Frances Lincoln Ltd. kindly sent me a copy of Enthusiasms (2011) by Mark Girouard after I spotted it in their catalogue and thought it looked really interesting – I read it; it was, and somehow I never got around to blogging about it. Better late than never, of course, and here we are!
Enthusiasms is not unlike a literary blog – especially one as would be written by a mixture of Sherlock Holmes and Stephen Fry in QI-mode. Girouard works his way through a disparate series of literary folk, debunking myths and investigating minutiae – and it’s a great journey to take with him. I’m not going to give away all his discoveries, since you read the collection yourself, but the topics addressed are many and various, and of differing significance. The dating of Jane Austen’s Catherine is an issue which would probably attract quite a lot of debate; fewer people would mind which castle Charlotte Mew is referring to in her poem ‘Ken’. Other topics include the extent of Oscar Wilde’s poverty; the disinheritance of Tennyson; Vita Sackville-West’s novel Pepita and its historical influences… P.G. Wodehouse crops up, as does Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, and John Masefield, not to mention an anonymous pornographer.
But the essay where Girouard lets himself go most amusingly is in ‘Drooling Victorians: the strange story of Pet Marjorie’, about Marjorie Fleming – the topic, you may remember, of Oriel Malet’s biography, republished by Persephone. Girouard’s summary of her writing career is (like that career) quite brief, but I did love his scathing overview of Victorian sentimentality – especially on the topic of Dr. John Brown’s Marjorie Fleming: A Sketch:
The existence of an inscribed copy of Maria Edgeworth’s Rosamund and Harry and Lucy given to her by Walter Scott encouraged him to invent several pages of nauseating twaddle about the two of them: “Marjorie! Marjorie!” shouted her friend, “where are ye, my bonnie wee croodlin doo,” and so on. He quoted copiously from her work, not hesitating to, in his view, improve it where necessary, and provided the essential end, a tear-jerking death-bed.
The final three chapters of Enthusiasms turn their attention to Girouard’s own family – discussing his grandparents, Aunt Evie, and The Solomons. To be quite honest, my interest palled and I skim-read these chapters. It’s his book, and he has every right to write about his family if he so wishes, but I was much more interested by his investigations into literary trivia – and I rather suspect that most of you would be too.
For a bedside book, to flick through, I thoroughly recommend Enthusiasms. You’ll learn a fair bit about literary figures major and minor, but mostly it awakens deeper curiosity about literary ‘facts’ we take at face value – and one cannot help but wonder what would find its way into a sequel.