Exclusive: The Pickwick Papers read by Anton Lesser (Part 15)

To mark the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens’ birth, we’re serialising The Pickwick Papers…

Thanks to our friends at Naxos Audiobooks, we’re exclusively serialising their abridged version of what is perhaps Dickens’ funniest work, The Pickwick Papers, read by Anton Lesser.

The latest episodes can be heard below. You can catch up on previous chapters here. Tune in next week for more…

Chapter 29: ‘Call Nathaniel Winkle’

Chapter 30: Mr Pickwick’s slumbers are interrupted

Naxos Audiobooks – The Complete Dickens

For Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday, Naxos Audiobooks are completing their unabridged catalogue of all 16 of his major novels, with Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist, The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood released by May next year. See their website for more information.

Naxos AudioBooks are one of the leading independent audiobook labels, specialising in the classics. You can see the full range at www.naxosaudiobooks.com and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

You can buy the The Pickwick Papers abridged audiobook – currently being serialised by The Dabbler Book Club – here.


Convergence of the Twain

In this centenary month of the sinking of the Titanic we welcome Mark Richardson, literary professor and blogger, on a poem that dips into deep and strange waters to quite astonishing effect.

Thomas Hardy first published The Convergence of the Twain in the program printed for a “Dramatic and Operatic Matineé in Aid of the ‘Titanic’ Disaster Fund,” held at the Royal Opera House on May 14, 1912 (at two o’clock, to be precise). In fact, he served as a member of the committee that organized the event. The Titanic had, of course, sunk one month earlier on April 15. Hardy later collected the poem in his 1914 volume Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries. Ever since, it has found safe harbor in all the usual anthologies, though what the poem itself harbors remains stranger, I suspect, than many of us are willing to concede—stranger both in its phrasings and in its thought. We should find this poem astonishing.

In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls — grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?” . . .

Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

Prepared a sinister mate
For her—so gaily great—
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

Alien they seemed to be;
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

I suspect that few people, in 1912, spoke of the Titanic and the iceberg as having “converged” (as who should say, “You see, well, this big steamship and this giant iceberg just sort of converged“). Hardy starts with a title that re-describes the wreck in such a way as to nudge us toward the supposition underlying the poem: this was something other than a mere accident. He sees in the meeting of ship and iceberg an appalling fitness. And not simply a “convergence,” but, as Hardy later says, a “mating” (as if by things espoused)—indeed, a “consummation.” Set aside, for the moment, the sexual connotations awakened, in that word, by the metaphor of “mating.” “Consummation” denotes (as the OED tells us) the perfection or completion of an act; a fitting or inevitable outcome. I take Hardy seriously, here.

An “accident” the wreck of the Titanic may have been, but Hardy chooses to see it, as the first stanzas of the poem suggest, as a representative accident (to borrow a useful phrase from Kenneth Burke). That is to say, the accident was not really “accidental.” Human vanity and pride brought it on; this is precisely the sort of trouble men are always getting themselves into (such is the implication); it is characteristic of us. Or else the “Immanent Will” that stirs and urges everything brought it on (more about that Schopenhaurian word shortly). Or maybe the Spinner of the Years—say, Clotho, one of the Fates —brought it on. God forbid we should regard the affair as nothing but a sorry, senseless botch. Hardy declines to adhere to any single context for “interpreting” the event (Christian, philosophical, or pagan-fatalistic). But he just as surely declines to avoid “interpreting” it—framing it up, as he does, in his three differing vocabularies. The wreck simply must have been a thing somehow ordained, by whatever agency. So intelligible an event was it that Hardy had already composed his poem some two or three weeks after the ship went down. He was as “ready” for the R.M.S. Titanic as the iceberg itself.

Of course, Continue reading

No. 2 in D Major

Mahlerman continues his fortnightly guide to serious music by looking at three great second symphonies…

In the summer of 1802 Ludwig van Beethoven, as was his pleasure, left Vienna for the peace of the countryside, settling in the small hamlet of Heiligenstadt a few miles away. Just 32 years old, with a growing deafness unexplained, he fell into a slough of despondency, producing the now famous Testament reflecting his bleak mood, and going on to set down what amounted to a last will, favouring his two brothers.

What amazes us most about this period in his life is not the self-pity and lamentation that this great genius expresses in the document, but the complete contrast it reveals with the music he was composing at the same time. The Symphony No. 2 in D Major, perhaps the least played of the nine, and certainly the least appreciated, is one of Beethoven’s most beautiful and uplifting creations and, though hardly revolutionary, it does contain some of the footprints that found greater expression in the E flat ‘Eroica’ that followed a couple of years later, closing the door on the 18th Century for ever.

Hector Berlioz, a great writer on, as well as of, music, commented that ‘this symphony is smiling throughout’, going on to add that in the short Scherzo third movement, ‘The composer still believes in immortal glory, in love, in devotion. What abandon in his gaiety! What wit! What sallies!’ Florid language from this French Romantic, but perhaps it will persuade you to lend an ear to the other three movements of this neglected masterpiece.

The shadow of Beethoven fell across the life of Johannes Brahms in such a profound way that he devoted almost twenty years of struggle and anguish creating, and finally delivering his first symphony in 1876 when he was already in his mid-forties, thereafter having to endure the inevitable tag that it received as ‘Beethoven’s Tenth’. Stormy and popular masterpiece that it is, it remains the least successful of the quartet of symphonies that Brahms composed, and he followed it within a year with the beautiful Symphony No. 2 in D Major.

Criticism of the Brahms symphonies usually centers on their lack of strong contrast, and it is true textually and in terms of their modest tempi and easy-going nature. The upside is that the composer’s vivid dramatic sense, and his gift for melody, are concentrated in these four works as perhaps nowhere else in his large output. Not a classicist, nor a romantic, the appeal of Brahms is that of a romantic spirit controlled by a classical intellect. A lifelong bachelor, very little is known of his emotional life – outside composition. He continued a lengthy, platonic, emotional relationship with Robert Schumann’s wife Clara, who championed much of his music. Physically striking as a young man, his good looks quickly gave way to the traditional image we have of him as a portly, bearded grump, hands clasped behind his back, pacing the countryside around Vienna lost in Continue reading

Meeting of Minds: Dabblers at the Mall Tavern

Following yesterday’s drinks at the Mall Tavern, some Dabblers may be experiencing side effects such as double vision, dizziness, nausea, lightheadedness, loss of balance, bladder urgency and abnormal sweating.

You will be pleased to hear that RetroProgressive has found a cure for these uncomfortable ailments, thanks to a February 1936 copy of the London Illustrated News  – George V Lying in State and Funeral edition, no less (click twice on the ad to enlarge).

For those finding it difficult to focus on the small print of this advertisement, it is reproduced in full here:

“Cases of illness and disease that are considered hopeless are treated with enormous success by the newly-developed scientific treatment known as Autonomic Therapy, without the use of medicine, drugs, herbs, electric massage or injections. Acknowledged by the Medical Profession to be remarkably efficacious, the Treatment is daily instrumental in curing every manner of affliction, often in cases of 20 years’ standing, cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis being the only exceptions. A large number of genuine letters of gratitude may be inspected at the Institute. Consultations and Diagnosis Free of Charge. Correct diagnosis is most important. Treatment, if found advisable, is available at fees within average means. Do not hesitate to consult your doctor as to the efficacy of Autonomic Therapy. ”

I’m sure this therapy still works today…  it’s simply a case of mind over matter. You are probably starting to feel better already? If not, perhaps you need another drink.

Book Review: Leningrad by Anna Reid

Elberry finds historian Anna Reid successfully managing a difficult balancing act in her new book about the seige of Leningrad, which killed four times as many people as Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined…

“When one man dies it is a tragedy, when thousands die it’s statistics”
(Stalin to Churchill at Teheran)

And the opening of Reid’s book:

Before the Russian Revolution it was the capital of the Russian Empire, and called St Petersburg after its founder, the tsar Peter the Great. With the fall of Communism twenty years ago it regained its old name, but for its older inhabitants it is Leningrad still, not so much for Lenin as in honour of the approximately three-quarters of a million civilians who starved to death during the almost nine hundred days – from September 1941 to January 1944 – during which the city was besieged by Nazi Germany. Other modern sieges – those of Madrid and Sarajevo – lasted longer, but none killed even a tenth as many people. Around thirty-five times more civilians died in Leningrad than in London’s Blitz; four times more than in the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima put together.

The purely statistical kind of history – number of people who starved to death, number killed by Germans, number killed by the NKVD – is alluringly sparse but, as history, a flattening-out of human detail. Reid strikes an adroit balance between necessary statistics and human particularity, drawing both on eyewitness accounts and official statistics. It would be easy to fall prey to any of the gross simplifications on offer – the evil Nazis versus the heroic workers, for example. The besieged were circled by ferocious simplicities of one kind or another. On the Nazi side, Hitler:

[...] failed – in common with mainstream British and American opinion of the time – to see that most Russians, despite having been terrorised and impoverished over the preceding two decades by their own leadership, would tenaciously resist foreign invasion. ‘Smash in the door!’ he famously declared, ‘and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down!’ The crass slurs – ‘the Slavs are a mess of born slaves'; ‘their bottomless stupidity'; ‘those stupid masses of the East’ – endlessly repeated in his mealtime diatribes were a measure not only of his racism, but of intellectual laziness, of complacency in the face of a vast, fast-changing and secretive country of which he and his advisers knew very little.

And in classic Socialist style, the Russian authorities responded to invasion by imprisoning and killing greater numbers of ordinary Russians:

Also deported or arrested in large numbers (71,112 up to October 1942, according to security service documents) were ‘socially alien’ and ‘criminal-felonious’ elements among the general population. In practice this meant the same sorts of people targeted during the 1936-8 purges: members of the old bourgeoisie (‘de-classed elements’), peasants (‘former kulaks’), ethnic minorities (‘nationalists’), churchgoers (‘sectarians’), the wives of children of earlier repression victims (‘relatives of enemies of the people’), and anyone with foreign connections or knowledge of a foreign language (‘spy-traitors’).

Nor were soldiers exempt from the blood-letting:

Instructive is the story of Vyacheslav Kaliteyev, captain of the Kazakhstan, the largest troopship in the flotilla. Knocked unconscious by a bomb that hit the bridge soon after departure on the first morning of the evacuation, he fell into the sea and was lucky to be picked up by a submarine, which took him to Kronshtadt. [...]The crewmen who nursed the Kazakhstan home were rewarded with Orders of the Red Banner in a special communiqué from Stavka. Kaliteyev was executed by firing squad, ‘for cowardice’ and ‘desertion under fire’.

The volunteer corps were appallingly ill-equipped, untrained, and died accordingly. Their officers, if they survived, were blamed for everything and executed. The Communist approach – a mixture of incompetence, stupidity, murderous paranoia, and a refusal to accept reality – was not well suited for the Continue reading

Aesop’s Foibles

Last week in his cupboard, Frank Key gave us a modern fable, so this week we asked him to turn his attention to Aesop, the great fabulist of antiquity. Unfortunately, we delegated the task of telephoning Frank to a Dabbler minion with a very thick Black Country accent, and a slight yet significant misunderstanding ensued.

Any account of Aesop’s foibles is necessarily hampered by the fact that we know so very little about him. Indeed, it is not certain that he ever actually existed. Assuming, for the moment, that he did exist, and made up at least some of the stories attributed to him, we could advance the idea that it is a peculiar foible to bang on and on about animals having the powers of human speech and reason. It is the sort of conceit a writer might use once or twice, for a particular artistic purpose, but to keep returning to it again and again indicates a low-level mania we could describe as a foible.

Then there is Plutarch’s story that Aesop was convicted of theft from a temple and subsequently thrown off a cliff. Charitably, we could say that petty larceny, such as stealing a bitty-bob from a place of worship, is better described as a foible than as the character flaw of the habitual criminal, as revealed by phrenology. But these are slim pickings, and until we are able to discover more about the historical Aesop, we have no basis upon which to impute further foibles to him.

Green’s Heroes of Slang 15: Tom Brown

This week Mr Slang salutes the man who gave us such terms as Tom, Dick and Harry, tub-thumper and, ahem, buttered bun

‘I do not love thee Dr Fell
The reason why I cannot tell;
But this I know and know full well,
I do not love thee, Dr Fell.’

The verse we know. The author, probably not. His name was Tom Brown, born the son of a Shropshire farmer in 1663. Like the better-known Ned Ward, still remembered for his London Spy (1699-1700), he flourished in the early 18th century and established himself as a chronicler of contemporary metropolitan life, notably in his Amusements Serious and Comical (1700). At the time his reputation exceeded his contemporary’s – he was a professional writer, Ward primarily a publican – but he has vanished into the mists. He deserves better.

Brown penned his parody of Martial’s epigram 1.32 (‘Non amo, te, Sabidi’) around 1680, in an attempt to save his career at Oxford, where he had antagonised his college dean, Dr John Fell. The dean, fortunately, was amused and Brown, on the verge of being sent down, was reprieved. He arrived in London in 1684, published a poem, then moved into satire with the first of several attacks on Dryden: Reason of Mr Bayes Changing his Religion.

Hack is not recorded of writers until 1774; Grub Street was, and Brown was a leading citizen. In an era when for the first time a writer could attempt to exist without patron or private wealth, he would claim ‘I am one of the first of the Suburban class that has ventur’d out without making an application to a nobleman’s porter, and tiring him out with showing him his master’s name.’ Brown survived by producing a wide range of material, often at his booksellers’ dictate. He produced prose, verse, squibs and pamphlets, as well as three stage plays: Physic Lies a Bleeding, or, The Apothecary Turned Doctor (1697), The Stage Beaux Toss’d in a Blanket (1704), and The Dispensary (1697), and in 1692 co-authored a journal, the short-lived Lacedemonian Mercury. He was the first person to adopt what would become the default satirical style: removing the vowels from proper names when their use might have brought legal problems. Thus in 1717 Addison commented in the Spectator ‘Some of our Authors indeed, when they would be more Satyrical than ordinary, omit only the Vowels of a great Man’s Name, and fall most unmercifully upon all the Consonants. This way of writing was first of all introduced by T-m Br-wn of facetious memory, who, having gutted a proper name […] made as free with it as he pleased without any danger of the statute.’

Yet Addison, and others including Swift, are now seen to have been indebted to Brown, whose own work may have vanished, but whose method lies behind a number of their own more polished and incisive productions. Swift mentions Brown in the introduction to A Treatise on Polite Conversation (1738). Writing as ‘Simon Wagstaffe, Esq.’ he boasts of having read ‘Mr. Thomas Brown’s works entire,’ and even having had ‘the honour to be his intimate friend, who was universally allowed to be the greatest genius of his age.’ But Swift was being satirical in his turn and he had Continue reading

Review: Other Nature by Antlers Gallery

Guest art reviewer Sophie Whenham admires a revival of traditional drawing techniques amongst some young British artists…

A recent article by Jonathan Jones entitled Get up and demand better British art  prompted me to think about the contemporary art scene: for many people, so much of it is inaccessible, incomprehensible and unoriginal.  And the hysteria surrounding some exhibitions promotes them as the Event of the moment, which tends to foster a rather superficial attitude towards the art itself. I have only to think of the time I queued for six and half hours for a Banksy exhibition; I couldn’t help but think that the speed with which the crowds jostled through implied that many people were there more to soak up the ‘event’ than pay attention to the art.

To quote Jones, ‘a single piece of art, if it is great, demands endless looking’, yet the notion of a must-see exhibition betrays this. With this is mind, it was completely refreshing to attend Antlers Gallery’s ‘Other Nature’ show held at Frameless Gallery, Islington.

Antlers is a ‘nomadic’ gallery based in Bristol [you can read Brit's interview piece with Tim Lane, another young artist from the Antlers stable, here - Ed]. It brings together a collection of artists connected to one another by their reversion to traditional drawing techniques, making the work easy to appreciate aesthetically for the average exhibition goer, and endlessly fascinating for the art enthusiast.

The first work on show, by Ellie Coates, is an example of how rich a work can become when due attention is paid. At first glance, the small, faded image looks swamped by the mass of white wall that surrounds it. On closer inspection, the Victoriana framing of the image of bees chained to a plant conjures up ideas of old curiosity museums, and a deeper look reveals the intricacy of Coates’ style. First, her paper is prepped with rabbit skin glue and gesso to provide thickness, and then in this image she has carefully cut around the bees’ wings and lifted them up. The effect is subtle but exquisite; something like delicate porcelain, but with a luminescent gleam.

The ‘book sculptures’ by Alexander Korzer-Robinson continue this intricate theme. Constructed by the artist carefully working through the book and cutting around images already present, he creates a Continue reading

Voysey comes to town

In this series Philip Wilkinson – author, architectural historian and denizen of the wonderful English Buildings Blog – takes us on a journey round some buildings with rather unlikely creators…

Charles Francis Annesley Voysey was one of the great domestic architects of the Arts and Crafts movement, famous for his low-slung, landscape-hugging country houses, with their sweeping roof lines, rendered walls, low-ceilinged interiors, and meticulous details. In designing these buildings, Voysey created a hugely influential style. His ideas – together with those of William Morris and others – influenced the architecture of the garden city and garden suburb movements. With their stress on truth to materials and their purposeful planning, Voysey’s houses have also been seen as precursors of the much more radical buildings of the modern movement.

But at 14 and 16 Hans Road, built in 1891–92 and just a stone’s throw from Harrods, is evidence of what Voysey could do when designing town houses. Here in Knightsbridge, an area where many houses were built in the late-19th century in the ‘Queen Anne’ style, the emphasis is on tall, narrow buildings and the dominant material is red brick, the opposite of a typical Voysey house, in other words, in planning, form, and materials. Voysey picked up with this theme but played his own variation on it, keeping the brick and the tall form of the house, but adding stone dressings, shaped parapets and neat tall oriel windows above the entrances. The house numbers are in cartouches that are shaped using a variant on Voysey’s trademark heart motif, and the wooden doors have striking iron hinges. The houses were designed for Archibold Grove, a Liberal MP and the designs were well liked, both for the elegant exteriors and the internal layout, with most rooms benefiting from plenty of natural light. The overall proportions of the houses were praised in the press, too, as was the restrained use of carved decoration.

Voysey was to have designed the neighbouring number 12 too, but Archibold Grove’s liberality was wanting when it came to the fee, and the architect and client fell out. As a result, the commission for this house, beyond Voysey’s pair in the picture below, went to A H Mackmurdo. It’s a good brick and stone neighbour to numbers14 and 16, but not quite as much of a surprise as Voysey’s tribute to the London townhouse.

The India of Inchinnan

India of Inchinnan

In the second of two exclusive online extracts from the indispensable guide to the hidden joys of Scotland, Nothing to See Here, we look at a striking example of industrial art deco, which, thankfully, is looking as good as it’s ever done. You can buy Anne’s book here (it’s published by the intrepid folks at Pocket Mountains, which you should visit for some more inspired travel books).

The stark beauty of the India of Inchinnan building is an unexpected delight on the otherwise featureless A8 Edinburgh-Greenock road. One of Scotland’s finest remaining art deco buildings, it is a glorious sight – a two-storey white stuccoed exterior with simple red-, green- and black-tiled decorations, the name of its owners proudly spelt out above the entrance.

India of Inchinnan

In 1930, when the building opened, business was booming for the India Tyre and Rubber Company. What better way to advertise their prosperity than a flagship office built in the contemporary art deco style. Leading modern architect Thomas Wallis was commissioned to design it as his practice, Wallis, Gilbert and Partners was known for its
elegant modern buildings. India of Inchinnan opened in between two of its other art deco masterpieces – the Firestone Building in Middlesex and the Hoover Building in Perivale.

This large expanse of flat, isolated land was an ideal spot for an company that wanted lots of space and a local workforce. In 1916 William Beardmore’s opened the Inchinnan Airship Constructional Station here. They built houses for their workers a safe distance away (in case of explosion) and for a while business was hugely successful, peaking in 1919 when their R34 airship made the first return transatlantic air crossing. When airship production waned after the war so did Beardmore’s fortunes and the site closed in 1922.

When India Tyres moved in in 1927 they reused the hangars for their production lines and built houses nearby to accommodate another few thousand workers. For over 50 years it was a successful business, but by the 1980s times had changed. In 1981 the office closed and the building became derelict – India of Inchinnan’s future looked bleak. There were various regeneration attempts but none took off until software firm Graham Technology (now Sword Ciboodle) stepped in.
Architect Gordon Gibb, a local man who had admired the building since he was a child, won the commission to bring the building back to life and the long restoration process began.

By 2003 the A-listed Art Deco block had been renovated and extended in a way that glorifies its past and sets it up for a new future. The main block has scrubbed up beautifully and behind it, a modern extension (as modern as the original building in its heyday) pays homage to Beardmore’s and the airships that were made here. Inside, the ceiling is a full scale replica of the underside of an airship and the wall lights spell out R34 in Morse code. The redevelopment won ‘Best Re-Use of an Historic Building’ at the Scottish Design Awards and is now Scotland’s only A-listed commercial building. It remains in use as offices and the R34 Restaurant which is open to the public.

India of Inchinnan


[Ed., you can find more photos here.]