Thursday, June 14, 2007

The blush

Here's what Jo Walton says in the dedication to the excellent Tooth and Claw:

I grew up reading Victorian novels. People since, from Joan Aiken to John Fowles and Margaret Forster, have done fascinating things with writing new Victorian novels from modern perspectives, putting in the things the Victorian novel leaves out. That gives you something very interesting, but it isn't a Victorian novel. It has to be admitted that a number of the core axioms of the Victorian novel are just wrong. People aren't like that. Women, especially, aren't like that. This novel is the result of wondering what a world would be like if they were, if the axioms of the sentimental Victorian novel were inescapable laws of biology.

And the particular novel to which this one pays homage is Trollope's Framley Parsonage! I've got a special relationship with Trollope, I always liked him a lot in any case & read quite a few of his novels as a child but during the long dissertation-writing years of graduate school I basically ritually spent the week-long Thanksgiving break each year rereading either the Palliser novels or the Chronicles of Barset. Most soothing--the Barsetshire novels in particular seem to me to capture most strikingly the chief qualities of academic life today, obviously the nineteenth-century Church of England is a very close parallel for twenty-first-century American academia, the character types and their negotiations around power and reputation and money strike many chords of familiarity...

In any case, the only thing that pained me about this novel is that it was the last one of Walton's that I hadn't read, and now I have none left! The opening sequence is in truth a bit slow, but everything about the rest of the book is absolutely perfect. I am especially impressed with Walton's gift for chapter titles. She has chosen the slyest and most modest little phrases and they do devastating comic work in conjunction with the incidents in the relevant chapters! My favorite cunning chapter title/incident contrast, for instance, surely comes in the chapter simply titled "Office Politics."

I hope Tor does reissue this in the near future, though the Sulien novels are so good that I'd bump them up a bit if I were choosing (and put them in a really fat handsome one-volume edition with a more historical and less fantasyish cover); it might even find some classroom use, it would teach well with the Trollope, and really should also be paired with the excellent introduction on the physiology of the blush in Ruth Bernard Yeazell's Fictions of Modesty.


  1. Tor are supposed to be reprinting it next year, in a spiffy Orb edition. I've been pestering them to do it with the Czech cover but I don't know if they will.

    There are no plans at present to reprint the Sulien books or The Prize in the Game, unfortunately.

  2. That Czech cover is nice!

    It's good that Tor's reissuing this one, but seriously, those Sulien books are amazing, there must be hundreds of thousands of people who would love them, I hope there's a reprint sometime with good targeted marketing because really everyone who liked the first couple of those Mary Stewart Arthur books would ADORE these... I grew up reading Gillian Bradshaw and Rosemary Sutcliffe (and of course Susan Cooper also, and tons of other Arthur books, but those are texturally less like yours) and I read the Sulien books and Prize in the Game with a combination of deep familiarity and also SHOCK of newness, it's amazing that there's something so fresh about them--best of both worlds...