RUBY FERGUSON – Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary (Persephone)

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25 Dec 2010 – from Jen

A charming book, in which we spend a day in the company of Mrs Memmary, along with some casual visitors, at Keepsfield, a great Scottish house, hearing the story of Lady Rose, who grew up here and was given the house by Queen Victoria as an only daughter who wouldn’t otherwise have inherited it.  I grasped the central conceit early on, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.  It was moving, affecting, and steeped in the characters’ love of Scotland and its history; a fairytale story, set apart from, but irrevocably linked into, real life (just as Charles Kingsley’s stories are – he is introduced cleverly into the narrative), with all its customs and tragedies.  Some of the enthusiasms of the main character and the beautifully-drawn children do recall Ferguson as a favourite pony writer; otherwise you wouldn’t know this was by her.  A lovely read.

E.H. YOUNG – Miss Mole

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25 Dec 2010 – LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa from Parmaviolet

The last of my lovely Christmas books and another lovely Virago, this time about the quite marvellous Hannah Mole, a ladies’ companion who finds it hard to curb her mischevious tongue and has a slightly chequered past, both things that make it a bit difficult for her to keep jobs.  Employed by a minister to cover the duties of his dead wife, she finds herself drawn into the (delightfully written) famly circle, while maintaining a sparring friendship with the gloriously po-faced Mr Blenkinsop.  An interesting style, humour, but awareness of the situation of single impoverished women, with some good twists and a satisfying ending.

IRIS MURDOCH – Jackson’s Dilemma

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Bought 1996

And so we reach the end of the Iris Murdoch A Month project with the much-dreaded Jackson’s Dilemma. I remember reading this when it came out in paperback, only really then realising there was something very wrong. And I haven’t read it since, where I have revisited old favourites.

Actually, it wasn’t as bad as I feared. Although it was obviously weaker than the other novels, it was more Murdoch-Lite than a failure.  The huge lapses in continuity (which could surely have been fixed by a kind person somewhere within the publishing process (and yes, I know she had refused to be edited since many books previously)) notwithstanding, Murdoch’s themes and characters were there, and the story was Murdochian and engaging enough, if very short compared to the last few.  Very upsetting at the end, though, where you can read Jackson’s soliloquy as echoing Murdoch’s own thoughts.

Goodbye, Iris – and goodbye IM a month project, although both live on in our discussions of Jackson’s Dilemma and my research project!

Iris Murdoch Project update

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I’ve just sent out the questionnaires for my book groups reading “The Bell” in May – if your group is reading in May and you haven’t received a questionnaire at the email address you gave me, please check your spam folder and, if there’s nothing there, get in touch with me as soon as possible.

Three of my groups have now read the book and I’m eagerly anticipating the return of the second and third questionnaires. I’ve been busy creating names for the groups – instead of Group 1, Group 2, etc., I’m giving them names based on characters in Iris Murdoch’s (other) novels.

While waiting for the questionnaire results to come in, I’ve been doing some work on the theoretical side. Although this is not a formal piece of work for assessment in an educational institution, I am trying to write it as if it were, with the rigour and care that that implies. I want to make sure I get all the terminology and structure right, so I’ve been reading some books about writing dissertations and theses, which have proved both helpful and interesting. I now have more of an idea of how I’m going to go about “coding” the responses that I get back from the questionnaires, and have some more formal ideas on my theoretical underpinnings. I might even write some of it up soon!

I’ve finished writing up the first part of my case study on my own Iris Murdoch reading group – I asked the group (and myself!) half of the questions while we were still reading through the books; we’re now on the last one (“Jackson’s Dilemma”) and so soon I’ll be able to ask all the final questions – which was our favourite book, etc., and write those bits up too.

I’ve been corresponding via Twitter and email with some other researchers who are working within more formal academic arrangements. It’s struck me that, although they have support and resources which I might have to go a bit further to find, they also have the dreaded deadlines, whereas I am free to write what I want to, when I want to. However, this puts all the pressure on to me to get it done, and also means I have to prioritise it behind my Libro work and any pressing household issues.

I really appreciate the efforts my book groups are going to to help with my research and to fit their own writing up of notes and sending in of questionnaires into their everyday lives. And I appreciate the support of my friends and connections and their advice, retweets and information.

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