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  1. If you buy The Spire via the BGO Amazon link a small proportion of the sale will go towards the maintenance of this forum
  2. This is obviously a book that is fundamentally 'about' Jocelin, though of course that in itself is a little simplistic. Golding in most of his books is interested in the business of good and evil. I think part of the reason why Lord of the Flies is his most popular book is because it speaks very clearly about this in quite an accessible way. In many senses it works like a fable, with the artificial setting of the island, away from normal society, and its characters are fairly clear-cut. At one end of the spectrum is Simon, the Christ-like figure, whilst at the other is Roger, the cruel sadist. Jack sits towards the Roger end whilst Ralph and Piggy are towards Simon's. In other words - and I'm grossly simplifying it here - good and evil are given relatively clear vessels, though the ultimate message is that evil - the beast - is in all of us. The Spire, even though it is removed in time with its medieval setting, seems more 'real' in that good and evil are far more mixed. There is no specialised setting to bring out the truth that's within us; instead we see in Jocelin a man who is deeply flawed but with good intentions; the good and evil exist in a strange alliance, shown symbolically through the angel at his back which is then replaced by the scourging devil. Here I think people may disagree - if I read some of the comments on the main thread correctly I think Jocelin was roundly despised as having little worth. Well, I don't see him like that. Yes, he definitely suffers from the sin of pride (the Devil's sin). His vanity is ultimately behind the erection of the spire (read that how you will...) and at times he thinks in ways that set him on a par with God, almost. He sees the people as tiny and parts of the great plan, with him as the overseer - something that is played even more overtly when he ascends the construction and sees the tiny business of the world below. Indeed, he clearly uses these people, most heinously exploiting Roger Mason's relationship with Goody to keep him there. He is arrogant, pig-headed and self-deceiving. But... It's clear he really does believe he has been given a vision. He sees himself as God's vessel and whilst we can easily dismiss that as his arrogance, what if Isaiah had decided, "No, God can't really be speaking to me, can he? I'd best be humble and not say anything." He believes this is God's plan and that it is his duty to see it through in the face of all the opposition of those who look only at the physical reality of the building, not at God's almighty power. When everything is brought to its terrible climax with the spire after Jehan botches the rigging in the absence of Roger Mason, Jocelin truly believes that if the holy Nail is driven home then that will save it. He puts himself at great risk in the howling storm to climb the tower and knock it in. In an earlier moment of crisis he kneels beneath the whining stones, possibly with the whole structure about to crash onto his head, trying in a sense to take its weight on his back, having faith that it can be saved because it is God's will. I love the revelatory moments when we see glimpses of what Jocelin has become - shrunken and skeletal, his eyes sunk into his head, all through the stresses and strain of the project. In other words, as doomed as we know the spire to be, from his perspective he is doing good. Perhaps that's where the analogies with the Garden of Eden come in - his essential goodness undone by the temptations of evil, be that misguided pride or the latent sexuality that rears its head ever more strongly in relation to Goody Pangall. By the end, like a Shakespearean tragic hero, he sees the truth too late. I think there is great power in the times when he suddenly sees Father Adam with unclouded eyes, no longer dismissing him as Father Anonymous but taking the time to look closely at his kind eyes. Also with Anselm, when he asks not for forgiveness of what he did, but of who he is. That's just a perfect revelation of the self. In a sense it's like Simon's realisation of the beast within - something also emerging from a trance-like state and as a pre-cursor to death. So, there's some thoughts; as with the other thread I've got lots more if people fancy talking about it, but I won't drone on!
  3. Tony & Susan starts off quite well. Susan recieves a letter and manuscript from Edward, a past love whom she left after having an affair. Edward wrote when they were together but she criticised his work and now he has sent her a manuscript of his new novel, for criticism. He will visit her shortly to discuss what she made of the book. And within this frame, we are given the full text of Edward's book, Nocturnal Animals. In Nocturnal Animals, Tony and his family are driving home to Maine late one night when they are stopped on the road by three men, later known as Ray, Lou and Turk. They successfully separate Tony from his wife and daughter and dump him far in the woods. Tony makes his way back to civilisation and discovers that his wife and daughter were raped and murdered by Ray and cohorts. The story continues with Tony coming to terms with the aftermath, his feeling of helplessness and lack of control, and with the mechanics of bringing the perpetrators to justice with the slightly off-kilter cop Bobby Andes. As each chapter passes of Nocturnal Animals, we return to Susan reading and reflecting on what she has just read. She finds herself swept up in Edward's tale, Tony's journey and increasingly disconnected from her real life. As she reads and becomes suffocated by Tony's grief and psychology, she becomes increasingly aware of Edward's arrival date approaching, and she slowly wonders if in the violent tale, Edward has a message for her. That his feelings of what happened between them are being released and realised through the violence that he creates in Tony's safe, family idyll. As a reader myself, just like Susan, I felt propelled towards the end, to Edward's 'reveal', to his purpose in sending her the manuscript. But it's an unsatisfactory end. The stored violence and feeling expends in nothing. Nocturnal Animals itself isn't a great read either, clumsy and odd at times, I wondered if it was a reflection of Edward's writing or Wright's himself. And as Susan's experiences don't really come to much either, I can't find much to recommend in this book. It just all felt a little pointless really. I'll be interested to hear what others thought though.
  4. If you are going to buy This Thing Of Darkness please consider buying from Amazon via the BGO link, as we get a small percentage of each sale towards the costs of running the forum.
  5. A thread to discuss the relationship of Holmes and Watson. It can include theories propounded elsewhere, 'clues' from these Adventures and reference other Holmes short and full-length stories as needed. Holmes' (Doyle's?) attitude to women - as in the following post - could be part of this discussion.
  6. I have just read the last 20 chapters in one sitting. Suddenly, with the engagement of the terrifying Mr Jeffris the story starts to gallop towards it's inevitable conclusion. From that fateful mouthful of Christmas pudding Oscar has made one bad choice after another, and even as we hope for a happy ending with Lucinda, we fear that some disaster will befall them. As I finished it my eyes filled again, as they have done at several points in the story, I was just so sad- for so many of he characters; Oscar, his father, the Strattons, Wardley-Fish, and Lucinda. I will be thinking about them for some time to come.
  7. "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" ended with a bang for me. This is another one of my favorites, although it doesn't get the fandom of "Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Speckled Band." It's another one that focuses on the nefarious efforts of parents to get their hands on their daughter's money. I remember when I first read this story as a young teenager having no idea what the family was up to. So the solution, once presented, was shocking to me. Now that I've read a bit more about the era (and focused on these stories, for which the perilous state of young women is a theme), it's relatively easy to spot. But good for Holmes for being worried about it. And of course, this is another plucky girl, which Holmes and Watson (and probably, therefore, Conan Doyle) seem to admire so much. I did look up what "Copper Beeches" look like on my tablet. Very pretty.
  8. I've just got my copy from Amazon and have only read the introduction by Mark Gatiss. It's vedry good introduction.
  9. This was a medium favorite for me. I liked the puzzle and Holmes searching out the physical clues and realizing what they all meant. I did not like the solution because I felt sorry for the culprit, even though she was a knucklehead. I did like that this was the only place (I think) where Holmes says his famous statement: "...when you have excluded the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." And that really applied here.
  10. I read this story this morning while still in bed as hubby up at 4.00am. It did not take much concentration as not a great deal happened. Of all the stories in the collection so far it is probably my least favourite. The only real point of interest for me was the attitude of society to the arrival of a number of American heiress's. Although stated in quite a jovial way it seems that the arrival of new money from the States had the effect of narrowing down the availability of decent men for girls from the British aristocracy to marry. From all that I have read of this time it seems that a number of the American girls had a bit of a rough time.
  11. I finished this story a couple of days ago. At the beginning of the story Watson actually states that Holmes' skills of deduction were not needed to any great extent to work out the mystery. Usually this would spoil the story for me as it tends to be the detailed ideas which attract me to the stories. I found this story to be one of the most sinister of those that I have read so far and although clues were a bit thin on the ground for me I still felt that it held my interest. At the beginning of the story Watson refers to Holmes dinning on occasion with him and his wife. This created a completely new view in my mind of the developing relationship between the pair. I am enjoying reading the stories in the same way that I have enjoyed reading series of modern crime novels as relationships develop as they go along.
  12. "The Adventure of the Speckled Band" is one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by Scottish author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the eighth of the twelve stories collected in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It is one of four Sherlock Holmes stories that can be classified as a locked room mystery. The story was first published in Strand Magazine in February 1892, with illustrations by Sidney Paget. It was published under the different title "The Spotted Band" in New York World in August 1905. Doyle later revealed that he thought this was his best Holmes story. (Wikipedia)
  13. I do not know this story, so may have to go to the library. I'll be back when I've found it.
  14. Edit: this OP was originallya post in the Central Library discussion thread on What Makes a Great Writer 'Great" before the Group Read on Orlando started Thanks for your insights people, your posts make a lot of sense. All something to think about. It will be interesting to see the discussion on Orlando. He (she) is certainly larger than life and maybe there is a bit of 'tongue in cheek' going on among all the colourful and fantastical descriptions.
  15. "The Five Orange Pips", one of the 56 short Sherlock Holmes stories written by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is the fifth of the twelve stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The story was first published in The Strand Magazine in November 1891. Conan Doyle later ranked the story seventh in a list of his twelve favourite Sherlock Holmes stories
  16. "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League" is one of the 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It first appeared in The Strand Magazine in August 1891, with illustrations by Sidney Paget. Conan Doyle ranked "The Red-Headed League" second in his list of his twelve favorite Holmes stories. (Wikipedia)
  17. A seasonal story. Well maybe a little early, but the late-comers might not get to it until Christmas!
  18. "A Scandal in Bohemia" was the first of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories to be published in The Strand Magazine and the first Sherlock Holmes story illustrated by Sidney Paget, (Two of the four Sherlock Holmes novels – A Study In Scarlet and The Sign of The Four – preceded the short story cycle). Doyle ranked A Scandal in Bohemia fifth in his list of his twelve favourite Holmes stories. (Wikipedia)
  19. I don't recognise the title, so this may be a new story for me. Back later!
  20. Restored Thread 18th February 2011, 09:06 AM lunababymoonchild This book sets out an alternative society with babies not being born but created and then conditioned from birth and for their entire lives with adult behaviour being controlled via drugs. Even so, not everybody conforms to this and the book goes on to describe what happens. This book is set in the future but as it was written between the two world wars so at that time perhaps it was futuristic, but not so now, I felt. More an alternative man made society. I struggled with this book a little bit. I got to page 70 and decided to give it until page 100 before I abandoned it as I felt that up until then it was mundane and somewhat sterile in it's depictions of the society that was later to be called Brave New World. Fortunately, somewhere between page 70 and 100 it got a bit more interesting, from my point of view. Had the book been written later I would have felt that it was cliched in the introduction of a character that was neither of the controlled society or fully savage (the pre-existing 'alternative' society) but since the book was obviously written in the thirties it didn't come across a cliched at all. I enjoyed the remainder of the book and am glad that I stuck with it. The most profound of the author's statements come near the end, and during the thirties I'm sure that they were extremely profound if not ground breaking. They are certainly thought provoking today. Not the greatest book I've ever read but enjoyable enough and for long enough to keep me reading. Won't be seeking out other works by Aldous Huxley, though. #2 18th February 2011, 09:24 AM tagesmann I finished this yesterday. I had read the book before but that was at school and the impression it made then was fairly profound. This time I was a little disappointed. It wasn't a bad book and it wasn't badly written. Of course the science fiction is dated but that doesn't matter. I think that my main reason for not being so involved in the book was because I couldn't empathise with the characters although I did appreciate the cultural clashes and the total inability of the people to understand each other. I agree that the end of the book contained the most interesting aspects. Particularly the controller's sacrifice and the discussion about the right to be unhappy. I sometimes think that it is a shame that authors so rarely put their point of view forward through their characters in the way that was accepted in the 18th, 19th and early 20th century. I hated the ending but it was at least final. #3 18th February 2011, 10:29 AM Grammath Like most science fiction books, it is worth considering Brave New World in the context of the time it was written and published - 1932. I see it as satire as much as some form of future prediction. Mass production had fuelled the boom of the 1920s but had also had a dehumanizing effect - people became simple machines on a production line. The Great Crash of 1929 suggested that a world of wealth and mindless pleasure wasn't necessarily going to last forever. The Soviet Union had existed for a decade and a half; a society dedicated to shoehorning people into contributing to accepting its ideology unquestioningly. Mussolini was already in charge of Italy and Hitler's election was imminent. Huxley was from an academic background and I see Brave New World as a novel of ideas first and foremost, I agree as a story it is somewhat weaker than its closest equivalent in English Literature, Nineteen Eighty Four. Like tag, I first read Brave New World in my teens, at a time when sci-fi formed the backbone of my pleasure reading diet, as opposed to what I had to read for school. This, Nineteen Eighty Four and the works of Philip K. Dick showed me that the future was not necessarily going to be a rosy place so for me personally it was a very important book and appealing to the moody teenage Grammath. #4 21st February 2011, 11:43 AM Jenmcd Science fiction, along with fantasy, is a genre I avoid like the plague and I think Brave New World is my first foray into this area. I suppose I started out with low expectations so was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the novel. It is very much an ideas driven rather than character driven book so the weak point was my inability to connect with any of the characters. Aspects of the book seem very dated which at times make it hard to take the novel seriously - I am thinking particularly of the notion that we would all be obsessed with wearing artificial fibres and clothes with large numbers of zips in the future. Also I would have expected the fact that women were freed from pregnancy and mothering would have promoted equality to a much greater extent. I know the female characters were working but they didn't seem to make it to the very top in society and it seemed to be still basically a man's world. I have found myself thinking about the book quite a bit since I finished it and was particularly struck by the notion that the Brave New World sacrificed democracy for stability. The response of western governments and media to the current situation in various middle eastern countries seems to echo this - while they are very careful not to say anything which appears to deny the democratic rights of people in the region you can sense the underlying fear for the 'stability of the region' - a stability which suits the west. I have also found myself wondering whether it would be better to be bred and conditioned to be on the lower stratas of such a futuristic society or to be kept there by force. As someone who has been through pregnancy and childbirth three times it has also occurred to me that if you are conditioned against the whole notion it would seem a very bizarre and appalling thing to go through. Anyway I am slightly freaking myself out by how much I'm thinking about this! On the whole I'll settle for our imperfect democracy. #5 20th March 2011, 05:29 PM bobblington What interested me in this book was the way that like so many futuristic books there is the idea that rather than turning into extremely independant people, the human race always becomes conformist and is so easily controlled. Also the controlling faction are always breaking the rules themselves and in this instance deciding to stay and control rather than escaping to the islands. Basically this book had a world split into 3 groups, the controlled world, with programmed humans from birth into social strata. A group of 'savages' which appeared to be Mexican Nomads (now confined) and the islands where people who wanted space and the ability to be free and alone could have it. Which seemed like a sensible idea really. I find it wonderful how clear he was about 'test tube babies' and mind control, I know it was only the 1930's but it still seemed an impressive idea of the future. Very interesting to see how people think things will pan out. I always enjoy a futuristic tale - how accurate they can be on small things, and sometimes big things. #6 19th April 2011, 05:15 PM nonsuch I've taken a long time to finish this one, which indicates that it was hardly a pageturner. I have to agree with Tagesmann that the characters are so thinly realised that it's difficult to identify with them. Of course it's about ideas not people, but even so it's terribly dated. So what if many of the seemingly fantastic notions about cloning and conditioning are now part of our everyday life. Test tube babies, avoidance of romantic love, the pragmatic approach to death, the clean clinical world where alphas are governors and epsilons are pariahs to be shunted off to New Mexico - some of these things have happened and are happening around us (QV the euthanasia debate) but are they really novel material, which, to me at least, depends on character. Like Mrs Thatcher I sometimes tend to think that society is a myth. Oh well, I guess I'm just not a sci-fi guy. #7 20th April 2011, 08:29 AM tagesmann A lot of modern clothes are made with synthetic fibres, especially those made for women. And our society is obsessed with fashion and with buying this year's styles. I think Huxley also correctly predicted our rampant consumerism. But where he suggested an almost compulsory consumerism which created a demand for products and services we have a manufacturing industry that creates the demand by constantly developing new products. #8 20th April 2011, 12:28 PM nonsuch Of course it is dated, like Wells and Orwell, because many of the prophesies have become commonplace and others are too far-fetched to even make us smile. The reader must take fantasy fiction for what it's worth and when it is satirical and funny, like Gulliver's Travels or Animal Farm, for example, it is hugely enjoyable. There's a fictional world presented in those books that relates to our world, as it is and always will be, but with Brave New World I felt I was being dragged through one gimmick after another - frozen wastes, deserts, skyscraper countries or whatever - all to show us what bizarre futures we could be heading for. Still, I did laugh at some bits - John the barbarian becoming a Shakespeare scholar for instance. Sci-fi should either be funny or rather chilling - like, say, Ferency's Metropole, which is so close to our real world as to be horrific. Orwell, it seems to me, does both extraordinarily well in Animal Farm and pulls the horror thread uncomfortably tight in 1984, which is not funny and almost too close for comfort. Huxley never quite engages the reader to the same degree. #9 5th August 2011, 12:50 PM Luis Saunders "…what would it be like if I could, if I were free – not enslaved by my conditioning." I found this quote on ****** along with an analysis, discussion, and references pertaining to Brave New World. It really helped me understand the book, its magnificence and significance to the way society is progressing today, especially in developed countries like ours. The current preoccupation really is with comfort, with numbing ourselves to anything unpleasant, anything that leaves us feeling uncertain. Psychiatrists prescribe Prozac like candy. Those who can afford it control the temperature, the lighting, the very environment they live in to shut out the elements. Every human experience can be purchased if you have enough money. The world Aldous Huxley speaks of could be a reality very soon. #10 13th August 2011, 11:58 AM nonsuch It already is! That's why, in many ways, the novel, like some of Ray Bradbury, seems somewhat dated. #11 15th October 2011, 04:28 PM eager reader My teenager and young adult students all love this book. I set it as a reader almost every semester. It all started a few years ago, when 1984 used to be one of the set titles for the Cambridge FCE exam. Back then I recommended it as a complement to 1984 to the students who had read that and enjoyed, and it proved to be so popular that whenever I have a group with that profile I go for it again. I also like this novel a lot myself, but I often wonder why the younger generation responds to it so positively. Could it be that they somehow see the world as it is today - cold-hearted, no room for love, only alphas taking it all - reflected on the plot ? It's incredible how most teenagers seem to be without hope nowadays. I suppose Brave New World illustrates that lack of social mobility so perfectly it gives them comfort regarding their own lives. #12 15th October 2011, 07:21 PM momac I certainly hope that it doesn't apply to most teenagers, what a depressing thought when they have their whole lives ahead of them. #13 16th October 2011, 02:38 PM eager reader Hi Momac, I also find it utterly depressing and certainly hope this is just a local problem here in Brazil - but unfortunately it's what I've been noticing recently. Our educational system is extremely elitist, and youngsters realise from an early age that the vast majority will probably be excluded from a good university and therefore good jobs in the future. This makes them very competitive at a time when they should be just enjoying their youth. The ones who feel they can't enter the race just give up and conform. It's a downward spiral, really, which could only be reversed if we had drastic changes implemented from secondary school on, but our government is not too keen... Sad, sad, sad. #14 15th November 2011, 01:08 PM Chris Parker I loved this book, even though it's gloomy and ends on a downer. It's remarkable when you think of the publishing date. I was talking to my 12-year old son about the streaming in his school. They put the brightest kids in 'E' stream, next brightest in 'D' stream etc, for most of their lessons. Except for the alphabet reverasl, I was struck by the similarity with alphas etc. If we're not careful we'll be educating (if not genetically engineering) the next generation. At least there's the X Factor to keep everyone entertained and happy!
  21. The title is ringing bells, but I can't recall the story. I'll be back when I've read it.
  22. I'm nearly half-way through this book. The language is fantastic. The characters are very slowly developing - some better than others. I'm interested enough to want to know more about them.
  23. Apologies for the delay in setting this up - but better late than never, to quote a cliche.
  24. RESTORED THREAD This Thing of Darkness was also chosen as a group read in 2012, the second group read of that year. The sub-forum for the discussion went missing in the lost year, but I found this thread from it in the Google Cache Lectora 18th May 2012, 04:48 PM The author, Harry Thompson died in 2005, the year this, his first novel was published. Previously, he had written a series of non fiction books. For a first novel, this is a tremendous achievement. The author demonstrates a superb mastery of creating a riveting story by fashioning together well recorded facts about the Beagle's charting of the South American coast lines, the lives of Captain Robert Fitzroy and Charles Darwin with imaginative and credible insights into their characters as well as into the characters of the other men and women who were crew members, colleagues, friends and/or family members. The description of the South American coastline, the stormy seas, the crew members of the Beagle, the native peoples, the characters they took on board to train as civilised Christians, the hair raising incidents, the growing friendship between Fitzroy and his passenger Charles Darwin - are all compelling and truly vivd. There are also flashes of real humour. Once into the book, I found I could not put it down. I'm now halfway through it and I must confess that looking back, I find it difficult to separate and isolate hair-raising incidents in my mind- there are so many of them! Essentially though this book is about Robert Fitzroy, charles Darwin to a lesser degree. Of aristicratic family, Fitzroy could trace his ancestry through Lord Castlereagh back to Charles II. His name Fitzroy means "bastard son of the king". Fitzroy was an enigmatic, complex character. Highly gifted, he graduated from the Dartmouth College as the top sea cadet of the year. He was a very private person, highly disciplined and motivated, a devout Evangelical Christian, strict with himself and others, but one who was eventually respected and loved for his gifts of leadership and compassion. He also had a truly enquiring mind and his discoveries about how to discern and interpret weather patterns laid the foundations for modern weather forecasting. However, as a character Fitzroy was fatally flawed. Deep depression was in the family. Lord Castlereagh suffered from it and Fitzroy most certainly did. The book begins with a description of the suicide of Robert Stokes, a former captain of the Beagle. Fitzroy decides to live in his cabin and the reader discerns there is something very ominous about the connection. Indeed, not very far into the book, Fitzroy is consumed by an uncontrollable rage from which he quickly recovers. These episodes are to occur on more than one occasion. Darwin and Fitzroy develop a deep friendship, but it is a friendship which is eventually marred by division over what Darwin discovers and develops in the Origin of Species, while Fitzroy becomes more of a literalist Christian under the influence of his first wife, Mary..... I found myself pondering how a man whose scientific mind led him to discover unknown patterns in weather could not bring himself to study Biblical imagery with the same zeal. Literalists even today donot recognise that what the Creation accounts in Scripture, Genesis 1 & 2, Ps 104 etc are not concerned with is our post Galileo cosmology but with an ancient Middle Eastern world that people conceived as being created as a flat plate with a fixed solid firmament (sky) above, (stars stuck into it) and waters under an earth supported by pillars. And there were waters above the firmament. The waters of Chaos were a constant threat. It is all there in the Bible! Of course, the Flood occurs again and again in Thompson's book. Fitzroy brings it up so many times. He even wondered how the giant prehistoric monster whose skeleton they found would have got into the Ark! I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time - at the grief that would inevitably come to pass....... (to be continued) --------------------------- #2 MisterHobgoblin 18th May 2012, 10:47 PM It seems a shame not to post in this thread: http://www.bookgrouponline.com/foru...e=&authorid=789 which already has over 50 posts on the book. __________________ #3 Binker 18th May 2012, 11:06 PM I agree, but that's often a problem when the BGO group read is a book that already has a thread. I think that happened with The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, too. __________________ #4 MisterHobgoblin 19th May 2012, 03:30 AM It seems there are even more threads on This Thing Of Darkness from the last time it was a BGO read: http://www.bookgrouponline.com/foru...play.html?f=527 __________________ #5 momac 19th May 2012, 01:53 PM Thanks for the descriptive intro Lectora - have several books on the go at the moment and didn't get too far into "This Thing..." but had a inkling that perhaps Fitzroy was going to have some mental aberrations (sp?). Once I clear off the small stack of library holds, whch all arrived at the library for me at once, it will be clear sailing, for me anyway. ---------------- #6 lunababymoonchild 19th May 2012, 05:56 PM Lectora, I found your description absolutely astounding and throughly enjoyed reading it. I have read the book before (it was me that proposed it for the group read) and am currently re-reading it to refresh my memory but I do remember what happened, broadly. Thanks for starting us off in such a eloquent way and I look forward to reading the rest of your thoughts. ------------------- #7 Lectora 21st May 2012, 01:47 PM Some Comments on the 2005-7 Discussion Thank you Luna and Momac for your comments. A special thanks to Misterhobgoblin for proving a link to the previous discussion which I did not know about and which I've now read with the greatest of interest. The title This Thing of Darkness comes from Shakespeare's The Tempest. It refers to Caliban, the evil, malformed creature Prospero admits is his slave. Harry Thompson is using the title as a metaphor for Fitzroy's manic depressive illness. In fact there are places in the book where Fitzroy silently refers to his attacks in the language of demon possession. I agree with Krey that "human behaviour does not change" although the historic framework within which it operates is subject to change. Therefore we are also "people of our time". The "civilised" white man's treatment of the "non white savage" was based partly on an interpretation of the Genesis passage (end of Ch. 9) that following Ham and his son Canaan's sin, "the children of Ham shall serve the rest". Contrast that with St Paul's statement in Galatians 3 that , "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Fitzroy exhibits more of the spirit of Galatians on this one than he reflects the teaching of Genesis. The Galatians text by the way,was used repeatedly by William Wilberforce in the House of Commons when he was fighting for the emancipation of slaves. News of his success (1833) reached Fitzroy and Darwin on the Beagle and is mentioned in the book. A lot has happened in main stream Bible studies since the 19th c and there are many new discoveries too, all of which in my experience undergird and do not destroy faith. Some people would go as far as to say we were on the brink of a new Bible Reformation. It is happening very quietly in church Bible study groups. A few years ago, I would never have dreamt to go to extra Biblical sources to throw more light on the Scriptures. Now my present vicar encourages me to do so with the group I lead. There is however, an inclination on the part of those who don't know about these new developments, to place all Christians behind the same literalist banner. Literalists are in the main, Old Testament people who cannot follow the progression of ideas from Old to New Testament and beyond. I've recently read in the book the furious exchange between Darwin and Fitzroy on the Galapagos Islands. Both would recognise the issues in the battle now being fought in Texas between (Old Testament) Creationists and the rest. So what else is new?: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentis...-war-on-history ----------------- #8 Lectora 23rd May 2012, 06:06 PM I must thank you Luna, for proposing this book. It has been a truly memorable read. This Thing of Darkness is a quite outstanding book! I've written enough about it already and I don't want to say anything more to give the ending away. Just a few remarks: There is a different "feel" to the second half of the book after Darwin and Fitzroy return to England. Once home, Fitzroy finds that it is Darwin who is feted and he Fitzroy, is just the captain who commanded the ship on which Darwin sailed. I think Darwin could have done more to see that some of the credit went Fitzroy's way. Fitzroy's remarkable work on weather patterns and weather forecasting did not receive the acclaim they deserved until after his death. Fitzroy is seems to be dogged by failure, disappointment, sheer bad luck and people determined to put him down in just about every job he undertakes. Then there is family tragedy and Darwin has his share of that. The friendship between the two men reaches breaking point. The author had a mass of material to explore. He selects incidents to describe in blocks and we find ourselves being transported seamlessly between places as far distant as Durham, New Zealand, London, the Falklands and Terra del Fuego. All this skilful interplay keeps our interest and the narrative moving at a cracking pace. I must confess my favourite chapter is ch 36, on the great debate in Oxford in 1860. At first the argument seemed to be going the Biblical literalists' way and then it suddenly changed when T.H Huxley delivered his speech on behalf of Darwin's Origin of Species, Darwin being too unwell to attand. In the pandemonium that ensued, Fitzroy was seen standing waving a Bible and imploring in a loud voice that they should all believe in God rather than man. "A chorus of jeers drowned him out." Thereafter, the book like a Greek tragedy, moves to its expected ending. No one should be surprised that on the very last page we are reminded of how it all began.... ----------------------- #9 lunababymoonchild 23rd May 2012, 07:14 PM You are welcome Lectora, I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I have just embarked on Part 2 and it's like reading a totally new book. -------------------------------- #10 Cassie 24th May 2012, 09:58 PM I've just taken my copy off the shelf, but I don't expect to read it as fast as Lectora! Too heavy for my bag, therefore will have to be bedtime reading. I may be rudely awakened frequently with something heavy landing on my face! __________________ #11 momac 2nd June 2012, 01:36 AM Have been nibbling away at this book and thinking that a person would have to have had a death wish to travel on a sailing ship although I guess some of the sailors had not actually chosen to be on a sailing ship but maybe pressed into it. The hardship, the weather, venturing into the unknown was certainly not for the faint of heart. Captain Fitzroy seems very forward thinking for someone in the 1830's but then that is the author putting his words and thoughts into the character as he thinks they might have been. Does that make sense? Just musing. Shall continue at my not so rapid pace. ---------------------- #12 lunababymoonchild 2nd June 2012, 10:20 AM I'm not very fast at reading this either, Momac and I've read it before. I'm thinking that since there was no alternative to the sailing ships the men just took the hardships for granted. It was regular work, although dangerous and most of them had joined the Navy when they were 12 or so. --------------------- #13 Tralfamadorean 2nd June 2012, 12:05 PM I am sorry that this is probably over-long, Probably contains too many quotations, and probably a bit on the rambling side, but I found it difficult to limit my self on this book and in the end had to stop re-reading what I had written because I couldn't resist adding to it - Still never mind - So It Goes.... This Thing Of Darkness. This is an immense book, and itís difficult to know where to start reviewing it, so .... I have never read Harry Thompson before, and I have to say that itís a tragedy that this was his only novel. He was an author of tremendous talent ñ my sincere thanks go to whoever nominated it. Thompson appears to have an ability to put a smile on the face of formality whenever he pleases. For instance, at the beginning of the novel Admiral Otway incorrectly attributes Stokesí last words to Pope. Fitzroy responds with an ìindeed sirî but later when prompted by King as to the origin of the quotation FitzRoy responds ìëThomson, sir. Itís from The Seasons. ëYouíll go far, Mr Fitzroy. I think youíll go very far indeed.íî All of this precedes a passage of relentless nautical excitement when the storm hits, and found that I was hopelessly hooked into a totally absorbing novel. I have long studied the achievements of Darwin, but never really concerned myself with him as an individual, and I concede that I had hardly heard of FitzRoy. Thompson not only effectively stands both men side by side so that we may make detailed comparisons, he does so whilst setting the scope of the book as widely as he can. Itís not long before we are treated to the nonsense that was (and probably still is!) phrenology as well as the religious indoctrination that formed (and to a lesser extent still forms) such a large part of the school curriculum of that time. All of which serves to enhance the standing of both men, who had so many hurdles of superstition to cross in the development of their respective theories. I am almost convinced that Thompson used some form of time travel when he wrote in chapter ten of the city of London. I could smell it ñ taste it ñ feel it, particularly when Coxswain Bennet takes York, Jemmy and Fuegia on a tour, the city and the era came to life. The relationship between Darwin and FitzRoy is, of course a major feature of this tale, and again Thompson handles it with consummate skill. The exchanges between the two men start with both seeking to get their point of view across barriers of superstition (and I say both because although FitzRoy is a devout Christian, many of his theories must sit uncomfortably with the religious obsessions of the time). He was also faced with the organised opposition of self interested scepticism. Thompson allows the ideas of both men to develop as the book progresses. Darwin for instance in Integado is quoted thus ìDarwin shuddered. The forest was a cruel environment; there was no doubt of that. Everywhere one looked, strangulating creepers twisted about each other like tresses of braided hair, each fighting to squeeze the breath from its adversary. Luxuriant parasitical orchids drank the fluid of their victims with dainty care. Lianas crawled over the rotting corpses of fallen trees, the trunks split and gaping open in the fixed attitudes of death. He felt torn between a sublime devotion to the God who could create such marvellous beauty, and awe at the cruelty of Him who would devise such a world, founded as it was upon a pitiless struggle for survivalî. It was a breathtaking anomaly that two men who both, in their own way, defied convention should find (and in particular Darwin) that the prevalent social prejudices and practices of the era to be acceptable. FitzRoy was remarkably advanced in his attitude towards the indigenous human inhabitants of the various locations they visited. He resisted (sometimes quietly but still resisted) the popular theory that these people were nothing more than animals. Darwinís attitude was often contemptuous towards islanders (as well as towards most individuals that he considered to be of a lower social standing). Darwinís attitude towards women was even worse ìA clever wife would be quite ghastly and tiresome. Romance, of course, palls after a while. No, I have decided upon a nice, soft, quiet wife who can play the piano in the evenings. Certainly, such a wife would be better than a dog.î A stunning quotation from such an enlightened thinker!! FitzRoyís attitude later in New Zealand would be even more striking, when he refused to be a pawn of the white (and mostly criminal) community and resisted the continued pressure to punish the native New Zealanders ñ a position that would bring about his eventual downfall as Governor of New Zealand. Throughout this novel there is one theme in particular that it is impossible to ignore. The amazing strength, bravery and resilience of seafarers of that time cannot be doubted. Hanging in the rigging during the worst of storms; accepting punishment beatings for, very often minor or imagined infringements; confined to the frequently appalling conditions of a small brig for the best part of three years, and performing proudly as seamen while even the very clothes that they wore disintegrated; looking directly into the face of adversity unflinchingly. The gradual process of enlightenment continues during their vast journeys, and there are many occasion where I am almost convinced that FitzRoy will force his way through the shadowy mists of sortilege towards the freedom of thought that beckons Darwin. There are times though when FitzRoy comes close:- ìA sense of anxiety assailed him: the new science of geology promised to order Godís universe, but here it also seemed to open the prospect that man might be more insignificant than he had ever realized. Was the world really aeons old, as Lyell was now suggesting? Was man really lost in time as well as in space? ëìThe wilderness has a mysterious tongue, which teaches awful doubt,îí said Darwin, quietly, feeling Shelleyís lines appropriate to the moment. FitzRoy felt bound to agree with himî. Thompson also highlights the behaviour of the missionary. He shows us that it is generally impossible even to attribute the best of intentions to the depraved individuals, who in the name of their god, sought to dominate, abuse, and murder indigenous people past the point of outright sadism. Even in its milder form their activities leave the nastiest of tastes in ones mouth:- ìíI am sorry, sir,í chimed the boy at the front with a polite smile, ëbut dancing is forbidden in Tahiti, along with all other frivolous entertainments. Anyone caught dancing is to be reported to the watchman, who will take them to the district governor to be punished most severely'". Darwin himself offers us phrenology when he describes the native New Zealanders as ìphrenologically speakingî of the ìmost savage kindî. Clearly given Darwinísí ongoing scepticism, Christianity cannot claim a monopoly on bigotry. Thompson shows us how the relationship between Fitzroy and Darwin degenerates as both men continue the process of polarisation. Their disagreements become increasingly vitriolic, with both characters becoming reluctant to rebuild the broken bridges of their friendship. During one argument FitzRoy says:- ìíHumility? You?í FitzRoy could barely splutter out the words. ëìShall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, what makest thou?íî As the novel heads towards its conclusion with both Darwin and FitzRoy besieged by a multitude of self interested and religious groups, I find it difficult to understand why there isnít some form of limited reconciliation. FitzRoy is present at the debate (and part of what could be described as a howling mob baying for Darwinís blood) when the Right Reverend Samuel Wilberforce, Bishop of Oxford (Soapy Sam) leads the attack on The Origin of Species. Towards the end of his speech he uses an argument that highlights the depth of ignorance within the church at that time. He says:- ìMr Darwinís conclusions are mere hypothesis, nothing more, raised most unphilosophically to the dignity of a causal theory! Is it really, truly credible that a turnip strives to become a man?î FitzRoyís work of weather and weather forecasting is treated to even shorter shrift. Despite bankrupting himself by funding many of the aspects of his obsession he finds that he is cruelly let down by the Admiralty, and notwithstanding the firm support and friendship of Sulivan, the pulling of the plug is hastened by the self interest of fishing fleet owners one of which, a member of Parliament named Augustus Smith, fired struck the terminal blow with his opening words in the House:- ìMr Speaker, gentlemen. I propose to address the disturbing fad for weather prophecies, as propagated by Vice-Admiral FitzRoyís department of the Board of Trade. Last Tuesday week, what did the board prophesy with regard to the weather? ìWind south-east to south-south-west, fresh moderate.î And what was the fact? The wind did not blow from those quarters at all. In fact, a gale blew down from the north! These ìforecastsî, gentlemen, are no more than a disgraceful hoax, perpetrated on an unwitting public at their own expenseî. Francis Galton (Charles Darwinís cousin) finished the destruction of FitzRoy with a report that concluded;- ìThat there is no scientific basis for weather forecasting, which is therefore of no value whatsoever. That the forecasts and storm warnings have not been shown to be generally correct, because of which there is no evidence of their practical utility. That the work of Vice-Admiral FitzRoyís department has been prejudicial to the advancement of science, and has led the public to confuse real knowledge with unfounded pretences, and, in the end, to despise the former because the latter have proved to be unfounded. Finally, that there is no good reason for a government to continue to undertake the responsibility of issuing weather forecasts, or gale warnings to shippingî. FitzRoy attended the reception for the American Pioneer of weather forecasting (largely dependent upon FitzRoyís work) Captain Maury at the French Embassy, where the French honoured the efforts of the American with the award of ìby awarding him the Legion díHonneurî, and as an afterthought gave FitzRoy a ìsmall, mass-produced, bedside travelling clockî. FitzRoy asked Captain Maury about the American staffing levels:- ìHow many are there in your department?í ëBefore the war, I guess there were about fifty men, but I shall be asking for more this time around. How many are there in yours?í ëIncluding myself - three.í ëThree?í ëThatís correct.í ëAnd you issue a daily forecast for the whole of Great Britain?í ëYes.í ëBut - but thatís impossibleî. FitzRoy had run out of options, and he ended his own life (regardless of his deep religious convictions) with his razor:- ìWas he just another monkey, too highly developed for his own good? There was only one way to find out. The razor felt cold against his throatî. This Thing of Darkness was a compelling read. Not only a great story well told, but one that has lured me to look closer at FitzRoy, and his work on weather. I have (many thanks to Lectora) ordered ìJohn & Mary Gribbin's book Fitzroy - the remarkable story of Darwin's Captain and the invention of the Weather Forecastî from my local library (no ebook version sadly). John ----------------------------- #14 Lectora 2nd June 2012, 06:47 PM Tralfamadorean - don't apolgise for an excellent, in depth review. There is so much one could say about this book. I found myself coming back to add more several times! When you get John & Mary Gribbins book, look up individual incidents in both books and together, they will give you a more complete picture. You will then realise just how wonderful a job Harry Thompson did in This Thing of Darkness. How sad that he did not live to receive the acclaim! ----------------- #15 Tralfamadorean 3rd June 2012, 07:44 AM I agree Lectora, Fitzroy was a fascinating character and an unsung hero if ever there was one. I will definitely take your advice and run the two books together - it's difficult at times to read This Thing of Darkness without reminding yourself that it is (overall) a work of fiction, even though Thompson based it largely on fact. Can't wait for the John & Mary Gribbin's book!! John
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