About

I’m a queer Londoner, and work in Universities. My short fiction is available here.

This blog is to discuss fiction, from creative and critical angles. I’m particularly drawn to theories of narrative, to how gender and sexuality work in fiction, and to science fiction and historical fiction.

The name of this blog comes from the poem ‘Jenny’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. The narrator looks at a half-clad young woman, and exclaims:

You know not what a book you seem,
Half-read by lightning in a dream!
He’s a scholar, and has been at his books, and for all her attractions he has trouble seeing her as anything other than another form of book.
It’s not a poem I wholeheartedly like. It’s a poem about looking at someone – a girl who is a sex worker – and failing to perceive her, and misrepresenting her. Sometimes it knows that:
  Yet, Jenny, looking long at you,
The woman almost fades from view.

A cipher of man’s changeless sum
Of lust, past, present, and to come,
Is left.
But sometimes, I think, the narration is twee and lecherous and naive and creepy. The Cruel World doesn’t see Jenny as it should, but does the narrator? Does the author, and has he made the narrator deliberately a little maudlin and dim? Has he pulled that trick off?
The poem seemed a start-point for thinking about representations of gender and sex, and of the relationship between ‘books’ and reality. The book is shown as dry, cerebral, and respectable; the woman is cast as a contrast, ‘fond of a kiss and fond of a guinea’, fleshy, scandalous. But there’s a moment when the one becomes the other, ‘half-lit by lightning in a  dream’. The lightening and the dream offer simultaneous illumination and obfuscation; a woman becomes a book, an object of desire becomes an object of study.
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