressure to visit it. It was a place where they could sit, chat and write letters (without the distractions and temptations found in the bars and brothels that were the other main attractions in Poperinghe.)

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Frail Women (1932)

Mary Newcomb

Another Maurice Elvey film from Talking Pictures TV, to go with his Who Goes Next? which I wrote about yesterday.

Frail Women is a melodrama that uses the trope of the war baby to explore the themes of illegitimacy and responsibility. Mary was born in 1916, placed in a care home and then adopted by a kind woman on condition that she had nothing to do with her mother. When the adopter dies, her pharasaic family find the truth about Mary’s origins and want nothing to do with her. The mother, Lilian, is found, and Mary given back to her. She is a brassy and truculent woman, now the kept mistress of a bookmaker.

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Who Goes Next? (1938)

In this time of plague, self-isolation is probably necessary, but is no less frustrating for that. Still, life offers some consolations, and one of them is Talking Pictures, the Freeview TV channel that specialises in old British films, some of them very obscure.

I had never previously come across Who Goes Next? directed in 1938 by Maurice Elvey (a veteran of the silent screen who once, I remember reading, shared a mistress with Bertrand Russell).

The film is set in a First World War prisoner-of-war barracks where British officers are busy tunnelling their way out. What struck me very much was that this film of 1938 already contained many of the tropes that would become very familiar in the prisoner-of-war movies of the fifties. The British officers are determined and ingenious, and keep up their spirits with facetiousness. the Germans are stupid, bullying and easily fooled. The Commandant in particular is a fat and greedy figure whom the senior British officer keeps in his place by assuming mental and moral superiority.

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Influenza advice

In view of the current crisis, I thought it might be helpful to share this advice from the Daily Mail of February 24, 1919:

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