Patricia Craig

  • Somerville and Ross: The World of the Irish R.M. by Gifford Lewis
    Viking, 251 pp, £12.95, October 1985, ISBN 0 670 80760 5

The first work of collaboration between Edith Oenone Somerville and her cousin Violet Martin (‘Martin Ross’) was a Buddh dictionary – ‘Buddh’ being the family word for members of the family, and the dictionary consisting of words peculiar to it. ‘Blaut’, for instance, in Buddh circles, meant ‘violently to express immoderate fury’. The insufficiency of ordinary English, when it came to strong feelings, caused a good deal of improvisation among the Somervilles and their family connections. A feeling for the comically expressive phrase, we learn from Gifford Lewis’s affectionate study, asserted itself early on in the literary cousins. They couldn’t have been better placed to gratify it, what with family loquacity, and with Irish servants and tradespeople expostulating idiomatically all around them. ‘Sure the hair’s droppin’ out o’ me head, and the skin rollin’ off the soles o’ me feet with the heart scald I get with her!’: that sort of thing. Readers of the R.M. stories gain a strong impression of lower-class Irish hyperbole. Edith Somerville carried around with her a notebook in which she jotted down any local extravagance of speech she overheard. (She also carried a sketchbook in which she drew, very efficiently, Irish huntsmen: the inelegant in pursuit of the inedible.)

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