Saturday, May 29, 2010

Oh, Heck, let's try another!

Dear GK,

Happy Birthday!

You may have read that last week I reported some of your notes about Beacon House; this week, I think I'll return to Manalive, if that is allowed, and repeat some of your remarks about Cambridge. A copy of the notes is attached bellow

Your child in orthodoxy

Here is Cambridge as described collaboratively by "Wilfred Emerson Eames, Warden of Brakespeare College, Cambridge and Innocent Smith".

A celebrated English university backs so abruptly on the river, that it has, so to speak, to be propped up and patched with all sorts of bridges and semi-detached buildings. The river splits itself into several small streams and canals, so that in one or two corners the place has almost the look of Venice. It was so especially in the case with which we are concerned, in which a few flying buttresses or airy ribs of stone sprang across a strip of water to connect Brakespeare College with the house of the Warden of Brakespeare.

The country around these colleges is flat; but it does not seem flat when one is thus in the midst of the colleges. For in these flat fens there are always wandering lakes and lingering rivers of water. And these always change what might have been a scheme of horizontal lines into a scheme of vertical lines. Wherever there is water the height of high buildings is doubled, and a British brick house becomes a Babylonian tower. In that shining unshaken surface the houses hang head downwards exactly to their highest or lowest chimney. The coral-coloured cloud seen in that abyss is as far below the world as its original appears above it. Every scrap of water is not only a window but a skylight. Earth splits under men's feet into precipitous aerial perspectives, into which a bird could as easily wing its way as--

"As" what? Well, you will have to get the book. You see, about a third of Manalive is effectively a court record --- the proceedings of the High Court of Beacon --- and all letters etc. must be read-in. At this point the opposite advocate interrupts with an objection, which is duly noted, debated, and judged. But I think we have enough to be going on with. I rather like the "coral-coloured cloud", not only for its alliteration, (c's and l's!) but also because it is evocative of particularly peaceful sunset or, as the case may be, dramatic sunrise.

I don't feel any need to go on as I did last week. It's all there, really, and to say too much would rather spoil it!


Enbrethiliel said...


Do you make yourself deliberately obscure? ;-)

Isn't this Cambridge also the place where the protagonist notices the reflections of all the tall buildings in a shallow puddle and then realises how silly all of it is?

Anyway, I'm starting to wonder whether Chesterton sweeps together scenery and props and just calls it setting.

(I didn't say, "where Innocent Smith notices" just in case this scene is really from another story, in which there is no Innocent Smith . . . if you take my meaning.)

Belfry Bat said...

Oh there's definitely an Innocent Smith. And the Warden is definitely there, too. And there's definitely silliness discovered, but it's much more than that! It's almost disingenuous the way you put it just there: "notices the reflections... then realises how silly all of it is."

Of course, by opening with this "sceneretting" (malamanteau!), GKC is deliberately starting at the end of the story, but since that's where he starts, that's where I'll start, too.

In any case, these buildings certainly aren't of GKC's propping; and there's definitely something that happens here.

PS Do I use italics more than most people? Is it terribly distracting?

Paul Stilwell said...

I love how he takes familiar Cambridge and turns it into something so wildly new. It reminds me a little of the Cloud City in The Empire Strikes Back, when Luke is hanging upside down over bottomlessness.

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