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Say Nothing: A History of Silence

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle contemplates silence, courtesy of Alain Corbin’s new book

I wasn’t intending to write about this book this week. But then on Monday night, I learnt of the death of Mark Hollis, the lead singer of the 1980s and early 1990s band Talk Talk, and I found myself writing about him. So although this isn’t a music blog and this post isn’t about music, as such, I felt I had to write something. Because there are some of us who feel that Mark Hollis was the most outstanding English songwriter and musician of his time, and his death revealed just how many of us there are who hold that view.

But as I say, this isn’t a music blog, so I won’t wax lyrical about Mark Hollis for too long. I will remain silent – something he may well have approved of. For if there is one thing which characterises Hollis’s work, it is silence. If Walter Pater is right and all art constantly aspires towards the condition of music, then for Mark Hollis, all the best music is constantly aspiring towards silence. Read the rest of this entry

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Anderson’s Faerie Tale: The Broken Sword

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reviews the pioneering fantasy novel by Poul Anderson

In 1954, a bold and exciting new work of fantasy fiction was published, influenced by Norse myth and describing a heroic quest, containing elves, giants, magic swords, enchantment, an epic battle, and plenty of singing. The novel was called The Broken Sword by the Scandinavian-American author Poul Anderson: a book which has been eclipsed by the more famous novel which appeared that year, The Lord of the Rings (or at least began to appear that year: The Fellowship of the Ring was published in 1954). And yet for many, including the giant of modern fantasy, Michael Moorcock, The Broken Sword is superior to Tolkien’s novel: in an illuminating article about Anderson’s novel, Moorcock writes that The Broken Sword ‘seems to echo the existential mood of the west after the second world war’. Instead of Tolkien’s black-and-white vision of heroes and villains, Anderson is all noir. Scandi-noir, we might now say. Read the rest of this entry

The Female Sherlock Holmes: C. L. Pirkis’ Loveday Brooke

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle applauds the 1890s short stories featuring an early female detective

The name Catherine Louisa Pirkis is relatively unknown now, but Pirkis left two legacies of interest. The first arose out of her animal charity work: with her husband, Pirkis was one of the founders of the National Canine Defence League in 1891. This is undoubtedly a worthwhile legacy in itself, but it’s the second legacy of C. L. Pirkis which concerns us here: her small but nonetheless notable contribution to detective fiction.

In 1893, C. L. Pirkis (1841-1910) wrote a series of short stories featuring a character who has been dubbed ‘the female Sherlock Holmes’, the lady detective Loveday Brooke. It was an opportune, if not out-and-out opportunistic, time to create a new fictional detective: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had just killed off his popular sleuth Sherlock Holmes, much to the nation’s outrage, although a huge financial incentive would persuade him to bring Holmes back a decade later. Read the rest of this entry