Tuesday, July 20, 2010

dogs, icecream, scrofulous

Posted by PicasaPreparing for the dog show at Matfield Village fete.

It is some time since I  have reread Robert Browning's poem Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister. The words are those of a mean and envious monk as he spies on a colleague, with a fondness for gardening.  if you don't know it, it begins,
"Gr- g-r there go, my heart's abhorrence!
Water your damned flower pots, do!
If hate killed men, Brother Lawrence,
God's blood, would not mine kill you!"
And continues with some speculations about what harm could befall the unfortunate brother if he were led into  temptation and mortal sin. Here the jealous monk refers to,
"...my scrofulous French novel!
On grey paper with blunt type!
Simply glance at it, you grovel
Hand and foot in Belial's gripe:
If I double down its pages
At the woeful sixteenth print,
When he gathers his greengages,
Ope a sieve and slip it in't?"
The phrase "scrofulous French novel" is what brings this poem to mind. Today Heidi and I are lying side by side reading, as it happens, two, depending on your definition, possibly scrofulous  French novels - she, La Cousine Bette, one of Balzac's steamiest, and I, La Curée, probably the steamiest of Zola's  often steamy Rougon Maquart sequence. Nowadays Beliel doesn't come into it. But when these books were written, (to say nothing of Madame Bovary, censored for a while, even in France) we now understand how well brought up Victorian young ladies, who presumably learnt French at early age, were expected to steer clear of contemporary literature from across the Channel.

Mother to small child, "No, I'm going home. I'm tired and fed up". And what is the request? I don't hear it, but the clue is the ice cream van, which stands by the entrance to The Grove. Though stationary, its engine is turning at full revs, pumping fumes into the air. But how else do you keep ice cream cold on such a hot day? Parents and children block the pavement in an untidy queue. They don't care about the fumes.  Instead, their tongues, in anticipation,  caress the cold, firm pyramids of sugar and cream, encased in dry, crisp cornets, the slabs of hard cream, encased  in chocolate, and decorated with hundreds and thousands, the drinks on a stick. Transitory bliss.


The Crow said...

"Instead, their tongues, in anticipation, caress the cold, firm pyramids of..."

Would this passage be an example of scrofulous writing, or merely the end result of your reading Zola?

Regardless, your words do cause a fluttering and makes my mind wander...

WV is 'suphoom' which delights my imagination further. Is it a condition of the mind when lost in thought, or the sound of heartstrings plucked by scrofulous writing.

Lawsy, lawsy - must be the heat getting to me!

Lucy said...

I'm quite intrigued by that use of 'scrofulous'; the modern use of 'flaky' comes to mind... They used to think that sofas along with novels would be the moral undoing of youth, so I hope you weren't lying on any of those!

There's a Molly dog there, only with a docked tail. I rather miss that kind of English village fete.