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Novel on Yellow Paper (1936)

by Stevie Smith

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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442241,028 (3.82)108
Stevie's alter ego Pompey is young, in love and working as a secretary for the magnificent Sir Phoebus Ullwater. In between making coffee and typing letters for Sir Phoebus, Pompey scribbles down - on yellow office paper - her quirky thoughts. Her flights of imagination take in Euripedes, sex education, Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church, shattering conventions in their wake.… (more)
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    The Waves by Virginia Woolf (christiguc)
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    The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon by Sei Shonagon (bmlg)
    bmlg: Both books are the musings and observations of witty, whimsical women on their societies and on relationships.

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The voice of Pompey Casmilus is one of the most unique narrative voices I’ve read in a long time. A personal secretary working for Sir Phoebus Ullwater, Pompey throws her thoughts down on yellow paper “because often sometimes I am typing it in my room at my office, and the paper I use for Sir Phoebus’s letters is blue paper with his name across the the corner ‘Sir Phoebus Ullwater, Bt.’ and those letters of Sir Phoebus’s go out to all over the world.” So behind the stream of consciousness babble and flow that is Pompey’s voice, we divine that there is a very smart and sensible young woman at work. And indeed, there is.

Pompey writes, one suspects, much as she thinks. She will pivot on an interjected “oh” and take off in what seems another direction altogether but will pivot again to take us right back to her original thought (and original they are), finishing the subject off neatly. She talks with a fake German accent when in Germany, throws in frequent interjections in German, French and Latin without translations (sink or swim, reader).

But the pure delight of the novel is what Pompey thinks about and how she thinks about whatever it is, whether Jews, Nazis, her friends, her aunt, sex, her love(s), her acquaintances. Whether she is defending the English to her German lover, Karl, or talking about a play she has seen or the drawing rooms of the upper crust or a Pomeranian named Fifi with broken knees, Pompey had me enchanted from start to finish. She is pure delight talking about her aunt “the Lion” and just extraordinary talking about her broken heart after her dear Freddy broke it off with her. She is a “feet off the ground person” and yet one with a broad streak of self awareness, knowing her own needs and limitations. A typical Pompeyism, summing up the conversation of a Frau K.:
“There you are you see, quite simple. If you cannot have your dear husband for a comfort and a delight, for a breadwinner and a cross patch, for a sofa, a chair or a hot-water bottle, one can use him as a Cross to be Borne.”

A loamish read, as Pompey herself would say.
18 vote tiffin | Aug 16, 2009 |
Not as much a novel as extended musings, from a young woman's point of view, on life death and relationships. Interesting if somewhat breathless use of language that managed to keep me engaged, even without a plot, up to the last few pages.
Good but just a tad too long. ( )
  wendyrey | Jan 29, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Stevie Smithprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dick, KayAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vaughan, MaryAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watts, JanetIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Casmilus, whose great name I steal,
Whose name a greater doth conceal,
Indulgence, pray,
And, if I may,
The winged tuft from either heel.
First words
Beginning this book (not as they say 'book' in our trade - they mean magazine), beginning this book, I should like if I may, I should like, if I may, (that is the way Sir Phoebus writes), I should like then to say: Good-bye to all my friends, my beautiful and lovely friends.
Now I suspect that for me Hertfordshire is the operative word... Oh lovely Hertfordshire, so quiet and unassuming, so much of the real countryside, so little of beastly over-rated bungaloid Surrey-Sussex with all of its uproar of weekend traffic to and from Bloomsbury, Hertfordshire is my love and always has been, it is so unexciting, so quiet, its woods so thick and abominably drained, so pashy underneath, if you do not know the lie of the land you had better keep out. Yes, I think anyway you had better keep out.
All up and down Hertfordshire from Hertford to Bayford through Monks Green Woods over the estates of the Marquis of Salisbury, over Sir Lionel Faudel Phillip's fields, through the woods of Smith-Bosanquet, we fought and raged and also we laughed a lot and kissed and sang.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Stevie's alter ego Pompey is young, in love and working as a secretary for the magnificent Sir Phoebus Ullwater. In between making coffee and typing letters for Sir Phoebus, Pompey scribbles down - on yellow office paper - her quirky thoughts. Her flights of imagination take in Euripedes, sex education, Nazi Germany and the Catholic Church, shattering conventions in their wake.

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Book description
'I am a forward-looking girl and don't stay where I am. "Left right, Be bright," as I said in my poem. That's on days when I am one big bounce, and have to go careful then not to be a nuisance. But later I get back to my own philosophical outlook that keeps us all kissable.' This is the famous novel in which Stevie Smith first introduced to a delighted world her loquacious alter ego and heroine, Pompey Casmilus. It is 1935. Pompey works as a secretary for the splendid magazine publisher Sir Phoebus Ullwater, Bt., and scribbles down -- on yellow office paper -- her wonderful thoughts. The voice of the thirties rings out as Pompey chatters on about the Catholic Church in England, sex education, Nazi Germany, Euripides, anything and everything that comes to her highly original mind. Most of all she thinks about love. Love for friends -- 'my life and soul and spirit' -- and love for Freddy. For Pompey is young and in love -- but must she marry? Between laughter and tears we watch Pompey choose ... Stevie Smith is quite unique in her hilarious perception of marriage as the not always perfect reward for love between the sexes. And this is only one of the insights of a woman and writer whose vision of life -- and death -- is at once poetic, profound and magnificently witty. Over thirty years after its first publication, Novel on Yellow Paper remains one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century literature.
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