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I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 20 May 2018

"Nightmare Abbey" by Thomas Love Peacock

I met Sean at the book launch of the second novel by Ruth Hogan whose first is The Keeper of Lost Things. Sean is the only person I have ever met to have read the complete words of Sir Walter Scott. Sean recommended Nightmare Abbey to me.

This is a comic novella published in 1818 which satirises Peacock's literary circle which included the poets Shelley (Scythrop), Coleridge (Mr Flosky) and Byron (Mr Cypress).

Mr Glowry lives with his son, Scythrop, in Nightmare Abbey: gloomy people in a gloomy house. They have a house party, including, at various times:

  • Mr (and Mrs Hilary). He is cheerful and the voice of common sense in the book.
  • His niece and ward Marionetta, who has “some coquetry and more caprice” (p 50) and alternately woos Scythrop and rejects his advances. She is a tease and can send up the others.
  • Mr Flosky “a very lachrymose and morbid gentleman, of some note in the literary world” who hankers after “the good old times” (p 44) He has a chapter when he spouts philsophical gibberish at Marionetta who, frustrated, concludes that he either doesn’t know or won’t tell her.
  • Mr Toobad who believes that the devil is in charge of the world and always dampens the suggestion of hope with the phrase “not in our time” (p 45) Mr Toobad manages to fall down the stairs and fall into the Abbey moat; he provides the physical comedy. 
  • Reverend Mr Larynx “a good-natured accommodating divine, who was always most obligingly ready to take a dinner and a bed at the house of any country gentleman in distress for a companion” and who can be all things to all people.
  • Mr Listless whom Mr G found in London found “stretched on the rack of too easy a chair” (p 49); when discussing ghosts he declares that “I once saw a ghost myself, in my study, which is the last place with anyone but a ghost would look for me.” (p 109) 
  • Mr Asteria, an ichthyologist, on a quest to find a mermaid, who thinks he sees one in the Abbey moat.
  • Mr Cypress, about to embark for a foreign tour of ruins.

From time to times these characters have a post-prandial discussion. At these moments the normnal prose style of the book turns into a playscript format. Discussions include modern literature

The plot, such as it is, revolves around Scythrop who is what we would today call a conspiracy theorist and has published a book (seven copies sold) about his plans to use the Illuminati to achieve world improvement. He is torn between his love for Marionetta, who represents frivolity and fun, and Celinda, who arrives late in the story, and represents learning and seriousness.

Mostly, however, the novella is a vehicle for Peacock to show of his learning and his wit. There are moments when the characters transcened their caricatures and one scene in which the delightful Marionetta, possibly the best character, is teasing Scythrop, who is besotted with her and pretending to read Dante. She says “‘I see you are in the middle of Purgatory’. - ‘I am in the middle of hell,’ said Scythrop furiously. ‘Are you?’ said she, ‘then come across the room and I will sing you the finale of Don Giovanni’.” (p 64) Shortly after she observes to Mr Listless  that a “compendious method of courtship” is to read a book from the centre turning pages randomly back and forth “and she will immediately perceive that you are desperately in love with her.” (p 65)

Some more great lines:
  • she had mistaken the means for the end - that riches, rightly used, are instruments of happiness, but are not in themselves happiness.” (p 39) 
  • She often went her daily rounds through a series of deserted apartments, every creature in the house vanishing at the creak of her shoe.” (p 40) 
  • He was sent, as usual, to a public school, where a little learning was painfully beaten into him, and from thence to the university, where it was carefully taken out of him; and he was sent home like a well-threshed ear of corn, with nothing in his head” (p 40)
  • what, sir, is love to a windmill? Not grist, I am certain.” (p 54)
  • Laughter and merriment make a human being no better than a baboon.” (p 56)
  • Visiting ancient monuments is "much the same as if a lover should dig up the buried form of his mistress, and gaze upon relics which are anything but herself, to wander among a few mouldy ruins, that are only imperfect indexes to lost volumes of glory, and meet at every step the more melancholy ruins of human nature - a degenerate race of stupid and shrivelled slaves, grovelling in the lowest depths of servility and superstition.” (p 98)
  • a happy disposition finds materials of enjoyment everywhere” whilst a “discontented temper ... is always busy in detecting deficiencies, and feeding dissatisfaction with comparisons. The one gathers all the flowers, the other all the nettles, in its path. The one has the faculty of enjoying everything, the other of enjoying nothing. The one realises all the pleasure of the present good; the other converts it into pain, by pining after something better, because it is not present” (p 79)
  • We are most of us like Don Quixote, to whom a windmill was a giant, and Dulcinea a magnificent princess: all more or less the dupes of our own imagination.” (p 110)

May 2018; 86 pages

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