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25 January 2015


Allan Ronald

Delighted to see Surtees being read. Sponge has long been a favourite of mine. Isn't Surtees brilliant on what people wear? And also for snappy one-liners.


He's great on clothes and what a variety of colours the gentlemen wore - plaids and coloured waistcoats & fancy buttons. And how unlike the more genteel Victorians he is eg Trollope (who of course loved hunting as well). Everyone getting drunk all the time. The introduction to Mr Sponge says it's like Gogol's Dead Souls, with the journey of the rascal Sponge, the various houses, some quite ramshackle and louche, the swindling servants and little sense of an ordered state at all. I'm looking forward to reading a few more.

I read Surtees' World, which is interesting on the hunting journalism of the day. Surtees' marriage takes up one paragraph!

Allan Ronald

And Lucy Glitters, described as 'tolerably virtuous', is a far more interesting character than the creepy child brides of, say, Dickens (not that this is difficult). Of his other works I have read only 'Handley Cross' and 'Mr Facey Romford's Hounds' which, I feel, are not quite in the 'Sponge' league, though the Geordie huntsman James Pigg is a delight.


I suppose Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair was "tolerably virtuous" but of course condemned by the author. The "fallen women" in Dickens are so fallen that they die or repent and wail. Lucy Glitters the demi-mondaine marrying the rascal Sponge & setting up a cigar & lending shop is a great refreshment. Tho' Sponge is a crook Surtees makes him likable by (a) not having any wise, virtuous characters as his foil; (b) giving him a real love for hard riding and hunting.

Allan Ronald

One of Kipling's characters describes the Surtees world as 'a heavy-eating, hard-drinking hell of horse-copers, swindlers, matchmaking mothers, economically dependent virgins selling themselves blushingly for cash and lands: Jews, tradesmen, and an ill-considered spawn of Dickens-and-horse-dung characters.' Kipling himself loved Surtees' works and even the character quoted from carried on reading, fascinated. The lack of virtuous characters as foils is a major part of the attraction.

Allan Ronald

And I can strongly recommend 'Ask Mamma' which I began reading today after digging it out from a box under the stairs. Only 70 pages in and so far it lives up to expectations. Google has provided lots of help with brand names (Adelaide boots, for example, and the Lincoln & Bennett silk hat--one example of which is still available on eBay if you have £149 to spare) which are another Surtees specialism. We have just been introduced to Miss de Glancey, an 'equestrian coquette, of Half-the-watering-places-in-England-and-some-on-the-Continent' whose object is the Earl of Ladythorne, an aged roué who objects to 'female equestrianism--the disagreeableness of being beat by them--the disagreeableness of having to leave them in the lurch--the disagreeableness of seeing them floored--the disagreeableness of seeing them running down with perspiration.' This last remark is quite astonishing for 1858 when most male writers saw the 'angel in the house' as someone who merely glowed.

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