Crossword 063: Groundhog Wild

Atkinson Grimshaw, Tree Shadows on the Park Wall, Roundhay Park, Leeds

Atkinson Grimshaw, Tree Shadows on the Park Wall, Roundhay Park, Leeds


Today, in Connecticut, will be held the Westport Library Crossword Tournament— where, frightened of my shadow, I will not appear.  But, through the kind offices of "Bob Kerfuffle" (who also thought up its title) the attached puzzle will appear there, in paper form, and I welcome anyone led here by that means.   I couldn't find any paintings of groundhogs, but I’ve posted a nice one of some shadows.  Imagine yourself as seeing them from a groundhog's point of view.

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Pointing Hand in Reverse.png

A puzzle of mine appeared yesterday in The Los Angeles Times (and The Chicago Tribune, The Houston Chronicle, The San Francisco Chronicle, etc.)

Pointing Hand.png

A puzzle of mine will appear next Thursday, February 7, in the Wall Street Journal.

Novel 061: M.E. Braddon, Lost for Love (1874)

William Powell Frith - The Artist's Model

William Powell Frith - The Artist's Model


A rising doctor, a beautiful heiress, an impulsive young painter, and a poor city girl are entangled by love and betrayal. 

The great M.E. Braddon (see Post 004) was among the most often and unjustly maligned of Victorian novelists.  Contemporary critics never tired of blaming her for Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), as the worst consequence of an unhealthy vogue for “sensation novels.”  And her improbable plots are easy to mock.  At the same time, they are consistently engrossing; while her characters are vivid and often surprisingly complex, her settings evocative, and her style subtle, witty, and exact.

“When our fault-finding is done with we thank Miss Braddon for a treat.  Her novels are always agreeable reading and have as much genuine merit as would set up a dozen of her rivals.  Her descriptions of Voysey Street and other districts are delightful.” Sunday Times, September 27, 1874

“The real secret of her success is that her people are exactly the same kind of commonplace, everyday folk as we are ourselves, and as our friends are.” Observer, September 27, 1874

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v.1 (Tauchnitz ed.)

v.2 (Tauchnitz ed.)

Novel 059: Justin McCarthy, Linley Rochford (1874)

George Elgar Hicks, A Gypsy Girl

George Elgar Hicks, A Gypsy Girl


A marriage goes wrong.

Justin McCarthy (1830-1912), an important Irish politician as well as a journalist and novelist, published some 25 works of fiction between 1866 and 1901.  The contrast here between the attitudes of the husband and wife towards life and each other is particularly well delineated.

“Mr. McCarthy’s language is correct and well chosen: the events of his story bear each its due and proportionate share in working it out; his scene is not over-crowded with characters, and those whom he introduces are reasonable, probable, and consistent with themselves.” Athenaeum, October 10, 1874

“Besides their general truthfulness to nature, there is mostly to be discovered playing round the several characters that lambent flame of humour which is serviceable in lighting up particular traits and idiosyncracies, and setting them clearly in the reader’s eye.” Examiner, October 17, 1874

“A close observer and excellent delineator of character, Mr. McCarthy contrives to combine in his portraits reality and originality, and while he does not disdain to mention trifling incidents and minute but distinctive traits, he never wearies by prolixity.” Morning Post, October 22, 1874

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Crossword 058: Accentuate the Positive

Edward Frederick Brewtnall, The Princess and the Frog Prince

Edward Frederick Brewtnall,
The Princess and the Frog Prince


"Oh goodness infinite, goodness immense!,/That all this good of evil shall produce,/And evil turn to good!" you will exclaim, "replete with joy and wonder," after you finish this puzzle.  (See John Milton, Paradise Lost, XII.468-71)

We owe 32 Across to my test-solver, proofreader, and sometime editor “Bob Kerfuffle," who has also spared me the embarrassment and you the annoyance of many errors of all kinds.  He will not permit me to use his real name, preferring to "do good by stealth." (See Alexander Pope, Epilogue to the Satires of Horace, Dialogue I, l.136)

Crossword 056: Di-Graphic Language

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Une Vocation

William-Adolphe Bouguereau, Une Vocation


That's this week's crossword she's got there.  Judging from the position of her pen and the expression on her face, she's at 52 Across, and trying desperately to remember what exactly a "ratite" is.  She's seen the word before, maybe in another crossword—but what does it mean?  It's nothing to do with rodents, or rodent-followers, but it is some kind of animal, isn't it?  A "gnu" maybe?  

If you attended last August’s Lollapuzzoola tournament, you may have picked up a promotional copy of this very puzzle, which was distributed there on my behalf by my test-solver, editor, and promoter, the inexplicably generous “Bob Kerfuffle.” I was not myself in attendance, as I prefer to cultivate an air of reclusive genius—in the hope of being revered as the J.D. Salinger, the Emily Dickinson of crosswords. Do please try to play along with me in this.

Novel 056: Margaret Oliphant, The Unjust Steward (1896)

Sir David Wilkie, A Bookcase

Sir David Wilkie, A Bookcase


A poor clergyman places himself in a moral quandary.

This is one of the last of Oliphant’s hundred-some novels (for others see Posts 007 & 008).  She had been publishing for almost half a century and had come to seem old-fashioned.  The Academy’s critic, for example, after confessing a “sneaking fondness” for Oliphant, points out that she “began to write before the days when fiction became an art, and no doubt her conceptions of the possibilities and obligations of her calling are, in comparison with modern lights, limited.” This false perception of the culture of 1849 says a lot about that of 1896.  Anyway, old or not, Oliphant provides here a searching analysis of a complex, ambivalent, self-deceived character’s struggles to reconcile the moral with the expedient.

We are “transported by the writer’s easy art into an old-world atmosphere, redolent of the true flavour of a social humour not quite forgotten, but sufficiently removed from the commonplace banalities, the sexual problems, and the topical ingenuities of the day.”  Athenaeum, December 19, 1896

Oliphant’s “stories are always characterised by an old-world courtliness and a wonderful sympathy with the thoughts and feelings of old and young alike.  Everything she puts her pen to is thoroughly entertaining.”  Liverpool Mercury, December 23, 1896

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Novel 054: W.E. Norris, Thirlby Hall (1884)

John Lavery, A Conquest, a Heart for a Rose

John Lavery, A Conquest, a Heart for a Rose


A young man becomes entangled with a scapegrace cousin and a charming adventuress.

This was Norris’s fourth novel, and like his third, No New Thing (see Post 002)—and like the author’s 60-some other novels and story collections—it features a witty, lucid style and carefully defined, memorable characters.  So by 1884 the most prestigious critics are already getting tired of him.  “Exceedingly tedious,” says the Athenaeum; the Academy finds only the first volume meritorious; the Saturday Review dismisses the whole as “too clever.”  Nothing annoys professional critics so much as the consistent excellence that explains itself, doesn’t develop into something new, and so leaves them nothing to say. 

“It is distinguished by a singular mellowness of tone and perfection of style, as well as by its power to enchain the reader’s interest from first to last.  The author’s way of regarding society is agreeably dispassionate; he is satirical without being sardonic, and treats wrongdoing with a severity that is free from despair.”  Chicago Tribune, February 9, 1884

"Easy description, keen observation of the foibles of people, and presentment of characters in excellent relief." New York Times, February 11, 1884

"One of the most interesting novels that we have come across for a long time, pleasant to read as regards both substance and style, clear and fresh in its delineations of character, and thoroughly healthy in tone throughout....  Mr Norris’s finished sketches are not less accurate than easy, and...have a vigour and originality not often traceable in the fiction of the day."  Observer, May 18, 1884.

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