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News from Slightly Foxed
Slightly Foxed Issue 49, Spring 2016

Literary Lapses

 
Spring has arrived at Slightly Foxed with the publication of our 49th issue with its cheering botanical cover. Copies should by now have dropped through subscribers’ letterboxes around the world and we do hope you’ve enjoyed it, wherever you are. If you’re a subscriber and your spring issue hasn't arrived, please get in touch so we can investigate forthwith. And if you’re enjoying our newsletters but are not yet a subscriber to Slightly Foxed, then why ever not? If you'd like to take the plunge this spring and sign up for a year of good reading (and much else besides) do call Olivia on our emergency subscription hotline: 020 7033 0258 or visit our website to subscribe. 
 
Further down the page you’ll find links and information about our bookplates, some temptations for Easter reading in the form of our covetable limited editions and popular paperbacks. We also bring you the latest selection of words from readers and news from two new bookish friends, the inaugural Chiddingstone Literary Festival and the bibliophilic haven that is Gladstone’s Library. As Slightly Foxed readers we know you’re all well-versed in the art of reading for pleasure and we hope you all agree that libraries play a vital role in giving readers of all ages, but especially young readers, access to books. In this month’s selected extract from our archives we meet a young man whose early reading adventures set him on the path to becoming a celebrated biographer, Michael Holroyd in his memoir, Basil Street Blues.
 
‘That library became my club, my home from home, my place of recreation and learning. It was a democratic place – we were of all sorts, ages and conditions.’
 
The office will be open next week from Monday to Thursday as usual before closing for a welcome dose of rest and recuperation over Easter. We’ll be back first thing on Tuesday 29 March so please feel free to place orders online while we’re away and we’ll post all items out when we’re back. Read on!

Basil Street Blues

MICHAEL HOLROYD

At the beginning I was no different from anyone who wants to write poetry, novels and plays. Being a solitary child, books soon became my friends and the means by which, from the privacy of my bedroom, I travelled all over the world and off to other worlds in my imagination. I much preferred these voyages to actual journeys, full of anxiety and incomprehension, I was obliged to make with my parents.
   I also liked having stories read aloud to me. My Aunt Yolande would take on this duty, reading to me beside the Aga cooker in the kitchen. She read from a thick, tattered, blackboarded volume with drawings which she had loved in her own childhood. It was full of the adventures of a racy girl called Mathilda. I could not get enough of her exploits and, when we had gone through them all, I craved to hear them just once more, every one of them, and then all over again from the beginning to the end – if only they would never end.
   During the war my aunt drove a library van round prisoner-of-war camps in the Home Counties. She was then approaching forty and it was her first job. She often used to take me, aged 6 or 7, on these exciting expeditions to our enemies. I remember wondering whether they ever escaped. They never did, apparently, and I picked up the notion that my aunt’s choice of thrillers, romances and detective fiction held them captivated behind the friendly barbed wire.
   I owe much of my early interest in books to my aunt. Though I never actually caught her reading – she read in bed at night, she let it be known, and seldom slept – she was one of those people who are said never to be without a book. Her bedroom was her library – even her bed rested on books. Books were part of our furniture at Norhurst. We used them for propping open doors, supporting windows, balancing tables, reaching things, and also lining the air-raid shelter.
   Some years later I joined the new public library at Maidenhead. I lived like a lord there – like little Lord Fauntleroy – with a trained staff and a parade of authors lined up alphabetically before me on the shelves. It was a handsome building in a town not noticeable for its architectural events, and in due course it became my university.
   My Aunt Yolande soon grew curious about this place. She herself patronized the private lending library at Boots the Chemist in the High Street where she could pick up a bestseller with her toothpaste and soap. Eventually, her curiosity growing, she followed me to the public library at the end of the town. What she saw amazed her. It was like a palace.
   Abandoning Boots she became a new member, though she never lost the habit of lightly roasting the books she borrowed in a medium oven for the sake of the germs. Many cautious booklovers did this, and you could tell the most popular volumes by passing the palm of your hand along the spines and bindings and sensing the residual heat from middle-class Agas.
   That library became my club, my home from home, my place of recreation and learning. It was a democratic place – we were of all sorts, ages and conditions. And it was here, sometime later, I came across my first biographies: The Life of Oscar Wilde by Hesketh Pearson, and Hugh Kingsmill’s Frank Harris. From Hesketh Pearson I eventually learnt something about the craft of non-fiction storytelling. I read Pearson’s biographies in my ’teens to find out what was going to happen next in the past. He didn’t take you into the recesses of history, but brought his characters – Walter Scott, William Hazlitt, Henry Labouchère, Tom Paine – into the present so that they seemed to fill the bedroom where I was reading. He didn’t bother with dreary documentation, but relied on good anecdotes, skilful use of quotation, pen portraits done in primary colours and with solid underlying draughtsmanship. It was exhilarating stuff.
   From Hugh Kingsmill I learnt about the business of serious comedy. His Frank Harris was a small masterpiece, it seemed to me, of poetic irony. What F. R. Leavis was for many of my generation, Hugh Kingsmill became to me. He was my guide.
   He belonged to no school of writers, no literary group or movement. He was an isolated figure as I felt myself to be. And I had found him for myself. Kingsmill divided the world not into men versus women, not by colour or class, not geographically or by politics: in short not by any of the usual categories.
   He saw the world as being occupied by two species of human beings: men and women of will who sought unity by force if necessary (and so often it was necessary); and men and women of imagination who could detect a harmony underlying the discord of our lives and used it as their compass. He identified the real struggle in modern times as being fought out between these two species of human being over the battleground of public opinion. But all of us were composed of will and imagination, and were tempted to externalize the enemy within. The charting of these impulses was the main theme in his biographies of Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens, D. H. Lawrence and Matthew Arnold.
   The early influences of Pearson and Kingsmill propelled me towards becoming a biographer. But there were other causes too. The books at Norhurst – volumes of Andrew Lang and Winston Churchill; also dusty romances by Rhoda Broughton and Marie Corelli (which Adeline had devoured long ago) – did not appeal to me. I loved the adventures of Rider Haggard and Conan Doyle, and was astonished when my grandmother told me that Conan Doyle’s historical novel Micah Clarke was the finest work of fiction ever written. This was especially strange because Doyle’s re-creation of seventeenth-century puritanism had originally been rejected by publishers because ‘it has next to no attraction for female readers’. The book first came out when Adeline was 14, and perhaps she remembered her father reading it in Ireland.
   It was my grandfather’s opinion that literature had flourished in the age of Shakespeare and pretty well come to an end in the twentieth century, though he granted special status to a few remarkable men who happened to write such as Winston Churchill, Lawrence of Arabia and an American homosexual nutritionist called Gayelord Hauser who, at an advanced age and on a diet of cider vinegar and black molasses, hazelnuts and soy bean oil, was said to have enjoyed an affaire with Greta Garbo. On account of his deep knowledge of Hauser, Fraser was, we all maintained, ‘better than any doctor’. We seldom bothered to call in the family practitioner Dr Flew (whose full name, I believed as a child, was Dr Influenza) unless one of the dogs was off colour. But though he had this reputation for learning, Fraser seldom read anything except, with trembling indignation, the newspapers. It was not the author but literature itself that had died in our house. It had been ingeniously recycled into a batch of doorstops, makeweights and steps up to the tops of cupboards.
   â€˜What shall we do with the boy?’ my grandparents would ask, and everyone would turn and stare at me. There seemed no answer to the question. Other people, the people I read about, had narrative, it appeared to me, while I hovered in a vacuum. Inevitably I began absorbing the pace and condition of my grandparents, which is to say the regime of 70-year-olds when I was still 7 or 8. It was an odd form of precocity, a jump from early childhood straight into second childhood. Having compensated with book-adventures for the compulsory inactivity in Maidenhead during the war (like living at the dead centre of a storm), I later went one stage further by stepping from my own life into other people’s where there seemed to be so much more going on.
© Michael Holroyd, 2015
 
  ‘A wonderful offbeat memoir . . . perhaps his best book yet.’ â€” Ben Macintyre, New York Times Book Review
 
Well-known for his frank biographies of such controversial figures as Augustus John and Lytton Strachey, Michael Holroyd teases out the story – or rather stories – of his own distinctly problematic family in this delightful and original book.

UK: Â£16/ EUROPE: Â£18/ USA & REST OF WORLD: Â£19
Please scroll on to browse a range of SF offerings, read a selection of recent words from readers, and meet two new bookish friends.
 
Our sturdy and beautiful little cloth-bound limited edition hardback memoirs are irresistible. Many of the early editions have now sold out and are fetching high second-hand prices so do snap them up now, before it’s too late.

On our website or over the phone you can buy a bundle of any four Editions and save £1 per book. View the list.
 
Robert Macfarlane disappears into his dictionaries • Margaret Drabble follows James Joyce to Trieste • Jonathan Smith goes back to school with Brian Moore • Sue Gee meets Penelope Fitzgerald’s uncles . . . More
 
Delightful to look at, pocket-sized and elegantly produced on good cream paper, our paperbacks give you a chance to acquire any of the original Slightly Foxed Editions you may have missed. The paperback list includes such gems as Corduroy, The Young ArdizzoneMy Grandmothers and I, Mr Tibbits’s Catholic School and Blue Remembered Hills, among others.

On our website or over the phone you can buy a bundle of any three paperbacks and save £2 per book. View the list.
 
Give a booklover the gift of a year of good reading for 2016 and a set of last year’s issues to keep
 them going between issues . . . More
Personalised Bookplates

Our bookplates would make an ideal wedding or housewarming present or provide an excellent incentive to spruce up  your own bookshelves this spring.

The bookplates can be produced in sets of 250, 500 or 1000  and there are four handsome wood-engravings by one of our favourite artists, Howard Phipps to choose from. Browse & buy.
 

 Our website has a new speedy renewals page. All you need is your membership number or full name, a payment card, and an email address. Try it now!  

Of course you can always renew by calling the office, or by snail mail too. Do get in touch with Olivia or Katy if you have any queries:
020 7033 0258; all@foxedquarterly.com 
Our readers write . . .

We really do feel privileged to have such a nice bunch of subscribers. Your letters, emails, cards and phone calls bring us great cheer throughout the year. Here’s a selection of recent favourites.
 

‘My wife gave me an introductory subscription to Slightly Foxed. I love it to bits and am now going to pay for the sub myself. In fact I have made a solemn and binding promise to continue it permanently!’ C. Hayes, Essex
 
‘First, many thanks for the card ‘The Work Room’ with my receipt. The card is in such good taste like everything else at Slightly Foxed . . .  Second, for the way the books were sent, so well wrapped . . . Third, it was the first time I had ordered a book from Slightly Foxed and I was most appreciative of the way they were printed, bound etc!’ E. Tolansky, West Sussex

‘I have renewed for three years and hope this has not made too much extra work for you.
Your journal is part of life now.’ P. Croft, Derbyshire

‘Each time I pick up and read a Slightly Foxed article, it manages to lift my mood with its measured and optimistic intelligence (I think that's what it is – maybe your contributors have to pass a positivity test?)  In a horrid year, I assure you this has been a real boon and a blessing, so thank you all. Best of wishes and best of fortune to you all for 2016 and years to come.’ MCrawford, Dumfries & Galloway

‘Slightly Foxed makes all the difference to me! It is so well written (and presented with such good taste) and it gives me great pleasure. I think you do an excellent job, so please thank everyone concerned from a grateful reader. Indeed, thank you all.’ K. Marcelin-Rice, France

‘My American friend is in raptures with her gift subscription – thank you.’ S. Butterworth, Tyne & Wear

‘The bookplates arrived today. I absolutely love them! My heartfelt thanks to you all at Slightly Foxed for having the idea and to The Letter Press for the beautiful job they did.
Hours of fun and pleasure await!
’ T. Wintringham, New Zealand
‘Latest volume has arrived in New Zealand in time to eat with peaches fresh from my garden...!’ M. Hobson

Chiddingstone Castle
Literary Festival

Sunday 1 & Monday 2 May 2016
 
Taking place in the glorious house and grounds of Chiddingstone Castle in West Kent, this new festival brings an inspiring line-up of new and established writers. Highlights include Antonia Fraser on her wartime childhood and privileged upbringing, Antony Beevor on how warfare has changed, Juliet Nicolson on the lives of seven generations of women in the Sackville-West family, and much more besides.

Tickets to the festival include free entry to the castle and its collections. Festival goers can book individual events but with literary walks, music, storytelling for children, drama performances, an ‘espresso’ theatre stall from the Royal Court Theatre and an array of vintage food vans serving food, coffee, tea and cakes from the castle's tea rooms, soft drinks, cocktails and Larkins beer, you may be tempted to stay all day!
Individual events from £12
Day tickets from £55


For the full line-up please follow this link: FESTIVAL WEBSITE
Nestled in a small village in North Wales is Britain’s finest (and probably only) residential library. With over 250,000 printed items, Gladstone’s Library is the national memorial to four times Liberal Prime Minister, William Gladstone, who founded it in 1894. Now the Library has 26 boutique-style bedrooms where you can stay 50 weeks a year; a bustling programme of literary events including courses and evening readings; as well as its own series of festivals – Gladfest, Hearth, and new for 2016, Demfest.

The core areas of the Collection at Gladstone’s Library are History and Politics, Religion, and Literary Culture. Readers are invited to use the silent historic Reading Rooms free of charge 9am – 5pm, Monday – Saturday and for a regular donation of your choice, you can become a Friend of Gladstone’s Library. The benefits of becoming a Friend include advance notice of special offers and events, extended use of the Reading Rooms (daily access, 9am – 10pm), priority booking for Gladfest and Founder’s Day, and invites to Friends-only events.

For more information please visit: www.gladstoneslibrary.org.
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