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Image provided by Caley Ehnes

Caley Ehnes
PhD Student and Sessional Instructor

Affiliation with UVic English: Graduate Student; MA 2007, PhD 2013

Special Book: The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins

When did you first read this book: 2002, second year of undergrad. The story and the characters, especially Gabriel Betteridge and Miss Clack, have stayed with me ever since.

Which sentence from this book has special significance for you?

“I am not superstitious; I have read a heap of books in my time; I am a scholar in my own way. Though turned seventy, I possess an active memory, and legs to correspond. You are not to take it, if you please, as the saying of an ignorant man, when I express my opinion that such a book as ROBINSON CRUSOE never was written, and never will be written again. I have tried that book for years—generally in combination with a pipe of tobacco—and I have found it my friend in need in all the necessities of this mortal life. When my spirits are bad—ROBINSON CRUSOE. When I want advice—ROBINSON CRUSOE. In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much—ROBINSON CRUSOE. I have worn out six stout ROBINSON CRUSOES with hard work in my service. On my lady’s last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and ROBINSON CRUSOE put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain.”

What does the sentence mean to you?

I think that there’s a little Gabriel Betteridge in all of us and I love that Betteridge, like everyone who responded to this survey, has a special book. Don’t we all have those books that we have turned to again and again with their broken (and maybe taped) spines and their dog-eared pages.

I confess that I chose The Moonstone as a substitute for the book I really wanted to discuss: a tattered copy of fairy tales from my childhood. When I last saw the book it was fragile and covered with disintegrating masking tape. However, the more I think about it, the more I feel that The Moonstone and this particular passage from Betteridge is an apt choice for both my special book and this particular project. It captures how the right book can become a part of life and its narrative, informing who you are and what you become, and providing the “necessities of this mortal life.”

On a less sentimental note, I love how this passage, which ends the first chapter, subtly highlights and complicates the novel’s interest in acts of interpretation and narrative form.