Pulled hither and thither by books ….

…. there are so many places, so many periods, I want to visit.

I have read books by Francesca Brill and Suzanne Joinson have written books that make me want to travel the world with women who made extraordinarys journeys. The Virago Book of Women Travellers is sitting on the dining room table.

And then there is Paris in July. And Canada is calling.

But I want travel to the days when Queen Victoria reigned. Tomorrow I shall meet a lady who shares my name, given life by Marie Corelli. And then I shall head back to renew my acquaintance with Angel, Elizabeth Taylor’s wonderful heroine who owes much to that Victorian heroine.

So many world to visit by book.

Tonight I am in middle England, in the 1930s. Francis Brett Young introduced me to Bella, and together we have found a house. White Ladies ….

And then, of a sudden, the trees seem to fall back on either side, disclosing with the effect of a fanfare of trumpets breaking through a murmur of muted strings, above, an enormous expanse of blue sky, and below, a wide sward of turf, most piercingly green within the woods’ dense circlet. And in the midst of the green sward stood a house.

Not the house she had expected. It was neither great, nor formal, nor yet of stone. It lay isolated in the bottom of that shallow application like a stone that a jeweller displays on its cloth of velvet – like a sombre ruby, she thought, or better, perhaps, a dusky cornelian; for the rays of the sun, now declining, enriched its substance of ancient brick with a rost transfusion pervading the clay’s compact granules of sand in such a fashion that every one of them threw back a minute reflex of light, and each face of the building glowed like the facet of a gem until each window facing her became a crucible of fire and the whole insubstantial structure seemed lapped in flame.

It was the ghost of a house, she told herself – but such a warm ghost, such a kindly ghost in comparison with that cold empty gatehouse! And so beautiful, so satisfying not merely in its texture but in its shape! Bella gazed at it solemnly, scarcely breathing, almost as if she felt the sound of her breath might snap some spell and cause her vision to vanish, until the sun slowly sunk into layers of cloud. The flaming windows went suddenly blank; the brick was no longer transfused; the house, if it ceased to be transfigured, became approachable.

She approached it slowly and with the awe that its beauty imposed on her.


We have been allowed to look inside ….

On the left of the entrance,  a drawing-room rising sheer from the moat faced west. The full blaze of the sinking sun illuminated an interior which seemed oddly bright after the hall’s subdued amber; for here, in some age more greedy for light, the oak wainscoting had been covered with paint which had once been white, but now, with impalpable accretions of dust and wood-smoke, had the soft tone of ivory. Some feminine fancy, rebellious against feudal glooms, had had its way with this chamber. All the oak with which once, no doubt, it had been over-crowded, had given place to materials more exotic and delicate – mahogony and satinwood, gilt pine and lacquer. A heavy chimney piece of parti-coloured marbles was flanked by a pair of Soho tapestry hangings, the oak floor partly covered with a French tapestry carpet of later date, in whose faded threads the sun which had bleached them refreshed, as it were, the subdued colour that remained. On the panelled wall hung many mirrors but few pictures, and the latter partook of their setting’s delicacy. They were family portraits of women and children in pastel: a chalky possible Cotes, a pair of more vivid Conways, and a group of children by Gardiner which in its luxuriant forms anticipated the grace of Lawrence.


I could happily make my home here, but I know that very soon literary wanderlust will strike ….

Isn’t it wonderful to be pulled hither and thither by books?

And when and where are you, I wonder?

6 responses

  1. which book did the description of the house and Bella come from? Having a hard time locating the specific book of Francis Brett Young.

  2. I’ve been reading a lot of historical fiction lately so have been visiting lots of different times and places. Today I’m in the 15th century, on a voyage to the Black Sea (The Spring of the Ram by Dorothy Dunnett) and I’m also in 19th century France under Napoleon’s reign (The Second Empress by Michelle Moran).

  3. I did so enjoy gate crashing Gatsby’s party but am currently sailing towards Dalmatia (Illyrian Spring) enjoying it immensely but itching to also be eating Lunch in Paris & reading letters from Diana Athill. Lovely post to mull over.

  4. Reading Francesca Brill’s The Harbour and Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife and finding them both very hard to put down so I am in limbo between Hong Kong and turn of the (20th) century Northern Italy.
    Then it will be on to modern day Greece with the latest by Anne Zouroudi and back to Medieval Italy with Jeanne Kalogridis’s The Scarlet Contessa!
    In between I will be searching for the Francis Brett Young book as that passage you quoted is enticing – I love books about houses!

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