Category Archives: books

Lost to interpretation

If there is one thing that I have learned since my arrival to the archives is that very often you can follow the reasoning of people from the past. You see who they were and what they did and why it was important to them. Take Kay-Shuttleworth. He was a doctor-> he saw what poverty did to people-> he didn’t like it-> he had an idea how to fix it. It’s logical. You can follow the process.
Not so with Fawnthorpe. Fawnthorpe was a student of St. John’s and later he became the principal of Whitelands College. This college was a school dedicated to training of female teachers. Hmm, a guy trained to teach boys is a head of school training girls. Well I suppose they couldn’t make a woman headmistress back then, the monocles in all the England would be in peril if they did. Ok, what else is Fawnthorpe known for? A little book called Household Science: readings in necessary knowledge for girls and young women. So the guy who trained women to be teachers also wanted them to be domestic goddesses?
Photo1077But the oddest thing in all this is the Whitelands College May Queen Festival. It all started with Ruskin. Yes, THAT Ruskin. Among many great things that he was, Ruskin was weird. He held very bizarre view concerning feminine purity and innocence. I suspect that the world still suffers because of these ideas. Faunthorpe was Ruskins friend and admirer and following these strange perceptions, he Ruskinmayqueenorganized the May Queen Festival, where a girl would be crowned as a May Queen. It was a celebration consisting of pageants, dances, processions, fun and games. An enormous amount of preparations go into these. There were elaborate dresses made especially for the girls and each one would be presented a golden cross, to tie this festival’s pagan origins to the traditions of Christianity. This festival is celebrated to this day, even that since 1985 it is allowed to choose a King instead of a Queen. It all looks pretty and fun, a venerable tradition if I ever seen one. But I can’t help being weirded out by the roots of it all- one man’s inability to see women as they are and creating an elaborate ceremony based upon it. So, what was with you Faunthorpe? How did Ruskin roped you into it all?
So how do you interpret Fawnthorpe? An enlightened educator or a relic of outmoded thinking? A co-conspirator to other man fantasies or just a guy that wanted to use the occasion to do something nice for young women under his care? I admit that I don’t know.

Pictures are from Whitelands College May Queen Festival by Malcolm Cole


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William Finch’s The Sea In My Blood

Photo1030So, as I mentioned before, William Finch’s The Sea In My Blood is a story from his youth about his life among the smack-sailing fishermen of Lowesoft.
He went for his first fishing trip at age nine, having finally convinced his father to take him. He tells about that certain ‘something’ that made him do it, the same thing that binds lives to it. And I myself can attest that there is truth to it, being a daughter and grand-daughter to seamen.
It might seem strange to us that a child of nine would be taken along the fishing trip, but back then a boy as young as twelve would be ready to take on job on a smack. Starting from a position of a cook he would learn the trade from the adults. And he had to learn fast, avoiding the mistakes that might cost them their lives.
What I love about the book the most is the sea stories. The stories of ships and how they have whims and personalities of their own. Of storms and narrow escapes. Of good times and bad times for the fishing folk. There are stories of skeletons found in the fishing nets bad accidents and mysterious circumstances. And the best part is they are all true.
And I cannot omit the smack-men’s humour: ‘Cooky served corn beef, the first I have ever seen or tasted. ‘’Look out f’r bits a fur. They make it fr’m cats’’.:-)
The book is not only full of salty stories, but also of beautiful drawings he made himself. He illustrated the technical aspects of smack-sailing, such as equipment, sails, manoeuvring but also captured scenes from daily life, and what’s the most important, the likeness of people who lead this kind of life and the times when the sea was even more dangerous than it is today.


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Eavesdropping through time and space

Previously I said I found something while filing, but that’s not exactly true. I found two things. First is a book by William Finch, The Sea in My Blood. It is his account of life of smack fishermen. But before I start talking about the book and why I found it interesting, I want to talk about the other thing I found. And it is a letter from Finch to Principal Anderson, who fulfilled this role when Finch was at Marjon. The book was a gift to Anderson when it was published.
Suddenly I felt like I’m eavesdropping on a conversation that took place in the past. Between two men that never met. And they never will as both are no longer among the living. That is the experience that only the archives are able to provide.
Finch was not only a Marjon. He was an original Marjon, the first year that graduated after the colleges merged. I n his letter he recollects the move: ‘…after a year at Battersea into the luxury of Marks Chelsea (by the 20’s standards)’. And the rules: ‘…and woe betide this miscreant caught stubbing his fag on the school gate post.’ Both of these sentiments I have found before in the memories of other students, and now I feel like I am in on a joke.
After Marjon, Finch went on to become a great teacher, educator artist and writer. He was an inspiration to many and somebody I would love to have known. But at this point, I am contented to listen to him speaking from the past.

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Filling and Finding



A small pile of books to be filled.

Filing. Nobody ever wants to do filing. After the research is done, paper written, the exhibition goes down from the cases. When it’s all said and done, there is filing. I guess it’s like a cooking and eating a meal. And the person drawing a short straw is going to wash the dishes. In the archives, the doubtful honour falls to the archivists, or rather to anyone the archivist has under their command. That is usually interns or/and volunteers. And at our archives that would be me:-).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. But some books had to go back on the shelves this past week and I was the one climbing the shelves. There is an unexpected side effect to the filling stuff and putting them back in their original places. The effect is that you sometimes find things. I especially like to write about unexpected things. So for the next couple of posts I’ll be catching some waves. Ahoy!:-)


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The language you speak-Tony Wright’s Interesting English

One of my favourite things to do in the archives it digging through our book collection. Maybe because there is such a wide range of material there, from fiction to resource books, from published dissertations to poetry. During my last foray among the pages, I found Interesting English by Tony Wright. Tony was at one point working on teacher education programmes in Marjon and is currently retired.
There is something very interesting in the approach of Tony’s book. What the book does is making people stop and think about the language. It is not just simply resource for teachers on how. It also asks why and in what way. It shows influences persons capability and relationship with language.
Apart from tasks that exercise the understanding and mastery of the language, Tony sets ‘thinking’ questions. One of them was especially standing out to me.
‘Is English your friend or foe? Can you explain why?’
I think that this is a profound question that any learner should ask themselves.
I remember when I first started to learn, English was my foe. It was something that my parents forced upon me. Something I saw no point doing, something that had to be endured. And even now, so many years later, I observe adults that treat English as something to be conquered, or as a necessary evil to be accepted. How can anyone learn under those circumstances? Can anyone learn under those circumstances? I think not. Yet the questions about the language are so rarely asked, so rarely taken under the considerations.
Tony’s book can make the reader aware not only of technicalities of English, but also of the human side of the language. He proves, that the separation of the language from the feelings people have towards it, is impossible. The language is not a construct, but a landscape to be explored.
And you? Have you ever asked yourself about your feelings towards the language you speak?

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Them Elizabethans, courtesy of Michael Roberts.

Okay everybody, time to ‘fess up. What do you know about Elizabethan literature? Discounting Shakespeare’s and various other drama writers’ works. Poetry- sonnets, Petrarchan vs. anti-Petrarchan, but what else? *crickets chirping* Okay, I might play smart, but I knew nothing either and it would stay that way if not for my pal Michael Roberts, that I’ve written about before. His book ‘Elizabethan Prose’, a book that he wrote, is kept in our collection. Published when monocles reigned supreme, ie. 1933, it is a collection of examples of the prose of the Elizabethan prose.
And those guys wrote wide and wrote well. In the book there is a collection of funny stories, weird stories, bawdy stories. There are beauty tips and treatises. You can get a recipe for a quince marmalade or advice on healthy living. The Elizabethans will help you make mince pies and then help you lose weight you gained eating them. In short, there is a wide selection of fiction and non-fiction that touches many aspects of life. And with books like that, the past seems a little bit less like a foreign country. Sure, they do things differently there, but they enjoy a dirty joke, sweet food and a good drink as much as you do.
And because I love me some spiced wine, here is the recipe for Ipocras taken from the Roberts’ book.

‘How to make Ipocras:

Take a gallon of wine, an ounce of Sinamon, two ounces of ginger, one pound of sugar, twentie cloues bruised and twentie corners of pepper big beaten, let all these soake together one night and then let it run through a bag, and it will be good Ipocras.’

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Stephen Southwold, the forgotten SF pioneer

Stephen Southwold, aka Neil Bell-one of our alumni that made career of being a novelist. But this one is special to me and it will soon be clear to you why.

He had no stomach for the Marjon as it was in 1905-1907. The stern discipline and the monastic isolation was hard on him and who can blame a creative soul to rebel against that? Yet he apparently did pretty well, especially in French.

He is one of those writers that were quite prolific in their time, but now fell into obscurity. And I don’t mean one that can be bought 10p a dozen. I am talking obscure with ebay only having his collection of stories circulating among hardened bibliophiles. And it is a shame, as he was writing a lot and in variety of genres, including fantasy, speculative- and science-fiction, all at the time where these genres were just being developed. It would be good to see his name next to Gernsback, Campbell, Zamyatin and Čapek. And I’m stopping right there before you’d get a lecture on the history of SF that you never asked for.:-)

What we have of him, next to one of his (now rare) books, are the letters he wrote to one of his friends. There is something very personal about letters, even when they are not addressed to you. It feels like this man, dead for so many years, still speaks to you somehow.

He writes a lot about his creative process and the issues around the world of publishing of his time.How he tried to gather material for a war book, but only rumours so he can write a speculative account of a war that did not happen yet. He writes about troubles with his publisher, saying that he was the only person that didn’t like his new book and how the epistolary novel fell out of favour yet again. Or how he seems to have a quirky fondness for the name ‘Esteban’ naming thus another of his characters. I wish I had read his letters when I was still a creative writing student, plenty of good research material there.

So Stephen, Mr Sci-Fi Writer from the past, do you have anything else to say to your colleague from the present?

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