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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 11, 2010 12:41 pm    Post subject: Literary challenge - November 2010  Reply with quote

It's been a while since we did one of these. The task is to put these in order of 'literariness' and of personal preference, though I think it's more interesting reading people's comments and seeing if they can guess the authors correctly. If you would like, please try putting them in chronological order too.

I'd be surprised if nobody recognises any of these. They include some passages which, read once, are difficult to forget. I have not altered proper names in the text. If you know who wrote them, please do not tell. Please refrain from googling. I will post results after a decent interval.

Let the game commence!


A
In Melton Mowbray in 1875 at an auction of articles of 'curiosity and worth', my great-grandfather,
in the company of M his friend, bid for the penis of Captain Nicholls who died in Horsemonger jail
in 1873. It was bottled in a glass twelve inches long, and, noted my great-grandfather in his diary
that night, 'in a beautiful state of preservation'. Also for auction was 'the unnamed portion of the
late Lady Barrymore. It went to Sam Israels for fifty guineas.' My great-grandfather was keen on
the idea of having the two items as a pair, and M dissuaded him. This illustrates perfectly their
friendship. My great-grandfather the excitable theorist, M the man of action who knew when to
bid at auctions. My great-grandfather lived for sixty-nine years. For forty-five of them, at the end
of every day, he sat down before going to bed and wrote his thoughts in a diary. These diaries
are on my table now, forty-five volumes bound in calf leather, and to the left sits Capt. Nicholls
in the glass jar. My great-grandfather lived on the income derived from the patent of an invention
of his father, a handy fastener used by corset-makers right up till the outbreak of the First World
War. My great-grandfather liked gossip, numbers and theories. He also liked tobacco, good port,
jugged hare and, very occasionally, opium. He liked to think of himself as a mathematician,
though he never had a job, and never published a book. Nor did he ever travel or get his name in
The Times, even when he died. In 1869 he married Alice, only daughter of the Rev. Toby
Shadwell, co-author of a not highly regarded book on English wild flowers. I believe my great-
grandfather to have been a very fine diarist, and when I have finished editing the diaries and they
are published I am certain he will receive the recognition due to him. When my work is over I will
take a long holiday, travel somewhere cold and clean and treeless, Iceland or the Russian
Steppes. I used to think that at the end of it all I would try, if it was possible, to divorce my wife
Maisie, but now there is no need at all.


B
Huddled up in a cope of gold wrought silk he peered around. Society had rallied in force. A
christening -- and not a child's.

Rarely had he witnessed, before the font, so many brilliant people. Were it an heir to the
DunEden acres (instead of what it was) the ceremony could hardly have drawn together a
more distinguished throng.

Monsignor Silex moved a finger from forehead to chin, and from ear to ear. The Duquesa
DunEden's escapades, if continued, would certainly cost the Cardinal his hat.

    'And ease my heart by splashing fountains.'

From the choir-loft a boy's young voice was evoking Heaven.

'His hat!' Monsignor Silex exclaimed aloud, blinking a little at the immemorial font of black
Macael marble that had provoked the screams of pale numberless babies.

Here Saints and Kings had been baptised, and royal Infantas, and sweet Poets, whose high
names thrilled the heart.

Monsignor Silex crossed his breast. He must gather force to look about him. Frame a close
report. The Pontiff, in far-off Italy, would expect precision.


C
There were no street lamps, no lights at all. It was a narrow street in the Port Richmond section
of Philadelphia. From the nearby Delaware a cold wind came lancing in, telling all alley cats
they'd better find a heated cellar. The late November gusts rattled against midnight-darkened
windows, and stabbed at the eyes of the fallen man in the street.

The man was kneeling near the curb, breathing hard and spitting blood and wondering seriously
if his skull was fractured. He'd been running blindly, his head down, so of course he hadn't seen
the telephone pole. He'd crashed into it face first, bounced away and hit the cobblestones and
wanted to call it a night.

But you can't do that, he told himself. You gotta get up and keep running.

He got up slowly, dizzily. There was a big lump on the left side of his head, his left eye and
cheekbone were somewhat swollen, and the inside of his cheek was bleeding where he'd bitten
it when he'd hit the pole. He thought of what his face must look like, and he managed to grin,
saying to himself, You're doing fine, jim. You're really in great shape. But I think you'll make it,
he decided, and then he was running again, suddenly running very fast as the headlights
rounded a corner, the car picking up speed, the engine noise closing in on him.


D
Mr Asterias perlustrated the sea-coast for several days, and reaped disappointment, but not
despair. One night, shortly after his arrival, he was sitting in one of the windows of the library,
looking towards the sea, when his attention was attracted by a figure which was moving near the
edge of the surf, and which was dimly visible through the moonless summer night. Its motions
were irregular, like those of a person in a state of indecision. It had extremely long hair, which
floated in the wind. Whatever else it might be, it certainly was not a fisherman. It might be a lady;
but it was neither Mrs Hilary nor Miss O'Carroll, for they were both in the library. It might be one
of the female servants; but it had too much grace, and too striking an air of habitual liberty, to
render it probable. Besides, what should one of the female servants be doing there at this hour,
moving to and fro, as it seemed, without any visible purpose? It could scarcely be a stranger; for
Claydyke, the nearest village, was ten miles distant; and what female would come ten miles
across the fens, for no purpose but to hover over the surf under the walls of the Abbey? Might it
not be a mermaid? It was possibly a mermaid. It was probably a mermaid. It was very probably
a mermaid. Nay, what else could it be but a mermaid? It certainly was a mermaid. Mr Asterias
stole out of the library on tiptoe, with his finger on his lips, having beckoned Aquarius to follow
him.

The rest of the party was in great surprise at Mr Asterias's movement, and some of them
approached the window to see if the locality would tend to elucidate the mystery. Presently they
saw him and Aquarius cautiously stealing along on the other side of the moat, but they saw
nothing more; and Mr Asterias returning, told them, with accents of great disappointment, that
he had had a glimpse of a mermaid, but she had eluded him in the darkness, and was gone, he
presumed, to sup with some enamoured triton, in a submarine grotto.


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county_lady



Joined: 21 Nov 2008
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Location: N Worcs.

PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 6:17 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm not ignoring these honestly - it is just that I am still thinking about them.


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Chibiabos83
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 6:22 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

That's fine! I was wondering if I ought to have asked people if they were interested in one of these. No rush, anyway Smile


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 8:00 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I enjoy these, but forgot it was here till this morning.  I will print them off and consider them today.  Thanks, Gareth.

Cheers, Caro.


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TheRejectAmidHair



Joined: 19 Nov 2008
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Location: Staines, Middlesex

PostPosted: Sat Nov 13, 2010 10:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's too late at night now, and I'm going to pour myself a drink & put a good old film on. I'll get back to this tomorrow.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I don't think I have anything very sensible to say at length about these excerpts, but apart perhaps from C they all attract me as pieces of writing and I would be quite keen to read on.  

I struggled to work out when they were written; most of them read as if they could be older pieces but I suspect they are more likely to be pastiches or modern writing in an old style.  Not sure why exactly, though.  C I feel is perhaps somewhere between 1940 and 1970, possibly a little later, but I feel if it were the 90s onwards the language would have included some four-letter words.  American, but I don't know who.  Chandler? or maybe someone like that.  I didn't like it as much as the others.

A has to have been written after the second world war and I suspect after the 60s at least.  I just feel the subject matter of the auction of a penis is modern and not what would have been written about in the 50s.  I loved this passage - the family history of it and the humorous style appealed a lot.

B I had great trouble dating and categorising generally.  The short sentences sound modern, but some of the phrasing 'were it an heir', 'numberless' strike me as older, but that could be deliberate, as could be the capital letters.  

D  How lovely 'perlustrated' is; I don't know what it means, but it doesn't matter.  This piece, like C, bothers me for timing.  Everything about it indicates the 19th century - the semi-colons, words like "Nay" and phrases like "was in great surprise".  But the last sentence seems so over-the-top old-fashioned that I am doubtful.  And the slight irony of the style sounds modern too.

As regards literary: they all read well to me, though the subject matter of C is not of great interest to me, feeling a little too much like gritty American masculine crime for my liking.  In order I would put them:  D, B, A, C.

In order of preference:  A, D, B , C.  I did like A and D a lot.  But I have no idea of the authors of these pieces, not even to hazard a guess for any of them.  I've peered some more, but no one really comes to mind.  John Fowles? AS Byatt?

I hope someone manages these better than I have, Gareth, but thanks for the choices - I am really keen to know who and what they are, so I can read more sometime.

Cheers, Caro.


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Caro



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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 9:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I wasn't able to resist, now that I have written about them, checking one of them, and found that I would already have read it, though many many moons ago!  Would obviously be worth reading again.


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 1:13 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, I poured myself a drink last night (a Society bottling of Laphroaig), and watched a film (Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde - not, admittedly, one of Hammer's best), went to bed late and had a lovely lie in this morning. Now, I should be ready to tackle this:

A is fairly modern, I think (and for me, anything in teh last 30 years or so counts as modern!) as the subject - the auction of sexual parts - is unlikely to have been written about until fairly recently. It seems to be an extract from a comic novel, with the humour decidedly dry.  Much of the humour comes from sentencest taking unlikely turns  - e.g. the very first sentence delays mentioning the penis until towards the end: the point of the humour would have been lost if the sentence had started "My great grandfather bid for the penis of Captain Nicholls...." Much of the humour also comes from the divulging of irrelevant details, without distinguishing them from the more relevant points. So, once again in the first sentence, the details of where and when Captain Nicholls died is given the same emphasis as the fact that his penis was being sold at auction. That these details are expanded upon when the more obvious points to discuss (e.g. why on earth were the sexual organs of these persons preserved and put up for sale?) are suppressed lends to the tone: it is the tone of a narrator sitting in a leather armchair by the fire, brandy in hand, telling his eccentric tale in a leisurely manner.

As I read on, it seemed increasingly that this passage had been conceived as a spoken monologue. Is it, I wonfder, a novel by someone who is better known as a stand-up comedian? Take for tinstance these four consecutive sentences:

Quote:
My great-grandfather was keen on the idea of having the two items as a pair, and M dissuaded him. This illustrates perfectly their friendship. My great-grandfather the excitable theorist, M the man of action who knew when to bid at auctions. My great-grandfather lived for sixty-nine years.


Three out of four consecutive sentences start with "My great-grandfather". Normally, this would count as poor style, but if you imagine it as a comic monologue, with a pause at the end of each sentence awaiting a laugh, then it would work.

So I guess it's a fairly novel written by someone with a dry wit, whose timing is that of the speaker rather than that of the writer.

B: The Catholic themes would seem to suggest a Catholic author - Graham Greene, perhaps, or Evelyn Waugh, or Muriel Spark I think Muriel Spark would be the likeliest candidate of the three, as I don'tthink either Waugh or Greene would have gone in for such short sentences, and such short paragraphs. But it's the kind of thing Spark (stylistically the most adventurous of the three) might have gone in for - although it's not, perhaps, her usual style. Certain turns of phrases, such as "sweet poets", or "the boys young voice was evoking heaven", suggest once again a dry sense of humour.

Muriel Spark would be my tentative guess on this one, but I could be very wrong. No - n second thoughts, it's not Muriel Spark. But I am at a loss here to think what it can be.

C seems to me a case of an author trying too hard. All that stuff about the November gusts rattling the "midnihght-darkened" windows, and "stab[bing] the eyes" of the fallen man ... It all reeks of "Look Ma! I'm a writer!" And, despite all of these phrases that the writer appears to think so impressive, he comes up with something as banal as the cold wind " telling all alley cats they'd better find a heated cellar. "

This is obviously American (the place names give it away, as well as the "gotta"), but it seems pretty poor to me.

You're probably going to tell me now it is Faulkner or someone similar, but if it is, he probably wrote this when drunk and was too embarrassed to read it over when sober again. A D minus, I think.

I wondered to begin with whether D was a ghost story. Mention of teh Fens sugegsted MR James, who set many of his stories in that area, but James' prose is much plainer than this. And the last few sentences of this excerpt suggested a comic rather than aghostly story.

I'd guess it's a modern writer trying to evoke the tone of writing from a bygone age: the "Nay" seems too deliberately placed, and, while "perlustrated" is a word sufficiently unusual to make thereadertake notice, nothing else in the passage suggests a recondite vocabulary: the word seems to have been placed there for effect, and doesn't appear to be part of the author's everyday usage. But for all that, this was the excerpt that I enjoyed most, and, judging admittedly from passages taken out of context, this is the one I'd most like to read.

So, in order of preference, D, A, B C.

In terms of literary merit, I can't quite make up my mind about B. As for the rest, D, A, C.


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Caro



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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Location: Owaka, New Zealand

PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 10:55 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I rather liked 'midnight-darkened windows', Himadri.  But then I tend to have a penchant for those double-barreled phrases a la Gerald Hopkins.  (Wonder why I didn't like his poetry at varsity, then. I think I should try it again.)

Cheers, Caro.


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TheRejectAmidHair



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PostPosted: Sun Nov 14, 2010 11:10 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I may be wrong (and it certainly won't be the first time!) ut it does give the impression of an author trying too hard.  nd also the fact that it's in such close proximity to asome phrases that are banal .. It reminds me of teh sort of thing I encountered in The Shadow of the Wind, where the imagery (which to my mind was less than inspired) seemed sprinkled in afterwards, rather than being an integral part of the writing.

But I'm sure Gareth will tell me this is the work of a universally acknowledged author, and I'll end up looking a fool!



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