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Tony Grist

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Courage, L'Ami, Le Diable Est Mort [Jun. 9th, 2018|09:01 am]
Tony Grist
Charity shops always have book shelves- and mostly they're filled with contemporary paperbacks- but sometimes there'll be a few old hardbacks too- and it's those that draw me.

Yesterday in the hospice shop in Pembury there was just one older book among the paperbacks- a copy of Charles Reade's 1861 historical novel The Cloister and the Hearth- which was considered a classic of Eng Lit when I was a kid but now seems to have been scrubbed off the honours board. It was Conan Doyle's favourite novel and for a while- when I was about ten or eleven- mine too. Its hero is a 15th century Flemish artist, who gets his girlfriend pregnant (I could never quite work out how that happened because they never seemed to have the opportunity) is chased out of his home town, treks across 15th century Europe, is hunted by a bear, has a set-to with a bunch of cut throats in a mill and spends time in Italy, being louche and hanging out with Perugino. Somewhere along the way he acquires a companion in the shape of a profane and childlike Burgundian crossbowman whose excellent philosophy of life is summed up in the catchphrase "Courage, l'ami, le diable est mort." I've often wondered whether I'd still find it as entirely wonderful as I used to think it was...

Sometimes the universe just sort of nudges you in the ribs and says, "Go on, you know you want to..."

I'm six chapters in. Gerard and Margaret are livelier than young lovers in Victorian novels tend to be, the scenery is colourful and there is a sardonic strain of humour that went right over my head first time round. Reade's syntax can be knotty and his vocabulary esoteric; God, but I was a literate child! People speak a language no one ever spoke in real life, liberally besprinkled with exclamations like "forsooth" and "grammercy" and "Beshrew my shamefacedness" but one shrugs and gets used to it.

My copy was given as a prize to Ivor Jack Swain- a pupil at the Cheadle Hume School (The Manchester Warehousemen and Clerks' Orphan Schools) for "excellence in music, form IV, year ending July 1938", and has four- not very good- full colour illustrations.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2018-06-09 10:39 am (UTC)
what a great find! Years ago, I found a copy of The Prisoner of Zenda, long one of my favorite movies (the Ronald Coleman version, not the Stewart Granger version). I bought the book and read it, and it remained a favorite until I lent it to my niece and it disappeared.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-06-09 11:59 am (UTC)
I was rooting for James Mason as Rupert of Hentzau- he was extremely cool. There's a third version, you know, with Peter Sellers; I suspect it's pretty awful.

I read the book as a kid. Anthony Hope was prolific: he wrote 32 novels according to Wikipedia and is remembered for just two of them.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2018-06-09 03:01 pm (UTC)
James Mason was very good. The same role was played by Douglas Fairbanks Jr, in the earlier version and I liked him a lot. I think the bad guy must always be more interesting to play...As for the Peter Sellers version, no how no way. There is a second novel - Rupert of Hentzau. I've not read that, I'd have to find it.

There are a few versions of the story disguised as something else, One of my favorites is Moon Over Parador with Richard Dreyfuss...I guess it's politically incorrect to say I always liked him as an actor.

I'm going to look up your book!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-06-09 03:29 pm (UTC)
I adore Peter Sellers- but he made some crummy career choices...

I was reading about how Richard Attenborough struggled to cast the role of Gandhi. The actor he wanted most was Alec Guinness- who told him not to be silly. After which he considered Marlon Brando- who by this stage of his career was enormously fat- and then almost everybody in the Hollywood firmament- including- in passing- Peter Sellers.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2018-06-10 05:13 pm (UTC)
I loved that book! I wonder if there's a freebie in the Kindle store.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-06-10 05:49 pm (UTC)
I should think so. Most old books can be had for free on Kindle.
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[User Picture]From: lblanchard
2018-06-11 12:14 pm (UTC)
And, indeed, this one is there and I've downloaded it. I'm finishing up my re-read of Charlotte Brontë right now but will probably tackle the Cricket before diving back into the Brontës with Anne's two novels.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2018-06-11 12:32 pm (UTC)
Anne is very much in the shadow of her sisters- and not very much like them- but the Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a terrific book.
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