Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Too much ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and
not enough ‘Sense and Sensibility’

Summer colours in Hall Court, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

From Crete to Cambridge in less than a week.

Last Tuesday [11 July 2017], I spent the morning in the Monastery of Arkadi in the mountains above Rethymnon in Crete.

Yesterday [17 July 2017], on my way from Stansted Airport to the USPG conference in High Leigh, I decided to spend the morning in Cambridge. After breakfast near Christ’s College, I spent a few hours browsing in the bookshops, calling into Sidney Sussex College, and taking photographs at some of my favourite places, despite the throng of tourists.

This year, for the first time in many years, the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies is not organising a summer school in Sidney Sussex College, and I am going to miss a week of teaching, friendship and fun. But I still needed to call in on the place, and to enjoy this corner of Cambridge in the summer sun.

I was corrected on Facebook later in the day and told by a colleague that what I always thought was wisteria growing in the courts in Sidney Sussex is in fact solanum. But the name solanum is applied to a wide variety of crops and plants that include potatoes, tomatoes and aubergine. In other words, I have lot more to learn each time I return to Cambridge.

G David … one of my favourite bookshops anywhere (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

In Saint Edward’s Passage, a side alley close to King’s College, the Guildhall and the Market, I found myself rummaging once again through the collections outside G David, one of my favourite second-hand bookshops in any part of the world.

Nearby, in Guildhall Street, close to the Cambridge University Catholic Chaplaincy, I was brought back from Cambridge to Crete with a jolt. In all these years, I had paid little attention to Michael Ayrton’s sculpture of Talos opposite the Guildhall. But, perhaps because I am just back from Crete, I noticed both the statue and the inscription, which says:

Talos, Legendary man of bronze,
was guardian of Minoan Crete
the first civilisation
of Europe
Sculptor: Michael Ayrton


According to the stories in Greek mythology, Zeus abducted Europa and took her to Crete, where Talos, a bronze giant, guarded her from pirates by circling shores of Crete three times a day. Talos was made by Zeus, Daedalus or Hephaistos. A single vein of molten metal gave life to Talos, and this ‘blood’ was kept inside the giant’s body by a bronze peg in his ankle. Talos attacked Jason and the Argonauts when they landed on Crete, Talos attacked them. Medea charmed Talos into removing the bronze peg, all his ichor flowed into the sand, and he died.

Talos was sculpted in 1950 by Michael Ayton (1921-1975). Like the mythical Talos, Ayrton’s Talos is also made of bronze. But he has no arms, no face, and his torso is a bulging box shape. By leaving Talos without his arms, Ayton illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors.

Michael Ayton’s Talos illustrates the anger and bewilderment of many post-war British sculptors (Photograph: Patrick Comerford , 2017)

I found myself wondering who is going to portray the anger and bewilderment of post-Brexit Britain.

Today [18 July 2017] marks the 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen on 18 July 1817. The bookshop of the Cambridge University Press is displaying special editions of her novels and biographies of her in a window facing the Senate House.

I wonder how many are going to break away from the throngs of tourists to call in today and to mark this bicentenary.

But I could not escape noticing the carefully sculpted juxtaposition of two of her best-known books: Sense and Sensibility to the left and Pride and Prejudice to the right.

Perhaps it is a summary of the anger and bewilderment of many in Britain a year after the Brexit referendum. After all, the vote appears to have been 48 per cent Sense and Sensibility and 52 per cent Pride and Prejudice.

If only there had been a little more Persuasion from people who should have known better.

Marking the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death in Cambridge this week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford , 2017)

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