Monday, June 8, 2015

Wandering Dates

So, I'm glad to have read TO MICHAL FROM SERGE, though there was less return for the time spent than I'd hoped for. There was surprisingly little about the Inklings, and the parts about books he was writing are almost all external (e.g., he tells us he's written another 5000 words on project x over the weekend, but not about the ideas or expression thereof therein). But if we choose to read a man's letters to his wife, and find he spends most of his pages telling her how wonderful she is and how much he misses her, I suppose that's our look-out, not his.

Did want to flag one problem that does not interfere with reading the book but does make it tricky to rely upon as a source. Reading through, I noticed some mistakes in this book, mostly to do with dating. For example, the back dust jacket prints an excerpt from the first letter, written by CW upon his arrival at Oxford in the first days of the war. On the dust jacket the letter is dated "March 30 1939", which is wrong. From the letter itself, it's clear Wms wrote it around September 1st through 3rd (his next letter, written a few days later, is dated "6 Sept"). The cause of the error is simple enough: Wms gives the time he wrote it as "3.30", and the editor has mistaken this time of day (three thirty in the afternoon) for the date (March 30th).

Anyone can make a slip, and dust jackets (not being under the author's control) aren't generally fair game.  But what are we to make of the statement that the first of Dorothy Sayer's novels Williams read was THE SEVEN TAILORS? Or the information that Ben Jonson lived from 1707 to 1866 (O rare Ben indeed)?  Or the introduction's quoting from a letter it says Wms wrote in 1949 (unlikely, unless it was via a spirit medium)? Or the statement that Williams objected to the Hoare-Laval pact when it was announced in December 1945? --again, unlikely, given that (a) Wms died in May 1945 and (b) the Hoare-Laval pact turns out to involve the Abyssinian war and dates from 1935.

Such slips with dates wd be relatively harmless, given that most are self-evidently wrong. The problem is that they create a suspicion that the many other references to dates within the volume might have their own share of errors which could only be detected by a good deal of outside work. It's not the obvious errors that stick out (like my own blunder over Langland/Gower in H.o.H., or here the title of Sayers' book) that you have to worry about; it's the invisible ones that seem to make perfect sense unless you know otherwise.

So, there's worthwhile information to be extracted from this book, albeit somewhat unwillingly, but double-check the dates if possible.

--John R.
current reading: Hadfield's biography of C.W. (a re-reading)

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