I have recently written about the gravitational pull that certain decades seem to exert on us at times. I remarked upon the curious coincidences in my reading - suddenly, the 1870s seemed to loom large. However, the more I think about it the more I think that my calculations were slightly wrong. I actually think that my equations omitted one or two key factors which would have been evident if I had paid closer attention to my own reading trajectories.
It is now a cultural, historical and literary-critical commonplace to refer to the ‘long’ nineteenth century, meaning (roughly) the time from the publication of Wordsworth and Coleridge’s The Lyrical Ballads through to the beginning of the first world war (or at least until the death of Queen Victoria in 1901).
It is completely absurd but my reading in my capacity as The Literary Critical Detective seems to have orbited around a ‘long’ decade, a long 1870s.
Here are some of the key events that I might be inclined to pick out.
1869 - Amy Fay arrives in Germany and begins to study piano with Tausig
1869 - Alphonse Daudet, Letters from my Windmil
1870 - Death of Charles Dickens
1871 - Birth of Marcel Proust
1871-72 - George Eliot, Middlemarch
1873 - Jules Verne, Around the World in Eighty Days published
1873 - Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina published
1880 - Amy Fay, Music-Study in Germany published
1880 - Emile Zola, Nana published
1883 - Death of Richard Wagner in Venice
The pull of this long decade has been strong and for the time being I continue to be held by it. I wonder what I will find at its centre. Will I find a kind of singularity? And if so, will this act like a passage to some other place and time? After penetrating to the heart of this historical moment will I suddenly find myself in another decade entirely? In Paris in the 1890s? In inter-war Britain, the moment of the classic whodunit novel? Maybe. I might just start back at the beginning of Dame Agatha’s oeuvre.