Tea or Books? #43: scientists vs clergymen, and As It Was vs Fair Stood the Wind for France

Scientists! Vicars! H.E. Bates! Helen Thomas!

Tea or Books logoWe’re popping in between holidays to record an episode about clergymen and scientists in novels – doubtless missing plenty of them, but thank you for everyone who tweeted in with your suggestions. We’d love to hear more!

In the second half, we discuss Helen Thomas’s memoir As It Was (1926) and H.E. Bates’ novel Fair Stood the Wind for France (1944) – which turn out to have more in common than we feared (and less than we initially thought). It’s quite the rollercoaster, guys.

Do check out our iTunes page, and you should be able to rate and review through iTunes apps and maybe podcast apps and one day I’ll work out how this happens. Below are the books and authors we mention in this episode:

Poldark series by Winston Graham
The Brother Gardeners by Andrea Wulf
The Lost Garden by Helen Humphreys
The Chateau by William Maxwell
The Boat by L.P. Hartley
The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
A Perfect Woman by L.P. Hartley
Instead of a Letter by Diana Athill
The Warden by Anthony Trollope
Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
Emma by Jane Austen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
Frost at Morning by Richmal Crompton
The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor
The Vicar’s Daughter by E.H. Young
The Clergyman’s Daughter by George Orwell
Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
Under the Rainbow by Susan Scarlett
Clothes-pegs by Susan Scarlett
A Room With a View by E.M. Forster
Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey
Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy
The Pastor’s Wife by Elizabeth von Arnim
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
To The River by Olivia Laing
Appius and Virginia by G.E. Trevelyan
Hackenfeller’s Ape by Brigid Brophy
Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay
Agatha Christie
Oliver Sacks
Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells
The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
Margaret Atwood
Famous Five series by Enid Blyton
As It Was by Helen Thomas
Fair Stood The Wind for France by H.E. Bates
Edward Thomas
World Without End by Helen Thomas
The Darling Buds of May by H.E. Bates
Love for Lydia by H.E. Bates
Under Storm’s Wing by Helen Thomas
To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski
The Village by Marghanita Laski

15 thoughts on “Tea or Books? #43: scientists vs clergymen, and As It Was vs Fair Stood the Wind for France

  • July 24, 2017 at 6:59 pm

    I just finished “The Vicar of Bullhampton” by Anthony Trollope. The vicar’s a main character, of course, and there’s a humorous subplot about a rival church building a chapel right across the way from the vicar’s church.

  • July 25, 2017 at 10:03 am

    I thought you would mention Barbara Pym as her entire canon is shot through with clergymen and excellent women, whilst undercut with the crazy scientist anthropologists and their excellent women. I think Pym sees the two as equals. Also, I recently read Us by David Nichols, which featured a scientist as narrator and showed his struggles to appeal to his arty wife. No religion here though.

  • July 27, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    I was also expecting a mention of Barbara Pym! So many vicars, so many cups of tea. And Elizabeth Gilbert wrote a book called The Signature of All Things about a female botanist. I haven’t read it but I vaguely remember it’s about the same time period as Remarkable Creatures. I’ve heard it’s very good.

  • July 28, 2017 at 1:58 am

    Andrea Barrett is a fabulous writer whose short stories in Ship Fever and the Air We Breathe relate to science. Well worth a look.

  • July 30, 2017 at 6:00 pm

    Count me in as surprised that you didn’t mention Barbara Pym. : ) I didn’t even think of all the anthropologists as Squeak mentioned…just the many vicars!

    There is Essex Serpent which has both a vicar and an amateur naturalist. Unfortunately, like Rachel, I was unimpressed with the book, but certainly many other readers have loved it.

    I read Susan Howatch’s Starbridge Series in the late 90’s and really enjoyed them. They are a bit soapy but very entertaining – no scientists that I recall, but otherwise, all the main characters are Church of England functionaries and their spouses or children. Also, by Elizabeth Goudge The Rosemary Tree has a vicar (a lovely one too) as one of the main characters.

  • July 31, 2017 at 9:28 am

    Another Anthony Trollope featuring a vicar is “He knew he was right”. I can’t remember his name but he is a hilarious character, being pursued by 2 sisters, one quite sweet and the other really strong-tempered. If I remember correctly he can’t make up his mind about which one to marry. AND he is brilliantly played by David Tennant in the BBC adaptation.

    • July 31, 2017 at 8:46 pm

      Oh, Mr. Gibson and the French sisters- That was a very funny subplot I thought! Mr. Gibson reminded me a bit of Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice in his manner and actions.

  • August 14, 2017 at 7:37 pm

    The Reverend Farebrother in Middlemarch is both a vicar and a keen amateur student of natural history, by nineteenth century standards I think that makes him both a clergyman and a scientist.

    I was struck by your observation that novelists seem much more willing to include doctors in their books than those from other branches of science. I can think of several reasons for this, above the familiarity angle that you covered in the podcast (the idea that writers think they know enough about doctors to write convincingly about them). It could also be connected with pace. Scientific discovery, as distinct from its practical applications, can be a very slow process. Saving, or failing to save, someone’s life makes for drama; submitting an article for peer review does not. This may also explain why campus novels tend to focus more on the politics of the college and the faculty than on the actual work of their academic characters. There is more drama in human relationships than painstaking academic work, whether it be in the sciences or the arts. Novels can be about ideas, but more often than not they are about humanity and inhumanity.

    This week in England the latest A level results will published. Most years this results in much hand-wringing about the declining popularity of certain science subjects and the threat this might represent to our future national well-being and prosperity. Coupled with that, there is often a lament at the relative under-representation of females among those starting science and engineering degrees. Yet, medicine always seems to be a highly competitive field to get into, and one in which female undergraduates are now often in a majority. At risk of making a superficial generalisation, I suspect the reason young women are often more interested in medical degrees than those in physics or chemical engineering could be because with medicine it is so much easier to see how the subject can make a positive difference to people’s lives. (Which is not to deny the practical benefits of other sciences or to imply that men lack empathy and prefer a laboratory!) Those who are fascinated by people and have a scientific mindset might well be drawn towards medical careers; those who are fascinated by people but struggle with algrebra may prefer to write books that do not betray their ignorance of the scientific.

  • August 14, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Replying to episode 42 (because comments were closed there).

    I’m so happy to hear about Rachel’s change of heart about Mansfield Park. I love it so much!

    And I really love both trains and boats, especially boats. Right now I’m finding it hard to read anything that is _not_ nautical fiction. English Passengers and the Master and Commander series are both wonderful, and I just listened to Moby Dick on audiobook (read by William Hootkins) and very much lost my heart to it. I’m going on a boat tomorrow (the ferry to France) and it’s going to be exactly like Moby Dick – I’m so excited.

    My favourite train novel is probably Emil and the detectives.

  • August 14, 2017 at 10:35 pm


    For more modern clergymen, there’s Daniel Orton in A. S. Byatt’s Virgin in the Garden tetralogy (and loads of scientists in that series too).

    I think my favourite books about science and scientists are non-fiction – in particular Richard Feynman’s autobiography Surely you’re joking Mr Feynman.

    For the bonus point, Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree is about the daughter of a conflicted Victorian vicar and naturalist.

  • August 15, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    For books with modern, even topical, clergy as the central character(s), look no further than Catherine Fox.

    • August 15, 2017 at 7:08 pm

      Oh yes, ‘The Benefits of Passion’ certainly lives up to its title. Her Lindchester series has been on my virtual “would like to read list” for some time. It sounds like a modern day Barchester Chronicles.

  • August 15, 2017 at 6:08 pm

    Also (now that I’ve listened to the whole episode!) re clergyman-scientists, Oscar’s father in abovementioned Oscar & Lucinda is both a Plymouth Brethren preacher and a dedicated amateur marine botanist/biologist.

  • September 18, 2017 at 5:41 pm

    I read both “As It Was” and “Fair Stood the Wind..” for this podcast and am so glad that I did! While I liked Fair Stood very much, I loved As it Was. My library system (US) didn’t own As It Was so I ordered a used copy. Once I found out there was a sequel, I ordered that used also and am about to start it. While it includes both As It Was and World Without End in it, I will be keeping my original 1927 As It Was and may even consider getting “Under Storm’s Wing” too. I’m willing to devote the shelf space. Thank you for two great rewards! By the way, clergymen all the way.

    • September 20, 2017 at 10:30 pm

      Oh that’s lovely, Laura! I had much the same response when I first read it. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Thomas so much :) And the sequel is even better!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

%d bloggers like this: