When I first arrived at my hotel on Sunday evening, ‘Harrow: A Very British School’ happened to be on TV. Oddly appropriate. The last thing I caught five minutes of last night was ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ – less appropriate. Five plasters across my two feet and a nifty breakfast at Starbucks later, I was ready to walk into Eton once again.
The Times of 9th February 1932 has a page of photographs for ‘Fifty Years: Great Figures in Literature’. The Hardy and Gosse photo is lovely (behatted gents) but there is a bizarre photo of George Meredith with ‘his grand-daughters, Joan and Dorothy Sturgis, and his gardner, Frank Cole’! Frank Cole looks rather stilted and uncomfortable to be part of this portrait.
In another article – ‘Woman’s Death in Hospital: Belladonna given by mistake’ – the doctor at the inquest says “To be candid, there has been a mistake in the medicine.” Can you imagine that statement being given today?! Candidness just ain’t the fashion at inquiries – just watch The Thick of It.
Stop your Cold at once! ‘NOSTROLINE’ – old adverts. Amazing.
I forgot to say that yesterday Sarah found a squished ladybug (ladybird to English me!) inside a manuscript so we played ‘Guess the Age of the Dead Insect?’. I invited the curators to join in, but I don’t think they find it fun in the way that I do. Certainly lil’ lb wasn’t as old as the manuscript (he had form, and a little colour) but he was long dead. Also, these books aren’t opened regularly, and he was next to the spine.
While I battle through fragile newspaper articles about TH, Sarah tries to replicate a Victorian classical education for the British schoolboy. She’s looking through the ‘textbooks’ they used, their Latin grammars and bearing in mind vocabulary advice for future prose compositions!
Reading the details of Hardy’s funeral, I am reminded of the bizarre circumstances surrounding his burial in Poets’ Corner. I’ve never been to visit Hardy at Westminster Abbey. It’s not a place I particularly associate with him.
Another excellent word/phrase which has passed out of usage: I’ve just read of Hardy being ‘much moved when the boys of the school gave him three lusty cheers’.
Another charming thing about archival work is finding tidbits for friends. When you know other people’s projects, you can be reminded of them by certain aspects of archive material which are not of use to you. Then you quickly describe or transcribe them and make them happy with a surprise “research help” email.
An old tribute/obit for TH has the brilliant subheading ‘Finest Sex-Novel':
Without hyperbole it may be said to be the finest sex-novel ever written. All Hardy’s, like most other men’s novels, are, of course, sex-novels, but in “Jude” we are down to the bed-rock facts.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the hitherto unconsidered genre of… ‘the sex-novel’.
Sarah showed me some historical doodling on the inside cover of a Latin textbook. It was very a carefully drawn gate and turret down in that old brown thin ink that looks so convincingly beautiful. On the facing page, the boy has drawn a face. A later graffiti artist has come along and remodelled the doodle, incorporating that face into a bigger picture of a scarecrow/snowman. Ah! The generations of schoolboy doodlers, united on the page!
I spoke to my Mum in the morning saying that I was “down to the wire”. You feel it – three days to get through things you can’t take with you. In the afternoon, every bell strike felt like a dramatic tolling towards my exit. This, though, was after a lovely lunch in Costa with Sarah, discussing the highs and lows of graduate life on either of the pond. It’s been a real boon having Sarah’s company over the past three days – so often archives are silent and lonely places, and lunch is a solo mission to be disposed of quickly. This way, when either of us found something amusing in our reading we could actually share it in the moment.
The ephemera and biographical materials boxes turned up interesting finds, and then I spent my last 50 minutes or so reading FEH’s letters to John Drinkwater. I was sorry to say bye to Sarah, Maddy and the rest of the Library staff, but it was definitely time for me to return to my version of reality. Schoolboys in gown-style uniforms and masters in white tie make for a slightly unnerving environment.
I walked from Eton to Slough for the last time, had a rather nice jacket potato at Tesco and then started my three train journey home. I’m exhausted, my arms are really painful and I can’t put weight on one of my feet, but it’s been one hell of a trip. Hooray for research! I will return to the blog when next I have some funky research stories for you. Until then, take care!
PS. Proudest moment? Getting a porter to do a ‘thumbs up’ back at me. Small pleasures.