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  • Arthur & George
  • Written by Julian Barnes
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  • Arthur and George
  • Written by Julian Barnes
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Arthur & George

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Written by Julian BarnesAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Julian Barnes

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On Sale: January 10, 2006
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-307-26466-4
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

As boys, George, the son of a Midlands vicar, and Arthur, living in shabby genteel Edinburgh, find themselves in a vast and complex world at the heart of the British Empire. Years later—one struggling with his identity in a world hostile to his ancestry, the other creating the world’s most famous detective while in love with a woman who is not his wife–their fates become inextricably connected.

In Arthur & George, Julian Barnes explores the grand tapestry of late-Victorian Britain to create his most intriguing and engrossing novel yet.

Excerpt

one

Beginnings

Arthur


A child wants to see. It always begins like this, and it began like this then. A child wanted to see.

He was able to walk, and could reach up to a door handle. He did this with nothing that could be called a purpose, merely the instinctive tourism of infancy. A door was there to be pushed; he walked in, stopped, looked. There was nobody to observe him; he turned and walked away, carefully shutting the door behind him.

What he saw there became his first memory. A small boy, a room, a bed, closed curtains leaking afternoon light. By the time he came to describe it publicly, sixty years had passed. How many internal retellings had smoothed and adjusted the plain words he finally used? Doubtless it still seemed as clear as on the day itself. The door, the room, the light, the bed, and what was on the bed: a ‘white, waxen thing’.

A small boy and a corpse: such encounters would not have been so rare in the Edinburgh of his time. High mortality rates and cramped circumstances made for early learning. The household was Catholic, and the body that of Arthur’s grandmother, one Katherine Pack. Perhaps the door had been deliberately left ajar. There might have been a desire to impress upon the child the horror of death; or, more optimistically, to show him that death was nothing to be feared. Grandmother’s soul had clearly flown up to Heaven, leaving behind only the sloughed husk of her body. The boy wants to see? Then let the boy see.

An encounter in a curtained room. A small boy and a corpse. A grandchild who, by the acquisition of memory, had just stopped being a thing, and a grandmother who, by losing those attributes the child was developing, had returned to that state. The small boy stared; and over half a century later the adult man was still staring. Quite what a ‘thing’ amounted to — or, to put it more exactly, quite what happened when the tremendous change took place, leaving only a ‘thing’ behind — was to become of central importance to Arthur.

George

George does not have a first memory, and by the time anyone suggests that it might be normal to have one, it is too late. He has no recollection obviously preceding all others — not of being picked up, cuddled, laughed at or chastised. He has an awareness of once having been an only child, and a knowledge that there is now Horace as well, but no primal sense of being disturbingly presented with a brother, no expulsion from paradise. Neither a first sight, nor a first smell: whether of a scented mother or a carbolicy maid-of-all-work.

He is a shy, earnest boy, acute at sensing the expectations of others. At times he feels he is letting his parents down: a dutiful child should remember being cared for from the first. Yet his parents never rebuke him for this inadequacy. And while other children might make good the lack — might forcibly install a mother’s doting face or a father’s supporting arm in their memories — George does not do so. For a start, he lacks imagination. Whether he has never had one, or whether its growth has been stunted by some parental act, is a question for a branch of psychological science which has not yet been devised. George is fully capable of following the inventions of others — the stories of Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, the Journey of the Magi — but has little such capacity himself.

He does not feel guilty about this, since his parents do not regard it as a fault in him. When they say that a child in the village has ‘too much imagination’, it is clearly a term of dispraise. Further up the scale are ‘tellers of tall stories’ and ‘fibbers’; by far the worst is the child who is ‘a liar through and through’ — such are to be avoided at all costs. George himself is never urged to speak the truth: this would imply that he needs encouragement. It is simpler than this: he is expected to tell the truth because at the Vicarage no alternative exists.

‘I am the way, the truth and the life’: he is to hear this many times on his father’s lips. The way, the truth and the life. You go on your way through life telling the truth. George knows that this is not exactly what the Bible means, but as he grows up this is how the words sound to him.

Arthur

For Arthur there was a normal distance between home and church; but each place was filled with presences, with stories and instructions. In the cold stone church where he went once a week to kneel and pray, there was God and Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles and the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins. Everything was very orderly, always listed and numbered, like the hymns and the prayers and the verses of the Bible.

He understood that what he learned there was the truth; but his imagination preferred the different, parallel version he was taught at home. His mother’s stories were also about far distant times, and also designed to teach him the distinction between right and wrong. She would stand at the kitchen range, stirring the porridge, tucking her hair back behind her ears as she did so; and he would wait for the moment when she would tap the stick against the pan, pause, and turn her round, smiling face towards him. Then her grey eyes would hold him, while her voice made a moving curve in the air, swooping up and down, then slowing almost to a halt as she reached the part of the tale he could scarcely endure, the part where exquisite torment or joy awaited not just hero and heroine, but the listener as well.

‘And then the knight was held over the pit of writhing snakes, which hissed and spat as their twining lengths ensnared the whitening bones of their previous victims . . .’

‘And then the black-hearted villain, with a hideous oath, drew a secret dagger from his boot and advanced towards the defenceless . . .’

‘And then the maiden took a pin from her hair and the golden tresses fell from the window, down, down, caressing the castle walls until they almost reached the verdant grass on which he stood . . .’

Arthur was an energetic, headstrong boy who did not easily sit still; but once the Mam raised her porridge stick he was held in a state of silent enchantment — as if a villain from one of her stories had slipped a secret herb into his food. Knights and their ladies then moved about the tiny kitchen; challenges were issued, quests miraculously fulfilled; armour clanked, chain mail rustled, and honour was always upheld.
Julian Barnes

About Julian Barnes

Julian Barnes - Arthur & George

Photo © Jillian Edelstein

Julian Barnes was born in Leicester and moved to London in 1946. He is the author of twenty books, and in 2011 won the Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending. He met Pat Kavanagh in 1978.
 
Pat Kavanagh was born in South Africa and moved to London in 1964. She worked in advertising and then, for forty years, as a literary agent. She married Julian Barnes in 1979, and died in 2008.
Praise | Awards

Praise

“Extraordinary.... First rate.... A cracking good yarn.”
The New York Times Book Review

“An absorbing fictional re-creation of a real-life detective story. . . . A finely evocative historical novel as well as a morally and psychologically astute glimpse into the worlds of two men.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Masterly throughout. . . . The author keeps the reader on edge.”
The Washington Post Book World

“Deeply satisfying. . . . From the first chapter, Barnes has us in his thrall.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“A page-turner.... Arthur & George is by far Mr. Barnes's most pressurized novel to date.” –The Wall Street Journal

“Utterly absorbing, beautifully crafted.... Rich and immensely readable.... A stream of flawless, driving sentences.... A great novel.” –O, The Oprah Magazine

“A marvelous book.” –Entertainment Weekly, “A”

“His most engrossing novel ever.” –Jay McInerney, The New York Observer

Awards

FINALIST 2007 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
FINALIST 2005 Man Booker Prize
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s conversation about Arthur & George, Julian Barnes’s moving account of the intersection of the lives of Arthur Conan Doyle, world-famous writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor imprisoned for dreadfully gruesome crimes.

About the Guide

Julian Barnes brings his unparalleled narrative and investigative skills to the story of two men born in Britain in the late nineteenth century. Arthur, the son of an improvident father and an intelligent, capable Scottish mother, trains as an eye doctor, but becomes instead the famous creator of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. George Edalji is the son of a Scottish mother and a Church of England vicar who was born a Parsee in Bombay. And here—in his racial difference—lies George’s problem.

From his earliest school years, George has been jeered at by farm boys and the local police. Highly intelligent, straitlaced, and conscientious, George becomes a solicitor and writes a book about railway law of which he is very proud. But minding his own business does him no good: when a series of animal mutilations brings terror to his local village, George is the only person pursued by the police. He is convicted on trumped-up evidence and sentenced to seven years of hard labor. After three years he is released but not cleared of guilt, so he cannot resume his working life. In desperation, he writes to Arthur Conan Doyle, who brings to his aid all of the investigative know-how of Sherlock Holmes.

With Arthur & George, Julian Barnes re-creates the detailed world of the Edwardian past, and with extraordinary empathy and imagination invites readers into the relationship between two men whose paths would never have crossed but for a terrible miscarriage of justice.

About the Author

Born in Leicester, England, in 1946, Julian Barnes is the author of two books of stories, two collections of essays, a translation of Alphonse Daudet’s In the Land of Pain, and nine previous novels. In France, he is the only writer to have won both the Prix Médicis and the Prix Fémina, and in 2004 he became a Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In England his honors include the Somerset Maugham Award and the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. He has also received the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He lives in London.

Discussion Guides

1. One of the first things we learn about George is that “for a start, he lacks imagination” [p. 4]. George is deeply attached to the facts, while Arthur discovers early in life the “essential connection between narrative and reward” [p. 14]. How does this temperamental difference determine their approaches to life? Does Barnes use Arthur and George to explore the very different attractions of truth telling and storytelling?

2. What qualities does the Mam encourage in Arthur? How does Arthur’s upbringing compare with George’s? What qualities are encouraged in George by his parents? What does the novel imply about one’s parents as a determinant in character development?

3. To what degree do George’s parents try to overlook or deny the social difficulties their mixed marriage has produced for themselves and their children? Are they admirable in their determination to ignore the racial prejudice to which they are subjected?

4. Critic Peter Kemp has commented on Julian Barnes’s interest in fiction that “openly colonises actuality—especially the lives of creative prodigies” [The Sunday Times (London), June 26, 2005]. In Arthur & George, the details we read about Arthur’s life are largely true. While the story of George Edalji is an obscure chapter of Doyle’s life, its details as presented here are also based on the historical record. What is the effect, for the reader, when an author blurs the line between fiction and biography or fiction and history?

5. From early on in a life shaped by stories, Arthur has identified with tales of knights: “If life was a chivalric quest, then he had rescued the fair Touie, he had conquered the city, and been rewarded with gold. . . . What did a knight errant do when he came home to a wife and two children in South Norwood?” [p. 69]. Is it common to find characters like Arthur in our own day? How have the ideas of masculinity changed between Edwardian times and the present?

6. George has trouble believing that he was a victim of racial prejudice [p. 264]. Why is this difficult for him to believe? Is it difficult for him to imagine that others don’t see him as he sees himself? Does George’s misfortune seem to be juxtaposed ironically with his family’s firm belief in the Christian faith?

7. The small section on pages 91–92, called “George & Arthur,” describes an unnamed man approaching a horse in a field on a cold night. What is the effect of this section, coming into the novel when it does, and named as it is?

8. Inspector Campbell tells Captain Anson that the man who did the mutilations would be someone who was “accustomed to handling animals” [p. 97]; this assumption would clearly rule out George. Yet George is pursued as the single suspect. Campbell also notes that Sergeant Upton is neither intelligent nor competent at his job [p. 99]. What motivates Campbell as he examines George’s clothing and his knife, and proceeds to have George arrested
[pp. 117–123]?

9. George’s lawyer, Mr. Meek, is amused at George’s sense of outrage when he reads the factual errors and outright lies in the newspapers’ reports of his case [p. 137; 140–141]. Why is Mr. Meek not more sympathetic?

10. George’s arrest for committing “the Great Wyrley Outrages” [p. 176] causes a stir in England just a few years following the sensational killing spree of Jack the Ripper, which sold millions of newspapers. Are the newspapers, and the public appetite for sensational stories, partly responsible for the crime against George Edalji?

11. How does Barnes convey the feeling of the historical period of which he writes? What details and stylistic effects are noticeable?

12. England was extremely proud of its legal system; Queen Victoria had expressed outrage over the injustice in the dubious case against Alfred Dreyfus, which had occurred a few years earlier in France. Yet the Edalji case seems to present an even greater injustice, and again because of the ethnicity of the accused. Why might the Home Office have refused to pay damages to Edalji?

13. For nine years, Arthur carries on a chaste love affair with Jean Leckie. Yet he feels miserable after the death of his wife, Touie, particularly when he learns from his daughter Mary that Touie assumed Arthur would remarry [pp. 247–49]. Why is Arthur thrown into “the great Grimpen Mire” by his freedom to marry Jean [p. 253]? Why does he believe that “if Touie knew, then he was destroyed” [p. 305]? Has he, as he fears, behaved dishonorably to both women? What does the dilemma do to his sense of personal honor?

14. Why is the real perpetrator of the animal killings never identified? In a Sherlock Holmes story the criminal is always caught and convicted, but Doyle gets no such satisfaction with this real-world case. How disturbing is the fact that George is never truly vindicated and never compensated for the injustice he suffered? Does Barnes’s fictional enlargement of George Edalji’s life act as a kind of compensation?

15. Arthur & George presents a world that seems less evolved than our own in its assumptions about race and human nature, justice and evidence, and its examples of human innocence and idealism. Does this world seem so remote in time as to be, in a sense, unbelievable? Or might American readers recognize a similar situation in a story like Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, or more recent news stories about racial injustice?

16. The story ends with George’s attendance at the memorial service for Arthur. What is most moving about this episode?

Suggested Readings

Andrea Barrett, The Voyage of the Narwhal; Geraldine Brooks, Year of Wonders; Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim; Arthur Conan Doyle, The Complete Sherlock Holmes and Memories and Adventures; E. M. Forster, A Passage to India; John Galsworthy, The Man of Property; Rudyard Kipling, Kim; Rohinton Mistry, Family Matters; Colm Tóibín, The Master; W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz; Daniel Stashower, Teller of Tales: The Life of Arthur Conan Doyle.

Also by Julian Barnes, available from Vintage International
Before She Met Me Cross Channel England, England  Flaubert’s Parrot A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters The Lemon Table Letters From London  Love, Etc. Metroland  The Porcupine Something to Declare Staring at the Sun Talking It Over

  • Arthur & George by Julian Barnes
  • January 09, 2007
  • Fiction - Literary; Fiction
  • Vintage
  • $16.00
  • 9781400097036

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