None in stock... *gasp* ...'But don't worry, I'll make you some' said my salvation behind the counter and she did. Only in Devon.
Fran and I did the customary book exchange and my thanks to her for this delectable copy of Bloomsbury in Sussex by Simon Watney, published by Snake River Press and purchased at Much Ado Books in Alfriston (I have bookmark) but wrapped in a Charleston bag... the bag now sits neatly in the Homage to Virginia corner. I've been reading The Waves, so very slowly this year that it's likely to take me the full year to finish it.
Bloomsbury in Sussex is a fresh and evocative account of all the houses lived in by both Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and I read it in short unputdownable order also embracing the frequently-mentioned fact that Vanessa's signature colours were salmon pink and dove grey. Whilst delineating the homes various, Simon Watney also elaborates on the relationship between the sisters, pointing out that neither ever felt at ease in the others area of expertise. Virginia seized the literary ground, Vanessa the artistic.
But the importance of their homes is undeniable as this quote from Leonard Woolf confirms
'The Leonard and Virginia Woolf who lived in Hogarth House, Richmond, from 1915-1924 were not the same people who lived in Tavistock Square from 1924 to 1929; the Leonard and Virginia Woolf who lived in Asheham House from 1912 to 1919 where not the same people who lived in Monk's House from 1919 to 1941. In each case the most powerful moulder of them and of their lives was the house in which they lived.'
Vanessa Bell, frequently treated as an understudy in any account of Bloomsbury life, and, with a vulnerability that seems rarely acknowledged, Simon Watney gives her fair and equal attention here for which I was grateful. I have long admired Vanessa's book Sketches in Pen and Ink for the other side of the story which it reflects so honestly.
I like Simon Watney's suggestion that
'Something of their mutual and complementary sense of humour may perhaps be lost on those of a more literal disposition in these over-literal times, but it is impossible not to respond to their seriousness about their work, which they communicated with the lightest of touches and the utmost modesty.'
If you can't visit the houses now open to the public, Monk's House at Rodmell, now owned by the National Trust and Charleston, (and I haven't been to either) this book is the next best thing with its guided tour around the rooms and the furnishings down to every last detail and I love the little snippets of information... Mrs Dalloway paid for one lavatory, The Common Reader paid for the other. Also included is the planting in the gardens. Charleston with its lilies, red hot pokers (ours seem to have suffered last winter) hellebores, aquilegia, asters, campanula, cranesbill, bleeding hearts, honeysuckle, lupins, poppies, phlox and so it goes on.
This all got me thinking about the whole concept of the book as a gift, when the post about Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety elicited the following comment from Linda Grant
Slovo gave me this as a thank-you for something, a few years ago,
someone having given it to her as a thank you. I hadn't heard of it, she
hadn't heard of it (or him) but it's a total knock-out. I must give it
to someone else.'
Understandably, despite living in a house full of books, there is nothing I love more than the gift of one. KevinFromCanada sent over a first edition of Surfacing by Margaret Atwood and a copy of The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields, I sent back a copy of A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf with the original Vanessa Bell dust jacket and Living in the Maniototo by Janet Frame just to extend her readership around the territories and chose a book from my shelves for Mrs KFC (Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker ) and each of the Canadian visitors. To others I have recently passed on copies of Stoner by John Williams and Room For a Single Lady by Claire Boylan and received some wonderful books in return.
But it all got me thinking about perhaps the one book which I have loved so much that I would then always give as a gift to someone else, might there be just one?
I'm still undecided.
And I wondered... if you were giving someone the gift of a book, which favourite would you choose?