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Things don’t get no better, better than you and me March 20, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, childhood, fangirl.
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Months and months ago I mentioned on Livejournal that I was intending to write a series of posts about my favourite literary couples – although I planned to expand that to include platonic couples, groups of friends, and families. Now I’ve finally got my act together and started working on this, and so I bring you the first of what will be a series of posts. This one is a rather arbitrarily-selected group of couples (in the romantic sense of the word). When selecting them, I had three criteria:
1. That they be a couple from a book or series that means or meant a lot to me
2. That they not be the sort of people usually found on such lists (no Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy)
3. That they be characters from books

The last criterion was simply to avoid massive headaches as if I’d included other types of texts, I’d be here still writing this after I’d finished my PhD!

Looking at the couples I came up with, I feel a bit disappointed at the heteronormativity of my list, and I know it’s more through my own fault than that of existing literature: There are great stories with GLTBQ couples, but I haven’t read many of them (with the possible exception of Written On The Body by Jeanette Winterson). But I certainly don’t blame the straightness of this list on the ‘lack of good GLTBQ couples in literature’; that’s an unfair argument, and the fault is entirely my own.

At this point, I should warn you that there are spoilers for:
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott
Galax-Arena and Terra-Farma by Gillian Rubinstein
Romanitas and Rome Burning by Sophia McDougall
The Space Demons trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein
The Troy Game series by Sara Douglass
The Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden
The Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor
The Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody
The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan

1. ‘I touch the place where I’d find your face’: Breaking my heart into tiny, tiny pieces, every single time
Lyra and Will from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.

They save the multiverse together by falling in love and acting on that love. Then they realise that they can’t live in the same universe, and they have to close all the windows between all the universes, or all consciousness will leak out of the entire multiverse. I cried for three days straight when I read how their story ended, and it’s still heartbreaking to think about.
Theme song: ‘Set the Fire to the Third Bar’ by Snow Patrol.
I find the map and draw a straight line
Over rivers, farms, and state lines
The distance from ‘A’ to where you’d be
It’s only finger-lengths that I see
I touch the place where I’d find your face
My finger in creases of distant dark places

Even the video clip is Lyra and Will-esque.

2. ‘What’s that waiting about?’: An (arranged) match made in Heaven (Together, they fight crime!)
Captain Anji and Mai from the Crossroads trilogy by Kate Elliott.

The best thing about this pair is how practical they are, and how well matched. Anji is a shrewd military leader and manages to gain a great deal of prestige simply by showing up with his band of mercenaries at the right time in a threatened kingdom. But his success is almost equally due to Mai’s talents as a merchant – most particularly, her ability to negotiate and drive a hard bargain.

I’ve written before about how much I love this series because it’s a fantasy series that makes middle-class talents and middle-class occupations heroic, which is a very rare thing. I also love it because of the central couple. Anji and Mai marry for diplomatic and economic reasons, but they share a mutual respect that eventually blossoms into a practical, adaptable, generous kind of love. It’s not an all-consuming, country-destroying passion, and sometimes, you know, it’s nice to recognise that love doesn’t have to be that way.

Theme song: ‘Yours and Mine’ by Calexico’ (the song only comes in at 3.50, but it’s the only Youtube clip I could find).
Horses are chomping at the bit
The gate is nearly busted down
Moment before the calm of the storm
And everyone’s blood goes wild
Except yours and mine

3. ‘Everyone’s got a theory about the bitter one’: Kid-lit’s very own Spike and Dru
Presh/Wai-Chan and Allan ‘Allyman’ Manne from Galax-Arena and Terra-Farma by Gillian Rubinstein.

I have a huge soft spot for these two. Galax-Arena was the first book where I realised I was utterly uninterested in the heroine and wanted to read only about the villains of the piece. And what villains they are! Presh is from the streets of China, Allyman’s from the streets of Birmingham. They are among the ‘peb’ (‘people’) of the Galax-Arena, a circus arena in outer space that functions more like the Colosseum in Ancient Rome. The performers, all talented acrobats snatched from homeless, forgotten existences in the poorest cities of the world, believe they’re performing for aliens. In actual fact, their adrenaline is powering the immortality of wealthy, impossibly old people. If a performer dies, the rush of adrenaline is even greater.

Allyman eventually ends up as a recruiter for the Arena, with Presh initially as a sort of enforcer, and later, after falling pregnant, is abandoned in Terra-Farma, a place where the female children of dispossessed people are given away to wealthy men in countries with low female populations (such as China). The pair are profoundly messed up, with morality that is grey at best, and yet they are much more compelling than the mousy heroine of the story, Joella. I love them to bits.

Theme song: ‘To the Moon and Back’ by Savage Garden
Love is like a barren place and
Reaching out for human faith
Is like a journey I just don’t have a map for

5. ‘We spoke in tongues we never wanted spoken’: Across the barricades
Noviana Una and Marcus Novius Faustus Leo from the Romanitas series by Sophia McDougall.

Do I really need to explain this one? I adore stories about star-crossed lovers, particularly when they come from opposite ends of the social spectrum. Marcus is heir to the Roman Empire (but a Roman Empire which never ended, and is roughly contemporaneous with our own times). Una is a fugitive slave. But they met one another when they both possessed nothing but their lives – and even those were threatened – and they are delightfully co-dependent as a result.

I love them because they’re both such introverted, private people, and yet both of them find extroversion thrust upon them against their will: Marcus because, well, he’s of the Imperial dynasty and lives his life in the spotlight, and Una because she can read minds and thus hear the thoughts of everyone around her. They are so similar it’s uncanny, and I really hope things work out for them in the third book.

Theme song: ‘The Sea’ by Van She (the most introverted band I know).
And you said
Time would change these things
For you will always be the same
[…] Now that I’m awake
You know that we are broken
The tiny hand is past with doors
Were shut that now are open
.

6. ‘Why don’t you close your eyes and reinvent me? We can unwind all our flaws’: This is so messed up I need my head examined
Asterion/Weyland and Cordelia/Caela/Noah/Eaving from the Troy Game series by Sara Douglass.

This couple spend the first two books of this series hating (Asterion) and fearing (Noah) one another, mutually antagonistic. Noah (or Cordelia and Caela as she is then, wishes only for the love of Brutus. Asterion wishes only for Brutus’ ‘kingship bands’, which Noah has hidden. This being a Sara Douglass series, Asterion does some unspeakably awful things to Noah involving her womb (he plants an imp in it and causes the imp to be ripped out through her back), and then this is the start of a beautiful love affair of great epicness.

Theme song: How could it be anything other than ‘Mezzanine’ by Massive Attack?
We can unwind
All these other flaws
All these other flaws
Will lead to
We’ll see to
All these other flaws
Will lead to mine
We can unwind all our flaws
.

7. ‘No one’s gonna take me alive’: Love is about compromises
Ellie and Lee from the Tomorrow series and Ellie Chronicles by John Marsden.

And oh, what compromises! These two fell in love while fighting a guerrilla war (as 16-year-olds) against invaders of Australia. Living rough in the bush, leading raids on their former home town, blowing up airfields, being condemned to death, Ellie and Lee find the time to fall spectacularly in, and then out, of love, while coping with PTSD, bullet wounds and having to grow up way too fast.

Their on-again, off-again relationship spans the entire war and its aftermath, and I’ve always appreciated that Marsden had the guts to show with these two that love is not easy, it’s not the cure for everything, and it’s not necessarily empowering or a protection against depression and other kinds of psychological illness. It just is.

Theme song: ‘Knights of Cydonia’ by Muse
No one’s gonna take me alive
The time has come to make things right
You and I must fight for our rights
You and I must fight to survive

8. ‘Where small birds sang and leaves were falling’: Love is not just for the young
Gordianus and Bethesda from the Roma Sub Rosa series by Steven Saylor.

These two are in their fifties and have known one another since Gordianus was a starry-eyed, penniless young Roman traveller and Bethesda was a surly Egyptian slave. (I admit, the beginnings of their relationship are a bit…troubling, and I have heard of the argument that any relationship between a master and a slave is non-consensual, as the power imbalance makes consent impossible. BUT! Gordianus frees Bethesda and they then enjoy what appear to be thirty very happy years of marriage.)

I love Gordianus and Bethesda because in most of the books I read, adult couples are either absent or not discussed, and I find their relationship really heart-warming. After 40 years, Gordianus still thinks Bethesda is the most beautiful woman in the world, and remains both impressed and terrified by her subtlety of mind. For her part, Bethesda seems to love Gordianus, although the books are told from his point of view so it’s difficult to know what she’s really feeling.

Theme song: ‘The Broad Majestic Shannon’ by The Pogues
Take my hand, and dry your tears, babe
Take my hand, forget your fears, babe
There’s no pain, there’s no more sorrow
They’re all gone, gone in the years, babe
.

9. ‘The will to greatness clouds the mind, consumes the senses, veils the signs’: Awwwww
Domick and Kella from the Obernetyn series by Isobelle Carmody.

I adore Domick and Kella because they’re just so adorable. He’s a Coercer, she’s a Healer. He’s a bit arrogant, a bit of a loner, and a bit at odds with the non-violent ideals of the rest of the Misfits. She’s compassionate, sociable, chatty, and totally horrified by any thought of violence. All together now…AWWWWW!

Of course, the fact that I loved Domick and Kella so much made it inevitable that Carmody would kill Domick off. I’m still bitter about that.

Theme song: ‘The Farthest Star’ by VNV Nation
Redeeming graces cast aside
Enduring notions, new found promise,
That the end will never come.

We live in times when all seems lost,
But time will come when we’ll look back,
Upon ourselves and on our failings.

Embrace the void even closer still,
Erase your doubts as you surrender everything:

We possess the power,
If this should start to fall apart,
To mend divides,
To change the world,
To reach the farthest star.
If we should stay silent.
If fear should win our hearts,
Our light will have long diminished,
Before it reaches the farthest star.

{Bonus awesome – the final lines of this song seem very Elspethy: Wide awake in a world that sleeps
Enduring thoughts, enduring scenes.
The knowledge of what is yet to come.
]

ETA; Jordan pointed out that I forgot to include my Space Demons couple. Well, you can find them here!

10.’Why don’t you play the game?’ : Best ‘It could never be, but I wish it would’ couple
Mario Ferrone and Elaine Taylor from the Space Demons trilogy by Gillian Rubinstein.

These two would never work. Even Rubinstein herself admits it in the epilogue to Shinkei, the third book in the series. Elaine grows up to be a famous dancer, touring the world. Mario grows up to be a ‘live fast, die young’ computer game writer, who occasionally phones up Elaine to tell her his life will be incomplete unless she marries him. ‘So far,’ Rubinstein writes, ‘she remains unconvinced’.

I shipped these two before I knew what shipping was. It seemed inconceivable that they could go through so much (being sucked into computer games and forced to work out whatever issues they might have – hate in Space Demons, fear in Skymaze and dreams (and the breaking thereof) in Shinkei) and not fall in love. Oh, how naïve I was!

I like Elaine and Mario because it’s a partnership of equals, and because the books are all about the need to work together, be less isolated and insular and live as part of a community. And, let’s face it, if you’ve travelled through an alternate reality built out of one another’s fears and dreams, you don’t really have much to hide from one another.

This pairing would never work out, and it’s not written for us to interpret it as working out, but I can’t help liking it quite a bit.

Theme: How could it be anything other than ‘Digital Love’ by Daft Punk?
You wrap your arms around too
But suddenly I feel the shining sun
Before I knew it this dream was all gone

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
I wish this dream comes true

Ooh I don’t know what to do
About this dream and you
We’ll make this dream come true

11. ‘The gentle genocide in your eyes’: Token Every Woman Loves a Bad Boy couple
Nick and Mae from The Demon’s Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan.

Because come on, if you’re not shipping them, you’re insane!

Theme songs: ‘Gentle’ by Strawpeople, just for that above quote, and
‘Love is a Stranger’ by Eurythmics
Love is a stranger in an open car
To tempt you in and drive you far away
[…]And love, love, love is a dangerous drug
To take you away and leave you far behind
.

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Birthday books January 10, 2010

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, reviews.
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I got three books for my birthday and Christmas this year. I read the first two while I was in Sydney and finished the third while flying back to the UK. The first one was excellent, the second one was good, and the third one was seriously disappointing.

The first book was An American In Victorian Cambridge, by Charles Astor Bristed. He was a student at Trinity in the 1840s, and recounted his experiences in detail and at length. I learnt so many amazing things about what Cambridge was like then – did you know, for example, that everyone had to study Maths and Classics, and that all other subjects were basically unassessed and more for general interest?

But the most amusing thing about this book was realising how little anything has changed in Cambridge. Alcohol is still the main social lubricant, the rules of the colleges and university are still arcane and surprise you unexpectedly, and the Fellows are still brilliant but slightly misanthropic. We have, thankfully, however, moved on from virulent debates about Anglo-Catholicism.

The book also gained additional humour from the unintentionally hilarious nature of Astor Bristed’s narration. Every so often, he’d mention some bizarre or baffling experience, earnestly and with great seriousness, while failing to see that he’d been being made fun of by his fellow-students. It’s a really engaging book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

The second book was a memoir by Kevin Crossley-Holland called The Hidden Roads. I was familiar with Crossley-Holland’s children’s literature and his translations of Anglo-Saxon riddles, so I was interested to read what his childhood was like (The Hidden Roads is a book that aspires to be like Roald Dahl’s Boy – a recollection of a childhood, written, for the most part, with a young readership in mind.)

For the most part, the book was successful. Crossley-Holland vividly recreates his experiences as a child in an intellectual family in Britain in the 1950s and 60s, and there are some wonderful little anecdotes, such as the time Rumer Godden taught him to tie a bow-tie. However, I’m not convinced that the addition of Crossley-Holland’s poetry (which was scattered at relevant places throughout the book) really added much to the tale. It’s not that it was bad poetry, more that it interrupted the flow of the narrative.

The final book I read was Lustrum by Robert Harris. I’d read very positive reviews of this book and the one preceding it – in fact, the way the reviewers went on, you’d think this book was the second coming of I, Claudius. I was greatly disappointed, but when I explain my reasons for disappointment, you may conclude that the fault was more with me than with the books.

The problem is, Lustrum is a retelling of the end of the Roman Republic. And I’ve already got my own canon when it comes to this time period: Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series. I’ve been reading Saylor since I first picked up a copy of A Murder on the Appian Way in the library at Narrabundah, nine years ago, and I’ve read most of the books in the series more than once. I’m so used to Saylor’s characterisation of all the major players – Caesar, Pompey, Marcus Crassus, Sulla, Catilina, Clodius, Milo, Marc Antony, and above all, Cicero – that for me, they are no longer Saylor’s interpretations of these historical figures, they are the figures themselves.

This makes reading an alternative interpretation of such figures very difficult. When I tell you that Lustrum is written from the point of view of Cicero’s slave and secretary Tiro, you’ll see the problem. Cicero in Saylor’s books is the consummate politician, a canny and cynical manipulator of the Roman political situation. He’s certainly not an idealist, and he’s mostly in it for his own gain (as are all the major players outlined above, except maybe Catilina). Harris’ Cicero is a staunch believer in the values of the Roman Republic, and above all is working as a politician not to further his own ends, but to do right by the people of Rome. It just didn’t ring true for me.

This is really the only time period for which I have such a decided view of the motivations and personalities of the historical figures (excepting maybe the Angevins and Poitevins as depicted by Sharon Penman), but it puts me at a disadvantage in interpreting books set in this period not written by Steven Saylor. I feel that the writing wasn’t great, but I’m not sure if this was caused by my discomfort at the non-Saylorian characterisation.

It’s a great shame that I’m not able to more adequately sum up the qualities of this book. I did like learning a bit more about Tiro. In particular, I was intrigued to learn that his famous shorthand was responsible for our abbreviations ‘etc’, ‘NB’ and ‘ie’, and the symbol ‘&’ for ‘and’. It’s a pity that I can’t say I enjoyed much more about the book.

Romanesque December 5, 2009

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Several years ago, I hesitated for more than an hour in a bookshop, hovering over a new Steven Saylor book, reading it, picking it up, putting it down again. This is not normal behaviour for me when faced with a new Steven Saylor book; normally I’m quite happy to rush to the bookshop and hand over extortionate amounts of money for his works the instant they are released in hardback. With this particular book, I ultimately decided against buying it and left the shop wondering if I had made the right decision. Now, I can safely say that I did.

You see, the difference between this book, Roma, and all of Saylor’s other books is that Roma is what some would call ‘a sweeping family saga’, the history of Rome from its mythological foundations until the rise and fall of Caesar as seen through the eyes of one particular family. Edward Rutherfurd has done the same thing for Salisbury, London, Dublin, Russia and the New Forest. I’ve read all of Rutherfurd’s books, but they always left me a little cold. Until I read Saylor’s version of this sub-genre, I never quite understood why.

You see, Saylor is more typically a writer of historical crime novels. He’s written a whole series of them, Roma Sub Rosa, set in the time from Sulla’s dictatorship to Caesar’s rise to power. Each story focuses on both a real, historical crime (the Sextus Roscius case, for example) and the broader historical events of Rome (the so-called ‘Catiline conspiracy’) and weaves them together. Last year, I wrote a bit about the ways in which crime fiction acts as a mirror of society, and how we can work out a lot about a historical period by looking at the crimes committed in it.

The thing is, Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa books are so tightly focused, and so strong in their interweaving of story and themes (or ‘message’, if you prefer; there tends to be a strong correlation between Saylor’s characters’ levels of outrage at the erosion of democracy in the name of security and how many years of the Bush presidency had gone by) that the world they describe is utterly three-dimensional. They remain my favourite evocation of Ancient Rome (and that’s including I, Claudius). This is because each book acts as a bite-sized chunk of Roman history, a snapshot of one event that Saylor views (with the benefit of hindsight) as a step along the road away from a republic and towards an empire. (I don’t really know enough about Roman history to judge whether the events he chooses are really so solidly associated with this argument, but I do know that each book brings each of these events vividly to life.)

In Roma, Saylor tries to do the same thing. Each section of it is devoted to a different period of Roman history (say, Hannibal’s invasion). But there’s only so much you can say in a 500-page novel. In attempting to record the broad sweep of Roman history, Saylor does what my supervisor is always criticising me for: going for breadth and not depth.

Part of the reason why the Roma Sub Rosa books seem so alive and why Roma seems like dead history is that they’re long enough to give us a good understanding of their characters. The same characters recur throughout the series, of course, but in the hands of a capable writer, one book should be enough to make characters known. One could argue that this is beside the point in Roma, that the main character of the book is not the ever-changing cast of Potitii and Pinarii but the city of Rome itself. This is a perfectly valid argument, except of course that a city is nothing without people. Throughout the course of Roma, the characters remained ciphers, and I was unable to work up much interest in their stories – and consequently, in the story of Rome.

I may here be simply expressing my unfortunate and seemingly incurable dislike of short stories. Try as I might, I’ve never been able to enjoy short stories as much as I do novels (with a few exceptions, most notably the works of Jorge Luis Borges). It’s rarely the fault of the author, but rather my inability to be engaged by something unless I can connect with (or at least come to understand) its characters. A world doesn’t feel solid to me until I can imagine myself having conversations with its inhabitants. I can imagine sitting around making rueful, sarcastic comments about politics with Gordianus the Finder. But I can’t imagine even exchanging polite pleasantries about the weather with a single character from Roma, and that is its failing.

First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up December 18, 2008

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Wow.  Just, wow.  It’s been a while since I finished a book and then sat in stunned silence, but that’s what happened today after I read Jo Walton’s book Farthing, which is the first in a trilogy. I’ve loved Walton since her alternate-universe Arthurian series, The Tir Tanagiri Saga, which I regard as the best Arthurian retelling I’ve ever read. While a lot of other Arthurian stories manage to take the familiar plot and make it say something about their own times, very few manage to get right to the heart of what the Matter of Britain really means. In Farthing, Walton takes another set of well-known genres (in this case, the country-house murder mystery, and the ‘what if the Nazis had won’ alternate-history) and gets straight to the heart of them. However, she is clearly using them to say something about our own times, too.

This makes her the most recent in a chain of authors who use (and subvert) the conventions of historical crime novels to make important points about the times in which we live. If you pick your crimes carefully, you can make them stand as metonyms for the crimes and iniquities of a whole society.

Steven Saylor has been doing this for years with his Roma Sub Rosa series. These are pretty much my favourite crime novels. They’re set over about 30 years (and counting), from the last days of Sulla’s dictatorship to the end of the Republic and Caesar’s rise to power. I expect (or at least hope) that they’ll continue on after Caesar’s assassination, since the last few books seem to have been building up to that point. Each book follows the narrator, an Everyman called Gordianus the Finder, who acts as a detective (if such a thing had existed in ancient Rome) to Rome’s rich and powerful. Each book takes place at a turning point on the road from Republic to Empire (the brief rise to power of the demagogue Catalina, the murder of Clodius, Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon, to name a few examples), with Gordianus become more and more cynical, more and more privately outraged at the slow erosion of everything that made him proud to be a Roman. Saylor’s point is hard to miss: in sacrificing democracy (or at least the semi-democracy that existed in Rome) for security, we end up with a society neither democratic nor secure, and a society not worth saving. By the time we get to the latest book, The Triumph of Caesar, published in late 2007, Saylor’s outrage spills over into his Author’s Note:

Erich Gruen has speculated that the statue of Cleopatra in the Temple of Venus Genetrix was placed there not by Julius Caesar (as Appian explicitly states), but later, by Augustus, as a trophy after the queen’s defeat and death.  This is an eminently sensible idea; nevertheless, I prefer to take Appian at his word.  Caesar’s installation of the statue presents us with a puzzle, to be sure, but so do many actions taken by our own leaders.  Because an act by, say, a president of the United States did not make sense to a reasonable person does not mean that the act did not take place.  I would suggest that the type of man who thinks he can rule the world is not, by definition, a reasonable man, and the actions of such men inevitably leave us with vexed questions that defy explanation by sensible historians.

-Steven Saylor, Author’s Note to The Triumph of Caesar, pp. 270-1.

So, yes, Caesar is Bush, Rome is the United States and Egypt can be made to stand in for the modern Middle. East.  And all the time we have poor, decent, outraged Gordianus, an old-fashioned Roman who just wants to live in his lovely new Palatine house and endure his beautiful wife’s appalling cooking and watch his grandchildren grow up, constantly dragged out into an increasingly cruel, heartless world of political manouvring that the word ‘intrigues’ is too tame to describe.

Jo Walton appears to be doing a similar thing with Farthing.  The book is set in a subtly different Britain, one which did a peace-deal with Hitler that kept the carnage (and the genocide of the Jews) out of sight across the Channel.  In 200 beautifully written pages, she attempts to answer the question that has been plaguing us for over sixty years: how did decent people allow this to happen?

The answer, as usual, is a combination of indifference and self-interest.  Remember that little parable (if that’s the right word) that you’d often see stuck up in school counsellors’ offices as a warning against being a bystander to bullying? ‘First they came for the Jews, but I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew…etc.’  That is half of the answer.  The other half of the answer is provided by Carmichael, the police detective charged with investigating the country-house murder of a rising political star (the negotiator of the ‘Peace with Honour’ with Hitler).  I can’t say much more here without revealing major spoilers, but anyone who reads the final chapter without their heart breaking for the man clearly didn’t have a heart to begin with.

Philip Pullman did a similar thing in the final of his Sally Lockhart Mysteries, The Tiger in the Well. This is certainly the best of the series, and it, like Walton’s book, uses persecution of the Jews (in this case in late 19th-century Europe) as an analogy for the contemporary indifference that allows for cruelty to the contemporary avatars of the persecuted Jews.

I’m thinking here of one particular moment. Poison-tongued agitators have whipped up the poor of the East End into an anti-Semitic fury, and Daniel Goldberg, a Jewish socialist and journalist, confronts the mob. He’s been awake all night, he’s been running around London trying to find his ally Sally’s kidnapped daughter, he’s been shot, and yet he calmly walks up to the mob and gives one of the greatest political speeches ever found in a work of fiction. I don’t have my book with me, so I can’t quote it word for word, but in it he manages to address the reasonable fears of the mob, show them how those fears have been manipulated by those who caused them, into hatred of the Jews, who did not, and redirect their anger back at the casual, indifferent cruelty of the rich. In a few glorious lines, he turns the blood libel, the ancient anti-Jewish slur, into an attack on the rapacious cruelty of 19th-century capitalism. “Of course we should hate people who sacrifice children,” he says, “but ask yourselves, who sacrificed your children?” (or words to that effect). I still cry every time I read it.

It’s indifference, then, and fear. We care too much about ourselves, and not enough about others. And for every Carmichael, every Dan Goldberg and Sally Lockhart, and every Gordianus the Finder, outraged every time that man’s inhumanity to man confirms his suspicions about human nature, there are millions of us, indifferent and terrified, to push our society that much closer to repression.