The latest addition to my website is Volter Kilpi‘s Gulliverin matka Fantomimian mantereelle (Gulliver’s Voyage to Phantomimia). This is the first Kilpi novel to be translated into English but was not completed as Kilpi died before he could finish it. It tells of the fifth voyage of Lemuel Gulliver, including a ship getting trapped in a vortex and the (18th century) survivors getting rescued and finding themselves in the 20th century. Translator Doug Robinson claims to have transcreated this novel. He has added his own very post-modern story about the finding of the manuscript, translated the text into 18th century language and also completed the novel, based on the ideas Kilpi left to his son. His transcreation is likely to be controversial, though his post-modern story about the manuscript worked more for me than his Trumpian King Dick the Stiff in the completion.
The latest addition to my website is Olga Tokarczuk‘s Bieguni (Flights). The Polish title refers to a sect of Old Believers who believed that they should run away from anti-Christian authorities. However, though this issue briefly comes up later in the book, the novel is essentially a series of chapters of varying lengths, primarily on the theme of travel or, at least, of elsewhere, telling stories, historical anecdotes, experiences of travel, travel philosophy and her obsession with biological and anatomical oddities. She tells us some wonderful stories, introduces to the idea of plastination (a technique or process used in anatomy to preserve bodies or body parts) and tells us her philosophy of travel – It Doesn’t Matter Where I Am, it makes no difference. I’m here. It is not a conventional novel but if you have ever travelled or wanted to travel, you will find it a joy to read.
The other day we went to an exhibition of the superb paintings of the very wonderful Anne-Catherine Phillips. We have two of her paintings in our house and would have more if we had bigger walls! As we were leaving, the owner of the house told us that Charles Doughty used to live there. Doughty is an interesting figure in British literature. He is most famous for Travels in Arabia Deserta, a fascinating if somewhat strange account of his travels in that part of the world. It is written in a very literary style that makes reading difficult, though it is rewarding to do so. As this link shows he was arrogant, humourless, self-righteous and mulish. In particular, when travelling in Arabia, instead of disguising himself as a Muslim, as other travellers did or, at least, playing down his origins, he played up his origins and what he saw as his superior religion. Throughout the book, you can read accounts of how he was attacked, vilified, beaten, spat upon and generally reviled by people for whom Islam was everything and everything else nothing. Only his (very basic) knowledge of medicine saved him, as he was able to treat some of the local populace.
Despite his wanderings and his classic book, his first love was English literature and he intended to become a great writer of English literature. Much of his life was devoted to writing a six volume epic called The Dawn of Britain. It starts
I chant new day-spring in the Muses’ Isles
Of Christ’s eternal Kingdom. Men of the East,
Of hew and raiment strange, and uncouth speech,
Behold, in storm-beat ship, cast nigh our Land!
It doesn’t get any better. It is, essentially, unreadable. If you are a braver person than I, it is still available, thanks to Forgotten Books and you can download the six volumes of Dawn of Britain, the two volumes of Travels in Arabia Deserta and other of his books from the Internet Archive.
The house to the left is where he lived. In fact, it was because I admired the magnificent wisteria that I learned about Doughty, as it was Doughty who planted it. (Incidentally, if you want to own a piece of English literary history, the house is now for sale.) Doughty’s daughters Dorothy and Freda were both designers for the Royal Worcester china company. There are two biographies of him. The more recent one is by Andrew Taylor, called God’s Fugitive but the original one, published in 1928, is by the Arabist, D G Hogarth. (Interestingly, till I just edited it, the Wikipedia entry linked here did not mention the Doughty biography in the Hogarth bibliography.) Both are out of print but both are obtainable used from the usual sources, though the Hogarth one is not cheap.
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