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JS&MN - Chapters 1-4

The introduction of English Magic!

The Library at Hurtfew to The Friends of English Magic

Mr Segundus, a new member at the York Society of Magicians, asks why no one does magic anymore. He stirs up rather a hornet's nest; magic as a study is an eminent profession, nothing nobler, but the actual practice is rather vulgar. But he makes a friend of Mr Honeyfoot, and they visit a Mr Norrell, who lives out of the way and is responsible for not only disbanding the Manchester society of magicians but also--according to rumour--a practicing magician.

Upon visiting, they discover that Norrell has a fantastical library--Segundus reads a book picked at random and finds it to be entirely engrossing--but afterwards when they try to explain, they remember nothing concrete. After Norrell displays his magic (rather insultingly not even showing up), the members of the York Society are both disbanded and bewildered at what they've seen: all the statues and gargoyles of the Cathedral come alive and speak their mind. One calls for the man who murdered the girl with ivy leaves in her hair to be disinterred and punished. Others complain and the plants and briars carved from stone seem to grow and move.

After teaching the York society a lesson--a rather bitter one, too--Mr Norrell relocates to London to begin his attempt at bringing magic back to England. He relies on Childermass, his man of business, who actually knows what's going on in the world. The impression that London society leaves on Mr Norrell is hypocrisy, falseness, pretended intimacy, etc.


Magic seems to be a very respected profession--or maybe I should say the theoretical, studied part of magic. It's legitimate enough to have lawyers specializing (or formerly specalizing) in magical affairs! But the street peddlers and fortune-tellers seem to have the same status that they do in our world.

To me, magic seems to be connected to the English weather. Honeyfoot and Segundus visit on a day that seems to be greyer than usual (some really wonderful turns of phrase there!) for example.

Any footnotes you liked? I like the stone carvings' stories--like the one in Alston, where possible murderers of the young boy were brought in front of the Virgin and Child carving, which had witnessed the crime. And how then the place acquired a reputation for haunting, because the stones would speak every time.

Crosspost: http://silverflight8.dreamwidth.org/152723.html.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 31st, 2014 10:23 pm (UTC)
It took me a bit of time to become interested in this book, solely because there is so much in the first two chapters. Once I began to see more of Mr. Norrell's character, I became more invested. I am not socially well-endowed and so often, social situations seem like a trip into a rather surreal world. And then I was relating with him.

There are aspects about this book that I really appreciate, but on the flip-side, there are definitely aspects I don't like about it. Granted, it's only the first four chapters, and the parts I like about it, I really like. For example, I love the idea of stones being given voices. I think that's fantastic. I didn't like the fact that rather than allow the reader to hear what they were saying, it was relegated to a paragraph about what it was they collectively said. And I loved the footnote about the village with the Virgin and the child - that should be a novel all on its own.

What's interesting to me is that I'm reading this at the same time that I'm reading Virginia Woolf's Orlando, in which Woolf mocks the writing voice that was popular at the time. I think that Clarke is also mocking this voice, but is too versed in it at times, which falls into a strange category of mocking it but also falling to the pitfalls of that style. I hope that makes sense. I think my biggest problem with her voice is that she tends to tell over showing. The beginning paragraph on pg. 41 bothered me, by telling the reader that Mr. Norrell has difficulty with jokes. However, I found the tail end of 46 highly amusing, in which a man points at Mr. Norrell to showcase how bored they all are, unknowingly acknowledging their man of the hour.

It's the character of Mr. Norrell and the ideas presented within this book that interest me the most. The idea that there is a difference between practical magicians and theoretical magicians is really fascinating. Rather than magicians, they're more like historians who don't really understand what it is they're studying. And not only that, I think it's interesting that when Mr. Norrell shows his talent, he's suddenly become a spectacle to the people. They expect him to be a stereotype of a magician and the moment when he's amidst a crowd and allowed anonymity was my favorite part.

I agree with you about the magic, that it has a connection with nature. There's a line about, "Magic had returned to England whether the magicians wished it to or not," that insinuates the magicians believe they can control magic. But magic is an uncontrollable force, which I think will be a theme later on in the novel, much like nature. And so the magicians share this illusion that they can control nature and magic. Even we as people believe that the character of the magician is someone who has control over nature. The choice of Clarke's setting is intriguing too, at a time when "society" was yet another illusion. I truly appreciate the fact that this is a fantasy novel set in a time that fantasy novels are rarely set in.

I also think that with Mr. Segundus writing the letter about Mr. Norrell's act shows the power of the media. Even Mr. Norrell is concerned about how he is depicted in the media, despite the fact that he is one who is secluded from society. We always want to be presented as the person we think we are, but I believe Mr. Norrell has a better idea about who he is than the other party-goers at the end of chapter 4.

And despite my issues, after that fourth chapter, I am excited to see where this is going next!
Apr. 1st, 2014 05:50 am (UTC)
I really enjoy the style that Clarke is emulating/parodying and I think she does too. Do you have specific examples re: style? To me the telling is the point; a lot of introductory information about the character's personality get dumped first so that they can go on to the interesting stuff. You get all the relatives, social standing, etc all at once, and then it proceeds. I think the stones all speaking at once gives you the impression of what the York society must have heard--sheer pandemonium, no way to tell who was saying what or to hear everything at once. I'd love to see a novel about the Virgin and Child statues!

Yeah, exactly. Or really academia itself, which studies what it often does not perform. (Therefore a division between "real life" and "book knowledge".)

I liked that part too! Though I've got a more negative opinion of Norrell so it was a bit entertaining for him to get some comeuppance.

Yes to the magic; I like how it's so integrated into the countryside/land itself.

Well, Norrell might have a better idea of himself than the other partygoers, but that's because they've been fed tall tales about him. I don't think he knows himself that well, honestly. He's pretty puffed up about himself!
Apr. 1st, 2014 09:58 pm (UTC)
He can be pretty puffy! I think my favorite part on that side of his character was when he first moved to London and scoffed at the bookshelves because they couldn't even house a third of his "most important" books.

The paragraph that bothered me the most with telling was, "Mr. Norrell (who knew there were such things as jokes in the world or people would not write about them in books, but who had never actually been introduced to a joke or shaken its hand) . . ." I felt as thought that could have been shown in the part when he is inducted into London society. Initially, I was bothered by the line, "It falls to us, sir, to overcome Norrell's natural timidity and aversion to praise . . ." until I realized that it's actually a rather mistaken idea of Norrell's personality.

Though he essentially stood-up all the magicians of England, I have a feeling that both Norrell and the magicians have a wrong or at least incomplete idea of magic. That might go into the difference between one who does and one who studies. Both the theoretical and practical have their pros and cons when it comes to understanding magic.

I also think it was really interesting that Norrell made the stones talk rather than the buildings. It's an instance where there is a difference between structure and nature. The stones still have separate identities, they are still a part of nature and not yet bound into one building.
Apr. 4th, 2014 09:41 pm (UTC)
Oof, sorry for the late response.

Yes! In his fancy little house he just bought on Hanover Square. Norrell, really.

Hmm, I see. I guess I read that one as more of the narrator kind of giving us a wink, but I can see how it'd get annoying if you don't like that kind of thing.

I think so too. The length of time since magic has been done seems to have affected how people see magic--kind of like if science just stopped doing empirical tests and it got a bit derailed because there's no new information coming in to correct it, just rehashing of old sources.

Hm, yes, and I thought it was also because statues are just easier to anthropomorphize. Or perhaps because someone probably carved some kind of expression onto them? It's an interesting proposition. I wonder what the building would have said, if he had animated the whole thing.
Apr. 8th, 2014 05:42 am (UTC)
I liked the footnote in which the author tells us of what Mr Honeyfoote did after the York magic-working - it was oddly endearing to imagine him taken up with that cause to have the bones removed - and while it worked as a story and a character moment, it further underscored some points that had already been made about class, namely that these gentlemen really don't have a purpose in life unless they create one for themselves, and have no need to work or do anything like it.

I don't know much about the style that Clarke is drawing on, except that I've read a couple of Heyer novels with a very similar tone; with that caveat, one thing that I think is useful about this mode of social comedy/commentary is that the author implies a shared knowledge between herself and the reader, and a fantasy author can use these implications not just to create familiarity between herself and her "dear readers", but to do a lot of worldbuilding in between the lines of such comments of "but of course that would have been inexcusably rude" or "it is a truth universally acknowledged…"

I enjoyed the sections where the York Society debated things or carried out actions. In particular, I enjoyed them because I was just looking at a nineteenth-century author's scientific papers in a New Zealand society. Obviously this is 80+ years later, but if you click this link of a sample of what I was looking at, you will see the tone is very much the same.

"Mr. Maskell was sorry Mr. Harding had not commenced his paper by explaining to us what sleep was, for until we knew this we could not tell what dreams were. He did not think that delirium in fever was the same as dreams."

This is definitely going to be one of those books where one mutters to the characters, "No, don't do that…." and then of course they do it.

It's rather a good thing, I think, that Segundus was excused from the condition the York Society was put under - because to be a theoretical magician overlaps quite a lot with being a historian of magic, and if all of the York Society had been punished together, surely that would have left Norrell without anyone from his own locality who could write of his deeds (and indeed, some of the earliest footnotes are to publications by Segundus). Not that that would have occurred to Norrell.

(On to the next section! Sorry to be so tardy.)

Apr. 10th, 2014 02:36 am (UTC)
Yes, very much! It seems to fit with the character of Honeyfoote, speaking up for others.

Oh, that's a very good point! The narrator seems reliable in this instance so their expectations can be a signal/foundation for what's going on in the story.

That's such a fantastic paper. It sounds like it just came from the novel!

Yeah, Norrell seems to be pretty oblivious to a lot of things, not only other people and the external world, but how other people work. However, I'm sure that the York magicians could have told their friends or something--Drawlight talks about magic, he's nowhere near a magician, and I doubt anyone knew who Segundus was anyway.

No worries! Like I said to kaesa, if everyone comments at once I'll be three weeks till I can respond, at this rate >.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )



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