Tea or Books? #30: artists vs musicians, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie vs A Far Cry From Kensington

Muriel Spark, artists, and musicians in our final episode of 2016 – it was a fun one to record.

Tea or Books logoWe wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy new year, and fingers crossed for a wonderful 2017 for us all. Recording these episodes has certainly been a highlight in 2016, and we love hearing from you.

In the first half of the episode, we talk about artists and musicians in books – whether real or fictional – and which we prefer. Turning to our second section, we discuss an author I’ve been wanting to chat about the podcast for ages – Muriel Spark, more particularly The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and A Far Cry From Kensington.

Listen above, via a podcast app, or at our iTunes page. Rate, review, etc.! We’ve now had five ratings, which is exciting, as it means they’re displayed and we’re on 5 stars – THANKS GUYS.

Here are the books and authors we discuss in this episode:

Round the Christmas Fire by Nancy Mitford, Laurie Lee, Truman Capote et al
Dickens at Christmas
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
Mystery in White by J.J. Farjeon
Curiosity by Alberto Manguel
A Reader on Reading by Alberto Manguel
The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel
Stevenson under the Palm Trees by Alberto Manguel
Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
Emma by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge (apologies for my terrible geography!)
Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton
Mapp and Lucia series by E.F. Benson
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell (see the sculpture in my review)
House of Silence by Linda Gillard
Cazalet Chronciles by Elizabeth Jane Howard
Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Chessman
Summer in February by Jonathan Smith
Winnie and Wolf by A.N. Wilson
Evenfield by Rachel Ferguson
A Far Cry From Kensington by Muriel Spark
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Child of Light by Muriel Spark
John Masefield by Muriel Spark
Barbara Pym
The Only Problem by Muriel Spark
The Girls of Slender Means by Muriel Spark
Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark
Memento Mori by Muriel Spark
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark
The Takeover by Muriel Spark
R.C. Sherriff

10 thoughts on “Tea or Books? #30: artists vs musicians, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie vs A Far Cry From Kensington

  • December 12, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    Superb as always. Are you going to read The Hopkins Manuscript as one of your RC Sheriff books? I’d love to see what you think of it over the other two of his in Persephone.

    • December 15, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      Thanks Annabel!
      It turns out we’re doing the other two – because Rachel has read them. But once I’ve got the RC Sherriff bug, I may well have to read that one too!

    • December 19, 2016 at 10:24 pm

      I’ve read three books by R.C. Sheriff so far and I think The Hopkins Manuscript is my favorite. It’s quite different from the other two, though!

  • December 12, 2016 at 5:02 pm

    Please tell me how to rate your podcast. I’ve been on the iTunes page and can’t find how to do that.

    • December 15, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Hmm, that is an excellent question, Susan… I thought there was a ‘rate and review’ option, but I can’t find that; I think you might have to do it in iTunes itself? Sorry it’s so complex, and thanks for wanting to do so!

  • December 13, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    The Hopkins Manuscript is wonderful – I really must get onto reading more of Sherriff. Plus all the Sparks on my TBR. Your podcasts always make me want to just sit down for days and do nothing but read the books on the list…..

    • December 15, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      That’s lovely to hear, Karen! We would definitely encourage that ;)

  • December 13, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    Novels about artists. The first one that came to my mind was Somerset Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, based on the life of Gauguin. Others include The Vivisector by Patrick White and, more recently, Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale Then there are two novels by Irving Stone: Lust for Life (Van Gogh) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (Michelangelo), both made into Hollywood epics but perhaps of lesser literary merit.

    Novels about composers seem thinner on the ground. Visconti’s film of Death in Venice has Von Aschenbach as a composer, but in Thomas Mann’s original novella he was a writer so that doesn’t count. A recent favourite novel of mine is The Page Turner by David Leavitt, in which the page turner of the title falls in love with an older classical pianist (it was made into a rather lovely film called Food of Love). Then there is the curiosity that is Napoleon Symphony: A Novel in Four Movements, Anthony Burgess’s fictional recreation of the life and world of Napoleon Bonaparte. I haven’t read it, but apparently Its four “movements” follow the structure of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony.

    Muriel Spark is probably my favourite 20th century novelist. Did you know that A Far Cry from Kensington is something of a roman a clef? Hector Bartlett is based on an ex-boyfriend of Soark’s called Derek Stanford who published a wildly inaccurate (according to Spark) biography of her in the 1960s.

    Jean Brodie was based in part on Christina Kay, who taught Spark at James Gillespie’s School for Girls in Edinburgh (the original of Marcia Blaine). You can read about her in Muriel’s autobiography Curriculum Vitae.

    I love both books discussed and also completely agree about the excellence of Memento Mori, The Driver’s Seat and Loitering with Intent. To this shortlist I would add The Ballad of Peckham Rye, The Girls of Slender Means and Territorial Rights. Muriel Spark never wrote the same book twice and only misfired twice in her career, I think (with Robinson and The Hothouse by the East River).

    • December 15, 2016 at 4:17 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment, David, and for the great suggestions about composer/artist novels.

      I did not know that about A Far Cry from Kensington, thank you! Nor did I realise that Derek Stanford was an ex – I have his biography but have not read it. I *have* read Curriculum Vitae, which was a typically odd way of writing an autobiography, and meant to bring up Christina Kay in the podcast and forgot.

      I’ve not read Robinson or The Hothouse by the East River yet – I might not rush to them yet. I think The Takeover is the only I’ve disliked so far, and I ended up rather baffled by Not To Disturb – but agree about the three you mention; love those. I’d also put Symposium and The Only Problem on my top tier.

  • December 19, 2016 at 10:35 pm

    I’m trying to think of characters who are artists and musicians, all I can come up with is the main character in Zola’s The Masterpiece who is loosely based on Cezanne (Fun fact: he and Zola were childhood friends, and after the book came out, Cezanne never spoke to Zola again.) And I think there are some artsy characters in Our Spoons Came From Woolworth’s by Barbara Comyns, which I loved.

    I also got to see the Goldfinch painting AND the Girl with a Pearl Earring in New York a few years ago! It was in a special exhibition at the Frick Museum and I was lucky enough to see it. I did read both books and loved Girl with a Pearl Earring, it really piqued my interest in Vermeer and the whole time period. Now that I’m in Germany I hope to go to The Hague and see it again.

    Finally, your discussion about musicians made me think of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice. She can’t actually play the piano, but famously claims that ” I must have my share in the conversation, if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” I’m having a fantasy of her and Lucia in the same room — can you just imagine the one-upmanship?


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