Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Heyeroines in need of a slap

27. Léonie de Saint-Vire (These Old Shades)

The Long Eighteenth Century, that gilded period during which the world as we know it was transformed irrevocably. Wordsworth wrote, of a day in 1789:
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!--Oh! times,
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!
And some few decades earlier, when our tale unfolds, Mademoiselle Léonie de Saint-Vire was indeed young, and thus well-placed to bask in the changing of the order of the Universe.

The very year in which she came to Paris, Rocque Joaquin de Alcubierre uncovered the ruins of Pompeii, and our ideas of Classical Rome were never the same again. And how did this momentous discovery affect young Léonie? She attempts to murder her sister-in-law "with the big carving-knife."

Seven years later the great Scottish physician and scientist, Joseph Black, discovers both carbon dioxide and magnesium, while Leonhard Euler publishes his magisterial Institutiones calculi differentialis, placing Leibniz and Newton's work on calculus onto a sound footing for the first time. Léonie's reaction? She runs away from home and says "bah". Frequently.

Of course a tavern in the Rue Sainte-Marie is hardly the best place from which to observe the world, but from the day she enters the Duke of Avon's household she has access to a fine library and the newspapers. Surely now she will take advantage of those times in which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways of custom, law, and statute, are taking at once the attraction of a country in romance? Within a week of her arrival at that fine hôtel in the Rue Saint-Honoré, Lisbon is destroyed in an earthquake that kills 60,000 to 90,000 people. Yet Léonie pays no real heed, pausing merely to threaten her fellow servants with a dagger. The loss of the second Eddystone Lighthouse, an event that set all England a-buzz also passes without comment from Léonie, other than that the King looks in real life as he does on his coinage.

Perhaps the Duke's decision to transfer Mademoiselle de Saint-Vire to Avon Court was triggered as much by his growing realisation that she was failing to observe what was going on around her as it was by any consideration of babies swapped at birth or girls dressing as boys or longstanding enmities between noble families. Alas, despite her presence in London for the signing of the Treaty of Westminster, Léonie prefers to opine dismissively on the Duke's family and to say "bah" some more.

And then, when the French invade Minorca, triggering the Seven Years War, the Black Hole of Calcutta and the Last of the Mohicans, Léonie returns to Paris for her triumph. Ill-timed to say the least.

Is a slap sufficient when dealing with what starts to look like willful High Treason?

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Heyeroines in need of a slap

26. Harriet Presteigne (The Foundling)

Poor Harry. It is a poor enough show for a Heyeroine that she does not appear until Chapter Four of her novel, but for Lady Harriet Presteigne the indignity is heightened by the detailed anatomising of her character by Lord Lionel some two chapters earlier. Any hope she may have cherished that she might bring an air of mystery into The Foundling is put to flight by our knowledge that she is a Very Well Brought-Up Girl, albeit one with a Want Of Spirits in her. But above all else she stands condemned by his lordship as Amiable. Is it any wonder that, after her brief appearance in Chapter Four, she disappears off to Bath, playing no further part in our story until Chapter Twenty, by when she has been additionally characterised in absentia as a Squab Little Figure Of A Girl, and indeed Nothing Out Of The Ordinary, by the delightful Lady Boscastle?

None of this would be a problem if Lady Harriet could lay claim, like Miss Lanyon, Miss Stanton-Lacy, Miss Grantham or dear, sweet Miss Wantage, to being the title character of her tale. But, while Harriet is lying low with the Dowager Countess of Ampleforth, this role is snatched by the bewitching Belinda. Indeed it would not surprise me to learn that at least one writer of my acquaintance had put forward the view that Belinda should be seen as the true Heyeroine here. We have, of course, trodden this ground before with both Miss Wychwood and Miss Theale, in competition with Miss Carleton and Miss Summercourt respectively. Needless to say, Wenlock’s position remains the definitive one. Lady Harriet is our Heyeroine. But how can a Heyeroine, indeed a Heyeroine who has, we are told (albeit told by a man whose only positive virtue is the possession of whiskers during the Regency), a Superior Understanding, For A Female, have made such a poor fist of the role she was written to fulfil?

The answer, I suggest, can be summed up in a word: cant. The briefest perusal of The Foundling will demonstrate that the key to success in its pages is not breeding, still less money, but a mastery of low speech. And when it comes to speaking cant, it appears that Lady Harriet simply can’t.

The Duke of Sale’s cousins merely talk in cant, Matthew accusing his brother of Bamming and his father of Nabbling Thirsk with Gideon merely referring to Matthew as a Rasher-Of-Wind. His servants meanwhile go as far as thinking in cant, A-Worriting, for instance, that the Duke is being treated to enough Cross-And-Jostle Work to drive him to Bedlam. It is fair to say that these characters do well enough for themselves by the end of the book.

But the real successes of the story are those whose mastery of cant is complete. Tom Mamble turns up in Chapter Nine without a Meg, but with a mouth full of Ruff Peck and by Chapter Twenty-Six is out shooting across Cheyney bagging every stray woodcock, pheasant, partridge, badger or Cotswold Lion he can point a Purdey at. This achievement would scarcely be conceivable had not Tom had a command of cant that would make a Kettering Ironmaster blush.

Beyond even Tom’s grasp of the tongue is Samuel Mimms, or as he prefers to be called, Swithin Liversedge. Oh, he can negotiate a pretty turn of phrase when it is needful, but when it comes to managing a Rare Bleached Mort, with or without any sense in her Cock-Loft, or drinking a Flash-Cull into a fit state for Plucking, you won’t find another Dimber Damber. And in The Foundling, that’s what gets results, starting with the means to establish a gaming hell in Strasbourg.

Against such odds what chance does a girl stand, when her family motto appears to be “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue, keepeth his heart from troubles”? Had she but turned her Daddles to the Prinking Lay, and not just played the Tender Parnell, she might have been Thick with Sale and his Smirks right from the Ale-Post to the Yoke.

In need of a slap? More like a Wisty Castor.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

It's only three weeks until the Romantic Novelists' Association's Regency Celebration. This is one of the few occasions on which I can wear my own Regency costume. Actually, it isn't really a Regency costume. The bottle green jacket, white waistcoat, white shirt, "nude" wool breeches and shoes are more the fashion of the first decade of the 19th Century, before Beau Brummell decided to make his old school uniform the last word in elegance. Nonetheless, I think that it will do.

Most of my outfit was made by Ages of ElephantsElegance, who are now based in Leeds, although they were in a very unregency part of West London when I was being fitted for the costume. The shoes were made by Sarah Juniper, who is based in a remote corner of Gloucestershire.

Last time I wore the costume was for the final of University Challenge: The Professionals way back in 2005. I was amazed to discover that, more than six years on, it still just about fits. It does need a bit of ironing, and the shirt collar and cravat need a touch of starch, but nothing more major. So let us just hope that the weather is good enough - I can't really risk it in the rain.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Wenlock was utterly delighted when he heard that his favourite television channel, BBC4, had commissioned one of his favourite historians, Lucy Worsley, Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces, to present a series on almost all of his favourite topics: Elephants and Decadence: The Age of the Regency.

The first programme in the series was an enjoyable run through the high points of Regency life - Caroline of Brunswick and Mrs Fitzherbert; Almacks and Whites; Brummell and Dandyism (with Ian Kelly); the Prince Regent's attitude towards Napoleon and the cartoonists' attitudes towards the Prince. With the sheer enthusiasm that Lucy Worsley brings to all her projects it was almost possible to forgive the total non-appearance of any elephants.

The second programme was even better, perhaps because it was more focused, and focused on one of Lucy Worsley's areas of expertise, art and architecture. Of course we had plenty of John Nash, from the overwhelming exuberance of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton to the superficial Neo-Classicism of Cumberland Terrace, but we also had John Soane - in Wenlock's opinion by far the better architect - whose reputation for refusing to compromise probably ruined his chances of obtaining the Royal commissions that he probably craved. And we also had Waterloo Bridge (not the current concrete one, but an earlier span) built by public subscription to commemorate the great victory, opened in 1817 with great ceremony, and painted by Constable, whose picture was not finished until a quarter of a century later, by when all the excitement was long forgotten, and Turner had arrived.

Still no elephants, but the third and final programme will be broadcast on Monday. Maybe it will be Behemoth-heavy to compensate.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

In the five-year hiatus in this blog, the Wenlock name has been picked up by no less an organisation than the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the success or failure of an Olympic Games is crucially dependent upon the choice of Olympic mascot. After all, who can forget Waldi, the rainbow-striped dachsund from the 1972 Munich games? Or Hidy and Howdy, the cowboy-hatted polar bears from 1988 in Calgary? Well, Wenlock can for one. The same goes for Roni the Raccoon from Lake Placid in 1980 and even for El Jaguar Rojo de Chichen-Itza (Mexico City 1968).

Nonetheless, the great minds of LOCOG (and I can remember when that would have made a great episode of Doctor Who) have clearly thought long and hard, and have come up with Wenlock, and his Paralympic companion, Mandeville. Wenlock is the first Olympic mascot to post on Twitter (take that, Misha! (Moscow 1980)) and to have its own page on Facebook (what have you got to say to that, Vucko? (Sarajevo 1984)).

The choice of Wenlock as the name for the mascot refers back to the Wenlock Olympian Games, an annual event founded in 1850, and witnessed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1890. The Olympian Society celebrated their 125th Games earlier this year.

While this Wenlock thinks the choice of this name for the Olympic mascot is a good one, and considers that the design of the mascot could be a great deal worse (compare it with the unspeakable ugly London 2012 logo), he remains disappointed about a related aspect of the Olympic planning.

In the 70 days immediately before the Opening Ceremony, we will be treated to the commercial hype and hysteria of the Olympic Torch Relay. The torch will travel the length and breadth of the country. It goes as far north as Shetland, as far west as Londonderry, as far south as Jersey and as far east as Norwich. But does it go to Much Wenlock? No it doesn't.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A while ago I blogged a review of Jen Kloester's Georgette Heyer's Regency World. Six years on and a new book is on its way, Georgette Heyer: Biography of a Bestseller, although it won't be published until October.

However it looks like the pre-publication publicity has started up already, with an article in theguardian revealing that Georgette Heyer accused Barbara Cartland of plagiarism following the publication of Cartland's Knave of Hearts, which lifted its plot more or less entirely from These Old Shades (which reminds me: Léonie de Saint-Vire will be appearing on this blog fairly soon).

What puzzles me is that this is considered newsworthy. I was certainly well aware that Heyer believed that Cartland had plagiarised her, and the "evidence" described in the article - letters from Heyer to her agent, Leonard Parker Moore - is what might be expected.

However, anything that raises Heyer's profile is good news, and I look forward to the publication of Jen Kloester's book. It's just a pity that she doesn't seem to be booked to talk about it at the forthcoming Cheltenham Literature Festival.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

At a time when all my Romantic Novelist friends are in Caerleon and, if their Twitter feeds are to be believed, partying really quite hard, quite a few newspapers have reported on an article in the the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care which claims that:
a huge number of the issues that we see in our clinics and therapy rooms are influenced by romantic fiction.
The "we" in this quotation is supposedly a reference to therapists in Family Planning Clinics, GP Surgeries and similar places where medical professionals work with patients. But as far as I can tell the author, Susan Quilliam, has no professional qualifications at all. She has a website on which she describes herself as a "relationship psychologist", but there are no rules about who may call themselves a "psychologist", and indeed Quilliam's description of this function hardly inspires the reader with confidence:
At the moment, I not only write agony aunt columns and books; I also comment for newspapers; broadcast on radio and TV; consult on advertising campaigns; and advise on medico-sexual projects.
So it appears that the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Healthcare, an offshoot of the widely-respected BMJ, has accepted an article by an amateur with a nose for self-publicity, and splashed it to the media, for what end?

The key paragraph in Quilliam's tosh is perhaps the one that says:
If a woman learns from her 100 novels a year that romantic feeling is the most important thing, then what follows from that might be to suspend her rationality in favour of romanticism. And that might well mean not using protection with a new man because she wants to be swept up by the moment as a heroine would. It might also mean allowing that same man, a few months down the line, to persuade her to give up contraception because “we love each other”. It might mean terminating a pregnancy (or continuing with one) against all her moral codes because that same man asks her to. It might mean panicking totally if sexual desire takes a nose dive after pregnancy or because of strain – after all, such failure never happens to a heroine. It might mean – in the wake of such panic – judging that if romance has died then so has love, and that rather than working at her relationship she should be hitching her star to a new romance.
I was sorely tempted to write a piece in which a romantic hero did demonstrate all the "correct" attitudes, but I haven't for two good reasons. The first is that such an essay would miss the whole point of Romantic Fiction, which is surely escapism. And the second is that Catherine Bennett has written a brilliant article in The Observer which uses all the best gags anyway.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

In my 12 June post I said of the whole Kindle Store business, "suddenly self-publishing has become a little less desperate". Others have been more enthusiastic. Madame Guillotine has declared that she is "still highly enamoured with Kindle publishing and am now determined to only publish e-books from now on". And of course it has its attractions. The dozen of copies of LAC,o:tBB I've sold in the last three weeks is a dozen more than I would have sold without it. People have actually read it and said nice things about it (but nobody has yet posted a review - what, dear reader, are you waiting for?)

But. Big but. I can't really consider myself a "proper" published author.

I cannot submit LAC,o:tBB to the Man Booker committee. I am not eligible to join the Romantic Novelists' Association (except as a "New Writer", of course). So I am in something of a literary half-world.

And then, in a recent article in theguardian, Cory Doctorow argues that I perhaps shouldn't count myself as "self-published"; indeed I am not really published at all. Doctorow's argument starts from a statement by the Senior Editor at Tor Books, Patrick Nielsen Hayden.
A publisher makes a work public, it connects a work and an audience.
Taking this statement at face value, particularly the second clause, Doctorow suggests that "publication" on the Internet has become separate from the traditional functions of a traditional publisher: that is, many or all of selecting; editing; typesetting; printing; and distribution. Some of these no longer happen at all (printing, most obviously), and some can be done by the author (typesetting is built in to all the formatting done to create an uploadable file). Distribution is done by the Kindle Store. So what is left? Doctorow says:
The internet has created a large number of new kinds of publishers who act to connect works and audiences. These essentially group intosearch engines, then bloggers, curators, and tweeters, and finally suggestion algorithms (such as Amazon's "people who bought this also bought…" recommendations; Reddit's human voting system; Netflix's suggestion system).
He adds:
"Publishers" are everywhere, as general purpose as Google and as specialised as the obscure blog that manages to show a link to the three people in the world who care about it. Anyone with a future in a creative industry is going to have to make peace with this fact.
It's an interesting argument, and I'm not going to suggest that the author of one of the Internet's most read blogs is wrong, but I'm still not sure how it can get me nominated for a Booker, or into the RNA Winter Party.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Heyeroines in need of a slap

25. Arabella Tallant (Arabella)

Faced with the sorry tale of the “little Tallant” the question we are forced to ask is simple: just who does she think she is? By this I do not mean “what business has she pretending to be an heiress when her clothes appear to have been knitted by a minor character from The Scarlet Pimpernel?” No indeed. There is a much deeper malaise here. Let me explain.

In our first encounter with Miss Tallant we find her, with two sisters, in the schoolroom of a Parsonage in the Yorkshire village of H_____. Who amongst us, of literary taste and refinement, cannot but be struck by this scene, yet struck more forcefully by its resemblance to a typical scene from one of the less Gothick products of the pen of Mrs Gaskell. The fact that one of the sisters, whom we shall refer to as E____, is clearly quite mad (as proven by the fact that she is seeking to insert a boiled onion in one ear) merely confirms that H_____ must indeed be H_____.

And yet. In a moment all our suppositions are overturned by the discovery of a fourth sister. We must revise our opinions. Perhaps the cromnyophilic sister is not mad E____, but poor sickly B___, and we are to imagine ourselves in Orchard House. But before the end of the chapter we discover there to be an equal number of brothers also. Arabella may well be the story of a lovely lady, but we were surely not expecting this.

The sad fact is that Miss Tallant, lacking, for whatever reason (and one possible line of argument is rehearsed in a post scriptum to this post), any literary identity of her own, seems desperate to insert herself into whatever classics of 19th Century fiction she can obtain from the lending libraries of Harrowgate (and when such fiction is unavailable, who knows how low she may stoop?) This is an affliction not without risk even in the remote fastnesses of God’s Broad Acres, but how could she be safe in London, from whose very bricks fiction and fantasy must constantly drift?

We cannot know what truly delayed Miss Tallant’s journey to London until mid-February, but I suspect that there might have been an intervention of some sort. Perhaps she had become convinced the she and Sophy were surrounded by wolves and Hanoverian plotters. Or she might have been found in a hidden garden by a young Yorkshire lad with a knack for talking to animals. Whatever the truth of the matter, her family must have worked through the issues with her during the grim winter nights and to have thought her cured. How quickly they were to be proven wrong.

Barely has she left Yorkshire when Miss Tallant diverts her journey to the implausibly named village of Arksey, where she claims to have cousins. And where these cousins have a mother, Emma, her aunt. It takes two days for these lesser Tallants to get rid of their unexpected guest, who seems to have developed a whirlwind passion for the place. Oh, Auntie Em, Auntie Em.

Our heyeroine destabilised by the discovery that she cannot stay in KansasArksey any more we cannot be surprised when Miss Tallant’s perch breaks, and her body slides forward into her box (I assume that Miss Heyer knows what she is talking about here, as I for one am completely foxed). The Marston Turnpike is, alas, almost without literary merit, let alone a lending library, so Miss Tallant has little control over her situation. After all, it is a truth universally acknowledged that a Heyeroine in the general vicinity of Grantham and in want of a plot, must be in possession of a good fortune.

And in good time Miss Tallant arrives at last in London, and it is everything that she might imagine – or more accurately, everything that she might have read. Her first impressions of the metropolis are of the noise of post bells, and of wheels on cobbled streets, and of the melodious cries of charming cockney street urchins selling fresh milk and sweet red roses coals, brick dust, door mats and rat-traps. We can be sure that she considered herself well in.

Once established in the bracing Bridlington Household, Miss Tallant can really go to town. While the Incident of the Maid with the Toothache, must be considered an alarming attempt at fiction (the Queen of Denmark, perhaps?), it is Miss Tallant’s adoption of the role of Ellie from that nice Mr Kingsley’s mawkish morality tale that shows the depths to which she has fallen, taking as she does the unprepossessing Jemmy from that archetypal Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby, the breezy Lord Bridlington, and turning him over to her own Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid, Robert Beaumaris.

This episode is soon followed by a yet more desperate attempt, as she seeks to convert the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Street from a throwaway line in a magazine serial into a wholly different story. That the centre cannot hold, and things are falling apart, is so clearly shown when Mr Beaumaris goes off to meet his grandmother, the infamous Dowager Duchess, and finds the good dog Ulysses trotting closely behind, clearly intending that he too should take the road to Wigan’s peer (Wenlock apologises for letting that one slip through his normally rigorous editorial process).

Simply imposing her fictions upon herself, and occasionally Mr Beaumaris, might be overlooked in the broad scheme of things, but this is no longer enough for Miss Tallant, and with the arrival in London of her brother Bertram, she has a new victim. Her options are many. She could have him run up debts that would lead only to the sponging house or worse (although whether the Marshalsea would in reality be worse than the abode of Leaky Peg is a moot point). She could have him caught up in a financial scandal. But it seems that frequent visits to Richmond Park have given her flights of fancy a less urban edge, and in the end she decides to go down a more historical, even Scottish, route and so, perhaps as a result of mishearing an introduction during some dreadful squeeze, she introduces Bertram to her friend Chuffy.

But for Miss Tallant, there clearly remains a literary pinnacle yet unscaled by her erratic behaviour. I refer, of course, to the one known only as She Who Must be Read. And now the time for that apotheosis approaches. In chapter 15 of Arabella, Miss Tallant reaches for chapter 46 of That Book.

By now, of course, Mr Beaumaris has visited Miss Tallant’s family and been made aware of her true condition. Whether to encourage literary delusions in such a severe case is entirely wise must remain a matter of dispute, but it is clearly Mr Beaumaris’s chosen approach, at least for the purpose of removing her to a more secure environment. This he does in his unparalleled way and we can be relieved to know that, with Mrs Watchet and her “warm milk” always to hand, Miss Tallant will be well looked after from now on.

Post Scriptum

In searching for a possible cause of Miss Tallant’s condition I became aware that she has an air of fragility and delicately moulded lips. At first I thought this no more than proper for a Dresden China Miss, and should not, of itself, be a cause of instability. However it is clear from the book that Miss Tallant is no such thing. Indeed she may be, I fear, something rather inferior. Could her lack of a genuine character of her own be because she is not a Dresden China Miss, but a Franklin Mint Figurine?

Thursday, 23 June 2011

The gallery in which she stood was of immense length, and partially separated into five unequal divisions by a trellis-work of what looked to be bamboo, but which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be painted iron. The central division was surrounded by a Chinese canopy of similar trellis-work hung with bells. Above, a coved ceiling projected through the upper floor, and had set in it the light towards which the Regent had directed her notice. A chimney piece in brass and iron, worked in further imitation of bamboo, was placed directly facing the middle entrance, and on either side of it, two niches, lined with yellow marble, contained cabinets.

Wenlock had the good fortune to be invited to dine last night at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton. Before setting out I took care to re-read the description of Judith Taverner's visit as described in Georgette Heyer's Regency Buck. The Chinese Gallery is today very much as Miss Taverner saw it, and indeed as depicted in Henry Winkles' print, now held in the Royal Collection.

Before dinner we were offered a glass or two of champagne in the kitchen, a part of the Pavilion that Miss Taverner never got to see. In her day Marie-Antoine Carême would have run the kitchen, directing his staff to produce banquets like that served on 18 January 1817 for the state visit of Grand Duke Nicholas of Russia, featuring 120 different dishes. The full menu is given by The Old Foodie. The kitchen, like the Chinese Gallery, looks much as it does in this print, complete with an unfeasibly large number of small copper saucepans, although the tables have been cleared of all those silver covers. The leaves on top of the iron palm trees were added a few years after Carême's great feast.

On our way to the dinner we were given a chance to see the Music Room, in which Miss Taverner listened to a concert.

At first sight it was all a blaze of red and gold, but after her first gasp of astonishment she was able to take a clearer view of the whole, and to see that she was standing, not in some fantastic dream-palace, but in a square apartment with rectangular recesses at each end, fitted up in a style of Oriental splendour. The square part was surmounted by a cornice ornamented with shield-work, and supported by reticulated columns, shimmering with gold-leaf. Above this was an octagon gallery formed by a series of elliptical arches, and pierced by windows of the same shape. A convex cove rose over this, topped by leaf ornaments in gold and chocolate; and above this was the central dome, lined with a scale-work of glittering green and gold... I could go on, as Miss Heyer does, perhaps a little excessively, but you get the idea. And it does indeed look the same today, and as illustrated in James Agar's print.

Faced with such opulence, Miss Taverner was quite overpowered. We, however, were taken through to the Banqueting Hall.

Without a description from Miss Taverner or Miss Heyer you will need to rely on the John Nash print on the left (there is a much larger image available if you click on this one, although not for the prints above). Once again the room looked much as it did in the Pavilion's heyday, but unlike the other rooms, which are a little short of furniture after the Prince Regent's niece took most of it away in 1847, not only is the Banqueting Hall still furnished with the main table as shown, but eight smaller tables, at which we were seated, were placed along its long sides. I found myself sitting roughly where the green-jacketed gentleman is standing to the front right in Nash's illustration.

Needless to say, we were not offered les faisans truffés à la Perigueux, le turbot sauce aux crevettes, le buisson des homards or les gateaux renversés glacés au gros sucré, let alone un gros nougat à la française or a croque-en-bouche aux anis, but the food was good, the company delightful, and the setting something the like of which I am unlikely to experience again.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The British Library has announced that it is to digitise some 250,000 items published between 1700 and 1870. This project will be carried out in partnership (almost inevitably) with Google. The British Library holds around 150 million items in its collections, but how many of those are from between 1700 and 1870, and thus what proportion of them will be covered by this new partnership, I have not yet been able to establish.

Any student of Behemoths will be delighted to learn that one of the newly digitised texts will be De Natuurlyke Historie van den Hippopotamus of het Rivierpaard, by George Louis Leclerc, from 1775 (admittedly translated from a French original, but with additional material, including an account of the stuffed Hippopotamus in the Prince of Orange’s cabinet of curiosities), but I am looking forward to finding out what other Georgian and Regency treasures are to become available.
There has - quite rightly - been considerable concern over Google's earlier adventures into digitising books that are still in copyright with little or no consultation with authors and other copyright holders, but I don't think that such criticisms can be levied at this venture. Most of us simply do not have the time - or the resources - to visit the British Library, or another such comprehensive reference library when researching for historical fiction. being able to access hundreds of thousands of books from home will be wonderful. The only downside I have identified is the ease with which it will be possible to become distracted from the subject in hand, and lost down random paths paved with ancient wisdom.

De Natuurlyke Historie van den Hippopotamus of het Rivierpaard, George Louis Leclerc (1775), [The Natural History of the Hippopotamus, or River Horse] - Translated from a French original but with additional material, including an account of the stuffed Hippopotamus in the Prince of Orange’s cabinet of curiosities.
De Natuurlyke Historie van den Hippopotamus of het Rivierpaard, George Louis Leclerc (1775), [The Natural History of the Hippopotamus, or River Horse] - Translated from a French original but with additional material, including an account of the stuffed Hippopotamus in the Prince of Orange’s cabinet of curiosities.
De Natuurlyke Historie van den Hippopotamus of het Rivierpaard, George Louis Leclerc (1775), [The Natural History of the Hippopotamus, or River Horse] - Translated from a French original but with additional material, including an account of the stuffed Hippopotamus in the Prince of Orange’s cabinet of curiosities.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

What, Wenlock asks, do the following have in common?
Once you have worked out the answer, Wenlock will say no more than that, over the next few months, he plans to take them, one by one, from this list, and add them to another list.

Friday, 17 June 2011

This is annoying. The runaway success of Lord Alexander's Cipher, or: the Bridekirk Behemoth (it sold a second copy in the US today) made me think of digging out the start that I made on a sequel just over five years ago. I blogged about it at the time. The laptop on which I wrote it was stolen a few years ago, but I thought that I had the draft backed up on a USB stick.

After much searching on the deepest recesses of the writing room in Wenlock Towers I found the USB stick, only to discover that of the sequel there was no trace. So I shall have to start all over again.

I do remember that he story opened with the unfortunate destruction by fire of a Chinese Pagoda in St James's Park. This happened in the summer of 1814 and was believed at the time to have been an accident. Five years ago I had a cunning explanation; I'll have to think it up again.

So, to ease my frustration I decided to put together a teaser cover. The title is just a place holder. Those who have read LAC,o:tBB will have a fair idea who the orphan might be, but whether she actually will play a leading role in this one I don't know. The heroine will be a person mentioned only in passing in the first book, and the hero probably won't be Lord Alexander, although he will be playing a part. I won't really know what to call this one until it is written - whenever that might be.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

My newspaper of choice, theguardian, has just published a list of the 100 best non-fiction books ever written, and actually, it's not a bad list.

Which doesn't mean I agree with it from end to end. OK, so it would take a bit of special pleading to persuade the editors of the merits of Wenlock's style bible,  On Dandyism by Jules Amédée Barbey-d'Aurevilly (1845), not least because it is really no more than an essay. Similarly Paterson's Roads (1785, and updated regularly thereafter), for all that it is an essential guide to travel by coach along the principal turnpikes of England, probably fails the readability test. However there are a few more obvious omissions.

On a wet summer's evening Wenlock likes little better than to curl up with a mug of gin and a good dictionary. Both Samuel Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language (1755) and the Rev John Lemprière's A Classical Dictionary (1788) are delightful reads, and deserve a place on the list.

On a less wet summer's evening, the only thing that will do is a good game of cricket, and that is best captured by C L R James in his Beyond a Boundary (1963). Miss Austen, in Northanger Abbey, refers to a children's game by the name of "baseball", and even that has its literature, perhaps most memorably in The Boys of Summer (1976) by Roger Kahn.

Had Wenlock world enough, and time, no doubt I could come up with so many more worthy candidates, but perhaps my last choice for now would be from the realm of Euterpe. Perhaps the only way to understand what is going on in 20th Century "classical" music is to read The Rest is Noise, by Alex Ross.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Apart from a pointer to a blog that never really got going, it has been almost five years since I last posted here, and the world has not stopped moving. Most significantly, from the lofty perspective of Wenlock Towers, Amazon has introduced the Kindle, and with it, the Kindle Store.

Suddenly self-publishing has become a little less desperate, and as hordes of other writers drag their much-loved but misunderstood masterpieces out from under their beds, and try to work out what a Mobipocket might be, I have done so too.

A weekend spent reading, rereading and proof reading Lord Alexander's Cipher, and playing around with image manipulation programs and free fonts, has resulted in the arrival of the Behemoth in the Kindle Store for readers in the territories served by Amazon's operations in the United States, United Kingdom and Germany.

If you have a Kindle, then you can try the first chapter and a half for free. If not there is a free Kindle emulator for the PC and the Mac, and of course apps for android smartphones and all those iThings.

So give it a go - and tell me what you think, whether by commenting here, or leaving a review at Amazon.