On my way here, I read Joanne Limburg’s terrific new novel, A Want of Kindness, about Queen Anne. Quite apart from lighting up a patch of history I knew nothing about, the novel so engrossed me that I felt I was travelling through a much older country. I was therefore briefly startled by how much Gladstone’s Library is a child of his century. The Library itself is effectively a small college library, and the feeling here is collegiate. We are here to read and think.
The people staying here are largely academics, clergy or writers, though there are also some lawyers. People are taking reading retreats, writing theses and dissertations, first or umpteenth books. Gladstone would be delighted, I suspect, by the very high proportion of women in all categories (at least half) and by the wide range of social and geographical backgrounds from which we are all drawn. On second thoughts, I’m not sure that he was sound on women clergy. The range of people here enlivens the mealtime conversation, though one may of course opt out of that.
The collegiate feeling is only enhanced by the friendly and supportive staff. If this begins to sound like an advertisement, I want it to; this is one of the best places to work I have ever found. And the Library is an endless source of surprises. Leaving, I feel the pull of the yet-unread and unexplored, and this is as strong as it was the previous times I came here. It’s a good feeling, even if all I wrote here was prose. It is also good to think that Gladstone’s legacy may demonstrate a more enduring sense of ‘British values’ than do our politics. Enough nostalgia: time to be home and enjoy the country singer Ashley Monroe’s new album, The Blade.