Tag Archives: Cicely Hamilton

A Persephone Project Pit-Stop; One Year In…

Last November I set myself a little mini reading mission to read all one hundred, now one hundred and four, Persephone titles in order at the rate of one a month. I thought now was a good time to catch up with how I am doing or not as the case maybe as I seem to have gotten rather behind with it all…

Today, being the second Sunday of the month which I mentally designated for the Persephone Project, I should have been discussing Consequences by E.M. Delafield, the 13th Persephone title. However with things as they were with Gran I got a few books behind and so instead would have been discussing the 9th Persephone title Few Oranges and No Eggs: The Diaries of Vere Hodgson  1940 – 1945. Well alas I have gotten somewhat behind again. This is not because of lack of time (though things have been a bit manic with quite a few job interviews) but because every book needs to be read in its own individual way and for me Few Eggs and No Oranges is not a book that can be read in big gulps or devoured in a week or two. It is one you need to digest slowly and take it all in. To rush it would be to spoil it and that is not what I want the Persephone Project to be, it should celebrate the books not make me impatient with them or rush them. So I am holding off, a mini Persephone postponement, but not for long.

Persephone Pit Stop

You see I have decided that I do want to get back on track and be reading the fifteenth title in February. You may, quite understandably, be thinking ‘hang on, he is way behind but in a mere few months wants to be ahead’ that doesn’t make sense BUT I think it is manageable because of what the next few titles are. As I mentioned Few Eggs and No Oranges are diary entries so I want to dip in and out of them daily along with other reads. Good Things in England is a source book of traditional English cooking by Florence White from the 1920’s so The Beard and I are going to cook some delights (possibly Eel Pie, Hasty Haggis, Egg Curry Cheesecakes – oh the fun) over the festive season. Nicholas Mosley’s Julian Greenfield looks a biography perfect for curling up with over the Christmas period and It’s Hard to be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst being a short collection of poetry. All of this seems realistically juggle-able.

Speaking of realistic, I have decided that as of this month the Persephone Project will no longer have an official date every month. Deadlines can work with some bookish projects but apart from book group and Hear Read This I really want to free my reading up in 2014 as now I have a new job starting in eight days (see the interviews paid off) there is going to be less time for reading and indeed less time for blogging – so I don’t want either to become a chore. I will simply have a big binge over Christmas and then go back to reading one a month amongst my other reads when I fancy them.

Before I go, I should say what an utter joy reading the eight titles has been so far. They have been occasionally challenging (Etty Hillesum) and though provoking (Cicely Hamilton) but overall every single one has been a joy in its own way in particular I have loved how each one from the outset starts as a cosy feeling work and yet as you read on the darker undertones start to show (Dorothy Canfield Fisher The Home-Maker and Dorothy Whipple’s Someone At A Distance in particular) and two have easily been some of the best books of my reading year (Mollie Panter-Downes’ short story collection Good Evening, Mrs Craven and Monica Dicken’s simply wonderful Marina) so I am very much looking forward to what lies ahead.

Do let me know if you have been reading along or if you belatedly want to join in with the Persephone Project, I would be delighted if any of you are or would like to. Also, whilst on the subject what has been your favourite Persephone so far and which ones should I really be looking forward to?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

William; An Englishman – Cicely Hamilton

And so for the first of my reads for my Persephone Project, where I plan to read all the Persephone books in order once a month, and I have to admit I was slightly nervous of reading ‘William – An Englishman’ in part because if it was a dud it would have thrown me off from the start of this venture and two, and probably the most worrying, it was about WWI… I am not good with war books, I feel that WWI and WWII are overused in fiction and tend to provide nothing new. Cicely Hamilton’s debut novel however, released in 1919, is an unusual account of the war that I have never read before.

Persephone Books, paperback, 1919 (1999 edition), fiction, 226 pages, from my own personal TBR pile

William Tully, the protagonist after whom ‘William – An Englishman’ is titled, is really just your average rather nondescript gentleman. Yet after his mother days, a controlling woman who he never liked, he finds himself a man of money and wants to make some kind of difference. Befriending fellow insurance clerk Faraday he soon becomes involved in the politics of the time and through this meets Griselda, a suffragette, who is almost his opposite yet the two fall in love and within years marry (leaving out her having to obey him) and are soon on honeymoon in the summer of 1914, in an old cottage of Griselda’s friends, in the middle of Belgium with no newspapers for their retreat and so no idea that war has broken out all around them, well not initially, and soon they find themselves stepping into the very heart of it.

“’If it’s fine.’ William cautioned again as they mounted the stairs to bed. ‘I’ve heard thunder several times in the distance, so we may have a storm in the morning.’”

What Hamilton does with William and Griselda is try to tell the tale of some of the Mr and Mrs Everyman’s, and how they were affected, at the time of the First World War yet from a completely different angle. Especially bringing in both of their political and social agenda’s. Whatever their thoughts on war however nothing will quite prepare them for what they witness from the moment they walk unknowingly into it. It is very rare a book makes me cry, or with fiction at least horrifies me really deeply but Hamilton creates a scene of hostages in a small village that will haunt me for quite some time, and that is only the start of what William and his wife endure.

The other thing that Hamilton does really well with the war aspects of the book is to constantly humanise it, sometime in the strangest of ways. You have horrific things going on all around you as the reader, and yet Hamilton will put something very normal in amongst all this that you wouldn’t even think of which makes the whole scenario all the more bizarre and yet all the more real because of it. I found this quite an incredible device, yet one that never felt it was a device, if you know what I mean?

“The white cat may have been deaf, or she may have been merely intrepid; whatever the cause her nerves were unaffected by the fury of conflict and she dozed serenely under shell-fire, the embodiment of comfortable dignity.”

I have to say though I did really struggle with the book at the start. Part of this was the initial mundane lifestyle which William had; I just wasn’t particularly interested in him as a character even when he went political. Yet I think that the mundane nature of the start of the book is to highlight how the everyman, even the most unlikely, was involved in the war. I was quite interested in Griselda though initially I have to say I didn’t really like her very much, of course you don’t have to like every character, which I thought made Hamilton’s writing all the more impressive because I really felt for Griselda as the book went on. I would have loved to have been able to ask Hamilton if this was intentional, I admired it greatly.

“On the night when William first saw her, she wore, as a steward, a white dress, a sash with the colours of her association and a badge denoting that she had suffered for the Cause in Holloway. Her manner was eminently self-conscious and assured, but at the same time almost ostentatiously gracious and womanly; it was the policy of her particular branch of the suffrage movement to repress manifestations of the masculine type in its members and encouraging fluffiness of garb and appeal of manner. Griselda, who had a natural weakness for cheap finery, was a warm adherent of the policy, went out window-smashing in a picture-hat and cultivated lady like charm.”

The other reason I think I struggled with the start, and also found myself slightly bogged down for a few of the chapters before the very last, which was wonderfully poignant, was all the politics. I found I couldn’t quite get a grasp on it all for a start (but then politics and me are like that full stop) and also it was the only sections of the book where I felt Hamilton was suddenly writing a historical reference book rather than a novel. I did wonder if this also contributed to my slight ambivalence to William initially, though of course this ambivalence was completely turned around by the end. This did also occasionally happen when Hamilton tried to explain to the reader what was going on war wise that William and Griselda didn’t know, it wasn’t dreadful in any way it just slowed me down and I stuttered for a while. Reading Nicola Beauman’s introduction however has made me understand all this a little more.

I couldn’t say that ‘William – An Englishmen’ is a perfect book, but the roughness of its edges are actually what make it all the more appealing and important a read, for me at least. This is a book that has a fire in its belly for the everyman (possibly due to what the author herself saw in her involvement in WWI) and a passion that is completely reflected in its prose – especially in all the parts of the book where we are at the heart of the war. I thought it was a very skilful and unusual look at WWI and one that has a sense of hindsight far ahead of the years in which it was published. Heartily recommended, just have a little patience at the get off and you will be well rewarded by this book.

So, all in all a wonderful start to my Persephone Project, and a book that once again shows me the broad nature of the books that Persephone publishes. I would love them to publish Hamilton’s other book ‘Theodore Savage’, an early science fiction novel about civilisation being destroyed by scientific warfare. I am now very much looking forward to reading title no.2, ‘Mariana’ by Monica Dickens, which I will be discussing on January the 13th 2013 if you want to join in or read-a-long. In the meantime though, have you read ‘William – An Englishman’ and if so what did you make of it? What other books on WWI or WWII do you think tell the story of it in an unusual way?

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Filed under Cicely Hamilton, Persephone Books, Review, The Persephone Project