Burned Pages: Fin de Siècle Books and Babies

I got excited today.

I always do, when I become aware of connections between books that momentarily take my breath away. I know that sounds OTT and over-dramatic, but its like the feeling of falling into a word.

I’m not sure if anyone else gets that: usually you just skim over the top of the verb or noun in question, but every now and then there is one that absorbs you utterly for a few moments. I fell into ‘sponge’ the other day: how it looked on the page, how it sounded in my head… its like all of linguistic possibility is summed up in that moment.

Today we were exploring Red Pottage by Mary Cholmondeley. Now, I read a lot of books, especially with my MA course requesting three a week at present, and I’m pretty adept at skimming merrily over the top of narratives and yet still being able to glean a lot from them. It’s been a long time since I have encountered a text that has caused me to stop, that has stirred my emotions, that has stuck in my mind for days afterwards. RP did all of these things.

It’s hard to blog about the text’s emotional impact without giving away the surprising ending, which I don’t want to do, lest an unsuspecting ‘Google-r’ comes across this and is distraught. I know I would have been if I hadn’t been able to encounter the shock at my own speed.

I have spent the afternoon doing some research into another favourite author of mine: Antonia White. My plan is to write a research paper exploring how Cholmondeley’s fin de siècle text is similar in focus to White’s writing. She was born in 1899, which coincidentally was the year Red Pottage was published.  

I am interested in the genesis of Modernism. last term, I looked at its roots in texts like The Water Babies and F. Anstey’s Vice Versa. Sometimes it feels like I am writing the same essay over and over again, merely creeping forward a few years every time. I love seeing the same questions springing up, the same dissatisfaction which pushes for real change. I feel exhilarated when I can step backwards and trace connections, see the bigger literary picture. There’s such life there for me.

So now I need to go away and try to create some sort of cogent thesis from this. Herein always lies my problem: how do I gather up all those disparate threads and wide-scale connections and turn them into something focused, whilst still allowing me the space for kite-flying.

Red Pottage – Project Gutenberg

Oxford DNB Entry – Antonia White


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