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Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language

MGM·Lion 12 Nov 11 - 12:07 AM
Phil Edwards 12 Nov 11 - 03:40 AM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Nov 11 - 01:35 PM
Jim Dixon 12 Nov 11 - 02:13 PM
Jim Dixon 12 Nov 11 - 02:15 PM
McGrath of Harlow 12 Nov 11 - 03:44 PM
MGM·Lion 12 Nov 11 - 11:57 PM
MGM·Lion 13 Nov 11 - 12:03 AM
Phil Edwards 13 Nov 11 - 06:31 AM
MGM·Lion 13 Nov 11 - 08:12 AM
Phil Edwards 13 Nov 11 - 09:45 AM
MGM·Lion 13 Nov 11 - 12:10 PM
Phil Edwards 13 Nov 11 - 02:33 PM
Paul Burke 13 Nov 11 - 04:00 PM
GUEST,BenrahtJohn 19 Nov 11 - 03:01 AM
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Subject: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Nov 11 - 12:07 AM

"...certain inaccuracies are annoying when you spot them, particularly recent sayings, or words used in conversation on period dramas. This does not spoil my enjoyment..."

Alan Day wrote recently on the thread about Downton Abbey.

It does sometimes for me, particularly if it appears due to a culpable lack of research coupled with an actual insensitivity to language.

The reviewers I have read have queued up to praise Death Comes To Pemberley, the distinguished detective novelist P.D. James' recent detective-style sequel to Pride And Prejudice; even in some cases the way they perceived her to have caught Jane Austen's tone in her version, explicitly set in 1803. But for me, she missed it by a mile; her attempt to sound like Jane Austen was cloth-eared to an extent that it continually made me want to scream. Here, to be specific as to my objections, is a letter [unpublished] that I wrote to The Times in response to their notice:

Maggie Lane, in her review of P D James's Death Comes To Pemberley, is far too lenient about the book's peculiar and unexpected insensitivity to Jane Austen's language. Lady James   seems, surprisingly, to have done next to no research. R.W. Chapman's essay on Miss Austen's English, for example, readily accessible in Volume I of his standard Oxford edition of the novels and surely an essential resource for anyone purporting to reproduce that inimitable style, seems to have entirely passed her by.
Ms Lane comments only on the jarring effect of "lifestyle". Other such linguistic or historical solecisms to be noted are the use of "folksong", a spinoff from a term coined by W.J. Thoms in 1846; the repetitious modern, completely changed, usage of the words "class" (JA would have used "rank" or "station"), "afternoon", not in fact a concept of the time, when the "morning" continued, as Chapman points out elsewhere, until their early dinner-time, so that the "luncheons" formally eaten around a table, with which Lady James's work abounds, would not have been taken; which leads to "course" which, in the gastronomic sense, had quite a different meaning from our modern "à la Russe" usage. "Job", "check", and "police" are also repeatedly employed in anachronistic fashion.   I don't think drugs administered by medical men (who would, in the main, unless distinguished physicians, have been "Mr", not "Dr", an addition more generally used then for clergymen), would have been referred to as "sedatives". Nor would anyone have been "put in the picture". A baronetcy could not have dated from Elizabeth, as the rank and title were established by James I in 1611.
All these errors, unfortunately, can only redound to the detriment of Lady James's attempt to honour her great predecessor by emulation.
--


Jane Austen is something of a speciality of mine, on whom I have published in many journals, and on whom my late wife published two books.

Anyone read Lady James' new book? Agrees with me, as to that, or as to use of "period" language in general?

~Michael~


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 12 Nov 11 - 03:40 AM

Interesting one. I haven't read the book and am not likely to - 'continuing' Jane Austen strikes me as a fool's errand at the best of times, and doing so with a murder mystery seems almost sacrilegious. I'm not a huge fan of the Baroness, but I had thought better of her.

I'm disappointed that the use of language is so poor - if nothing else, you'd have expected the author to immerse herself thoroughly in Austen's work before starting work on her own (there are only six novels, it wouldn't be such a chore).

What's the context for the use of "folksong", out of interest?


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Nov 11 - 01:35 PM

I'd have thought quite a major part of the fun of writing a book like this would have been doing the research to ensure you got this kind of thing right. Doing that wouldn't so much be a chore as a perk.


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 12 Nov 11 - 02:13 PM

It has occurred to me that you could construct a kind of historical spell-checker that would flag words that are inappropriate to a certain historical period. The underlying data is available now that thousands of books and hundreds of newspapers and periodicals of all historic periods have been digitized.

The kind of information I mean is already available at Google to some extent. See here, for example, for graphs that shows that online use of the terms "folk song" and "folk music" has steadily declined in the last 8 years.


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: Jim Dixon
Date: 12 Nov 11 - 02:15 PM

Oops! Forgot the link. Go here:
http://www.google.com/trends?q=%22folk+song%22%2C%22folk+music%22&ctab=0&geo=all&date=all&sort=0


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 12 Nov 11 - 03:44 PM

Of course you get odd surprises sometimes - for example Joe Gargery in Great Expectations describing something as "cool" meaning good.

And at best the dictionaries only give you the earliest date something appears in print, which may be long after it's in common use.

Moeover it's not just the vocabulary, it's the way that the words were strung together into phrases and sentences. Imagine using a dictionary as the only guide for a future historical novelist setting a story in today, in which you had a range of people from different sections of our multicultural society interacting...


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 12 Nov 11 - 11:57 PM

'What's the context for the use of "folksong", out of interest?'
.,,.
'William John Thoms (November 16, 1803 – August 15, 1885) was a British writer credited with coining the term "folklore" in the 1840s. Thoms's investigation of folklore and myth led to a later career of debunking longevity myths. ... Thoms is credited with inventing the word 'folklore' in an 1846 letter to the Athenaeum.[citation needed] He invented this compound word to replace the various other terms used at the time, including "popular antiquities" or "popular literature". He was fond of the works of Jacob Grimm, which he considered remarkable.'   Wikipedia


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 12:03 AM

I too, btw, like Pip Radish above, tend to avoid JA sequels, always disappointing. But for some reason I thought this one sounded as if it might be of some interest. Like Humph Bogart's 'Rick' character in "Casablanca", on the topic of whether one could take the waters in that city: "I was mishinforrmed".

~M~


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 06:31 AM

Michael - I was curious about the use of "folksong" in the book.

As for the actual origins of the term, the OED is quite interesting on this one. It has an 1870 usage in the title of a book by a Lancashire antiquarian: "Folk Song and Folk Speech of Lancashire: on the ballads and songs of the County Palatine". After 1870 there are quite a few occurrences, but before then there's only one - and that one seems to be a direct translation from the German Volkslied: "The Three Little Roses. A German Folk's song." That's dated 1847, so well after Austen's period.

McGrath - "a cool hundred", "a cool thousand" etc date right back to the eighteenth century; it's a separate form of "cool" from "cool kid", "cool Daddy" etc (which date from around the time of WW1). (Joe Gargery could have called someone a "cool customer", but that's a different meaning again.)


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 08:12 AM

Pip: Bingley talks about some of the young ladies having included "folksongs" in their after-dinner entertainments. "What about those Irish folksongs which you played when we dined here last summer?" [p53].

~M~


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 09:45 AM

Oh dear! That seems wrong twice or three times over. The local band probably would have played traditional music, but it wouldn't have been drawing-room fare for the gentry - least of all Irish music.


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: MGM·Lion
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 12:10 PM

Not sure about that, Pip: there was always an industry of 'arranging' folksong tunes for piano, or for drawing-room singing, probably from late-ish C17 on: think of Pepys back on 2 Jan 1666 hearing actress Mrs Knype at a musical evening singing her "little Scotch song" of Barbry Allen. There were always drawing-room versions. And, in Emma, remember that jigs and reels are played for gentry dancing by Mrs Weston in addition to the more formal dances of the time; and that gdentleman-farmer Robert Martin has his shepherd's song into the parlour to sing for his lady guest Harriet Smith. Wonder what he could have sung: Searching For Lambs, perhaps, whose erotic content, such as it is, is well subliminalised, and whose tune Vaughan Wiliiams {or was it Sharp} mentioned somewhere as the most beautiful he had ever heard. Always that sort of crossover. But it is the anachronistic use of the actual term folksong in 1803 that really jars. Bingley could reasonably have said something like "little Irish songs" or "popular airs", I think; and they might have been sung [in refined versions] or played on the piano, by the ladies after dinner among all the other things.

~M~


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: Phil Edwards
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 02:33 PM

Interesting! I'll defer to all of that, and to Pepys in particular - there's a man who knew his songs.


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: Paul Burke
Date: 13 Nov 11 - 04:00 PM

Had they sung Irish songs, at the time they would have quite possibly been some of Moore's early works. Scottish song was already well served by Walter Scott and his successors (though Jack campin correct me, I don't think it became English mainstream until Victoria's time), but as for Ireland Bunting was mainly (I think) interested in the vestiges of harp music.


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Subject: RE: Review: James' 'Death/Pemberley' language
From: GUEST,BenrahtJohn
Date: 19 Nov 11 - 03:01 AM

By the way, suppose you know your death date - does that put your life at ease? Has any of you tried? I am going to find out. Here is a link to the site where I am thinking of taking this kind of test - http://yourdeathdate.info I am not sure though if it`s worth taking that test there.


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