But a Thought: Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1940)

“Tis to create, and in creating live
A being more intense, that we endow
With form our fancy, gaining as we give
The life we image, even as I do now.
What am I? Nothing: but not so art thou,
Soul of my thought!”

Lord Byron: Childe Harold: Canto III

It was through John’s blog Pretty Sinister Books that I first heard of Miss Hargreaves. The story seemed so compelling that when I won a giveaway in 2014, I chose the novel as my prize. I have since come to know that it was Simon @ Stuck in a Book, who was responsible for the republishing of the novel by Bloomsbury group. So thank you, John and Simon. Their reviews of the book can be read here and here.

Norman Huntley and his friend, Henry Beddow, have the habit of spinning yarns. Once on a trip to Lusk while looking round a rather depressing church, they try to ward off their boredom by making up a story about Miss Hargreaves, an eighty something lady, who apparently knew the late, lamented canon of the place. And they embellish the tale even further by giving her a harp, a cockatoo, a dog…even a bath which she tows from one place to another. As a finishing touch, Norman even writes to Miss Hargreaves, care of the hotel in which they had made her stay, inviting her to his home in Cornford. They laugh over it and think the business over. Only when Norman returns to his home, he finds a harp already delivered to his home and a letter from the lady, thanking him kindly for his invitation and announcing her arrival.

Norman and Henry, unsure and uncertain, wait at the railway station and an old lady alights from the train along with all the paraphernalia that the two had dreamt up for her. From then on, she causes enough disruptions in Norman’s life even as he tries to come to grips with what he has created. Nobody quite believes him. Only Norman’s father and the Roman Catholic priest of the town give any credence to Norman’s story. Even Henry starts feeling that Norman must have known the old lady beforehand and it wasn’t the ‘spur of the moment’ imagining as Norman had made it out to be. Norman himself is caught between exasperation with the woman and proud in his ‘creation’ of her. And then he even bestows aristocracy on her by making her a lady. From simple Miss Hargreaves, she becomes royalty, the one to whom the town bows. And now she has no time for Norman and minions like him. What has Norman done?

This is an interesting book about the power of creation and the responsibility that goes with great power. Belonging to a culture in which the power of words is a given as in mantras and where ragas have been created which can make earthen pots burst into light and make the rains come down, this was not merely fantastical to me. I enjoyed the book but I do wish there had been more of Henry in it. I liked the pipe smoking ‘old man’. Even in the end, the narrator doesn’t tell us what happened to him which was pretty sad.

Looking forward to reading more books by Frank Baker. Have you read this or any other book of his?


First Line: “Miss Hargreaves,” I murmured.

Publication Details: NY: Bloomsbury, 2010.

First Published: 1940

Pages: 317

13 thoughts on “But a Thought: Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker (1940)

  1. I think it’s fascinating, Neeru, how much our culture impacts what we see as possible/fantastical/realistic, etc.. And that’s such an interesting question about creation. Just because we can do something, does that mean we should? I can see why those questions got your attention.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Miss Hargreave’s poems – Wayside Bundle – were published in a limited edition of 350 copies in 1959 . Illegally,
    a copy doesn’t seem to have been sent to the British Library – it isn’t lited there – and the only copy in a library, according to Worldcat, is in the University of North Carolina’s library. If anyone has or comes across a copy, look after it well and leave it to a library. Perhaps the poems could be published as an appendix to future editions of Miss Hargreaves, the book only has 24 page.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have a copy of Wayside Bundle. Last year it was nearly destroyed one day when a cup of coffee tumbled over a table and the coffee spilled onto a pile of books on my floor. I’ve since put it safely in the bookcase nestled between my TWO copies of Miss Hargreaves, one UK and One US . Despite the lack of copies in Worldcat.org listed libraries and the small print run there are several copies of Wayside Bundle that still exist. For years there were a handful of copies available for sale online all attributed to Constance Hargreaves as the author. This was even years after the Bloomsbury reissue of Baker’s novel. Hardly anyone selling the book realized it was a joke that Baker created for his friends nor did they realize how scarce is the book — really a pamphlet, it’s pages are stapled and not bound. I got my copy for less than $15 from a woman who sold books out of her home in the UK. The day I bought mine (several years ago) there were about five other copies also for sale. Only one copy, the highest priced if I remember correctly, included a mention of Baker and that the ostensible author on the title page was actually a fictional character.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. “Once I had … grave friends
    To borrow my books and set wet glasses upon them.”
    -Edwin Arlington Robinson

    It’s horribly easy to save them the trouble and do it yourself, especially when the only clear space to put a cup is on top of a pile of books, as I sometimes find.
    Stapled, though, makes a difference: I think 24 pages and stapled may count as a pamphlet rather than a book and be categorised accordingly, so I’ll look elsewhere. Thanks for the tip.
    What are the poems like? – or does just knowing you can read them when you want save you the bother of reading them?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Roger and John: I love authors who take so much delight in their work as Baker is doing over here. The Bloomsbury edition that I have contains nine poems of ‘Miss Hargreaves’ from the Wayside Bundle as a kind of coda.

    And yes, I agree sometimes the only clear space is atop a book:)


    1. I’ll look for a Bloomsbury ed. then. My old Penguin is so fragile and my eyesight so poor now I need a replacement anyway. How did the Victorians manage to read with small-print double column editions read by candles or oil-lamps?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It boggles the mind, Roger. Such chunksters they read. And I forgot to say this before, welcome to the blog.
        Doesn’t the penguin edition have it too? the narrator does wind up saying: I leave you with some poems of Mrs. Hargreaves and then the poems follow.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Trivia about Wayside Bundle: It was printed at Cot Valley Press, St Just in Penwith. Each of the 350 copies was hand numbered. I have copy #14! There is a brief foreword by Cornelius Huntley, Norman’s bookseller father. Makes me smile how far Baker took his joke. He must have been laughing aloud as he compiled this. Despite being thought of as an authoress of doggerel verse, only three follow that simplistic cliched “duh-da-duh-da-duh-da” meter. There are a total of seventeen poems which take up sixteen of the 24 pages. Two are labeled as “sonnet”, two are labeled as “triolet” – a poetry form I’ve never heard of.

    Later this week on my blog I will post a photo of the paper covers which have hand drawn illustrations and has a hand lettered title, by who I do not know as there is no credit for the artwork. One of my favorite poems is a doggerel titled “Graves” which humorously instructs the reader how to correctly pronounce the author’s last name. I’m sure that one is included in The Bloomsbury reprint. Let me know which ones are in the book and I can scan some that are in the original chapbook (that’s the official term for this type of publication) that were not reprinted in that coda. Then I can post those poems in my post as well as photos of the chapbook.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks John for all this interesting info. I’d love to read that forward by Cornelius. Baker really was having a ball, wasn’t he? I thought all editions would have these poems. Anyway, the Bloomsbury edition has the following: THE LAY OF THE LAST CRICKET; A SMALL THING; THE FERRY; EVENSONG IN ADVENT; A FRIEND FOR TEA; SONNET TO MY BATH; DOCTOR PEPUSCH; and the triolet: EARLY TO ELY.

      Looking forward to your post.

      Liked by 1 person

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