Sunday Round-Up

e2191505c671674fab7f119e0ae8ab3fWell, I have to say that I am feeling rather better about myself this weekend than last having had a successful first week on my Dickens course and not too bad a week in the book world otherwise either.


The Dickens course got off to a flying start with a week looking at representations of the city in literature of the period up to the early nineteenth century.  I got myself worked up into a lather over the constant depiction of the city as a place of sin, mainly because I wanted to know who decided what constituted a sin and I’m afraid I rather lowered the tone of the discussion board by quoting the opening lines of Michael Hurd’s canata for children Jonah Man Jazz.  Do you know it?  The opening goes:

Nineveh city was a city of sin,

The jazzing and the jiving made a terrible din,

Beat groups playing rock and roll,

And the Lord when he heard it said, “Bless my soul”.

I wanted to know whether or not it would have been a different matter if they had been singing Bach cantatas.  It seems to me that in a lot of the cases that were coming up for discussion the question wasn’t one of sin but of the maintenance of the current power balance: People A saying to People B, “Your behaviour threatens our hold on power, therefore your behaviour is sinful. Yippee!  That means we can legitimately wipe you out”.

We haven’t got far enough for me to argue the specific case yet, but I don’t think Dickens thought of the city as sinful per se.  Rather it was the institutions that were embedded in it that concerned him and that is certainly an issue to do with power.


I haven’t got through quite as much reading as I’d hoped, but at least it is underway.  I’m halfway through Oliver Twist and find myself thinking yet again about the disservice that adaptations can do to a book.  OK, I love the musical, Oliver,  but really it doesn’t do much more than pay lip service to the original.  I think there was a rather more recent television dramatisation.  I must try and get hold of a copy of that.  The prescribed editions of Bleak House, Little Dorrit and Our Mutual Friend arrived on Friday.  They weigh in at around 800 pages apiece!  I am going to have to put some serious reading time to one side.  The required edition of Oliver Twist is out of print. Naughty!!!

Otherwise, I have finished Sarah Hall’s latest novel Wolf Border,  which I thought was a very good read but didn’t actually deserve quite the level of praise I’ve heard for it.  Certainly, I don’t understand why there were calls for it to be on the Booker list.  Nevertheless, I shall go back and read her earlier work and I’ve added her to my list of authors to explore when I want something that isn’t going to be particularly taxing.

Having taken that back to the library my late evening reading has been the most recent Rennie Airth crime novel, The Reckoning.  I wonder if you’ve come across Airth.  He publishes only infrequently, but I think this series, centred around John Madden, once of the Metropolitan Police and now a farmer who still gets caught up in police affairs, is excellent and that Airth certainly deserves to be better known.   The earlier novels are set in the interwar period and during WWII, but this one takes us just beyond, into 1947. Compared with most police procedurals they are quite books, but full of psychological insight.  If you like Laura Wilson’s Stratton series then you will enjoy these.

Prologues and Epilogues

Completely coincidentally, given what I posted about on Wednesday,  I was at a seminar session this week led by Tiffany Stern concerning the beginnings and endings of Early Modern plays.  She was asking which items should be included when she prepares a new edition of a play.  Prologues and epilogues yes, but what about things like trumpet calls?  And which dances are part of the end of the play and which are a completely separate entity?  It is a difficult question.  I can explain what is happening linguistically, but knowing that it’s a question of what is a separate particle and what is part of a shared wave doesn’t help the desperate editor.  She did, however, offer another example of an epilogue appearing at the beginning of a play, although in this instance it never pretends to be anything other than the epilogue.  In the printed edition of John Mason’s play The Turke, the epilogue is on the left hand side of the page as the frontispiece is on the right.  Just to make sure that the reader knows that this isn’t a case of the printer not knowing what an epilogue is the hard pressed workman has included the note,

This epilogue should have been printed at the end of the book but there was no spare place for it.

Apparently, Mason got it to the publisher so late that all the other pages had already been set and the only possible place to put it was on what is normally a blank page right at the very front.

These writers!  You can’t rely on them for anything!


19 thoughts on “Sunday Round-Up

  1. Gasp! You didn’t like The Wolf Border! I thought it was fab, like a George Eliot novel with more of an interest in unconventional relationships, but to each her own 🙂

    You’ll enjoy the 800-page Dickens doorstops, I promise. There’s no better reading to guide you into winter. I’m going to read David Copperfield over Christmas this year; somehow, mysteriously, it’s never been on any of my reading lists, and I want a fat, atmospheric Dickens for winter.

    1. No, Elle, I did very much enjoy it, I just didn’t think it was as outstanding as others had. I’m certainly going to read more of her work. You’ll love Copperfield, I’m sure. My own Christmas plans are centred around Lord Peter Wimsey in preparation for next term’s course on Dorothy L Sayers. Now that, for me, is a Christmas to look forward to!

      1. Oh, phew! 🙂 Looking forward to Copperfield very much, yes. And how fabulous to spend a whole Christmas with Lord Wimsey. Sounds ideal.

  2. Dickens is one of those authors whose work lends itself nicely to TV serialisation thanks to his novels’ original episodic publication. I remember enjoying the BBC adaptation of Bleak House in which Gillian Anderson played Lady Dedlock brilliantly. It was originally broadcast in half-hour episodes, I seem to remember.

    1. Yes, I have a copy of the DVD tucked away somewhere, Susan and I must dig it out. There was a much earlier one as well, that I have fond memories of but I suspect it would seem extremely slow now.

  3. Oh I enjoyed The Wolf Border, loved the single minded main character, and it translated well to radio as well, which is where I listened to it. I would describe it as “sturdy.” Whereas in my Man Booker, I am definitely looking for a flight of fancy!

    1. Yes, Denise, I think ‘sturdy’ works very well. I think you would probably enjoy the book too; I suspect the radio adaptation cut some of it out?

  4. I’m glad the Dickens course is going well. That must have been a fascinating discussion! I have never actually read Oliver Twist and I think it’s probably going to be the next Dickens novel I read.

    1. It’s a very early novel, Helen, and I think it shows. Dickens imposes himself much more often and more obviously than he does in the later works. It is still definitely worth a read though.

  5. I liked Wolf Border a lot, but I wouldn’t necessarily consider it a Booker contender. However, having read the Booker longlist this year, I can say that it’s a better book than several that did make the longlist, which seemed awfully mediocre to me.

  6. The Dickens course sounds fascinating. I’ve recently finished reading The Old Curiosity Shop which reminded me in parts of Hard Times with its grim descriptions of the city and the terrible conditions people worked in, not so much a sinful place as evil,a place of inequality,degradation and pain.

  7. Those new arrivals will certainly keep you quiet for a while. Interesting question re Dickens and the city. My understanding is that the effect of urbanisation he’s most concerned about isn’t its propensity to lead to sinful behaviour but how it robs people of their humanity. that they end up living in rank, miserable conditions to which the wealthy turn a blind eye. Have you read The City and The Country by Raymond Williams? which looks at Dickens’ depictions of both. It might give you some further food for thought.

  8. A fascinating week of reading! and your course sounds marvelous. I’ll have to give more thought to prologues and epilogues. How can your required copy of Oliver Twist be out of print???

    1. I suspect that what has happened here, Kat, is that the course has been running for several years and no one has bothered to check that editions which were available when it started are still on the shelves. The particular copy required comes from a press that is in the middle of issuing a new edition of each of the works and so copies of the old editions are not being replaced as they sell out.

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