The Necropolis Railway

Brookwood cemetery is not, it has to be said, quite as interesting as its earlier counterparts at Highgate and Kensal Green. It lacks the elaborate monuments found in its counterparts and since it is much larger and wilder it is often a surprise to come across a solitary monument that it larger than a normal tombstone. Its feels like an inferior imitation of its predecessors, a form of down at heel grandeur. The tombs often seem to be in a worse state than those in London itself, while the very conceit behind its existence, that of cadavers being brought to it out of London by train, also confers a rather shabby feel with mass production being applied to undertaking. It is wilder, with robins resting on gravestones while squirrels and rabbits scamper nearby. The grounds are planted with giant redwood and rhododendron, giving it the air of a park rather than of English countryside. Nor did it help that at the time of my visit it had been raining heavily, with everything cold and damp. Moss had displaced grass in many parts.

Many of the monuments are also rather out of kilter for an English cemetery. Near to the main entrance is the Zoroastrian cemetery, where depictions of flame replace crosses. The tombs here are some of the finest in the cemetery, with Victorian grandiosity being welded to Parsee sensibility; ceramic depictions of Persian figures adorn tombs whose arches are filled with elaborate tracery. The fravahar emblazons many tombs and hands hold tinder. Nearby are islamic tombs (including some for members of the Ottoman nobility) with headstones apparently designed as a miniature Taj Mahal or covered with golden domes. There’s a funeral in the ismaili cemetery; I can hear chanting and see smoke rising. I’m also struck by a solitary Japanese grave; a square patch of gravel with a grass tumulus at the centre surmounted by a single post. Some of the European tombs are quite different as well; much of the area is occupied by a World War Two cemetery, with headstones and monuments in gleaming white stone. A circular monument to soldiers killed in Norway rather reminds me of the National Memorial Arboretum. Several nations are represented in this section; Czechs, Poles, Americans and Turks.

The cemetery is bisected by a road, and this half of the cemetery is home to more traditional English tombs. Many of these such as the domed columbarium or the near collapsed Bent Memorial are in an extremely poor state of repair, though the finest monument I saw there, the Drake Monument, has recently had its roof restored. The building is in Italian gothic, with red marble contrasting with the brick. A mosaic frieze around it has formerly spelt out a homiletic; I find a few blue and gold tiles neatly placed on the balustrade beside it. Other monument in this section include several celtic crosses designed as quite faithful replicas of Irish counterparts, the pink granite Hughes Mausoleum with its Egyptianate lotus columns, a wooden lychgate to a small churchyard within the cemetery and a tomb that consists of a gothic arch design. More oddly, this section of the cemetery is also home to a series of arts &amp’ crafts buildings that form an Eastern Orthodox Brotherhood dedicated to guarding the bones of St Edward the Martyr. The cemetery also houses the remains of Rebecca West, John Singer Sergeant and Charles Bradlaugh, who must make odd company for a saint.

Surrealism is often described as a Freudian movement, following Breton’s use of Freudian techniques in a neurological hospital during world war one. Yet reading Aragon’s Paris Peasant I find myself concluding that his brand of surrealism is better described as Jungian, an attempt to weld mythic archetypes of the collective unconscious ("not a retreat into solitude but rather a retreat into a world of similarly adventurous spirits.. the town’s collective unconscious") onto an empirical reality. This is why Aragon is concerned with psychogeography, seeing it as the basis for this collective unconscious. At the same time, for all his insistence on the concrete Aragon also dismisses logic in favour of the imagination, reintroducing the idea of solipsism instead of a collective dream. One of the things that had struck me about Thomas Bernhard’s Correction was the opposition of nature and artifice in it, as with the stuffed animals created by one of the characters and by Roithammer’s plan to build a conical building in the middle of forest. In his autobiography, Gathering Evidence, Bernhard does emerge as something of a romantic in his attitude to nature, going for long walks in the woods and only beginning to recover from his illness when exposed to the mountain views at the sanatorium. He decries his school on the grounds that it turns "his whole nature into something that is the antithesis of all that is natural," before saying that his work in a shop allows him to lead "and intense, natural and useful existence." Nonetheless, Bernhard seems ambivalent about this romanticism, feeling that his grandfather’s withdrawal into solitude had marked him as an eccentric, while his time working in business is surely the antithesis of all that romanticism had stood for; the importance of being useful to him is simply utilitarian. But even here, his is far from consistent, writing that he never had any intent of wasting his time in the shop and seeking instead to resume his musical career.

Reading Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos it occurred to me that one of the feature of modern society is the way it has produced few social novels in spite of its social upheavals and growing inequality. Exceptions like Wolfe seem few and far between when compared to the body of literature the late nineteenth and early twentieth century produced under similar social conditions. Modern society appears solely concerned with the individual rather than with society at large and our literatuyre would appear to reflect this. While American literature previously produced socially committed authors like Dos Passos, Dreiser, Lewis, Crane and Anderson, history has tended to remember the likes of Hemingway and to produce writers like Mailer to walk in his footsteps. Perhaps this is why the writer most noted for being influenced by Dos Passos is Sartre.

Food cooked: Valencian paella, Chorizo and chestnut stew, Bouillabaisse, Hungarian lamb with pickel sauce, Sri Lankan banana curry, Swedish sausage and potato, Chicken fricassee, French chocolate cake, Swedish salmon casserole, Harissa spiced chicken, Moroccan chicken with preserved lemons, Irish mustard chicken, Keralan sea bass and coconut curry, Roast Pork with Prunes, Lemon Tart, Czech Salmon with lemon and caraway, Chinese tea smoked duck, Italian chicken with chestnut and pistachio, Kleftico, Kabuli chicken, French cherry batter pudding, Lamb with pickle sauce, Tarragonan fish stew, Indian chicken with almond sauce, Hradschin fish, Balti chicken, Yassa chicken, Borscht, Himmel und erde, Italian pork cooked in milk, Drunken chicken with tequila, coconut soup, Balti chicken with tamarind, Catalan chicken with prawns, Mughal chicken, Pheasant with sauerkraut and wine, Chicken with almonds and grapes, Pork with chestnuts and wine, Meatballs with apple and cider, Roast Duck, Lepeshki.

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