Tuesday 4 September 2012

Literary Landscapes and Broken Computers

September is here, and I am all behind-hand with everything, and my posts have been a little erratic – but the past few weeks seem to have been a permanent holiday, and we have had a wonderful time. First we took a trip to Cumbria, where I did lots of reading, but internet connections were virtually non-existent, so blogging was difficult. Then my mother came to stay, which was lovely, and then we went down to Devon to visit our elder daughter, and my laptop ceased to function at all. The Man Of The House got it up and running again once we were back home, and it operated, in somewhat idiosyncratic fashion, for a couple of days before deciding enough was enough. And, since it will not respond to instructions (you can turn it on, but that’s as far as it goes) I cannot use it or access anything on it, including my notes on the books I’ve read!

It was actually my younger daughter’s old computer, which I have been using because the monitor on my own machine is broken, it overheats, half the keys don’t work properly unless you hit them again and again and again, and it is v-e-r-y-v-e-r-y-s-l-o-w... So now I have two laptops, neither of which is any good. Anyway, in a bid to restore something resembling normal service, I am struggling to use the one with the broken monitor, but I am so cross about modern technology I can’t think straight, so this post is a bit of a mish-mash.

Visiting places always sets me thinking about the history, the people who lived there, and any literary connections there may be. Devon was easy: EM Delafield, author of the incomparable Provincial Lady, and Joyce Dennys, who wrote the equally funny ‘Henrietta’s War’, both lived in the county (Kentisbeare and Buddleigh Salterton), and I’m hoping to go to both places on a future trip.

Agatha Christie lived in Devon, and set
some of her novels there.
But, as I mentioned in my last (http://goo.gl/UR1qO), we did visit Bigbury-on-Sea, where we looked across the beach to Burgh Island, with its art deco hotel, which was the setting for two of her novels. And we walked on Dartmoor, on a bleak, windy day which, of course, made me think of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson striding across the moor in Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ , with its description of spooky Grimpen Mire.

Poet Ted Hughes (another of my favourites) hailed from Yorkshire, but lived in the Devon for many years, and the landscape inspired much of his work. And, of course, at the other end of the county is Exmoor, and the Valley of the Rocks, immortalised by RD Blackmoor in ‘Lorna Doone’, which is a fantastic read, and if you haven’t read it, you should.

‘Westward Ho!’, another tale of romance and adventure, was so popular that a village in Devon was named after it, complete with apostrophe! I just downloaded this from Project Gutenburg, for my Kindle, and realised that Charles Kingsley also wrote ‘Hereward, the Last of the English’, which I read and loved as a child, so I downloaded that too.

Finding literary connections with Cumbria sounds simple – after all, there are the Lakes, with Beatrix Potter (her home is a delight, and you can see the dolls’ house featured in Two Bad Mice) and Wordsworth (we once went to Dove Cottage, which was much smaller than I expected). Wordsworth’s friend and fellow poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whose work I’ve always preferred) lived at Keswick for a time. Later on in the 19th century, John Ruskin - whose wife Effie ran off with Millais, the pre-Raphaelite painter - lived at Brantwood, overlooking Coniston Water, and there’s an interesting little museum about him in Coniston village. Coniston and Windermere feature in Arthur Ransome’s classic children’s stories, while Arthur Wainwright’s Guides are a joy to read, even if you are not a serious walker.
The end paper in Arthur Ransome's 'Swallows and Amazons'
shows the landscape he created, based on the Lake District.
Wildcat Islan is really Peel Island, in Coniston Water.
Melvyn Bragg, Broadcaster, journalist and novelist Melvyn Bragg born in Carlisle, set many of his novels in and around the Lake District. Much as I always enjoy his radio programmes, I have tried and failed to read his novels and never got beyond the first few pages.  

An illustration from The Tale of Two Bad Mice,
showing Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca inside
he dolls' house. We once saw the original huse
inside High Top, Beatrix Potter's former home.
We always stay in Barrow in Furness, where The Man Of The House was brought up and, as he always reminds me, until the new-fangled county of Cumbria was created, the Furness Peninsula was originally part of Lancashire, while the Lakes stretched across Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire, so the area is hard to place geographically. It would have been nice to find a writer from Furness, but the nearest to a ‘local’ author is poet Norman Nicholson, who died in 1987, and lived all his life in Millom, on the Duddon estuary. We went there once, years ago, and I keep meaning to go back, because I like Nicholson’s poetry, and think his work should be better known.

So there we are, a quick literary tour. I am sure there are there are authors and books I have forgotten to mention with connections to Devon or Cumbria, so if you think of something I should read, please add a comment!


  1. You could add Sarah Hall to your Cumbrian literary list. Her short story collection 'The Beautiful Indifference' is well worth a look. I also have my eye on her novels 'Haweswater' and 'The Electric Michaelangelo' which begins in Morecambe.

    1. Thank you Karen. I've just looked her up, and she sounds interesting.

  2. For those of us who have visited, but don't live in England, it is so hard to keep up with the name changes. I asked an English friend about where to get a new map with the new names, and she said they change so often it isn't worth it. :<) I don't get why that happens.
    I think the Provincial Lady and Henrietta are quite similar in their humor. Fascinating that both authors lived in the same area.
    Oh, what a rich, rich country. A literary paradise, and it continues on. I've been hearing a lot about NW these days. Not sure if it is for me, but I've recently bought White Teeth.

    1. Nan, it is a rich country - rich in literary associations, landscape, history, weather (OK, it's been a terrible summer, but it could have been worse, after all we don't get monsoons, hurricanes, blizzards etc).
      I've got White Teeth, and have looked at it several times...! The fact that I have not read it may show that I also feel it's not for me!

    2. I borrowed NW today from my library. I hardly EVER read something so brand new. :<) Yet, I've done it twice this year with Midnight in Peking, and Jack 1939.