Rachel Ferguson’s Stocking Stuffers: A Doll’s Grand Piano & a Play about Seneca

harp-in-lowndes-square-ferguson-515nrd9tpyl-_sx322_bo1204203200_I love Rachel Ferguson’s brilliant novel, The Harp in Lowndes Square, which I wrote about briefly yesterday.

Her sharp observations and witty prose are irresistible.  And I love the captivating voice of the narrator, Vere.  She has to muster all her humor and stoicism to cope with Lady Vallant, the evil grandmother from hell.

Today I’m writing about Vere’s creative ideas for Christmas stocking stuffers. I  wonder if I could find a doll’s tin grand piano on the internet, and I wish I were clever enough to write an original play about Seneca, or any Roman for that matter.

Last summer I reread Seneca’s letters, in preparation for reading Peter Stothard’s excellent book, The Senecans:  Four Men and Margaret Thatcher.  I even dusted off my old Roman Letters notes.  So when Vere gives her  actor friend, Cosmo Furnival, a satiric two-minute tragedy  she has written about Seneca, I could not but laugh.

Here is her complete list of stocking stuffers:

I had filled stockings for them both; in Enid’s, a mass of tiny sparkling silliments including a celluloid goldfish in a talc ball and a doll’s tin grand piano; in Cosmo’s, a property monocle of window glass to which I had attached six yards of watered silk ribbon, and a tiny booklet I had made and written, containing a tragedy in verse called Seneca, which consisted largely of the direction, Another and more expensive part of the Forum: Enter Cosmo Furnival as Seneca, and whose concluding lines ran:

Bleed, wrist! and free my spirit from its chains,
Rome take my blood that gushes from these veins.

And you might as well add Ferguson ‘s A Harp in Lowndes Square to your gift list.

I hope you’re all inspired!

The Unpaid Booksellers of Cyberspace


The publishing world, except for journalism, is closed to most aspiring writers and editors. Bbibliophiles who long to wield a blue pencil on manuscripts of masterpieces at New York publishers have a slim chance of getting a job, unless they went to Ivy League schools or Seven Sisters colleges. Even slimmer are their chances of publishing that novel in a drawer. I hear it is slightly easier to break into genre fiction: for instance, SF embraces outsiders, much in the way journalism does.

And yet there is so much talent out there. That’s why the internet is a blessing. Creative people wear fingerless gloves in attics and write novels or poetry, but now they also have blogs and Facebook pages.

I love the concept of blogging, though I will be the first to admit we bloggers are control freaks.  We write what we like, and damn the torpedoes full speed ahead! Nobody can tell us what to say.  We’re garage bands.  Trolls try to interfere:  are they secret CIA agents????   Another way of looking at blogging is, “Power to the people, smash the state,” as we used to chant at protests, and though I don’t know quite what I meant , I do believe people should have a voice.  Audiences at blogs tend to be small, but people do find their way to read them. I don’t quite have the technical part of cyberpublishing down:   As  I have learned from deleting a post at my subversive book journal, it has already gone out to a few hundred subscribers, even if it no longer appears at the site, so my cyberspace publishing is scatty, with bits here and there in cyberspace, appearing and disappearing, like Billy Pilgrim in Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five.

Anyway, we are the unpaid booksellers of cyberspace.   So who minds a few glitches?

And I have  some very good news about a blogger who has bridged the gap between bloggers, booksellers, and publishers in cyberspace:  Scott, the author of the Furrowed Middlebrow blog, has ventured into publishing.  He now has his own imprint at Dean Street Publishing, and he has reissued some remarkable interwar fiction, mostly by women.

harp-in-lowndes-square-ferguson-515nrd9tpyl-_sx322_bo1204203200_I am a great fan of Rachel Ferguson, so I was very interested to read a TLS review of  three of her novels reissued by Furrowed Middlebrow.  I have almost finished Ferguson’s A Harp in Lowndes Square (1936), and it is not only the wittiest book I’ve read the year, but one of the best books I’ve ever read. (I know I said the same about Barbara Comyns’ Our Spoons Came from Woolworths, and it is true of both in different ways.)   You may know Ferguson as the author of The Brontes Went to Woolworths (Bloomsbury Reader) and Alas, Poor Lady (Persephone). Her voice is sharp, witty, mercilessly observant, and whimsically post-modern.

In A Harp in Lowndes Square, the narrator, Vere, is not only witty and brilliant, one of three children in an unconventional single-parent family,  but the twin of James, with whom she shares a psychic bond.  They see and hear ghosts of Henry VIII, their family, and others. Vere breezily tells the often comical story of the adventures of her dysfunctional family , and are very close to their mother and older sister, Lalage. But they are disturbed by their mother’s withdrawal and obvious dread of their grandmother, Lady Vallant, on rare visits to Lowndes Square.  As an adult, Vere investigates the tragic family history.

I’ll post about this stunning book in detail when I have time, but meanwhile here os a charming passage about Vere’s schooldays to show off the charm and style.

We were happy there and never overworked, and my memory of it will always be bound up with lilac, may trees, laburnum, syringa and the plays of Euripides in an eternal warmth and impossible summer. The headmistress, a gentle, uncertificated woman with a flexible nose and a bun, had a passion for school plays, and selected the Greek drama as being the most respectable, whereby we spent a large portion of nearly every term declaiming about curious and bloody vengeances, morbid elopements with a wordy fellow called Death, and singularly uncivil passages between sons and aged fathers.

By the way, if you have Kindle Unlimited, you can read Ferguson’s books for free.  (Well, it’s $10 a month or something, but you can read as many as you like with the Unlimited label during that month.)  I will definitely buy a hard copy of A Harp in Lowndes Square., because I love it,  but an e-book also has its virtues.

We have colds at our house, and I wish you a Happy Weekend.  No, I do not think you can catch my cold by reading my blog!  That’s a troll’s wish!