A study of the upper case scarlet letter

You dear old thing!

Yes, I believe I mentioned the Afghanistan thing in my letter of the 27th of september, prompted by the fact that the Beeb (that’s what they call the BBC, madam) put their entire remake of Sherlock in present day London starting from that parallel. Noteworthy to, that they had the poor doctor (not as blubbering a buffoon as the old Nigel Bruce character who played against Basil Rathbone’s sharp-as-a-shark-attack Sherlock) blogging, rather than submitting stories to the Strand.

As it happens, I’m doing a complete re-read of the entire outre oeuvre this autumn, since it seems to be the only re-reading I’m capable of performing parallel to my duties as reluctant lecturer. I did something similar last summer, when I needed to finish that book, and could only bring myself to read the lightest of fiction. I ended up reading nothing but Wodehouse and the result was the most frivolous academic prose ever to hit an academic press.

Speaking of which: “we always argue from the idea that certain texts transcend time and are just as important today as when they were first written”. Do we, now? It’s true that some texts seem to age remarkably well. I always tell my students that with very few adjustments, basically anything by John Stuart Mill could be submitted to a present day academic journal and be accepted for publication without hesitation. Whereas work by, say, Nietzsche, if submitted would be viewed as a practical joke, as a not very successful attempt at another Sokal-hoax. The difference, in short, is clarity. If the style has that quality, it is likely to survive the test of time, I think. And Conan Doyle’s style certainly does.

That being said, time is flawed as a test, as it brings with it many opportunities to taint the evidence. That being said, I remember the current constant secretary of that bunch of swedes who determine what people will think they ought to read for christmas saying that all literature should be put in quarantine at least until the author is dead before critics should be allowed to have a go. Reception theorists, I gather, would disagree. Or would they? Perhaps they wouldn’t, seeing how a proper view of a work of literature must await the occurrence of some literary and social impact to have taken place.

Anyway: I’m eager to see what you come up with, and to compare notes on our dear consulting detective.

The books are piling up (on top of, I fear, our little project). I found a rather marvelous looking penguin edition of two out of three volumes of Waugh’s “Sword of Honor” trilogy in a used book store the other day. And then a fellow blogger, the Book slut reminded me of Henry James’ “Washington Square” (Have you ever been? There’s always a jazz-combo or two, made up of NYU students, playing. Presumably to drench out the sighs and internal monologues made vocal from the haunted James’ house), so now I need to re-read that to. It will make for an interesting perspective on the suffragettes in “Parade’s end”. Or it would, if I were ever to return to that book.

And did you realize it’s been 50 years since the ban was lifted from Lady Chat? The attempt to steer the connotations of the F-word in that book did not turn out too well, which means that the expected reception/response at a re-read (or a first read, if you’re young, or was prudish 50 years ago) is of a giggling, rather than a blushing, kind.

I send you a hug and a cup of tea as big and warm as a blanket sufficient to keep the november cold at bay.


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