Saturday, 8 November 2014

Samhain In Ytene

Ytene was, before the Norman Conquest, a large area of what is now Southern Hampshire. It means 'of the Jutes', and describes land colonised by the early Anglo-Saxon tribe of that name; the Jutes were also active in Kent and the Isle of Wight, their territories being split by the South Saxons modern Sussex).

In 1079, William I turned the area into a Royal Forest for his hunting interests, particularly of deer. Chroniclers of the time describe the destruction of hamlets and farmsteads, the native people dispossessed of their homes to allow the new aristocracy a place for their sport. Had the King been blessed with hindsight, he would have perhaps not been so eager - two of his sons, Prince Richard and King William II, died in hunting accidents in the Forest, in 1081 and 1100 respectively.

Domesday Book provides the first record of the area's name, 'Nova Foresta', and its English translation endures as the New Forest. Now a popular National Park, it occupies a large swathe of South-west Hampshire and extends its reach into Wiltshire and Dorset. It is famous for its roaming cattle, its ponies, and its deer.

It is where I decided to spend Halloween, accompanied by my Eldest and his girlfriend, eschewing trick-or-treat for the ambience of a sylvan Samhain.


This attractive hamlet was our first point of interest, a little west of the Lyndhurst road as we headed south from the motorway. The village car park lies just across the road from the small, triangular village green. Facing it, we see a tea shop on its left, a bench under a small tree in its centre and a pub on its right. A group of New Forest Ponies graze on the green, and my companions are delighted to make the acquaintance of the renowned equines so early in our visit.

Ponies of the New Forest

Between the green and the pub, a short track climbs up to the village church. It is the oldest structure in the village, having a nave and chancel that date to the 13th Century, although its baptismal font is even older than the building - dating to the 12th Century. The churchyard contains weathered, lichen-encrusted gravestones around the building's entrance, and a large expanse behind the church which contains burials up to the present day. Among these, under a prominent tree, stands a stone carved in the shape of a cross, marking the resting place of the ground's most prominent resident: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, here with his second wife Jean, under the epitaph 'STEEL TRUE, BLADE STRAIGHT'.

Grave of the Conan Doyles. Behind is the grave of the poet Christopher Tower, whose name is attached to a poetry competition in Oxford, and a reference library in Lyndhurst.

A tobacco pipe, representing the author's most famous creation Sherlock Holmes, is a constant fixture on the grave.

Back down to the village green, as we head back to the car we pass the pub The Trusty Servant, which has a most unusual sign.

At the sign of The Trusty Servant

The figure is known as a hircocervus in Latin, a tragelaph in Greek and, in plain old English, a goat-stag. It was mentioned by Aristotle and Plato, and it can be found on a wall-painting by John Hoskins at Winchester College, where its features represent virtues promoted by the students:

'A trusty servant's picture would you see,
This figure well survey, who'ever you be,
The porker's snout not nice in diet shows;
The padlock shut, no secret he'll disclose;
Patient, to angry lords the ass gives ear;
Swiftness on errand, the stag's feet declare;
Laden his left hand, apt to labour saith;
The coat his neatness; the open hand his faith;
Girt with his sword, his shield upon his arm,
Himself and master he'll protect from harm.'


As we drive south into the village of Lyndhurst, the heart of the Forest, we pass a pub called the White Rabbit. There is a reason for this.

Lyndhurst is, to be honest, a traffic nightmare. It lies on a crossroads, a crux of the cardinal compass points, and the presence of the New Forest Visitor Centre ensures its bustle. Despite the traffic it is a pleasant place with interesting shops and some architecturally attractive buildings. After a brief visit to the Centre, we stroll west, round the back of Lyndhurst Church. It was built in brick by the Gothic Revival architect William White from 1858 to 1867, and he later designed the church in Langdon Hills, Essex, where my daughter was christened.

To the rear of the church lies another grave with literary connections, which explains why a local pub is called White Rabbit. The ashes buried in this plot are those of a woman who, in her youthful years, inspired a family friend to create and publish stories that are now famous the world over.

Literature Meets Mortality

We pass around the front of the church, walk down to the road, and after a few steps we enter a cafe-restaurant where we have our lunch. The restaurant is called Mad Hatter's, and is adorned with Wonderland paraphernalia and illustrations.


Our next stop, deep in the Forest NW of Lyndhurst, and no better place to visit on Halloween. This popular village is famous for witches, thanks to a woman called Sybil Leek.

Sybil Leek (1917-1982) was once described by the BBC as 'Britain's most famous witch'. After the 1951 repeal of the 1735 Witchcraft Act, the many books she wrote on witchcraft and occult subjects played a major part in the revival of Wicca in the country. An antique dealer with an IQ of 164, she lived in Burley and was a familiar sight in the village, with the eccentric habit of walking around with her pet jackdaw (and, presumably, her familiar) perched on her shoulder. The jackdaw's name was Mr. Hotfoot Jackson. In her younger years Sibyl was an acquaintance of both Aleister Crowley and HG Wells.

Sybil Leek and Mr Hotfoot Jackson

Burley became a popular destination thanks to Sybil's high profile, but eventually she tired of the attention and emigrated to the USA in the early '60s. Her legacy remains, in the plethora of occult shops in the village, and the Halloween events that the village holds to this day. The village frequently demonstrates the ancient laws of the Forest that prioritise its animals - ponies and cattle freely wander its streets, and a herd of red deer can often be seen in the grounds of the Burley Manor Hotel.

The visit to Burley proved productive for all three of us. I came away with a new bottle of mead, my son with a mounted fallow deer antler and his girlfriend with some New Forest fudge. We also enjoyed dinner at the Queen's Head pub, served by staff members dressed as zombies and ghouls

The Queen's Head has a couple of points of historic interest. It was built in 1685 as a blacksmith's shop, and later when it became an inn it was known as a haunt of smugglers. During a renovation, a secret cellar was discovered, containing pistols, coins and alcohol - relics of the building's smuggling past. More recently, in 1963, a gentleman named Craven Walker found himself mesmerised by the curious shadows being emitted by a light in the bar, and it inspired him to invent the lava lamp!

Picket's Post

Dusk approaches, and with the last of the light we decide to enjoy an atmospheric stroll across the Forest. We choose Picket Post, an area of the Forest two miles out of Burley, just south of the A31.
Leaving the car in one of the area's plethora of car parks, we strike into the heathland. Gorse and heather proliferates, occasionally punctuated by gnarled and twisted trees, and a half moon rises into the clear Autumnal sky.

 In the half-light, ponies shuffle through the furze and Horseshoe bats whirl and dance around us. Tawny owls hoot from unseen arbours.. The ambience of Samhain infuses and enthuses us as we walk a ragged circle, an hour's journey across rutted and leaf-kissed ground, feeling the closeness and the intimacy of the Forest -  even in areas of open emptiness. Dark has fallen by the time we return to the car, the headlights of passing cars cutting through the lightly-misted atmosphere and giving us a dance of dazzling beams. My son sees the silhouette of a deer, skittishly dashing across the road, unseen by me as I was inspecting a milestone. Refreshed and revitalised by our bracing exploration, we prepare ourselves for the final event of the evening.

Wilverley Plain

On the A35, a few miles west of Lyndhurst and south of Burley, two laybys sit opposite each other. The road is unlit, and the layby looms suddenly; I have to brake sharply and swerve in order not to miss it. We vacate the car, leaving it with a cluster of vehicles already parked, and join a loose group of about two dozen complete strangers.

We head south, along a track that was once the Burley-Lymington road in the days of horse and carriage, some members of the group holding lanterns to softly illuminate our path. This part of the Forest is called Wilverley Plain, and after a few minutes of walking we step from the path to the site of what was once a tree called the Naked Man.

Surrounded by fern, capped with ivy, sits the stump of a vanished oak. Legend tells dark stories of smugglers and highwaymen hanged from its branches, one victim apparently struck by lightning which tore off his clothes - hence the tree's name. The truth, perhaps, is a little more prosaic - the tree probably had two outstretched arms which resembled a naked man.

Our group forms a circle of protection, and seasoned wiccans and druids take position at the cardinal compass points. Each of the four directions receives its own blessing.

The North is a place of cold, and the earth is silent and dark.
Spirits of the earth, we welcome you, knowing you will envelope us in death.

The East is a land of new beginnings, the place where breath begins.
Spirit of air, we call upon you, knowing you will be with us as we depart life.

The South is a land of sunlight and fire, and your flames guide us through the cycles of life.
Spirits of fire, we welcome you, knowing you will transform us in death.

The West is a place of underground rivers, and the sea is a never-ending, rolling tide.
Spirits of water, we welcome you, knowing you will carry us through the ebbs and flows of our life.

A loaf of bread and a horn of wine passes around the circle, each of us tasting and imbibing before passing on to our clockwise neighbour.  It takes almost three circuits before the offerings are gone.

The Wheel of the Year turns once more, and we cycle into darkness.

Two members of the group, using a wooden phallus and a chalice, re-enact the marriage between the Morrigan and the Great Dagda, pouring the contents of the chalice onto the soil to represent the hope of rebirth after the coming Winter.

At the end of that darkness comes light. And when it arrives, we will celebrate once more.

We remember those we have lost, we bless those who need succour, and we close the Circle in harmony. The four elements suffuse us. The breath of the breeze, the dewy dampness of the grass, the mud beneath our feet, the muffled thud of distant fireworks from the direction of Christchurch. In an intimate cluster on the dark open mass of Wilverley Plain, the traditions of the Old Craft continue. Behind us as we depart, the Forest lives, breathes and watches... as it has done for close to a thousand years, as it will for a thousand more. The wheel turns, the cycle continues. As above, so below.

So must it be.

I see across the veil to the pathways of my future
The pathways laid out for me by my ancestors, who walk
Them with my gods.
These pathways I will walk in company with them,
When I have finished my work here, until that time
I will live my life with honour and courage
With them forever in my mind.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

And The White Horse Looked On

Before the gods that made the gods
Had seen their sunrise pass,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was cut out of the grass.

...about three thousand years ago, according to radiocarbon dating, making it the oldest known hillfigure in the country. Its abstract, curving lines are typical of Celtic artwork, and it may be associated with the tribe that used the Uffington Castle hillfort close by. It rests high on the scarp, not easily seen in its entirety unless from the air or from the railway line that snakes through the Vale on its way to the West. It is the most famous of our chalky White Horses.

Assuming, of course, that it is a horse.

And here we are again, in this familiar place, Team Vulpine today consisting of my sons, daughter, and daughter's boyfriend - the latter on his first visit to the site. I seem to make my way to this hallowed spot every couple of years, and wandering this landscape of shadow and legend, it always feels like that first time two decades ago.

Polite National Trust signage asks visitors not to stand on the Horse, to lessen the dangers of erosion. On our bellies we writhe like earthworms, shuffling abdominally toward the stark ivory outline, reaching forth tentatively to touch an ear, caress a curve, lay featherlight fingers upon the tip of an ancient tail. Its single eye gazes impassively across the broad Vale, taking in the expanse of Oxfordshire, the Chilterns smouldering in the haze to the East, the Cotswolds rising on the Northern horizon, the doomed cooling towers of Didcot scarring part of the view like a pustule on the landscape. In a few weeks they will be gone, brought down in a flash of explosive, a rising cloud of dust and a rumble of destruction, and the Horse will once more keep watch over Arcadian purity.

(c) Emily McManus

Before the gods that made the gods
Had drunk at dawn their fill,
The White Horse of the White Horse Vale
Was hoary on the hill.

Bees and butterflies whirl above the figure, crows and kites ride the thermals. Below the Horse, in the sheep-speckled undulating slopes known as The Manger, a small hill sits squatly, looking like a miniature Silbury. Its crown gleams white, the feet of thousands having scoured it down to the chalk. This is Dragon Hill, according to local legend the spot where St George slew his serpentine foe. Unlikely, I muse, that our patron saint walked these hills. Or killed a flying, pyromaniacal, maiden-devouring dinosaur. Or existed. It is, however, fuel for the posited notion that the Horse, equine lines obscured by its abstraction, is actually a dragon.

Dragon Hill

On previous visits we have clambered down the slope to stand upon the Dragon Hill, but that is not the route we desire this afternoon. Above the Horse lies the hillfort Uffington Castle, a pre-Roman stronghold with an impressive ditch and rampart, and we will venture into its interior on our way to the timeworn trackway that crosses the peak of the Downs, the popular footpath known as the Ridgeway, linking the hills beyond Dunstable to the great stone circles of Avebury.

In the grass of the great enclosure that predates Jesus, is a curious attempt at Christianisation; someone has poured a cruciform shape onto a patch of short verdure, a cross formed of cremated remains. Someone must have loved this place a great deal to have their ashes deposited here. The shape will likely not last, blown by the winds of the high Downs and disturbed by the bumbling passage of sheep and tourists, and all that will remain is a human spirit, adding to the ghosts that haunt and protect the Horse.

We have arrived in the late afternoon and most visitors are wandering away from the site. The Ridgeway is quiet and warm, a dusty route along which we strike west.

Age beyond age on British land,
Aeons on aeons gone,
Was peace and war in western hills,
And the White Horse looked on.

Fields of ripening wheat surround us, the sun illuminates and heats our old green track, an owl twits unseen from a canopy of tall trees. If we walk and walk, we will pass the great Iron Age enclosure of Liddington Castle* and strike south to the mighty prehistoric landscape around Avebury... but we have no intention of going so far. Our destination, after a slog of about twenty-five minutes, is another monument of legend. It lies, slumbering in a glade, to the right of the track.

Wayland's Smithy Long Barrow is a Neolithic burial chamber of the group known as 'Cotswold-Severn', which also includes such popular sites such as West Kennet in Wiltshire and Belas Knap in Gloucestershire. They are trapezoidal in shape and represent a fairly localised form of prehistoric funerary architecture. Like its colossal sibling at West Kennet, the Smithy has chambers which have been vacated by their long-skeletal inhabitants and are now accessible to all. It is at its best on a Summer day such as this, the June trees bathing it in dappled light, abandoned by the public and, at this moment, belonging entirely to us. Its atmosphere, thoughtful and peceful, is amost tangible. Such stuff as legends are built on, and the legend of Wayland's Smithy is a doozy.

Youngest son explores a monument

Previous visitors have left votice offerings on the baked stones that protect the cool chambers, offerings of copper pennies. They too, know the legend of Wayland the Smith. He was an Anglo-Norse deity, and it was probably those settlers back in the Dark Ages that gave the monument its enduring name. The legend tells that a horse, if deposited at the Smithy with a small coin as payment (probably a groat, although clearly modern visitors have taken inflation into account), the horse would be mysteriously shod by the unseen god. Some of our great writers have included this legend in their works, Sir Walter Scott in Kenilworth and Rudyard Kipling in Puck Of Pook's Hill


The sun continues its descent, and we undertake the return stroll to White Horse Hill. The unseen owl continues to whistle down from the trees that line the track. Insects hum and bustle in the Summer breeze that accompanies us. A concealed pheasant barks out its raspy cough from a neighbouring field.

"There," my daughter helpfully gestures towards a shape trying to hide itself in the stubble. I gaze appraisingly at the prospective fowl.

"Hmm," I muse, "Looks more like a hare to me."

As the words leave my lips, the magnificent creature springs to life, tearing across the field away from us and as we stare admiringly at its sprinting form we finally notice the others, scattered across the field, at least half a dozen hares browsing the stubble. My daughter's boyfriend stares entranced; this is the first time he has seen one of these superb animals.

(c)Emily McManus

Our walk ends back at the car, and off we go. Leaving a land of legend and natural beauty behind us, we drive down into the Vale and strike east. Our tents await us near Watlington, England's smallest town, where we have camped below the Chilterns and in the shadow of another hillfigure, the pyramidal Watlington White Mark. We will sleep below the wheeling red kites and the starry Oxfordshire skies, and the sun will bid adieu as shadows fall across the Vale. And the White Horse, as always, will look on.

 For the White Horse knew England
When there was none to know;
He saw the first oar break or bend,
He saw heaven fall and the world end,
O God, how long ago.
                                  GK Chesterton, Ballad Of The White Horse (1911)

* Liddington Castle was discussed in more detail in my previous article, In The Footsteps Of Arthur: Badon Hill

Friday, 11 July 2014

Germinal, Madame Bovary, and Family

In this essay I would like to discuss Gustave Flaubert's approach to family life in Madame Bovary, in particular how he uses familial scenes to explore questions of identity. I would then like to move on to Emile Zola's depiction of bourgeois life in Germinal, and discuss how he creates symbolic contrasts between this class and the family lives of the working-class miners.

  Emma Bovary's search for personal identity arises from dissatisfaction at her humdrum provincial existence, an existence in which she is subordinated to a man whom she considers mediocre, a man who fulfils few of the romantic notions she has absorbed through childhood readings of authors such as Walter Scott. Her subordination is reflected by the very structure of the novel: the life of her husband Charles 'frames the story of his wife' as a possible 'gesture of enclosure and control' (Madame Bovary [Introduction], Wall, 1992); the novel does not reveal any insights into Emma's history and psychology until she is married and her disillusionment has begun.

  Before Emma's adulterous and ultimately suicidal quest for fulfilment begins, however, Flaubert presents a chapter - almost like a short story - which tells us of the Bovary household as Charles grows from baby to man. His father is presented as a drunken wastrel, his mother an overbearing neurotic, their marriage a sham which reverses, in gender terms, the future marriage of their son - 'she had loved him with a servility that had turned him against her all the more' (Flaubert, Madame Bovary, p.4). They pamper their son, cushioning his progress until he emerges as a mediocre but respectable doctor. His mother even arranges his first marriage, to a clinging hypochondriac. Flaubert tells this story with a rich vein of irony to highlight the hypocrisies and cliches of a bourgeois upbringing, his mother being described as 'accomplishing a plan', his passing medical exams described as 'a great day for his mother' (Flaubert, Madame Bovary, p.8). When the elder Bovarys turn on their daughter-in-law upon their discovering that her apparent wealth is a facade, the novel's English translator amusingly uses alliteration of the letter 'h' to portray their indignant huffing and puffing: 'hitching... up to that harridan, whose harness wasn't worth her hide' (Flaubert, Madame Bovary, p.15).

  Charles' second marriage, to Emma, is accomplished without interference from his parents, but this leads to a resentment against her, a prejudice which Emma reciprocates, although of course the linguistic facade of good relations is maintained: '...each woman uttering sweet words in a voice trembling with anger'. The elder Madame Bovary views her son's love for his wife as 'an encroachment on what was her property' (p.33). With this description, Flaubert emphasises the materialistic nature of the bourgeoisie, even in terms of their relationships with their children... and Charles' failure to take sides, to take responsibility for familial decisions, shows his continuing weakness and fuels his new wife's discontent.

  When Emma falls pregnant with her own child, she experiences mixed emotions. Projecting her romantic materialism onto the forthcoming event, she finds her wishes financially restricted and, consequently, her affection was 'perhaps... somewhat impaired'. She wishes the child to be a boy, seeing in this a way to redeem her own disappointments. Flaubert uses this wish to reveal Emma's feelings about her unrealised romantic ambitions, to show that the delivery of a son 'was like an anticipated revenge for the powerlessness of her past... a man, at least, is free... a woman is constantly thwarted' (p.70). When the child is born a girl, Emma 'turned aside and passed out' (p.70). While this is a natural enough consequence of the exertions of childbirth, Flaubert highlights the symbolic importance of the sentence by elevating it into a paragraph. Emma is rejecting the child, seeing once again the thwarting of her romantic expectations.

  Flaubert uses the baby to show the contradictions of petit bourgeois parenting; despite the fuss made over choosing a name, and the elaborate christening ceremony, we learn quite matter-of-factly that the child has been put out to a wet-nurse, a slovenly working-class woman who keeps a house where Emma is compelled to wipe her feet as she leaves.

  She is torn between maternal feelings for her child, and rejection of the same due to her frustration. Rejection on one occasion leads to the child receiving an injury, and this is followed by Emma tending to her like a dutiful mother, although Flaubert does not specify whether this later action is caused by guilt, concern or fear. As the baby lies sleeping after its trauma, Emma can only wonder at its ugliness. In this scene of different attitudes and changeable behaviour, the heroine herself is described with multiple titles\; variously Emma, Madame Bovary, the young woman... all contributing to her crisis of identity. The scene is followed by a description of the Homais children, offspring of the Bovarys' pharmacist neighbour, and of how '...these good parents took every sort of precaution' (p.93). Flaubert shows this as a contrast to Emma's carelessness yet also shows it ironically, as the Homais parents are protective to a ridiculous degree.

  At the end of Emma's life, as she lays dying, she believes herself free of her torments and asks to see her daughter, but the child sees her in her weakened state as a fairytale monster: 'Oh, what big eyes you have, Mummy!' (p.261). In her fear, she struggles and draws back from her parent. Emma, who has spent her life rejecting the stale predictability of her family and its petit bourgeois existence, is finally rejected herself.

  While Flaubert portrays the cliched banalities of bourgeois existence, Zola introduces bourgeois families in Germinal which contrast with each other as well as the working-class mining families. The Gregoires consist of two doting parents, their daughter, and a small retaiment of servants, a 'patriarchal regime, a cosy family affair, the small community lived in harmony' (Zola, Germinal, p.76). Their life seems idyllic, they live together in love and happiness, even the servants dote on the pampered but innocent daughter Cecile. We learn that the families fortune is derived from shares in the Montsou mine.

  Two key scenes in Germinal display the nature of the relationship between the Gregoires and the miners. The first details a visit to the Gregoires from La Maheude. The visit takes place shortly after the contrasting descriptions of the Gregoire and Maheu families' morning routines: while the former eat brioche in a house 'snug and warm, and not a sound... to disturb the silence' (p.78), the latter have to contend with 'nothing, not a crust, no leftovers, not a bone to gnaw' and 'coffee so weak it looked like dishwater' (p.87).

  It is Cecile Gregoire who is entrusted with the charity. The Gregoire philosophy on charity is described in free indirect speech, and they believe 'that their house is God's refuge for the needy' (p.92), although they donate food and clothes rather than money, which they fear will be squandered on drink. The Gregoires are sympathetic, but seem to look upon the condition of the miners as a kind of 'idealised' poverty, and shown in the expression 'Monsieur Gregoire looked dreamily at this pitiful woman and her children' (p.94). As they are sentimental about their daughter, they are sentimental about the workers, ignorant of the desperation of poverty, cradled 'in their contented slumbers'. Cecile's final gift to the young Maheu children is two pieces of brioche wrapped in newspaper. While this gift is made with goodwill and a genuine desire to be charitable, it is also ironic insofar that it echoes the famous Marie Antoinette remark, "Let them eat cake". The blindness of the aristocracy to the plight of the peasants led to the Revolution; the echoes of that history being played out in Cecile's innocent gift foreshadows the miners' strike and its bloody, fatal confrontations.

  The second scene occurs toward the end of the novel, and once again concerns the charitable deeds of the Gregoires. On this occasion they have left their comfortable home to visit the mining village, and Cecile is briefly and fatally left alone with old Bonnemort, whose very name carries connotations of death. Zola contrasts the two, displaying at the same time the differences between these two classes, the girl 'plump and fresh from her life of leisure and generations of comfortable luxury', the old man 'showing the deplorable ugliness of a race of worn-out beasts, destroyed... by a hundred years of toil and starvation' (p.490). Bonnemort's murder of the girl is symbolic, as the lives of her parents have also been destroyed, and the family line of the Gregoires has been ended; the bourgeoisie halted by the working-class.

  Two other middle-class families appear in the novel, the Deneulins and the Hennebeaus. Zola uses these families also to emphasise bourgeois contradictions. Deneulin, father of two daughters, 'is presented as a courageous and hard-working manager, who has lost out to forces larger than himself' (Walder, Realisms, p.397). He too is ultimately portrayed as a victim, a victim of capitalism as represented by the Company.

  The Hennebeaus are the most complex of the bourgeois families in Germinal. They consist of Monsieur Hennebeau, his wife and a nephew Negrel, who is expected to marry Cecile Gregoire. Madame Hennebeau has never attempted 'to understand this race of workers' (p.107); she takes bourgeois friends upon tours of the mining villages, and they seem to wilfully ignore the poverty they see. As one gentleman exclaims, "It's El Dorado! The promised land!" (p.106). Zola portrays wilful bourgeois ignorance here, but with a touch of irony: El Dorado and the Promised Land are aspirations rather than physical realities, and despite her 'talking up' of the miners' living conditions, Mme Hennebeau is quickly 'repelled by the stale odour of poverty' (p.107). She is also the character utilised by Zola to show hypocrisy in bourgeois moral standards, as she is conducting a secret and incestuous affair with her nephew Negrel while also trying to arrange his marriage to Cecile. Her husband, aware of this affair, keeps quiet but is sexually frustrated, and - despite his bourgeois comfort - envies the miners their sexual freedom. However, he too partakes of a calculating and hypocritical nature: although outwardly friendly to Deneulin, he is more than willing to see his friend lose his mine for the benefit of the Company, and he sees an advantage to Cecile's murder in the fact that it will be easier to keep his eye on his wife and Negrel.

  The mining families, represented by the Maheus, are portrayed in a bestial and desperate condition, their principal reason for having children being to increase their meagre income from the mines. When Catherine departs to live with Chaval, her mother's reason for complaint is the drop in income. The lives of the mining families are portrayed as a perpetual grind of poverty, labour and premature death which continues for generations: the implications of the cycle can be seen in the behaviour of the village children, acting as nascent families. When the young playmates Bebert and Lydie are killed when the soldiers open fire, Zola writes that Bebert 'embrace his little wife' as he dies.

Flaubert, Gustave Madame Bovary, ed: Geoffrey Wall, 1992, Penguin, London
Zola, Emile Germinal, trans: Collier, Peter, 1993, Oxford World's Classics, Oxford
Walder, Dennis, Germinal:Zola and the Political Novel in Da Sousa Correa, Delia (ed) The Nineteenth Century Novel: Realisms, 2000, Routledge, London

Friday, 28 February 2014

The Rise Of The Summer Sea

The leaden mass descends upon the trembling land,
The Summer Sea expands to pour its challenge.
See - Nature swelling forth to claim her own,
To sneer, to cheer, to snatch Her quivering throne.

The constant whisper, ever-rustling rain
Quietly state, 'Let's dance the dance again,
'You think you cannot be perverted,
'Overwhelmed, defeated, or subverted.
'You cannot halt the world from turning,
'And I shall not cease you from burning.'

The levels bloat, and people stare surprised,
Why should they? It is, we can surmise,
The Natural Order, that water should prevail
Across a once-dredged land, dammed and damned,
Why shock when Will should fail?
And where I live, I trudge through blackened fronds,
Slip past the sludge, to peer at swirling ponds.

Yet still, the deluge rises unabated
Not to rest 'til Gaia be full sated.
They wail and cry, oh why oh why,
And She calls back, with melodic sigh,
Why shouldn't I?

The leaden mass has shown the right of might,
Has shown us that we cannot win this fight,
And yet... we mock and jeer and crow
That we will win.
'Maybe tomorrow'.