A Room of His Own: A Literary-Cultural Study of Victorian Clubland by Barbara J. Black (Goodreads Review)

A Room of His Own: A Literary-Cultural Study of Victorian ClublandA Room of His Own: A Literary-Cultural Study of Victorian Clubland by Barbara J. Black
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a lot about the Victorian age that I am either missing or that has been warped in my imagination by stereotypes in film and literature. In particular, I have been curious about “clubland,” that male-dominated, class-entrenched society that haunts behind the works of the male 19th-century novelists and into the 20th century in stories like Sherlock Holmes or in the character of Winston Churchill. Some of the gentlemen’s club names are familiar to Londoners, like the Athenaeum, the Reform, the Travellers, the Carlton, the United Service, and places located in the Temple and Pall Mall. Notorious, fascinating, troubling, these clubs are laced behind much of Victorian and Modernist literature.

And, frankly, I just don’t understand smoking room culture. I don’t get guy spaces like that, and yet I spend my life working with people and stories that are coming out of this culture. One of my favourite books every is Virginia Woolf‘s A Room of One’s Own–clearly a book Barbara Black wants to be in conversation with. There Woolf is carving out a space for women that I’m pretty sure is evocating clubland culture on top of the Oxbridge male-dominated world she is shredding. The Inklings and friends that I study were formed by literary groups–certainly the Inklings, but also the TCBS and, extending out to the world around, the Bloomsbury Set, the Paris Expats, the Mutual Admiration Society, the Detection Club…. I would argue that British literature from WWI to the sexual revolution was revolutionized by writers who made their own ad-hoc writing clubs.

This is why I picked up A Room of His Own, so I could fill in some historical background that I’m missing. In one way, it worked remarkably well. It is a fun, well-written social history using a literary lens. It gets a bit involved at times, but it really is the kind of thing I would like to write in my world.

However, to be honest, I read this book a decade or so too early. It seems I am really not familiar with English male novelists before WWI other than Dickens and some reading H. Rider Haggard, a bit of Anthony Trollope, and the fantasists. I will get there, I’m sure, but I have a ways to go, and this book is ideally suited to someone who knows Trollope, Dickens, Hardy, Butler, Conrad, and Kipling really well. Although I finished A Room of His Own, I am really mentally setting it aside until my reading has filled out a bit in the background.

Now, where have I put my smoking jacket?

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About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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83 Responses to A Room of His Own: A Literary-Cultural Study of Victorian Clubland by Barbara J. Black (Goodreads Review)

  1. Steve Weatherly-Barton says:

    You might find John Buchan a useful source of clubland material. Buchan was an extraordinarily gifted man who rose to become Governor General of Canada. His novels reflect that he was a child of his time – references to ‘niggers’ and Jews often alienate readers, although he also has some remarkably ‘liberal’ insights. His best-known hero, Richard Hannay, does much business in clubs, as does his slightly autobiographical lawyer Sir Edward Leithen. He was also, I understand, a favourite of Tolkien, as these references will indicate.
    https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/541782/
    http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Tolkien_and_the_Study_of_His_Sources
    http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/press/1127-tolkien-world-his-sources-and-inspirations.php
    https://potbanks.wordpress.com/2016/08/10/on-john-buchan-the-lord-of-the-rings-and-ebooks/

    (Thank you for the constant pleasure of your posts)!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the note–and the tip! I love Canadian references too. And thanks for the nice note.

      Like

    • Yewtree says:

      My favourite Buchan novels are “The Blanket of the Dark” (a favourite of Virginia Woolf’s apparently; she reread it once a year) and “Huntingtower”.

      Like

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        Huntingtower is a great one (though I only know Simon Ever’s fine LibriVox.org free audiobook of it, so far). I’m not sure I’ve even heard of The Blanket of the Dark (he was so prolific!).

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yewtree says:

          Oh I think you’d like “The Blanket of the Dark”, especially if you’ve ever been to Minster Lovell near Witney, or the Roman villa remains near there. Or if you feel that the Reformation was all very well but it’s a pity about the smashing up of churches and the loss of the devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Or if you like really good historical novels, or Buchan generally, then this book is for you. In short, it’s great.

          Like

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Wow! I really liked “The Company of the Marjolaine”, but have no real sense of Buchan as writer of historical fiction, otherwise: thanks!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yewtree says:

              I’m not familiar with that book so I’ll give it a try. I very much enjoyed reading your previous suggestion of The Little Grey Men (I think I started it as a child but never finished it). Also have The Lord of the Forest on my to-read stack.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I read it in David Daniell’s paperback selection of his Best Short Stories, Volume I, but it was included in his lifetime in The Moon Endureth, which is transcribed at Project Gutenberg.

                Visiting a second-hand bookshop a week ago, I found the B.B. sequel to The Little Grey Men, Down the Bright Stream! (I suppose I can start with it…) And bought on spec The Bookshop on the Quay, whose author, Patricia Lynch, sounded perhaps vaguely familiar. Back online, I looked up her Wikipedia article, and, wow! – it is called “her best-known non-fantasy book” – as she has a lot of other interesting fantasy ones to look out for!

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yewtree says:

                I have just finished “Lord of the Forest” and loved it. Shelved it and “Little Grey Men” next to my copy of “Brendon Chase”. Also really appreciated the epigraph that appears on each book, which I think was also BB’s epitaph.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I can imagine that Lewis, who wrote, in the Epilogue of An Experiment in Criticism, “I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or to a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog”, would have delighted in B.B.’s imagination of the long life of an oak in Lord of the Forest.

                I’d forgotten it – yes!:

                The wonder of the world,
                the beauty and the power,
                the shape of things,
                their colours, lights and shades;
                these I saw.
                Look ye also while life lasts.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yewtree says:

                It’s really lovely, isn’t it?

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Indeed! I’m now off to a good start in Down the Bright Stream (where B.B. happily, after referring to The Little Grey Men, says, “If you have not read it, it doesn’t matter; perhaps you will one day before long”).

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Over a third of the way now and enjoying it a lot – and fascinated by the presence of Pan – I wonder if Kenneth Grahame is in the background, and Prince Caspian in the ‘wake’?

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yewtree says:

                Yes, I noticed the similarities and differences with Wind in the Willows, too.

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Three-fifths of the way through Down the Bright Stream, it dawns on me, that Wind in the Willows and B.B.’s gnome books fit with this post, in having a handful of male main protagonists together (though in Grahame they’re all animals and in B.B. one’s a Squirrel) – but also, that, as long lived, the gnomes offer interesting comparisons with Tolkien’s Ents of Fangorn Forest – though (teaser rather than spoiler) in this book, one of the gnomes perhaps also invites distinct comparison with Smeagol/Gollum, as traveller alone (in some sense).

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yewtree says:

                Oh I don’t know — I’d’ve compared Cloudberry to Bilbo, and the others to Merry and Pippin, if I was going to compare them with Hobbits.

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                It makes me want to read The Little Grey Men soon! (Down the Bright Stream has all sorts of references back, which one does not need to know, but which tend to tantalize.)

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yewtree says:

                Oh, you must! And I must get around to reading Down the Bright Stream. And the Buchan one that you recommended

                Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Well, I finished it and it seems a bit like it might have been leaving open the possibility of another sequel (but as far as I can quickly find online, never had one) – and, however satisfying it is, I am left wondering about various things in the world of Woodcock’s Island (so to put it). “The Little Grey Men” Wikipedia article indicates that The Forest of Boland Light Railway (1955) is some kind of ‘prequel’… But, I should see how many things I wonder, about lore and history, are in fact answered in The Little Grey Men.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe R. Christopher says:

    Lord Peter Wimsey was a member of two clubs: Marlborough and Egoists’. And he had something to do with _The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club_.

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Which leads us to the interesting question of how Miss Dorothy L. Sayers was able to give us such lively and persuasive pictures of club life. I have the sense various of Agatha Christie’s works have such glimpses, too – perhaps more in what I think of as her ‘Buchan-y’ stories.

      I don’t have a broad and deep enough sense of it, either, but wonder how it interrelates with separate boys’ and girls’ schools, and the long history of exclusively male colleges at the universities. I blush to say, I am a Tennyson lover who has never yet read all of The Princess (1847). Nor have I thought properly about how Kingsley may be playing with Victorian educational reference in Hypatia (1853), where the title character is quite a high-powered (Late-Antique) lecturer!

      Sayers (one of the first women to be awarded a degree at Oxford, though not immediately upon finishing her studies in 1915, at a college which had been there for 36 years by then, one of the first two women’s colleges) writes interestingly about all-female and all-male colleges and the Oxford including both, with the various interactions that entails, in Gaudy Night (1935).

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for these rich comments, David. The residential school-college-club trifecta is, you are right, a powerful one. Perhaps deeper than gender divide is class divide, which is still essential to the system.
        I need to read more Sayers!

        Like

        • hannahdemiranda3 says:

          Great question “how Miss Dorothy L. Sayers was able to give us such lively and persuasive pictures of club life”! Maybe great observational and emphatic skills? What is known about any male friendships? She was in contact with Inkling members …

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            More good questions! All the Wimsey novels, and, I think, all the Wimsey stories as well (except “Tallboys” (written in 1942, but only published posthumously) – and the ‘Wimsey Papers’) were published before she had personal contact with any of the (future) Inklings except perhaps Charles Williams (in 1936?). I remember Norah Lambourne telling me (in the interview available at the Wade) that Dorothy Sayers contacted a doctor friend to find out how much an average adult male human head weighed, so they could give the prop of one a proper ‘heft’ on the point of a spear for the production of The Emperor Constantine (1951) – and I can imagine that in her younger years, she might have felt as free to ask men she knew about details of club life. But I should do rereading of some biographies and reading of more – and finally catch up with the first volume of her letters! – to try to test that, and/or consider likely friends/family members mentioned.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Hannah says:

              Thanks for these details! (I thought already you would know them), but they raise even more questions – having written all the Wimsey stories before having personal contact with any Inklings .. makes it even more amazing! Are there any letters to male friends/family members? Good idea to read that volume on it and biographies.

              Like

        • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

          “I need to read more Sayers!” Do try any – or, indeed, all! – of Ian Carmichael’s audiobooks of the Wimsey stories, if you get a chance – they are delightful.

          Like

  3. dalejamesnelson says:

    Brenton, you wrote, “There is a lot about the Victorian age that I am either missing or that has been warped in my imagination by stereotypes in film and literature…..And, frankly, I just don’t understand smoking room culture. I don’t get guys spaces like that, and yet I spend my life working with people and stories that are coming out of this culture.”

    Your self-awareness and candor here are commendable. The possible “warping” of which you write, if it has indeed occurred, was probably communicated not only by the television programs and movies, and recent works of fiction that you’ve read, but also by the hegemony of left-leaning critical theory (there isn’t any conservative “theory,” so far as I have ever heard since my years as a grad student at the University of Illinois in the 1980s). “Theory” tends to alienate readers from texts, constantly interposing itself between the reader’s imagination and the story or poem, so that the reader never really comes under the spell of the work, but rather is disenchanted before one has been enchanted: on guard, vigilant, wary, suspicious of unacceptable notions encoded therein, ready to censure.*

    You’re on the right track, I’m sure, in thinking that great benefit can be secured by immersion in Trollope, Dickens, Hardy, Butler, Conrad, and Kipling, and other (Stevenson?) and abundant earlier authors, including women authors such as Dorothy Osborne and Jane Austen, and from the Victorian era Elizabeth Gaskell, and Charlotte M. Yonge. Seek further immersion in the music and art of the time — silencing, putting to sleep, if possible, the clever 21st century literature professor that one has internalized. Reading C. S. Lewis’s enthusiastic youthful letters to Arthur Greeves can help with this, and the letters and diaries of earlier writers too. But this reading should primarily be for its own sake, not as a means to enhance one’s scholarship. There’s really a lot that’s very enjoyable if we can be receptive to it, as Lewis urges in An Experiment in Criticism.

    Dale Nelson

    *I might have mentioned here before the incident, a few years before my retirement, when I was summoned to the office of a junior colleague who demanded to know why I declined to participate in a critical conference on our campus. It was devoted to “early English literature,” which apparently was inclusive enough to mean anything prior to English Romanticism — and indeed could be stretched to accommodate “Lawrence” — whether D. H. or T. E. I am not sure. And on another occasion in the same locale I referred to a list of standard literary works that I gave my students for further reading, works by Chaucer, Wyatt, Spenser, Milton, et al, including several women authors, very standard issue stuff, and the list was denounced to my face for “white male patriarchy,” leaving me to wonder how long it had been since literature had really happened for this stout-minded feminist. How very sad.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Dale, we may have to have a real-life discussion about theory because I love working in theoretical frames. A lot of it is liberal, but there are conservative movements too and left-leaning non-liberal movements. Lewis was part of important work in theory and is on the conservative side.
      Rather than alienate, theory gives me tools to read. My fourth chapter of my thesis, which I’m just finishing up, is structuralist analysis and was a lot of fun. I don’t doubt you have a lot of bad experiences in theory, and could provide lots of bad examples. That doesn’t mean we approach texts without a theoretical frame and a cluster of methods, and it doesn’t meant that people in theory should do it poorly. I do think that social theory sometimes lands too quickly in lit studies before it has had a chance to mature.
      Lewis’ critical mind appears so early. It’s neat to read his letters and see that at work–which is part of my fascination with 1916.
      What has bent my Victorian reading, I think, is included in what you are talking about: a generation that painted such fascinating pictures of the Victorian age and its suppression of sexuality. After that gender analysis–based on some real things obviously–Michel Foucault came along and turned it all on its head, saying that the Victorian age was the most sexual–obsessed with sex, talked about it all the time. So there we are. But in the broader category of “sex” it is certainly gender divided in curious ways, and so I keep reading histories and studies.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hannah says:

        Great discussion! Might this tie in with the question on what ‘history’ is in the post on John Donne’s “The Flee” (of 30 Oct)? That only dry theories, facts and dates would “… interpose themselves between the reader’s imagination and the story or poem ….” – here e.g. magnitude, meaning, consequences of historic events, but that they should “give the tools” to understand them? Maybe like true marriage providing a framework for love, instead of stifling it?

        Like

        • This is perceptive. I think Dale’s comment, that theory gets in the way of enjoyment and imaginative reading, comes when there is a mismatch between our approach to reading and the text itself.

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Lewis and Tolkien both, as scholars and lecturers, seem great ones for trying to provide what might be called ‘enabling facts’ to help such imaginative appreciation.

            Liked by 1 person

            • hannahdemiranda3 says:

              Yes! Especially Lewis was very aware of the issues and wrote about them, e.g. in “the Abolition of Man” (with rather scathing “reflections on education ….teaching of English …”), but also e.g. Chesterton before them?

              Like

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                There are so many Lewisian and Inklings ‘connections’ here that invite attention – from the Experiment in Criticism with its contrast of the simple direct enjoyment of reading contrasted with certain sorts of Academic Literary Critical pre- and proscription, to the earlier ‘battles’ over the Curriculum and Lewis and Tolkien’s involvements, for two more examples.

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                (Or at least note more explicitly another aspect of An Experiment in Criticism…)

                Like

      • dalejamesnelson says:

        I’m not sure how much the comments below relate specifically to your own views, but perhaps they will help to show why I see the current state of English studies as so bleak.

        A sound university English curriculum would emphasize language and standard literary works.
        The acquisition of Old English/Anglo-Saxon and Middle English, and of Latin, is something most students can’t, or at least won’t, do on their own. Possession of some degree of proficiency in Latin and pre-modern English will give a person a scholarly independence he or she cannot otherwise enjoy. It would go a long way towards making the young scholar someone who can read the range of English literature without dependence on translations. Conversely, how blatantly “translation-y” sound the Victorian translations we may come across on Project Gutenberg. Yes — and we may expect that in 25 or 50 or a hundred years, the translations favored in our time will sound all too redolent of our own time. Do we want to acquire some freedom from our own time? If we do, we may want to learn these languages. I say that as someone who is on the outside looking in because I did not learn Latin and Old English. Lewis and Tolkien and many others of their time had a manly independence that I will never have as a reader.
        However, I take it that, in our time, aside from homeschoolers and a few small religious colleges, such a language curriculum is, in effect, an impossibility. It would be favored neither from the right nor, certainly, the left, though perhaps disapproved for different reasons. (In this as other matters, Lewis’s observation — that when we look at the opposed controversialists of bygone times, what strikes us is the wide area of agreement between them, and that we must assume the same thing is true of our own time, could we but see it – rings true. Lewis believed that the only way to see the wide areas of agreement between the opponents of our own time is to acquire a deep sense of some other time[s] and then to look at ourselves.)
        Standard literary works have proven their capacity to speak to and delight men and women, people of different ethnicities, etc., through several generations. I suppose that it was largely because it was so evident that women, as well as men, and blacks as well as whites, could read such things perceptively, appreciatively, fruitfully, that it was obvious it didn’t make sense to exclude them from the university.
        Yet at the same time that these standard works speak to people, they also challenge them. I may be -superficially- challenged by Ta-Nahisi Coates, but he doesn’t challenge me deeply; he speaks as someone who’s breathed much the same atmosphere, known the same modes of life, as I. Sir Thomas Browne, to speak of a once-standard author who, I suppose, has fallen out of the curriculum today, challenges me more profoundly.

        I have a list from around the 1960s of the literary works with which students at Cornell or Rutgers (I’m not sure which now) were expected to be conversant prior to taking their comprehensive written exams for a bachelor’s degree in English. I have a list from the mid-1980s of literary works with which students at the University of Illinois were expected to be conversant prior to taking the comprehensive written exam for the master’s degree in English. The latter list appears to me to be shorter than the former. I would assume, however, that the curricula at both universities have been further downsized – if comprehensive exams are even given now. As for the university from which I retired this year, there was no list of works that the student should know before taking a bachelor’s degree, and no comprehensive exam. From my own syllabi and what I have seen of other instructors’ syllabi, the total amount of required reading for four years’ study could be completed in a few months by a reasonably bright high school graduate.

        I doubt that anyone will contradict me about the decline in such English requirements in high schools and universities. Thus you have students reading fewer and fewer poems, plays, short stories, essays, and novels; and some of these will eventually become college English teachers. They will know a lot less than their predecessors.

        The emphasis on theory aggravates this problem. The theorists are typically hard reading. Time spent reading them is time that will not be spent on Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, and other standard authors. Theory may give students a (bogus?) sense of reading power at the same time that they actually read less and less literature than their counterparts of bygone generations.*

        Reading less literature, they are not equipped either to (1) benefit by the critics’ observations when those observations are valid, because the student has never read the commented-on works for himself or herself, or to (2) detect it when the critic is wrong. See, just for an example, Tom McAlindon’s “Testing New Historicism,” on Stephen Greenblatt’s “Invisible Bullets,” an example of New Historicism. The student is likely to experience either a sense of frustration (sensing how little-read he or she is), or an unearned knowingness, when he or she spends a lot of time reading theory. If theory must be studied, it should be saved until the student has read so deeply in standard works that he or she could pass a comprehensive exam such as I have mentioned.

        My observations so far in this comment have largely been to do with the irrefragable reality of time: we do not have “world enough and time” in secondary and postsecondary education for a student to read all he or she needs to read –and- to go deeply into “theory.”
        Beyond that, I believe, fatal objection, to the typical Theory-emphasizing English curriculum, there is also the matter of the unfairness of professors, teaching assistants, and so on, holding captive the current intake of students – who, poor devils, may have thought they were signing up to read Shakespeare — and compelling them to take on their politics (e.g. of feminism, queer theory, postcolonial, etc.). I wish the theorist teachers could be compelled to spend four years as hostages to teachers who insisted that they must always focus on the implications of free market economics (always understood to have the same right to unquestioning deference as, say, “diversity” actually assumes), etc. In my view that would be as defensible, and about as bad, as what we do have, which works towards reductive readings and the unspoken assumption that the value of literature is primarily –utilitarian-, i.e. its possible value for “social justice” and a desirable (to the professoriat) “social construction of reality.” There is much talk of using “critical lenses” – with the implication that the student will not see correctly till he or she wears the spectacles prescribed by the professor. But provided with simple footnotes for unfamiliar words and historical allusions, a student might actually be able to read rather well – without the laborious acquisition of the professor’s pet “lenses.”

        The leftist ideas that are encoded in Theory have had plenty of play in society. For many in the professoriat, we just need a lot more of the same. But do the notions even appear to make for wisdom (as opposed to cleverness) and happiness?

        What, students might be asked, would be a good choice for –the- representative physical artifact of our time? Some will say a smartphone, or an artificial organ, or perhaps a nuclear weapon. I would suggest: the adolescent suicide note as something very specially characteristic of our time, written by people who are not starving, who are not in fear of enslavement and deportation, who are not afraid of evil spirits, and so on; but something all too many of us know about from our community. A depressing thing. And how strange, if we are so wiser than our ancestors! But can it be denied that it is indeed characteristic? If it is, then perhaps it would behoove us to be a lot less sure that we are so smart and that we stand at the pinnacle of progress (so far — but we must give our best to keep going towards a utopian goal that ever recedes in the distance!). We might do well to -humble down- and see if we are able to learn from the legacy of the world’s legacy of art and literature. A 15-year moratorium on conferences, lectures, seminar, journal articles and books focused on Theory might do a lot of good. That would give all concerned more time to, you know, read, say, the Gawain poet, and Milton and Browne and Gaskell, and maybe even acquire some proficiency in Old English…
        This is a blog comment, not testimony under oath, so I haven’t tried to secure every nuance, etc.
        Dale Nelson

        *Students also spend less time reading standard works because they watch TV (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and movies and videos in class.

        Liked by 1 person

        • dalejamesnelson says:

          To add to my already perhaps overly wrong posting –
          Another indication suggesting that we might do well to humble down before the legacy of past literature and art would be to compare our architecture to that of previous times. Most normal people feel that our time has produced architectural “masterpieces” of unprecedented ugliness. (Specimens are on view at James Howard Kunstler’s Eyesore of the Month feature, going back for years.) But we keep right on producing them. We have cause to feel ashamed. What a legacy we are passing on.
          So I see a connection here between these things, and the substitution of the older ideal of the ‘learned life- in favor of the sensibility and “activism” of today’s academic profession.

          DN

          *Sir Roger Scruton wrote, in The West and the Rest: …The appearance of Arabia has been permanently altered … — and altered, in the feelings of many Muslims, for the worse. Concrete high-rises dwarf the minarets, domestic alleyways give way to pretentious boulevards or jerry-built slums, and the hideous, unfriendly style of international modernism overlays and extinguishes the delicate fabric of the Muslim city.
          It may seem quixotic to emphasize the role of architecture in the present conflict. But we should remember [hijacker-pilot of American Airlines Flight 11] Mohammed Atta’s nostalgia for the old town of Aleppo and reflect on what has happened to the face of the Middle East under the impact of Western architectural norms, which have a symbolic significance at least equal to that of Western dress and Western manners. Architectural modernism was introduced with fanfares of globalist propaganda by the Bauhaus and by Le Corbusier, who envisaged their new style of architecture as both the symbol and the instrument of a radical break with the past. This architecture was conceived in the spirit of detachment from place and history and home. It was ‘the international style,’ a gesture against the nation-state and the homeland, an attempt to remake the surface of the earth as a single uniform habitat from which differences and boundaries would finally disappear. …
          In the Middle East …. the landscape and cityscape have been mutilated beyond recognition. It was Le Corbusier who showed the way. Having failed to persuade the French authorities to adopt his plan to bulldoze Paris north of the Seine and replace it with militarized towers of glass, Le Corbusier worked on successive French governments, including the Vichy regime, to implement his insolent plan to raze the old city of Algiers, capital of Algeria, which was then a French colony. He succeeded at last, and after the war the bulldozers moved in, with catastrophic results. …
          And if we wish to understand in full the resentment of Palestinians towards Israeli settlements on the West Bank, we should not neglect the visual damage that these settlements have caused, introducing modernist styles and materials, sweeping roadways, and ubiquitous light pollution into a landscape that had worn its biblical aspect for centuries, with star-spangled nights above stone-built villages and historic cities like Jenin.

          Liked by 1 person

          • dalejamesnelson says:

            My reference to Coates may seem inappropriate since he is not known as a literary theorist. But Coates is a (living) author who benefits from the modern university’s privileging of the contemporary (and left-wing), e.g. in the university-wide common reading programs (see link below). This is of a piece with the emphasis on theory in English programs. All of the Theory that’s emphasized is recent,

            So picture a freshman who arrives, largely unread in, but will to read, standard authors; and he or she is pummeled with Theory, TV, movies, music videos, etc. How well is that going to serve the student personally and professionally? Conversely, I used to think that, whatever else my students might feel about my classes years after they left the university, probably they were not going to lament having spent so much time reading Spenser and Austen, Dickens and Dostoevsky for themselves.

            If we had world enough and time, and if students possessed good habits of attentiveness, perhaps students could spend a lot of time shooting the breeze about TV programs and cool Theory and so on and also have time to redress their dire lack of firsthand reading of standard works. But whatever may be the state of things on Vulcan, it’s not like that here.

            By and large, then, they need to read a lot, a lot of standard works, not being badgered to write “research” papers but led often to write focused short papers — even in class — about their reading, to help them attend to it.

            They need, too, I would say, to learn that our time and its typical habits of thought are just one “period” — if we must talk about periods — and that our time and its habits of thought are by no means immune from exposure as reductive and even fraudulent. That can come out when our eyes are opened to the things we read in old authors (read again “On the Reading of Old Books” by CSL).

            How exciting, by the way: to consider that “great poets mean what they say” (as CW put it) and that reading (say) Romeo and Juliet not in order to do the usual guff about gender roles etc, but as maybe really conveying something possible about human experience — bringing in things like Dante’s Vita Nuova (first sights of Beatrice) and Hawthorne’s letters to Sophia, his wife, and how only in loving her did he begin to live.

            But, I suspect, that is unacceptable to the modern academic — oh, how averse he or she will be — because, with a great deal of the standard authors, Christianity (ugh!) pervades the work. How deplorable (to use a favorite word of Sec. Clinton) it would be, if students actually thought there was something in Christianity after they read some book in one’s class. Nothing to see here, kids, keep moving… and by the way what about those Lacanian signifiers? Pretty cool, huh!

            If someone thinks I exaggerate unpardonably, get hold of a book called Truth on Trial: Liberal Education Be Hanged, by Robert Carlson, about how administrators killed a popular undergraduate program at the University of Kansas…then get back to me…

            https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2017/06/30/534458892/the-books-college-kids-are-reading-this-summer

            https://www.amazon.com/Truth-Trial-Liberal-Education-Hanged/dp/1883357918

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          • dalejamesnelson says:

            I meant to write “overly long” not “overly wrong,” but perhaps some readers will prefer the first reading.

            DN

            Liked by 1 person

            • hannahdemiranda3 says:

              Your long comments show commendable zeal and dedication towards good education!
              I know far too little about “Theory” for any contribution to this discussion; do get the drift though.

              Like

            • “The modern idea of testing a readers “comprehension” as distinct from something else a reader may be doing, would have seemed an absurdity in 1790 to 1860. What else was reading but comprehending? As far as we know, a thing such as “a reading problem” did not exist, except, of course for those who could not attend school. To attend school meant to learn to read for without that capacity one could not participate in the culture’s conversation.” [Neil Postman – Amusing Ourselves to Death]

              Liked by 1 person

              • Hannah says:

                Ah yes, the big shift from a “Typographic” to a “Peek-a-Boo“ world. “Amusing Ourselves to Death p.8”: “To say it, then, as plainly as I can, this book is an inquiry into and a lamentation about the most significant American cultural fact of the second half of the twentieth century: the decline of the Age of Typography and the ascendancy of the Age of Television. This change-over has dramatically and irreversibly shifted the content and meaning of public discourse, since two media so vastly different cannot accommodate the same ideas. As the influence of print wanes, the content of politics, religion, education, and anything else that comprises public business must change and be recast in terms that are most suitable to television”. From the essay: https://faculty.rsu.edu/users/f/felwell/www/Theorists/Essays/Postman2.html
                Also good to read on this development is Postman’s book “Technopology – the Surrender of Culture to Technology”.

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I should really catch up with him! Fascinating to think of this situation coming some 400 years after a world in which live stage acting, public preaching and speaking were so differently related to printed works – and how widespread live radio drama was somehow still in line with the spoken and heard part of that, though parallel with motion pictures, right up to the proliferation of television.

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              • The proposition and premise of his book is – “The problem is not that TV presents us with entertaining subject matter but that all subject matter is presented as entertaining … No matter what is presented or depicted, or from what point of view, the overarching presumption is that it is there for our amusement and pleasure … TV does not extend or amplify literate culture. It attacks it.” [Neil Postman]

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Thanks! George Grant had some presciently perceptive things to say about television in Philosophy in the Mass Age (CBC, 1959).

                Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Tangentially, a typical exchange in a Bauhaus dorm I lived in would be: [sneeze], “Bless you!”, ‘Thank you!” – between my neighbor and I through the wall!

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          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            Our Bauhaus dorm had formally men’s and women’s floors – which perhaps not wholly irrelevantly makes me think of the historical phenomena of double monasteries and separate seating in synagogues and churches – except that, with a lot of foreign students, some had their wives join them, which variously disturbed others (e.g., encountering someone’s wife heading in or out of a shower cubicle…).

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      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I’ve just caught up with a fascinating book relevant to this strand of the discussion, Professor (now also Sir) Jonathan Bate’s The Genius of Shakespeare (1997). It includes something like a Studies in Words attention to more than one word, but, especially ‘genius’, and looks at a variety of the ways his work has been appreciated, seen – and used – down the ages – including some astonishing glimpses of how “Throughout Eastern Europe […] Shakespeare’s plays were co-opted by state ideology in the name of official ‘social realist’ aesthetics” in the Twentieth-century. And he tackles “New Historicism” and what he calls “New Iconoclasm” which “stormed the world of Shakespeare studies in the 1980s” in a way which is interesting to compare and contrast with Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism.

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    • Yewtree says:

      One of the most enjoyable and accessible writers of lit crit was the late great Robertson Davies. No dount many people would characterise him as a conservative, and me as a raging leftie, and a feminist to boot, but I love Davies, and I am not the only leftie who feels that way. It would of course be a massive oversimplification to characterise Davies merely as a conservative, as his ideas and influences are much more complex than that.

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    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I’d really like properly to take up this strand of the conversation, but am not sure how. What I think Lewis called ‘temporal provincialism’ – reading only recent/contemporary/popular writers (or, now, even concentrating on films/television program(me)s, perhaps) – seems a distinguishable part of the ‘matter’, but also one related to certain kinds of ‘literary criticism’ and /or ‘theory’ in the general effects of limiting. (The Leavisites, prominent among the implied references in An Experiment in Criticism, fit in here, as well as more (political-)ideological ‘theorists’.) I wonder if anyone has done a good little Studies in Words-style sketch of the history of ‘theory’? Growing up with the ‘popular “scientific”‘ sense and then encountering the ‘literary (etc.) theory’ sense, I was astonished to learn the (variously also Neo-, Middle-, and Christian) Platonic (mystical) sense of ‘theoria’ as being something like what happens to the seized-upon person in the ‘myth of the cave’ in The Republic. That (etymological?) ‘theoria’ is concerned with ascent toward wisdom, while all sorts of (insufficiently) ‘critical’ (ideologized) ‘theory’ seem systematized pretensions to explain things away. Pretended openness closes and forecloses in practice. One ends up with what has been called (extrapolating from its theological antecedents!) a ‘dogmatomachy’. (Perhaps ‘to be continued’…)

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        See a new comment above (due to my having miscalculated the contours of this series of replies), not exactly continuing, but relevant to this one.

        Like

  4. stevewb1946 says:

    For a slightly later sampling of clubland you might like to dip into the novels of John Buchan. The remarkable Scotsman who rose to become Governor General of Canada is sometimes very obviously a child of his time. References to Jews and ‘niggers’ can be uncomfortable to a modern reader, though in fairness he is sometimes surprisingly ‘liberal’ in his views.
    Buchan never pretended to be a serious or major novelist, though he is a master of suspense, a brilliant exponent of flight and pursuit, and a gifted recorder of atmosphere and landscape.
    Many of his leading characters, including reluctant spy Richard Hannay, are at home in London clubland. Surprisingly, perhaps, he was much admired by Tolkien:
    http://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/Tolkien_and_the_Study_of_His_Sources
    https://www.sffchronicles.com/threads/541782/
    http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/press/1127-tolkien-world-his-sources-and-inspirations.php

    Like

  5. “No English novelist is as great as Tolstoy – that is to say has given so complete a picture of man’s life, both on it’s domestic and heroic side. No English novelist has explored man’s soul as deeply as Dostoevsky. And no novelist anywhere has analysed the modern consciousness as successfully as Marcel Proust” Says E M Forster, a Victorian (born 1879) English novelist who’se work I enjoy, and who you must have read .

    Liked by 2 people

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      I’ll never catch up with War and Peace lover Lewis (how often did he reread it?!), but I’m very glad finally to be nibbling my way through it thanks to the fine complete audiobook of the Maude’s translation read by Alexander Scourby (for the blind, not for sale, but happily on YouTube thanks to I know not whom-all).

      I was just happily remembering the 1985 movie adaptation of Forster’s Room with a View the other day – which has its vivid elements of all-male society (though, oddly, I can’t recall how much – if any – in clubs) – now, to catch up with the 1908 book itself…

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ready for it: I have not read Forster. Or not all the way. I’ve started some things and then they drift. I will try again because I like the idea of his work. And agree about Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (though I favour the latter). Proust, yes, weird and interesting.

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      • I have not read any Proust. I am half way through “Aspects of the Novel” by Forster which is a short personal and very helpful perspective for any aspiring authors. His insight into human nature in “Howards End” – a perspective of English culture, and “Passage to India” – a comparison of English and Indian culture, and “Where Angels Fear to Tread” – comparing English and Italian culture, has as much insight into human nature as anything from Jane Austen or Dickens.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yewtree says:

          Forster is one of my favourite novelists, and my motto “Only connect” comes from his great novel Howard’s End which I must re-read.

          His most accessible novel is (imho) A room with a view (of which the film was a fine and faithful adaptation).

          Like

          • His “The Longest Journey” I have struggled to get into and I have not managed to finish reading it completely, in much the same way as I struggled to get into Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” – which I have managed to get through, and Tolstoy’s “Resurrection” – which I haven’t, but I think that has more to do with my personal temperament and the attitude that I find myself having towards fiction, in general, during certain periods.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yewtree says:

              Yes I don’t think I could get into that book either. I salute you on the Dostoevsky and Tolstoy. I read a few Russian novels when I was a teenager (couldn’t get into War and Peace though) and then stopped

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              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                I’m really glad finally to be nibbling my way through War and Peace thanks to Alexander Scourby’s audiobook on YouTube – but I started by enjoying ever-longer dramatizations: the movies from 1956, then 1966, then the BBC version from 1972-73 (nearly 15 hours!).

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yewtree says:

                I’m pretty sure an audiobook would be the way forward there!

                Like

  6. joviator says:

    I never knew The Mutual Admiration Society was an actual thing. I thought it was just Thoreau being self-consciously pretentious.

    Liked by 1 person

    • How can you not appreciate and admire, and not be educated by, the aphorism Lewis admires and quotes from Tolstoy – “When Boris entered the room, Prince Andrey was listening to an old general, wearing his decorations, who was reporting something to Prince Andrey, with an expression of soldierly servility on his purple face. “All right. Please wait!” he said to the general, speaking in Russian with the French accent which he used when he spoke with contempt. The moment he noticed Boris he stopped listening to the general who trotted imploringly after him and begged to be heard, while Prince Andrey turned to Boris with a cheerful smile and a nod of the head. Boris now clearly understood – what he had already guessed that side by side with the system of discipline and subordination which were laid down in the Army Regulations, there existed a different and a more real system – the system which compelled a tightly laced general with a purple face to wait respectfully for his turn while a mere captain like Prince Andrey chatted with a mere second lieutenant like Boris. Boris decided at once that he would be guided not by the official system but by this other unwritten system: [War and Peace Part III, Chap. 9]” unless you are self consciously pretentious ?

      Like

    • Joe, Dorothy Sayers was part of a Mutual Admiration Society, self-mocking women’s lit group.

      Like

  7. louloureads says:

    This sounds fascinating. I’m currently reading Trollope’s The Way We Live Now, which is set in part against the backdrop of one of these clubs, and it has made me curious about the whole set-up.

    Like

  8. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Possibly going off on a tangent, but I wonder if we should see the continuity of the Turkish bath in Pressburger and Powell’s The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (1943) as part of this ‘world’ including men’s clubs? There’s a bit of it at the beginning, here:

    Like

  9. Yewtree says:

    There’s a fascinating (and completely alien to me) article by GK Chesterton about why men and women cannot be friends (TL;DR, because SEX) which goes a long way towards explaining why Victorian men didn’t hang out with women. Even Tolkien claimed that women were imitative thinkers, or some sexist nonsense, if I recall correctly — though that may have been Chesterton too.

    I’m glad you find the whole thing a bit bizarre.

    Like

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      That is surprising – I wouldn’t have expected a suggestion that “men and women cannot be friends” after reading the chapter in The Victorian Age in Literature (1913), “The Great Victorian Novelists”, where he begins by holding it is “quite beyond controversy” that, “when we come to the novelists, the women have, on the whole, equality; and certainly, in some points, superiority” – and starts with the example of Jane Austen, and returns to her to say, “the fact remains that Jane Austen knew more about men than either” the Brontës or George Eliot (whose various greatnesses he has praised in between). He has also said, in between, “People put the matter wrong when they say that the novel is a study of human nature. Human nature is a thing that even men can understand. […] What the novel deals with is what women have to deal with; the differentiations, the twists and turns of this eternal river.” (He does say, in the context of the “working Victorian compromise” which is “more or less business proposal (right or wrong) that every writer shall draw the line at literal physical description of things socially concealed”, that “the sexes can only be coarse separately” – after a reference to what Wikipedia calls the “scandalous memoirs, My Recollections, published in 1909, under the name Adeline Louisa Maria de Horsey Cardigan and Lancastre”.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yewtree says:

        It’s possible that he changed his mind… or that he could admire women novelists and still not think it was possible to be friends.

        The article in question is in the collection of essays entitled HERETICS, in which I learnt about the great, and almost entirely forgotten, Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson — friend of Edward Carpenter and EM Forster, proto-Pagan in the manner of Rupert Brooke and friends, gay man, and the person who came up with the idea of the League of Nations, the forerunner organization to the United Nations.

        Like

  10. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I just encountered an recent article by Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith which includes:

    “I have dinner at the Travellers Club in London’s Pall Mall with an author […] The dining room of the Travellers has a small round table by the door still referred to as ‘the Monsignor’s table’. Upstairs one can visit, high in the attics, the Monsignor’s chapel. The monsignor was Alfred Newman Gilbey (1901-1998). He was chaplain to Cambridge University for 100 terms, and after his retirement in 1965 he lived at the club. A survivor from an earlier age, surround­ed by a coterie of admirers, he was the author of an excellent book of Catholic apologetics.

    “On one occasion, as they came down the staircase at the club, a lady remarked to Mgr Gilbey that she had to be careful as she was the oldest person in London. He replied that she couldn’t possibly be older than himself, as the only person in London his senior was the Queen Mother. The lady gave him a strange look. Only at the bottom of the stairs did a wave of realisation come over the monsignor that his companion was in fact the Queen Mother herself. (I have never seen this anecdote in print, so repeat it here for posterity.)”

    Living at the Club, from 1965 till 1998 (till he was 96!) – and being able to have a chapel, there! (It’s entitled “The monsignor who lived at a gentlemen’s club”.) Born (his Wikipedia article lets me reckon out) six months after the death of Queen Victoria – and a Club (its article shows me) dating from the year of her birth.

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