Back to that Cambridge trip and the real Grantchester Meadows where RevCheryl and I set off from one vicarage, ostensibly to walk Amy the vicarage dog, but to go and look at another vicarage and have a wander around Rupert Brooke country. This is RevCheryl's home turf so my thanks to her for the guided tour and my apologies for being an embarrassing tourist and snapping everything in sight.
I read Jill Dawson's The Great Lover this 'summer' and had quite thought I liked Rupert Brooke before I started it.
Stunning adonis-like, floppy-haired privileged lad that he was, not doing anyone any harm and then those immortal lines of poetry
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware...'
marvelously and quietly stirring, then dying ingloriously of
septicaemia following an insect bite to his lip before he'd even fought
a battle, and buried in some distant olive grove, well that always seemed to add
to the poignancy.
Jill Dawson, having immersed herself in Rupert Brooke's letters then began to elaborate and fictionalize his life and loves at Grantchester, his indecision and confusion about his sexuality and moving around the edges of the Bloomsbury set which won't have helped, a fear of madness and actual nervous breakdowns, affairs of the heart including much lusting after both Nell the maid from the nearby Orchard tearooms and then a schoolfriend from Rugby, followed by a prolonged stay on a South Pacific island.
Except perhaps none of that really happened and in the end I suppose it shouldn't matter, The Great Lover is fiction after all.
The trap for the unwary, and I fall head first into it every time, lies in trying too hard to discern the fact from the fiction, what happened, what didn't, what is myth, what is not.
Where exactly does the author's imagination begin and how far can it go?
Hilary Mantel talked fascinatingly about this in relation to Wolf Hall (I'm still on cloud nine for Hilary, the Booker win so richly deserved)
The Great Lover opens with a letter sent to Nell the lusted-after maid in 1982 from a child fathered by Rupert Brooke whilst on Tahiti (did he?)
As Nell the maid says in her letter back, and perhaps this is Jill Dawson's early explanation to her readers,
biography is a good way to find out things but to my mind, well. It has
its limits. After all, a biography is written by a person and a person
does not always understand another as well as they might think...I do
think they set too much store by facts and not enough by feelings. As a
girl I set a lot of of store by facts, but I learned that they could be
Nor have I read Christopher Hassall's biography of Rupert Brooke so I have litte to go on but Virginia Woolf who in 1918 pronounced Rupert Brooke,
'jealous, moody, ill-balanced'
After reading The Great Lover I'm afraid I'm agreeing with Virginia, and Jill Dawson certainly conveys these elements of his personality, sadly by the time I got to Tahiti with him I've got to own up, I'd sort of had enough of Rupert and I wanted to get home.
All was not lost.
Nell, as the daughter of a bee-keeper, offers access to that rich, honey-sweet element in the book which kept me reading, especially as a foil for Rupert Brooke's odd ways, his over-bearing mother and his frequently selfish and eccentric behaviour. Too much of Rupert would be a bad thing, Nell's feels like the voice of balance and reason and for all her lack of education, yet possessing acres of good common sense and useful intelligence, she almost becomes the choral character, there to offer a grounding in the realities of life and in stark contrast to that life of privilege enjoyed by so few.
So with all this in mind it was good to trace Rupert's footsteps just a little and wander through The Orchard tearooms on a quiet Monday morning that week and not difficult to imagine Rupert lounging there too.
and of course another famous 'author' now lives in The Old Vicarage at Grantchester, so we had to go and look there as well.
No signs saying 'Go Away...No Circulars, No Hawkers, No Bloggers ' so I took a few shots for the record.
Statues abound in the vicarage garden and nor is Rupert forgotten,
...and at least he's a little warmer than this poor chap.