Posts Tagged ‘London Library’

Working on ‘A Soldier’s Song’ in the London Library

March 21, 2019

With ‘A Soldier’s Song’ due to première in a week’s time it’s time to pay my respects to the London Library – without the benefits that membership brings I doubt that I would have got the project off the ground.

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The EU flag flies over St James’s Square from the Cypriot High Commission’s balcony

One of those benefits is that it is by far my favourite place to work. Without the woof-ish distractions of my desk at home there are communal spaces or solitary nooks to suit my changing mood. Few nooks have as good a view as the one in the photograph above. Mental pauses can be spent watching the circling taxis, strolling pigeons, and scattered characters in St. James’s Square.

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Mucho Marivaux at the London Library

It just so happens that this desk is where Marivaux likes to hang out. Occupying three shelves of French Lit. you’ll find his novels, essays and plays – as well as critical studies of his work. This allows the translator/adaptor to access a comprehensive range of resources, all in one place.

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Yes, they are real. And they are spectacular.

And not just to access them – since the LL is a borrowing library you can take them away to study on the hoof. Much of the work on Les Fausses Confidences/A Soldier’s Song was done on trains to various cities and towns of the Midlands where I’ve been teaching over the last couple of years. Of course I wouldn’t take a 1732 edition of Marivaux’s work on the London Northwest Train to Marylebone, that’d be reckless! But it’s a nice object to contemplate as one struggles to wrestle marivaudage into the twentieth century.

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The Pléiade edition records the first performance of Les Fausses Confidences in March 1737.

Of course adapting is a more impure task than translation. For translation you require an original text, a thinking mind, perhaps a dictionary. For adaptation you have to imagine the original into another world – whether it’s a switch of genre or a switch of setting or gender. And by setting the action for our play in a house in 1919 London with a military man as the protagonist all kinds of resources that the Library has to offer were useful in capturing the language and feel of the period.

The resources deployed can be obvious – for example using histories of fashion to inflect the wardrobe or military histories to give a backstory to the young soldier, Hector.

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The Bing Boys – Ted Jeavons was a fan

Inspiration can come more obliquely too – Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time was a rich resource, especially the sections where Ted Jeavons reminisced about spending his leave from the front during WW1 in the music halls of London. In the end we didn’t use any songs from The Bing Boys Are Here but part of the joy of rattling round the stacks in the library is knowing that I could go from Uncle Ted’s fictional reminiscences in Fiction to specialist works on the music hall in S. Music Halls &c in two ticks.

And soon the show will come alive – as I said to the cast at our last rehearsal in a local church hall yesterday evening, the play is theirs now and not mine. The final process of adaptation is enaction. The text was once fixed by Marivaux in 1737. Then it was unfixed by the Comédie Italiennes for the King. And once more what was fixed by myself has been unfixed by the Crouch End Players and will become a living creation of their own.

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Actors – you gotta love ’em!

Go to the London Library’s website for a fuller flavour of the benefits that membership brings. Or pop in, they’re a very friendly bunch.

A Soldier’s Song runs from 27th – 30th March 2019 in the Moravian Hall, Priory Road, N8 7HR. Tickets are available now from crouchendplayers.co.uk

 

A short guide to the London Library

October 21, 2017

Given that numbers of membership is falling I offer this post in the spirit of my (surprisingly!) popular Short guide to Southwark jury service to encourage people of letters to join the London Library. Such august institutions (the Library dates back to 1840 and counts a Who’s Who of literary genius among its past and present members) can seem rather intimidating to the outsider and my aim is to acknowledge that the Library definitely has higher expectations of its members’ behaviour than most contemporary libraries (yeah, I’m talking about you, the BL) but also offers delights not to be found anywhere else.

But I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, ‘Isn’t it expensive?’. Well, it’s not cheap. At £510 per annum for old farts and £255 for the under-25s it’s not a negligible sum. However, I hope that I can persuade you, dear reader, that at less than the price of a cup of coffee a day if you’re of an intellectual inclination you get plenty of bang for your buck. I would also point out that if, like me, you’re occasionally outside the perimeter of the academic community membership at Senate House is not cheap, and is far less salubrious than the digs in St James’s Square.

Of course this guide is my own, partial, opinion. Other members will value some services (for example the postal loan system for those outside commuting distance of Central London) that I rarely use if never. So where should one start? Oh yes,

Books

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Books in the idiosyncratic London Library shelving system

Yes, they have books at the London Library. Big deal you might think, I can get books for free at my college/university/Senate House/BL. I have to say, however, that the LL’s collection is outstanding. Its strengths lie in its antiquity and its scope. While not as broad as some (and I emphasise, some) university library collections its acquisition policy is rigorously academic and keeps abreast of the latest scholarship.

As a historian though I value the way in which you can trace the genealogy (to borrow a Foucauldian term) of a subject over time. For example, over the past year I’ve been conducting two research projects. The first, on Marivaux, I’ve discussed elsewhere in these posts. The second, on the history of the West India Committee, was greatly aided by the fact that the library has holdings of first editions by the WIC’s Chairman, published in the 1900s, which I could borrow and peruse in the comfort of my own home while prepping a (failed) application for a research grant.

Having such historic books on open access means that you can serendipitously stumble upon things in the library’s collection that are relevant to your research but of which you may have been entirely ignorant given the focus of most reading lists and scholarship on the up-to-date. And old books smell great. Yes, that’s a thing. The idiosyncratic shelving system is also, once you’ve mastered it, a pleasure to use.

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Old books. You gotta love ’em.

Journals

If you’re a student or hold an academic post you can take the fact that you have on-line access to thousands of journals rather for granted. As someone who has occasionally fallen out of the legit academic community the London Library’s e-library has proved a godsend with university department sized access to essential resources (for me) like JSTOR, the DNB, and the Bibliography of British and Irish Historiography. They also have access to some resources that aren’t on offer elsewhere, such as digital access to the Guardian and Observer archives. If you take a look at what there is in their e-library you’ll probably find plenty to get stuck into that isn’t on my radar.

Magazines

The reading room is a joy for the magazine and journal browser. If you want to keep up with new scholarship there are physical copies of the latest big journals there to consult. If you’re reading for pleasure you can pick up, say, Sight & Sound, Private Eye, the LRB etc etc. Laptops are barred (at the moment) in this room so it really is a place of peace and tranquillity, in which to read or snooze if you’ve an idle hour waiting for an appointment in town.

Desks

Every library member will have a favourite spot, my own is next to Who’s Who? up top in the St. James’s building where people rarely go. Though it can be a bit galling to toil up the stairs and find the desk occupied. Traditionalists will like the old school wooden desks dotted around among the history and literature collections.

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A trad desk by a window that opens. Luxury.

Modernistas my prefer the up-to-date environment to be find in the writing room, the art room or the lightwell in the basement. The point is that you get to choose your writing environment, which will be more intimate and calming than the vast plains of Humanities 1. And the earlier you get to work the likelier you are to find your optimal spot.

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A modern roost overlooking Masons Yard

Librarians

They offer expertise and courtesy. The best of their profession.

Food & Drink

Of course you can’t eat in the stacks. And why would you? If you’re frugal you can eat a packed lunch in the Members’ Room at the top of the building. However, there are plenty of places to go in the vicinity if you want to get refreshed or fed.

Personally, I’m happy to go to Eat for food if I’m aiming to go back to work afterwards, or Waterstone’s Café if I can’t get a seat in there. If it’s booze you’re after The Chequers in Masons Yard is a peerless pub in this part of London. ‘Hearty’ pub food, cheerful barmaids and good beer at a reasonable price for the area. Or if you’re feeling more lizardy why not snaffle along to Royal Opera Arcade?

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The Chequers, perfect for al freso supping in the summer. Cosy in cooler climes.

Events

The Library hosts a full programme of literary events throughout the year. With a good tranche of the leading lights of literature and the arts (for example, incoming President Sir Tim Rice) you won’t need to go to Wye to hear talks by leading writers.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of the pluses of joining but I hope that it’s piqued your interest. If you want to dip your toe in the water the Library will arrange for someone to show you around to see if it’s the place for you. I urge you to give it a go and soon, like me, you’ll be putting aside the money for membership week by week.

Go here to see their membership page for details of how to join. If you’re a member of the Library already why not add a comment on your experience of being a member.

#London #Literature

 


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