I have been steeped in the life and writing of Edward Thomas in recent weeks, and gaining many insights into the mind of this complex man all mediated through the eyes of his wife Helen. I tracked down and bought a collection of Helen Thomas's writing, Under Storm's Wing, published by Carcanet and I can't recommend it highly enough. It includes As it Was and World Without End, the two books published after Edward's death at the Battle of Arras in 1917, plus letters, memoirs of literary meetings as well as a childhood memoir by Edward and Helen's youngest daughter Myfanwy. Slowly the picture is building and it's not the one I was expecting.
However the whole Edward Thomas theme also necessitated a little trip to Poetry Corner to see what else I had on my shelves.
Poetry Corner actually contained in this pine dresser in my book room and one of those pieces of furniture that rather oddly always reminds me of the early stages of pre-eclampsia before Offspingette's arrival.
'What on earth have you been doing to send your blood pressure this high?' exclaimed the doctor as my over-inflated arm nudged 150/100 on the old sphygmomanometer.
' Well, nothing really just beeswaxing an old pine dresser.' I offered by way of explanation.
'In that case don't touch it again.' he replied, giving me a sharp stare 'or you're going to be in trouble.'
And I was 'in trouble' eventually anyway, but I took him at his word and as you can see, almost twenty-nine years on, I haven't touched it and it really could use some TLC on those doors.
One book has led me to another and how odd that the very day I reached up to the shelf for the beautiful Little Toller Press edition of The South Country by Edward Thomas, a parcel should arrive from Little Toller (a subsidiary of Dovecote Press) with their latest offerings which I have kept alongside and been dipping into ever since.
If you will soon be facing this dilemma...
Book + December + Gift = ?
then these might be a worthy consideration, always beautifully produced and of course we always like a nice French flap don't we.
Letters From Skokholm by R.M.Lockley.
Well who even knew that the island of Skokholm existed off the Pembrokeshire coast? Not me, I'd have stuck the pin in Scandinavia for sure, but Ronald Lockley leased the island for twenty one years in 1927 at a cost of £25.00 per annum eventually making a home there for himself and his new wife.
The letters Ronald then wrote to his brother-in-law John Buxton, himself a distinguished naturalist, are actually what Adam Nicolson describes in his foreword as a "bit of a performance", in fact the product of years of notes and diaries shaped up into essay form and then sent as 'each was written'. But it matters not because what emerges is a fascinating and involving account of life on the island, the natural world under the increasing shadow of Europe at war and Tunnicliffe's precise and atmosperic engravings too.
A Shepherd's Life by W.H.Hudson
Another name I am coming across in relation to Edward Thomas, William Henry Hudson 1841 - 1922 who came to England from Argentina in 1869. Living the life of a nomadic shepherd, poverty-stricken yet a pioneering conservationist and founding member of the RSPB, the memoirs and writings in this volume track a life that I wanted to know about, chapter headings that draw me like a magnet (you can see I don't get out much) ...A Shepherd on Foxes... Concerning Cats ... A Sheepdog's Life...Starlings and Sheep Bells and not an ounce of disappointment when you get there.
In his introduction Adam Thorpe quotes Ford Madox Ford,
'It is astonishing how little literature has to show of the poor.'
and Adam Thorpe qualifies this, suggesting that with a few notable exceptions this is particularly true of the rural poor, the 'ruinous hovels' rarely exposed when there was an idyllic cottage to be described. Any such literary lacunae set to rights here and with a set of exquisite wood engravings by contemporary artist Howard Phipps.
If you have time to look don't miss that link to the Rowley Gallery website, I have fallen in love with Howard's engravings, so beautiful, and would never have discovered them but for this book.
The Journal of a Disappointed Man by W.N.P. Barbellion
The pen name of Bruce Cummings and quite a different book to the other two, and I have to say having made a start, a remarkable diary and no wonder it caused a sensation when it was first published in 1919.
A nature diary set in Devon slowly evolves into a 'deeply moving account of poverty, lack of formal education and flailing attempts at love', but above all the authors slow decline into a degenerative condition that would eventually cause his death. But there is humour and beauty here and and it is mostly to be found on the streets of South Kensington because the author works in the Natural History Museum, or in the concert halls of the capital because Bruce is an avid music-lover.
No pictures in this one but don't be disappointed, in a way you don't need them, the words suffice and you've still got French flaps to drool over so no worries.