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Unsung Heroes

Unsung Heroes

My first copy of Nicholas Monsarrat’s The Cruel Sea was a twelfth birthday present, given to me in 1956. It was Cassell’s expurgated ‘Cadet Edition’, intended for a generation who knew little about the war during which they had been born. While Monsarrat’s publishers thought we should be acquainted with the Battle of the Atlantic, they clearly considered that we would come in our own time to adultery and what was then breathlessly referred to as ‘premarital sexual intercourse’. What mattered was access to Monsarrat’s brilliant evocation of a grim campaign at sea. I read it as I bumped into school on the Northern Line and have been haunted by it ever since.
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A Matter of Trust

Once Upon Another Time is Jessica Douglas-Home’s account of the part she herself played in an extraordinary private enterprise which came to be known as ‘the Oxford visitors’. The story began with Julius Tomin, a philosophy teacher who had been ejected from his university position in Czechoslovakia. He continued openly, but unofficially, to teach courses for students expelled from Charles University on political grounds. He and his students were subjected to violence and harassment, and the strict control of access to books imposed by the authorities led to their losing touch entirely with the course of learning in the West. In 1979 Tomin wrote a letter to many Western universities, inviting lecturers to visit and speak at his seminars. Oxford was the only university to respond.
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The Editor Regrets

Suddenly, out of the blue, one morning in December 1965, a letter arrived on the delightfully old-fashioned headed notepaper of the Poetry Society (‘Patron, Sir Compton Mackenzie, LL.D., F.R.S.L., President, Professor Nevill Coghill, M.A., F.R.S.L.’), written, but not signed, by Robert Armstrong, Secretary and Treasurer. John Smith, it said, had decided that a four-year stint as Editor of the Poetry Review was ‘about enough’. He and Armstrong had undertaken ‘an intimate review’ of the situation, and were now writing to ask whether I might care to take on the job.
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No Whingeing!

No Whingeing!

A Little Bush Maid began as a serial, from newspaper articles which Minnie (as she was christened) Grant Bruce – a jobbing journalist in Melbourne – had contributed to the children’s page she edited. Popular demand made her editor suggest they might make a book. Though it still seems thinly episodic, it does introduce the main cast of characters: David Linton, the owner of Billabong, who had turned ‘in a night from a young man to an old one’ when his wife died; Norah herself, a tomboy and apple of her father’s eye; her big brother, Jim, away at boarding-school some of the time, an athlete and no intellectual, but straight as a die; Wally Meadows his mate, dark and cheerful, ‘a wag of a boy . . . [who] straightaway laid his boyish heart down at Norah’s feet, and was her slave from the first day they met’; Mrs Brown, the cook, ‘fat, good-natured and adoring’; black Billy, the stable-hand, whose command of English is limited to the word ‘plenty’; Mr Hogg the gardener; his sworn enemy, Lee Wing, the Chinese vegetable gardener (complete with queue, or pigtail); Mr Groom, the English storekeeper, who tries to teach Norah to play the piano by more than just ear; Murty O’Toole, head stockman; Dave Boone, one of the station-hands; Sarah and Mary, Irish housemaids; and of course the dogs and the horses, particularly Norah’s pony, Bobs. At the centre of the plot is the Hermit, whom Norah befriends and who turns out to be David Linton’s long-lost friend, an accountant wrongly accused of dishonesty, who as a consequence had faked his own death before hiding away in the bush.
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Hand and Mind Together

Hand and Mind Together

Faced with a new book, an illustrator ponders. Should the illustrations decorate the page or interpret the text? Should they interpret it scene by scene or accompany it at a distance as a visual counterpoint? Will they be simple visualizations, getting the costumes, settings and characters as ‘anyone’ would wish to see them, or a more personal interpretation? Will they be chapter headings, full pages or vignettes? How many have been commissioned, how frequently will they occur? Will their even placing coincide with illustratable moments, or will favourite scenes have to be ditched and minor ones brought forward?
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Distant Harmonies

Recently I was given a copy of The Music at Long Verney: Twenty Stories by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It was a revelation. Years ago, when I was a struggling art student, I read and loved her novels, but I somehow failed to discover the short stories. Many had first appeared in The New Yorker, and eight collections in all were published. I began to read, and there was the gracious world of the mind that I remembered from her novels, the lush sentences with their ravishing, tumbling clauses, delicious rhythms, exquisite imagery, painterly detail, the fantastic sense of place.
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Dear Dodie | From the Slightly Foxed archives: Valerie Grove on Look Back with Love

Dear Dodie | From the Slightly Foxed archives: Valerie Grove on Look Back with Love

Greetings from No. 53 where we’ve been busy with subscriptions, renewals and book orders thanks to those of you who’ve been adding to your Foxed reading lists. We’re very grateful as the office is now looking shipshape and ready for the arrival of the spring quarter’s offerings in just a few weeks’ time. Before we look ahead to the new season, we’re looking back through the SF archives. This article by Valerie Grove appears as the preface to our pocket paperback edition of Dodie Smith’s Look Back with Love, in which we meet the funny, complicated, creative young reader who became a much beloved writer.
The Pick of the Pocket Editions

The Pick of the Pocket Editions

For those like me who look out for, and sometimes even retain, useless knowledge, the first World’s Classic, published in 1901, was Jane Eyre; the last in the original pre-paperback series, published in 1973, was Crime and Punishment. The latter was No. 619, making the series many hundred volumes shorter than the original Everyman edition of classics, and many hundreds longer than the modern Everyman which started in 1992. If you had read even half of its remarkable range, you could consider yourself very widely read.
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On the Loose

To compensate for this structural flaw, I went to Athens and had the adventure I wanted to have. Then I nipped back to Rome, found a seedy pensione and holed up there until he arrived. For two days I lived on peaches and pasta and read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. Baldwin’s famous novel was published in 1956 when he was becoming not only America’s foremost black homosexual writer but also a spokesman for the Civil Rights Movement. Baldwin outspokenly held white America accountable for the racism poisoning its society. He insisted that, because whites could not love themselves, they could not love their black brothers and sisters, and that they paid for their persecution ‘by the lives they led’. Yet Giovanni’s Room contains not a single black character. It is as if Baldwin is writing above race and gender in order to draw universal conclusions. The boldness of the enterprise still astonishes me.
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A Positive View of Parasites

A Positive View of Parasites

A parasite is often to be admired for its ingenuity and persistence, even if it isn’t always attractive. A friend of mine once discovered a worm in his bed. It had come from his own body and had been living there for several months, beginning its tour in the previous March, when it manifested itself by giving him a cough and a bad chest. He found this out later when researching the life of the roundworm, which had apparently completed a convoluted journey round his interior, beginning in the spring. ‘The female roundworm’, he said proudly, ‘lays a quarter of a million eggs a day!’ It is perhaps a good idea to take this sort of positive view of parasitism, because, according to W. H. McNeill, author of Plagues and Peoples, we are all parasites. ‘Most human lives’, he writes, ‘are caught in a precarious equilibrium between the microparasitism of disease organisms and the macroparasitism of large-bodied predators, chief among which have been other human beings,’ the sort involved in ‘war, plunder, enslavement, tax farming’.
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