Every night this week, I’ve been reading a chapter or two of Silas Marner, by George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans). It takes time to get used to the style (it was written, after all, in 1861), but I find that if you read it aloud (as many of the first readers did, to their illiterate friends and neighbours), the rhythms and cadences carry you along (incidentally, that’s also how I got through Trainspotting). It’s a book I’ve heard about for years but have never read or had to read: no Victorian writers, other than a few poets, were left on the Nova Scotia curriculum when I was in high school ; 20++ years on, I hate to think what they’re (not) reading now.
Instead of paying through the nose at a Japanese bookstore, I’m reading Marner online at Project Gutenberg. Editions of books which have lapsed into the public domain are retyped and posted here by volunteers, to be downloaded and read for free. Just by entering the name “Tolstoy”, for example, I get a choice of about a dozen works, including three translations of Anna Karenina: one in English, one in Dutch, and one in French. Now, with the recent draconian extensions of the copyright laws in the U.S., books take a lot longer to enter the public domain (i.e., for the copyrights to expire). There’s not much on Gutenberg which was written after the 1920s, and there now won’t be for a while. Still, the older books are harder to find, and usually cost more.
I go online to read Victorian novelists aloud. I listen to music and info (in the guise of podcasts) with headphones, much the same way my great-grandfather listened to Red Sox games on his crystal receiver in the 1920s (almost as though the world’s intervening 60-year love affair with records never happened). Sometimes, the Italians say, we must constantly change to keep things the way they are. Mind you I live in Japan, so I should know that by now.