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on 18 April 2017
intriguing insights into the novels.
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on 27 May 1999
There are a lot of us about. And the literary establishment doesn't approve of us at all. I mean the sort of people who ask the achetypal questions of a work of literature you're not supposed to ask - Where did Heathcliff go for 3 years? How many children has Lady Macbeth? What did Billy Joe throw off the Talahassie Bridge? Professor Sutherland is, remarkably, one of us, and his book attempts to answer some of these niggling questions. The text is lively and readable, interesting even if you've never read the original book. This is high praise for a book of literary criticism, which are becoming more and more impenetrable to the uninitiated with every year (have you tried reading Tony Tanner on Wuthering Heights for example?) John Sutherland is extremely good value for money.
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on 18 September 2011
John Sutherland is Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus of Modern English Literature at University College London ("emeritus" being Latin for "scrapheap" and "Northcliffe" journalistic shorthand for "you cannot be serious") according to his profile on The Guardian's website. (Modern includes the 19th century as it's modern relative to the Mediaeval period in this case.)

This little book of essays has set on my bookshelves unread for about 18 months because I was worried it would be dull and, as I hadn't read all of the books Sutherland discusses in his essays, I was worried there would be spoilers for the books I hadn't read. Well, I haven't made great progress in reading through all the Victorian fiction ever written but I decided to start reading it anyway and got drawn in.

Each essay is very short, sometimes only a few pages long, and focuses on a particular puzzle in a work of 19th century fiction. Sometimes the puzzles are ones that I think most readers of the book would be aware of, such as the eponymous puzzle surrounding whether Heathcliff was responsible for the death of Hindley Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights. Others, such as Jane Austen mentioning apple blossom in a scene in Emma set in the month of June or Wilkie Collins apparently losing a fortnight in The Woman in White, I think might escape many readers' notice when reading the original work. I hope so anyway, because I read Emma only last month and definitely didn't notice the apple blossom point.

In each case, Sutherland explains what the problems are and digs further into the text, the general social background of the 19th century and what we know of each author to tease out some possible solutions or explanations for each puzzle. In particular, he helps to bring out the very subtle references within the texts to things like pregnancy, menstruation or toilets which the writers couldn't mention outright but to which there are clues which readers of the time would have been able to pick up on.

His aim is certainly not to belittle or pull apart any of the works mentioned; he clearly has a deep love of and respect for Victorian literature. Neither is he being picky or pedantic for the sake of it; I don't think my enjoyment of any of the works he mentions will have been spoilt by reading these essays. Instead, I've found I now want to reread all the books he mentions that I've already read to understand for myself the points he's making as well as read all the books he mentions that I haven't read (the complete works of Anthony Trollope for example). Very entertaining.
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on 18 April 2000
It could be true that John Sutherland has read all the books under review in this short book. But it's clear to me that he has not read Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray," or if he has, that he has remembered very little of it.
Lord Henry Wotton is, according to Sutherland, an "evil angel," whatever that is. Lord Henry was many things, but he was neither of these. Sutherland says Dorian Gray was a brilliant conversationalist, but there is no evidence in the text to support this claim. It was Lord Henry, not Dorian, who kept all dinner goers spellbound with his ironic wit. "Dorian comes across a work of literature which will change his life," claims Sutherland. Not so. The book was a gift to him from Lord Henry. Sutherland says Dorian's would-be assassin was Tom Vane. Really? There is no character named Tom in the novel. Of course he means James Vane, the distraught, avenging brother of Sibyl Vane who has died from Dorian's callous neglect of her broken heart.
Close readings of other chapters reveal similar detailed textual errors. However, my purpose in writing now is not to belittle Sutherland's enthusiasm and intellect. In fact I love the concept of what he has undertaken here and in series via Oxford. I merely wish to urge him to be more judicious and careful in his future critical rambles through our great literature.
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on 17 November 2013
A refreshingly different angle on the Greats. No "glossing over" any faultlines.
"It is literary criticism - but not as you know it, Jim!
VERY literal and good fun.
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on 5 April 2015
Love the works of this author
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on 13 February 2013
Perfect item, thououghly matching description. No delays in arriving date. Absolutely nothing to complain about. Satisfied both of article and of service.
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