It can’t be relived except in memory
but it can be celebrated and
remembered with gratitude.
P.D. James fascinates me. She writes mysteries containing biblical allusions, phrases from the Book of Common Prayer and broad cultural references. Reading one of her novels, I am bound to learn ten new words, several new authors, poets, works of art, music or architecture. However, life in jolly England is not all tea and scones. Murder, infidelity and sex are part of her crime stories: disturbing but never salacious.
She calls her memoir a fragment of autobiography. I was eager to learn more about a lady who, in a catalog of people I admire, reminds me of David McCullough. Decent. Dignified. Distinguished.
Time to Be in Earnest is written in the format of a diary of Baroness James’ seventy-seventh year. The title comes from a description of a minister in Samuel Johnson’s The Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland: A man who has settled his opinions, does not love to have the tranquility of his convictions disturbed; and at seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest. Notes of her daily life show her to be full of humor, humility, generosity and humanity. And busy! Her speaking schedule fatigued me. She includes time with her family and friends, memories of her childhood, and a potpourri of opinions. P.D. James is interested in life; hence a journal of her daily life is interesting.
[Adam Dalgliesh is the chief detective in her series]
views on structuralism–or was it post-structuralism.
I replied that he had given it careful thought for
a number of evenings and had come to the conclusion
that it was nonsense.
The young chaplain sitting next to me murmured,
“In vain they lay snares at her feet.”
This quote is representative of her prose. I love the sibilance and onomatopoeia of susurration, a word spell-check is unfamiliar with.
only by the note of a song bird and the susurration
[a soft, whispering or rustling sound] of the breeze
in the wayside grasses. It was one of those moments
of happiness and contentment which give reality to death,
since however long we have to live,
there are never enough springs.
The appendix contains the full talk P.D. James gave to the Jane Austen society on 18 July, 1998. You can read all but a few pages of Emma Considered As a Detective Story here. Austen fans will love it!