The Pulse Glass
A personal and global history in objects, Gillian Tindall traces the memories and meanings that accrue to the artefacts of human lives through time.
Before ordinary doctors had access to accurate pocket watches, they timed a patient’s pulse with a 30-second sandglass. A ‘pulse glass’ was a functional piece of medical equipment, designed to measure a life, never intended to survive for centuries. But Gillian Tindall inherited her great-great-grandfather’s pulse glass, which holds the heartbeats of many by-gone generations and offers a portal to nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish life, to her grandmother’s marriage and the assorted fates of the next generation.
Most of the objects that surround us, no matter how important in their time, will eventually be lost and forgotten. But a select few, for reasons of sentiment and chance, conservation and simple inaction, escape destruction and gain new meanings. A toy train, a stack of letters from long ago, a battered ivory figure. Each tells a different story: the destiny of local railways, travel across the world and village anecdotes, the value of what we inherit and the necessity of forgetting.
The Pulse Glass is an exploration of changing and expanding messages in objects that survive us. Tindall brings her signature eye for domestic history to bear on the physical remnants of lives lost, recent and ancient, unearthing stories and considering the nature of permanence. This is an elegant and clear-eyed reflection on memory from one of our best history writers.
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Melissa Pimentel manages the translation rights for The Pulse Glass
Elegaic... Her books are carefully wrought acts of restoration... In The Pulse Glass, Tindall, now aged 81, reflects on a lifetime’s interest in historical recovery.
Tindall specialises in the overlooked, the underappreciated. She is very much a local historian, if you take that to mean that everything local can become universal; that the stories of ordinary people are as worth telling as the grand, the famous, the notorious... Tantalising... Tindall is a fine historian and writes with a wryness of everyday human foibles.