Tea & A Good Book

This is the photo that I use as my profile picture and one I could also use to show my reading tastes, if only a picture with books had been allowed in Simon’s version! I love old books, some of these were found in some distant family member’s collection and given to me, while the bottom one is actually a 1913 copy of Pride & Prejudice that I bought at a used bookshop on Charing Cross Road in London, in memory of 84, Charing Cross Road. So that one’s pretty special to me. I also love beautiful china tea cups and that one, as well as a few others, was inherited from a great aunt who recently passed away. I remember as a child seeing a set of Royal Albert Old Country Roses tea cups in a cupboard and wanting to have something so beautiful. I didn’t have tea parties as a child or acquire a taste for tea until I was older (I used to think it was too watery), but now my husband and I are both very keen tea drinkers. (He went to school in England, so he’s a bit obsessive about it being exactly the right way!) I usually prefer herbal teas, with six different kinds of chamomile tea in the cupboard, two kinds of mint and various others, as well as Earl Grey occasionally. I change my mind about what kind of tea I’ll drink about as often as I change my mind about what kind of book I’m going to read, that is, fairly often! I tend to follow my whims and enjoy subtle variety.

The sea shells in the cup are from Florida (my husband’s parents live there), but they also represent my love of water. And interestingly, the old watch, which I just placed there because I liked how it looked, represents my interest in the past.

And just to keep things literary, here are a few of my favourite tea related quotes:

Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea. There are circumstances in which, whether you partake of the tea or not — some people of course never do — the situation is in itself delightful. Those that I have in mind in beginning to unfold this simple history offered an admirable setting to an innocent pastime. The implements of the little feast had been disposed upon the lawn of an old English country-house, in what I should call the perfect middle of a splendid summer afternoon. Part of the afternoon had waned, but much of it was left, and what was left was of the finest and rarest quality. Real dusk would not arrive for many hours; but the flood of summer light had begun to ebb, the air had grown mellow, the shadows were long upon the smooth, dense turf.

This is from the opening of The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James and I certainly think it’s one of his more accessible books (although Daisy Miller is shorter). I try every now and again to read The Wings of the Dove, but never manage to get through it… My first year English professor read the first few sentences aloud in class, in comparison with a few from Hemingway, just to show differences in style, and I immediately became intrigued by old Henry. I’ve collected a number of his books but certainly haven’t read them with any great speed! Nevertheless, the story of Portrait of a Lady is intriguing.

…when the white cloth was spread upon the grass, with hot tea and buttered toast and crumpets, a delightfully hungry meal was eaten, and several birds on domestic errands paused to inquire what was going on and were led into investigating crumbs with great activity. Nut and Shell whisked up trees with pieces of cake, and Soot took the entire half of a buttered crumpet into a corner and pecked at and examined and turned it over and made hoarse remarks about it until he decided to swallow it all joyfully in one gulp.

The afternoon was dragging towards its mellow hour. The sun was deepening the gold of its lances, the bees were going home and the birds were flying past less often. Dickon and Mary were sitting on the grass, the tea-basket was repacked ready to be taken back to the house, and Colin was lying against his cushions with his heavy locks pushed back from his forehead and his face looking quite a natural colour.

…’I’ve seen the spring now and I’m going to see the summer. I’m going to see everything grow here. I’m going to grow here myself.’

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. My teacher read this aloud to my class in grade six, except she changed all references of magic to ‘Holy Ghost’ (I told you I went to christian schools!)… I think I was the only one who knew, since I’d already read the book before. I recently reread it earlier this year and so enjoy the simple healing that comes for several lonely children in an abandoned garden.

And of course tea and Proust go together (did you guess that might be coming? ;)):

… one day in winter, as I returned home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, suggested that, contrary to my habit, I have a little tea. … She sent for one of those squat, plump cakes called petites madeleines that look as though they have been molded in the grooved valve of a scallop shell. And soon, mechanically, oppressed by the gloomy day and the prospect of another sad day to follow, I carried to my lips a spoonful of the tea in which I had let soften a bit of madeleine. But at the very instant when the mouthful of tea mixed with cake crumbs touched my palate, I quivered, attentive to the extraordinary thing that was happening inside me. A delicious pleasure had invaded me… It had immediately rendered the vicissitudes of life unimportant to me… acting in the same way that love acts, by filling me with a precious essence: or rather this essence was not merely inside me, it was me.

This revelation over his tea cup and cake is the beginning of memory, pulling him back into his childhood in the country, in search of lost time… Oh what a cup of tea can do, giving hope, pleasure and relaxation, and recalling us to a true sense of ourselves. Good literature can do all these things as well.

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18 thoughts on “Tea & A Good Book

  1. bookssnob says:

    Beautiful! Books and tea are a combination made in heaven. πŸ™‚

    I have that exact edition of Pride and Prejudice – isn’t it beautiful? I love the Everyman books and I have quite a collection – they’re so easy and cheap to find here. I love the bookshops on Charing Cross Road – they are on my way home from work so once a month I treat myself by popping in to fantasy shop – I’m not allowed to buy but I can look!

    • Carolyn says:

      Ooh I’m jealous of that! I would love to go book shopping in London quite a bit more often than I currently do. But at least I can drink tea and enjoy the lovely books I do have. πŸ™‚

  2. Violet says:

    What a lovely post! I like the way you’ve tied everything together in the picture.

    My favourite book is a little red volume of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems I found in a charity shop. It has seen better days, but I do so love his poetry, and judging by the marginalia, the previous owner did too.

    • Carolyn says:

      What I’d like to do is collect more books and quotes about tea and tea parties so that I can make a whole little book list about it.

      Books that have been pre-loved are special, in 84 Charing Cross Road Helene Hanff writes about the pleasure of seeing which page a used book will fall open to…

  3. Emily says:

    I grow peppermint in my garden so I can make my own peppermint tea, there’s nothing like it.
    I used to laugh at my mum for always bringing teabags on holiday because she didn’t trust American tea, but now I can’t travel without a healthy supply of peppermint teabags. I even brought them on a hen weekend (and got laughed at, but I didn’t care. They dissapeared fairly sharpish next morning when everyone was hung over anyway).

    re your comment on my post, I loved The Woman in White too! I read it as a teenager and I remember being up at 3am, terrified and completely unable to put it down. Did you read The Little Stranger? I had nightmares about that one. (though, to be fair, I am a big wuss).

    • Carolyn says:

      Fresh peppermint, that sounds absolutely delightful! I am unfortunately not much of a gardener, though I love plants that smell good.

      I haven’t read The Little Stranger yet, I read one of those condensed reviews in the Guardian making fun of it, so wasn’t sure if it would be as good as her Victorian books. 😦

  4. Eva says:

    I think Portrait of a Lady is one of James’ most accessible novels too! I really need to get over my fear of Proust and give him a try this year. πŸ™‚

  5. Iris says:

    Such a lovely post!

    I have to admit that you have me completely interested in your blog (I was before, don’t worry ;)) with the combination of: tea, old books and the past. We must be a match made in heaven when it comes to blogging acquaintances.

  6. Tamara says:

    Thankyou – I love your picture and most of all your selection of tea quotes. I am having a day off work today, so I think Im about to make a pot of tea and celebrate afternoon tea in the morning – and maybe in the afternoon too…

    • Carolyn says:

      Hi Tamara, thanks for coming by! Those are the start of my tea quotes collection, I’m hoping to add to it. Tea in the morning and afternoon sounds lovely, I drink lots of tea at work too, just to stay sane!

    • Carolyn says:

      Thanks! I never read it though because I’m afraid of damaging it. It’s more for the memory, about how certain books have influenced me and become part of me and enriched my life.

  7. Layla says:

    This was a great post! I have to ask, have you read anything by George Sand? πŸ˜€

    I’d like to know what you think of her works and if you have read any of her books, which would you recommend?

  8. Josh's mom says:

    I love the photo and how each of the items means something special to you. And the tea quotes! We lived in London for several years – starting in 1987. I became an avid tea drinker then and still am. I have not read very much in terms of the “classics” but have read P&P and loved it. I’ve just order an audiocourse on British literature and am looking forward to listening while driving to client meetings for work so am sure many more books will be added to my TBR list!

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