NYC has had its usual share of rainy weather since the start of the year, which means that I’ve been making good progress on my ULYSSES+ project. In just 3 months, I’ve read 5 of the 12 books-published-in-1922 chosen as partners for my reading of Joyce’s tome. The 5 are all re-reads, which may be why I’ve started with them. And, in no particular order, here they are:
EF Benson’s Miss Mapp. Set in Tilling (Benson’s fictional Rye, where Benson lived for many years), this novel introduces us to Miss Elizabeth Mapp, who later serves as foil to Mrs. Emmeline Lucas (Lucia). Benson wrote dozens of novels, but none so wonderful as the 6 in the Mapp & Lucia series. The squabbles over bridge games, golf games, food hoarding, recipes, and dress designs never fail to draw me in. And Mallards, the home where we first find Miss Mapp and which Lucia much later buys from her, is based on Lamb House, in Rye, whose residents included Henry James, Rumer Godden, and Benson himself. Another resident of Rye, Joan Aiken, lived just around the corner; The Haunting of Lamb House is her homage to Rye, that house, and Henry James.
Elizabeth Von Arnim’s Enchanted April. I saw the movie before I read the book, and I love both. I also read Elizabeth and Her German Garden, an early semi-autobiographical work by Von Arnim, who certainly had an interesting life. Here’s one interesting tidbit: her cousin, Katherine Mansfield (with a short story collection on my ULYSSES+ list), thought Von Arnim was patronizing and got a type of revenge in her short story, “A Cup of Tea” (which you can read online here), first published in 1922.
TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. The poem’s first line begins, “April is the cruelest month”. For densely-packed obscurities, you can’t beat Eliot. Latin, German, Italian, French, Sanskrit. References to Wagner, Shakespeare, the Bible, folk songs and tales, English history and geography — even Bram Stoker, according to Wikipedia. You can find a thoroughly annotated version here, and I can’t guarantee that the annotations will help you make sense of the poem, but 100 years later it’s still a distressingly apt view of humankind.
Hugh Lofting’s The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle. A bit of a palate cleanser here. Nothing but pure frivolity. This book won the Newbery Award (the second in the award’s history).
Margery Williams’ The Velveteen Rabbit. Perhaps some day I’ll write a lengthy essay about my history with this book. I had it on my shelves for decades and then added it to the list of readings for this project. But when I went to look for it, it was gone. I vaguely remember thinking, “I’ll never read this book again”, before sending it off to my local Little Free Library.
As for Ulysses, I haven’t made much progress. Reading that book is too much like work! It’s chock full of references, just like Eliot’s The Waste Land, and how much time did I want to spend tracking them all down? Turns out, not much. I’m enjoying the idea of thinking that I’m reading Ulysses, but not the act of reading it. It’s how I feel about Proust, although Proust gives a much bigger pay-off.
But never fear. I will finish Joyce’s masterpiece in good time. And then disappear it from my bookshelves, for I’m certain I’ll never want to read it again.