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The Arms of the Infinite

Elizabeth Smart and George Barker


Publication Year: 2010

The Arms of the Infinite takes the reader inside the minds of author Christopher Barker’s parents, writer Elizabeth Smart (By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept) and poet George Barker. From their first fateful meeting and subsequent elopement, Barker candidly reveals their obsessive, passionate, and volatile love affair.

He writes evocatively of his unconventional upbringing with his siblings in a shack in Ireland and, later, a rambling, falling-down house in Essex. Interesting and charismatic figures from the literary and art worlds are regular visitors, and the book is full of fascinating cameos and anecdotes.

North American rights only.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix

Thank you to Elspeth Barker and Sebastian Barker for their kind permission to make use of passages from the letters and work of George Barker and Elizabeth Smart. Thank you to Georgina Barker for her untiring help, advice and for her many family photographs....

Index of Persons Appearing

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pp. xi-xv

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pp. 1-2

I opened the front door, saw her hand and my life changed forever. I went into the hall and in the room ahead caught a glimpse of an arm spilled out across the carpet from behind a chair. A sudden wave of panic left me dizzy with dread and I staggered into the room. There, all my worst fears lay on the floor before me. My mother was dead. A few hours earlier, I had left her alone and stepped...

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pp. 3-36

Tilty Mill House was a solid, red-brick Victorian building with eight rooms and a Rayburn solid-fuel stove at its heart. There was no electricity. We were used to this from living in Ireland. By using candles, oil lamps and highly efficient “Tillies” (which burned methylated spirits vaporized through a cotton mantle) we had...

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pp. 37-137

Elizabeth (Betty) Smart was the second of three daughters and one son born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family in Ottawa, Canada, in 1913. Mum adored her father, Russel Sutherland Smart, a benevolent and bespectacled little man with burnished cheeks and a pouter-pigeon chest. Despite his bookish and fusty...

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pp. 138-157

After three chaotic but wonderful years at Tilty, we moved to London, although the Mill House was still maintained by Mum and we were to move back there later. Mum had met the painter Augustus John at Scarlet-sub-Edge during our wartime stay in Gloucestershire, and now Mum was able to persuade his son, Caspar, to sublet a basement flat he rented in Flood Street, off the Chelsea embankment. Here Mum...

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pp. 158-213

We left London and returned to Tilty and, for a short while at least, to our old school, Thaxted Primary School. In an attempt to improve our education, though, Mum decided to send all four of us to boarding school. When she told us I was heartbroken. The Victor Ludorum would now never be mine. I lost all appetite for playground races and tag, and watched the girls instead. It was my last day at Thaxted. Jackie...

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pp. 214-227

Coming back from America I was beginning to feel perhaps I had misjudged George. I reread his letter to me at Princeton over and over again and could see less and less to worry about, although I was still smoldering with resentment from the discoveries of my lineage. George’s new girlfriend,...


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pp. 229-231


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pp. 233-234

Index of Names

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pp. 235-238

E-ISBN-13: 9781554583072
E-ISBN-10: 1554583071
Print-ISBN-13: 9781554582709
Print-ISBN-10: 1554582709

Page Count: 258
Publication Year: 2010