Within sight of the gleaming Shard, a forest of construction cranes, and a Victorian railway bridge lies Crossbones, a hidden corner of London history. We turn off Southwark Street into a narrow lane called Redcross Way and pass through a dank tunnel. It seems like the kind of alleyway Jack the Ripper may have favored, but this is another part of London, Southwark, south of the river. We are looking for the prostitutes’ graveyard. Opposite The Boot and Flogger pub we see a sign for our destination, the Crossbones Graveyard and Garden of Remembrance. From here all we can see is a high iron railing festooned with ribbons, plastic flowers, and all manner of memorial objects. A plaque reads “R.I.P. The Outcast Dead.” This was unhallowed ground. I see one soiled white ribbon with a name in fading script, “Elizabeth Hayes from the Workhouse.” Turning the corner to find the Continue reading “The Prostitutes’ Graveyard”
My latest blog for Montgomery County Public Libraries is about the Regency years in England, a decade that compares to the 1960’s, a time of radical politics, war, social change, and literary experimentation. In other parallels, the 1812 assassination of Prime Minister Spencer Perceval caused political turmoil, and protests for social justice were sometimes harshly suppressed, for example in the Peterloo massacre.
You could be forgiven for mistaking the network evening news for the Weather Channel these days. Night after night scenes of devastating flooding somewhere and everywhere. Hurricanes, cyclones, torrential rainfall, storm surges, rivers overflowing their banks, whole towns inundated, homes lost, islands disappearing, glaciers and polar ice melting. Here in Washington D.C. alarming scenes of stranded motorists crouching on the roofs of their submerged cars awaiting rescue. Dire warnings from climate scientists ignored, even suppressed, by our government.
I learned more about the watery world that awaits us in Robert Macfarlane’s marvelous new book Underland. The book is not specifically about climate change or rising seas. It is Continue reading “Water Water Everywhere”
One day in the early 1960’s I came home to find that while I was in school my grandmother had been whisked away in an ambulance and taken to a mental hospital. The news followed several unsettling days, days of half heard whispered adult conversations, days when my grandmother kept to her room and my mother placed her meals on a tray outside the door. I learned a phrase I only half understood, paranoid delusions, but somehow I knew it meant my grandmother had gone mad.
It all started one evening when our neighbor came to the door. I was doing homework in the kitchen and overheard the conversation. She explained that she waited until my Continue reading “Tales of the Asylum”
“Ever since the first serpent slithered into the Garden of Eden writers have imagined the garden as the scene of temptation and evil.”
In my latest blog for MCPL I recommend mysteries with a garden setting:
Incidentally, the MCPL blog is now on WordPress! So I am identified by the name of this blog dispatchesfromtheformernewworld.
Witchfinders – no, not characters in our contemporary political drama. But it could be that hearing cries of “Witch Hunt” almost every day for two years was what led me to this particular book on my shelf. Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskill is a mesmerizing account of a seventeenth century English witch hunt, one of the most vicious on record, led by two Essex gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne. Hopkins earned the title Witchfinder General and became something of a folk hero in the villages and towns of East Anglia. Through torture and intimidation he extracted confessions and false witness accounts from terrified people, mostly women, arresting a total of 250 presumed witches. Over a hundred were publicly hanged. Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Witchfinders”
Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontes by Terry Eagleton, published in 1975. Quite what this book is doing on my bookshelf I have no idea. I must have acquired it long, long ago judging by the antique fashion in literary criticism it represents. Back in the 1960’s when I was educated at an English university the term “dialectical materialism” was tossed around with abandon by anyone wishing to seem a true intellectual. Marx was dragged into analysis of just about anything. But the Brontes? Surely not. The wild romantic moors of Yorkshire seem a world away from theories of an oppressed proletariat and dominant bourgeoisie locked in class struggle. Or are they? I don’t remember reading the book in the past but I decided to dig in and see if Marx can really shed light on the Bronte novels. Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Marxist Brontes?”
Did you enjoy The Crown on Netflix or Victoria on PBS Masterpiece Theater? Then check out my latest library blog listing related reading for fans of the series.
Of the fifty odd books I read this year I’ve picked a handful of favorites, all but one published this year. My two fiction choices are both beautifully written stories of wartime, one set on the Eastern front in World War I and one in London during and after World War II. I was stunned that neither of them made the New York Times or Washington Post’s Best Books of the Year list. My nonfiction choices are both histories, not surprisingly as I read a lot of history. What these have in common is that I knew absolutely nothing about the subjects beforehand and they were both revelatory. Next my favorite guilty pleasure of the year and my favorite older book discovery. Continue reading “My Favorite Books of 2018”
One of the oddest questions I’ve been asked since moving to the U.S. is “Do you celebrate Thanksgiving in England?” Yes, this was a real question. I resisted the temptation to answer “Yes, we celebrate that the Puritans left and took their repressive ban on dancing and merriment with them!” More tactfully I said “No, but we have our own November holiday, Guy Fawkes Day.” That met with blank stares. So I explained that Guy Fawkes was a guy who plotted to blow up King James and the Houses of Parliament in 1605. He was part of a Catholic plot to restore the true faith in Protestant England. “You mean you have a day to celebrate a domestic terrorist?” “No, no” I hastily corrected. “We burn him Continue reading “On Thanksgiving and Guy Fawkes Day”