The 1977 edition of The Corner That Held Them that I recently acquired contains a blurb on the dust jacket that holds little resemblance to any blurb we might see today. The author is referred to formally, and words like "verisimilitude" and "discreet irony" and "spurious devices" dance around on that inner flap in a synopsis marked by (this might seem an odd word choice) earnestness.
"Planned on a generous scale, this novel presents the chronicles of Oby, a Benedictine convent in Eastern England, during the latter part of the fourteenth century, the age of Chaucer. It was a time when to become a nun was often a business transaction rather than a spiritual vocation: Miss Townsend Warner describes with rich detail and verisimilitude, and with glances of discreet irony, the more worldly side of conventual life. An outbreak of the Black Death, the fall of the convent spire, the Bishop's visitation, a nun running away - such incidents break with dramatic violence upon their community, but are soon woven into the quiet tapestry of its life, together with everyday squabbles, ambitions, jealousies, boredoms and pleasures. Miss Townsend Warner has brought all her powers to bear upon giving us a picture of a community. The nuns, the novices, the successive Prioresses, the nuns' priest Sir Ralph - all are treated primarily as members of a community, individuals whom the intense ingrown communal habit moulds to a pattern. Unaided by sensationalism or any spurious devices, the author has carried through a work of sustained historical imagination so convincing that we might almost be reading a contemporary chronicle."
"In memory of the wife who had once dishonored and always despised him, Brian de Retteville founded a 12th-century convent in Norfolk. Two centuries later, the Benedictine community is well established there and, as befits a convent whose origin had such ironic beginnings, the inhabitants are prey to the ambitions, squabbles, jealousies, and pleasures of less spiritual environments. An outbreak of the Black Death, the collapse of the convent spire, the Bishop's visitation, and a nun's disappearance are interwoven with the everyday life of the nuns, novices, and prioresses in this marvelous imagined history of a 14th-century nunnery."
Some similarities but the 1977 piece is delightful in its own overwritten way that overshadows the blandness of the second description. It makes me think about the ways in which we discuss books sometimes, the sameness of it all. I read someone complaining about the use of the description "luminous prose" when I was on Twitter the other day. Their complaint was not with the words themselves but with whether or not people actually said that about books any more. As if that was not an approved descriptor. As if we all must share in the tired descriptive phrases of the moment, bowing to bookish or critical fashion. This is not a fully fleshed out train of thought. Just something that occurred to me as I looked inside the flap of a new-to-me book.