Wednesday, April 27, 2022

The Penguin Books of British Short Stories (2)


Penguin Books of British Short Stories (2)



Edited by Philip Hensher

My previous reviews of older or classic fictions:

My review of the Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story:

When I read the stories in the above two books, my thoughts will appear in the comment stream below:


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29 responses to “Penguin Books of British Short Stories (2)

  1. I first reviewed in 2021 the next story due to be read, as follows…..



    …and so on to the next story that describes the context of these words: “…widows, as exemplifying the survival of the matrimonially fittest,…”


    This famous brief prose fiction about a literal conservative man bewitched by the amorphously, arguably un-literal secrecy in the mystery of a woman whom he fatefully glimpses. Yet, I see her haunting mystery, “looking like a moonbeam in grey lace”, as a straightforwardly LITERAL means to trap a man into the web of her desires. Until she, in this story told by the man, reliable or not, succumbs to a sudden congestion of the lungs, implying that the power of our human bodies to rule over or submit to matters of life is far more unilaterally mysterious than anything hard-and-fast or reconditely malleable that one does or believe or even simply is. There lies fate.



    The story, thus, IS its own title.

    The full context of the above:

  2. EVELYN WAUGH: Cruise Letters from a Young Lady of Leisure

    This is the Sphinx. Goodness how Sad.“

    Goodness how Good.

  3. It may have already have noticed that you are reading these two Penguin books alternately, and it seems to be the most synergous or synchronous path through them, so far.
    Goodness, not you Me.

  4. GEORGE MOORE: A Novel in a Nutshell

    “…he had chambers in Norman’s Inn, where he wrote waltzes, received his friends, and practised wood-carving.”

    …this being Mr Bryant of Bryanston Square who employed as servant…
    “…Clara Tompson, from King Edward’s School, a young girl just turned seventeen, pale-complexioned, delicate features, and blue eyes, which seemed to tell of a delicate, sentimental nature.”

    Whatever the significance of the black shawl he brought back from France for her and her complaints of other men pestering her with spiked drinks and my sense in her of an unrequited younger love for an older man especially when Mr B starts ‘seeing’ a supposed widow, with much toing and froin of letters between him and that woman, as taken between them by Clara’s fair hand….
    I was more interested in the rougher or cruder servant girls (“coarse girls romped to a tune played on a concertina by a shoe-boy sitting on the dresser.”) with whom she seemed to mix. Did they work for Mr B, too? Or were they other specks of herself that she tried to clean off her soul? And who really ‘waltzed’ to that tune, and with whose ‘idol’?

    I once had similar quandaries during quarantine in my review of another George Moore story, linked here:

  5. Pingback: Jonah’s Gulp of Truth, Mankind’s Specks of Self Inside | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews Edit

  6. JAMES HANLEY: The German Prisoner

    “There is a peculiar power about rottenness, in that it feeds on itself, borrows from itself, and its tendency is always downward.”

    Things rot from the head down, as we recognise today. Here with a madness from metaphor of fog and trench war, and when I say madness I mean madness and mudness, an 18 year old German ‘ucker’ kicking the bucket, as an Irishman and Englishman as soldiers — whose backstories and behaviours now literally trench the very reading brain, no mistake, especially trained and traduced by our own troubles today — get confused by the trenches without a guide …

    “You know its not the trenches I hate. No. Its this damned business of getting into them, and out of them again too.”

    and they torture this prisoner of war and themselves to death and I don’t care a damn if that spoils the plot, as the plot has spoilt me worse than anything I can funkin do to you. Tara’s o’Garra, Gorman (his head-gutted officer), later the German, Grudge …”The men moved on. And now, what had merely been a germ, became a disease, an epidemic.”

    Pendulums enforced. bedmates gory Irishman and Englishman linked by war almost sexually? The German they capture in the mud and fog their Bowenesque shadowy-third?
    “Rotten ground; mashy muddy ground. Christ the place must be full of these mangy dead.’”

    A ‘watch stops’
    ‘Hear that ucker moaning down there.’

    ‘The ucker hasn’t kicked the bucket yet,’

    Watch stops, and we’re halfway there again into that trench, and then a half of that half, forever halved, I guess.

  7. And from the previous story above, we reach a story that mentions a Mrs Warboys…

    BARRY PAIN: The Autobiography of an Idea

    “Now, then, shall I make this man my parent? If I crept through that sandy hair into the whitey-grey brain, what a change there would be. He would be conscious that he had got a new, tremendous, imperial idea.”

    Every idea is autonomous and needs, so as to exist, first a mind, then an inkstand, later a parent in public print.
    This for me is genuinely the perfect page-turning short story, a real active discovery and also a passive revelation, about which I shall tell you little, for fear of plot spoilers. But it does seem by instinct to be intrinsic to ‘gestalt real-time reviewing’ with its theme about the literary singularity, with connections and preternatural leitmotifs between two authors and so forth, even to the point of one’s saving someone else from suicide becoming tantamount to saving oneself from a similar act of suicide. The obverse of Hanley’s co-habited trench above?
    This is a story about your succeeding in life by creating the best laughter-inducing plot for any story ever written as well as obviating the lack of self-respect in your act of thus annulling the pangs of pain of bereaved grief for a loved one that you should have been sobbing out at the same time, by allowing another Pain to use its idea for the same story!

    “…it would make the dead laugh.”

  8. Pingback: “The ucker hasn’t kicked the bucket yet”  | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews Edit

  9. T. H. WHITE: The Point of Thirty Miles

    “the indescribable agony of possibility”

    This remarkable hunting story is as memorable as the ‘madness’ above in Hanley’s madness and mudness story, but this one now is framed by it being told in person to others, told by the man actually involved in the hunt who becomes, on the day, tantamount to the ‘master’ of the pack of hounds, whereby his second horse was still fresh when the pack started chasing, in mad mayhem — but chasing what?
    I dare not tell you how it ends for fear of spoilers. All I can say is that, if it had not ended with the jokey responses to the man’s story by those listening, this would be a horror fiction genre classic. As someone who has dealt in the past with much of this genre material, I can say I had not encountered this work before! Another discovery. Another Idea of Pain having found its Parent.

  10. ELLA D’ARCY: Irremediable

    “….thickly powdered with stars, and as he turned westward Alpherat hung for a moment ‘comme le point sur un i,’ over the slender spire of St John’s.”

    No wonder the young man Willoughby sought out a fateful second meeting with Esther Stables in Orton, a place name that autocorrected for me into Orion….
    Starting with aspects of class and gender mœurs in Ella D’Arcy’s era, this tells of Willoughby being scarred by a previous woman in his life, but now on idyllic ‘idle’ holiday from banking, he meets beautiful Esther (a common tailoress) at a country stile, and she eventually entraps him (by weeping in floods) after tempting him into ‘flirting’ with her, as she eyes him as a husbandly prospect and later betrays his sardonyx ring and ‘mistaken chivalry’.
    It is only later that we realise he writes stories for magazines. I wonder if he wrote this well-written, poignant weighing in the balance of love and hatred in the hope of easing his pangs of regret by monetary means. Or did he write for the sort of magazine that travelling-to-other-galaxies stories would appeal as a different route (in mind or body) to escape from domestic dramas where boiled eggs are smashed on plates.
    Whatever the ‘idea’ that annuls Pain best!

    “At the table in the centre of the room sat his wife, leaning upon her elbows…”

  11. Pingback: Alpheratz | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews Edit

  12. LESLIE HALWARD: Old Sweat

    “‘Ah! The wenches in the trenches! We had some!’ Somebody said: ‘We musta been in the wrong bloody trenches!’…”

    An old soldier: grizzled, mad-looking but harmless and they felt safe enough to ask him to sing his song….
    An extremely heart-wenching coda to the trenches of Hanley above.

  13. H. G. WELLS: The Argonauts of the Air

    “One saw Monson’s flying-machine from the windows of the trains passing either along the South-Western main line or along the line between Wimbledon and Worcester Park, –“

    Probably the most exhilarating story you will ever read, one that remains exhilarating even at its ending’s ‘dying fall’, because of the pioneering spirit involved. It is a breath-taking description of what a pretty girl (who had written a novelette) named, off the cuff, as ‘Monson’s Folly’, thus triggering in its eponymous inventor, by wounded pride and spite, the impulse to bring forward its premature maiden flight…
    It is is all BIG with contraption and imagination and a flapping amid a wide vista of tentacular style, with many people riveted watching it, when crowded on one side of a train, and it now seems in inverse synergy with Haddon’s Armageddon of a Pier here.

    Reading it today, in its duly prescribed order of reading it, is also one of those astounding synchronicities that I often meet when real-time reviewing fiction, to the extent of making me believe that such synchronicities were meant-to-be as part of the preternatural literary gestalt! You see, I was reading and reviewing, this very morning, two works (Queen Of Clouds and Armed For A Day of Glory) that are in mutual synergy with this Wells.

  14. JULIAN MACLAREN-ROSS: Death of a Comrade

    I wondered why this had been included. Succinct enough, and sad enough, too, that a soldier who got drowned none of his colleagues could remember, but when his father arrived to collect his things including 5s 1d in cash, they pretended he was a great pal. We got our own way to know him ourselves from the story of his belongings?
    Perhaps it is the lot of us all, whether we were pals of others or not. Nobody really knows us at all, especially now on-line. Or in line.

    • But then, a few minutes later, I started the next story below in-line to be read, my review of it later to be shown below when I have read it all, a story which starts: “I had done a few things and earned a few pence –“

  15. HENRY JAMES: The Figure in the Carpet


    “I had done a few things and earned a few pence –“

    The Jamesian-textured prose narrator is asked by a friend George Corvick, to review a book by the celebrated Hugh Vereker, whom the narrator is to meet later. To write this review for The Middle instead of Corvick because the latter is called to rescue some woman or other in Paris.
    The narrator’s chance to shine. Mine, too? In fact, I did once real-time review a HJ, if not HV, book, i.e. the impossible ‘The Sacred Fount’ HERE!
    And I actually once read ‘The Golden Bowl’!

    • II

      “We had found out at last how clever he was, and he had had to make the best of the loss of his mystery. I was strongly tempted, as I walked beside him, to let him know how much of that unveiling was my act; and there was a moment when I probably should have done so had not one of the ladies of our party, snatching a place at his other elbow,…”

      I shall take on the narrator’s role, from now on, in my review….
      I don’t think Corvick liked my review.
      Social gathering described in HJ’s matchless and tentacular prose. Lady Jane in a conversation that I overheard praises my review of Vereker’s book. Vereker himself does not realise I am the reviewer;.once he read my review he says what I wrote is twaddle. That the reviewer knows nothing. Later when told that it was me by Lady J, he accosts me in the corridor before bed and comes in to explain himself as rapprochement. The subtleties of our somewhat satisfying chat, by motive of mercy and/or regret, or by constructive cross-purposes, will defeat your crude misunderstanding of HJ’s obliquity of sophistication, and of mine, too. Perhaps you will understand more of what I mean when you read on to the next chapter below, in due course.
      But I doubt it.

    • III

      “…the thing without the effort to achieve which he wouldn’t write at all, the very passion of his passion,…”

      A story, it seems, that was simply made to be gestalt real-time reviewed by me! Concerning a hidden treasure of gestalt, or esoteric message, or intention, like something he does with, say, the letter P — the sort of preternatural tricks embodied in fiction truth that I deal with every day of my week, but such a Henry James work IS hidden treasure. It is the story I have been waiting for. No pale fire, this.

      “I had a pause. ‘Don’t you think you ought – just a trifle – to assist the critic?’
      ‘Assist him? What else have I done with every stroke of my pen? I’ve shouted my intention in his great blank face!’”

      “Besides, the critic just isn’t a plain man: if he were, pray, what would he be doing in his neighbour’s garden? You’re anything but a plain man yourself, and the very raison d’être of you all is that you’re little demons of subtlety.”

      So, yes, Vereker, as he speaks to me late at night in my bedroom, is the truth-giver, oh yeh! 

      “‘I live almost to see if it will ever be detected.’”
      …he says. A sort of tempting of fate, the final writer-critic duel, by the revelation of such a writer’s gestalt. We’ll see!
      I may be even mis-interpreting the whole thing! He may be right when he said ‘twaddle’. But I doubt it.

      “‘This extraordinary “general intention”, as you call it – for that’s the most vivid description I can induce you to make of it – is then, generally, a sort of buried treasure?’”

      Well, how ironic that I have always believed in Wimsatt’s Intentional Fallacy, unbeknownst to him! I would have spent the night looking for the treasure in his books, but my co-narrator couldn’t find any Vereker books in the house!

    • IV & V

      “I’m sure that person will by this time have told somebody else! It’s a woman, into the bargain.”

      I told Corvick about my meeting with Vereker in my bedroom at Lady Jane’s but then he told his fiancée, a literary woman, as it happened, who actually lived italics and capitals it seems, so she is made party to Vereker’s ‘secret’ bait to search his books. But as this loving couple’s shadowy third, I triangulate with them together (like three people playing chess against each other on one board), triangulate the coordinates of what the hidden treasure might be, although Vereker himself had turned indifferent, even with the Persian carpet conceit that I myself gave him to plagiarise as a string to hangs his pearls of wisdom on, I now infer!!

      “They would scarce have got so wound up, I think, if they hadn’t been in love: poor Vereker’s inner meaning gave them endless occasion to put and to keep their young heads together.”

      But I claimed Corvick was pretentious, even though I was, at heart, even more so!

      “He was like nothing, I told him, but the maniacs who embrace some bedlamitical theory of the cryptic character of Shakespeare. […] Corvick would at last probably come out somewhere. He made, in defence of his credulity, a great point of the fact that from of old, in his study of this genius, he had caught whiffs and hints of he didn’t know what, faint wandering notes of a hidden music. That was just the rarity, that was the charm: it fitted so perfectly into what I reported.”

      The honour of T. H. White’s werewolf chase with rifle! That’s the way I also seek the literary gestalt embodied with the work of all us fictioneers!
      Music to hunt leitmotifs with!

      Yet, I now try to avoid Vereker, even at Lady Jane’s — but has he gone off, anyway, to aid an ailing wife?

      “Not only had I lost the books, but I had lost the man himself: they and their author had been alike spoiled for me. I knew too which was the loss I most regretted. I had taken to the man still more than I had ever taken to the books.”

    • VI – XI

      “Eureka. Immense.”

      “…he knows every page, as I do, by heart. They all worked in him together, and some day somewhere, when he wasn’t thinking, they fell, in all their superb intricacy, into the one right combination.”

      I am astonished I genuinely have not read this work until now, and I don’t think I have even heard of it before! And can you imagine a Henry James novella that is extremely suspenseful, compelling, page-turning in this second half of it? I need to get down my thoughts quickly in this passion of the reading moment — a significant work outdoing all others? — before I, too, die, leaving the only character left alive the reviewer himself.
      I must be careful of spoilers, though.

      The relationship of Corvick and Gwendolen, with a blurred engagement of affiancement, he goes abroad to Bombay and has the epiphany of Vereker’s literary gestalt with that Eureka and Immense! —

      “The buried treasure was all gold and gems. […] It was great, yet so simple, was simple, yet so great, and the final knowledge of it was an experience quite apart.”

      And, later, it is almost as if Corvick then needs to marry Gwendolen and consummate by sexual union before he can pass on the secret of the Vereker gestalt to her, and this is perhaps the key to such a revelation passing on to another husband following the dog cart accident, beyond or towards her third novel. Until I reach the end of it all while trying to marry her myself for the same reason, but still without the literary orgasm I seek, as she marries Drayton Deane another reviewer! The novella may end with nothing, and never! And so may I.
      Vereker, you see, dies without the secret being known. I read his last book and also Gwendolen’s novels for clues… and was it indeed something to do with the eponymous carpet as given as a clue by the title above?

      So I am doomed to perpetual tantalisation… and whether they gave a ‘dose’ to Gwendolen’s mother to keep her quiet? So much more here I haven’t told you. At least I got my revenge on Drayton Deane. If not on the Velazquez and Vandyke within Vereker.

      “I was shut up in my obsession for ever – my gaolers had gone off with the key.”

      ‘The last ghost of a chance? — ‘the idol unveiled’?
      I, the mere reviewer, can solve it in one fell swoop perhaps, but who has heard of a reviewer writing his or her own novel? Well, I wrote one at the beginning of this century, first published in 2011 and now out of print, entitled ‘Nemonymous Night’, and its first chapter happens to be all about the eponymous carpet! The answer’s there. I say this at least half-seriously, because if one believes in the Jungian literary gestalt, that is not too far fetched, is it?

  16. Pingback: Henry James’ The Figure In The Carpet — figured out! | The Des Lewis Gestalt Real-Time Reviews Edit