I downloaded the Kindle app and found books on Amazon I'd not found on iBooks - not that really is of any significance. Interestingly, from both Kindle and iBooks I found I been given free books for signing up - Winnie the Pooh on one, and Aesop's Fables, Pride and Prejudice, and Treasure Island on the other. I cannot grasp quite what the marketing decision was behind those choices, but in the case of that insufferable bear and his
I thoroughly enjoyed William Shawcross' Queen Elizabeth, though it borders on hagiography and omits any real historical analysis - but, nonetheless, I found it heartwarming and humane and precisely what a very creaky grump needed whilst awaiting his niceness medication to put latent anti-monarchical tendencies in abeyance. It's not the book's most salient point, but who can't admire a woman who was £4,000,000 in the red at the bank and yet bought a castle - and come to think of it who couldn't admire the bank that could allow it? Needless to say, it is not my bank.
The next book at bedtime is about Queen Elizabeth's father-in-law's father, Edward VII, eldest son of Queen Victoria and a friend of the man who was David Hicks' wife's grandfather, and whose desk and leather cushion from his automobile Hicks had in his library. I'm tempted, a little, by Deborah Devonshire's Wait For Me because she writes about her favorite sister, Diana, about whose house, the Temple de la Gloire, I wrote a yet-to-be published post, but In Tearing Haste: Letters Between Deborah Devonshire and Patrick Leigh Fermor could be the better book for me. Dip in, dip out, as it were.
I reread both of Mark Hampton's books and relished again the civility and erudition of the man who, according to his daughter, called chartreuse "cat piss green." There are not many of the good and the great I would like to meet, but Mr Hampton was one of them. Not so with his erstwhile employer, David Hicks, yet his book David Hicks Living with Design which the Celt bought for me has provided many a moment of pleasure and an occasional raised eyebrow.
In one of his books, Mark Hampton mentions a room done by George Geffroy that led me to seek but not find it in Les réussites de la décoration française, 1950 - 1960, thence to Jansen, and eventually and circuitously to Edith Wharton, whose books - totally not to the point - are downloadable for free. Shamefacedly, I admit the only book of hers I've read is The Decoration of Houses. However, she's now on my list despite my aeons-long prejudice that Wharton was the American equivalent of Thomas Hardy, whose doom and gloomth scarred me deeply when in high school. If there's one literary device I don't like it's a sustained, slow seepage into ignominy and loneliness. Gives me the willies, this traipsing through a barren inner landscape, and being the armchair-socialist-with-centrist-leanings that I am, I prefer the slap and tickle of detective stories - an engrossing beginning, a rip-roaring middle and a proper ending with all loose ends tied up and justice done. Now, that's how to spend a few hours! However, discursive as I seem to be ... back to Edith Wharton and the reason why I'll now give myself another chance with her books.
The passage below I found quoted in part in Therese Craig's excellent book about Wharton, and it was reading that passage that sent me seeking the book, A Backward Glance, which I eventually found on Project Gutenberg Australia. Oh, and what riches I found!
"When I first knew it, the salon in question looked out on the mossy turf and trees of an eighteenth-century hôtel standing between court and garden in the Rue de Grenelle. A few years later it was transferred to a modern building in the Place des Invalides to which Madame de Fitz-James had moved her fine collection of eighteenth-century furniture and pictures at the suggestion of her old friends, the Comte and Comtesse d"Haussonville, who lived on the floor above. The Rue de Grenelle apartment, which had much character, faced north, and her Anglo-Saxon friends thought she had left in search of sunlight, and congratulated her on the change. But she looked suprised, and said: "Oh, no; I hate the sun; it's such a bore always having to keep the blinds down." To regard the sun as the housewife's enemy, fader of hangings and devourer of olds stuffs, is common on the continent, and Madame de Fitz-James cream-coloured silk blinds were lowered, even in winter, whenever the sun became intrusive. The three drawing rooms, which opened into one another, were as commonplace as rooms can be in which every piece of furniture, every picture and every ornament is in itself a beautiful thing, yet the whole reveals no trace of the owner's personality. In the first drawing room, a small room hung with red damask, Madame de Fitz-James, seated by the fire, her lame leg supported on a foot-rest, received her intimates. Beyond was the big drawing-room, with pictures by Ingres and David on the pale walls, and tapestry sofas and armchairs; it was there that the dinner guests assembled. Opening out of it was another small room, lined with ornate Louis XV bookcases in which rows of rare books in precious bindings stood in undisturbed order - for Madame de Fitz-James was a book collector not a reader. She made no secret of this - or indeed of any of her idiosyncrasies - for she was one of the most honest women I have ever known, and genuinely and unaffectedly modest. Her books were an ornament and an investment; she never pretended that they were anything else. If one of her guests was raised to Academic honours she bought his last work and tried to read it - usually with negative results; and her intimates were all familiar with the confidential question: "I've just read So-and-So's new book. TELL ME MY DEAR: IS IT GOOD?"
I mentioned above that I'd found treasures in Edith Wharton's memoir and certainly some that connect with what I had intended to write about today - Emilio Terry's silver melon - but that will be for another occasion.
The photograph of our library, my reading room, taken with the iPad, and the black-and-white images of Edith Wharton's library and reading room at Ste. Claire, credited to the Lilly Library, Indiana University, are from Edith Wharton, A House Full of Rooms: Architecture, Interiors, and Gardens, Theresa Graig, The Monacelli Press, Inc., New York 1996.