A few days ago, I had the distinct pleasure of filling an entire afternoon roaming around used bookstores in Paris. Some of you might recall a post I wrote a few weeks back about Parisian English bookshops and how wandering around their aisles is truly one of my favorite pastimes in the city. So after a rather strenuous weekend of editing and reviewing, I gave myself the gift of a literary afternoon.
I perused the shelves of some of my favorite shops. Being a week day afternoon I was left for the most part alone, without the hustle and bustle of tourists and students humming about, to meander and gaze and run my fingertips across the crippled spines of the books à vendre, the raising dust a testament to their age and character.
I have recently been particularly enchanted by Classic English literature. It began perhaps inauspiciously in the autumn of last year with a Daphné du Maurier phase during which time I devoured all her non-fiction and five of her novels. I should say such an enchantment revisited me as I have, in the past, gone through stages of frantically ingesting Austen and Brontë and Huxley and Orwell in rapid succession. But this last autumn, my pursuit began with Daphné from where I moved on to her grandfather George’s literary works and from there I made my way to H.G. Wells’ A Propos de Dolores and Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. From Wells and Wharton, I made a short pit stop in the contemporary world of Susan Minot before heading back to the Classics.
For some reason, I just cannot get enough of the mid-to-late 19th and early 20th century’s parsed prose, their Oxford comma usage, the elegant and antiquated language flowing off the pages, and the scenery of a time past drawn out like a photograph before our eyes in long descriptive passages.
I left the bookshops that afternoon with my arms full:
- Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
- Selected Poems, Lord Byron
- Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence
- The Pursuit of Love, Nancy Mitford
- The House of Mirth, Edith Wharton
- Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence
- The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
- Ann Veronica, H.G. Wells
My choice was mainly based on titles I’d read mentioned in other books or reviews, references I felt I should understand but had no direct knowledge of the citations.
Not having majored in Literature during my days as a student, I felt I was missing a block of the foundation of English literature. Hopefully this list will help me close that gap.
When I got home I laid all these books out on my bed and chose randomly with my eyes closed. The Pursuit of Love won out, its musty, dog-eared pages the current delight of my afternoons.