Reading is to the mind what exercise is to the body Joseph Addison, English Essayist, Poet, Dramatist and Statesman. 1672 - 1719

'Clarice's Book Page' is the 'reading room' of the 'Elizannie' page at:

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

A Christmas Carol

Over on the Elizannie blog a look at Dickens' story from the sociological point of view has taken place, but lots of literary comments had to be left out, so here I am attempting to re-dress the balance!

A Christmas Carol was written in 1843, and it touched readers' hearts then and continues to do so today, although now it is not just through the written word but through stage and film adaptations, audio versions via CD and radio. Many people know the story of how a miserable man - Scrooge - who did not have any feelings of humanity or kindness towards others was shown the error of his ways by the Ghosts of Christmas and by the end of the story not only is filled with the spirit of Christmas Goodwill but became a better human being altogether.

First of all let's start with a Trivial pursuit question! How many ghosts are there in A Christmas Carol? Most people answer three: The Ghosts of Christmas past, Christmas present and Christmas future/yet to come. However the 'official' answer in quizzes is four - including Marley of course. But when Marley leaves and Scrooge looks out of the window he sees many ‘spectres’ outside. And don’t forget the ghostly hearse going up the stairs as Scrooge enters his house!

Although nowadays we think of a 'carol' as being a Christmas song, the definition of the word is a song of joy or praise. So the title A Christmas Carol must signify a joyful song about Christmas or the Christmas ideal. By the end of the story this certainly becomes true. The ‘Carol’ imagery is carried on throughout the story, with staves used instead of chapter headings. This was definately an interesting/unusual literary device for the time. [Something that Dickens’ friend Wilkie Collins - and other authors in other ways - would later do in a different way by laying out one of his novels like a play in ‘Acts’] But almost revolutionary for an author like Dickens to do this in 1843.

Let's look at the three Christmas Ghosts a little more closely:

· The Ghost of Christmas Past
Sounds somewhat like a candle which at the end their ‘trip’ together Scrooge snuffs out. It was a Christmas custom to light a candle on Christmas eve. This Spirit shows the reader the reason for Scrooge's actions but does not excuse him
· The Ghost of Christmas Present
A representation of Father Christmas*. Victorian Father Christmases were dressed in any colour robes. This ghost shows Scrooge what he is missing by his actions but also offers a warning in the shape of the two children: Ignorance and Want – Dickens’ warning about the effects of the squalid conditions of the Industrial Revolution and exploitation of labour could have on the very poor
· The Ghost of Christmas Future
An awful warning and also reminiscent of Old Father Time. And in fact he foretells Scrooge’s unmourned and lonely death unless he mends his ways.

There are a lot of Dickens' autobiographical details in the story. Because the young Dickens experienced so much hardship and poverty during his early life, his writing about social inequalities is often based on his own past. It could be that the Cratchit’s house is modelled on the small house at 16 Bayham Street in Camden Town where Dickens lived at the age of ten and the six Cratchit children mirror Dickens' brothers and sisters - Tiny Tim may be based on Dickens' youngest, poorly brother who was known as “Tiny Fred”'. Dickens was a pupil at Wellington House Academy, Hampstead Road, London which may be the model for the school Scrooge went to. It is set in
a little market-town . . . with the bridge, its church, and winding river.
Johnson in “About ‘A Christmas Carol’” (Dickensian 1931) identifies this description as referring to Strood, Rochester, and the river Medway, where Dickens spent part of his childhood. Johnson also noted that Dickens erased the word “castle” from the original manuscript, an apparent reference to Rochester Castle. [Michael Patrick Hearn, The Annotated Christmas Carol, 88] Like Scrooge, Dickens had a sister called Fan[ny]

The women in A Christmas Carol are unusual for Dickens, who often had a ‘silly’ woman in his novels who probably represented his mother, Elizabeth Dickens – think of Mrs Nickleby, Dora Copperfield, Bleak House etc although these are often balanced by a strong woman like Agnes Copperfield, Betsy Trotwood etc. But in A Christmas Carol the woman are quite pro-active: Fan, Belle, Mrs Cratchit all speak up for themselves. Even the laundress and the cleaning women have a certain something! Victorian readers would have picked up ‘hints’ about the ‘interesting condition’ of Mrs Fred:
‘Scrooge’s niece was not one of the blind–man’s buff party, but was made comfortable with a large chair and a footstool’
‘Dear heart alive, how his niece by marriage started. Scrooge had forgotten, for the moment, about her sitting in the corner with the footstool, or he wouldn’t have done it, on any account.’
The children in A Christmas Carol are more typical of the 'Dickens' type of child', although like Rose in Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim does not die. However Tim is like many ‘too good to be true’ children in Dickens novels who do usually die: Paul Dombey, Little Nell. Tim is rather like Oliver Twist in that he seems to have an almost angelic streak. Dickens is playing up to the Victorian ‘ideal’ that children were born good or bad, and Tim – again like Oliver Twist and Paul Dombey – seems to have been born able to spout words of pious wisdom!

Bear with me here, because I am going to talk about another little quirk of mine: Evidence of Time Travel in the story! The chronology of the story does not ‘work’ if we try to be sensible! Scrooge and Marley don’t part until 2 o’clock on Christmas morning and the first Ghost is not ‘due’ until one o’clock the next day [Boxing Day], the second at one o’clock on the 27th and the third at midnight on the 28th. Scrooge does say
‘Couldn’t I take ‘em all at once, and have it over, Jacob?’ hinted Scrooge
However Scrooge awakens at two o’clock and then at all the other times and finally awakes on Christmas morning, crying
‘It’s Christmas Day!’ said Scrooge to himself. ‘I haven’t missed it! The Spirits have done it all in one night. They can do anything they like.’
Another ‘hint’ for time travel: When the Ghost of Christmas past takes Scrooge to see himself as a child at school we read:
“The panels shrunk, the windows cracked; fragments of plaster fell”
This is the sort of 'effect' which suggests the image of 'unbuilding' of the apartment which surrounds Scrooge, taking it back in time in fact. This effect has been used in other novels and films, particularly by H. G. Wells in The Time Machine (1895) and in film versions of that book.

For modern children, there are also suggestions of super hero qualities in the Ghosts' interactions with Scrooge because they have the power to:
  • Look through walls and roofs
  • Change the future if not the past
  • Circle the earth
  • Do all these things in one night moreover!!!

There are so many Film/TV Versions of the Novel, nearly 100 at last count. I should be [but I am not] ashamed to say that I own about 6o, the earliest [version not the film] dating from 1901. There are of course also many audio/cassette versions and some can be downloaded from the internet and put on mp3 players.

Of course dramatisations often either show scenes that are not in the original or omit ones which are:

Not in the original story:
· Scrooge eating with the Cratchits: he didn’t and that would have ruined the scene on Boxing Day when Bob turns up late for work and Scrooge pretends to sack him!
· In the Alastair Sim version he is shown dancing with his housekeeper on Christmas morning – lovely thought though this is it didn’t happen! No housekeeper in the book! The whole point is that up until the spirits visit, Scrooge is alone. In the 1935 Seymour Hicks version a housekeeper is also shown [Athene Syler] bringing in his breakfast and again that is an ‘invention’.

Omitted from the original story:
· Scrooge is not often shown eating alone in a tavern/coffee house on his way home from work on Christmas Eve. The Seymour Hicks version shows this.
· The couple who are not to be evicted because Scrooge has died are often omitted
· When the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows the grieving Cratchits it is often not made clear that Tiny Tim has only just died and is in fact still not yet buried and additionally this is not the same year that we are ‘seeing’ the grave stone etc of Scrooge – remember the Time Travel elements!

The book is written with lots of allusions to light and dark/fog/shadows and looking into and out of scenes – in and out of windows and behind curtains for example. Thus it is very ‘filmic’ as it were - and although we know that Dickens loved theatricals and wasn’t averse to the odd bit of acting himself it is odd to think that he knew nothing about what a gift A Christmas Carol would be to film-makers. It has been filmed almost constantly since 1901. Sadly I own lots of versions... Rather than subject you all to a long dissertation on the relative merits of teach, here are just a few of my subjective comments!:
o Best: Patrick Stewart 1999/ Muppets 1992 [where Dickens – played by Gonzo the puppet - is the narrator!]
o Worst: Brer Rabbit's Christmas Carol/ Carry on Christmas 1969
o Genre: Ballet/Opera and apparently a County & Western version called Skinflint: A Country Christmas Carol (1979) (TV) which hardly anyone has ever seen…..
o Animated: ‘Themed’ include: Mr Magoo, The Flintstones, All Dogs, Jetsons, Mickey Mouse and others
o Puppets: The Muppets, Sesame Street
o Quirky: Scrooged, An American Christmas [set in the 1920]s, Ebenezeer [a western with Jack Palance].
o Feminist’: Where Scrooge is female [Mostly American] with Ms Scrooge; Ebbie 1995; A Diva’s Christmas Carol; A Carol Christmas; A Bad Girls Christmas special
o The Disney 3D version, really good special effects but no use to those like me with neuro problems who are not allowed to watch 3D films.....
o A 'time travel'/sci fi version with Dr Who
o Some subvert the idea: It’s a Wonderful Life, Black Adder’s Christmas Carol
o There has even been an Easter ‘sequel’: An Easter Carol which was made an animation made in 2004

The context of the times in which any version has been made can show in that adaptation.
Although I have been talking about the effect of A Christmas Carol continuing throughout our society across the years, the film versions show a reverse in the sense that what was prevailing at the times when a film adaptation was made often affected the way that adaptation was made. To illustrate, just a quick example from a few of the many films adaptations, some of which will certainly be shown over the new few weeks at a TV channel near you! Please note that titles such as ‘A Christmas Carol’ or ‘Scrooge’ may change/be interchangeable depending which side of the Atlantic one is on!

Scrooge [1935]: The ‘Sir Seymour Hicks version’
This was filmed at the time of the depression and the hunger marches and there is a scene where the poor/unemployed are looking through a window into the ‘other world’ of the rich at a function which could be somewhere like the Mansion House, where there is dancing and feasting. When the loyal toast is sung, those inside and outside sing ‘God Save the King’ - an attempt to show the 'unity' of the two groups. At Christmas 1935 King George had been ill for nearly a year and died in the January of 1936.

Scrooge [1951] aka A Christmas Carol – USA: The ‘Alec Guiness version’
This film was made at a time of optimism, at the time of things improving after a World War unlike the previous film which was heading toward a world war. Rationing was still about and that is reflected in the fact that food is not focused upon at all in any of the scenes as in the last film. But this was a time also of events like the Festival of Britain and Scrooge’s excitement and optimism at the end reflect that. The humour is quirky. It added in several scenes not in the book including a 'new' employer – Jorkins played by Jack Warner – who ‘poached’ Scrooge from Fezziwig and almost ‘taught’ Scrooge bad ways; the death scene of Fan, Scrooge’s sister and added to the school scene by claiming that Scrooge and Fan’s mother had died in childbirth with Scrooge when in fact Fan was the younger child. As said before, the housekeeper is fictitious – but all the more fun because she is played by Kathleen Harrison!

Scrooge [1970]: The ‘Albert Finney musical version’
This version was trying to capitalize on the success of Oliver! but kind of missed the boat – it has been said that the only good song is ‘Thank you very much’. In a lot of ways the musical does connote late 69s/early 70s musicals. It is not the only musical version but I do prefer that of the Muppets! Albert Finney is excellent as Scrooge although he seems to have based Scrooge on Albert Steptoe [if you remember him...] – but the fact that he is too young [34] for the part does shine through. Originally Rex Harrison [it was not that long after his success in My Fair Lady] was going to take the part but he had to rest on doctor’s orders. One wonders how different the film would have been with him as Scrooge. Richard Harris also rejected the part.

There is a definite ‘Swinging 60s’ zeitgeist in the Ghost of Christmas Present sitting on a magnificent pile of food and in the crowd scenes when Anton Rogers leads the singing of ‘Thank You Very Much’ on the death of Scrooge and actually dances to it on Scooge’s coffin [bad taste!] An extra scene of Scrooge going to hell is very sci fi orientated [2001 Space Odyssey inspired?] with a wonderful Alec Guiness as Marley’s ghost. ‘Thank You Very Much’ becomes good taste when Scrooge dubiously decks himself out as Father Christmas at the end and gives away wonderful Christmas Presents to the Cratchit family and then goes out in the street and destroys everyones’ debts!

A Christmas Carol [1984]: The ‘George C. Scott version’
Filmed in Shrewsbury at a time when Merchant Ivory films were the vogue so it is ‘costume drama’ at its most intense – but is it Victorian ‘grubby’ enough? Made during Thatcher’s Britain, there is a reminder when we see the homeless of how for the first time for many years there was an increasing homeless population on the streets of our big cities. Does Scott’s Scrooge represent an 80s yuppie perhaps? The director, Clive Donner, was the film editor on Scrooge (1951).

Scrooged [1988]: Bill Murray
Probably to everyone’s disgust, this would be in my top two of the adaptations, but tying with the Muppets. [I am not sure about my number one. Probably Patrick Stewart] It portrays the 'tread on the others' business world of the 1980s yuppies and the Scrooge character as a businessman who cares more about success than his family and friends.

A Christmas Carol [1999]: The ‘Patrick Stewart version’
Although there are slight changes to the beginning – instead of saying ‘Marley was dead’ we are shown Marley’s funeral and the singing of Silent Night is an anachronism but does it matter because it is such a good adaptation! Stewart is a Dickens expert and put on a one man show of A Christmas Carol a few years ago in London to very good reviews. It is probably the most accurate and thoughtful and I personally love the scene on Christmas morning where Scrooge is trying to laugh for the first time in many years.

Produced in 1999 it seems to be trying to be presenting the book in a faithful way – but also saying that although we may be 156 years on from the original book but we still have unemployed and those who need charities to help them through their problems. No longer workhouses perhaps but still jails. Still ‘two nations’ the rich and poor? At the end of Scrooge’s visit to the Cratchit’s during Christmas Present, Tiny Tim starts singing “Silent Night” so the sentimental feeling of the original story is still there in bucket loads.

A Christmas Carol be read on two levels? On one level as almost a fairy tale about a rich, selfish man who eats the wrong sort of supper, has a nightmare which is real enough to make him realise that he is wasting his life and the riches he is amassing and could lead a better and happier one helping others and when he wakes he does. The other level is a deeper warning about how laissez faire economics can eat away at society from within and whilst killing off ‘expendable parts’ in the form of ‘surplus population’ something more precious and vibrant – happiness and innocence – will also be lost unless the selfish giant [to borrow from the future yet to come, Oscar Wilde] becomes less selfish a sterile and unloving, uncaring society will develop. Is this the reason that the story is still popular – because deep down we all know that we cannot afford to forget it? Charity is not just good for those who receive it, it is good for the giver too?

Lastly, please look at the punning word play in the last paragraph on the two sorts of spirits – alcohol and ghosts! So Dickens rounds off with a joke. The story may be about serious stuff and morals but is light-hearted too:
He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!
Yes, God Bless Us Every One!

*Our red faced, jolly ‘Santa’ dressed in red robes trimmed with white fur is actually an invention of the Coca Cola company

A Christmas Carol is sometimes adapted/used for campaigning purposes as in:

Some little quotes and paragraphs of this blog may also be found in Elizannie's
Well we are twins!

The picture above is from the original 1843 illustrations and shows the Fezziwig ball. The original illustrator of the story was John Leech had become an artist to support himself after the bankruptcy of his family forced him to abandon the medical studies in which he had excelled in anatomical drawing. He joined the staff of Bentley’s Miscellany in 1840, and was the chief cartoonist for Punch from 1841-1861: approximately 3,000 drawings of his appeared in Punch during this period. Although most famous as an early Victorian satirist for this work, he also made extensive contributions to periodicals such as The Illustrated London News and produced drawings and etchings for numerous novels, short stories and children’s books. As well as those for A Christmas Carol, his best known book illustrations are found in the hunting novels of Surtees. [This information on Leech from

Friday, 11 November 2011

For Remembrance Day: 'Attack' by Siegfried Sassoon


AT dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun
In the wild purple of the glow'ring sun,
Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shroud
The menacing scarred slope; and, one by one,
Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.
The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed
With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,
Men jostle and climb to meet the bristling fire.
Lines of grey, muttering faces, masked with fear,
They leave their trenches, going over the top,
While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,
And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,
Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

Siegfried Sassoon

Photograph courtesy of

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Poem by Bertolt Brecht

[Dedicated to all those protesting against all wars everywhere, especially all those who were in Trafalgar Square on Saturday and all the other linked demonstrations all over the world on Saturday. May Peace Prevail. Clarice]

General, your tank is a powerful vehicle.
It smashes down forests and crushes a hundred men.
But it has one defect:
It needs a driver.

General, your bomber is powerful.
It flies faster than a storm and carries more than an elephant.
But it has one defect:
It needs a mechanic.

General, man is very useful.
He can fly and he can kill.
But he has one defect:
He can think.

Bertolt Brecht

Photograph of Brecht courtesy of

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Prayer Before Birth by Louis Macneice

The photograph shows a memorial to the fallen in Afghanistan and Iraq at the Antiwar Mass Assembly in Trafalgar Square yesterday. It features the following very appropriate poem by Louis Macneice:

Prayer Before Birth
I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the
club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born, console me.
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me,
with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me,
on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk
to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light
in the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words
when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me,
my treason engendered by traitors beyond me,
my life when they murder by means of my
hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when
old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains
frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white
waves call me to folly and the desert calls
me to doom and the beggar refuses
my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my
humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton,
would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with
one face, a thing, and against all those
who would dissipate my entirety, would
blow me like thistledown hither and
thither or hither and thither
like water held in the
hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

Louis Macneice

The poem is a plea from the future, from the child[ren]/generations yet unborn that we - the present generation - may provide them with a world free from all the problems that Man has created so far:
'Tall walls to wall me' - prisons
'Strong drugs dope me' - drugs that tranquilise and lull
'Wise words lure me' - lying politicians
'Black racks rack me' & 'in blood-baths roll me' - torture in the names of 'freedom' & 'truth'

The future children ask the present generation to provide not material things but not to interfere with the natural gifts:
'water to dandle me'
'grass to grow for me'
'trees to talk to me'
'sky to sing to me'
and lastly
'a white light in the back of my mind to guide me' - a faith or morality to live by

The future children ask that they may be forgiven in advance:
'For the sins that in me the world shall commit'
'my words when they speak me'
'my thoughts when they think me'
'my treason engendered by traitors beyond me'
'my life when they murder by means of my
'my death when they live me'
But the use of 'my' as the first word and 'the world/they' as the perpetrator shows the disgust that such things are done by 'the world/they' in the name of the innocent/yet to be born. Of course 'the world' represents the world leaders who always act in the name of 'their people', however much those people protest that it is Not in their Name

The future children ask
'rehearse me In the parts I must play'
'the cues I must take when:
old men lecture me
bureaucrats hector me
mountains frown at me
lovers laugh at me
the white waves call me to folly
the desert calls me to doom
the beggar refuses my gift
my children curse me'

- how to live in world where it is difficult to:
introduce new ideals
live within the often crazy laws
preserve the ecology
maintain dignity
remember the sea is stronger than man
remember the deserts show nature's power
remember charity is not always the answer
the future children's children will be as hard on their forebears as the future children will be on us.

The future children ask that we, the present hear them
'Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God
come near me' - that those whose who think they have the answers but whose answers are flawed will keep away.

The future children ask that they will be given:
'strength against those:
who would freeze my humanity
would dragoon me into a lethal automaton
would make me a cog in a machine
a thing with one face, a thing, and against all those who would dissipate my entirety,
would blow me like thistledown hither and thither or hither and thither
like water held in the hands would spill me'

- In other words those who would enlist humanity into soldiers, armies, fighting machines or enact violence 'in their name'.

'Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.'
- If the future children become 'automaton' fighting machines/killing machines, they feel their lives will not be worth living.


This is only my 'interpretation'. I would welcome different views and discussions.

Full lists of all those who died can be found here:
May they sleep gently

For more photos taken by us at the Antiwar Mass Assembly go to​heotherbailey/sets/72157627846​775502/

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The Times Aren't Always A-Changing

The blog title is obviously - to those who know their Bob Dylan - a bad misquote of his famous song. So why would I misquote one of musical heroes, who incidentally is 'up for' a Noble Prize for Literature tomorrow?

Its been one of those afternoons when I have been conducting an interesting internet discussion which was both political and literary with an internet buddy, whilst at the same time writing an Elizannie blog and also chatting to family on facebook and listening to a new CD. Which probably means that as usual I wasn't really doing any of those things very well.

My internet discussion was around the fact that history repeats itself if we don't allow ourselves to learn the lessons that it can teach us. In this instance my buddy and I were using the instance that 19thC literature can show us what life was like before the Welfare State in the UK as in Gissing's The Nether World [for the UK] or any of Theodore Dreiser's books for pre 'safety net' facilities [for the US] The discussion also included references to two hymns, one a paen to Conservatism and another to Socialism [obviously the better one] and if you wish to sample these go to the Elizannie blog here

As always when discussing literature, which then leads to history, then on to politics, music crops up and as I was listening to the new Ry Cooder album, Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down I began to feel more than a bit sad and angry. I realised that the artiste was basically saying the same thing as my 'discussion buddy' and I, although even more harshly. To quote from this BBC review of the album:

When Ry Cooder recorded his first two albums, collections of songs by the likes of Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie that evoked the desperate times of the Great Depression, he could scarcely have imagined that 40 years later he’d be singing of the same old problems, but relating them to modern times.

As I have said to others, if you only buy/download one CD this year, make it this one. And learn and share with others the lessons Ry Cooder has written and sings.

Photo of the CD, courtesy of

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

Sometimes a book appears that although one knows its official genre, that 'categorisation' refuses to sit well in one's brain!

A friend rang a few days ago to talk about a book she had just read. We have similar tastes so often recommend books to each other! As she explained about this book - a true story - it sounded so fascinating that it had to be immediately ordered from you-know-where. And when it arrived it proved to be one of those books that once started, refused to be put down.

The author says in the first sentence: This is a work of nonfiction . It is [in my opinion!] a biography, a science journal, a history book, a sociological study of America in the 1950s and race relations, a discussion of patient/doctor relationships that is relevant to the present day, a look at family relationships and more. [Please don't panic at the word 'science'. I did but understood those bits of the book perfectly thanks to the excellent writing]

Henrietta Lacks was an American woman who sadly died in 1951. Scientists took cells from the diseased parts of her body, 'grew' these cells and used them to experiment for other medical discoveries. Boring? Sounds it, to be honest. But these cells were the first that scientists had ever been able to 'grow' in a laboratory and from these cells - named 'HeLa'- all sorts of discoveries were and are still being made including the efficacy of the Salk polio vaccine, AIDS vaccines, blood pressure remedies - oh the list goes on and on.

However, Henrietta's family were never informed about the 'immortality' of her cells and in fact lived in very poor conditions. When many years after her death they did find out snippets of information [or misinformation] about the use of her body samples it affected them in differing ways. The author writes with such compassion about the family members that the reader feels at the end of the book sorry to leave the family behind.

If you get a chance to read this book I really hope you take it! The author, Rebecca Skloot, established the Henrietta Lacks Foundation before the book was published and some of the proceeds of the book are donated to that organisation.

Photograph of the paperback edition of the book courtesy of

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Bob Dylan: Love Minus Zero/No Limit

Yesterday Elizannie published a blog to wish Bob Dylan a happy 70th birthday. Amongst all his other skills, Dylan is a master at using words and his love of language shows in his songs and speech. So today I thought I would illustrate this by showing one of his early songs, written c1964 and recorded on his Bringing It All Back Home* Album in 1965: Love Minus Zero/No Limit

*{The album cover for Bringing It All Back Home is shown above. A proud possession as it is the first Dylan Album {LP} that I ever bought. It cost 30/-
[£1.50p] and I was still at school so to raise the funds I sold all my Cliff Richard LPs to Marion Richards. My friend Shirl still thinks I am mad.}

Whilst LMZ/NL is a love song, written to his forthcoming wife Sara, it is for his fans an early 'showpiece' for Dylan's mastery of musical composition, his power with words and his influences by allusions to works including those by Blake, Edgar Allan Poe and also the Old Testament. It has been recorded by many other artistes including those as diverse as the Walker Brothers and Rod Stewart! Dylan has performed it on many tours over the years.

This is one of my favourite Dylan songs, but then I do have rather a lot of favourites...

Love Minus Zero/No Limit
My love she speaks like silence,
Without ideals or violence,
She doesn't have to say she's faithful,
Yet she's true, like ice, like fire.
People carry roses,
Make promises by the hours,
My love she laughs like the flowers,
Valentines can't buy her.

In the dime stores and bus stations,
People talk of situations,
Read books, repeat quotations,
Draw conclusions on the wall.
Some speak of the future,
My love she speaks softly,
She knows there's no success like failure
And that failure's no success at all.

The cloak and dagger dangles,
Madams light the candles.
In ceremonies of the horsemen,
Even the pawn must hold a grudge.
Statues made of match sticks,
Crumble into one another,
My love winks, she does not bother,
She knows too much to argue or to judge.

The bridge at midnight trembles,
The country doctor rambles,
Bankers' nieces seek perfection,
Expecting all the gifts that wise men bring.
The wind howls like a hammer,
The night blows cold and rainy,
My love she's like some raven
At my window with a broken wing.

Slightly miffed!

Usually I write my blogs for my own satisfaction and it is a bonus if anyone else reads or comments on them. Well that is the official line, but I have to admit I do look at the stats every now and again.

But it was rather galling to find that the set of photos that Other Half had taken of my study [one shown above] has had more views than most of mine or my twin sister Elizannie's blogs!:

And yes, a copy of Blogging for Dummies can be seen on one of the shelves....

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Someone at a Distance / Persephone Books

Just as in the years since 1973 when Virago Books first brought a different kind of [feminist] publishing to our attention and introduced many of us to new and previously 'forgotten' authors, Persephone Books have been doing a similar thing for a number of years. This extract from the 'mission statement' on their website explains the sort of authors Persephone publish:

Persephone Books reprints neglected classics by C20th (mostly women) writers..........

Just as I know when picking up a Virago book I am in for a good read, the distinctive Persphone book covers offer the same 'temptation'! So when I recently bought Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple I settled down for a 'good read' and I wasn't disappointed!

I suppose that because I also taught Social History as well as English Literature this novel is a real 'double whammy' for me! It is a snapshot of England in the years just after the second world war, an England that has faded away and probably will not be recognised by anyone under thirty five! An England that had definite divisions between those that had 'daily women' and those who were the 'daily women'. It looks at the social mores and how society looked at divorces and the divorced and how women regarded their place and positions in society.

In the preface to the book, the novelist Nina Bawden describes it as a

a fairly ordinary tale about the destruction of a happy marriage

does the writing an enormous injustice if taken out of context. Bawden goes on to add
it makes compulsive reading

with which I certainly agree! Elsewhere in the preface Whipple is compared to Mrs Gaskell and to me the minutae of the North family life as written by Whipple is as fascinating as that of the Cranford villagers as written by Gaskell!

Apparently, although Dorothy Whipple had been a successful novelist, this was her last novel and her least successful - probably because post war Britain was on the cusp of the big changes that were to come and thus the book was notthen considered modern enough. But perhaps to us sixty years later this novel moves into a different genre, maybe into the 'historical novel' mode? I loved it and have already looked into finding more novels by Dorothy Whipple, to add to my list of loved authors of this time and earlier: Mollie Panter-Downes; Marghanita Laski; Elizabeth Taylor; Winifred Holtby and more. Thank goodness for Virago and Persephone Books!

Picture of the Persephone edition courtesy of The book can also be purchased directly from the Persephone website.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Bread and Roses

18.12.2011 Just found another link for Joan Baez and Mimi Farina singing the inspirational song:

Original Blog:

Whilst 'blog surfing' in my Elizannie hat, I came across a quote from Bread and Roses on Jon Rogers excellent political blog:

This is the quote, [on a MayDay card which I have reproduced on the right]:

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies;
Give us bread, but give us roses.

This was so redolent of so many memories and ideas to me that I thought it might be interesting to explore it further on this page!

The poem Bread and Roses was originally written by James Oppenheim (1882-1932), an American poet and writer. He was the founder and editor of The Seven Arts, an early 20thC literary magazine. He wrote about labour struggles troubles [including suffragist themes] in his 1911 fiction book The Nine-Tenths (1911) and in the poem Bread and Roses was also written in 1911 but I suppose came to prominience as a motif for the 1912 textile workers' strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts and as such is associated with the womens' movement because those involved with the strike were mainly women.

The 1912 Lawrence Textile Strike was Union led [by the Industrial Workers of the World] and the immigrant workers were mostly women. One employer lowered wages when the working week was shortened by law,and the industrial action eventually spread to twenty thousand workers at nearly every mill within a week. The strike, despite preidctions of other American trade unions that the workforce of a true downtrodden minority - that of ethnically diverse and mostly women workers - could not be organized, was successful. Sadly over time the union collapsed and workers rights once more were eroded.

The 'Bread and Roses' in the refrain stand for the way that workers lives are made up of more than just the struggle for work and the struggle for beauty has to take place too - other wise work has no inner meaning. To progress is not just for material gain but for emotional and spiritual beauty in our lives!

The term 'Bread and Roses' has since been associated with political strife and was the title of the 2000 Ken Loach film about the right to form a union of Mexican labourers in Los Angeles.

Here is the poem:

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"
As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses!
As we come marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient cry for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for -- but we fight for roses, too!
As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days.
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler -- ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

For me, there is another memory link. In 1976 Mimi Farina, sister to Joan Baez, set the song to music. I have never been able to find a recording of this but here is a YouTube link

Here is Mimi's adaptation:

As we go marching, marching, in the beauty of the day,
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray,
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses,
For the people hear us singing: Bread and Roses! Bread and Roses!
As we go marching, marching, we battle too for men,
For they are women's children, and we mother them again.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us roses.
As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient call for bread.
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew.
Yes, it is bread we fight for, but we fight for roses too.
As we go marching, marching, we bring the greater days,
The rising of the women means the rising of the race.
No more the drudge and idler, ten that toil where one reposes,
But a sharing of life's glories: Bread and roses, bread and roses.
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;
Hearts starve as well as bodies; bread and roses, bread and roses.

Read, listen and reflect. And always question!

Links for this blog:

Friday, 11 February 2011


Yes I know that this is allegedly a literary blog. But whilst reading I often listen to music! And all art forms encroach on other art forms, don't they? Well two good excuses for talking about a favourite band - Bellowhead.

Actually this is also a topical post because the band was at the Radio 2 Folk Awards last Monday evening, having been nominated for 'Best Group' - they won! - [I may be alone in preferring to say 'Band' rather than 'Group'], 'Best Tradtional Track' for 'New York Girls', 'Best Live Act'- another win - and 'Best Album' for 'Hedonism'.

I have been a 'folkie' all my life and am actually quite a good singer [as long as there is no one within earshot] To make up for having no sense of rhythm, hearing for tone or pitch I instead play music very loudly thus when singing along being unable to even hear myself accompanying it.

Of course it depends on one's mood what goes into the cd player but on a grey, damp day outside like today Bellowhead's Hedonism playing of exuberant workings of traditional folk tunes make me hop, skip and jump around my housework [metaphorically perhaps!] Two tunes in particular stand out for me: New York Girls, a 'traditional' song arranged by Bellowhead's two founders and Amsterdam, the lovely Jaques Brel song [also performed gorgeously by Rod McEwan - anyone else remember him?], the Mort Shuman translation arranged by another Band member.

So if the damp weather is getting you down, sample a few tracks from this lovely, rocking folk album and enjoy!

BTW it was also sad to hear at the Folk Awards ceremony that Norma Waterson is seriously ill, and that her lovely voice is - temporarily I hope - quiet. Get well soon Norma and be able to sing some more lovely songs soon, please.

Bellowhead website:

If you would like to read about all of the Radio 2 Folk Awards with snippets of the performers [not necessarily from the evening however] go to:

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Robert Tressell and 'The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists'

Most of this blog first appeared on Elizannie: earlier today

Today is the centenary of the death of Robert Tressell. 31 MPs have put down an Early Day Motion:

That this House notes the centenary of the death of Robert Noonan (Tressell) on 3 February 2011 interred in a pauper's grave in Walton, Liverpool; recognises the significance of his seminal work, The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists within the wider Labour movement; and applauds both the work of the Robert Tressell Society and the commemorative programme of events organised by Liverpool City Council to appropriately recognise his historical and literary importance,
To see who signed this edm go to

Who was Robert Tressel?

Many of those on the Socialist spectrum of the political scene will revere Tressell. Many others - including Socialists - will never have heard of him. I could just point you to the Tressell website go to: [with lovely music!]

I have 'lived with him' since I was a child. He was a kind of bard 'oft quoted' in the Socialist household in which I was raised. As soon as I was old enough I read the book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists and cried a lot and thanked goodness and the Socialist movement that such times as described would never return. I made pilgrimages later in life to Hastings ['Mugsborough' of the novel] to see his fabulous art work - firstly in the basement of the Town Museum and then later in the [proper] displays dedicated to him when at last Hastings honoured and realised what a great man it had not looked after all those years before and had tried to forget for many years after.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is the story of workers in the house decorating business in Edwardian England, before the Welfare State and even the most basic Old Age Pension existed. It is based on the conditions that Tressell himself endured when working in the 'trade' - he is the 'Frank' of the novel. It shows how the workers are oppressed and exploitated by their employers, the State and the Capitalist System. It also shows the awful way in which they are expected to conduct their lives in the 'genteel' town of Mugsborough [Hastings]

As this coalition government seems intent on punishing the poor for being poor, this book should be read again, or listened to on audio tape, as an awful warning from History. What it was like to live before the Welfare State. Before even a most basic Old Age Pension. The comedian Johnny Vegas was responsible for an excellent production of this a couple of years ago on the BBC and the audio tape can be bought. I wrote a 'summer reading' blog on this last May and make no apology for republishing it here.

The book is recommended by people as diverse [and lovely!] as Ricky Tomlinson and the MP Stephen Twigg. It was been chosen as his book for a Desert Island on 'Desert Island Discs' by Johnny Vegas.

It is *not* a great work of literature but it is never the less a seminal work. Books that affect lives are always important to remember. So I decided to cross-post it here from the Elizannie page at

I wrote a blog about this last May on the Elizannie site:
25th May 2010
Have decided to become dictatorial and recommend summer reading on facebook, twitter, various blogs by other people and here on my own: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell Many 'Old Labour' party members claim it changed their lives/caused them to become Socialists. I worry that the Condem government policies may see a return to many of the problems highlighted in this novel, albeit in a more 'modern' form {OK so we may not have workhouses anymore but some form of state interference may cause pensioners to lose all that they have saved before any State help becomes available}

Picture courtesy of [Kindle edition - yes I have one of my kindle! And two in the cupboard!]

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Happy the Man - John Dryden

Happy The Man
In memory of Bill Wells

Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own:
He who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Be fair or foul or rain or shine
The joys I have possessed, in spite of fate, are mine.
Not Heaven itself upon the past has power,
But what has been, has been, and I have had my hour.

John Dryden

In loving memory of Bill, 1946 - 2011. Sleep gently friend.
Chosen by Bill's son Kirk to be read at his funeral

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

We often talk about 'books which change lives'. This is one which has certainly had a great influence on mine.

I cannot let the opening pages of this blog go without reference to The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. This is not a great work of English Literature but can truly claim to be a book that has changed many lives. For instance several 'Old Labour' party members claim it changed their lives/caused them to become Socialists. The comedian Ricky Tomlinson claimed it made him into a 'proper' political activist.

It is the story of working people in the 1900s, before any form of welfare state was introduced and how easily the whims of fortune or their employers could reduce them to destitution and the workhouse.

We may be 100 years away from the time setting of this novel but if government policies cause a return to many of the problems highlighted in this novel, albeit in a more 'modern' form {we may not have workhouses anymore but some state proposals may mean pensioners will lose all savings before State help becomes available, student fees are rising, disability living allowance is being cut etc etc} Tressell will be spinning in his grave.

Tressell himself died in poverty in Liverpool just before he could board a boat to America, looking for a new life and work. His book was not published until a few years after his death. Tressell was originally buried in an marked pauper's grave along with 12 others. A headstone was erected on this grave honouring not only Tressell but also those with him in 1977 by subscription of Socialists and Trade Unionists.

First 'published' in a slightly different form in the Elizannie blog, Thursday, 27th May 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

Its a big decision, what to discuss in my first 'literary' blog. I thought a short piece on a poem would be a good way to ease myself and any prospective readers into the idea of a new blog and started a piece on Blake's 'Jerusalem'. The short piece turned into a rather baggy monster due to my passion for both Blake and the poem and still needs a lot of work although I am promising myself to cut it back to a presentable length soon.

Anyway, having made this decision I sat down, finished the latest who dunnit I was reading [Ian Rankin's The Compaints, rather good actually but I still miss Rebus] and thought it about time I made inroads into the 2010 Booker Short List which to my shame I haven't yet started despite having received all six for Christmas.

On a sort of 'eeny,meeny, miny, mo' basis - because they are all great books written either by authors I have read and enjoyed previously or if not are books which have received very interesting reviews - I chose Emma Donoghue's Room. I don't usually read the blurb on the back of a book jacket in case it gives away too much of the story but accidentally managed to read a comment on the front [!] this time:
Room is a book to read in one sitting. When it's over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lingers for days
This is by Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, a book that also makes one look at the world in a different way.

The first thing I would say is that, having in the past taught adults English Literature for the Workers' Educational Association [WEA] I know that there are lots of people who do not like novels written in the first person - I do like novels written in the first person narrative for the immediacy they give and Room is such a novel. This is the only way the story could possibly have been told.

A young child [Jack] is the narrator so the reader has to view the world through Jack's eyes and perceptions. There is a literary device called defamiliarisation* where something familiar is described in unfamiliar terms and the reader needs to 'work' to 'find' the familiar object. So in Room the reader has to look at and understand Jack's world through his descriptions. But it doesn't just stop there as Jack's language and vocabulary is may appear slightly odd at first.

If this all sounds off putting it is not meant to be. As Nifenegger implies, this book is difficult to put down. As the reader's understanding of Jack's world becomes clearer his world changes and again the reader has to understand both Jack's world and the world and customs of Everyman.

This book really is a book that one races to finish - but once finished it intrudes into 'everyday' life and there is a sense also of a sadness that Jack and Ma are left behind.

The picture above shows the paperback edition.

*A good example of defamiliarisation is shown below in Craig Raine's poem A Martian Sends A Postcard Home. This poem was a forerunner of the
1970/80s 'Martian Poetry' movement.

A Martian Sends A Postcard Home

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings -- [books]

they cause the eyes to melt [cry]
or the body to shriek without pain. [laugh]

I have never seen one fly, but
sometimes they perch on the hand.

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight
and rests its soft machine on ground:

then the world is dim and bookish
like engravings under tissue paper.

Rain is when the earth is television.
It has the property of making colours darker.

Model T is a room with the lock inside -- [car]
a key is turned to free the world

for movement, so quick there is a film [view from the windscreen]
to watch for anything missed.

But time is tied to the wrist [watch]
or kept in a box, ticking with impatience. [clock]

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps, [baby]
that snores when you pick it up.

If the ghost cries, they carry it
to their lips and soothe it to sleep

with sounds. And yet they wake it up
deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

Only the young are allowed to suffer [bowel movements/
openly. Adults go to a punishment room lavatory]

with water but nothing to eat.
They lock the door and suffer the noises

alone. No one is exempt
and everyone's pain has a different smell.

At night when all the colours die,
they hide in pairs

and read about themselves -- dreams]
in colour, with their eyelids shut.

Craig Raine

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Jane Austen and my new year intentions....

Well, I should have guessed this would happen! As soon as I announced my intention of starting a literary blog lots of things rushed in to take up my time, especially in my 'alter ego' of Elizannie and I have been posting, replying, communicating about events at !

However I have been following up on another New Year intention and reading along with a dear friend at who is re-reading Jane Austen's letters. This is where my kindle comes in handy as I do not have time to go book shopping so have 'bought' a kindle version of the book and am now enjoying reading along with the blog!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year's Eve 2010

New Year's Eve, 2010. At a lovely party with some family and friends. About half an hour before midnight everyone in the room states their 'New Year Resolutions'. I don't do 'Resolutions' - they sound so stern and furthermore are easy to break. I go for 'Intentions', and one that has been brewing in my mind for a while is to start a new blog with mainly literary postings. So here it is.

January the second, 2011. I fall at the first post trying to find a name for my new blog. The name that I stayed awake trying to 'originate' on New Year's morning and thought wonderful proves to have already been taken so spend an hour thinking up this one and hoping that my Aunty Clarice will approve. Now I just have to think up a subject for my first proper post. This may take some time....