Posted by: Linda Proud | December 15, 2007

The Unloveliness of Modern Times

I’ve just finished Ackroyd’s The House of Doctor Dee and am stunned. Not only is it superbly well-written, it dips into the gold of truth, which makes it one of those rare books: one that changes the substance of the reader. An alchemical book in all respects.

The sections set in Dee’s time of the sixteenth century are written so gorgeously that it makes the sections set in the present tedious by comparison. This is something that troubles me, how the past can throw the present into the shade. Towards the end, John Dee asks the author, ‘Why not write of your own time? Why do you fly from it? Is it because you fly from your own self?’

I find it impossible to write of my own time. This age lacks all colour and interest, not least in language. Oh, that we could say something like, ‘I could easily answer your fond comparisons, no doubt taken from some flibber-jibber knave that feigns tales. But I am not disposed to argue the matter.’ Instead I gaze in sorrow at fashions that are unspeakably dull and unflattering, and listen to language that lacks all colour and the texture of variety. Write of my own times? Some succeed. I think of nature writers, or travel writers, or poets such as Laurie Lee (although even he was nostalgic). But write a novel reflecting modern times? Oh, my chin falls at the prospect. Take a look at David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas to see a perfect portrait of the horrible decline of language from the loveliness and nobility of the nineteenth century into the monosyllabic gobbledegook of the future.

Arise, England! Learn to love words again! Learn rhythm and variety! Claim your amazing inheritance!

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