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"Books! -": Pleasures and Speculations in Walter de la Mare's Library

Welsh, A; (2013) "Books! -": Pleasures and Speculations in Walter de la Mare's Library. Presented at: Researching the Reading Experience, Oslo. Green open access

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Abstract

This paper interrogates the library of English poet Walter de la Mare, now housed at Senate House Library (London), for evidence of the authors and publications he discusses in his essay collection Pleasures and Speculations (Faber, 1940). In this 347 page volume, he presented revised and expanded versions of essays and lectures on a diverse range of subjects – Shakespeare; Tennyson; Rupert Brooke; themed anthologies; poetry in prose-writing; glossaries of the English language; naturalists; women novelists and maps – alongside his poem ‘Books’, which he describes as “an attempt to express … what books have meant to me since I learned to read: before that indeed, since then I was read to – the way out, the way in, the refuge, the enrichment and enchantment” (p. ix-x). These subjects are reflected in the books held by Senate House, only half of which have been annotated by de la Mare. Considering his work as a reviewer who published over 200 book reviews in the Times Literary Supplement and The Saturday Westminster Gazette, and knowing that the books in the library were identified by him as his ‘working collection’ (as compared to other books he owned in his long lifetime (1873-1956)), this seemed a low proportion to have been marked, even allowing that many of the review copies he received had been sold off. A comparison was made between the topics, authors and publications specifically referenced in Pleasures and Speculations and the contents of the Library, to establish if there was a relation between being one of de la Mare’s named ‘pleasures’ and being likely to contain notes in margins and end-papers. The style of annotation was also studied, bearing in mind the prominence he placed upon “the company one meets in books – mind, spirit and even body.” (p. x). While it is not only impossible but also dangerous to make inferences about readers or classes of reader in general based upon the habits of one man, it is hoped that this paper will be of interest to others researching personal libraries; the relationship between a poet’s reading and writing habits; questions of influence; and the difference between high and low literary culture and taste – as de la Mare put it, “from the supreme heights of poetry itself down to – almost anywhere.” (p. xii). Although faced with all the usual challenges of research into reader annotation, and specifically those of reader’s notes intended solely as private aides memoires and ‘conversations’ with the author of the book being read, this study finds an interesting balance between de la Mare’s definitions of ‘work’ in his library and ‘pleasures’ in his reading that reinforces his definition of “Books! – | … Abiding joy is theirs” (p. xvii). This paper concludes that it is in his “joy” rather than his “working” within his library that we find this particular reader’s annotations.

Type: Conference item (UNSPECIFIED)
Title: "Books! -": Pleasures and Speculations in Walter de la Mare's Library
Event: Researching the Reading Experience
Location: Oslo
Dates: 2013-06-10 - 2013-06-10
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
Keywords: Walter de la Mare, Georgian poetry, Readers, Reading
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1413960
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