I finished Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell last Monday, “hooray” I hear you cheer, as I had been reading it for quite some time, anyway my review is here and you know what, I actually miss the book, so there you go, I didn’t think I’d actually feel like that towards it. I so want to know what Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell did next.
However my not quite so accidental reading theme of magic is still being kept up, as are my day to day activities, I think if you read about magic you can start to ‘see it’. My two children have some how picked up on my reading recently (neither can actually read) and now one of their favourite games is to pretend to be magicians, so we have lots of disappearing or floating teddies. And with this (finally) glorious summer weather, on a rather long walk in the park today, you couldn’t quite help seeing the magic in the air, in the blue of the sky and the green of the grass, in the play of light on the water, I have some photos on my photo blog, here, here, here and here.
As last week I am still reading Religion and the Decline of Magic by Keith Thomas and it has proved an incredibly interesting book. I’m currently reading through the section on astrology which talks about how, for a while during the 16th and 17th centuries, astrology was considered a matter of great learning and study and was very popular. It governed everything from medicine, finding stolen property to the more familiar aspects of charting someones destiny. Almanacs were incredibly popular and were actually under censorship because of the effects a prediction could have on the population, if an almanac predicted famine (which they supposedly could due to their weather forecasting astrological predictions), farmers would hold back grain and the famine would actually happen and in that way dissent and rebellion could also be predicted because nothing breeds dissent more than an empty stomach.
However even then there were people who saw through almanacs a bit more than other people. I liked the quote from Poor Robin, a mock almanac published in 1664, where satirists predicted for February of that year
‘We may expect some showers or rain either this month or the next, or the next after that, or else we shall have a very dry spring.’
Even with the satirists and the astrologers obvious complete lack of success in most of their predictions, it still proved to be a very popular science until the discoveries of Newton and Galileo, where suddenly the universe which had seemed so known and rigid, suddenly started to spring up new surprises.
I have also been keeping up with my fiction reading, which by seemingly by accident but I suspect more by subconscious choice is also set in the 17th century and features apparently quite a bit of religion and I’m sure a bit of magic will creep in to. I’m still in the early days of this book and already one of the characters is talking about medical treatments straight out of the pages of Thomas. I am reading Imprimatur by Monaldi and Sorti, I have been spending most of my reading time with Thomas, however I am now a few chapters in to Imprimatur and it is proving ‘interesting’. It starts out with an interesting premise of a letter, written in 2040 to an official in the Vatican from the Bishop of Como, two friends of his, a married couple (suggested to be Monaldi and Sorti) have disappeared but they have sent him a manuscript, is it a novel or is it real, an actual testimony from 1683 shedding light on some shocking history within the Catholic Church? Having read a few chapters of the manuscript, it is not exactly an easy read, they have captured the voice of someone from the 17th century quite authentically (although not so authentically it’s almost impossible to read), the character meanders at points into various discussions on music etc. which quite lose me. The narrator is a servant boy at an inn in Rome when an old man from France, one of the inn’s guests, mysteriously dies, the local authorities think it’s the plague, so they board up the inn and it’s inhabitants and quarantine it for 20 days. However, all is not straight forward, according to one of the other inn guests, a doctor, the old man was more likely to have been poisoned and the question is, is the poisoner still with them and will he strike again? So, so far it’s a bit like an Agatha Christie mystery, where everyone is cooped up together, nobody is quite what they seem and someone is about to pop their clogs any minute . . . now. So, it’s interesting. It’s also meant to be controversial, published in Italy in 2002 it was boycotted by the Italian press and publishers, I suspect (although it’s not yet apparent, so early in the book), that the Vatican is somehow involved in the story and they don’t come off in a good light. I will be reporting back.