Excerpt from Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2004, 800 pages
    Sep 2005, 800 pages

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The room was becoming darker; the antique scrawl was growing dim on the page. Two footmen came into the room and, watched by the unbusiness- like man of business, lit candles, drew window curtains and heaped fresh coals upon the fire. Mr Segundus thought it best to remind Mr Honeyfoot that they had not yet explained to Mr Norrell the reason for their visit.

As they were leaving the library Mr Segundus noticed something he thought odd. A chair was drawn up to the fire and by the chair stood a little table. Upon the table lay the boards and leather bindings of a very old book, a pair of scissars and a strong, cruel-looking knife, such as a gardener might use for pruning. But the pages of the book were nowhere to be seen. Perhaps, thought Mr Segundus, he has sent it away to be bound anew. Yet the old binding still looked strong and why should Mr Norrell trouble himself to remove the pages and risk damaging them? A skilled bookbinder was the proper person to do such work.

When they were seated in the drawing-room again, Mr Honeyfoot addressed Mr Norrell. "What I have seen here today, sir, convinces me that you are the best person to help us. Mr Segundus and I are of the opinion that modern magicians are on the wrong path; they waste their energies upon trifles. Do not you agree, sir?"

"Oh! certainly," said Mr Norrell. "Our question," continued Mr Honeyfoot, "is why magic has fallen from its once-great state in our great nation. Our question is, sir, why is no more magic done in England?"

Mr Norrell's small blue eyes grew harder and brighter and his lips tightened as if he were seeking to suppress a great and secret delight within him. It was as if, thought Mr Segundus, he had waited a long time for someone to ask him this question and had had his answer ready for years. Mr Norrell said, "I cannot help you with your question, sir, for I do not understand it. It is a wrong question, sir. Magic is not ended in England. I myself am quite a tolerable practical magician."

(BookBrowse comment: The footnotes in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell appear at the bottom of the appropriate page and are integral to the context of the novel itself.)

1. The History and Practice of English Magic, by Jonathan Strange, vol. I, chap. 2, pub. John Murray, London, 1816.

2. More properly called Aureate or Golden Age magicians.

3. A Complete Description of Dr Pale's fairy-servants, their Names, Histories, Characters and the Services they performed for Him by John Segundus, pub. by Thomas Burnham, Bookseller, Northampton, 1799.

4. Dr Martin Pale (1485-1567) was the son of a Warwick leather-tanner. He was the last of the Aureate or Golden Age magicians. Other magicians followed him (c.f. Gregory Absalom) but their reputations are debatable. Pale was certainly the last English magician to venture into Faerie.

5. Magicians, as we know from Jonathan Strange's maxim, will quarrel about any thing and many years and much learning has been applied to the vexed question of whether such and such a volume qualifies as a book of magic. But most laymen find they are served well enough by this simple rule: books written before magic ended in England are books of magic, books written later are books about magic. The principle, from which the layman's rule of thumb derives, is that a book of magic should be written by a practising magician, rather than a theoretical magician or a historian of magic. What could be more reasonable? And yet already we are in difficulties. The great masters of magic, those we term the Golden Age or Aureate magicians (Thomas Godbless, Ralph Stokesey, Catherine of Winchester, the Raven King) wrote little, or little has survived. It is probable that Thomas Godbless could not write. Stokesey learnt Latin at a little grammar school in his native Devonshire, but all that we know of him comes from other writers.

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.

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