On Tuesday night, I endangered my marriage by sitting up in bed with the light on until 1.30 am loudly turning pages while Mr. Waffle huffed and tossed and turned. All this to finish “Wives and Daughters” by Mrs. Gaskell. So there I am febrilely turning pages; Cynthia is married and dispatched and all that stands between Molly and Roger is six months in Africa. I realise that only three pages of the tome remain. Odd. Mrs. Gaskell is not one to finish abruptly. This is the kind of novel where there should be a couple of chapters on Molly and Roger’s children sitting on the Squire’s knee. We should hear what happens Cynthia and the Gibsons. When I reached the end it was to discover that the novel was unfinished. Words are totally inadequate to express my indignation but I tried when speaking to the friend who recommended it to me.
Me: “Wives and Daughters” is an unfinished novel.
Me (ominously): Why didn’t you tell me?
Him: But everyone knows that. It’s what everyone says about it “it’s her
best novel and it’s unfinished”.
Me: Not me or anyone I’ve spoken to.
Him: Can I help it that you don’t come from a literary household?
Me: Speechless indignation. Esprit d’escalier suggests that I should have responded “in our literary household we are not given to reading Victorian potboilers and the talk is all of Samuel Johnson”.
Him: But it makes it almost modern, doesn’t it, that abrupt ending?
Me: But I didn’t want to read a modern novel, I was reading a Victorian novel and to find after 648 pages that it is UNFINISHED is deeply unsatisfactory.
Him: Yes, I suppose, it was the most ill-timed heart attacks in the history of literature. But it could have been worse, imagine, if it had been Graham Greene.
Him: Apparently he used to finish his work mid sentence and pick up and finish it off in the morning.
In other reading unhappiness, at bedtime the other night, we decided to read to the Princess from a book of fairytales that a friend of mine gave her for Christmas. It’s a book for slightly older children but it is beautifully presented and illustrated and the Princess is getting interested in stories with more text and fewer pictures. I read through the table of contents and, of course, she picked the story in the middle entitled “The Girl with no Hands“. I had never heard it before but let me tell you one thing, they’re called the Brothers Grimm for a reason. This story has as its centrepiece a girl whose father chops off her hands. Great bedtime reading. I found it quite disturbing but both the Princess and her father when I showed it to him later were unmoved as it all finishes happily in the end.
To recover from it all, I’m reading Mavis Cheek, who, despite her dreadful name, is fantastic; faber’s only chick-lit author, what more could a girl ask for?