Skip to main content

It figures

In the Dec/Jan issue of Literary Review Frances Wilson opens in Pulpit with a piece on Titanoraks. The centenary of the Titanic is April 2012 and Wilson has a book due out in time - but then so do plenty of others, keen to capitalise on the widespread hunger of the tragedy that still exists, even for those who learned of it only through Winslet and di Caprio. Wilson likens Titanorachia (?) to a relationship that just won't let the other party let go. What I found interesting though is the fascination of the figures surrounding the journey - both before, during, and after - as Wilson charts, noting, for instance, the number of cooks on board the fateful liner. She suggests that the story could be replaced with the key figures:

14 April 1912
11:49pm
46,000 tons
882.75 feet long
22 knots
300 foot gash
20 lifeboats
1,178 people on board
705 survivors

The figures presented this way present as compelling a narrative as any words - and the moment builds to the final, sinking figure. I read this piece yesterday morning, whilst killing time before 1:30pm - time of viva - and trying to keep my mind focussed on anything else but what I thought I would be asked. But when I was in there the issue of lists arose when I was asked why I had inserted a long article from a 19th century newspaper into my creative work. My rationale was not only to show the insertion - that it was factual - but also because of the figures that the article was concerned with. It is basically a piece in which Feargus O'Connor reprints the crowd attendance figures of a Chartist meeting, stated by a mainstream newspaper the day before. He refutes the figures as being on the low side - an attempt at downplaying the movement's support. I felt that it was a story in itself - and one which is still with us; a story that also reveals the position of power - of forming the perspective of their readers - through the crafty use of figures.



Location:Kew

Popular posts from this blog

Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

Booker Shortlist announced

It's been a while... I know. Dog walking on the Downs, a bit of theatre, a bit of baking, a bit of writing etcetera etcetera. I also managed to read two complete books in the past month, which I was so pleased about. I had not read a whole book for about a year. The first was A Lie About My Father by Scottish poet/writer, John Burnside; a very well written memoir about father and son, but like all memoirs, some unreliability I felt. Poignant and tragic in equal measure. Then my husband returned from Cyprus (too hot for me this time of year, I can barely cope with England!) with Sebastian Faulks's Birdsong. He loved it. And then I read it and also loved it. I had originally picked it up several years ago but didn't get beyond Amiens, where the first section is set, but was really glad I did this time around. Another incredibly well written book in the style of a good Victorian! I felt a bit unsure about bits of Elizabeth, in the later section, but I have never learnt so muc…

Days Without End and Mosul's Avengers

So fed up am I of buying books that I don't finish, that I decided I would go to the local library for a copy of Sebastian Barry's latest novel, Days Without End, which has just been awarded the Costa Prize. Unfortunately, I could only borrow it on the proviso that it was return by 1 February. I returned it the day after, without having finished it. I was about three quarters through, and will now have to go out and buy it for the final quarter. I loved Barry's The Secret Scripture, and on every publication of a new work, his star rises. Days Without End follows two boys, one descended from native Americans, and the other having arrived on one of the notorious coffin ships from famine struck Sligo. The tale is brave, funny, touching, but most of all Barry has achieved the perfect pitch. It is quite remarkable.

Another remarkable work comes in the form of reportage in the New Yorker (February 6, 2017) The Avengers of Mosul, by Luke Mogelson 'A Reporter at Large'.

Mo…