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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Traveling with H.G. Wells, Jane Austen, and Arthur Conan Doyle

In November, I read several graphic novels, lots of comics, and a book on geology. I also read three novels. The first, by H. G. Wells, transported me to Switzerland. Or, at least, so it seemed. 

Supposedly, A Modern Utopia takes place on a planet like Earth in another solar system, but the descriptions of the landscape, and the picturesque villages, reminded me of Switzerland. In many ways, it reminded me of one of his earlier novels, The Wheels of Chance. In that novel, his protagonist, a young draper, sets off on a bicycle holiday in the south of England. His descriptions of the landscape are so vivid, so evocative, and so overwhelmingly beautiful that it made me want to follow the hero's bicycle journey with my wife. In A Modern Utopia, I felt as though he was transporting me to Switzerland. It's a country I would very much like to visit some day, and Wells spoke just as passionately about his surroundings in this idealized world as he did in The Wheels of Chance

After A Modern Utopia, Jane Austen returned me to some familiar sites in her novel Persuasion. The story begins in a manor house in Somerset, a county in southern England. In fact, it's the same county in which the real-life manor in the TV series To The Manor Born is located. 

As in the TV series, Austen's protagonist Anne, through no fault of her own, is forced to leave her beloved country home due to the fiscal mismanagement of a family member: in this case, her father. So she travels to stay with a family friend, then another member of her family, and this second visit takes her to Lyme Regis. 

While she and her party tour the seaside resort, a crucial event in the story takes place on the Cobb. This is a long walkway or pier, and perhaps the town's most striking feature. 

Jane Austen's characters then make their way to Bath, a setting she used in Northanger Abbey, which I read in October. Sadly, she doesn't offer much description of Bath in Persuasion. Austen painted a more vibrant view of the historic city in Northanger Abbey. (Also, Charles Dickens set part of his first novel The Pickwick Papers there, which I read earlier this year). Still, reading about Anne's visit to Bath made me want to travel there. It was a fashionable resort town in Austen's time, and remains a popular town for tourists today.

Finally, I returned to England for The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. This second collection of stories took me back to London, the great town's suburbs, and other towns in rural England. Then for the last story, "The Final Problem", Arthur Conan Doyle returned me to Switzerland, as Holmes and Watson seek to evade the clutches of the evil Professor Moriarty. As all Holmes aficionados know, Holmes and Moriarty have their final confrontation at a very real place: Reichenbach Falls. Having seen many dramatizations of this beloved story, I enjoyed reading Doyle's words, and following the characters' journey through Switzerland. 

Ah, the places great stories can take us!

Dragon Dave

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