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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Aylwin
    July 5, 2015 @ 1:11 am

    I don't think Norrell's position can actually be credibly equated with the Enlightenment or the idea of modernity, despite some superficial associations. His autocratic authoritarianism is defensible as part of a hostile but credible portrayal, especially in the era of the French Revolution with its totalitarian rationalism. But in other respects he amounts to an outright inversion of Enlightenment/modern thought: his scholastic reliance on the authority of the past, as represented by his books (which seems to concede the territory of original thought, as well as free thought, entirely to Strange's Romantic spontaneity), and his obscurantist hoarding of knowledge.

    Someone previously suggested Neoclassicism as corresponding to Norrell's position, and I think that continuation of the Renaissance tradition, with its dogmatic imposition of a single aesthetic standard founded on the authority of the past, is a much better fit here than the Enlightenment or small-m modernism more generally. So the only viable analogy seems to be with artistic rather than intellectual history.

    However, things get really confused with regard to the Raven King, especially as here we really do seem to be inescapably in the intellectual rather than the artistic sphere. Strange, his advocate, associates him with Newton, the poster-boy of the Enlightenment (however questionable its veneration of him might be), which sits oddly with Strange's Romanticism. But the figure who he really seems to correspond to is surely Aristotle, the unapproachably superior Master Of Those Who Know, personification of the authority of the past, whose dethroning was the beginning of modernity. In his hostility to the Raven King, Norrell really does line up with modernity, and against classicism, while Strange does the reverse, in a way that does not seem to correspond to anything in actual Romanticism.

    I don't think it's too spoilerific to say that the story effectively endorses that classicist veneration of the authority of the past, in that it never attempts to contest the idea that Raven King is ineffably superior to anyone in the field of magic.


  2. David Anderson
    July 5, 2015 @ 4:56 am

    The English Romantics have an ambivalent relation to Newton. Blake and Keats are hostile. Wordsworth on the other hand in the later version of the Prelude describes him as 'a mind forever voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone' – which is certainly to see him as a forerunner of one vein of romanticism; and I think Coleridge and Shelley too were inclined to see Newtonian and poetic activities as complimentary.
    In addition, I don't think any of the Romantics saw themselves as breaking with the past entirely. All the Romantics, even Shelley, (but not Byron who was an admirer of Pope and Swift) wanted to appeal to the Renaissance and Middle Ages – or more precisely to selected parts of how they imagined them.


  3. David Anderson
    July 5, 2015 @ 5:16 am

    I have seen the final episode since the last review came up, and I am now awaiting the chance to discuss the differences between the book and the television.

    To pick up something Phil said about the Gentleman with Thistledown Hair last week: I don't think the Gentleman is an alternative to the hierarchy of early nineteenth century England so much as a parody, or a laying bare of the essence of it. Both Lady Pole and Stephen are status symbols for Lord Pole: they're allowed to wield power as his agents as long as they play along with the system (which Lady Pole doesn't and Stephen does). The Gentleman's treatment of them differs from Lord Pole's only in that the Gentleman is far more able to enforce compliance and even more oblivious to their actual agency. (I'll leave Strange and Arabella out of this analysis until the final episode.)


  4. Aylwin
    July 5, 2015 @ 5:33 am

    Thank you for the information on Newton and the Romantics – I did not know that. Not so incongruous then.

    I can see now that my wording at the end of my penultimate paragraph was wildly misleading. I did not mean to suggest that the Romantics were hostile to the past, which as you say was important to them, to the extent that Romanticism would become very closely associated with anti-modernity (even if it did not start out that way). I was just making a much more limited point, that one area where Romanticism did not challenge the preceding cultural currents was regarding the demotion of antiquity from its status as the supreme source of secular wisdom – "Bring back Aristotle!" was hardly a Romantic rallying cry.


  5. Aylwin
    July 5, 2015 @ 5:34 am

    Meant to say, you were the "someone" I mentioned before.


  6. Aylwin
    July 5, 2015 @ 5:50 am

    Might also make clear that I'm not suggesting any association between the Raven King and Aristotle in terms of the ideas they stand for, just that if you look at them as figures in the "history" of thought rather than as sets of ideas, there's a kind of structural correspondence there.


  7. TheSmilingStallionInn
    July 5, 2015 @ 7:25 am

    Just a quick question, to avoid spoilers: Is it wildly different from the end of the book, possibly changing its outcome, or just a variation of the book's ending with some changes?


  8. John
    July 5, 2015 @ 8:06 am

    It was not wildly different.


  9. David Anderson
    July 5, 2015 @ 11:03 am

    I think some characters have a bigger part in events and one important character has less of a role, and that has an affect on one's reading of the story.
    Also, a scene post-climax has a different emotional weight.


  10. Scurra
    July 5, 2015 @ 12:59 pm

    I might disagree with your last line, but it involves going too far down discussions that we can't really have for a few weeks…


  11. David Faggiani
    August 25, 2015 @ 1:32 pm

    Does this series remind anyone else of 'The Deal', the New Labour drama? Strange as Blair, Norrell as Brown?


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