My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Bellow wrote things in the 1960s one couldn’t write now, without howls of protest, more’s the pity. Here’s an example:
‘”My childhood was a grotesque nightmare,” [Madeleine] went on. “I was bullied, assaulted, ab-ab-ab … ” she stammered.
‘She nodded. She had told [Herzog] this before. He could not bring this sexual secret of hers to light.
‘”It was a grown man,” she said. “He paid me to keep it quiet.”
‘”Who was he?”
‘Her eyes were sullenly full and her pretty mouth desperately vengeful but silent.
‘”It happens to many, many people,” he said. “Can’t base a whole life on that. It doesn’t mean that much.”‘
Wise words on choices from Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point:
Lucy shook her head. ‘Perhaps it’s a pity,’ she admitted. ‘But you can’t get something for nothing. If you like speed, if you want to cover the ground, you can’t have luggage. The thing is to know what you want and to be ready to pay for it. I know exactly what I want; so I sacrifice the luggage. If you choose to travel in a furniture van, you may. But don’t expect me to come along with you, my sweet Walter. And don’t expect me to take your grand piano in my two-seater monoplane.’
Brompton Oratory, a hot lunch-time in July,
a baby being received into the Catholic Church
and Catholic upper-crust society;
dressed-up, a group stands round the font.
Otherwise the building’s almost empty, save a
scattering of oddballs dotted round the nave,
the occasional stray tourist fleeing from the sun.
A little girl in blue and white-striped dress
escapes the cluster of family and friends.
She patters down the aisle towards the wardrobe-like
confessionals – archaic Wendy-houses –
which lure her to explore their dark insides;
drunk with happiness, she crawls along a pew;
ecstatic – the Oratory one unimagined playground.
Behind her plods the solemn uncle.
Determined not to make a sideshow of himself,
he doesn’t chase – but holds himself on guard
till the moment she stands still. She totters,
absorbing wonder, dizzies herself with space…
He scoops her up, bears her back towards propriety –
the serious expectations of family and Church.
[Published in Ironing the hankies: a selection of 20 poems, Pikestaff Press, 1999]
Subtitle: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina Rating: **** (4/5) Published: St. Martin’s Press, 2011 Format: Hardcover Genre: Nonfiction Source: Personal Collection I have read a number …
[Balthazar] had been a fellow-student and close friend of the old poet, and of him he spoke with such warmth and penetration that what he had to say always moved me. ‘I sometimes think that I learned more from studying him than I did from studying philosophy. His exquisite balance of irony and tenderness would have put him about the saints had he been a religious man. He was by divine choice only a poet and often unhappy but with him one had the feeling that he was catching every minute as it flew and turning it upside down to expose its happy side. He was really using himself up, his inner self, in living. Most people lie and let life play upon them like the tepid discharges of a douche-bag. To the Cartesian proposition: “I think, therefore I am”, he opposed his own which must have gone something like this: “I imagine, therefore I belong and am free”.’
When I was working on my last book Alix and Nicky: The Passion of the Last Tsar and Tsarina, I initiated a form of “crowd-funding” to help me finish it, and was fortunate that this met with a good reception from a number of friends who, in return for a contribution of £50, received the dubious honour of being listed in the Acknowledgments. Nearly one book further on, I am issuing another “call” to my long-suffering friends and acquaintances to assist me in reaching completion. And, again, if as many people as possible were able to contribute £50 to my “writer’s survival fund”, in return for my gratitude and a mention in the Acknowledgments, I would be able to spend the next few weeks (or months, if I’m being realistic) in concentrating on bringing it to completion. Without assistance, it will be difficult for me to find time to work on it properly, as I will constantly be needing to find other ways of earning enough money to pay the bills. What, you may ask (if you don’t already know) is the next book about, and is it worth being assisted to see the light of day? As you may indeed already know (or have worked out from the heading of this email) its title is The Burning Time and it is mainly about the people known as the Smithfield Martyrs, men and women who, in the mid-16th century, during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I, were burnt at the stake in the area of London now known as West Smithfield for refusing to abandon their particular set of religious beliefs, which did not happen to accord with the prevailing orthodoxy (an orthodoxy that kept changing with the change of monarch, or merely with the change of the monarch’s mind). The Burning Time (provided I manage to finish it!) will be published by St Martin’s Press in the US and Macmillan in the UK. The book will, I hope, be more than a compilation of biographies of the martyrs, for during the course of my working on it, the questions it raises have become ever more pertinent – questions such as:
- What makes people kill other people in the name of religion?
- Why are some people prepared to die for their beliefs, while the rest of us are content to muddle along with compromise and uncertainty?
- What led to this awful period in English history and how did we get over it? (if we have)
- Are there any wider lessons we can draw to help bring an end to continuing, or new, deathly religious conflicts?
I can’t promise to come up with the answers – or satisfactory answers, at any rate – to all these ‘burning’ questions, but 16th-century Smithfield is certainly a good place to start. If I were American, I would apply to the Public Scholar Program of the National Endowment for the Humanities as I think this book will rise to the challenge to “make sense of a significant topic in a way that will appeal to general readers”. But, being British and lacking such opportunities, I am going down the path of friendly crowd-funding instead. (I did initially receive a fairly modest advance from my publishers – but, as is generally the way with these things, it’s enough to get a writer started but not enough to enable one to finish.) If, after reading this, you feel able to assist me with a contribution of £50, please let me know and I will send you details of my bank account. Alternatively you can contribute via PayPal (to email address: Virginia.Rounding@btinternet.com). I will of course be immensely grateful and will ensure you get a mention in the Acknowledgments of The Burning Time. But if you don’t feel this would be appropriate, or possible, then I hope you have nevertheless found this message interesting and non-intrusive – and please don’t feel under any pressure to respond. (Some of you will already have had an individual email from me with the same information – and I am very grateful to those of you who have already responded positively to my request.)