- Posted by tim
- 1 December 2008
Being sidelined with a virus since that latter part of last week that has followed me through to the beginning of this week i started the day having a crown fitted on my tooth. Then sat on my bum i picked up a couple of my favorite books that have been feeding my head and entertaining me for quite a few years.
In 1970 Katharine Briggs (former president of the folklore society) published in four volumes the vast and authoritative Dictionary of British Folktales and Legends to wide acclaim. This new sampler comprises the very best of those tales and legends. Gathered within, readers will find an extravagance of beautiful princesses and stout stable boys, sour-faced witches and kings with hearts of gold. Each tale is a masterpiece of storytelling, from the hilarious 'Three Sillies' to the delightfully macabre 'Sammle's Ghost'.
This story here is called 'Dutch Courage' which dates back to 1901.
A man had been drinking after dinner and he was sitting at the table with a few drops of whiskey still in the bottom of his glass. Presently a mouse climbed up the table cloth and ran about the table picking up crumbs. It climbed up the glass , fell inside and sucked up all the whisky, then it began to dash around the glass until it knocked it over, stood up unsteadily on it's hind legs, brushed back it's whiskers, clenched it's front paws, and said: " Now where's that damned cat! "
Richard Adams says that Katherine Briggs is the magic mirror on the wall, ask her what you will.
In this sampler of folk-tales Katharine Briggs presents her reader with a selection of classics, favourites and little-known oddities from across the spectrum. The book is headed by an informative Introduction, which provides a brief overview of the collection and study of folklore, the classification of folk tales and the scholarly consensus (or lack of consensus) on the subject. The Introduction contains valuable information about the growth and transmission of traditional stories; with the footnotes that follow each tale, it gives a fascinating insight into their meaning and social context. The tales themselves are drawn from a larger wellspring - Briggs's own Dictionary of British Folk-Tales - and as such this is an attempt to represent a much wider canvas in an approachable volume, an aim the book achieves comfortably. It is split into 18 sections according to the grand scheme of folk-tale classification, and includes both well-known and obscure instances of each type. Familiar tales appear in their original forms - 'Rumpelstiltskin' as 'Tom Tit-Tot', for instance - and many of the stories are transcribed in the dialect of the area to which they belong, lending authenticity to Briggs's rebellion against 'the prettified, airy-fairy stories foisted upon children'. It will be enjoyed by anyone who likes fairy tales and is interested in their wider context, but is particularly aimed at students of linguistics, sociology and oral tradition. (Kirkus UK)
Here's a link to the book if you're interested.
'Rogues Villains and Eccentrics' is written by William Donaldson. Hywel Williams noted it as 'A work of maniacal genius.
click on view below to read more
Here is a little story about one of the featured eccentrics, the infamous 'Joe' Carstairs who although no longer with us as she passed away at home in Florida in 1993 aged 93 she left quite a story to tell.
Kate Summerscale was working the obituaries desk at the Daily Telegraph in London when she stumbled upon the story of Marion Barbara Carstairs in late 1993. Carstairs’s recent death at the age of 93 had prompted a family friend to request a formal obituary and, after dipping into the newspaper’s archives, Summerscale, MA ’89, was astonished to discover a massive dossier on one of the most celebrated and possibly notorious women of her time.
Born in 1900 in London, Marion “Joe” Carstairs was a tattooed, cigar-smoking, cross-dressing, motorboat-racing lesbian, who had tumultuous affairs with leading actresses, including Tallulah Bankhead, Mabel Mercer and Marlene Dietrich. With her close-cropped hair and exquisitely tailored Savile Row suits, Carstairs was delighted when anyone actually mistook her for a man.
An heir to the Standard Oil fortune In 1916, during the First World War, Carstairs drove ambulances in france for the Red Cross, later joining the Women's Legion Mechanical Transport Section in Dublin and then serving with the Royal Army Service Corp in France after the war, re-burying the war-dead.
In 1920 she went on to set up a successful chauffeuring garage with friends, the 'X Garage', their gimmick being a women-only staff of drivers, she abandoned civilization at the age of 34 to become the self-appointed ruler of a 9 mile by 4 mile island in the Bahamas. There she lived for more than 40 years, attended by a kaleidoscopic parade of beautiful women, avid sports and fishing enthusiasts and hearty partygoers.
However, women did not have pride of place in Carstairs's affections. The love of her life was not even human -- it was Lord Tod Wadley, a foot-high stuffed leather doll given her in 1925 by a girlfriend, Ruth Baldwin. ''Carstairs traded her life for his,'' Summerscale writes. The doll, dressed up ''in suits and uniforms,'' was Carstairs's constant companion for the rest of her life ( Wadley was cremated with her). Summerscale does her best to figure out whether the doll was a surrogate child or a smaller version of Carstairs herself.The one thing the author is sure of is Carstairs's complete devotion to it. ''I was never entirely honest to anyone,'' she once said, ''except to Wadley.'' Wadley even seems to have Summerscale in its thrall; her prose, usually tight and controlled, turns florid when she describes the doll: ''His eyes were black beads, like shining currants, set wide in innocence and topped with short, lightly arched eyebrows.''
The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (no strangers to eccentricity) came to Whale Cay several times, And always, there was Wadley. Carstairs would often ride her motorbike around the island with the doll strapped firmly in the back seat. Wadley did not go unnoticed by the voodoo-practicing natives: many thought it had special powers.
After finishing the obituary, Summerscale found herself obsessed with her subject. She was especially intrigued by the fact that “Her internal life was almost invisible,” Summerscale writes in her introduction to the fascinating book that resulted: The Queen of Whale Cay: The Eccentric Story of “Joe” Carstairs, Fastest Woman on Water. Although sketchy at times, this slim biography gives us a glimpse of a strange and enigmatic woman who ruthlessly set her own course through life.
In 1925, after inheriting the bulk of her fortune from the much-contested estates of her mother and maternal grandmother, Carstairs embarked on a short-lived competitive motorboat racing career. She won the Duke of York’s Trophy in 1926 -- Britain’s premier motorboat racing event -- and was determined to take the Harmsworth Trophy, then the most prestigious motorboat prize in the world. Carstairs spent an estimated half-million dollars building custom-designed boats and training for this event, but lost in three consecutive attempts: 1928, 1929 and 1930.
Carstairs was a close friend of several male racing drivers and land speed record competitors, some of whom she used her considerable wealth to assist. Sir Malcolm Campbell described her as, "the greatest sportsman I know". He was right to be grateful, as £10,000 of her money had funded the building of his latest Blue Bird. She was equally generous to John Cobb, whose 'Railton Special' was powered by the pair of engines from her powerboat Estelle V
In 1933, facing tax problems in Britain and the United States, Carstairs bought the island of Whale Cay, in the West Indies, for $40,000. She built a Spanish villa, put up a power plant, radio station and schoolhouse, and even constructed a museum that was essentially a shrine to her own accomplishments and interests.
Carstairs never made any attempt to hide her sexual orientation. On her island she kept an ever-shifting succession of lovers well into her 70s. Her physical standards were as exacting as those of any aging male millionaire auditioning potential mistresses: partners needed to be young and were invariably drop-dead gorgeous. Carstairs took care to retain a photograph of each woman she bedded -- her own method of putting notches on the bedpost -- but none was allowed to spend the night with her.
Despite her own promiscuity, Carstairs forbade sex outside of marriage on her island and punished adulterers by banishing them from the settlement. But she was generous in many ways to her employees, setting up a health-care fund and selling them, at cost, food and provisions imported from the mainland.
Most of Summerscale’s primary sources were tape recordings Carstairs made in her mid-70s, with a view to having her autobiography ghost-written by friends. (This never happened.) But there are years of Carstairs’s life about which little is known, and most readers will be hungry for additional material -- for dramatic color and vibrant, personal anecdotes to conjure up more vividly this eccentric and elusive subject.
Perhaps a character such as this will come to life only through a more creative re-imagining. Carstairs herself wanted Katharine Hepburn to play her if a screen biography were ever made.
It’s a little late for that to be appropriate casting. But not too late for someone else to attempt a fuller emotional portrait, and to complete what Summerscale has so superbly begun.
Alice La Plante who wrote some of the above is a freelance writer who teaches creative writing at Stanford and San Francisco State.
Another tale worthy of mention is that of the life a Mary Green (1650-?), quack. Mrs Green who operated from premises in Chancery Lane and claimed to possess a licence from the Archbishop of Canterbury, was one of the most resourceful alternative practitioners of her day. In the 17th Century quackery was a branch of the entertainment industry, using a broad and accessible vulgarity to describe diseases and disorders. Thus in a bill headed 'The Women's Prophecy or the Rare and Wonderful Doctrines (1677), Mrs Green offered to cure not only stoppage of the stomach, windy vapours and the Scottish Disease, but also the 'Glimmering of the Gizzard, the Quavering of the Kidneys and the Wombling Trot'. No mean feat.
In keeping with the slapstick nature of her claims, she sometimes advertised her services in the form of light verse. In a bill dated1685 she offered to cure:
The cramp, the Stich
The Squirt, the Itch
The Gout, the Stone, the Pox
The Bonny Scrubs
And all Pandora's Box.
Street corner clowning of this sort ensured Mrs Green considerable popularity, and there is little reason to suppose that her activities did any greater arm than those of more elevated performers such as the sex therapist james Graham.