Wednesday, July 6, 2016


Frederic Harrison -  Theophano, the Crusade of the Tenth Century: A Romantic Monograph (1904) direct link
Open Library main page

I have not read this book.  It came to my attention in Pierre Bayard's 2007 How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.  He in turn found it in Natsume Soseki's 1905 I Am a Cat where it's the subject of a discussion between two characters who neither one have read the book either.

Bayard's book is fascinating - structurally a parody of self-help books but actually an examination of the nature of reading.  Through his title topic he approaches reading in ways that are rarely even mentioned in critical or theoretical works.  It's not just about creating a facade of culture (in fact the book would be most unhelpful in that regard) but ways in which we forget what we've read, merge texts, create mental images that don't match either the actual book or images other readers have, situating works within transitory and often unreliable networks of knowledge.  He's just released a similar book on travel literature that I definitely need to read.

Oh, Theophano?  It's of "the literary genre that might be called the Byzantine novel" (Bayard), a historical fiction set as the full title mentions in the 10th century.  Glancing at a few pages it appears to be pretty dense, with declamatory dialogue, paragraphs of historical information, detailed descriptions of complicated personal and political relations.  I bet it's a chore to read but might have some appeal in its clumsiness.  But as mentioned, I haven't read it.

Frederic Harrison (1832-1923) was a British philosopher and professor of jurisprudence.  His other publications include biographies of Ruskin and Cromwell (Oliver I suppose should be specified in this post-Wolf Hall world), a verse tragedy, literary criticism, history, architectural studies and much legal and political work.