With the warm weather, it occurred to me to revisit an old summer tradition: the tackling of a classic novel. I’ve had ol’ Chuck Dickens’ Bleak House (‘the ultimate legal novel’) on my list for a long while, so i popped into a Nanaimo used bookstore to see if they had a copy. On a tall double shelf labelled ‘Classics’ i found lots of Dickens books, but not that one. I also noticed lots of something else: dead white males, who apparently compose the vast bulk of our ‘classics’ canon.
With one glaring exception: this particular shelf held half a metre of Jane Austen novels. So in solidarity with the feminine, i picked up one of those: Persuasion. Which i’m three chapters into, and making heavy weather of, thanks to the long, looping multi-clausal sentences that are the hallmark of the pre-modern period. Here, for illustration, is the first sentence of the novel (which is also most of the first paragraph):
I counted: that baby’s 102 words long — a full paragraph, or more, by today’s standards. It was written for an era with way more time, and a way longer attention span, than the present day. But for the deliberate cultivation of concentration, nothing better. It’s a bit like walking through a bog — I found my attention wandering by page 2. But i’m determined to persist, in the interest of both a whacking good story and the improvement of my own internet-attenuated attention span.
There was a copy of Bleak House at the used bookstore down the street, so i picked that up too — 880 pages of long, looping multi-clausal sentences that should keep me occupied for the rest of the summer, post-Persuasion.