That Marcel Proust’s first volume of “In Search of Lost Time” was published, I decided I would start on it, as there was a good chance it would stay unread otherwise. There was never any question that I would finish the full 3000 pages of the 7 book work, but the first, “Swann’s Way” seemed achievable.
In many ways I was quite charmed by the book and it’s famously long sentences. I immediately recognised it as something Gerald Murnane must have been heavily influenced by, though when I Google the two names now, I discover more crossover between Samuel Beckett than the Frenchman. Apart from mild irritations about a boy’s obsessive wish for nightly kisses from his mother, and the overly long and repetitive jealous episodes of Swann when seeking to know the whereabouts of Odette, it was really quite a good read. The parts about small town French life, the eccentricities of Aunt Leonie, maid Francoise and the social life of the Verdurins were such fun. 4 stars.
Hot on the heels of this I found a charming little volume at Alice’s Bookshop recently. My version, published in 1929, “A Short History of Hampton Court” by Ernest Law (which I now see is an e-book if you’re into them) was a quick read with many quaint drawings of the rooms, the cupolas, the Great Hall and the many splendorous windows. Surprisingly, the history started with Cardinal Wolsey’s occupation at around 1514, with only a line or two about its former use by the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. It seems odd to me how quickly the info drops off before the late 1400′s, since the value of a nationwide census was shown with the Domesday Book of 1086. I guess religious orders are boring.
If you didn’t know English History, you’d be frustrated by this book, as it really only deals with who stayed at Hampton and what happened there – the masques / plays – Shakespeare’s visits, and numerous stories of haunted rooms. The sheer size and opulence of the Palace was just staggering, and it was considered the finest in all Europe at the time – 1200 rooms, kitchen fireplaces that were 7 foot tall by 18 foot long, capable of roasting entire bulls within. All throughout is made mention of Wolsey’s exquisite taste in furnishings, artwork and precious stones and how he lived in finer splendour than Henry VIII, which may have even brought about his downfall . I’d just love to visit it next time I go to London.