ellen_kushner (ellen_kushner) wrote,

We're all Heirs of Sir Thomas Browne...but some of us take it more seriously than others

Wonderful Samuel R. Delany posted his list of "Children of Dr. Thomas Browne" - that's Sir Thomas Browne to you, author of RELIGIO MEDICI ("A Doctor's Religion"), URN BURIAL, and like that - and invited people to discuss it.*

But one line of Delany's jumped out at me - and with his permission, I share it with you here (in context):

The Brontes? Emily, possibly. But not Charlotte. And not Anne. Writers who (as it were) fetishize straightforwardnes, yes--and see high style as a way to achieve it. That's Browne's legacy. But not clarity. And clarity is one of Charlottes virtues, which lets her out of the direct descendents of Browne. (IMHO.) And she's prior to Flaubert, by a hefty handful of years. Charlotte was a William Makepeace Thackeray freak,** and she did it better than he did. So today we read her more than we do him--good as he was. And he was very good, indeed.

I was introduced to Browne by my beloved Columbia U. Shakespeare professor, Edward Tayler.  That summer, I found an old cloth-bound copy of RELIGIO MEDICI, and read it over and over, trying to untangle the 17th century prose and the thoughts both alien with time, and immediate in humanity.  I'll put some of my favorite quotes in Comments when I have time - meanwhile, what are yours?

Anyhow, I'll take Delany's definition as mine own with pride - indeed, maybe you want to inscribe this on my Literary Monument? (You know, the one that has the life-sized carvings of all my characters mourning my passing - like that one we saw in Prague….?)

She fetishized straightforwardness, and saw high style as a way to achieve it.

*The discussion is Friends locked on Facebook, but I assure you it's well worth reading! As wide-ranging as Delany's considerable intellect - and sometimes as dense to those of us less gifted.  It ranges from Milton to Melville, and his list of "Children" includes Djuna Barnes, Virginia Wolfe, James Agee and D. H. Lawrence.

** Errrrh. I, too, am a Thackeray freak.  Indeed, my favorite Bad Review (of the Swordspoint audiobook) on Amazon is full of righteous indignation that Neil Gaiman compares me to dear Jane Austen, when I am so obviously devoid of all sensibility and am a mere Thackeray bacchante!  I wear the badge with pride.
Tags: charlotte bronte, samuel r. delany, thackeray

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