i felt bereft when I reached the final book in The Raj Quartet series by Paul Scott.
Division Of The Spoils, published in 1975, depicted the final years of British rule in India and the birth of a newly-independent state. It’s a process that Scott once described as ‘the British coming to the end of themselves as they were’.
For many of the key figures in the tetralogy, the new order did indeed force them to question their own attitudes and beliefs. Only a few chose to remain once they were no longer in charge of the country.
Some of the main characters : the Layton family, Hari Kumar (unjustly imprisoned for rape) and – the villain of the saga, Maj./Lt. Col. Ronald Merrick – are shown embarking on a new phase of their lives. But we’re left with questions about the future for the Indian nation itself, with only an uneasy truce in place between Muslims and Hindus.
Return To Pankot
Fortunately Paul Scott returned to the setting of his quartet with Staying On, published in 1977. It gave me a much welcome opportunity to return to the small hill town of Pankot that featured in the Raj Quartet.
It is now 20 years after independence. Only one British couple remain in Pankot: Tusker and Lucy Smalley who were minor characters in the earlier novels. The sun has set on the “golden years” of their time in India as members of the British Raj .
Tusker’s retirement from the British Indian Army and his subsequent career in administration for a maharaja left them with limited funds. These have been further eroded it transpires, by a stint of gambling.
Life After The Raj
By the time we meet them in Staying On they are living in straightened circumstances in the Lodge, a small annex of Smith’s Hotel. It was once the town’s principal hotel but is now overshadowed by the brash new Shiraz Hotel.
The Smalleys are, just like Smith’s Hotel, adrift in the new India. They try desperately to cling to the old order with its esteemed values of the family and tradition and its strict codes of behaviour. But such currency no longer matters in the new nation, in which it is the entrepreneurs and money makers, not the army and the civil service who hold sway.
The Smalleys are an ill matched pair. He is brusque, irascible and prone to spontaneous irrational actions; she is loquacious, a romanticist who believes many of the young English officers she has met over the years, were secretly attracted to her. Lucy Smalley has never forgiven her husband for deciding — without consulting her — that they would ‘stay on’ in India after he retired from the army.
As her husband’s health declines, she becomes increasingly worried about her financial status when he dies. But her pleas for information are unanswered and in place of real conversations with her taciturn husband she creates imaginary dialogues in which she shows a male visitor the delights of Pankot and introduces him to local society.
What Scott brings to life is that despite the feelings of frustrations, anger and disappointment that encircle the Tusker’s marriage, there is still an affection that has endured.
Staying On is in essence a tale of loss; of unfulfilled dreams and people whose years are lived always on the fringe because they never quite ‘fit in’.
When I first read Staying On more than 20 years ago, the comic storyline of the larger-than-life Mrs Bhoolabhoy and her henpecked husband seemed to dominate the novel. I felt the domestic nature of the plot made the novel feel rather lightweight in comparison to the Raj Quartet. But reading Staying On again, the poignancy of Lucy’s story came more to the forefront. How could I not feel sorry for a woman who has
a faraway look in her eyes as if looking back into places she’s walked in her long-ago shoes.
Staying On is a much quieter novel than the Raj Quartet.
Gone are the questions around loyalty to one’s birth nation and community versus loyalty to an acquired social group like the regiment. Gone also is the question Scott poses in The Jewel in the Crown (the first of the quartet) about the personal and socio-political consequences that arise when individuals try to cross the racial divide.
There are certainly no dramatic events in Staying On like the rape in Jewel in the Crown, or the massacre on the train in Division of the Spoils. In fact the main drama of Staying On is dispensed with in the very first page where we learn that Tusker has died while Lucy is at their hairdressers.
And yet there is one theme that seems to tie all five novels together – the ability of human beings to connect with each other; whether across class or across the breakfast table. Lucy and Tusker have as much of a divide between them as Ronald Meyrick and Sarah Layton or Daphne Manners and Hari Kumar experience in The Jewel In The Crown.
Staying On is a delightful end to Scott’s epic about India and its fight for independence against a ruling class determined not to let go of their power. I loved the way Scott mixed in familiar characters and locations from previous novels, yet showed that life had changed. Though it doesn’t tackle the same big issues or focus on highly dramatic events, this novel still provides an interesting perspective on the Colonial experience.
Staying On by Paul Scott: End Notes
About the book: Staying On was published in 1977, two years after the final book in the Raj Quartet series. The tetralogy had not been universally acclaimed; Scott faced accusations that he had written caricatures of the British in India and those who served them. By contrast, Staying On was named as winner of the Booker Prize in 1977.
About the author: Paul Scott was born in England. In 1943 he was posted as an officer cadet to India, ending the war as a captain in the Indian Army Service Corps, Despite being initially appalled by the attitudes of the British, by the heat and dust, by the disease and poverty and by the sheer numbers of people, he fell deeply in love with India.
His writing career began in earnest with his first published novel in 1952, going on to achieve moderate success. The crowning glory of his career was winning the Booker Prize in 1977. Sadly he did not have long to enjoy the success . In the year he won the award, he was diagnosed with cancer. He was too ill to attend the prize giving ceremony and died five months later.
Why I Read This Book: I first read Staying On in the late 1990s but decided to read it again as part of my Booker Prize project.
This review was posted originally in 2012. This updated version incorporates biographical information about the author and an updated image of the book cover . Formatting has been changed to improve readability.
Centuries before we’d even heard of payday loans and credit card debt, Anthony Trollope was writing about a society where living on credit is acceptable and loan sharks lurk in the shadows.
The critique of Victorian society found in The Chronicles of Barsetshire is one of the reasons I love the series so much. On the surface they are tales about love, marriage and religious rivalry. Pleasant enough but it’s the way Trollope criticises and mocks the “pillars of society” that makes them stand out for me. Church, aristocracy, government, politicians in general – it seems Trollope holds none of them in high regard.
In Framley Parsonage his scornful eye is turned on Nate Sowerby, a spendthrift Member of Parliament, and the men of power – politicians, socialites, the Duke of Omnium – in his network of acquaintances.
Anthony Trollope spends a good deal of the book demonstrating how these men he labels “gods” and “giants” connive and collude to advance their own interests, even if that is at the expense of the innocents.
Temptations of A Naive Man
The main plot concerns one such innocent. Mark Robarts is an affable man in his twenties who has been given a leg up in life by the mother of his schoolfriend Lord Lufton. Not only has Lady Lufton gifted him a wealthy living as vicar in her parish, Mark and his wife are regular dinner guests at her grand home.
But this is not enough for Mark whose ambitions lie beyond the small parish of Framley. He is flattered when Sowerby pays him attention and dazzled by the prospect that this acquaintance can lead to even more illustrious connections. Though he knows that Lady Lufton disapproves of the MP’s morals and lifestyle, he plunges on regardless, accepting an invitation to spend the weekend with Sowerby, the Dean of Barchester and another MP, Harold Smith.
His decision is partly an act of defiance against Lady Lufton, but he rationalises it as an essential step towards advancing his position in life.
I have no doubt that Harold Smith will be in the government some day, and I cannot afford to neglect such a man’s acquaintance.
In a naive attempt to mix in these influential circles, he gets persuaded by Sowerby to be a signatory to a bill of credit. Sowerby is an old hand at this kind of caper, deftly getting Mark to stand as guarantor for a £400 loan, considerable sum of money for the rather lowly parson.
‘Allow me to draw on you for that amount at three months. Long before that time I shall be flush enough.’ And then, before Mark could answer, he had a bill stamp and pen and ink out on the table before him, and was filling in the bill as though his friend had already given his consent.
The MP makes no attempt to pay back the loan. When the due date materialises he simply gets Mark to sign another note (this time for £500) to buy his racehorse.
In return, Sowerby helps Mark gain a prestigious post at Barchester Cathedral. But too late, Mark discovers that Sowerby is a false friend whose deviousness has brought him to the brink of disgrace, aided by a shady group of people whose business it is to speculate on unpaid debts. It proves to be a wake up call for the young cleric:
His very soul was dismayed by the dirt through which he was forced to wade. He had become unconsciously connected with the lowest dregs of mankind, and would have to see his name mingled with theirs in the daily newspapers.
Anthony Trollope said his intention in Framley Parsonage was to write “the biography of an English clergyman who should not be a bad man, but one led into temptation by his own youth and by the unclerical accidents of the life of those around him.”
It isn’t only Mark whose faults are laid bare. Sowerby is clearly the kind of parasitic person Trollope despises:
It is a remarkable thing with reference to men who are distressed for money… they never seem at a loss for small sums, or deny themselves those luxuries which small sums purchase. Cabs, dinners, wine, theatres, and new gloves are always at the command of men who are drowned in pecuniary embarrassments, whereas those who don’t owe a shilling are so frequently obliged to go without them!“ —
In fact hardly any character (notable exceptions being Mark’s wife and sister) comes out of the story with any grace. They’re avaricious, acquisitive social climbers, driven by determination to get the status and wealth they believe is rightfully theirs. So they manoeuvre to marry their daughters off to someone with a title, get a position in the Cabinet, or acquire even more influence.
Mrs Proudie Returns
The mocking tone Trollope adopts towards many of these figures, makes the book hugely entertaining. Some of the characters from previous books in the series, make an appearance including the formidable Mrs Proudie, wife of the Bishop.
She’s her usual domineering self and still determined to exert her influence even beyond Barchester. There’s one memorable scene in which habing decided to play social hostess, she agonises over what kind of event would best “set the people talking” . Eventually she determines to hold a conversazione.
To accommodate with chairs and sofas as many as the furniture of her noble suite of rooms would allow, especially with the two chairs and padded bench against the walls in the back closet the small inner drawing−room, as she would call it to the clergymen’s wives from Barsetshire and to let the others stand about upright, or ‘group themselves’ as she described it. Then four times during the two hours’ period of her conversazione tea and cake were to be handed around on salvers. It is astonishing how far a very little cake will go in this way, particularly if administered tolerably early after dinner.
Gems like this abound in Framley Parsonage. Trollope’s mocking tone had the ability to make me smile but there were some moments, of which this was one, that were pure laugh-out-loud. This is the fourth of the Barsester Chronicles I’ve read and the combination of social commentary and sharp wit has nudged this ahead of Barchester Towers in my list of favourites.
Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope: EndNotes
About the Book: Framley Parsonage was published serially in the Cornhill Magazine from January 1860 to April 1861 and in three volumes in 1861. It was the fourth of Trollopes’s six Barsetshire novels.
Elizabeth Gaskell was one of its many fans. “I wish Trollope would go on writing Framley Parsonage for ever. I don’t see any reason why it should come to an end,” she declared.
About the Author: Anthony Trollope was working as a postal surveyor’s clerk in central Ireland when he began to write, using long train journeys around the island on postal duties. His early novels, which had an Irish settings, were not well received. Returning to England he was given responsibility for investigating and reorganising rural mail delivery in south-western England and south Wales. His investigation took him to Salisbury where he conceived the plot of The Warden, which became the first of the six Barsetshire novels.
How much time do you spend searching for images to give your blog post more of a wow factor? If all you want to use is a book cover image, that’s easy enough. But if you want something more generic that:
- has impact,
- isn’t ubiquitous,
- is free and
- doesn’t have copyright restrictions
It’s only recently I discovered that WordPress also has a photo library containing thousands of images, and they’re all free to WordPress users. It’s also easy to use but of course you first need to know where to find it.
How To Use WordPress Photo Library
You can access the library in two ways. This is the method I prefer.
- Navigate to My Site → Site → Media.
- Click on the drop down arrow alongside the button for media library source button in the top-left corner.
- Select “Pexels free photos” from the 3 options.
4. Now do your search using the search box at the top of the screen. As an example, I searched using the term “reading”. As you type, the screen below the search box will fill with options.
5. Initially, the screen will show the possible images in small size but if you use the slide tool in the upper right corner, you can change the view.
This is how my first screen looked.
I found it difficult to really see the images clearly so I used the slide bar to change the view. By moving it to the mid way point I could see 6 images per row instead of 12.
Although it does mean you have to do more vertical scrolling to see all the options, I find it easier to work in this view.
If I wanted to see the images even more clearly, by moving the slider bar to the far right, I end up with just 3 images per row.
6. Now all you have to do is select the image you want (you can select more than one at a time). Your selected image will show with a small red dot in the bottom right corner.
7. Click on the “Copy to Library” text top left of your screen. Your chosen image/images are now in your media library, ready to add to your post in the usual way. You can edit the image here – changing the size, adding a title to make it easier to find, and an alt-tag.
How to Use The WordPress Image
8. When I’m ready to add the image to my post, I just select a new Image Block, click in “Select Image”
9. From the drop down menu I choose “Image Library”, and select the image I just added.
When the image appears on your page, you may notice that the caption has been pre-filled with the photo credit. One less thing for you to worry about.
10 The alternative method is to access the WordPress image library while you are writing your content and building your blog post. You just “insert image” and from the drop down menu choose “Pexels Free Photos” as shown at step 10 in the graphic above. Then you just search that library, select the image in the same way.
I prefer having my images already chosen before I begin designing the page but both methods will get you to the same results. Just choose what works for you.
A Good Solution?
The catalogue is extensive though some of the images available are a bit on the cheesy side. But so are many of those you’ll find in other libraries.
You do need to think carefully about the search terms you use. The more general your search term is, the more results will be returned but many of them could be irrelevant. Again, that’s no really any different to what you’ll find in other photo libraries.
Of course the best images will be ones you create yourself since there’s no risk you’ll find another blogger using the exact same picture. But if you don’t have great photography or design skills, this is a good option.
This post is part of my A2Zofblogging series. Don’t forget to check out the other articles listed in the series page.
Saturday disappeared in a blur of cooking and cleaning in preparation for a family visit – the first since the pandemic hit the UK. So Sample Saturday has morphed into Sample Sunday – lucky me that both days begin with the same letter of the alphabet. I’d have been in a mess otherwise 🙂
This week sample is of three books all by authors from what we northerners call The Antipodes: Australia and New Zealand.
This Mortal Boy by Fiona Kidman
This novel explores the story behind the real-life death of Albert Black, one of the last people to be executed in in New Zealand.
Black, known as the ‘jukebox killer’, was only twenty when he was convicted of murdering another young man in a fight at a milk bar in in 1955. His crime fuelled growing moral panic about teenagers.
Kidman asks whether this case was indeed the result of juvenile delinquency or was it a reaction to outsiders – Black had migrated to New Zealand to get away from an impoverished childhood in Belfast, Ireland. Or was the young man simply unfortunate enough to fall in with the wrong crowd in Aukland.
I first heard of this book from Lisa at ZNZLitLovers who thought it “rivetting” and then found an interview in which Fiona Kidman explained the inspiration for the novel.
The Verdict: Definitely One To Keep
Remembering Babylon by David Malouf
David Malouf won the inaugural International Dublin Literary Prize in 1996 with this novel. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.
Malouf’s tale focuses on a young English cabin boy, Gemmy Fairley, who is abandoned in Australia. He is raised by a group of aborigines but when white settlers reach the area, he attempts to move back in the world of Europeans. To them, Gemmy is a force that both fascinates and repels. The boy is also unsettled by his identity and place in this new world.
The few pages I’ve sampled give a really good sense of the way the novel reflects the clash of cultures and the fear of the unknown. I have a feeling this is going to be a superb book.
The Verdict: Keep
The New Ships by Kate Duigan
It’s back to New Zealand for my final choice. I hadn’t heard of this author but I went into an independent bookshop in Nelson, New Zealand, determined not to return home to the UK without at least one book by a local author in my suitcase.
After a long and delightful discussion with the shop owner (a patient man) I settled on The New Ships.
It’s the most contemporary of the three books sampled this week, being set shortly after the fall of the Twin Towers.
It concerns Peter Collie, a lawyer who feels adrift following his wife’s death. His attempts to understand the direction of his life, lead him to the past and the days when he was a backpacker in Amsterdam. His girlfriend in those days give birth to a daughter who died at just six weeks old. Or so Peter was given to understand. But now he is not so sure she did die. His attempt to find the truth takes him across London, Europe and the Indian sub continent.
I’m getting the impression the book considers not only the response to grief but how the choices we make or do not make, ultimately shape our lives.
No doubt about my decision on this one.
The Verdict: Keep!
Unusually, I’ve decided to keep all three featured books. The TBR is thus staying at its current level but that’s ok – the objective of Sample Saturday isn’t to get rid of books, but to make sure my shelves are full only with books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached – if you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.