Sunday 3 May 2015

Dream Days

Finished April 30
Dream Days by Kenneth Grahame

This novel was originally published in 1898. It seems to have been written for adult readers, although it appealed to younger readers as well.
Reading it now, I found the language a higher level than children's books of today, and don't think the kids I know would find it an easy read. They would definitely enjoy the stories, but might not be familiar with all the vocabulary, and might find the language less natural to the way we talk today.
The book is a collection of eight related stories, all told by an unnamed boy narrator, He has an older brother Edward, and a younger brother Harold, and two sisters, Selina and Charlotte. Charlotte is the youngest of all of them. They live with aunts and uncles, seldom seen in the stories.
To give an example of the language, here are a few phrases:
Not only a long-lost heir--an heir of the melodrama, strutting into your hitherto unsuspected kingdom at just the right moment, loaded up with the consciousness of unguessed merit and of rights so long feloniously withheld--but even to be a common hum-drum domestic heir is a profession to which few would refuse to be apprenticed.
Where the res is angusta, and the weekly books are simply a series of stiff hurdles at each of which in succession the paternal legs falter with growing suspicion of their powers to clear the flight, it is the affair of clothes that the right of succession tells, and 'the hard heir strides about the land' in trousers long ago framed for fraternal limbs--frondes novas et non sua poma.
Here and there in their ranks, however, moves a forlorn one who is blind--blind in the sense of the dulled window-pane on which the pelting raindrops have mingled and run down, obscuring sunshine and the circling birds, happy fields, and storied garden; blind with the spatter of a misery uncomprehended, unanalysed, only felt as something corporeal in its buffeting effects.
Of course not all the writing is like this, some of it is very appealing to younger readers. Perhaps it is that the nature of children's books has changed a lot over the more than one hundred years since this was written, and we now tend to write in simpler words, in simpler ideas. Perhaps we are doing children a disservice in this move away from more complex ideas and language. But there it is, I don't feel that many of the young people I am most familiar with would find this as appealing as their usual reading.
There is also a bit of a cultural change in terms of the nature of violent activity, such as when the young man envisions himself off hunting polar bears, something we really wouldn't see in today's stories. Surprisingly, however, the gender of the children doesn't dictate behaviour as much as one might expect, which is nice.
All that being what it is, the writing is lyrical, flows well, and the stories are imaginative and bring the scenes to life admirably.

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