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This report is taken from PN Review 158, Volume 30 Number 6, July - August 2004.

Over the Wall Neil Powell

I have been reading my next-door neighbour's novels. Hers is a long, handsome, cream-stuccoed house: it was once owned by the Reverend John Clement Ives, who in the late eighteenth century added a magnificent salon, now called The Music House, which has the chronologically improbable distinction of being among the earliest metric buildings in England. When François René de Chateaubriand was teaching French in nearby Beccles, he was invited to stay at Bridge House, whereupon he famously fell in love with the vicar's daughter, Charlotte Ives; and when the good Mrs Ives, who clearly fancied a French aristocrat - even a penniless one - as a son-in-law, attempted to put the idea of his marrying Charlotte into his head, he even more famously replied: `Stop! I am a married man.' It's a line too reminiscent of a silent film subtitle, or a Monty Python sketch, for us to take quite at face value, but it must have been startling at the time. Now, in early summer, the most startling thing about Bridge House, as I view it over my garden wall (which is, of course, from the other side, my neighbour's garden wall), is an elegant and for some reason deeply melancholic wisteria. The gardening writer Anna Pavord says that a wisteria is like a grand duchess, needing `nothing but support and a hundred years behind it'; and this one, though I suspect not quite as venerable as that, certainly has an irreproachably aristocratic air about it.


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