Friday, July 5, 2013

Chawton, Cambridge, London - and Home

Chawton House Library
Sunday, June 23.  Despite the ball ending late last night, I had to be at Lucy Cavendish at 8 AM to get the coach for Chawton, the conference's last event.  So I checked out of the Arundel hotel, left my bag there for the day, skipped breakfast, and high-tailed it over. 

A cottage in Chawton village

The coach took a couple of hours to get to Chawton, but it was a pretty ride through verdant landscapes, smooth enough to doze, and people had made friends by now so it was relaxed and pleasant. Lovely to see Chawton again, and we were welcomed at the Chawton House Library by Gillian Dow. We were given a truly fabulous lunch, all manner of English delicacies, ham, quiches, cheeses, apple pie, lovely country produce, just the best. 

At lunch, Chawton House Library
Flowers at the Library
Then Stephen Lawrence, the library's CEO, gave us the most informative tour I've ever had of the house - he had to talk fast to get in all the wealth of fascinating background he imparted, focusing especially on the paintings in the house.  

Then we were free to walk over to the cottage museum and enjoy it in our own individual ways, after which I had a cup of tea and (what else) a Victoria sponge, at Cassandra's Cup, with a visiting Canadian lady.  Here are a few pictures from the cottage...
A painting by Cassandra, 1802

This is the portrait Paula Byrne claims is Jane Austen, but it's very naughty of her to have affixed the label, when it is far from proved.  At least the museum has placed an explanatory card next to it in the case, but really one is dismayed by Byrne's self-serving marketing approach to historical research!
In the garden
 Boarding the bus at 4, we were back in Cambridge by 6, and had sandwiches at the college.  I'd been worrying about dragging my suitcase from the hotel to Jan's house, but Derek kindly drove me to get it, and I was soon settled in the lovely bedroom that had most recently been inhabited by P.D. James! 

Marshall House 
Garden roses

Monday was a greyish day, but it never rained, and Jan and I set off on a walk to Grantchester. It's 5 or 6 miles round trip, and I was a bit worried about my knee, but was relieved that it was no problem at all - walking on grass is so much easier than on concrete. Julian joined us on his bike and I enjoyed the Rupert Brooke atmosphere, watched chaffinches peck at scone crumbs, and tucked into smoked salmon sandwiches and cream tea under the lovely trees.

 On the way to Grantchester

 The Orchard

Is there honey still for tea?  But of course

Greedy Grantchester chaffinch

Tuesday the sun shone all day, lighting up all the green grass and flowers with that luminous English effect; pity it wasn't like that for Grantchester, but lovely anyway.  I walked slowly over the bridge to a cafe and had a cappuccino, then down the Queens Road to the Trinity Backs, so grassy and beautiful. Then met Jan and we did a bit of shopping; I was shocked by dress prices - an unwashable schmata of Italian silk chiffon for 300 pounds.  Bought nothing.  We lunched with Julian at Cafe Rouge.  Divine salmon fish cakes and chips. 

After lunch we went off in different directions, me to the Pepysian Library at Magdalene - small but wonderful. I was the only visitor, and the young librarian (what a job!) told me all about the collection.  The oldest glass-fronted bookcases in England, made by a ship's carpenter.  Early incunabula; drawings of machines invented after the Great Fire; one of Pepys' diary volumes in shorthand; copy of an engraving of his wife where the original was destroyed by a family member who thought her too décolleté. Great stuff; and then I walked a bit in the Fellows garden.

Fellow's Garden at Magdalene

Walked back, stopping at Kettles Yard.  Fascinating place; old, linked cottages where H.S. Ede collected early 20th century art and furniture, and entertained the artistic community for many years. Works by Miro, Brancusi, Henry Moore, Hepworth, Ben Nicholson, and more.  Although such a homely, simple series of spaces, there were too many beautiful objects to take everything in during one visit; what stood out for me were the sculpture of a dancer by Gaudier-Brzeska and a couple of paintings by David Jones.  As for the objects, I loved the old chairs, one 300 years old from Orkney with a "Bible drawer." The ancient nearby church, surrounded by wildflowers, was lovely, as was its "performance art" piece, a necklace of fossil beads  hanging in mid air.

 Dancer sculpture

Ancient Orkney chair
Painting by David Jones

The church at the Kettle

Walked back, and after a little rest we went to Clara's, where I had the delight of meeting little George, 23 months, and one of the most beautiful bright children I've ever seen, even if he's Jan's grandson, not mine!  He played intelligently with my collection of rhinestones, while Clara cooked a beautiful Portuguese fish stew (which I later was able to replicate quite satisfactorily at home).  Then we walked back in the late evening summer light.

Meeting George

George inspects rhinestones

In the morning took the train to London, parted from my friends, and walked the short distance with suitcase from King's Cross to Cartwright Gardens - only to discover the hotel had me for another date! My mistake, I had booked online while in a state of desperation at finding every hotel booked solid for Wimbledon.  I thought I was in a nasty pickle, but the hotel held my suitcase while I started going down the row at Cartwright Gardens. The Judd had a room - and were charging 300 pounds! But the Crescent had a lovely double, though at the top of the house, for 100. So I'm happily and relievedly ensconced up several winding staircases, under the eaves. They let me store my main heavy suitcase downstairs, so I've just taken my little bag up all the stairs.

Now I have a big decision - the V&A, or the Royal Academy exhibit Jane Odiwe went to, followed by high tea at Fortnum? One thing's for sure - Indian Dinner tonight!

Swans on the Serpentine
(Later)  Not able to decide, I did them all!  Took the tube to the RA, interesting because I'd never been there or seen their Summer Exhibition before, but a bit disappointed because I'm not a huge modern art fan anyway and it all seemed a lot of things crammed together, with a showing-off feeling.  I stopped at Fortnum's, but it seemed less grand than when I was there last decades ago, and I couldn't fancy high tea alone.  So, tube to South Kensington, and a lovely cozy reunion with dear old favorite V&A, where I had a superb lunch, lovely selection of salads and cakes.  Walked it off by entering Hyde Park at the Albert Memorial, and walking the entire length of the Serpentine, slightly bemused by seeing squadrons of heavily draped Muslim women, covered even to the eyes, passively watching flocks of swans.  (Would have made good photos but too intrusive.)  Took the tube the rest of the way back to Russell Square, and a final satisfying tandoori dinner.

 After a good sleep high up in the Crescent, I went out for a farewell peep at the British Museum, then collected my bags and boarded the tube in the first lap of my journey to Heathrow. Then out over Iceland, Greenland and Northern Canada, heading west down to Los Angeles and home...

Done walking

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cambridge Conference

King's College, The Backs

Thursday, June 20.  You'd think there would be a direct train between Oxford and Cambridge, since people in the academic industry might occasionally want to get from one to the other; but there isn't.  However, there is a direct bus, though it takes nearly 3 and a half hours and is a dullish journey.  I was pleased to see the bus has wifi now, so I was able to send email, and tell Jan of my progress toward arrival.  The bus let me off near her house adjacent to Lucy Cavendish College, which couldn't be more convenient, though this was somewhat spoiled by my having to crawl on all fours into the bowels of the bus, creeping for several feet until I could touch and retrieve my suitcase, and then haul it out bodily.  Gentlemen (or bus drivers) leaping to my aid were not in evidence.

Lucy Cavendish College, the only college for mature women students in Cambridge

Flower arrangement at "Lucy"

Sweating in pre-rain mugginess and all in disarray I lugged the bag to the house, not presenting an appearance such as I might have desired.  Was welcomed heartily in spite of panting dishevelment, and restored with a cup of tea, but time was short and we had to hurry off right away to the first item on the conference program - a showing of the 1940 Pride and Prejudice film, which I was to introduce.  This entailed a brisk half hour walk through the windings of Cambridge, me with my aching knee trotting in a breathless attempt to keep up with Jan.  She had not thought attendance would be high, as the conference proper hasn't started yet, but the theater was full with a happy anticipatory crowd, must have been 100 people.  Jan introduced me, and I did my piece, which seemed to go down fine. Afterwards, as I was starving, we stopped at a Greek restaurant, where I shoved in some excellent hummus and moussaka, and then we walked back via the Backs, seeing Kings and Magdalene and Clare by the river in the gloaming - very beautiful indeed.  I'm staying at the Arundel Hotel during the conference, about a ten-minute walk from Lucy Cavendish, and Derek kindly drove me there with my bag.  It's lovely and comfortable and I was soon tucked up nicely.

Wren Library, Magdalene College
An end of term party
Friday morning, waking up in my hotel by the river, I feel more rested, knee less achy, and it seems the days just get more and more glorious here!  Full English breakfast, then I walked into town to meet my friend Elaine Simpson-Long who writes the Random Jottings blog:

With Elaine

Rhinestones (photo by Elaine)

The English idea of a 10 min walk takes me half an hour, but it was beautiful, across the green, along the river, past distracting shops.  I left lots of time, and followed the map successfully.  Met Elaine in front of the John Lewis department store, which seemed perfectly nice despite a lady warning me direfully that it was a terrible store and I must be sure not to buy anything there.  (This baffled both Elaine and Jan.)  We had a cappuccino in a cafe, and as soon as the restaurant was open (the Galleria, with prime position right over the river), we settled on the terrace with full view of punts going by below.  Delicious salmon risotto lunch, and chatted happily as time flew by as effortlessly and cheerfully as the river.  I poured out rhinestones to display and Elaine posted pictures of them (and our meeting) on Facebook; and she generously gave me most cogent advice on publishing my books, and made me feel most encouraged and energized!

The Galleria restaurant is on the left of the picture

After lunch, Elaine and I had a nice fat satisfying wallow in our favorite Cambridge bookshop, The Haunted Bookshop, with its famously narrow winding stair and its fabulous collection of "Girl's own" books - I bought rashly, and Elaine's recommendations only sealed the business.  Then she walked me back to Lucy Cavendish, in time to plunge into the scholarly lectures that were the meat of the conference.  Good ones:  Andrew Elfenbein of the University of Minnesota on "Jane Austen and the Perception of Space," in which he discussed Austen's art of leaving out. The most perfect illustration was when he gave a long, wordy, descriptive passage from Sir Walter Scott and placed it side by side with a descriptive one of Austen's - and you saw his point exactly. Jane Austen, he said, hated details, and he cited Mr. Collins' way of detailing and enumerating every clump of trees at Rosings, to devastating effect. And he quoted Rasselas (appropriately since Samuel Johnson was one of the chief formers of Jane Austen's literary style): "Do not describe every stripe of the tulip."

Lunch at Lucy Cavendish
Flowers at Lucy

Next was Devoney Looser of the University of Missouri, on "The New Woman's Jane Austen," in which she covered the Suffragette movement's homages to Austen, with their banners and plays such as "A Pageant of Great Women" by Cicely Hamilton, in which author May Sinclair once played Austen, the "learned woman."  I missed the last panel of the day because I went out and sat with Deirdre Le Faye in the sunshine on the lawn, which lit up the glorious English garden flowers, like rhinestones themselves.  I asked her questions, and we gossiped about JA affairs - it was very pleasant and I felt quite honored!

Foxgloves at Lucy

Then we went in to the conference banquet, where I sat with the Jane Austen Society secretary Maureen Stiller (whom I once gave a tour of Santa Monica!), the Australian scholar John Wiltshire, and a Johnsonian professor from Tokyo, Noriyuki Harada.  An oddly but interestingly assorted table,  but we bridged any gaps and had a jolly time while eating hen and chips. Great day; the conference is a really lovely one, rather small, in a beautiful place, with Jan's glowing portrait on the wall and excited faces everywhere.

Dinner at Lucy
Saturday.  English breakfast at the Arundel, then walked over to Lucy Cavendish. For the first session, Jan held a dialogue with P.D. James, who at 92 is just occasionally a little rambling, but is generally very sharp indeed, and quite winningly and convincingly gave reasons for some of the things she did in her P & P sequel.  These made sense and showed her thinking, even though the book wasn't a success overall. She said, "Jane Austen knew the bitterness and humiliation of being too poor to marry the man you want - and she was not a rebel." 

"Phyllis and Jan" - P.D. James and Janet Todd

People pay homage to James
Deirdre Le Faye

Then Deirdre LeFaye spoke, among other things hazarding the suspicion that Austen visited Aberystwyth and Wight, and giving background of the South Devon militia that was quartered in Basingstoke, 1793-95, and the Derbyshire Militia in Hertfordshre, which might explain how Darcy went there.  I was able to ask my question about the "large cool dirty Hackney Coach" Austen rode in, and how "the Kitchen part of Yalden" referred to the heat in the lower section. Then lunch, nice little sandwiches, and then Derek led us at a virtual run to the Kings College Library, perhaps half a mile distant.  About 20 of us were lucky enough to have tickets to this event, and we were shown into an inner sanctum, walls covered with Bloomsbury art, where the manuscript of Sanditon is kept. We were allowed to touch it (carefully), and saw other fascinating books as well, such as an Orlando Furioso book signed by Jane Austen and then signed by Virginia Woolf to Maynard Keynes.
In the King's College Library
View from the library
There wasn't much time, so we had to run back in order to hear Miriam Margolyes in conversation with Jan, reading bits of Lady Catherine to hilarious and devastating effect. 


Miriam Margolyes and Janet Todd - Cambridge classmates
After that there were a couple hours free - they were having dancing practice, but I wasn't going to dance so I walked out into the town, and had tea and a scone at the popular Auntie's teashop.  I'm knowing my way round better now, and got back to chat with Clara before the ball began. 

With Clara, in my Chinese jacket
I never wear Regency costume if I can possibly help it, it does not flatter me, so on this occasion I wore a Chinese jacket and called myself "Fanny Price's journey into China."  I think the whole cult of Jane Austen balls silly, but I have to admit this was one of the very best I've ever seen (and I've seen an elegant sufficiency in my time).  Partly because it was not in a deadly ugly and enormous modern hotel banquet room, but in the modest, pretty college hall, with a candlelight effect and not too many people.  Jan and Derek led the promenade with spirit, and the music and mood were gay and exceptional.

Jan and Derek lead the promenade

For supper, little cupfuls of chicken and rice and other delicacies were handed around, very authentic.  Upstairs on a mezzanine, card tables were laid out for the non dancers, and there was a truly lavish dessert tray, piles of profiteroles, strawberries, cream and much more.  [Note: I haven't yet been able to get the dessert photo off my cell phone camera - maybe it's too sticky!  But I'll add it when it comes unstuck.] I sat unsociably with my iPad (horrors!), eating meringues with chocolate sauce while Alice and Clara and others played cards.  Then I walked home in the only rain of the trip, holding my Lucy Cavendish College umbrella aloft.
Pictures from the Ball

George Justice and Devoney Looser

Clara and Alice

(Picture from the college website)

 The profiteroles picture finally came through!