Authors: Penelope Lively
PENGUIN MODERN CLASSICS
Penelope Lively grew up in Egypt but settled in England after the war and took a degree in History at St Anne’s College, Oxford. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of PEN and the Society of Authors. She was married to the late Professor Jack Lively, has a daughter, a son and six grandchildren, and lives in London.
Penelope Lively is the author of many prize-winning novels and short-story collections for both adults and children. She has twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize: once in 1977 for her first novel,
The Road to Lichfield
, and again in 1984 for
According to Mark
. She later won the 1987 Booker Prize for her highly acclaimed novel
. Her other books include
Next to Nature, Art
, which was shortlisted for the 1989
Book of the Year Award;
City of the Mind
Beyond the Blue Mountains
, a collection of short stories;
, a memoir of her childhood days in Egypt;
; her autobiographical work,
A House Unlocked
Making It Up
, which was shortlisted for the 2009 Costa Novel Award.
She has also written radio and television scripts and has acted as presenter for a BBC Radio 4 programme on children’s literature. She is a popular writer for children and has won both the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Award. She was appointed CBE in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List.
It is an afternoon in early May. Pauline is looking out of the window of her study at World’s End. She looks not at the rich green of the field sweeping up to the cool blue of the sky, but at Teresa, who stands outside the cottages with Luke astride her hip, staring up the track towards the road. Pauline sees Teresa with double vision. She sees her daughter, who is holding her own son and waiting for the arrival of her husband. But she sees also an archetypal figure: a girl with a baby, a woman with a child. There is a whole freight of reference there, thinks Pauline. The girl, the child, the sweep of the cornfield, the long furrowed lines of the rough track reaching away to elsewhere. Seen through one lens, Teresa is a Hardy heroine – betrayed no doubt, a figure of tragedy. Seen through another, she is a lyrical image of youth and regeneration. And for Pauline there shimmers also a whole sequence of intimate references, other versions of Teresa which hitch them both to other days and different places. It is a day in May at World’s End, but it is also the extent of two lives – three lives, if Luke’s fifteen months are to be considered.
In fact, Teresa is standing where she is for good reason. She has already spotted the glint of the sun on the windscreen of Maurice’s car as it turned off the main road, and now indeed here comes the car, creeping in the distance like some sleek dark beast amid the rippling green. And Luke too has seen it. His whole body registers attention and anticipation. He twists his head. He points with all four fingers. ‘Da!’ he says. ‘Da!’ Here comes my father, he is announcing.
Pauline hears him, through the open window. She too notes the car. She watches its approach, she sees it pull off the track on to the area alongside the cottages that serves as a parking space. Maurice
gets out. He kisses Teresa and they go together into the cottage, into their half of the pair of cottages which is World’s End. Pauline turns from the window and looks down again at her desk. She picks up her pencil and makes a note on the manuscript in front of her.
World’s End is itself something of an archetype, and as such is unreliable. It is a grey stone building set on a hillside somewhere in the middle of England. The stone is weathered, the hill behind reaches up to a crown of trees which are a delicate tracery against the sky. Adroitly photographed, it could be used as an advertisement by car manufacturers (you need one to get there), the bread industry (there grows the good healthy wheat) or those who operate the tourist trade (come with us and you too will see such scenes). The building appears to be locked still into the early nineteenth century – a terrace of three two-storey cottages with attic dormer windows, constructed of stone dug from a quarry a few miles away and roofed with stone slate also of local provenance. There it sits, tucked snug into the fields. It could have simply grown of its own accord, you feel – made from the very bones of this land. It is an emanation of a time and a place.
The truth is that World’s End is suspended in this landscape like a space capsule, with its machinery quietly humming – its computers, its phones, its faxes. Its microwaves, its freezers, its televisions and videos. World’s End in fact is nicely disguised, like one of those turfed-over bunkers kitted out as command posts in the event of nuclear attack.
The building has been gutted. Three dwellings are now two, with nothing left of the original construction but windows, fireplaces, a few oak beams and a staircase. The front door of the left-hand, larger cottage – now used by Teresa and Maurice – opens straight into a big open-plan kitchen. Behind that a new extension provides the sitting-room which overlooks the garden common to both cottages. A cleverly constructed space-saving staircase twists up out of one corner of the kitchen to the bedroom and bathroom floor above. The attic is Maurice’s study.
The smaller cottage – Pauline’s – is rather different. Kitchen and sitting-room are paired at each side of a tiny hallway, from which the
original staircase rises to the upper floor. It is a disconcertingly precipitate staircase, much too steep and with narrow treads. Pauline has had hand rails put at either side, but even so visitors have to be warned. She wishes occasionally that the staircase had been ripped out when the building was done over, but at the time it seemed appealing and in some way integral to the cottage, and now she cannot be bothered with any further upheaval.
The whole place is of course radiant with electricity and central heating. It ticks and tocks with timing mechanisms and remote-control devices. Green digits blink from display panels. Telephones are poised for action. Computers and faxes stand waiting in Pauline’s study and in Maurice’s. Both of them can tap into a global communication network, both can conjure up the information resources of distant libraries. World’s End is a wolf in sheep’s clothing – it is no more rooted in a time and a place than is the flight deck of a 747.
A curious name for a row of cottages – World’s End. When Pauline bought the place ten years ago she was puzzled by the term but found no explanation until Maurice pointed out that such names were often given to farm labourers’ dwellings sited out in the fields in the last century – new constructions away from village centres and labelled accordingly, places that seemed remote, or – ironically – idyllic. World’s End. Botany Bay. Tasmania. Utopia Cottages. Paradise Row. He threw out the observation casually, offhand, standing down there on the track the first time he came there, before he married Teresa – as though it were the sort of thing everyone knew.
Pauline, sitting now at her desk, making another quick note on someone else’s manuscript, looks again out on to the track and sees the shadow of that Maurice, back then, making that observation. He slides her the self-deprecating glance he often uses when giving information, and she is at once interested and faintly irritated. Teresa flickers there also for a moment too, standing to one side while Pauline and Maurice talk about the cottages, her eyes on Maurice, far gone in love, snared, committed, lost.
Teresa is still in love with Maurice, three years on. This is plain for all to see. For Pauline especially to see. She saw it just now, saw it as Teresa stood watching for Maurice’s car, saw it in her stance, in the
movements of her head, in the way her hand frets up and down the fence. And seeing this, she knew quite precisely what Teresa felt. Pauline could take her place for an instant – becoming not Teresa but herself on another day, in another decade, waiting thus for a man.
And here he comes – not driving a car up a dirt track but walking quickly through the crowds at Victoria station. She sees him coming from a long way off and does not go forward to meet him but stays where she is because these are the best moments of all – the thrilling jolt of recognition as she identifies him, an up-rush of being as though all the senses were intensified. She will spin it out, this exquisite anticipation. And then he is yards away, is smiling, waving. And then he is holding her. She can feel him, smell him. Harry. There is nothing else like this, she knows – nothing in the world.
And as the moment comes gushing back to her today at World’s End, it is the sensation that is sharpest, clearer by far than anything she sees – the station concourse, Harry’s face. Harry himself is reduced to a prompt – the trigger for recovered emotion.
Pauline reads another page of the manuscript she is editing. She makes a spelling correction, draws tactful attention to the repetition of a word. Then she shunts the manuscript to one side of her desk, yawns, stretches, and sits for a few moments looking out at the end of this May afternoon. It has become warm, all of a sudden, after a chill grey spring. Summer is a distinct possibility. She has opened the window while she is working, almost for the first time. The window next door must be open also: she can hear Luke-noises – a sequence of wordless urgencies – and Teresa’s responses. She can hear Maurice – an indecipherable murmur. Maurice must be on the phone. Maurice is frequently on the phone.
World’s End is around a hundred and seventy years old. Pauline is fifty-five. Teresa is twenty-nine. Maurice is forty-four.
Pauline’s purchase of the cottages had been made possible by her inheritance of her parents’ house when her mother died two years after her father. She was still working as a full-time editor at a London publishing firm. Teresa was at art college. Maurice was unknown to either of them and therefore off-stage to all intents and purposes.
In fact Maurice was busy establishing an early reputation as the maverick young author of books on quirky aspects of history that flattered the reader by being simultaneously scholarly and inviting. A sparky account of the tobacco industry, a contentious book on the marketing of the stately home business. Right now, Maurice is working on a history of tourism – a hefty project which will discuss the ways in which the natural and the manmade environments have been exploited in the interests of commerce. He is in frequent communication with an influential film producer. There is serious talk of a TV series as a tie-in with the book. These discussions have had an inevitable effect on the enthusiasm of Maurice’s publisher for the work in hand. Maurice has stepped from the position of an interesting author of eccentric books to a potentially valuable asset.