Apprentice of Split Crow Lane, A Graph Review

A Graph Review    55 with high points to 65:

Victorian True Crime:bodies graph

The Apprentice of Split Crow Lane

(The story of the Carr’s Hill Murder)

by Jane Housham

Published by Riverrun,    November 2016

Hardback. £20.00.          ISBN 978 178648 158 0

appr-split-crow-coverThe central theme is the brutal murder of a five year old girl and a highly researched telling of that story.  Another, all encompassing theme is of local history-cum-social history around the period which unerringly links back to the central theme’s characters.  There is a substantial gathering of background scenery covering: living, labouring, policing, legal, medical and even the ‘politiking’ of the time and years prior to the murder.   Plus of course the careful analysis of the written evidence, newspapers and reports of and around the conviction and its aftermath.

A map is included of the relevant area, useful for me as the movements of numerous people are specified through different sections of the book.

Details of the police work, autopsy and inquest are carefully collated from assorted libraries, National Archives and newspaper records and clearly narrated as events progressed.

It is interesting to read of these now-historic procedures and be informed how and when some changes towards our current practices came about.  Just as interesting is how the models of procedure were being established and how use of forensic analysis was developing.

Moving on, the book explores and explains the fledgling positions of psychiatric analysis and the also the magistrate and county courts.  The author expertly weaves the events of the day from numerous accounts, official or newspaper into narrative as well as using current knowledge of routines to balance the historic methodology.   References abound for referring to at the back of the book, along with a thorough bibliography and index.

From the explorations in this book the movement towards  more sensitive and scientific judiciary and medical (emerging psychiatric) systems is well under way by the mid 19th Century.   A more humane face of all is offered here than you might have expected if you relied on Dickens. Admittedly Charles Dickens was writing from aslightly earlier date and was depicting the worst excesses of a city (London bias). He was at the forefront, as were many at this period, of pushing society forward.

1815…. Edward Wakefield report published 1815. Report of his visit to Bethlem hospital where amongst other things he had ‘seen both men and women, sometimes naked, chained to poles and strapped inside harnesses that inhibited almost all movement’.  Leading reformer Thomas Wakley introduced a more sympathetic, ‘Humane System’ in 1841 which opened asylums to official visitors and a separation of violent and non-violent inmates plus an end to restraints. Additionally, more staff.  The movement towards better conditions and freedoms had been publicly advocated by reformers in the early years of the century and continued throughout.   Broadmoor opened in 1863 by when the system proposed by Wakeley was well established throughout the country.   (See page 179 for description of ‘life in the new humane asylum’)…… note…. Clare’s last asylum seems to have been nearer to these ideals than many other county asylums. perhaps his celebrity status as a poet secured him best conditions, not forgetting that he may have been getting visits from other well-known, and articulate, friends and interested/influential people.

This story extrapolated from notes, reports and letters of Cuthbert’s life in the asylum is compellingly drawn, the story drifting to a sad end with his family moved to Canada and the inclusion of letters from his father to the authorities at Broadmoor.

But this is not the end of the book.  Another, similar case is briefly discussed following with the legal result. More follows with the discussions, arguments even, as to where insanity lies in the commitment of crime.  Again Carr’s case comes into this arena and judgements and texts are quoted from what became definitive books of the day on where accountability sits.

Maybe more could have been said of the degenerative effects of STDs  as they seem accepted as widespread and to have had a marked effect on society of the day.  However as this seems little discussed in the case notes it is understandable.

There is a fascinating look at the reasoning and development of medical and legal definitions of insanity and movements towards considerate treatment of those considered insane throughout the nineteenth century.  The murder by Cuthbert Carr is the central case but later introducing others to demonstrate legal and medical practitioners’ positions in mental capability.  Press and public opinion is well documented here as well as police, legal and medical (asylum) practice over a period where Victorian values were searching for the higher ground despite the still harsh grinding of the industrial revolution.

And all topped off with an appropriate poem by Vernon Scannell.






100 best English Novels, the critics’ choice

A Recent Item from Guardian reads:    link to article

‘What does the rest of the world see as the greatest British novels? In search of a collective critical assessment, BBC Culture contributor Jane Ciabattari polled 82 book critics, from Australia to Zimbabwe – but none from the UK. This list includes no nonfiction, no plays, no narrative or epic poems (no Paradise Lost or Beowulf), no short story collections (no Morte D’Arthur) – novels only, by British authors (which means no James Joyce).’
I have highlighted those that I know I have read although some others I will have seen as television or film productions but then it does not count.

100. The Code of the Woosters (PG Wodehouse, 1938)
99. There but for the (Ali Smith, 2011)
98. Under the Volcano (Malcolm Lowry,1947)
97. The Chronicles of Narnia (CS Lewis, 1949-1954)
96. Memoirs of a Survivor (Doris Lessing, 1974)
95. The Buddha of Suburbia (Hanif Kureishi, 1990)
94. The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (James Hogg, 1824)
93. Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954)
92. Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons, 1932)
91. The Forsyte Saga (John Galsworthy, 1922)
90. The Woman in White (Wilkie Collins, 1859)
89. The Horse’s Mouth (Joyce Cary, 1944)
88. The Death of the Heart (Elizabeth Bowen, 1938)
87. The Old Wives’ Tale (Arnold Bennett,1908)
86. A Legacy (Sybille Bedford, 1956)
85. Regeneration Trilogy (Pat Barker, 1991-1995)
84. Scoop (Evelyn Waugh, 1938)
83. Barchester Towers (Anthony Trollope, 1857)
82. The Patrick Melrose Novels (Edward St Aubyn, 1992-2012)
81. The Jewel in the Crown (Paul Scott, 1966)
80. Excellent Women (Barbara Pym, 1952)
79. His Dark Materials (Philip Pullman, 1995-2000)
78. A House for Mr Biswas (VS Naipaul, 1961)
77. Of Human Bondage (W Somerset Maugham, 1915)
76. Small Island (Andrea Levy, 2004)
75. Women in Love (DH Lawrence, 1920)
74. The Mayor of Casterbridge (Thomas Hardy, 1886)
73. The Blue Flower (Penelope Fitzgerald, 1995)
72. The Heart of the Matter (Graham Greene, 1948)
71. Old Filth (Jane Gardam, 2004)
70. Daniel Deronda (George Eliot, 1876)
69. Nostromo (Joseph Conrad, 1904)
68. A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess, 1962)
67. Crash (JG Ballard 1973)
66. Sense and Sensibility (Jane Austen, 1811)
65. Orlando (Virginia Woolf, 1928)
64. The Way We Live Now (Anthony Trollope, 1875)
63. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (Muriel Spark, 1961)
62. Animal Farm (George Orwell, 1945)
61. The Sea, The Sea (Iris Murdoch, 1978)
60. Sons and Lovers (DH Lawrence, 1913)
59. The Line of Beauty (Alan Hollinghurst, 2004)
58. Loving (Henry Green, 1945)
57. Parade’s End (Ford Madox Ford, 1924-1928)
56. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (Jeanette Winterson, 1985)
55. Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift, 1726)
54. NW (Zadie Smith, 2012)
53. Wide Sargasso Sea (Jean Rhys, 1966)
52. New Grub Street (George Gissing, 1891)
51. Tess of the d’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy, 1891)
50. A Passage to India (EM Forster, 1924)
49. Possession (AS Byatt, 1990)
48. Lucky Jim (Kingsley Amis, 1954)
47. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Laurence Sterne, 1759)
46. Midnight’s Children (Salman Rushdie, 1981)
45. The Little Stranger (Sarah Waters, 2009)
44. Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel, 2009)
43. The Swimming Pool Library (Alan Hollinghurst, 1988)
42. Brighton Rock (Graham Greene, 1938)
41. Dombey and Son (Charles Dickens, 1848)
40. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)
39. The Sense of an Ending (Julian Barnes, 2011)
38. The Passion (Jeanette Winterson, 1987)
37. Decline and Fall (Evelyn Waugh, 1928)
36. A Dance to the Music of Time (Anthony Powell, 1951-1975)
35. Remainder (Tom McCarthy, 2005)
34. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005)
33. The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame, 1908)
32. A Room with a View (EM Forster, 1908)
31. The End of the Affair (Graham Greene, 1951)
30. Moll Flanders (Daniel Defoe, 1722)
29. Brick Lane (Monica Ali, 2003)
28. Villette (Charlotte Brontë, 1853)
27. Robinson Crusoe (Daniel Defoe, 1719)
26. The Lord of the Rings (JRR Tolkien, 1954)
25. White Teeth (Zadie Smith, 2000)
24. The Golden Notebook (Doris Lessing, 1962)
23. Jude the Obscure (Thomas Hardy, 1895)
22. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling (Henry Fielding, 1749)
21. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad, 1899)
20. Persuasion (Jane Austen, 1817)
19. Emma (Jane Austen, 1815)
18. Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro, 1989)
17. Howards End (EM Forster, 1910)
16. The Waves (Virginia Woolf, 1931)
15. Atonement (Ian McEwan, 2001)
14. Clarissa (Samuel Richardson,1748)
13. The Good Soldier (Ford Madox Ford, 1915)
12. Nineteen Eighty-Four (George Orwell, 1949)
11. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen, 1813)
10. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray, 1848)
9. Frankenstein (Mary Shelley, 1818)
8. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens, 1850)
7. Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë, 1847)
6. Bleak House (Charles Dickens, 1853)
5. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë, 1847)
4. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens, 1861)
3. Mrs. Dalloway (Virginia Woolf, 1925)
2. To the Lighthouse (Virginia Woolf, 1927)
1. Middlemarch (George Eliot, 1874)’


If world critics cite these as the top 100 titles  I wonder how I stand on having to admit to reading 26 of them, as highlighted.
How do I rate my score of 26 out of 100?  Is this good or should I relate it to a pass rate score of 42 and so consider myself a failure?
I have said previously that I am a slow reader.  Not a late reader but an avid early-reader who seemed to start by reading every word and never progressed in speed.  My inward response to those with faster, even accelerated reading skills is that I savour the words and characters, enter the story itself and become immersed in the detail.  Simply put, that I enjoy the story more.

Of course it is really a defence against the reality that I have never learned to read faster as I do not have the skill-set or patience to develop it.  Plus I may have been deterred that several people round me have or had this ability and I knew I could not compete when I took two days of hard reading to finish even a short novel while the ‘speedies’ needed less than two hours.  Even worse was that their knowledge of the book would be at the same level as mine.

This probably highlights lack of skill or mental capacity on my part, another recess I have no torch for.

However, looking at the 100 best of English writing my first nod at contrariness is that I thought Joseph Conrad was Polish though likely took English nationality when he retired here after a life at sea.  They point out that Joyce was Irish so not included,  therefor  Scottish and Welsh were excluded too.  Is Conrad an exception to the rule or should I check my memory?

So is this a bucket-list?  Well maybe for the student of English Literature but not for me. I expect it will encourage sales of these established and well published titles throughout the world but don’t let it discourage you from reading their other titles.  Critics around the world cite these as the best 100 but you are your best critic so don’t be railroaded into someone else’s choice.

Okay, so statistically speaking this list of 100 titles, as being the choice by whatever points system was used, could well be considered a serious(ish) result.  Remember it is from a professional’s subjective view.  Apparently if you average out a large number of guesses of how many beans in a jar, that average will be correct or within a whisker of the correct figure.  A true fact than can be carried over into other averaging like polls to the stock exchange etc. The mean of a quantity of guesses is most likely to be correct(ish).

Your view, as a reader is subjective and as personal as any critics so by all means use these 100 as some form of centre-spot in a soccer field but do not lose sight of the whole field around you for out there are horizons you may prefer.  Mixing metaphors may not get me into any critics good books but those critics are there as signposts of their personal tastes, not yours, or mine.

I have read 26 of these 100.  I have read many of their other books and enjoyed them or not.  Do I feel guilty or sad that I may have missed so much?  No, but I will look at some of those gaps and maybe fill them, in my slow and tortoise-like way.  However I will also read my usual fodder of crime, sci-if, historical fiction and good old story-telling.  This latter is possibly may favourite though it ought  to be part of any genre.  I seem to have gone off the action novel as I have got older!  Are these 100 choices leaders in their  sales field, pushing boundaries or stepping on toes when first published, or interesting literature?  Obviously I don’t know without reading them.  Many books doing such things will have been fated to disappear so perhaps luck, publicity, controversy that hits the public emerging interest have their place. As well as word of mouth and critics.

One question that may well stick in my mind in future, is the nationality of the author.  Are they English, Welsh or Scottish?  Trouble is when I go up this little creek I will have to know if they are regional such as Cornish or Tyneside, live in the hills of the Lake District the Levels of Somerset or the temples of Hampstead and Highgate.  And of course I then have to throw away my paddle and let the current take me back to my first loves of reading: anything with a good title, a good story and ideally at least a touch of real-life and humour.

Many of the authors I have read over the years would not bear the ‘English’ standard though one who does,a lasting favourite, would have to be Leslie Thomas.  Of course some of his novels were better than others but he was good on writing an honest book on the strengths and frailties of human nature within a documentable period of events.  A journalist in origins and a storyteller at heart.  For me this is the sign of a good book: am I carried along by the story and characters and is my imagination flooded with a real world?  Simple as that.

Now, where is that paddle and what is the first book on that list?  Middlemarch……but my sister assures me that Virginia Woolf is the best writer..ever..   I have no option, I must go ‘To the Lighthouse’.


The Invisible Woman: A Graph Review

The Invisible Woman                                        by Claire Tomalin  

A Graph Review     55 with high point 70

my copy:  published Penguin       ppr       2012 printing

invis.woman graphI read a biography of Charles Dickens a while ago and it included Nelly Ternan as an integral part of Dicken’s life but felt it was somewhat limp about his influence on her and hers on him. Her presence was included but her character was somewhat elusive, maybe due to lack of evidence or because she was not the centre of the biography.   Yes, she  was treated  as an almost-secret companion but well-known to Dicken’s circle of friends but he tried to protect, nay, conceal her from the public eye almost at any cost.  For his safety or hers? His image or hers?

invisible woman coverFor me, the fact that Dickens rented a ‘cottage’ in my old home town of Slough was a needle that kept my attention.  See page 157 and notes that it was known as Elizabeth Cottage in the High Street (long since burned down, one day I will search out where it was more exactly).  One story I read was that he also rented two terraced cottages in a different street with two front doors for propriety but an adjoining internal door.  Some townsfolk new, affirmed in the notes that their arrangement was known by assorted townspeople at least.  It was a sleepy market town that had the convenience of a railway station to London and able to connect with major cities at comparative high speed for Dicken’s almost perpetual travelling.

First line of the book:  “This is the story of someone who -almost- wasn’t there; who vanished into thin air”.        buy via Amazon

Followed by a ‘preamble’ as Claire Tomalin calls it, that sets the period-scene, the Dickens’ and contemporaries’ world in context.  Also a brief positioning of Nelly (Ellen) Ternan and her theatrical family in the mid Nineteenth century with description of the theatre and players and the ‘literary circles’ they too inhabited.

Diving into ‘The Family Saga’ we start with being told of Nelly’s grandmother and her early acting and married life.  From this we get the foundations of the family and theatre.  This is a significant section, covering early family ‘survival’ onwards. Establishing ( or rather understanding the likely psychology) of Nelly’s nature and the significance of theatrical life and its consequences and liberties; to the introduction to Dickens and her personal ‘style’.

This book brings Nelly brilliantly to life considering the depth of secrecy and destruction of many personal papers and notes regarding her. Secrecy agreed with by Nelly and upheld by the vast majority of friends and family during life and after Dickens  death.  The theatre looms large throughout the book, as it did for Dickens himself.  I like to think of Dickens and Nelly visiting the theatre in nearby Windsor, there was one, a precursor to the current Theatre Royal  ( I believe the one they might have visited burnt down too, a danger of the day)  but no records for the book to report.

There is too much detail to highlight on her life with Dickens and her almost ever-present sister.  His (ex) sister-in-law is also ever in the background, Georgina, who was a prime mover in maintaining his ‘Dickens’ household and protecting his  ‘image’ in life and after.

Dickens seems to have been hyperactive, a workaholic, a theatre lover, an insomniac, an entertainer who travelled in great bursts to read and act before the audience he loved so much. In his heart he was an actor and seemed to need the quiet support and closeness of actors, of Nelly and her family.  Tellingly he would hone his skills in front of Nelly and her sister.  She would attend his readings and watch and advise.  From a young girl to a full woman she would be accepted as a secret, denied as a companion to the world.  Her nature during this long period and the longer aftermath of secrecy is to be pondered over and for me the ‘reason why’ can only ever be speculation.

Following his death Nelly continues for many years and the author must have followed traces  and clues from the smallest items.Claire Tomalin’s acknowledgements are lengthy, no surprise, and research seems to have been meticulous. Bravely she has also come to offer steps and happenings that cannot always be proven by hard fact but with the facts that are available and an understanding of life and times she gives logical explanations of the most likely events and conclusions. This helps to keep the narrative alive and offers hope that she will be proved right.

We read of Nelly’s marriage, her children, continued enthusiasm for the theatre albeit restrained and localised. And that her past remained a secret to all around, kept by that loyal few from her earlier life.  Of nelly and her sister Fanny living in Southsea and her decline.  The stories she never told and the few she did to Helen Wickham, the daughter of a friend in Southsea.  Mention of the reverend Benham who heard some of her life from talking with her.  About her son Geoffrey and daughter Gladys and of their discovering their mother’s secret.  Nelly died AT Southsea in 1914, the same year that a Dickens Birthplace museum was established in the town.

A long, eventful life discovered, revealed, of a woman whose actions may seem mystifying today but Claire’s writing illuminates so much of the period that Nelly Ternan appears fully fleshed, leaving the question that only she might really have answered.  I may not express clearly when I ask myself, or her, how much she loved him or was she overawed initially and locked in a form of secret dependency afterwards?

All biographies are massive undertakings with depth of research, cross referencing, timelines and an understanding of time and place. Plus the skill required to weave a flowing story.  This one started with the disadvantage that a great deal of effort by many people was put into concealing as much as possible.  Claire Tomalin truly deserved the wide praise she received for rediscovering a life.  With this she also created a moving tale of women, families and the lure of the theatre and its traps.

This edition has a ‘postscript: the death of Dickens’ which, with notes, offers a variation on Dickens’ location and death.  Although not entirely proven seems more realistic than the events laid down and accepted at the time.  Considered in depth by the author this could be the correct answer to some of the questions. Of my question, at least on that last day, that she was a caring person and loved the ma who loved and in many ways relied on her.

5 pages of bibliography, 30 pages of notes and 10 pages of double column index complete a hugely complex, investigative and readable biography.

Claire Tomalin has also written a biography of Charles Dickens.  It sits there, waiting for me to pick up.    I will, I will.