THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY

Founded 8th May 1999

NEWSLETTER No. 19

22nd July 2005

New Members

Since the last Newsletter in January, the Society has welcomed four more members

Graham Craft

first came across the poetry of JMF through A. N. Wilson's article in The Daily Telegraph, and his life and work through the BBC Radio 4 programme. Graham enjoys the poems with the rhythms and echoes of the worship, liturgy and music of the Church of England as he enjoys all the Seasons of the Church Year (!) Graham will shortly take early retirement after 46 years in sales office administration and devote even more time as an amateur organist in rural village churches and have time to read The Nebuly Coat

Hazel O’Brien , David Hayes and Jonathan Morgan have also joined.

Apart from 1999, the year of our foundation - when 17 joined - this is our best year for new members.

Nikolaus Pevsner and JMF

I am grateful to James Stourton for the following extract, which comes from Geoffrey Grigson’sMainly of Writers and Artists (1984).

There was no doubt of the still youngish Pevsner’s admiration, genuine if tempered, for the arts of this off-shore island. Before he came to England in advance of the main emigration and anti-Semitic persecution, the head of the arts department at Gottingen University had encouraged him in the study of art in England, where he might, if necessary, find a haven. He came to England, I suppose on that first occasion, with a letter of introduction to John Meade Falkner, whom he knew of only as the honorary librarian of Durham Cathedral, so to Durham he travelled. He found Falkner’s eighteenth-century house on the cathedral rock. Falkner was out, so he left his introductory note with the butler, together, at the butler’s request, with the telephone number of his hotel, already rather surprised that a cathedral librarian could afford the wages of a butler.

A call came through soon enough asking him to dinner. The same butler showed him into the drawing-room. He waited and looked around, and had time to be still more astonished at the medieval and other treasures around the room. What a wonderful place England must be, where cathedral librarians lived in such expensively tasteful grandeur, and drank, he soon discovered when he and Falkner sat to dinner, such exceptional claret. It was only afterwards he discovered that Falkner was a millionaire (having made his money as an armament manufacturer) as well as a novelist, a poet and a scholar.

Our Society’s Novelists

Congratulations are in order to two members of the Society, who have produced novels recently.

A. N. Wilson’sA Jealous Ghost (Hutchinson £12.99) was described as an “erudite and compelling little novel...that will, at the very least, have many readers double-checking their nanny’s references”.

Javier Marías’sYour Face Tomorrow: Fever and Spear (Chatto & Windus £15.99) was also well reviewed - in The Daily Telegraph - where his “style also weaves a kind of spell; there is much that is wise, and more that is beautifully observed”.

Wesley Stace , who has bought a copy of the Collected Poems, and whose appreciation of JMF will be published in the next issue of the literary journal Post Road, has just had his first novel published. Misfortune (Jonathan Cape £12.99) has had a series of positive reviews on the Internet. The story includes “an infant of mysterious provenance, a vast English country estate, family secrets, conspiracies, a stolen inheritance....” Wesley has shown even more perspicacity by choosing Moonfleet as one of his ‘top 10 books about children aimed at adults’ in the Guardian Unlimited Books column.

JMF and Gordon of Khartoum

On 18 February, 1884 General ‘Chinese’ Gordon landed at Khartoum “without soldiers, but with God on my side, to redeem the evils of the Soudan”. From 12 March the city was in a state of siege. Back home the Prime Minister Gladstone was urged to send a relief force: on 12 May he faced a vote of censure in the Commons. The issue was dividing the country and Queen Victoria was not amused.

On 22 May, Falkner in the middle of a letter to John Noble, exhorting the latter to ‘play up and play the game’ at cricket, broke off to voice his opinion:

“I wish that miserable driveller Gordon would get fever & have to come home. I think a man could not make a worse exhibition of himself than that fellow has.” He was in good company, the politician Charles Dilke writing of Gordon: “We are obviously dealing with a wild man under the influence of that climate of Central Africa which acts even upon the sanest men like strong drink.

I wonder what Falkner made of Lytton Strachey’s portrait of Gordon in Eminent Victorians (1918)?!

Journal No. 6

will accompany this Newsletter, unless you have not paid your 2005 Subscription. A reminder that the Annual Subscription is only £5.00 or $10.00.

PLEASE continue with your membership, as surely it is good value!

John Meade Falkner’s Bag of Paradoxes

I make no apology for devoting much of this side of the Newsletter to the BBC Radio Four’s programme on JMF, broadcast on Thursday, 12 May at 11.30 a.m. It capped a great week as the Collected Poems also arrived here.

First, the BBC’s own publicity:

John Meade Falkner is the author of three unusual books: Moonfleet, The Lost Stradivarius and The Nebuly Coat. The manuscript for his fourth book was allegedly stolen from his bag by spies while he was travelling by train between Durham and Newcastle. David Almond, one of today’s most popular and critically acclaimed children’s authors, investigates why a foreign power might have been interested in Falkner’s fourth novel as he examines the paradoxical life of this out-of-the-ordinary man.

Born in 1858, Falkner was the son of a curate. He developed a life-long commitment to the study of classics and the riches of medieval literature - but he worked for 40 years as secretary, salesman, director and then chairman of one of the world’s biggest armament firms, Armstrong’s in Newcastle.

Using extracts from his novels and poetry, Almond retraces Falkner’s daily journey from Durham Cathedral Close to Newcastle’s Elswick Works in an attempt to find the influences that shaped his writing, from his close association with the Noble family to his far-from-close association with his wife, and from a damaged church spire in the Cotswolds to smugglers on the Dorset coast.

Contributors to the programme include members of the John Meade Falkner Society; Ken Hillier, the founder of the society; Kenneth Warren, the author’s biographer. The programme also travels to Fleet in Dorset, where Falkner set Moonfleet and lived as a child, and Burford in Oxfordshire, where he funded the restoration of the church and his ashes are buried.

Presenter / David Almond

Producers / Philip Titcombe and Andy Cartwright

The Radio Times

Largely forgotten today, Moonfleet’s author, John Meade Falkner, was a man of many paradoxes. The writer of the great children’s adventure book was also chairman of one of the biggest armamnts firms in the country. Using extracts from his novels and poetry, David Almond traces the author’s daily train journey between Newcastle and Durham in an attempt to find the influences that shaped his writing. And why, allegedly, a foreign power might have stolen the draft of his fourth book.

The Sunday Telegraph: Radio Choice

Here’s a sweet biography. John Meade Falkner wrote the children’s novel, Moonfleet, an adventure story along the lines of Treasure Island and Kidnapped. But he was no bookish Victorian. As well as studying medieval literature and the classics, he was boss of a Newcastle arms firm. Children’s author David Almond visits the places where Falkner lived and worked, and tries to find the truth about his unpublished fourth book, supposedly stolen by Russian spies on a train between Durham and Newcastle.

The Daily Telegraph: Radio Choice

Moonfleet , best known of Falkner’s 19th-century trio of children’s novels, is still a wonderful read. David Almond, prize-winning children’s writer, looks into the strange life of its author. Falkner (1858-1932) was the son of a curate, sclassics scholar, devotee of medieval literature, collector of books. But he made his living for 40 years (first as secretary, finally as chairman) at one of the world’s biggest armaments manufacturers, Armstrong’s, in Newcastle. Was that why, as he claimed, spies stole the manuscript of his final novel from his bag as he made his daily train trip from Durham to Armstrong’s Elswick works?

It is interesting to see what the various reviewers made of the same information. I would hardly describe The Lost Stradivarius and The Nebuly Coat as two of ‘a trio of children’s novels’. Certainly, the story of the loss of the fourth novel was suitably ‘sexed up’ for listeners’ and readers’ delectation. Apparently, the programme was also the Radio Choice of at least two other newspapers.

The Society should be most grateful to Philip and Andy for the way they moulded the different strands of JMF’s life - and the various interviewees - into a fascinating half-hour’s broadcast.

The Collected Poems

Although sales were brisk in the first few weeks, we have still not broken even. Nearly 100 copies have been sold, thanks in particular to one or two members. Others have not even ordered one copy and I do urge you to support the Society by purchasing (at least) one.

The standard of production is excellent, thanks to Michael Daniell’s involvement, and what you will have is all known poems of JMF in one publication.

Copies can be purchased from me for £15 (£16 overseas), including p & p.

Best wishes

Kenneth Hillier

Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne

Derbyshire. DE73 8BX

kenjmfsoc@moonfleet69.freeserve.co.uk