The Silver Eel

"A gape-jawed serpentine shape of pale metal crested with soot hung high for a sign."

Thursday, August 17, 2006


John Sutherland was on Front Row this evening punting his new book How to Read a Novel: A User's Guide and saying some not wildly original but still cogent and welcome things, among them, that reading well is nearly as difficult as writing well - which is very, very difficult, as anyone who has ever tried to write a novel will know. It's like, says Sutherland, picking up the violin and expecting to be able to play it at concert level on the first go. Quite. Ties in nicely with Alvarez and Thoreau. It'll be good to compare it to Harold Bloom's How to Read and Why, which I enjoyed and found useful a few years back. Worth a listen.


The Collins Complete Works of Shakespeare has an introductory essay by Anthony Burgess on Shakespearian (Bryson says -ian, Amis -ean. Infinite are the arguments of mages) theatre. It includes a few paragraphs on pronunciation in Shakespeare's time, and how it has changed, thus making understanding of some of the rhymes and puns difficult for modern readers. AB makes reference to this at least a couple of times in his autobiographies, once by recounting how a demonstration he gave of how Shakespeare originally sounded shocked his academic listeners. There are a couple of mp3 examples given on this page - most interesting.


With Blackadder in mind, I listened to the BBC's - or rather Simon Armitage's - radio dramatisation of The Odyssey this week. It was good to put all those names and episodes which one constantly stumbles across into narrative context (I haven't read the book). Rich use of Yorkshire accents among the sailors, and Yorkshire vocabulary too - "Stop your mithering!" I still have on tape from 20 years ago the radio version of The Golden Ass, which uses Geordie accents in the same way. Odysseus is played by Tim McInnery. He does very good work, and you get used to him, but for the first half-hour or so it's impossible not to visualise Captain Darling, or Lord Percy.


At 18 August 2006 at 15:01 , Blogger Joe said...

Hmm, I did listen to this a couple of years back and didn't enjoy it at all. I think McInnery is quite a good actor -having watched him play some quite chilling characters (think A Very British Coup for example) he can clearly do more than Captain Darling (although that is a work of genius). But the accents and language struck me as utterly wrong and McInnery was simply not how I see crafty Odysseus, but then to be fair years of reading the Iliad and Odyssey (since I was about 7 or 8) do mean I probably have a more rigid mental image of the old fox and how he should be played. Not as effective as say Seamus Heaney's modern interpretation of Beowulf I thought.

Good point on the pronunciation of Big Bill Shakey though; it is one of the things which amuses me when certain people constantly complain about the debasement of the English language today. Since the language is and always has been a dynamic and living creature constantly evolving and changing it does seem quite ridiculous to complain about it. A static language is a dead language, like Latin. You say tomato I say extra mushroom topping please.

At 3 September 2006 at 19:04 , Blogger Yvonne said...

We went to see a production of Midsummer Night's Dream in which Bottom had an arse for a head (rather vulgar perhaps but quite possibly what Shakespeare intended people to read into it, since the character was called Bottom).

One of the things I enjoy about English as a language is the rich veins of Anglo-Saxon, with the crusty loam of Norman French overlaying it, and a few nuggets of Latin and Greek lying about in the topsoil.


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