“Light tomorrow with today!” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

Today is the longest day of the year for those of us in the Northern hemisphere, so I thought I’d celebrate with a couple of light reads (haha – sorry.) It’s also my beloved and much-missed great aunt’s birthday, so I’ve chosen two novels I think she would have approved of – she wasn’t a great reader but I hope she’d enjoy these.

Firstly, Miss Mapp by EF Benson (1922). This is the second in the Mapp and Lucia series and so far I’ve really enjoyed Queen Lucia and Lucia in London, (unintentionally I read them out of order but I don’t think it matters) although fans of the series tell me things really take off once the two meet one another. Those of you who follow me on twitter will know I managed to bag the next two titles from the charity shop just at the weekend, but for now the much anticipated meeting will have to wait, as Lucia’s dominion of Riseholme is only given a passing mention in Miss Mapp. The titular character is far more concerned with the comings and goings of her home town:

“There was little that concerned the social movements of Tilling that could not be proved, or at least reasonably conjectured, from Miss Mapp’s eyrie.”

Her house is perfectly positioned in order to view all her neighbours as they go about their business. She is only interested in the genteel society in which she circulates, so we hear very little about the working classes of Tilling. Rather the focus is on the delightfully-named retired military men Captain Puffin and Major Flint; Isabel Poppit who lives “with a flashy and condescending mother” named Godiva; and Mrs. Plaistow with her troublesome teeth.

Eventually Miss Mapp leaves her eyrie and goes shopping:

“All these quarrelsome errands were meat and drink to Miss Mapp: Tuesday morning, the day on which she paid and disputed her weekly bills, was as enjoyable as Sunday mornings when, sitting close under the pulpit, she noted the glaring inconsistencies and grammatical errors in the discourse.” 

This is a brilliant piece of scene-setting by Benson. Miss Mapp, poised at her window before launching herself onto the High Street, tells us all we need to know about Tilling and those who populate it – including their weak in-jokes, feeble and yet guarded fiercely by those who aim to be the first to reference it in conversation:

“Au reservoir, Diva dear,” she said with extreme acerbity, and Diva’s feet began swiftly revolving again.

Sadly, we don’t linger long with the Tillingite who appealed to me most, as Miss Mapp does not share my interest:

“For on emerging, flushed with triumph, leaving the baffled butcher to try his tricks on somebody else if he chose but not on Miss Mapp, she ran straight into the Disgrace of Tilling and her sex, the suffragette, post-impressionist artist (who painted from the nude, both male and female), the socialist and the Germanophil, all incarnate in one frame. In spite of these execrable antecedents, it was quite in vain that Miss Mapp had tried to poison the collective mind of Tilling against this Creature. If she hated anybody, and she undoubtedly did, she hated Irene Coles. The bitterest part of it all was that if Miss Coles was amused at anybody, and she undoubtedly was, she was amused at Miss Mapp.”

Absolutely nothing of any importance happens in Tilling. There are machinations over dresses; worry over food-hoarding which affects no-one; an argument between Puffin and Flint that neither really understand; a refusal to acknowledge daylight saving time. It’s all very silly and none the worse for it.

“Naturally any permanent quarrel was not contemplated by either of them, for if quarrels were permanent in Tilling, nobody would be on speaking terms any more with anyone else in a day or two, and (hardly less disastrous) there could be no fresh quarrels with anybody, since you could not quarrel without words.” 

Miss Mapp is greatly enjoyable when you want an escapist read. You can lose yourself in the petty concerns and schemes of Tilling for a few hours, wondering about nothing more serious than the ripeness of redcurrants for making a fool.

My only reservation on finishing it was whether Miss Mapp was too scheming – was she in fact a lonely character? Although she knew everyone’s business, did she really have any intimacy in her life? But my edition also had the short story The Male Impersonator, which features this exchange about Miss Mapp at the end, between Miss Mapp’s frenemy Godiva Poppit and a new arrival to Tilling:

“ ‘Oh but she mustn’t be hurt,’ said Miss Mackintosh. ‘She’s too precious, I adore her.’

‘So do we,’ said Diva. ‘But we like her to be found out occasionally. You will too, when you know her.’”

So then my soft heart felt a lot better 😊

Secondly, Ring for Jeeves by PG Wodehouse (1953). The nonsensical shenanigans of Wodehouse are a go-to comfort read for me, but in recent years I’ve struggled. Living through a succession of overprivileged self-serving, corrupt toffs determined to govern this country into absolute ruin with a total disregard for anyone who doesn’t share their enormous inherited advantages means laughing at the upper classes has somewhat lost its appeal. *climbs down off soapbox and getting back to talking about books*

However, I thought I’d give Ring for Jeeves a go, and I did enjoy it so maybe I’m mellowing. Wodehouse’s characters are so completely bonkers that no-one would suggest they should be in charge of a single thing. In fact, as the title suggests, if anything the novel suggests handing over all power to the lower orders.

Ring for Jeeves sees the titular valet without Wooster (*faints from shock*) as Bertie is away on some sort of retreat, learning – much to Jeeves’ consternation – to darn his own socks. Thus we find Jeeves looking after Bill, a man “in the normal state of destitution of the upper class Englishman” who is desperate for money:

“Rowcester Abbey – pronounced Roaster – was about a mile from the Goose and Gherkin. It stood- such portions of it as had not fallen down – just beyond Southmolton in the midst of smiling country. Though if you had asked William Egerton Bamfylde Ossingham Belfry, ninth earl of Rowcester, its proprietor, what the English countryside had to smile about these days, he would have been unable to tell you. Its architecture was thirteenth-century, fifteenth-century and Tudor, and its dilapidation twentieth-century post-World War Two.”

Bill has begun making some money posing as bookmaker Honest Patch Perkins at the races. The start of the novel sees him and Jeeves tearing back to Rowcester Abbey because they owe Captain Biggar £3000 for a winning bet. The furious Captain is in hot pursuit.

At the country pile, Bill’s infinitely more capable sister has arrived with her husband Rory. This being Wodehouse the fond couple have conversations along the following lines:

“ ‘Now would I be likely to drop a brick of that sort, old egg?’

‘Extremely likely, old crumpet. The trouble with you is that, though a king among men, you have no tact.’”

Monica thinks she can flog Rowcester to Rosalinda Spottsworth, who is obscenely rich and interested in various esoteric matters including ghosts, which surely the abbey must have. Soon everyone – including Captain Biggar who is in love with Mrs Spottsworth – are all under the same leaking roof:

“Jeeves had entered, bearing coffee. His deportment was, as ever, serene. Like Bill, he found Captain Biggar’s presence in the home disturbing, but where Bill quaked and quivered, Jeeves continued to resemble a well-bred statue.”

Will Bill solve his financial difficulties and marry the lovely vet who lives nearby? Will Captain Biggar confess his feelings for Mrs Spottsworth and manage not to kill Bill and Jeeves? Will Rory manage not to put his foot in it several times over? Will it all work out OK in the end?

Of course it will.

To end, I’ve mentioned before how Bruce Springsteen is proving himself a support to me, especially when my cat died last June. Sadly, his buddy decided to join him this February, and I’m finding it very hard. Here he is in a self-fashioned hammock, the crazy kid:

Anyway, along with stalwart David Bowie, Bruce continues to provide solace, so here he is singing about light (there are credits running over it which is a bit annoying but I really like this version):

28 thoughts on ““Light tomorrow with today!” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

    • It does, I think I’m finding it especially hard to have lost them both within 8 months. It’s a bit easier than it was, I hope it is for you too after you lost your boy. I’m glad you liked the recommendations 🙂

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  1. So sorry to hear about your cats. I can understand how you must be feeling. It was just one month yesterday since I lost mine (Keli Banana-a tabby–and she went just the day after her fifth birthday), and the tears haven’t stopped.

    Re Miss Mapp, she has got a bit of spite about her, a nasty streak which you won’t find in Lucia; of the first two books, I find I like Queen Lucia better, but yes things do become more ‘fun’ when the two meet; then too, I found I rooted for Lucia more times than Mapp.

    Wodehouse is a go to for me as well when I need a some comfort. I like Jeeves and Wooster, but somehow love the Blandings books just that tiny bit more.

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    • Oh I’m so sorry to hear about Keli Banana, it’s heart-breaking when they leave us. I hope soon you can remember some of the joyous memories without sadness, but I know it takes so much time. I’m managing it some of the time but not always. Tabbies are beautiful cats.

      I think I might be more in the Lucia camp too – I’ll have to see when I get to the next book! Lucia’s not nasty, so easier to root for I think. I’m looking forward to reading Mapp & Lucia a great deal.

      The Blandings books are wonderful – Lord Emsworth is such an endearing character.

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      • Yes… it is really hard, and I can only imagine what you must be feeling with it happening twice.

        I hope you enjoy Mapp and Lucia when you get to it; it’s a great deal of fun. I did think also though that the cast of characters and kind of antics they got up to in Riseholme were much more interesting than Tilling where it was mostly card parties (Lucia does change that).

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  2. I’m so sorry about the loss of your cats, Madame Bibi. To lose two must have been all the more devastating for you. Here’s to better times ahead…

    As for the books, the sound delightful. I’ve only read one of the Mapp and Lucia books — the main one, which might be no 4 in the series – so I really out to go back and fill in the gaps!

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    • Thanks Jacqui, that’s very kind. Things are getting easier so I’m sure they will continue to get better.

      Yes, Mapp & Lucia is number 4 – next on my list! I think you’d really enjoy the series 🙂

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  3. What two perfect midsummer reads, I haven’t read either of them but I loved the daftness of the Wodehouse I’ve read and I’m looking forward to Mapp and Lucia so I see happy reading ahead.
    Our pets really are a part of our families and it’s heartbreaking when they die, he does look wonderful in his hammock though and that’s a great way to remember him. . .

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  4. Aw…I’m so sorry Madame Bibi. I think I only knew about your first loss and did not know that you had lost a second companion during the pandemic. Your wee friends were obviously well-loved and you would have brought them much comfort and many joys and full bellies, as well as, apparently, the occasional hammock.

    I chuckled at your light reading joke though. And I wonder if you know about Ursula Le Guin’s Catwings storybooks. They are so gentle and tender and quietly comforting.

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    • Thank you very much for your kindness. I can’t take credit for the hammock though, he made it himself 😀

      I’ve never read Ursula Le Guin and I keep meaning to try her. Thank you for the recommendation – I shall look out for the Catwings books.

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  5. Shockingly, I still haven’t finished my Mapp and Lucia books, so thanks for the reminder. I have got as far as number 5. I know Miss Mapp irritated me a lot in book 2, but I settled into the humour eventually. I think I preferred books 4 and 5 to the first two anyway. It is years since I read any Wodehouse, and I don’t think I have read that one. They are good fun, if you can get past the over privileged toffs.

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    • I think most people do prefer the later books, so I’m looking forward to them. I hope you enjoy No.6! I’m pleased to be able to enjoy Wodehouse again – he’s so silly it’s nice to feel able to return to him.

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  6. First off, so sorry about the kitties – the loss of a pet (no, companion and family member) is always heartbreaking – he looks such a cutie. x

    But this is a fine pair of humorous titles with which to distract yourself! Mapp and Lucia are of course glorious – I would be one of those saying how the series takes off when they meet, but really the whole series is wonderful. As for Wodehouse, despite my hatred of all things upper class at the moment (I am with you on this…), Jeeves and co are so nuts that I think I wouldn’t mind them! Maybe I’ll have to track some down for light relief!

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    • Thanks Kaggsy x He was a cutie and also a total pain – he is very much missed.

      I’m really looking forward to the second half of the M&L series, I’ve enjoyed the first three a lot. It was the fact of Wodehouse’s toffs being so completely bonkers that meant I could tolerate them – I hope he brings you many hours of mirth if you track some down!

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  7. Condolences. It’s always hard to outlive a cat. I love the Catwings books. We’ve also loved a Judith Viorst book entitled The Tenth Good Thing about Barney ever since my kids were little.
    Love what you say about reading about Jeeves in this day and age!

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  8. I’m sorry the last year was even more difficult for you with the loss of your two companions. I had to smile at your photo though – my cat pulled that trick too.

    I read one of the later Mapp and Lucia books first and fell in love with them. And I can sympathize with your toffs problem, sadly I’m running across it with certain Golden Age mysteries.

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    • Thank you Julé. None of my other cats have ever done the hammock thing, I was totally amazed! Lovely to hear you cat has done the same.

      Mapp and Lucia are wonderful 🙂 I enjoy GA mysteries but you’re right, they can definitely have the same problem.

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  9. So sorry to hear about your cats – I knew about the first, but it must be especially hard to have lost them both so close together. No wonder you’ve been struggling with reading.

    I didn’t know there was a Jeeves novel without Bertie! Not sure how I feel about that – it almost feels like adultery! 😉 Good old Wodehouse, though – he’s such a gift for when we need some light entertainment. And we can always be thankful that Roderick Spode and his Black Shorts didn’t make it into power…

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    • Thanks FF, it has been hard and my reading has definitely taken a knock, but I feel like it’s slowly creeping back now, which is good.

      I know – no Bertie is such a shocker! The mentions of what he’s up to on retreat are very funny though. Wodehouse is such a treat, I’m glad to have him back again and yes, at least no Black Shorts…

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  10. Losing a much-loved pet is so hard, and to lose two close together alongside everything else – I’m so sorry Mme B, and glad to hear that you are at least finding pleasure in reading. I came very late to Wodehouse and found the few I have read to be hilarious. Mapp and Lucia have lurked in the shadows for ages – bumped up the list by the tv adaptation but never quite getting to the top. Or remotely close if I’m honest. Too many books and I’m too easily deflected! But one day I hope I’ll try one at least. Perfect summer escapism 😊

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    • Thank you Sandra for your kindness. It is reassuring to be slowly getting back to reading now.

      Wodehouse is great fun, it’s astonishing how prolific he is. I hope you enjoy M&L if you ever get to them – I also have so many books that have lurked in the TBR forever, which I’d love to read, but as you say – so many books…

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