Life on the Riverbank: “Edwardian Gay”

As in “chaps mucking in together in digs, women on the periphery if at all” (paraphrased).

That is a description of Wind in the Willows given by John Sutherland, Eremitus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at University College, London, in today’s Book Show on ABC Radio National. He also described one of the themes of the book being about the maintenance of the social order, keeping down those frightful oiks of stoats and weasels who try to take over Toad Hall, only to be battered by Badger back into rightful submission.

But Prof Sutherland also described how those are only readings of the book that he has developed as an adult, and how his first encounter with the story of Mole breaking free from his dark bunker to the light and life of the riverbank was immensely attractive and idealistic when he first read it as a boy in the blackout of the London Blitz.

It’s all part of a a piece promoting his latest book Magic Moments:

a kind of Biographia Literaria as he takes a look back to the magic of 25 experiences of books, films, plays, songs, paintings, sounds and smells which took him by surprise, sank into his memory and changed his life

I find that an immensely appealing approach to examining a history of ideas and responses (you can listen to the program online here). So I’m opening it up to Hoydenizens: what experiences of books, films, plays, songs, paintings, sounds and smells in your lifetimes still linger in your memory, and why?

Categories: fun & hobbies, media

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7 replies

  1. Given that “magical” suggests childhood experiences (remembering I’m a 1960 kid), the two biggies because they were radically new experiences that still linger (and still thrill me) are:
    (1) “2001 – A Space Odyssey” : Overload for a kid who was into rockets, human evolution (more than dinosaurs), and classical music. I’d never seen clear big pictures of planets (only snowy B/W versions), and the light trip was something I’d never even HEARD of.
    (2) “Switched-on-Bach” : While the synth on the Dr Who show intrigued me, the Brandenburg done with synth, rapid movement of sounds from left to right… again overwhelming and entirely different to anything I’d experienced before.
    And for my daughter, from her primary school days, there are two things, both from the Melbourne Art Gallery:
    (1) Lying on the floor looking at the stained glass roof. She talks of an extraordinary calm in an otherwise busy space. (Personally, I suspect half the reason is that lying down inside a large public building was such a strange thing to do…)
    (2) “Judith and Holofernes” – so HUGE, so bright, so bloody. She wasn’t scared, but overwhelmed.

  2. Dave, re. Judith and Holfernes: Carravaggio or Artemisia?

  3. Dave, I’m guessing that was an exhibition of the Artemisia Gentelischi, or was it the Caravaggio? The Gentilischi version is especially confronting (and huge).
    I’m not sure that magical moments only happen in childhood. Sure, the stresses of adult life mean that most of us simply don’t take time out to “smell the roses” and continue to accumulate magical moments, but I remember about 10 years ago just walking out of a night seminar at a convention centre outside Canberra and looking up to see a full moon surrounded by a glorious ice-halo with a double ring, the first time I’d ever seen such a thing. I have a clear sense memory of the frosty air, the crunchy path underfoot, the smell of a vegetarian banquet wafting from the kitchens and struggling with the boot-latch to get my camera out, all under the light of that spectacular halo. Truly magical.

  4. Warning: this may be somewhat disturbing.
    I first read Stephen King’s epic The Stand in December of 2001, which was, frankly, a miserable time here in the US. One of the major themes of the first half of the novel is the inefficacy of government and the lengths to which it will go to maintain the status quo, even in the midst of things falling to pieces, and that rang terribly true. The single image from that book that will always stay with me is the television station that broadcasts footage of the military dumping bodies into New York harbor…and the entire staff is killed for upholding freedom of the press. It all seemed very allegorical and poignant at the time, any feminist issues with King’s work aside.
    On more pleasant notes, I would say I’m irrevocably influenced by Spielberg’s work, particularly on the Indiana Jones films, in terms of aesthetics and storytelling, from numerous viewings as a child.

  5. It was the Caravaggio. Neither of us have seen the Gentilischi even in print. Thanks for the link TigTog (and to me it’s less confronting because it’s a fairly innocuous looking girl with a blankish expression in the Caravaggio performing such a bloody act, whereas in the Gentilischi, the woman looks like she could have done it before, at least to animals, and the only expression on the face is of the physical effort involved).
    The “magic” as I see it could either be a totally new medium (e.g. see moving pictures for the first time), and therefore independent of the content, or a medium you know, but the content is absolutely new overwhelming (but not something that gives one nightmares – that would be dark magic). The older you get, unless exposed to a radically new technology and content, the less likely anything will be markedly different to what you’ve experienced before.
    And if we include magical moments from cultural artefacts as an adult, it has to be the first time I heard the following:
    (1) the B minor mass.
    (2) the opening chorus of St Matthew’s, the instant when the boys choir joins with the adults.
    I’m STILL prone to tears when I hear these.
    I’d also ruled out experiences of nature… as the question concentrated on cultural artefacts. I’m fortunate having many of these, but most notably having a whale mother and a couple of calves continually and frequently breaching for two hours 50-100 metres from me, sitting on the sand with the waves coming up – and for most of that time, it was only my friend and I on the beach. We had to look up between 15 and 30 degrees to see their heads at the top of a breach they were that close.

  6. Once I saw a little girl, about three, in the NGV falling in love with a very thickly painted abstract. She just managed to get her cheek against the paint when a very anxious guard alerted her parents and she was pulled away.
    But oh how I loved seeing her do it. I hope she remembers the pleasure and joy she felt before she was frightened.

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