Literature as Virtual Reality

Two

“OPEN SESAME”

For me the opening sentences of literary works have special force. They are “Open Sesames” unlocking the door to that particular work's fictive realm. All it takes is a few words, and I become a believer, a seer. I become the fascinated witness of a new virtual reality. More accurately, I become a disembodied observer within that reality. “There was a Boy; ye knew him well, ye cliffs/And islands of Winander!” does it for me with Wordsworth's “The Boy of Winander.” “Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself, ” does it for me with Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. “He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull, ” does it for me with Conrad's Lord Jim. “I caught this morning morning's minion, king-/dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, ” does it for me with Gerard Manley Hopkins's “The Windhover.” “I struck the board and cried, 'No more, '” does it for me with George Herbert's “The Collar.”

Sophocles's Oedipus the King opens ominously with a question from Oedipus to the procession of Theban priests and citizens: “My sons! Newest generation of this ancient city of Thebes! Why are you here?” Oedipus's first words raise the

-24-

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On Literature
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements xi
  • One - What is Literature? 1
  • Two - Literature as Virtual Reality 24
  • Three - The Secret of Literature 46
  • Four - Why Read Literature? 81
  • Five - How to Read Literature 115
  • Six - How to Read Comparatively, or Playing the Mug's Game 132
  • Index 160
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