Reviews of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

I remember when Bloomsbury launched Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell in 2004, it was accompanied by one of the biggest marketing campaign in publishing history. Neil Gaiman called it “unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic in the last 70 years”. There were planned newspaper serialisations and deliveries by horse and carriage, and themed teasers in the countdown to publication, including period stationery and mock newspapers in coffee shops. They also sent out advanced reader copies that were wrapped in paper and sealed in wax with the image of a raven.

Unfortunately, being a teenager in 2004 living outside of the US and UK, I knew about none of it. My meet cute with Strange and Norrell was simple: I picked up a mass paperback copy from a chain bookstore in 2005 on a whim and fell incurably in love with it. I wanted to know everything about the book and trawled every inch of its official website for any morsel or trivium, and there I found a pair of meta reviews of the book, written in the distinctive voice of its titular protagonists.

They were excellent samplers of the characters’ personalities and of the sparkling humour of the novel itself. I have no idea if Susanna Clarke herself wrote them or if they were the works of a particularly savvy copywriter, but this week, I was suddenly afflicted by nostalgia for them and tried to locate them again—but they seemed to have been scrubbed off the internet. No one recorded them anywhere. Even Google failed to cache them, and I was a little upset that they are now lost to posterity… until I went diving into some of my old file dumps and voila! I discovered that I have saved them after all.

Here is Mr Norrell’s:

Gilbert Norrell, illustrated by Portia Rosenberg

A Letter to the Editor of The Times
A GRAVE WARNING TO UNSUSPECTING PERSONS


A report has reached me of a most alarming nature. It appears that some people called Bloomsbury are taking it upon themselves to publish a pernicious book – a novel no less! – that purports to describe the Glorious Revival of English Magic. I do not read novels – I am happy to say that I have never read one – but I understand that they enjoy a certain popularity among the more frivolous classes of society. Young ladies; married ladies; old maids; thoughtless young persons of both sexes; gamblers, profligates and libertines; servants who, whether by accident or design, have acquired an education beyond their station: these are the idle creatures who may be found at any hour of the night or day with a novel in their hands.

I despise all novels whatever the subject. I am told they promote a weakening of the intellect, moral stupor, morbid curiosity, and tend to encourage infections of the chest and eyes. All this is very dreadful but happily it is no concern of mine. But when that novel pretends to disseminate information upon English Magic – ah! then I must protest. Then it is incumbent upon me to warn the British Public of the terrible danger they run merely by opening this book.

As the architect and founder of the aforesaid Glorious Revival, I hope that my disapproval, my severe disapproval, will have some weight with these people called Bloomsbury (whoever they may be). I hope that when they learn they have incurred my displeasure they will cease upon the instant and not print this wicked book. If they remain obstinate, then I shall apply to my friends in the Government. I am not without hopes of success.

I am told that Messrs. Bloomsbury intend to publish this book in other countries. If some gentleman at the Foreign Office will be so kind as to furnish me with a list of those countries we consider our allies (I confess to experiencing some confusion upon this point), I shall be happy to have this letter translated into the relevant languages at my own expense. With the Former Colonies of the Americas, however, I have no sympathy. It is scarcely more than thirty or forty years since that impudent Nation severed itself from its lawful King with acts of wicked rebellion. By all means let this book be published there! If the Americans try to learn magic from it and if they accidentally turn themselves into cats or summon up manticores which consequently devour them, then I cannot see that it will be any great loss to any one.

Gilbert Norrell, Magician-in-Ordinary to the Admiralty
Hanover-square
London

And here is Jonathan Strange’s,

Jonathan Strange, illustrated by Portia Rosenberg

Extract from a letter from Jonathan Strange (Magician-in-Ordinary to the Duke of Wellington) to his aunt, Mrs Erquistoune in Edinburgh.

“…Have you heard? Some people called Bloomsbury are to publish a novel recounting the history of the Revival of English Magic. What an excellent thing! I could not be better pleased. What more agreeable way is there to receive instruction than by reading a well-constructed novel? If the author has done her work properly (and I hope she has), then the British Public will soon benefit from a much more precise understanding of the arguments that have threatened to rend English Magic in two. I shall send you a copy as soon as it appears in the London bookshops.

I for one am proud to declare myself a novel-reader. It is of all pleasures and pursuits the most delightful to me. One may sit quietly by the fireside and be transported around the world. One may pass through the most terrifying dangers; be entertained by all the diversity of which humankind is capable; be saddened, amused, uplifted – all within the space of a page or two. The next moment one hears the sounds of one’s servant bringing in the tea-tray, and one is instantly oneself again, drinking tea and eating toast in the most tranquil fashion imaginable. I only hope that this book (I mean the novel about English Magic) will not be too solemn. I detest books that have no jokes.

I have some slight acquaintance with the people who intend to publish it. (The title of it escapes me). They are neighbours of mine in Soho-square. They seem a pleasant enough set of people, and of rather a sociable turn. They regularly send me cards for their parties. But I do not go. Now they have sent me a letter asking me to lend my support to their publication. I shall certainly do so. I shall talk it up wherever I go. I have not actually read it, but that is not important. What is important is that Norrell will hate it. Nothing else could cause him so much anguish. An article in one of the Reviews explaining the principles of weather-magic makes him ill for a week. A three-volume novel will in all likelihood kill him…”

You are welcome, Friends of English Magic. Here’s to this little bit of nostalgia surviving another couple of decades.

Published by A Naga of the Nusantara

A Naga is a divine dragon from Eastern Hindu-Buddhist tradition. The Nusantara is made up of nusa (island) and antara (between) and describes the Southeast Asian archipelago that includes Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Papua New Guinea. This particular Naga is Malaysian, born and bred. He loves reading and hoarding books, and enjoys bothering humans with what he thinks of them.

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