Electric Holmes

It is very rarely given that a 21st century reader can fully appreciate a 19th century novel. But I had an unexpected insight today.

This morning, as I was reading some more of Consuming Passions by Judith Flanders, I came upon an advertisement for Hearn’s Lamps dating from the very end of the 19th century. It is clearly advertising electric lights to be strung outside the house at Christmas.

This afternoon, re-reading The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (serialised 1901-1902) I came upon the following passage, as Watson, Mortimer and Sir Henry Baskerville approach the gloomy Baskerville Hall for the first time. Sir Henry declares:

‘I’ll have a row of electric lamps up here inside of six months, and you won’t know it again, with a thousand candle-power Swan and Edison right here in front of the hall door.’

Read in the context of that advertisement, you suddenly get a sense of how that must have struck a reader at the very dawn of the 20th century. So far as I can recall, every other light mentioned throughout the Holmes canon is a gas light. Now, suddenly, there is the brilliance of electric light. And outside the house, not in. The reader might well have seen such a thing in that very same advertisement that Flanders displays, but it would have been a thing of aspiration, something shockingly new.

And, if you’ll pardon the pun, it casts The Hound of the Baskervilles, and indeed the entire Holmes canon, in a new light.


A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Source Code, Friends, Woody Allen, The Man from London, Sucker Punch, Zardoz, Tron, Willow, and Shoot ‘Em Up

[Last weekend, while en route to Abu Dhabi, my good friend Jeremy swung by my cold-water Chicago flat. After a lengthy Indian-wrestling match, we headed downtown to the AMC River East 21, where we caught a screening of Duncan Jones’s latest film, Source Code. Two hours later, expelled into the brisk April evening, we hunkered down at the nearest Applebee’s and, after ordering multiple appetizers and pitchers of Stella Artois, recorded the following conversation.]

A D: Jeremy, did you like Source Code?

Jeremy: It didn’t offend me.

That’s high praise. I can envision it emblazoned across the film’s poster (which is hideous and which did offend me).

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My Favorite New Movies of 2010

I changed my mind! I loved it!

Hello and welcome to 2011. Time to make a list of what I liked and didn’t like in 2010. A word though first: I don’t consider the following definitive; I’m not trying to pronounce some final judgment on each of the following films. In ten year’s time, I might feel very differently about these movies; who knows? But I think it’s worthwhile to document one’s critical impressions, and I’d encourage you to check out the films I liked (if you value my opinion).

For comparison’s sake, here’s my 2009 list [and 2011 is here]. One correction I’d make now: I saw Jane Campion’s Bright Star a second time, and it’s become one of my favorite films of 2009 (alongside Beaches of Agnes and Face).

Like last year’s list, the following is divided into three parts: my absolute favorite new films, other films that I liked, and the ones that did little or nothing for me. Without further ado…

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Why Genre Will Prevail, in Peace and Freedom from Fear, and in True Health, through the Purity and Essence of Its Natural Fluids, God Bless You All

re: John M. recently quoting something that Paul wrote at his blog, and re: Roxane’s recent post and the resulting epic thread regarding writing and its worth, I’d like to pick a bit more at the bones of genre fiction.

I love genre, because genres are basically conventions. They’re expectations that both authors and readers (and editors, and sales people) bring to a text—suggestions as to what should be inside, and how it should be arranged. And I dearly love conventions, because they’re the very stuff of communication, and of artistic structure—whether we’re obeying them, or departing from them.

I’ve never really understood what some people mean when they talk about “exploding genres” and “writing between genres,” and so forth, because I myself can think of very little writing that is pure genre. Most literature that I read—even the more conventional things—already exist between multiple genres.

Consider The Lord of the Rings.

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