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About this book

Analysing a wide range of extracts from key works of British fiction from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Century, William Hutchings lucidly demonstrates how close reading can enhance appreciation of detail and illuminate whole novels.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
My principal aim in writing this book is to show that our appreciation and understanding of novels can be enhanced by according them the respect implicit in close reading. It is therefore intended as a companion volume to Living Poetry, in which I sought to demonstrate that poetry of the past can speak strongly and directly to present-day readers and can be discussed in a manner that is attentive but clear, informed but not pedantic.1
William Hutchings

2. Describing People

Abstract
I was born in the year 1632, in the city of York, of a good family, though not of that country, my father being a foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull. He got a good estate by merchandise, and leaving off his trade lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my mother, whose relations were named Robinson, a very good family in that country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual corruption of words in England, we are now called, nay, we call ourselves and write our name, Crusoe, and so my companions always called me.
William Hutchings

3. Describing Places

Abstract
From the window all that could be seen was a receding area of grey. It was to be supposed that beyond the grey garden, which seemed to sprout nothing but the stiffish leaves of some unfamiliar plant, lay the vast grey lake, spreading like an anaesthetic towards the invisible further shore, and beyond that, in imagination only, yet verified by the brochure, the peak of the Dent d’Oche, on which snow might already be slightly and silently falling. For it was late September, out of season; the tourists had gone, the rates were reduced, and there were few inducements for visitors in this small town at the water’s edge, whose inhabitants, uncommunicative to begin with, were frequently rendered taciturn by the dense cloud that descended for days at a time and then vanished without warning to reveal a new landscape, full of colour and incident: boats skimming on the lake, passengers at the landing stage, an open air market, the out-line of the gaunt remains of a thirteenth-century castle, seams of white on the far mountains, and on the cheerful uplands to the south a rising backdrop of apple trees, the fruit sparkling with emblematic significance. For this was a land of prudently harvested plenty, a land which had conquered human accidents, leaving only the weather distressingly beyond control.
William Hutchings

4. Presenting Action

Abstract
It was now a merry time of year, and Bartholomew Fair was begun. I had never made any walks that way, nor was the fair of much advantage to me; but I took a turn this year into the cloisters, and there I fell into one of the raffling shops. It was a thing of no great consequence to me, but there came a gentleman extremely well dressed and very rich, and as ‘tis frequent to talk to everybody in those shops, he singled me out, and was very particular with me. First he told me he would put in for me to raffle, and did so; and some small matter coming to his lot, he presented it to me — I think it was a feather muff; then he continued to keep talking to me with a more than common appearance of respect, but still very civil, and much like a gentleman.
William Hutchings

5. Speaking

Abstract
Guardians in literature are a mixed bunch, offering mixed blessings. The heroine of Frances Burney’s second novel, Cecilia, is the lucky ward of not one but three guardians. All three live in London, though at very different, but equally suggestive, addresses. Mr Harrel lives in Portman Square, a new and fashionable development in the west end, built between 1764 and the 1780s. He enjoys an accordingly modish and expensive lifestyle, but one that is paper-thin, incurring continual debt. Mr Briggs lives in the city of London. He is the opposite of Mr Harrel: an eccentric curmudgeon and source of much of the novel’s humour. Being shuffled between these two is disconcerting enough for a young woman, but worse follows. In our example, Cecilia is admonished by her third guardian, Mr Delvile, who boasts an aristocratic house in St James’s Square by St James’s Palace. To accompany this elevated address, Delvile evinces a belief in the traditional appurtenances of high social status: family, a treasured name and frigidly decorous manners. Such manners are reflected in the way he speaks to Cecilia:
‘I have received information, from authority which I cannot doubt, that the indiscretion of certain of your admirers last Saturday at the Opera-house, occasioned a disturbance which to a young woman of delicacy I should imagine must be very alarming: now as I consider myself concerned in your fame and welfare from regarding you as my ward, I think it is incumbent upon me to make enquiries into such of your affairs as become public; for I should feel in some measure disgraced myself, should it appear to the world, while you are under my guardianship, that there was any want of propriety in the direction of your conduct.’
William Hutchings

6. Commenting

Abstract
In his Autobiography, Trollope described his aim in creating Mark Robarts, the central character of Framley Parsonage, as being the depiction of ‘an English clergyman who should not be a bad man, but one led into temptation by his own youth and by the unclerical accidents of the life of those around him’.1 Robarts is the vicar of Framley, in the diocese of Barchester, the fictional setting for Trollope’s series of novels that began with The Warden (1855) and concluded with The Last Chronicle of Barset (1867). While on a visit to Chaldicotes, seat of Nathaniel Sowerby, Whig MP for the Western Division of Barsetshire, Robarts has received an invitation from the grand Duke of Omnium to join a party at Gatherum Castle. He has been told that the bishop will be there, furnishing an attractive opportunity to develop an acquaintance and so enhance his career prospects. Mark has gone to bed, determined to resist temptation. However, his ‘first thoughts’ on waking ‘flew back’ to the invitation. Trollope precedes his hero’s reflections — so really his second thoughts — with a general comment on human vulnerability to the vice of ambition: And there is nothing viler than the desire to know great people — people of great rank I should say; nothing worse than the hunting of titles and worshipping of wealth. We all know this, and say it every day of our lives.
William Hutchings
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