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Thread: John Sutherland's puzzles of Victorian literature

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    John Sutherland's puzzles of Victorian literature

    Has anyone read those John Sutherland books on Victorian literature puzzles, 'Is Heathcliff a Murderer,' and the others? Since they seemed to have gone out of print, I bought three second hand. I have been wary of reading them before, because I did not want to be spoiled on the books I had not read yet. However, now I have read 75 books dating from between the Glorious Revolution and the First World War, I can read about half the essays. They are very entertaining. I think I liked the ones the most where there is a mystery, but it is not because the author made a mistake, but because the narrator did not know.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    No, I never heard of the books until now. They sound like fun. You could ask the same question about Becky Sharp (was she a murderer, I mean). Does Sutherland mention her case?
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    No, I never heard of the books until now. They sound like fun. You could ask the same question about Becky Sharp (was she a murderer, I mean). Does Sutherland mention her case?
    Yes, Professor Sutherland does not think Becky killed Jos. He thinks Thackeray was teasing his readers.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    That one is not one of the best. The one I liked most so far is why Joe and Biddy did not invite Pip to their wedding in Great Expectations, something I had wondered about. They could not afford any wedding celebrations because they had spent all their money on Pip, but did not want him to feel guilty about it. His theory on Jane Eyre was entertaining too, but he writes in the introduction of a later book that an English teacher wrote a letter to him in which he demolished the theory. Shame, because it was a good theory.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    Yes, Professor Sutherland does not think Becky killed Jos. He thinks Thackeray was teasing his readers.
    I get the feeling that in Thackeray's mind Becky probably did kill Jos. I'm not sure he was teasing his readers as much as trying to be discreet--in the way, for example, that Dickens never quite names Nancy's profession in Oliver Twist. Thackeray was socially conservative in some ways, and graphic details of lowlife stories were seen as a bit off color in his day. He considered Fagin to be an offensive character, for example. But being Thackeray, he can't quite let things go. His first novel, the failed Catherine, was a lowlife novel intended as a satire on lowlife novels. As with his attitude with Becky herself, Thackeray sometimes seems attracted to things that also repulse him. And he's comparatively honest about it.

    In any case, Sutherland's speculations sound interesting. There is (or used to be) a related cottage industry of books analyzing Conan Doyle's many discrepancies in the Sherlock Holmes stories. Why in the first book does Watson say he was sent back from Afganistan after being shot in the shoulder when his war wound is located in his leg in all other stories in which it is mentioned? If his name John H. Watson (as he says), why does his wife call him James in the only short story in which she names him? For a mystery writer, Doyle was not very meticulous about that sort of detail.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Regarding Miss Sharp, or it is Mrs Crawley? I cannot remember her exact marital status by the end of the book. A reader asked Thackery many years later whether she killed Jos, and Thackery replied that he did not know. He laid some pretty heavy hints. Her solicitors were named after a notorious grave robber, a hanged murderer and a fictional husband killer from that book Catherine you were talking about. Thackery illustrated his owns books and drew a picture of Becky holding a knife outside the door of the room where Jos is telling his fears to Dobbin. So if Thackery did not really know, he was teasing a bit.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Yes, I remember the drawing of Becky with the knife, now that you mention it. Or was it a hatchet? Somehow I remember a hatchet. Anyway, if Thackeray said he didn't know, I suppose we should take him at his word. Still, I remain a bit skeptical. The insinuation of murder fits the story better and provides a kind of narrative symmetry. Jos was the object of Becky's first goldigging near the novel's start. He cast her away after making a fool of himself. Murdering him at the end would have provided a sense poetic justice-- or at least of coming clean. "Thanks for showing me what you really thought of me, honey. Here's what I really thought of you.". The animus, I think, is more powerful for being only hinted at. It seems "too Becky" not to be true. Perhaps Thackeray was just being coy in his later comments.

    What was the Sutherland's demolished hypothesis about Jane Eyre?
    Last edited by Pompey Bum; 07-24-2019 at 03:44 PM.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    There were two things:

    1) Prof. Sutherland says Rochester was responsible for Bertha's death. He could have put her into one of the relatively humane asylums nearby, but he did not want her telling people who she was married to in her lucid spells. Rochester was supposed to have saved her, but the witnesses were all former servants and their statements sound rehearsed.

    2) Prof. Sutherland reckons Rochester was definitely going to marry Blanche Ingram, but Richard Mason came back and demanded to see his sister. Rochester was still lining up Jane as his bit on the side, notwithstanding. Then Mr Mason goes away, but comes back again with a solicitor on the day of his wedding to Jane. It was a near secret wedding so how did he know? Sutherland thinks it was Mrs Fairfax, who found out Bertha's history and got in contact with her brother. Rochester works out later it was Mrs Fairfax so sends her away. In the book, Richard Mason is visiting Jane's uncle out in the Atlantic somewhere when her uncle receives a letter to say she is getting married. But what sounds more likely.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    The first part sounds plausible, although you'd need something more substantial to impugn the servants' statements. The second part seems a bit complicated. Sutherland doesn't imagine Bronte was being intentionally ambiguous about this, does he? How did the English teacher demolish the theory?
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    Registered User kev67's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pompey Bum View Post
    The first part sounds plausible, although you'd need something more substantial to impugn the servants' statements. The second part seems a bit complicated. Sutherland doesn't imagine Bronte was being intentionally ambiguous about this, does he? How did the English teacher demolish the theory?
    He did not actually say. He just wrote that the teacher made such a thorough exposition of the book that he thought his pupils were lucky in their teacher.

    I read his essay on whether Alec d'Urberville raped Tess. He reckons not really. That surprised me because in the 1892 edition, Alec d'Urberville uses a bottle of sleep potion, which would definitely make it rape. Thomas Hardy revised the book several times and in later editions it was not as clear cut. John Sutherland wrote notes to some of the Oxford World Classics series, but the Oxford World Classics verson of Tess of the d'Urbervilles is largely based on the 1912 edition. The Penguin version is based on the 1892 edition. He did point out then when Tess offed Alec, she must have crossed a room and stabbed him while he was dozing, so a bit more cold-blooded and premeditated. Still don't reckon she would have hung for it. I wonder who was Home Secretary at the time.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

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    The Gnu Normal Pompey Bum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kev67 View Post
    I read his essay on whether Alec d'Urberville raped Tess. He reckons not really. That surprised me because in the 1892 edition, Alec d'Urberville uses a bottle of sleep potion, which would definitely make it rape. Thomas Hardy revised the book several times and in later editions it was not as clear cut. John Sutherland wrote notes to some of the Oxford World Classics series, but the Oxford World Classics verson of Tess of the d'Urbervilles is largely based on the 1912 edition. The Penguin version is based on the 1892 edition. He did point out then when Tess offed Alec, she must have crossed a room and stabbed him while he was dozing, so a bit more cold-blooded and premeditated. Still don't reckon she would have hung for it. I wonder who was Home Secretary at the time.
    Well, I haven't read Tess for a while, but I took it for granted that he had raped her at the time. I think in Hardy's day a gentleman would have been expected to discreetly understand. It's similar in a way to what Thackeray was doing with Jos' possible murder, but Tess is a tragedy, so it (appropriately) lacks Thackeray's winking gallows humor.
    And this from a man in a bunny suit.

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    never heard of that. but this seems interesting. subscribed

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