Walter de la Mare’s Memoirs of a Midget (3)


CONTINUED FROM HERE: https://elizabethbowensite.wordpress.com/2022/11/30/memoirs-of-a-midget-2/

My other reviews of Walter de la Mare: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2022/11/02/my-reviews-of-walter-de-la-mare-in-alphabetical-order/

My previous reviews of older or classic books: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/reviews-of-older-books/

When I read this novel, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below…

13 responses to “*


    Chapter Thirty-Two

    Some important passages that I can’t resist quoting in full below, and they probably represent the literary heights of WDLM, in this seminal chapter, as M settles in London with Mrs M, with M only remembering Pollie by being upset she had sadly forgotten the latter’s wedding! Missing Mrs B, too. And we read a report of the debriefing M had with Mrs B regarding the Fanny/ Crimble tragic knot. And from that knot to the quite different knot of London. And a miniature person’s reaction to such a spreading city, and to the town house at No. 2 in which she is allowed to reside with a servant called Fleming. And the fears that M feels of becoming a novelty not a person.

    “And fair or foul, London soot and dust were enemies alike to my eyes, my fingers, and my nose.”

    “In my long carriage journey to Mrs. Monnerie’s through those miles and miles of grimed, huddling houses, those shops and hoardings and steeples, I had realized for the first time that its capital is not a part of England, only a sprawling human growth in it; and though I soon learned to respect it as that, I could never see without a sigh some skimpy weed struggling for life in its bricked-up crevices.”

    “Maybe my imagination had already been prejudiced by a coloured drawing which Mr. Wagginhorne had sent me once for a Valentine when I was a child. It hangs up now in that child’s nursery for a memento that I have been nearly dead. In the midst of it on a hill, in gold and faded carmine, encircled with great five-pointed blue stars, and with green, grooved valleys radiating from its castellated towers, is a city – Hierusalem. A city surmounted by a narrow wreathing pennon on which inscribed in silver are the words: ‘Who heareth the Voice of My Spirit? And how shall they who deceive themselves resort unto Me?’
    Scattered far and near about this central piece, and connected with it by thin lines like wandering paths radiating from its gates across mountain, valley, and forest, lie, like round web-like smudges, if seen at a distance, the other chief cities of the world: Rome, Venice, Constantinople, Paris, and the rest. London sprawls low in the left-hand corner. The strongest glass cannot exhaust the skill and ingenuity of the maker of this drawing (an artist who, Mr. Wagginborne told me, was mad, poor thing – a man in a frenzy distemper – his very words). For when you peer close into this London, it takes the shape of a tusked, black, hairy boar, sprawling with hoofs outspread, fast asleep. And between them, and even actually diapering the carcass of the creature, is a perfect labyrinth of life – a high crowned king and queen, honey-hiving bees, an old man with a beard as if in a swoon, robbers with swords, travellers with beasts and torches, inns, a cluster of sharp-coloured butterflies (of the same proportion) fluttering over what looks like a clot of dung, a winding river, ships, trees, tombs, wasted unburied bodies, a child issuing from an egg, a phœnix taking flight; and so on. There is no end to this poor man’s devices. The longer you look, the more strange things you discover. Yet at distance of a pace or two, his pig appears to fade into nothing but a cloudy-coloured cobweb – one of the many around his bright-dyed Hierusalem.

    “When Mrs. Monnerie and I were alone, we usually shared a smaller room with her parrot, Chakka; her little Chinese dog, Cherry – whose whimper had a most uncomfortable resemblance to the wild and homesick cry of my seagulls at Lyme Regis – and her collections of the world’s smaller rarities. It is only, I suppose, one more proof of how volatile a creature I used to be that I took an intense interest in the contents of these cabinets for a few days, and then found them nothing but a vexation. No doubt this was because of an uneasy suspicion that Mrs. Monnerie had also collected me.
    She could be extremely tactful in her private designs, yet she ‘showed me off’ in a fashion that might have turned a far less giddy head than her protégée’s, and perhaps cannot have been in the best of taste. So sure had she been of me, that, when I arrived, a room on the first floor of No. 2 had already been prepared for my reception. A wonderful piece of fantasticalness – like a miniature fairy palace, but without a vestige of any real make-believe in it. It was panelled and screened with carvings in wood, inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl – dwarfs and apes and misshapen gods and goddesses leering and gaping out at one from amidst leafy branches, flowers, and fruits, and birds, and butterflies. The faintest sniff of that Indian wood – whatever it was – recalls to this day that nightmare scenery. Its hangings were of a silk so rich that they might have stood on edge on the floor. These screens and tapestries guarded a privacy that rarely, alas, contained a Miss M. worth being in private with.

    “Not the least remarkable feature of No. 2 was its back view. The window of my room came down almost to the floor. It ‘commanded’ an immense zinc cistern – George, by name – a Virginia creeper, groping along a brick wall, similar cisterns smalling into the distance, other brick walls and scores of back windows. Once, after contemplating this odd landscape for some little time, it occurred to me to speculate what the back view from the House of Life was like; but I failed to conceive the smallest notion of it. I rarely drew my curtains, and, oddly enough, when I did so, was usually in a vacant or dismal mood. My lights were electric. One simply twisted a tiny ivory button. At first their clear and coloured globes, set like tiny tulips in a candelabra, charmed my fancy. But, such is custom, I soon wearied of them, and pined for the slim, living flame of candles – even for my coarse old night-light swimming in its grease in a chipped blue and white saucer.”

  2. Chapter Thirty-Three

    “It was the old, old story. Talking to me was the next most private thing to talking to herself; and I think she enjoyed for a while the company of so queer a confessor.”

    …and in this way, we get to know more about Mrs Monnerie and her environs, and her attitude to Miss M, the former with “heavy-lidded eyes and tower of hair.” And other characters, such as the butler and nephew Percy — but above all the niece Susan, compared and contrasted to Fanny, who tries to broach with Miss M the subject of Crimble…

    “Besides, thoughts sometimes think themselves.”

  3. Chapter Thirty-Four

    “…and inquired why London gardeners were so much attached to geraniums, lobelias, calceolarias, and ice-plants? Mightn’t one just as well <paint the border, Mrs. Monnerie, red, yellow, and blue? Then it would last – rain, snow, anything.”

    That is M talking to Mrs M.
    M shows her wit and growing maturity in this chapter, a memoir we must not forget, though, as if a diary filtered by WDLM’s wanderslore.
    Much material accretes, such as Mrs M dressing her like a doll in her own image. As well as M dressing herself as her own doll. She shrugs off the ‘toadlet’ epithet for her from the dreadfully priggish Percy. And the unsympathetic Ms Fleming glimpsing her in the nude after M’s bath. “…that long intercepted glance of half-derisive admiration had filled me with something sweeter than distress.”
    But who was the “fat little boy” in the dress-shop salesperson’s photo? Not forgetting…

    “…Mr. Godde, who came to wind the clocks.”

  4. Chapter Thirty-Five

    “‘What is the use of being one’s self, if one is always changing?’
    ‘There comes a time, miss, when we don’t change; only the outer walls crumble away morsel by morsel, so to speak.’”

    M returns to Mrs B after the finitely planned stay with Mrs M, and above is what M says and what Mrs B replies. A desirable return but also an anti-climax, although we learn at the end of this chapter that Mr Anon is still eager, and I myself was somewhat gratified to see the ‘Bateses’ entrance again!

    Awaiting M, is what she yearned for but did not expect, a ‘Fannyish’ letter…
    “But then again, what are externals? Who was this cool-tempered Miss M. who was now scanning the once heartrending handwriting? “

    “Do you ever find a word suddenly so crammed with meaning that at any moment it threatens to explode?”
    I forget the context of above, but I think it is in Fanny’s letter, who remains the irritating and feisty woman she always was.

    “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, said Hamlet.”
    Which of them said that?
    Hamlet? I am sure that was Prospero!

  5. Chapter Thirty-Six

    “‘S-sh!’ I whispered, caught up with delight. ‘A nightjar! Listen. Let’s go and look.’ […] Thrusting our way between the denser clumps of weeds, we pushed on cautiously until we actually stood under the creature’s enormous oak. So elusive and deceitful was the throbbing croon of sound. that it was impossible to detect on which naked branch in the black leafiness the bird sat churring. The wafted fragrances, the placid dusky air, and, far, far above, the delicate, shallowing deepening of the faint-starred blue –“

    Mr Anon and Miss M finding a nightjar near Wanderslore….
    Whether dream or waking (I sense it is both), this is the apotheosis of WDL(M) lore.

    “– how I longed to sip but one drop of drowsy mandragora and forget this fretting, inconstant self.”

    “There came a clap of wings, and the bird swooped out of its secrecy into the air above us, a moment showed his white-splashed, cinder-coloured feathers in the dusk, seemed to tumble as if broken-winged upon the air, squawked, and was gone. The interruption only hastened me on.
    ‘Still, still listen,’ I implored: ‘if Time would but cease awhile and let me breathe.’”

    Yet again…
    “…and I held my thumb and finger just ajar,…”

    “And out of the distance the nightjar set again to its churring.”

  6. Chapter Thirty-Seven

    “If this Life of mine had been a Biography, the author of it would have had the satisfaction of copying out from a pygmy blue morocco diary the names of all the celebrated and distinguished people I met at No. 2.”

    Here we find M pondering in the future when writing these memoirs, about Crimble, about Anon, and Mrs B going to Argentina, not because it just won the World Cup (!), but her husband’s broken leg is becoming terminal to his life.

    These ponderings when M is back in London at no. 2…

    “…my passion for shells, fossils, flints, butterflies, and stuffed animals…”

    “I would open the lid, turn the great pages, and carefully sprawling on my elbows between them, would pore for hours together on their coloured pictures of birds and flowers, gems and glass, ruins, palaces, mountains – hunting, cock-fighting, fashions, fine ladies, and foreign marvels. And I dipped into novels so like the unpleasanter parts of my own life that they might just as well have been autobiographies.”
    M also deciding that some authors she reads think the whole universe as gestalt is a Squid…

    A sense of growing Anti-Natalism?…
    “Calling up Spirits from the vasty deep has always seemed to me to be a far more dreadful mystery than Death. It is not, indeed, the ghosts of the dead and the past which I think should oppress the people I see around me, but those of the children to come. I thank God from the bottom of my heart for the happiness and misery of having been alive, but my small mind reels when I brood on what the gift of it implies.”

    Mrs B’s sad parting…
    “…she sat glooming over that alien teapot, sipping Mrs. Monnerie’s colourless China tea, firmly declining to grimace at its insipidity, until she had told me all there was to tell. At last, having gathered herself together, she exhorted me to write to that young Mr. Anon.”

    “It is eight o’clock; the light is fading. Chizzel Hill glows green.”

  7. Chapters Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine

    “‘Why, you strange thing, how curiously you speak to me. Of course I love him. I am going to marry him.’
    ‘But how do you know?’ I persisted. ‘Does it mean more to you – well – than the secret of everything? I mean, what comes when one is almost nothing? Does it make you more yourself, or just break you in two, or melt you away? – oh, like mist that is gone, and to every petal and blade of grass its drop of burning water?’”

    Much talk of birth, life, love and death, the subject of ‘love’ between M and Susan, as above, and of M’s finances with Sir Walter P, that leads to perhaps M’s wondering at the point of everything, the mystery if not the need for human birth…

    ’Can there be a riddle, Sir Walter, that hasn’t any answer? I remember reading in a book that was given me that Man “comes into the world like morning mushrooms”. Don’t you think that’s true; even, I mean, of – everybody?’”

    …amid news of Mr B’s death in Argentina, and Fanny, being taken up by Mrs Monnerie. I am sure I have missed reporting some important things in these chapters; they are still within me if not on this page. The talk between M and F, for example. But these things are made tiny as Fanny’s ‘inchy image’ of M herself, made thus by the tininess of print, this book’s print, as compared to the world it describes?

    “I actually saw myself a little bent-up, old, midget woman, creeping down some stone steps out of a porch, with a fanlight, under a street lamp. It curdled my blood, that picture.”

  8. Chapter Forty and Forty-One

    “….from Wanderslore – a long, crooked, roundabout letter, that seemed to taunt, upbraid, and entreat me, turn and turn about. It ended with a proposal of marriage. In most of the novels I have read, the heroine simply basks in such a proposal,…”

    A letter from Mr Anon about whom M sometimes refers as ‘hunchback’! And in these chapters evoking her tormented, feisty, strangely self-belittled and paranoiac soul, she fears the novelty wedding of such small fry! So she takes up with the subject of Moths instead!—

    “The whim took me to try and become a little better acquainted with ‘William Markwick, Esq., F.L.S.’ who had himself seen the sphinx stellatarum inserting its proboscis into the nectary of a flower while ‘keeping constantly on the wing’. There seemed to be something in common, just then, between myself and the Sphinx.”

    And her old childhood tormentor, Adam Waggett, turns up as servant at Mrs M’s! And he refers to her future marriage, so who had rifled her secret box? And she tears up the letter and puts the bits in an envelope for Fanny… with all the telling repercussions when Fanny actually turns up, too, to visit.

    “– surely I have the right to ask what pulpy mysteries are enclosed in an envelope addressed to me in what appears to be a feigned ca – calligraphy?”

    And there are social do’s at Mrs M’s…

    “A glance at this lady reminded me spitefully of an old suspicion of mine that Mrs. Monnerie usually invited her duller friends to luncheon and the clever to dinner.”

    “And my mind was in such a state of humiliation and discomfort that I hadn’t the energy even to smile at a marble goddess.”

    “A long look I could not share passed between them; I might have been a toy on the floor.”

    She goes out, later, into the streets and finds a church…

    “A pendulum ticked slowly from on high. Quiet began to steal over me – long centuries of solitude had filled this vacancy as with a dream.”

    A vision of the ghost of Crimble (and not today, in my own real-time, the ghost of Christmas!)
    Then of her own future ghost!

    “My ghost! there was no doubt I was an exceedingly small human being. It may sound absurd, but I had never vividly realized it before. And how solemnly sitting there – like a spider in wait for flies.”

    Or her tiny skull to be placed on a laboratory shelf!
    These chapters have some wondrous Wanderslore prose of WDLM, yet I was slightly put out of joint by the coincidental return (and my faded memory) of Waggett.

  9. Chapter Forty-Two

    “However absurdly pranked up with conceit I might be, I knew in my heart that outwardly, at any rate, I was nothing much better than a curio. To care for me was therefore a really difficult feat.”

    A sort of reflective, egotistical intermission by M in her exquisite Memoir writing (if indeed we see her writing at all as unadapted by the Wanderslore of WDLM!) and it is ironic that she quotes these words about writing’s art from some unknown man she meets who once sat at the feet of Dickens:
    “Well, there is only one recipe I have ever heard of: take a quart or more of life-blood; mix it with a bottle of ink, and a teaspoonful of tears; and ask God to forgive the blots.”

    M, meantime, discusses her abrasions with Percy, Fleming and, indeed, Fanny. And her state of mind when taken to all manner of social events by Mrs M, and she feels, and, indeed, I myself feel, that she did not optimise these events for herself as well as she could have done. Although I am fond of M, she remains a priggish soul in my mind.

    “I had one advantage over them, however, for when I was no longer a novelty, I could occasionally slip in, unperceived, behind an immense marquetry bureau. There in the dust I could sit at peace, comparing its back with its front, and could enjoy at leisure the conversation beyond.”

    And we have Swiftian reflections, too, e.g. “Gulliver, of course, was purposely made unaccustomed to the gigantic; while I was born and bred, though not to such an extreme, in its midst.”

  10. Chapter Forty-Three

    This is a HELLUVA chapter, M’s coming of age party given by Mrs M, so thought out, so evil, so by happenstance meaty, nightmarish, force-fed, perhaps drunken, crazy guest, insulting dishes carefully prepared, M herself uppity with Fleming as the latter did M’s hair, ending with M, in disgust, falling into Fanny’s plate, a canoodling Fanny with a man. This was resonant with that famous dinner or dance or whatever party in Bowen’s A WORLD OF LOVE, i gave a grimace and wry smile this Christmas Eve as we now head into the section of the book called MONK’S HOUSE.

    Mrs M does this Birthday Banquet and grotesque cake for “her Snippety, her Moppet, her Pusskinetta, her little Binbin, her Fairy, her Petite Sereine, an exquisite setting. […] ‘ Angelic Tomtitiska!’ sighed Mrs. Monnerie, ‘I wager when she returns to Paradise, she will sit in a corner and forget to tune her harp.’ / There was no shade of vexation in her voice, only amiable amusement; but those sitting near had overheard her little pleasantry, and smilingly watched me as, casting my eye down the menu – Consommé aux Nids d’ Hirondelles, Filets de Blanchailles à la Diable, Ailes de Caille aux petits pois Minnie Stratton, Sauterelles aux Caroubes Saint Jean, it was caught at last by a pretty gilt flourishing around the words, Suprême de Langues de Rossignols. This, then, was the dainty jest, the clou du repas. The faint gold words shimmered back at me. In an instant I was a child again at Lyndsey, lulling to sleep on my pillow amid the echoing songs of the nightingales that used to nest in its pleasant lanes. I sat flaming, my tongue clotted with disgust. I simply couldn’t swallow; and didn’t.”

    “So evil with dreams my nights had been that I hardly knew whether I was awake or asleep. / But I recall the long perspective of the table, the beards, the busts, the pearls, the camellias and gardenias, the cornucopias, and that glistening Folly Castle, my Birthday Cake.”

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