Monday, February 26, 2007


Crocuses in the churchyard of St. Nicholas Church.

I recently found an article in Child Development that offers some interesting insight into homesickness. The article, co-written by Christopher Thurber and Marian Sigman, is based on studies of boys at summer camp, and looks at the underlying factors which predispose a child to homesickness. Thurber and Sigman focus on "negative interpersonal attitudes and low perceived control" as important contributors to a feeling of homesickness. Dr. Thurber has an interesting website, with tips on prevention of homesickness (in the context of summer camp). Unfortunately, none of this has done much good for Peter, who continues to be miserable.

I have to admit that I made myself a little homesick last night, lying in bed listening to music on my iPod. For some reason, every song I chose featured a banjo, the sound of which conjures up America. One of the songs I listened to, Son Volt's "Tear-Stained Eye," was recorded in Northfield, at a studio owned by the father of Will's friend Ellen. It's remarkable how a sound, like the sound of a banjo, can transport you to another time and place.

The first novel I read after I arrived in England was Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca. Early in the novel, the unnamed narrator (the novel’s first absence, her name) begins to tell the story from her home-in-exile somewhere in the Mediterranean. She tells of how her reading brings her back with painful vividness to the English countryside. Her memory is sensual, full of the scent and feel of an English spring:

Sometimes old copies of the Field come my way, and I am transported from this indifferent island to the realities of an English spring. I read of chalk streams, of the mayfly, of sorrel growing in green meadows, of rooks circling above the woods as they used to do at Manderley. The smell of wet earth comes to me from those thumbed and tattered pages, the sour tang of moorland peat, the feel of soggy moss spattered white in places by a heron’s droppings.

Kenilworth Castle from Inchford Brook.

An article on wood pigeons, such a prominent feature of English country life, makes her falter as she reads aloud, so strongly does it evoke her absent home. Du Maurier’s novel is about the presence of absent things, and the influence of those absences on the mind. One of the most important characters—the title character, Rebecca—is absent throughout the novel, dead even before the action begins. The absent Rebecca dominates the novel, as does the magnetic presence of Manderley, the place on the Cornish coast where most of the novel is set. The place is itself a central character, such a compelling presence that it perhaps comes as a surprise when we learn that much of the novel was written while the author was living in Alexandria. Manderley is the creation of absence and of homesickness.

The Elizabethan Knot Garden at Kenilworth Castle.

This afternoon, I took my iPod and went for a walk around the castle to enjoy the early English spring. I don't usually listen to music while I walk, since I prefer the sounds of the birds and the wind, but this time I listened through William Byrd's late sixteenth-century setting of the Great Service. This put me back into an English mood.

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