30 March 2012

T. W. Robertson, Playwright

The playwright Thomas William Robertson (1829– 71) – who was usually known as 'T. W. Robertson', sometimes as 'Tom Robertson' – was born in Newark-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, where his father William was an actor on the 'Lincoln circuit'.

Robertson moved to London in 1849, where he lived as a journalist, writer, stage manager and actor. He was a friend of the Manchester playwright H. J. Byron, with whom he had collaborated, and Robertson's play Society (1865) was put on at the Prince of Wales Theatre, London, which was managed by Marie Wilton and Byron. He wrote a number of plays after this, but died just a little more than five years later.
William Tydeman's Plays by Tom Robertson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982) contains, along with a brief critical sketch, four plays: Society, Ours (1866), Caste (1867), and School (1869). Tydeman is very sceptical of the many claims that have been made about Robertson being a great innovator of realist theatre (using real props, realistic language, etc), although he concedes that his intentions involved more than mere amusement and pleasure. Tydeman states that although these plays are in fact 'no more "life like"' than those of playwrights who went before, they are nevertheless 'a little less "unlifelike"'. All things considered, Tydeman seems to suggest, perhaps Robertson's major contribution to the stage is that he founded the new school of 'stage management', making him an important precursor to today's play directors.


Society depicts a world in which the very rich (but very vulgar) parvenu Mr John Chudd senior wants his son, the also very rich Mr John Chudd junior, to steamroller his way through society and become accepted as a 'swell': money can buy everything, including love – 'I adore you with my whole heart and fortune' is the way he woos. The principled but poor and feckless Bohemian barrister and hack, Sidney Daryl, knows the people Chudd junior wants to know, but will not be bought and shuns the arriviste.

Lord and Lady Ptarmigant have brought up the orphan Maud Hetherinton, and for most of the play there is a strong criticism of Lady Ptarmigant, who seems made of similar hypocritical, money-worshipping material to the Chudds. Maud and Sidney are (chaste) lovers, although Lady Ptarmigant's hostility grows much more hostile towards any possible match as Chudd junior declares his interest in marrying Maud.

And Chudd and Sidney become not only rivals in love but political rivals as Sidney learns that the 'digesting cheque-book' is a candidate for Springmead, where Sidney's ancestors have 'held their own for centuries'.

The plot shifts a few gears as a result of two misunderstandings: Sidney thinks Maud has agreed to marry Chudd, and Maud thinks that Little Maud is Sidney's illegitimate son, whereas in reality she's the daughter of Lady Ptarmigant's son Charles, who died in the Crimea shortly after marrying his 'poor and humble' (and pregnant) girlfriend. Realizing the misunderstanding, Lady Ptarmigant is delighted to learn that she has a grandchild (and probably as delighted that Sidney has suddenly become rich on the death of his brother), and in the end good triumphs over bad: Sidney and Maud can now marry in peace, and the jumped-up pipsqueak Chudds get their social comeuppance.

It might be easy to dismiss Society as contrived and slightly farcical, but there are strong socials criticisms in this play.


Tydeman suggests that Ours is inspired by Millais's 'The Black Brunswicker' painting, which depicts a woman in an emotional state standing between her partner, a volunteer for the Waterloo campaign, and the door he's reaching to leave by. This painting is in fact mentioned in the play, relating to the moment when Angus goes to the Crimea, leaving Blanche, the woman he loves, behind, although it is not certain that Blanche loves him.

Like Society, Ours has rich and poor lovers but no scoundrels (apart from a brother who never makes an appearance) and a much more complicated plot. The aristocracy is represented by Sir Alexander Shendryn and his wife Lady Shendryn, who is still hurt that her husband had an affair with another woman years before, and believes that he is continuing to deceive her . The rich Blanche lives with them, as does her (obviously poor) companion Mary, and the dynamics between the quiet Blanche and the spunky Mary, according to Tydeman, influenced James Albery's Two Roses (1870), W. S. Gilbert's Engaged (1877), Pinero's Dandy Dick (1887), and Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest (1895).

The rich (and feckless but not Bohemian) brewing heir Hugh Chalcot, whose marriage proposal has previously been turned down flatly by Blanche, just spends his time mooching around, driven by whims or the urge to sleep off his boring life. Angus knows he has no chance with her as he's poor, and anyway the older Russian Prince Perovsky is moving in on her to turn her into a princess, even a queen. The men (even Hugh, who can now find something to give his life meaning) go off to the Crimea to risk their lives, with Sir Alex and Lady Shendryn parting on bad terms as they're radiply becoming poor.

'If this were put in a play, people would say it was improbable', says Hugh when he finds that some time later the three women turn up at the large cabin close to where the men are fighting, and this was obviously what I too thought. However, it's a neat way to conclude the play, and there are several discoveries: Sir Alex is a man of great integrity who was protecting his wife from the truth that her brother Percy has been embezzling him; Blanche loves Angus in spite of his poverty; and Mary's pudding-making has sent Hugh head over heels for her.

The front cover of Plays by Tom Robertson shows a representation of the final act, and an interesting point here is that Ours has been particularly noted for the 'realistic' sweeping of 'snow' into the cabin when the door opens. The Times also noted the military equipment in the cabin, and the sound of rain on leaves in the first act, and called the play 'an exact specimen of the ultra-real school of comedy'. With his feet firmly on the ground, Tydeman labels it a 'romantic comedy whatever its pretensions to realism'.


Tydeman rates Caste as Robertson's best play. Based on his short story 'The Poor-Rate Unfolds a Tale' and perhaps a love story relating to one of Robertson's sisters, it concerns a mésalliance between the soldier George D'Alroy, who is the son of the Froissart-quoting Marquise de St Maur, and Esther Eccles, the poor daughter of Eccles, a workshy alcoholic who provides much of the play's humour and tension: Eccles steals the £600 that the recently-married George leaves to his wife Esther (before going to India) and blows it on betting, and Tydeman reckons that Eccles is Robertson's revenge on the benevolent parents that swamped the conventional plays of the period.

Robertson is given to working around the theme of love matches between rich and poor protagonists, although I still feel unsure about his conclusions, if indeed there are any. George's 'toff' friend Hawtree finds class (or 'caste') problematic, but George sees things differently, and says:

'Oh, caste's all right. Caste is a good thing if it's not carried too far. It shuts the door on the pretentious and the vulgar [such as the Chudds in Society, not doubt]: but it should open the door very wide for exceptional merit [such as Esther, of course]'.

There have been criticisms by reviewers regarding some characters perceived as not entirely believable: the Marquise is perhaps too stilted, Esther may be a little too virtuous, poor Sam seems rather too generous towards George, etc, but these seem minor issues.

(It is interesting to note, in Appendix II, a number of musical and literary quotations spoken by Eccles. The literary quotations include Robert Burns, Ann Taylor, and John Greenleaf Whittier.)


School was extremely popular, although it came in for some harsh criticism that it was derivative of Roderick Benedix's Aschenbrödel (Cinderella). Tydeman seems very dismissive of it, and after trying (but failing miserably) to read it I can't understand why he included it in this selection – it seems such a flat way to conclude the book.

Meynard Savin's Thomas William Robertson: His Plays and Stagecraft (Providence, RI: Brown University, 1950)

George Galloway and the British Labour Party

It isn't often that I publish a blog post about politics, but occasionally I feel that there's a need to. Last night, nearly 40 virtually continuous years of Labour party dominance ended in Bradford West. George Galloway, representing his Respect party, was elected to Parliament by a majority of over 10,000 votes. No matter what anyone's opinion of Galloway may be, this is a colossal, historic victory. Such a victory doesn't happen for no reason, and cannot be written off as a glitch: Galloway also won Bethnal Green and Bow (also a traditional, staunch Labour party seat) in 2005. Galloway is perfectly correct when he speaks about the betrayal by the Labour party of its own voters. Although it was nine years ago, people will not forget that the Labour party wholeheartedly supported and collaborated in the destruction of Iraq.

But monstrous as this act was, it is but one of many very big errors leading to the self-destruction of the Labour party.

28 March 2012

The Gentle Author

Googling around – partly in preparation for a short stay in London next month, partly as a spinoff to delving into Iain Sinclair's East End – I stumbled by chance across an anonymous writer of unknown sex, using the byline 'The Gentle Author' in his or her blog 'Spitalfields Life', and found a treasure chest of articles (written every day from August 2009 to the present, which are projected to continue far into the future) about the unsung folk of Spitalfields, London, the extraordinary 'ordinary' people who people it, and the architectural features which form the backcloth to the everyday theatre of the area.

The Gentle Author's most recent blog posts are an indication of the variety of the content, often with generous photographic images: early 19th century illustrators Isaac Richard and George Cruickshank; the death two days ago of Charlie Burns, a  94-year-old who spent his later days viewing the world in a car on Bacon Street off Brick Lane, where he had spent his life; and (in a single post) paper bag seller Paul Gardner, dairyman Henry Jones, and umbrella maker Richard Ince. There is an evident compulsion for the Gentle Author to record the normally unrecorded.

Reviewers have found analogies of the Gentle Author's work in such diverse people as Chaucer, Dickens, Pepys, Orwell, Patrick Keiller, W. G. Sebald, Geoffrey Fletcher, Dr Johnson, Henry Mayhew, etc. This is indeed wonderful stuff, and it's heartening to learn that about 150 chapters of this material have been mass hard copied, and The Gentle Author's lavish book is called Spitalfields Life: In the Midst of Life I Woke to Find Myself Living in an Old House Beside Brick Lane in the East End of London, and was published by Saltyard Books earlier this month.

This is a link to the Gentle Author's
blog. S/he goes to some pains to point out the importance of the people s/he is writing about as opposed to him/herself, although a fascinating interview with him or her appears as a blog post in 'Spitalfields Life', in which the Gentle Author, in passing, mentions the influence on him/her of Kierkegaard and Raymond Williams's Culture and Society: it is here. More information on the writer can be gleaned in a Guardian article here.

I shall have much more to say about this publication in due course, although already I'm sure that this 428-page book will be quite a read.


Link to the later post:

The Gentle Author: Spitalfields Life: In the Midst of Life I Woke to Find Myself Living in an Old House beside Brick Lane in the East End of London (2012).

26 March 2012

The D. H. Lawrence Heritage Trail, Eastwood, Nottinghamshire

I shall cover the D. H. Lawrence Blue Line Trail, published by Broxtowe Borough Council, for most of this post. The blue line is much like the yellow parking restriction lines on roads, only this is on pavements, and stretches from Durban House Heritage Centre at the junction of Greenhills Road and Mansfield Road, Eastwood, to The Three Tuns pub on Three Tuns Road.

There are fourteen plaques entitled 'The D. H. Lawrence Literary Trail', all of which  are gathered outside the square by Eastwood Library, and most of which don't relate to a specific feature of the Blue Line Trail. This one, however, relates to the Durban House Heritage Centre, and as with all the others, contains a quotation by Lawrence:

'These offices were quite handsome: a new, red-brick building, almost like a mansion, standing in its own well-kept grounds at the end of Greenhill Road. The waiting room was a hall, a long, bare room paved with blue brick, and having a seat all round, against the wall.

Sons and Lovers'

'Suffering the tortures of the damned'
Barber, Walker & Co. were principal colliery company owners around Eastwood, and this house was built in 1876. Lawrence frequently went there to collect his father's wages, and felt intimidated by the experience. In Sons and Lovers, Lawrence fictionalizes life in 'Bestwood' through Paul Morel, and the colliery is owned by Carston, Waite & Co. Durban House is now an information centre and exhibition house of Lawrence's life and work.

Lawrence's phoenix symbol appears in many places throughout Eastwood. This is one of a number of badges, and is next to the plaque on the pavement outside Durban House.

'Great quadrangles of dwellings on the hillsides'
The colliery company built the houses for the miners to live in, and as Lawrence writes in Sons and Lovers, these were large quadrangles. This is Princes Street, a few hundred yards up Mansfield Road from Durban House.

'The library was open in the two rooms in the Mechanics Hall, on Thursday evenings from 7.0 till 9.0. Paul always fetched the books for his mother, who read a considerable amount, and Miriam trudged down with five or six volumes, for her family. It became the custom for the two to meet in the library.

Sons and Lovers'

Miriam Leivers is in part modelled on Lawrences' girlfriend Jessie Chambers of Haggs Farm.

'The outstanding event of the week'
The Mechanics Institute was similar to an adult education college for the working classes, and had a lending library. This would have been one of young Lawrence's outlets to explore literature.

It is now a snooker and pool hall called, ahem, 'Phoenix Cue Sports. Note the picture of Lawrence next to the function room advert.

'The flat fronted red brick house in Victoria Street'
This is the first house in Eastwood where the Lawrences lived, and where David Herbert Lawrence was born on 11 September 1885, Arthur and Lydia's fourth child.
'I liked our chapel, which was tall and full of light, and yet still; and colourwashed pale green and blue, with a bit of lotus pattern. And over the organ-loft: "O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness," in big letters.

'Hymns in a Man's Life'

'Three years savage teaching of collier lads'
This plaque is placed at the site of the former Congregational Chapel on Nottingham Road where the Lawrence family went, and where Lawrence first met Jessie Chambers. It was demolished in 1971.

Immediately behind the chapel was the British School where Lawrence went to readings and literary society meetings. And where he taught between 1902 and 1905, hence the title of the plaque.

An Iceland supermarket is now on the site.

'It was a little less common to live in the Breach'
Each house move the Lawrences made in Eastwood was to more superior property. This is in 'The Bottoms' in Sons and Lovers, or the current 28 Garden Road.

'D. H. Lawrence lived here 1887–1891'.




'It is finished'
The Lawrences lived here from 1905 to 1911. This was their only semi-detached house, and had a garden with a field at the back. In this house Lydia died in 1910.

'The country of my heart'

'Bleak House'
The Lawrences lived on Walker Street from 1891–1905, and although this plaque is on number 10, it is uncertain if this is the actual house where they lived: it may be number 8. In 1910 Lawrence's brother Ernest died here. This is a pretty awful shot of the house, but the sun was shining almost directly at the camera.

'Moon and Stars'
This was the name of the Three Tuns in Sons and Lovers, which was Lawrence's father's preferred pub, where he would stop off on the way home from Brinsley Colliery. It was also the site of the 'wakes' mentioned in the novel.

Yet another phoenix, this time one of a number on the railings at the junction of Nottingham and Mansfield roads.

In the background of the photo above is this structure, which one website calls the 'D. H. Lawrence Memorial', although the information bureau didn't recognize it by that name. Nevertheless, there is an obvious Lawrence connection, as there's a phoenix on the dome.

Outside Eastwood Library is Neale Andrew's 1989 relief sculpture entitled 'D. H. Lawrence 1885–1930', showing – among other things – a naked couple embracing with miners working underneath, with headstocks and a church in the background.

Also in the square by the library – another phoenix.

And in front of the phoenix, the fourteen plaques showing quotations from Lawrence. Three of them have been mentioned already, but here are the remaining eleven:

'They came near to the colliery. It stood quite still and black among the corn-fields, its immense heap of slag seen rising almost from the oats.

"What a pity there is a coal-pit here where it is so pretty," said Clara.
"Do you think so?" he answered. "You see I am so used to it I should miss it."

Sons and Lovers'

'Mrs Morel loved her marketing. In the tiny market-place on the top of the hill where four roads, from Nottingham and Derby, Ilkeston and Mansfield meet, many stalls were erected.

Sons and Lovers'

'The curtain was down [...] it represented a patchwork of local adverts. There was a fat porker and fat pork-pie, and the pig was saying: "You all know where to find me. Inside the crust at Frank Churchill's".

The Lost Girl'

'Paul [...] crept up the stone stairs behind the drapery shop at the Co-op, and peeped into the reading room [...]. Then he looked wistfully out of the window [...]. The valley was full of corn, brightening in the sun.

Sons and Lovers'

'It was a vast square building – vast, that is, for the Woodhouse – standing on the main street and highroad of the small but growing town.

The Lost Girl'

'The wide valley opened out from her, with the far woods withdrawing into twilight, and away in the centre the great pit streaming its white smoke and chuffing as the men were being turned up.

"The Christening"'

'Now Eastwood occupies a lovely position on a hilltop, with the steep slope towards Derbyshire and the long slope towards Nottingham.

"Nottingham and the Mining Country"'

'The string of coal-mines of B. W. & Co. had been opened some sixty years before I was born, and Eastwood had come into being as a consequence. It must have been a tiny village at the beginning of the nineteenth century, a small place of cottages...

"Nottingham and the Mining Country"'

'I was born nearly forty-four years ago, in Eastwood, a mining village of some three thousand souls, about eight miles from Nottingham, and one mile from the small stream, the Erewash, which divides Nottingham from Derbyshire. It is hilly country...

"Nottingham and the Mining Country"

'The church was away on the left, among black trees. The car slid on downhill, past the Miners Arms. It had already passed the Wellington, the Nelson, the Three Tunns and the Sun [...] and so, past a few new "villas," out into the blackened road between dark hedges and dark-green fields, towards Stack Gate.

Lady Chatterley's Lover'

'To me, it seemed, and still seems, an extremely beautiful countryside, just between the red sandstone and the oak trees of Nottingham, and the cold limestone, the ash trees, the stone fences of Derbyshire.

"Nottingham and the Mining Country"'.

Other blog posts I've made about D. H. Lawrence are linked below.

The Breach House: D. H. Lawrence in Eastwood
D. H. Lawrence in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire

D. H. Lawrence and the University of Nottingham, England

24 March 2012

Anne Tyler: Digging to America (2006)

Reviewing Anne Tyler's Digging to America in The New York Times here, Michiko Kakutani finds the coincidence of the two separate adoptions of Korean babies at the same time, arriving on a plane to Baltimore, is 'contrived in the extreme', and certainly it's glaringly evident that the baby contrivance is designed to bring the Iranian Yazdan family and the American Donaldson family together, serving as the sine qua non of the plot.

OK, fine, but what I find truly impossible to believe is that the mother Bitsy Donaldson couldn't find an image of a pacifier (British English: baby's dummy) online: this book is a few years (although only a few) old, but I keyed in 'pacifier', clicked on 'images' and found over 6,000,000 pacifiers. (The internet tempts you to do some very strange things at times.) There's a whole chapter on pacifiers in Digging to America too, culminating in masses of them being disastrously launched into space on balloons.

Tyler, of course, is noted for the absurd, so her previous novels perhaps don't render this event quite as surprising as it might have been. The pacifier launch happens at the time of a get-together between the families, and very often the novel seems a little like a long (even occasionally tediously long) string of social occasions, rather similar to  Back When We Were Grownups in this respect.

The blurb on the front flap says: '[Digging to America is] about belonging and otherness, about outsiders and insiders, pride and prejudice, young love and unexpected old love, families and the impossibility of ever getting it right, about striving for connection and goodness against all the odds...'. I agree, although I think this paints a rather darker picture than this novel gives out: here, things are very much softer than Tyler's other novels, differences exist but are often smoothed over if not positively worshipped, and life in general is not anything like as difficult as in most of her other novels.

I get the idea that Tyler wanted to fictionalize her married life with an Iranian doctor and their children, although any resemblance between the characters in this novel and any persons in real life, of course, is purely coincidental.
The links below are to Anne Tyler novels I've written posts on:

Anne Tyler: If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
Anne Tyler: The Tin Can Tree (1965)
Anne Tyler: The Clock Winder (1972)
Anne Tyler: Celestial Navigation (1974)
Anne Tyler: Earthly Possessions (1977)
Anne Tyler: Morgan's Passing (1980)
Anne Tyler: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)
Anne Tyler: The Accidental Tourist (1985)
Anne Tyler: Breathing Lessons (1988)
Anne Tyler: Ladder of Years (1995)
Anne Tyler: A Patchwork Planet (1998)
Anne Tyler: Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
Anne Tyler: The Amateur Marriage (2004)
Anne Tyler: Noah's Compass (2009)
Anne Tyler: The Beginner's Goodbye (2012)
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)

Ruth Catherine Britton, 1798-1862
by Robert Hughes

The inscription on this stone in St Nicholas’ churchyard in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, reads as follows:-
and Eldest Daughter
of Handsworth
[Who?] Died Febry 3rd 1862
Aged 62 Years

She was 63, although she seemed to have knocked off a year somewhere between the 1851and 1861 censuses.

The grave location is at GB Ordnance Survey grid ref.
SP 28537 72439.

It is particularly easy to find, directly facing you coming out of the main (West) entrance to St Nicholas’ church.

It seems unusual for a memorial of this kind to mention the father of the deceased, although a very kind thought.

What it seems to indicate is that this was commissioned by Alfred Waddams, who after all was the man on the spot, (he was buried in this same graveyard on 9 Jun 1865, although his exact grave location is not yet established). The mention of John Waddams, the father of Ruth Catherine and Alfred is compelling evidence; while if John James Britton, the only known child of Ruth Catherine had commissioned this, surely he would have said something like "Beloved mother of John James Britton"!

21 March 2012

Irza Thomas born in Rue St Denis, Paris
by Robert Hughes

The detailed birth records from Paris seem very recently to have appeared on the internet.

Irza Thomas, the mother of Lionel Britton, was born at 168 Rue St Denis, in what was then the 1st Arrondissement of Paris, on 21 May 1866.

The above picture is a close-up of part of the entry. It shows that the registrar was perhaps slightly pickled at the time, as he makes her 'fils' of her parents while conceding that she is of 'sexe feminin'. The recorded middle name Marie is not otherwise known, and the records available elsewhere state consistently that she was Irza Vivian Geraldine. Perhaps he mixed up her middle name with that of her mother, Antoinette, who is more familiar to us as Marie Antoinette.

20 March 2012

Anne Tyler: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982)

Pearl Tull is an old woman who's dying, although she doesn't do so until the end of the ninth section of this ten-section novel, because the narrative of Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant moves through a long flashback.

One day, itinerant salesman Beck tells his wife Pearl that he's leaving her and their three children – Cody (14), Ezra (11) and Jenny (9) – and tells her that he won't be coming back. Pearl doesn't understand, and she never will, but mother and children remain in Baltimore just carrying on. As Beck only sends her $50 a month, she adds to this by working as a cashier, although she never says anything to anyone – not even the kids – about her husband's desertion.

The second section, 'Teaching the Cat to Yawn', is seen through the point of view of Cody, who is the family prankster, the teenager with a bad reputation, a petty thief, he takes fabricated photos to make his brother look bad, he's a smoker, and he cheats at monopoly to boot. He also sees himself as an outsider to Baltimore, a person who's not accepted.

The third section belongs to Jenny. It begins when Cody is away at college, and Ezra, just before going off to fight in Korea, asks her, in his absence, to visit two town outsiders: Mrs Scarlatti, whose restaurant he's been working in, who lives on her own, and whose son has been killed in action; and Josiah Payson, the scarecrow people make fun of because they think he's a dummy, although he may well be brighter than Jenny and Ezra.

So Jenny and her mother Pearl have the house to themselves for a short time, but they communicate by not communicating: 'Their talk was small talk, little dibs and dabs of things, safely skating over whatever might lie beneath.' But Ezra soon returns, discharged because of his sleepwalking. (Incidentally, it's amazing how many of Tyler's characters figuratively sleepwalk through life.)

Medical student Jenny grows into a beauty and ill-advisedly marries student prodigy and socially inept control freak Harley Baines, Cody becomes an efficiency expert, and Ezra moves into a partnership with Mrs Scarlatti in the restaurant trade, going on to inherit the business.

The fifth section resumes Cody's story and lingers on his annoyance with the 'sissy pale goody-goody Ezra', who captivates the girls without trying, and without even noticing, as he'd prefer to play his recorder: the good-brother bad-brother scenario unfolds through adulthood, culminating here in Cody stealing Ezra's girl Ruth. (And I may be wrong, but surely this is the first time in the ten Tyler books I've read that a person uses such a strong word as 'shit'; later in the novel, she uses 'bastard' and 'crap': gosh!). This section highlights the dysfunctions of the family once again, and dinners (where people are socially captive – a favorite trick of Tyler's) frequently tend to accentuate faultlines.

The 'Beaches on the Moon' section continues the depiction of the damaged family, with Cody becoming increasingly suspicious of (even paranoid about) Ezra in relation to Ruth and his son Luke, and his consequent movement away from Pearl.

Cody has an accident at work and becomes nastier still, even to the point of claiming that Luke is Ruth and Ezra's child. What can Luke do? Well, the very thing that Tyler's characters are noted for – he takes flight. But as he's only 14 years old, Cody soon brings him back. (For Tyler, road trips (along with the dinners mentioned before) are excellent ways to bring long-nurtured ill feelings to the fore, but here Luke's hitchhike is an opportunity for the narrator to introduce light relief through eccentric characters.)

In the final section, Beck returns on the day of his wife Pearl's funeral and (at dinner!) sees what he thinks is 'one of those great big, jolly, noisy, rambling [...] families', but big bad Cody (who of course has his good points too) tells him it's not like that, that hardly any of the kids are related to him, that Cody hasn't seen these people in years, that the family is 'in particles, torn apart, torn all over the place', and that his mother was an excessively violent witch. Yes, Anne Tyler is playing happy families again.

This is one of the best of her novels I've read so far.
The links below are to Anne Tyler novels I've written posts on:

Anne Tyler: If Morning Ever Comes (1964)
Anne Tyler: The Tin Can Tree (1965)
Anne Tyler: The Clock Winder (1972)
Anne Tyler: Celestial Navigation (1974)
Anne Tyler: Earthly Possessions (1977)
Anne Tyler: Morgan's Passing (1980)
Anne Tyler: The Accidental Tourist (1985)
Anne Tyler: Breathing Lessons (1988)
Anne Tyler: Ladder of Years (1995)
Anne Tyler: A Patchwork Planet (1998)
Anne Tyler: Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
Anne Tyler: The Amateur Marriage (2004)
Anne Tyler: Digging to America (2006)
Anne Tyler: Noah's Compass (2009)
Anne Tyler: The Beginner's Goodbye (2012)
Anne Tyler: A Spool of Blue Thread (2015)