Thursday, September 20, 2007

All human evil comes from a single cause

Richard Henry Dana recounts how he read a Walter Scott novel, a surprise discovery from the bottom of a sea-chest during a deadly dull calm, to the rest of his fellow sailors. Most of the rest – some laughed at the “scholars”.

Episodes from serials – Dickens, Thackeray, that sort of thing – were read aloud to the whole family, including the servants and maiden aunts, in the evening around the fireplace. Several of my friends read aloud to their partners, or vice versa, on a regular basis. Another friend has said that one of his favorite memories is hearing and reading Trollope on a beach in Malaysia.

I suspect more reading is like that of Dr. Grantly in Barchester Towers, snatching bits, when he is alone, of the Rabelais hidden in his desk. Reading is fundamentally solitary, for most of us; certainly for me. Book groups, public readings, that sort of whatnot, all good in their way, but in the end we’re alone with our thoughts. One practical purpose of literature is to help us fight back against Pascal’s aphorism, to be alone in a room with ourselves and not cause too much trouble.

This website is my reading journal. Since most of what I read is, or has been recently, or will be 19th century literature, I’ve affixed that label to the top. “Know your audience” is standard advice for writers. What that means when the audience is largely imaginary, I don’t know. But rather than just let my thoughts rattle around in my head, I’ll scatter some of them here. Just the best ones, I promise.


  1. You need some comments! I bet he group on the beach Trollope reader was Rick - am I right?

  2. I was trying to be discreet. Thanks a lot, "Jeanne", if that is your real name.

  3. I believe myself to have been misrepresented by the comment about reading around a fire on the beach in Thailand. It was inside a hut (on the beach) in Malaysia. The light was provided by an oil lantern and there was only one other person...I do agree with your observations about the relatively solitary nature of the activity, not conducive at all to the beach and a group setting.