What are you reading? – 6 October 2016

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

October 6, 2016
A man reading a book
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Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Amanda Thomas’ Cholera: The Victorian Plague (Pen & Sword Books, 2015). “A popular view of the Victorian era is one of progress and advancement, built on the achievements of the Industrial Revolution. Yet in a single day in London, in 1854, more than 2,000 people died as a result of cholera, which was in turn just one episode in a series of epidemics that harried Britain in the 19th century. From its origins in Bengal, Thomas takes a biographical approach to the bacterium as a means of tracing the growth of overseas trade, the embryonic origins of the welfare state, the rapid expansion of towns and cities and consequent slide in living conditions, while underlining that no one even knew how it was spread. A fascinating take on a well-worn era.”

Mary Heimann, professor of modern history, Cardiff University, is reading William Roper’s The Life of Sir Thomas More (First Rate Publishers, 2014). “First published in 1626, this slim volume offers a biographical sketch of the author of Utopia that ends with his execution in 1535. Roper, More’s son-in-law, succinctly traces the Lord High Chancellor’s rise to power and details his skilful negotiation of court intrigue (including his management of Henry VIII) before being forced to choose between treason and apostasy. Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall notwithstanding, The Life of Sir Thomas More is remarkable for its ring of authenticity and avoidance of overt proselytising. It evokes a man cheerfully engaged in the world, close to his family and reluctant to become a martyr. The main source for the 1966 film A Man for All Seasons, it reads like a modern psychological portrait and is claimed to be the first biography in English.”

Lennard Davis, distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, is reading Henri Murger’s Bohemians of the Latin Quarter (Amazon Digital Services, 2012) “I am a big fan of Puccini’s opera La Bohème and working on a larger project about poverty, so I thought Puccini’s source might make interesting reading. Early on, we meet the memorable characters of Rodolphe, Schaunard, Colline and Marcel, a madcap group of bohemians who live ‘between poverty and doubt’. There are many high jinks, witty remarks and endless pages of each trying to wheedle various uncles and friends out of money so they can eat. They tend to drink huge amounts till they end up in each other’s arms crying and hugging, while having pissed in a boot that they will later wear. This is no polite and high-minded account, but it is also a very intelligent book filled with classical references, poetry, artistic allusions – as if the Marx Brothers met Oscar Wilde and Noël Coward.”

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