Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell - Style


See also: List of fictional books in the works of Susanna Clarke

Clarke’s style has frequently been described as a pastiche, particularly of nineteenth-century British writers such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and George Meredith. Specifically, the novel's minor characters, including sycophants, rakes, and the Duke of Wellington, evoke Dickens' caricatures. Laura Miller, in her review for Salon, suggests that the novel is "about a certain literary voice, the eminently civilized voice of early 19th century social comedy", exemplified by the works of Austen. The novel even uses obsolete spellings—chuse for choose and shewed for showed, for example—to convey this voice as well as the free indirect speech made famous by Austen. Clarke herself notes that Austen's influence is particularly strong in the "domestic scenes, set in living rooms and drawing rooms where people mostly chat about magic" where Dickens's is prominent "any time there's more action or description". While many reviewers compare Clarke’s style to that of Austen, Gregory Feeley argues in his review for The Weekly Standard that "the points of resemblance are mostly superficial". He writes that "Austen gets down to business briskly, while Clarke engages in a curious narrative strategy of continual deferral and delay." For example, Clarke mentions Jonathan Strange on the first page of the novel, but only in a footnote. He reappears in other footnotes throughout the opening but does not appear as a character in the text proper until a quarter of the way through the novel.

In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Clarke infuses her dry wit with prosaic quaintness. For example, the narrator notes: "It has been remarked (by a lady infinitely cleverer than the present author) how kindly disposed the world in general feels to young people who either die or marry. Imagine then the interest that surrounded Miss Wintertowne! No young lady ever had such advantages before: for she died upon the Tuesday, was raised to life in the early hours of Wednesday morning, and was married upon the Thursday; which some people thought too much excitement for one week." As Michel Faber explains in his review for The Guardian, "here we have all the defining features of Clarke's style simultaneously: the archly Austenesque tone, the somewhat overdone quaintness ("upon the Tuesday"), the winningly matter-of-fact use of the supernatural, and drollness to spare." Gregory Maguire notes in The New York Times that Clarke even gently ridicules the genre of the novel itself: " picks up a book and begins to read ... but he is not attending to what he reads and he has got to Page 22 before he discovers it is a novel – the sort of work which above all others he most despises – and he puts it down in disgust." Elsewhere, the narrator remarks, "Dear Emma does not waste her energies upon novels like other young women." The narrator's identity has been a topic of discussion, with Clarke declaring that said narrator is female and omniscient rather than a future scholar from within the real storyline as some had suggested.

Clarke's style extends to the novel's 185 footnotes, which document a meticulous invented history of English magic. At times, the footnotes dominate entire pages of the novel. Michael Dirda, in his review for The Washington Post, describes these notes as "dazzling feats of imaginative scholarship", in which the anonymous narrator "provides elaborate mini-essays, relating anecdotes from the lives of semi-legendary magicians, describing strange books and their contents, speculating upon the early years and later fate of the Raven King". This extensive extra-textual apparatus is reminiscent of postmodernist works, such as David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (1996) and Thomas Pynchon's Mason & Dixon (1997), particularly as Clarke's notes humorously refer to previous notes in the novel. Clarke did not expect her publisher to accept the footnotes.

Feeley explains that Romantic poet John Keats’s "vision of enchantment and devastation following upon any dealings with faeries" informs the novel, as the passing reference to the "cold hillside" makes clear. The magic in Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has been described as "wintry and sinister" and "a melancholy, macabre thing". There are "flocks of black birds, a forest that grows up in the canals of Venice, a countryside of bleak moors that can only be entered through mirrors, a phantom bell that makes people think of everything they have ever lost, a midnight darkness that follows an accursed man everywhere he goes". The setting reflects this tone, as "dark, fog, mist and wet give the book much of its creepy, northern atmosphere." According to Nisi Shawl in her review for The Seattle Times, the illustrations reinforce this tenor: "Shadows fill the illustrations by Portia Rosenberg, as apt as Edward Gorey's for Dickens' 'Bleak House'." Author John Clute disagrees, arguing that they are "astonishingly inappropriate" to the tone of the novel. Noting that Clarke refers to important nineteenth-century illustrators George Cruikshank and, whose works are "line-dominated, intricate, scabrous, cartoon-like, savage and funny", he is disappointed with the "soft and wooden" illustrations provided by Rosenberg.

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Famous quotes containing the word style:

    Style is the dress of thoughts; and let them be ever so just, if your style is homely, coarse, and vulgar, they will appear to as much disadvantage, and be as ill received, as your person, though ever so well-proportioned, would if dressed in rags, dirt, and tatters.
    Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl Chesterfield (1694–1773)

    I concluded that I was skilled, however poorly, at only one thing: marriage. And so I set about the business of selling myself and two children to some unsuspecting man who might think me a desirable second-hand mate, a man of good means and disposition willing to support another man’s children in some semblance of the style to which they were accustomed. My heart was not in the chase, but I was tired and there was no alternative. I could not afford freedom.
    Barbara Howar (b. 1934)

    Style is the man himself.
    [Le style c’est l’homme même.]
    Leclerc, George-Louis Buffon, Comte De (1707–1788)