Knowing without reading

tessA while back now, the Guardian newspaper published an article with the title ‘Our guilty secrets: the books we only say we’ve read.‘ This immediately reminded me of the scene in David Lodge’s Changing Places, where two academics play a game called ‘Humiliation’. An obnoxious American professor of English literature wins the game by admitting he hasn’t read Hamlet, but because of that loses his job. ┬áBut the article also reminded me of my own not-so-guilty secret. One of my A level set texts in English literature was Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbevilles. Well, here’s my secret; I read virtually every book by Thomas Hardy except Tess. In rapid succession I read Under the Greenwood Tree, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Return of the Native, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Wessex Tales and Jude the Obscure. My intention was entirely noble; I had wanted to read around the set text. But by the time I had read that little lot I had severely overdosed on Hardy and just couldn’t face yet another weighty tome. It took me another ten years before I finally managed to read Tess, but it didn’t matter. I passed the exam with flying colours – probably because I was able to lard my script with quotations from so many other works by the great Wessex author.

1 Comment

  1. Martin, you are forgiven.!

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