Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Oh, hello again, Miss Hargreaves!

I've been reading Mr. Allenby Loses The Way by Frank Baker, author of my much-loved Miss Hargreaves, and I've even been able to call it work - hopefully it'll be useful for the chapter I'm writing at the moment.  It's about a man who is given five wishes by a fairy... but nowhere near as twee as that sounds.  Anyway, this isn't a review of the novel (not least because I've only read the first 50 pages) but something else entirely.  I was merrily reading along, when I came across this seemingly incidental piece of dialogue:
"All snatches of overheard conversation have something of interest in them.  I once listened to an elderly lady who travelled with me in the same carriage from Bath to Cornford, telling her neighbour about a creature called 'Agatha.'  But who, or what, was Agatha?  I never discovered; I never wanted to discover."
Does that mean anything to you?

Perhaps, even probably, not.  You haven't read Miss Hargreaves six times; you don't love its every word with the passion that I do.  But maybe you do remember that it was set in Cornford; that Miss Hargreaves arrived on a train from Bath; that Norman made up Agatha and was told she was "sinking", without ever knowing what sort of animal/person Agatha was...

Sorry if that was gibberish for those of you who haven't read Miss Hargreaves (if you haven't, I'll want to know a VERY good reason why you haven't).  But I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see her mentioned in this novel, published six years after Miss Hargreaves.  It's my favourite novel, and she is my favourite of all characters - any small sign that she broke out of the bounds of her book delights me.  It was so unexpected, and a treat for those with keen eyes and a good memory.  Or, y'know, a borderline obsession with Miss H.

Have you ever come across this?  A character slipping outside their book and popping up in another?  Not in a series, that's no surprise, but a brief waft past, like this - a little gift from the author to the observant reader.  Hmm?

20 comments:

  1. First off, I'm very proud of myself for understanding the reference (and I've only read Miss H. once!). And I love how he put it in a second book, because it just makes her all the more "real" doesn't it?

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    1. Well done you! Miss H obviously made an impression... and yes, it was a lovely touch on Baker's behalf. She gets around!

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  2. Have not read Miss Hargreaves but have every intention to this year, soon! In fact, it's already in my 'most-looking-forward-to-read' stack, thanks to you. As for characters popping up in unexpected places, can't think of any right now. But I agree that when it does happen, it's certainly delightful.

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    1. Hurrah! I do hope you manage to get to it soon, and enjoy spending time with Miss H :)

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  3. Finally reading Miss Hargreaves is one of my top resolutions for 2012. It will happen. It must.

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    1. Oh, Claire, it must, it must! But you are spoiling me with all my much-loved books that you're reading, so I shan't get *too* angry if you don't.

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  4. Having just read 'Death Comes to Pemberley' (P D James) I confess that some of the bits I enjoyed the most were when she made reference to characters from Emma and Persuasion. It was rather fun to think of various people being 'taken in' by Lydia and Wickham - particularly those peripheral characters one likes to dislike.
    I'm sure there must have been many thumbnail sketches beloved by authors and popped in where they could be popped, over time - but I can't think of any just now.
    A modern equivalent might be the cameo appearence in a film - eg Colin Dexter in Morse and Hitchcock in each of his films.
    Human nature is frail - we all like an 'in' joke!

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    1. Does that make us frail?? Gosh!
      I did enjoy Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil Brinton, where characters from all 6 Austen novels turn up and intermarry!

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  5. I understood the reference (yay!). I, too, love this sort of thing. I cannot think of one off the top of my head, but I know that I've come across some. I even love the more frequent serendipity of references to other books that you've just recently read within the tale of another. I rec'd Death Comes to Pemberley for Christmas, and OVW has just reminded me it needs to be closer to the top of the stack. :)
    And for a superficial plug for Miss Hargreaves...the reprint cover has to be one of the prettiest colors of blue in print. Such a calming color. ;)

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    1. You get ten points!

      I adore the colour. It is my favourite - my bedrooms in Worcestershire and Somerset were/are both painted that colour - it's so happy and cheering! And so you can imagine how delighted I was that they chose that colour for Miss H. It's like it was meant especially for me :)

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  6. WELLLLL...as a matter of fact, I purchased 'Miss Hargreaves' about a year ago on your recommendation, but JUST started reading it on the train yesterday morning, and about 20 minutes ago read the bit with Agatha ('Do you think Agatha's a monkey) sinking. Kismet! I'm absolutely loving, actually more than expected! :)

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    1. Lovely coincidence! And NATURALLY you are loving it, how could you possibly do anything else?

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  7. Funny how Miss H pops up in your conversation with alarming frequency, isn't it Simon? Thank goodness I've read it! Barbara Pym often pops one of her characters into another book. I feel about her books as you do about Miss H so I'm always pleased to wave at one of them as they're mentioned in passing. My favourite example isn't in a novel, though. It's the letter Jane Austen wrote to Cassandra about sseeing Jane Bingley's portrait in an exhibition but not one of Elizabeth Darcy. She thought Mr Darcy would have too fine a sense of delicacy to want his wife's portrait exhibited.

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    1. Funny that, isn't it? ;) Yes, you're safe now... I'm lucky the doves aren't all as hardened bullies as I am, otherwise we'd never have a moment's peace.

      I forgot to include it in the blog post, but I was thinking of Jane Austen's letters too - she also gives outlines of what happens to them, doesn't she? Or it's Austen-Leigh's Memoir, or something... I love the extension of characters beyond their books.

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  8. Barbara Pym does this quite a bit,sometimes characters are mentioned in passing, sometimes they are explored in more depth from one novel to another yet her novels are definitely not a series.

    I love donkeys too.

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    1. I've only read one Pym novel; I must revisit her, it's been seven years now...

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    2. Oh dear, I bought Miss Hargreaves years ago (on your recommendation of course) but have still to read it :oS I'm not sure if this counts, but E.M. Forster's Howards End includes a reference to a 'wretched, weedy’ character called Mr Vyse, who I like to think is Cecil Vyse from Forster's A Room with a View. I mean, Vyse is hardly a commen surname.

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    3. Oo, nice example - even though I've read both, I didn't spot that.

      And, yes, Miss H soon, please!

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  9. This is wonderful! Many years ago I read Miss Hargreaves and have never forgotten her. (Yes, I would have reread her a few times.) However I did forget the name of the author and I lost the book ages ago. Now I rediscover that the author is Frank Baker. What's more, he has written other books. I cannot wait to get my hands on some.

    Miss Hargreaves and the spur of the moment philosophy or law of the universe - or whatever it was - have remained an inspiration for me. I do half believe in them. Life is actually very like that and I have always since valued the imaginative excuse for being late or whatever.

    Wonderful to know that there are others out there like me.

    Sheila N
    http://candobetter.net/

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  10. Anthony Trollope's characters pop up in his different novels, also in Angela Thirkell. 'Rosamund'

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