Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Enhanced Interrogation


A fellow whose book picks I respect (hey, he's a book store) was going on about a late Victorian novelist named Maxwell Gray (and also here.) In particular, he mentions Gray's tome: "The Silence of Dean Maitland." Certainly the lead book in "The World's Greatest Books," which is a blockbuster to boot, should merit our attention. So, off to the Alibris book site I go and, low and behold, there are a bunch available. I order this vaunted gem and wait anxiously for its arrival. One day it comes. As with many Alibris books it is wrapped in brown paper (let's keep it anonymous, sort of like Playboy.) I hurry home after a hard day fighting back germs and curl up in my chair and unwrap this Great Book (sorry, Mortimer, your list is incomplete.)

Firstly, it is a dusty, dusky tome in a peculiar shade of quaint, olive green. While intact, it has clearly resided on the shelves of someone's study since coming home from the bookseller probably a hundred years ago. It was published by the F.M. Lupton Publishing Company in New York. "Of all the publishers of cheap books during the 1880s there were few to rival the cheapness of F.M. Lupton's productions." You betcha. There is no information at all after the front page. Opposite this page written near the spine is the observation "e good but a lot ex words." I assume this means "Pretty good, but a lot of extra words." I should have heeded  this sage observation.

Where ever one word would suffice, Maxwell Gray uses three. For instance, the opening sentence:
"The gray afternoon was wearing on to its chill close; the dark cope of immovable dun cloud overhead seemed to contract and grow closer to the silent world beneath it, and the steep, chalky hill, leading from the ancient village, with its hoary castle and church, up over the bleak, barren down was a weary thing to climb. "
 Whew! How about
 "The afternoon was wearing on to its close; the cope of immovable cloud overhead seemed to grow closer to the world beneath it, and the steep hill leading from the village, with its castle and church, up over the down was a weary thing to climb." 
I slogged on through this till I could go no more and was pulled down, down into the moist and evil quicksand that glistened all about me with the faint dewdrops of extra words.

But, I tried. And, then it struck me, what a clever thing this book was. If ever I was in possession of Vital Secrets, the plans for the battle, whatever, all they would have to do for me to confess all would be to strap me down and read me Chapter IV of "The Silence of Dean Maitland."


Of course the hooker is that Maxwell Gray is actually Miss Mary Gleed Tuttiett. It does have the same ring as George Elliot.


And, of course, I could not resist the money quote from page 41:
"Who shall say how far a man's will consents to his acts? added Everard,  musingly."


Ray Girvan said...

I'm very sorry. Perhaps you should have browsed the Internet Archive first...

She is quite verbose, and it's also in the convention of three-volume Victorian novels (where the first third is extensive scene-setting preamble). I guess it helps a lot that for me there's familiar scenery to watch.

If it's any consolation, I'm working my way through the whole oeuvre.

Felix said...

I think, Dr C, that you hae to remember this: th book was written in days when the reader would not have seen the places described, and there was to cinema to convey scenery without words.

Personally, I love that first para you described ... but I do have to smile at the recycling in the second :-)

Dr. C said...

Absolutely no need to apologize. It is more a deficit in my own scholarship. More than offset by Cordwainer Smith.

Anonymous said...

Doctor C,

I just have a quick question for you but couldn't find an email so had to resort to this. I am a progressive blogger and the owner of the mahablog. Please email me back at barbaraobrien@maacenter.org when you get a chance. Thanks.


Ray Girvan said...

the reader would not have seen the places described, and there was no cinema to convey scenery without words.

In that light it's worth looking at the description at the foot of this post, where I've set up Google Maps to show the largely unchanged view. It's remarkably precise.