Perambulatory Christmas Books, part 9
By J. C.
Perambulatory Christmas Books, 6th series, part IX. For the past five years, the TLS editorial offices have been situated in Bloomsbury, close to a warming huddle of bookshops. Next week, however, we remove to Wapping. (The postal address of the TLS remains unchanged.) It was a melancholic perambulation, therefore, that took us on a tour, arriving first at Skoob Books, a shop much patronized by students. . . .
The staff have a reputation for severity, and could perhaps learn from the smiling toilers at neighbouring Waitrose supermarket, but last week a young man responded sympathetically to an older gentleman with a stick seeking advice on publishing his poems; and the sound of a customer tumbling down the stairs (unharmed) brought a concerned look to the face of his boss.
Earlier this year, we drew attention to the centenary of Lawrence Durrell (1912–90), once a strong force in mid-century English letters but neglected now. At Skoob, we lighted on a curiosity: The Dark Labyrinth, first published as Cefalû in 1947 and reissued in an Ace Books edition in 1958. The story, set in Crete after the war, involves “a party of sightseers . . . trapped in what was then the newly-discovered labyrinth of Cefalû”. Among them is one Captain Baird, who was “in charge of some guerillas” on the island during the Resistance. Having just read the essay by Simon Fenwick (TLS, November 16) about the friendship between Durrell and Patrick Leigh Fermor, we cannot help wondering if Captain Baird bears some relation to Major Fermor. We will read on to find out. For this tattered Ace, a first thus, we paid £5.
Around the corner in Marchmont Street is Gay’s the Word. We’re happy to see it still there, but nonetheless wonder what its role is now, when all bookshops have Gay sections, except those which abjure segregation. In the window were books by Ginsberg, Isherwood and Frank O’Hara. On we went, passing Judd Books, a few doors down. It specializes in remainders but also has secondhand stock.
Collinge & Clark, a small specialist art and literature shop in Leigh Street, has a tempting outside barrow, and here we unearthed a copy of Kingdom Come, the first literary journal to appear in Britain after the start of the Second World War. The editors were themselves belligerent. Neville Coghill scolded T. S. Eliot, whose East Coker had lately appeared. To Coghill, the “go into the dark” passage “imitates, without improvement, one of the finest speeches in Samson Agonistes . . . . It is a pity that by inviting comparison Eliot should draw attention to his inferiority”. Geoffrey Grigson kicks Walter de la Mare on the backside with one of his country walking boots (“too exclusively open to literature, which he mistakes for the world”), reserving the other for Stephen Spender. In a poem, Hugh MacDiarmid is on the brink of joining the Soviet ranks to hasten the demise of the bourgeois West. Sets of Kingdom Come change hands for serious prices; for this issue, with a cover by Baptista Gilliat-Smith, C&C charged us £4. We will miss these neighbours. The consolation is that Arthur Rimbaud went to Wapping before us (and travelled by Tube: see Les Illuminations, XXVIII).