Saturday, June 6, 2009

Reading in Progress

I've been a slow and distracted reader of late, with several unfinished books piling up on my bedside table. The first of these is Sylvia Townsend Warner's Mr. Fortune's Maggot, originally published in 1927 and reissued by New York Review Books. Townsend Warner is an interesting novelist, a creator of worlds a little askew from the world of everyday reality, often giving her fiction the feel of an allegorical fable. The title character in her wonderful first novel, Lolly Willowes, discovers that she's a witch. In her second novel, Mr. Fortune is a British bank clerk turned missionary on the imaginary South Sea island of Fanua, and his story seems to be a kind of colonial pilgrim's progress toward loss of faith. Although it's beautifully written, I'm finding it less engaging than Lolly Willowes or The Corner That Held Them (1948), set in a richly imagined medieval convent. But Sylvia Townsend Warner is a marvelous, quirky writer whose work is well worth discovering, and I'm looking forward to NYRB's reissue (on June 16) of her novel Summer Will Show.

Unity Mitford with her beloved Führer.

I've also been dipping into the 800+ pages of Charlotte Mosley's collection of letters between the six Mitford sisters. (My review of Jessica Mitford's Hons and Rebels is here.) Most of the letters for the period between 1933 and 1939, which I'm reading now, are between Unity and Diana, the two sisters who became ardent followers and admirers of Adolf Hitler. Unity's letters are an appalling mixture of gushing schoolgirl infatuation with Hitler and sycophantic political naïveté. She spends most of her time haunting Hitler's favorite café in Munich, waiting for her darling Führer to appear. One gets the horrifying impression from her letters of a pampered debutante for whom antisemitism is the latest fashion accessory. Horrifying and oddly fascinating.

It's a relief when sixteen-year old Deborah (now the 89-year old Dowager Duchess of Devonshire) pipes up with a silly letter to Unity that pokes fun at her older sister's earnest and pathetically needy ideological posturing.
I've started a new National Movement & its slogan is FOOD & DIRT. That's what we stand for...

It's called Nourishilism.

It's a very swell movement.

Goodness the weather...
Now I'm regretting that, during one of our two holidays in Derbyshire in 2006-2007, we didn't pay a visit to Chatsworth, the Dowager Duchess's famous stately home. Nourishilism. Where do I sign up?

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