We know from Jim’s diary that there was a man in her life. However, the relationship was not going smoothly. This influenced Jim’s mood and the quality of her teaching. It was receiving and writing letters that made life tolerable. She was unhappy with her job, because of classes as large as forty-six, and on the look-out for a change. Reading was a way of escaping from reality. That summer, she read short stories by H E Bates, Winifred Holtby’s Letters and Sparkenbroke. She finished the book on August 5, the day she wrote to Hugh.
The school term began on August 11 and Jim found ways of drowning her sorrows. Trips to the cinema were a favourite occupation. Before the end of the year she had been to see several new films including Kipps, This England, Love on the Dole, Pimpernel Smith and That Hamilton Woman.
Whilst watching this last film, Jim may have identified with Emma, Lady Hamilton, played by Vivien Leigh, and her thwarted war-time love. Jim had already learned about Emma’s roots in Parkgate and her baptism at nearby Neston; she had written two separate articles one of which was published in The Birkenhead News in 1936. Describing the once-busy seaport as a fashionable resort, Jim talks about Emma bathing at Parkgate for the benefit of her skin and as the friend of Lord Nelson. Nelson would have fought alongside the Bellerophon although he may not have known her later commander, Jim’s ancestor, Captain Maitland.
Sparkenbroke by Charles Morgan
Sparkenbroke was one of the two books lent to Jim by a friend. This was on May 30, 1941, just hours before the air raid, so the story would have been fresh in her mind. Like The Voyage, it is long. It chronicles an aristocratic Dorset family and the eponymous mound in the grounds of their home. This houses the coffins of the family’s dead. The fact that Piers Tenniel dies there in 1928 aged 36 is the basis for the novel. It is a philosophical tale discussing through Piers Tenniel the meaning of life, love and death. The mound is a scene of pilgrimage. It is as if the reader becomes one of the tourists whilst learning about Piers’ life.
As a little boy, Piers was brought up by his mother but when she dies he returns to Sparkenbroke. The memory of being locked in the mausoleum for a night by his half-brother Stephen fuels his morbid fascination with the mound. Piers receives his education from the Rector whose children George and Helen he gets to know well. Stephen dies in action in 1917 so Piers inherits the family title. He becomes a poet, marries and has a son but is unfaithful to his wife. George returns to the village as a doctor. Helen gives up her teaching career when she develops multiple sclerosis and, when she invites former pupil Mary to stay, George is attracted to her. However, Mary falls in love with Piers. Following Helen’s death, Mary returns to George and Piers dies in the mound.
The book quotes Esmond, one of Hugh’s choices for reading material. Morgan quotes from this as the elderly Rector is having it read to him and gives him the words, [Esmond] is the most uncomfortable book you can imagine.
Nemesis? by Douglas Reed
In this 1940 publication, subtitled The Story of Otto Strasser, Reed traces the life so far of this German politician, a contemporary of Hitler. The book is indeed interesting to read and uses everyday language. Like Hitler, Strasser had served in the Great War and didn’t relish the prospect of another. Otto, his brother Gregor and Hitler were all members of the Nationalist Socialist party but the brothers disagreed with Hitler’s Nazi views. Gregor was killed as a consequence and Otto formed the Black Front organisation which worked for Hitler’s downfall. Otto managed to evade capture but continued to strive for his ideals – a new German Socialism with minimal bureaucracy. Land would be state-owned and the people would take control of industry. They would make decisions about their own areas of expertise.
Reed was able to track down Strasser in Paris where he was in exile and based his book on their conversations, laying out Strasser’s plans for a Fourth Reich. We now know that they never came to fruition because Strasser was forced to flee Europe for Canada and did not return until 1955.
Chance by Joseph Conrad
Joseph Conrad was Polish but settled in England as a sailor, becoming a British citizen in his twenties. Turning to writing, in perfect English, he soon became a great success. He drew on his own sea-faring experiences to produce realistic pictures of conditions on board and as such would have appealed to Hugh.
A large part of Chance is not set at sea but starts out as if it is. The story unfolds by way of the viewpoints of several characters and overheard conversations, multiple narrators being somewhat confusing. Powell, a young sailor finds a job on a boat commanded by Captain Anthony who has brought on board his new wife, Flora, and her father. The reader knows that her father was imprisoned for fraud leaving the unhappy girl to be looked after by a series of people including Mrs Fyne, sister of Anthony. When Flora elopes with the Captain, it is not clear whether she is in love with him. This uncertainty continues on board whilst her father, recently released from prison, objects to her marriage.
The father plans to murder Anthony but swallows the poisoned drink himself, leaving the young couple to develop their love. Years later, when Flora is at home on shore, Anthony drowns as the last man on a sinking ship. She lives on, visited by Powell and the assumption is that they are in love.
Typhoon by Joseph Conrad
Typhoon was published as a book in 1903 following magazine serialisation. It is the story of how Captain MacWhirr, his crew and hundreds of their passengers experience a storm in the Pacific Ocean on the steamer Nan-Shan. The Captain is convinced that no harm will come to the ship despite the weather forecasts and he refuses to skirt round the bad weather. The storm abates only to return with increased ferocity and MacWhirr’s calm leadership helps to bring the ship safely to harbour. Conrad ends with the reactions of the officers’ families and friends as they receive letters from their menfolk. This gives the reader even more of his graphic description, enough indeed to make the reader feel they are on board and being tossed all over the place.
The Captain’s wife skims her letter looking for a sign that MacWhirr is coming home. She is satisfied to find none as she does not want her independent life-style interrupted. However, she fails to notice her husband’s description of the severity of the storm and calmly takes her daughter shopping. The chief engineer speaks little of the typhoon but hints that he would like his wife to join him in the Far East. Whilst Mrs Rout is unaware of the reason for this, the reader knows that his near-death experience has left him longing for a quiet life of happiness.
Finally, the first mate’s letter to his friend goes into detail about the storm and paints himself as a hero. He had caged the Chinese coolies so as to prevent mutiny after their money had spilled from their upturned boxes. When the Captain releases the men and shares out the cash it is clear that he is the real saviour.
Hugh seems captivated by this story but it may also have brought home the dangers he faced whilst at sea. He would have known that it is at the beginning of the fourth chapter of Wind, Sand and Stars, entitled The Elements, that St Exupery refers to Typhoon. He describes the book perfectly:
When Joseph Conrad described a typhoon he said very little about towering waves, or darkness, or the whistling of the wind in the shrouds. He knew better. Instead, he took his reader down into the hold of the vessel, packed with emigrant coolies, where the rolling and the pitching of the ship had ripped up and scattered their bags and bundles, burst open their boxes, and flung their humble belongings into a crazy heap. Family treasures painfully collected in a lifetime of poverty, pitiful mementoes so alike that nobody but their owners could have told them apart, had lost their identity and lapsed into chaos, into anonymity, into an amorphous magma. It was this human drama that Conrad described when he painted a typhoon.
Jim’s own mal de mer was the subject of one of her articles. It is entitled Sea Sickness.
Hugh discusses Magic Mountain in a later letter.