Magazine article The Spectator

Journal of a Disappointed Man

Magazine article The Spectator

Journal of a Disappointed Man

Article excerpt

Freud's Couch, Scott's Buttocks, Bronte's by Simon Goldhill University of Chicago Press, £14.50, pp. 131, ISBN 9780226301310 Simon Goldhill introduces his new book by recalling a lunch with his editor, who suggested he make a pilgrimage and write about it. Pilgrimages, he reflected, tend to be made alone, but he is gregarious, so decided that he needed to make up, with his wife and another couple, 'a party of four Jews', to keep him company and supply comic material. He is a classics don at Cambridge, where he also directs something called the Victorian Studies Group, so his editor suggested he do 'something Victorian', and the result is Freud's Couch, Scott's Buttocks, Bronte's Grave. The title does no one any favours, but the book offers a brief and generally amiable exploration of the British literary pilgrimage.

To Victorian Protestants, pilgrimage had about it an unseemly whiff of Popery, so rather than walk to Canterbury or Walsingham they travelled by railway and bicycle to the houses of great writers; 'Literature, ' as Carlyle wrote, 'is but a branch of Religion.'

Goldhill is sceptical - 'I cannot see why I should go and look at John Updike's typewriter, or Saul Bellow's apartment, or Salman Rushdie's trousers' - but dutifully follows the Victorian tourists, by railway and bicycle when possible, to Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott's baronial pile in the Scottish borders; to Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount, Wordsworth's houses in the Lake District; to the Bronte parsonage at Haworth; to Shakespeare's house at Stratford; and to Freud's in Hampstead, where in 1938 he created a replica of his study in Vienna. …

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