Susanna Clarke’s novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has been extraordinarily successful, and for good reason. It’s won both the Hugo and World Fantasy Awards, but has also won a vast readership among people who don’t usually care for fantasy. On the one hand, Neil Gaiman describes it as ” unquestionably the finest English novel of the fantastic written in the last seventy years” (with the emphasis on the adjective ‘English’; see more below), on the other, Charles Palliser, author of the wonderful historical novel, The Quincunx, describes it as “absolutely compelling” and “an astonishing achievement.” We’ve been fans at Crooked Timber since the book came out – not least because it has funny, voluminous and digressive footnotes which seem near-perfectly calculated to appeal to a certain kind of academic.
In addition to writing JS&MN, Susanna has written three short stories set in the same (or a closely related?) setting, which were originally published in Patrick Nielsen Hayden’s Starlight, Starlight 2 and Starlight 3 collections, as well as a short short available on the book’s website. We’re delighted that Susanna has been kind enough to participate in a Crooked Timber seminar. John Quiggin argues that the book returns to science fiction’s roots in the examination of the consequences of the Industrial Revolution. Maria Farrell argues that the book is a collision between the imagined Regency England of Jane Austen and romance novels on the one hand, and the real Regency England on the other. Belle Waring asks who the narrator of the book is, and where the female magicians are (she speculates that the two questions may have converging answers). John Holbo examines magic, irony, and Clarke’s depiction of servants. Henry Farrell argues that the hidden story of JS&MN is a critique of English society. Susanna Clarke responds to all the above.
Like previous CT seminars, this seminar is published under a Creative Commons licence, with no prejudice to any material quoted from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or other texts under fair use principles. Comments are open to all posts; we encourage people with general comments to leave them on Susanna’s post. The seminar is also available in PDF format for those who prefer to read it in cold print.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License.