Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nothing New to Say

That title certainly won't excite anyone about reading today's post. I wish I had a more enticing hook, but it's time for an update on Lorna Doone, and I simply haven't found much new to report. In my third week now of reading the book, I continue to alternate between enjoyable passages of poetic descriptions or interesting observations on the one hand, and opaque or confusing narrative on the other.

I'm getting used to the dialect by this point; it still comes up regularly, if not quite so often as it did in the first chapters. A recent sample: "Whoy, dudn't ee knaw, Maister Jan," said Bill Dadds, looking at me queerly, "as Jan Vry wur gane avore braxvass." Of thirteen words in Bill's sentence, only one is spelled in the familiar way, and it's one that we would not use in contemporary construction. As I understand it, the original rendition represents local pronunciation and wording of this sentence: "Why, didn't you know, Master John, that John Fry was gone before breakfast?" Curiously, in one long story told by the John Fry just referenced, Blackmore has John Fry speak in unbroken dialect except where he quotes a man from London. So can John Fry imitate a London accent (supposedly represented by standard spelling), or did Blackmore just not think this scene through carefully enough?

The antiquated -- or at least unfamiliar -- rural vocabulary also continues. In the last several days I've come across besom, gamboge, hoggets, antre, sheppey, withy, linhay, and armiger. I actually knew besom (the only one Blogspot's spellchecker seems to know, as well), but it still seems to fit this category since it refers to a broom made of bundled sticks.

But many times I have trouble following a passage even when no unusual words or special spelling are involved. Blackmore has his first-person narrator, John Ridd, say something like "I can't remember if I've mentioned before that . . ." so often that I begin to wonder if Blackmore himself simply forgets to supply necessary details. In one conversation, government officer Jeremy Stickles says, "Not one word to your mother about this unlucky matter," to which John Ridd replies, "Do you suppose I can sleep . . . and all the time have it on my mind, that not an acre of all the land, nor even our old sheep-dog, belongs to us, of right at all!" I've gone back over the conversation three times now, and I can find no indication from Stickles about any end of the Ridds' rights to their property. The only "unlucky matter" referred to before this is the theft of a valuable necklace. Is there a line of dialog missing? This forgetfulness (whether it belongs to the narrator or to the author) is especially ironic since John often claims to remember details of events vividly even when he doesn't understand their significance until, perhaps, years later.

The examples go on and on. John hears that two militia forces have attacked the villainous Doones as planned, yet he concludes (apparently correctly) that they have attacked each other. A carriage is waylaid by highwaymen apparently in the middle of the woods only to be destroyed by a wave of the ocean -- and then later the carriage is said to have been on a mountain pass! I've been confused about the plot or character's motivations so often, I've started reading a different way. Instead of trying to figure things out or follow threads, I just let the events and dialog come as they may. I try to treat anything that doesn't make sense simply as a pleasant surprise. I don't know if the disconnect lies in Blackmore, his characters, or me, but it lies somewhere, so now every time it appears, I just wave at it and move on.

And Blackmore rewards my persistence. I enjoyed this observation by John about some overlooked colors of autumn:
On either bank, the blades of grass, making their last autumn growth, pricked their spears and crisped their tuftings with the pearly purity. The tenderness of their green appeared under the glaucous mantle; while that grey suffusion, which is the blush of green life, spread its damask chastity. Even then my soul was lifted,  worried though my mind was: who can see such large kind doings, and not be ashamed of human grief?
 So Lorna Doone certainly hasn't become one of my favorite books or even one that I would recommend to anyone, but it has provided pleasant (if sometimes mystifying) entertainment on my daily walks for the past two weeks.

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