Tuesday, 26 January 2010


After a year of exemplary behaviour, I was delighted - though somewhat anxious about revealing in literary company - that Santa had left a Sony e-reader in my stocking. This is the basic model, holding only(!) 100 books (or one paragraph by Dickens) and having basic controls, but I have already found it comfortable and pleasurable to use.

Despite the - for me - rare frisson of joining that much revered modern tribe, The Early Adopters, I can't see myself ever abandoning bits of felled tree smeared with ink, but for certain situations (holidays, commuting, lying in bed) the gadget will prevail for me, and I'm looking forward to building a ghostly library of virtual books.

My reader and I are still in the tender first phase of our relationship, so I'll keep you posted on how it develops.


Thursday, 21 January 2010


The daily purgatory that is commuting by train is currently being leavened by Gryll Grange, which is proving a delightful and amusing read. I thought I'd share the views of one of the characters on newspapers, as they are beautifully expressed and as relevant as ever.

For, let us see, what is the epitome of a newspaper? In the first place, specimens of all the deadly sins, and infinite varieties of violence and fraud; a great quantity of talk, called by courtesy legislative wisdom, of which the result is 'an incoherent and undigested mass of law, shot down, as from a rubbish-cart, on the heads of the people';....burstings of bank bubbles, which, like a touch of the harlequin's wand, strip off their masks and dominoes from 'highly respectable' gentlemen, and leave them in their true figures of cheats and pickpockets...

The book will be released in a couple of weeks time.


Friday, 15 January 2010


Later this month, we publish our own splendid edition of Greenmantle by John Buchan. Set during WWI, this novel continues the story and involves some of the characters from The Thirty-Nine Steps, as Richard Hannay and his trusty friends investigate the mysterious titular figure and an attempt by the Germans to rouse the Islamic world in support of Turkey. This is a plot which has obvious modern resonances, as well as being engrossing in its own right and, as with all of Buchan's novels, brilliantly written.

The richness and scope of Buchan's life and achievements are breathtaking and exhausting by any standards, and included editing The Spectator, being an M.P., and holding Directorships in Reuter's and Thomas Nelson's the publisher. This is not to mention his having over 100 books published, including some 40 novels, highly-regarded classical and biographical studies and (naturally) a manual of accountancy. His life and work are admirably chronicled and explained in the official John Buchan website.

Although he is not now regarded as a particularly fashionable author, Capuchin is proud to add Greenmantle to its roster of publications, as a piece of fine writing which also sheds light on the state of the world during a crucial period of history.


Wednesday, 13 January 2010


Later this month we release Gryll Grange, by Thomas Love Peacock. Peacock is a fascinating figure in many ways, but, although a close friend of Shelley and considered an important Romantic writer, his star has never been hitched to the popular wagon. The structure of his novels falls strangely upon the modern reader, in that narrative is of relatively little significance, and there are long passages of witty, erudite dialogue set out as in a playscript. The prose, however, is like a diamond glittering with style, eloquence and satire, and, once the tone and structure are gotten used to, will hold great rewards for readers in any age.
Remarkably, Gryll Grange was written twenty-nine years after its predecessor, Crotchet Castle, after Peacock had retired from a long and highly successful mangerial role in the British East India Company's shipping line, a post in which he was succeeded by another thoughtful scribbler, John Stuart Mill. The book opens with a discussion on misnomers of various sorts, and provides a riposte to any accusations of irrelevance to the modern day thus:
I am afraid that we live in a world of misnomers..... In my little experience I have found that a gang of swindling bankers is a respectable old firm......and that a man who successively betrays everybody that trusts him, and abandons every principle he ever professed, is a great statestman.....
Plus ca change.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010


I'm currently repairing one of the many holes in my classics knowledge by reading Austen's Emma. Part of the motivation for this choice was that my wife and I had enjoyed a recent television adaptation of same, and I was curious to see how the two versions compared. I found, however, that having the images from the series still reasonably fresh in my mind assisted my enjoyment of the book, in that it mitigated the problem - which I often have with novels of this period - of remembering the identities of and relationships between the characters, and also where they live.

The bonus to having these deficiencies in one's reading history is that one can belatedly discover the elegance and ingenuity of a supreme prose stylist such as Austen. Capuchin Classics' version of Wuthering Heights, which emerges later this year, will be the perfect incentive to re-read another great work that I have only read once. And yes, we did see a recent t.v. series.


Monday, 11 January 2010


The recent spate of weather has led me to think about those books in which winter and the cold are inflicted by, and represent, forces of evil and darkness. The obvious tale in this category is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but a book in another brilliant series springs to mind, namely The Dark is Rising, in the pentalogy of the same name by Susan Cooper.

The series, having started fairly lightly with Over Sea Under Stone, goes on to explore powerful themes of mythology, good and evil and personal responsibility, involving - as well as its human and animal characters - figures and ideas from British mythology, such as Herne the Hunter and the Arthurian legends. In the archetypal fashion of these series, an apparently ordinary human being finds he does in fact carry great significance in an ancient battle between darkness and light, and is tasked to undertake a quest involving the gathering of objects and the waging of battles in order to fulfil his destiny.

Written beautifully throughout, and laden with engaging, well-wrought characters, the books also handle the interplay between the everyday and magical worlds with great skill. The second volume - The Dark is Rising - is where the story really takes off, and where the scale and scope of the themes and characters are established, as the dark forces intensify the winter weather and lay siege to those who would oppose them.

Don't be deterred by the awful covers which have been slapped on the books recently; go buy your copies now.


Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Later this month, we are publishing Rose Macaulay's Non-Combatants and Others, a powerful, deeply-felt novel based around the themes of war, pacifism and society during the First World War. During the War, Macaulay worked as a nurse, civil servant and then in the British Propoganda Department, although her views later led her to become a sponsor of the Peace Pledge Union in the interwar period.

Macaulay and her novel fit very well with the Capuchin mission of returning to recognition writers who, as well as being great exponents of their art, also explore unusual and important territories. Macaulay is often held up as one of the few significant twentieth century writers who were avowedly Christian and who deployed Christian themes in their writing, although her journey to faith was not a straightforward one. Macaulay's best known novel, The Towers of Trebizond, for which she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, pits the attractions of mystical Christianity against the temptations of adulterous love, and draws heavily on her own life for its themes and content. One of the legacies bequeathed by this novel is an opening line that must rank among the most arresting in English language prose fiction:

"Take my camel, dear" said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on
her return from High Mass.

Macaulay was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1958.


Monday, 4 January 2010


The blog is back, having recovered from a surfeit of mince pies, mulled wine and general Christmas pleasantry.

I've been in contact with Professor Linda Dryden, of Edinburgh Napier University, who is an admirer of H Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain (published by Capuchin in October 2009) and who uses the book in teaching her Literature of Empire module. Linda was kind enough to offer the following observations and to permit me to publish them in this form.

I came to Rider Haggard via Joseph Conrad when I was doing my PhD thesis on Conrad's early imperial romances. At that time I was very much of the opinion that Haggard was a 'thorough going racist,' a term used by Chinua Achebe to describe Conrad. I also regarded him as an imperial apologist and characterised Haggard in my thesis and subsequent book as such. Since then I have revised my opinion and now feel that Haggard's attitude to Africa was much more complex. The Allan Quatermain books, and She, are very much tongue-in-cheek and could be seen to be gently satirising the white man in Africa. Indeed, Haggard's respect for the Zulus in AQ is palpable through Quatermain's comments, and when one reads Nada the Lily, one senses a genuine affection for African peoples and sorrow for their plight. I do not mean to imply that there are no problems with these books, far from it. However, it seems to me that we need to be careful not to dismiss Haggard completely.

Although Conrad reviled Haggard's characters, objecting particlarly to Captain Good, according to David Garnett, we can detect traces of influences in Heart of Darkness, albeit perhaps subversive of Haggardian romance. Haggard's place in English literature has been problematic, but his influence over the genre of imperial romance is undeniable. I am still revising my opinion of Haggard and I currently supervise a PhD student who is working on his diaries and the explorers and other figures whose experiences helped to formulate Haggard's imagination. His legacy in our popular culture is very significant and there is still much to be said about Haggard's work.

Regular visitors to our website may have noticed that we are publishing a uniquely handsome edition of Heart of Darkness in July 2010.

A happy and culturally prosperous new year to you all.