Suspension of disbelief

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1 minus 1Some of my experiments are in the kiln; I am yet to discover whether they come out as fine upstanding pots or a mortifying fifty fragments.  And I may say that it was pretty chilly loading the kiln this morning clad in slippers and a dressing gown (though the thermocouple is not very well calibrated for the low end of its temperature range).

This weekend I read:

2 tall shipsThis copy is from the third 1915 printing, an economical volume, bound in thin book cloth, roughly printed on cheap paper (now foxed and embrowned throughout), and what were its odds then of surviving a century of boys, dusty shelves and second hand stalls?  Yet here it is, being read once more.

The stories are all based around one fictional naval ship in the early months of World War I, when patriotism was fresh and Jutland no more than a premonition.  How difficult it is to re-cast oneself as a fourteen-year-old boy in 1915, even to decide if they found these innocent tales inspiring or risible. Did the first recipient hunker down in a quiet corner and devour the chapters in one sitting, or indite formal thanks to an aunt and then stuff the volume into a dark cupboard?  Indeed, although the context in which I acquired this suggests boys, I’m not completely sure what its target readership was:  some stories have female protagonists, though perhaps this was meant to enshrine Womanhood in the imagination of unregenerate youth.  Or were the books, as some reviews suggest, meant for adult civilians, to keep their spirits up?

A faint familiar whisper teased me as I read; though Patrick O’Brien was too good an author to copy direct, I have a personal bet that Bartimeus was on his reading list.

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