Tag Archives: Fiction

The London Library in Books

Nicht nur waren – und sind – es zahlreiche Schriftsteller, die ihre Bücher ganz, teilweise und/oder mit Hilfe der London Library verfassen, sondern die Bibliothek taucht auch immer mal wieder im einen oder anderen Buch auf. LoL ist in gerade in letzter Zeit zwei Mal der Bibliothek begegnet.

Zum einen in A. S. Byatt’s Possession. A Romance. Das Buch beginnt in der London Library, wo der Wissenschaftliche Assistent Roland in einem Buch, das einst dem Viktorianischen Poeten und Gegenstand von Roland’s Forschung Randolf Henry Ash gehörte. Die Zeilen beschreiben wunderbar die Atmosphäre in der Bibliothek, die sich auch nach 20 Jahren (die Handlung spielt in 1986/87) nicht wesentlich geändert hat:

The book was thick and black and covered with dust. Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time. Its spine was missing, or rather protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow. The librarian handed it to Roland Mitchell, who was sitting waiting for it in the Reading Room of the London Library. It had been exhumed from Locked Safe no. 5 where it usually stood between Pranks of Priapus and The Grecian Way of Love. It was ten in the morning, one day in September 1986. Roland had the small single table he liked best, behind a square pillar, with the clock over the fireplace nevertheless in full view. To his right was a high sunny window, through which you could see the high green leaves of St James’s Square.

The London Library was Roland’s favourite place. It was shabby but civilised, alive with history but inhabited also by living poets and thinkers who could be found squatting on the slotted metal floors of the stacks, or arguing pleasently at the turning of the stair. Here Carlyle had come, here George Eliot had progressed through the bookshelves. Roland saw her black silk skirts, her velvet trains, sweeping compressed between the Fathers of the Church, and heard her firm foot ring on metal among German poets. Here Randolph Henry Ash had come, cramming his elastic mind and memory with unconsidered trifles from History and Topography, from the felicitous alphabetical conjunctions of Science and Miscellaneous – Dancing, Deaf and Dumb, Death, Dentistry, Devil and Demonology, Distribution, Dogs, Domestic Servants, Dreams.

(Byatt, A.S. Possession. A Romance. London: Vintage, 1991. S. 1-2)

Zum anderen in Alan Bennett’s kurzer, höchst amüsanter Geschichte The Uncommon Reader, in welcher die Queen das Lesen für sich entdeckt und ihrer Umgebung damit höchstes Unbehagen bereitet. Zum Lesen kommt sie durch die zufällige Entdeckung der City of Westminster travelling library, die einmal in der Woche auch im Palast Halt macht und in der sie, aus lauter Verlegenheit, schliesslich ein Buch ausleiht. Um ihre Leselust zu stillen, macht sie bald auch von anderen Bibliotheken Gebrauch:

Seeing that Ackerley had written an autobiography, she sent Norman down to the London Library to borrow it. Patron of the London Library, she had seldom set foot in it and neither, of course, had Norman, but he came back full of wonder and excitement at how old-fashioned it was, saying it was the sort of library he had only read about in books and had thought confined to the past. He had wandered through its labyrinthine stacks marvelling that these were all books that he (or rather She) could borrow at will. So infectious was his enthusiasm that next time, the Queen thought, she might accompany him.

(Bennett, Alan. The Uncommon Reader. London: Profile Books, 2008. S. 19-20)

Nicht nur ihre Untergebenen verwirrt die neugewonnene Leselust der Queen, auch ihren Hunden (die eigentlich daran Schuld sind) kommt das Ganze sehr komisch vor – sehr zum Leidwesen der London Library:

Did her Majesty ever let a book fall to the carpet it would straightaway be leaped on by any attendant dog, worried and slavered over and borne to the distant reaches of the palace or wherever so that it could be satisfyingly torn apart. The James Tait Black prize nothwithstanding, Ian McEwan had ended up like thiss and even A. S. Byatt. Patron of the London Library though she was, Her Majesty regularly found herself on the phone apologising to the renewals clerk for the loss of yet another volume.

(Bennett, Alan. The Uncommon Reader. London: Profile Books, 2008. S. 36)

David Lodge, linguistics and the treatment of library books…

Yesterday, the Lonely Librarian went to the English Bookshop and bought David Lodge’s latest novel Deaf Sentence. David Lodge is one of the few contemporary authors LoL reads (with a special passion for the Victorians, the Gothic and detective stories of the 1920s and 1930s, her tastes in literature, art etc. stop at about the outbreak of WW2). But David Lodge she loves. Because his novels are hilariously funny. David Lodge used to be a Professor of English and LoL got hooked to his novels after reading Nice Work many years ago, even before she became a student of English. His main characters often are professors, lecturers, etc. of English. In his latest novel, the main character, Desmond Bates, is a retired Professor of Linguistics. Now LoL has read English as a major, and although she had to do both Linguistics and Literature, she has always preferred Linguistics (unlike about almost all of her friends and fellow students). Not that she doesn’t like Literature. On the contrary, she couldn’t live without it. She just doesn’t like to endlessly dissect and over-analyse it the way it is usually done at University). So she enjoys coming across sentences in a novel like

‘F’ is called a labiodental fricative because you produce it by bringing your top teeth into contact with your bottom lip and allowing some air to escape between them (19).

There was a time, almost 10 years ago, when LoL would have been able to give that kind of information about any letter in any language (although she has to admit that was only for a very short time – spanning about the couple of days, the day of, and the couple of days after her phonetics and phonology exam). But she actually quite liked phonetics and phonology (again unlike about everybody else in her course). The phonetic alphabet especially, she found quite fascinating. When you have text written in the our normal alphabet, you can get an idea about the meaning of it by just scanning the words. This is not possible with a text written in the phonetic alphabet. Usually, unless they are very short, recurring words, one doesn’t even recognise a single word by just looking at it. Only when reading the word, one phonetic symbol after the other, and preferably aloud, the meaning of the word unfolds. It is a bit like unwrapping a birthday present. And there is the additional benefit that, at least when strictly adhering to the rules, one ends up pronouncing the word in the best possible RP (or whatever variety used), which, as a non-native speaker, one would probably never be able to do otherwise.

But the special field of Desmond Bates isn’t phonetics but discourse analysis. Which was another of LoL’s favourites back at Uni. So she was pleased to meet old “friends” again in the novel, such as Austin and his types of speech acts (locution, illocution and perlocution) and Searle (commissive, declarative, directive, expressive and representative, etc). LoL has always found it very interesting, how communication works and how information is conveyed, which is probably one of the many reasons why she became a librarian.

Also, she feels very sympathetic to Desmond Bates’ feelings about the treatment of library books. When faced with a library book heavily marked with turquoise highlighter pen, he remarks to the librarian:

It seems to me extraordinary that anyone educated enough to have access to a university library should do this to a book (105).

He then goes on to suggest to the shoulder shrugging librarian how to best deal with these kind of miscreants:

’But you must have a record of all the borrowers of a given book on your computer,’ I said. ‘Can’t you call them all in, one by one, and question them? The vandals might not confess, but they wouldn’t do it again.’ He looked at me as if he thought I was unhinged. Well, perhaps I am a bit, on this subject. To me the treatment of books is a test of civilised behaviour (106).

Well, wouldn’t we all like to do something like this from time to time?

LoL has spent the entire morning reading the novel and is now faced with a difficult decision. Should she go on reading it for the rest of the day or should she put it down and turn to Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, which she wanted to finished before going to London in about one week’s time, because it is one of the books on the reading list for the LRBS course. But as there isn’t really any chance of finishing Eisenstein (still 300 pages to go) anyway, she might as well finish Lodge…:-).

Lit: Lodge, David. Deaf Sentence. A Novel. London: Harvill Secker, 2008. ISBN: 978-1-846-55168-0.