Excerpt of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
(Page 6 of 8)
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Mr Segundus glanced at the spines of the books on a nearby shelf; the first title he read was How to putte Questiones to the Dark and understand its Answeres.
"A foolish work," said Mr Norrell. Mr Segundus started - he had not known his host was so close by. Mr Norrell continued, "I would advise you not to waste a moment's thought upon it."
So Mr Segundus looked at the next book which was Belasis's Instructions. "You know Belasis, I dare say?" asked Mr Norrell.
"Only by reputation, sir," said Mr Segundus, "I have often heard that he held the key to a good many things, but I have also heard - indeed all the authorities agree - that every copy of The Instructions was destroyed long ago. Yet now here it is! Why, sir, it is extraordinary! It is wonderful!"
"You expect a great deal of Belasis," remarked Norrell, "and once upon a time I was entirely of your mind. I remember that for many months I devoted eight hours out of every twenty-four to studying his work; a compliment, I may say, that I have never paid any other author. But ultimately he is disappointing. He is mystical where he ought to be intelligible - and intelligible where he ought to be obscure. There are some things which have no business being put into books for all the world to read. For myself I no longer have any very great opinion of Belasis."
"Here is a book I never even heard of sir," said Mr Segundus, "The Excellences of Christo- Judaic Magick. What can you tell me of this?"
"Ha!" cried Mr Norrell. "It dates from the seventeenth century, but I have no great opinion of it. Its author was a liar, a drunkard, an adulterer and a rogue. I am glad he has been so completely forgot."
It seemed that it was not only live magicians which Mr Norrell despised. He had taken the measure of all the dead ones too and found them wanting.
Mr Honeyfoot meanwhile, his hands in the air like a Methodist praising God, was walking rapidly from bookcase to bookcase; he could scarcely stop long enough to read the title of one book before his eye was caught by another on the other side of the room. "Oh, Mr Norrell!" he cried. "Such a quantity of books! Surely we shall find the answers to all our questions here!"
"I doubt it, sir," was Mr Norrell's dry reply.
The man of business gave a short laugh - laughter which was clearly directed at Mr Honeyfoot, yet Mr Norrell did not reprimand him either by look or word, and Mr Segundus wondered what sort of business it could be that Mr Norrell entrusted to this person. With his long hair as ragged as rain and as black as thunder, he would have looked quite at home upon a windswept moor, or lurking in some pitch-black alleyway, or perhaps in a novel by Mrs Radcliffe.
Mr Segundus took down The Instructions of Jacques Belasis and, despite Mr Norrell's poor opinion of it, instantly hit upon two extraordinary passages.6 Then, conscious of time passing and of the queer, dark eye of the man of business upon him, he opened The Excellences of Christo-Judaic Magick. This was not (as he had supposed) a printed book, but a manuscript scribbled down very hurriedly upon the backs of all kinds of bits of paper, most of them old ale-house bills. Here Mr Segundus read of wonderful adventures. The seventeenth-century magician had used his scanty magic to battle against great and powerful enemies: battles which no human magician ought to have attempted. He had scribbled down the history of his patchwork victories just as those enemies were closing around him. The author had known very well that, as he wrote, time was running out for him and death was the best that he could hope for.
From Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, chapter 1, pages 3-15. Text copyright by Susanna Clarke; illustrations copyright by Portia Rosenberg. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Bloomsbury Press.