Monday, 13 August 2012

Shandy Hall

Went to Shandy Hall yesterday. I've often thought of going, although we've never got round to it before. Shandy Hall, not far from Thirsk in North Yorkshire, was the home of Rev. Laurence Sterne, writer of Tristram Shandy.

Tristram Shandy was, according to Italo Calvino,  "undoubted progenitor of all avant-garde novels of our century." I've not read it. I have had a go but didn't get very far.  I thought that by visiting Shandy Hall I might feel inspired to give it another go. 

We went on one of the regular tours of the house which, I have to admit, I can't remember as much about as I'd like - although it has inspired me to have another go at the book. I'll have to go again, which I'm more than happy to do, as I really enjoyed it. (I've decided to join the Friends of Shandy Hall next time I visit - it costs £7 a year to do so, for which you can visit the house and gardens as often as you want). I do remember that Tristram Shandy should be an inspiration not only to would-be experimental novelists but also to would-be self-publishers. Had Sterne not been determined to see the early volumes of the work into print, it would probably have remained unpublished. I also discovered that Sterne and Samuel Johnson didn't get on well, much to the embarassment of their many mutual friends. Johnson dismissed Sterne's work, saying (in 1776) ""Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last." Voltaire, on the other hand, thought it superior to Rabelais.

There's more than a house at Shandy Hall. There's a second-hand bookshop and a garden. Also, in the garden, there's an exhibition on about self-publishing, DO or DIY,  created by Information as Material, a writer collective which describes itself as " publish work by artists who use extant material -selecting it and reframing it to generate new meanings- and who, in so doing so, disrupt the existing order of things." The text used in the exhibition can be read online, here, although it's more interesting to encounter it in Rev. Sterne's garden.

A second exhibition is also currently running in the outbuildings at the hall: Found in the Fields, an exhibition of prints by artist Carry Ackroyd. The works on show are inspired by and incorporate fragments from the poetry of the 19th Century poet John Clare. I'm just beginning to get into his poetry so I found this exhibition really interesting. One of the prints is based on a poem I didn't know, about ants. I think it's magnificent - and although in many ways it's a product of its age, there's also much about it that's modern:

The Ants

What wonder strikes the curious, while he views
The black ant's city, by a rotten tree,
Or woodland bank! In ignorance we muse:
Pausing, annoyed,--we know not what we see,
Such government and thought there seem to be;
Some looking on, and urging some to toil,
Dragging their loads of bent-stalks slavishly:
And what's more wonderful, when big loads foil
One ant or two to carry, quickly then
A swarm flock round to help their fellow-men.
Surely they speak a language whisperingly,
Too fine for us to hear; and sure their ways
Prove they have kings and laws, and that they be
Deformed remnants of the Fairy-days.

John Clare


Tom Stephenson said...

Lawrence Stern - a man of many attributes and also one of my heroes. Now I want to visit Shandy Hall - I never even knew it existed. Thanks.

The Weaver of Grass said...

I love Carry Akroyd's work and have seen several of her exhibitions - also love John Clare's poetry. Shall have to tell Glennis that she has an exhibition there, as I know how much Glennis admires her work.

Marion McCready said...

Looks like an interesting place to visit! Haven't read John Clare in ages, must go and dig out more of his poems :)

GOAT said...

Ants as deformed fairies -- that IS ahead of its time.