Yesterday I was shopping in Tunbridge Wells, and there are two very good bookshops nestled away in the Pantiles area of town, which is essentially a pretty cobbled Victorian shopping arcade. One is an Oxfam Books, which I know is the death of the high street second hand bookseller, but they do have a very good selection and as much as my principles burden me with guilt whenever I step inside, the tradeoff of what is technically just giving to charity and receiving a gift in return does somewhat lessen the additional guilt of buying books I really don’t need. The other bookshop is a wonderfully crowded, Dickensian labyrinth of poky shelves and piles of dusty hardcovers that usually doesn’t fail to offer up a gem or two. It has Viragos and Orange Penguins aplenty, and it’s also a goldmine of original hardcovers of my favourite mid century authors.
I was on the hunt for the next in the Palliser series of Trollopes, and I was certain one of these two would be able to offer up the goods. Sadly neither had the title I wanted at a price I was prepared to pay, but Oxfam had another little treasure up its sleeve for me. As I mentioned a few days ago, I am planning on re-reading the much maligned Mansfield Park in the New Year. I do already have a nice little hardcover copy, but it’s nothing special and I’m not overly attached to it. So, imagine my delight when I spotted an absolutely stunning turn of the century, elaborately decorated and beautifully illustrated copy of Mansfield Park sitting waiting for me on a dusty top shelf at the back of the shop! And for only £2.50! I gathered it up, paid my money and skipped off home with it.
Later that evening I was attempting to settle my baby nephew down to sleep, and I thought a bit of soothing reading would do the trick. So, I opened Mansfield Park and began to read out loud. As little Albert’s eyes began to get heavier and heavier, mine lit up. The irony! The wit! The odiousness of Mrs Norris! The Lord Grantham-esque-ness of Sir Thomas! It is all far more wonderful and brilliantly written than I remember. I am not allowing myself to go any further than I did last night, as I am in the midst of another book at the moment, but I am eager to get stuck in as soon as I can in January. Would anyone like to join me?