Monday 13 July 2020

Crisis Management

I'm surely not alone in suffering the odd reading quandary. I flit from book to book, feel restless, unrooted. My time is limited, my tastes restricted. I prefer longer novels and rarely enjoy short works. I favour the nineteenth century. How I ever found Anita Brookner is anyone's guess. But I do like style.

Down long years I read all of Trollope, James, Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot and the like. Some time back I started on Scott - long avoided - and adored him. Rereading is always an option, but one likes new things. They brighten and lighten.

I settled on Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South a few weeks ago. I'm back teaching (if to a rather ridiculously small group ('bubble', if you will)), so time is at a premium. North and South is an elegantly written novel, full of social, political and human interest, and it takes us into regions and corners of Victorian England other novelists ignored or, as in the case of Hard Times, obfuscated with satire and moments of cosiness. But it is just a little second-rate. It's worthy, it works like clockwork, but it's also plodding and predictable and lacking in the humour of Cranford, the only other Gaskell I've read.

Oh, but what next? I'm hooked on a miniseries about the women's movement, Mrs America, currently showing in the UK, and it may send me back to The Bostonians for the remainder of the summer. I have also in mind Scott's The Pirate, Thackeray's Pendennis, Woolf's The Years and Smollett's Humphrey Clinker. But all the while one longs for the wonderful discovery, something new and fresh, something that fills one's dreams.


  1. Humphry Clinker is a delight, up there with The Antiquary for providing sheer good company. I say this in spite of my general aversion to epistolary novels. Spending time the novel's 'family of originals' was such fun.

    Yes, I can be a terrible book-flitterer too, a habit which has in fact been made worse with the increased idleness in 'lockdown'.

    1. Many thanks for your comment. I have at last settled on some early Ford Madox Ford, The Fifth Queen trilogy, having only previously read The Good Soldier. Your mention of The Antiquary is heartening. The loveliest novel. I last read Humphrey Clinker at the very beginning of my university years, nearly three decades back. I do not think I afforded it proper appreciation.


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