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Winchelsea Mark II

Saturday’s bonfire was in beautiful, haunted Winchelsea.

The original Winchelsea was an important shipping port next to Rye, on the edge of Rye Bay. Probably. Nobody’s entirely sure, as the sea came in and ate it up one day in the 13th Century.

They saw it coming, though, and had time to build another one. Edward I ordered the new Winchelsea built in a grid pattern, high on a hill nearby.

It was quite a large town by Medieval standards, but it was sacked by the French a couple of times. And then, you know, there was the Plague. That sure wasn’t good for tourism.

Winchelsea today is a tiny place, a fraction of what it was. Walk half a mile over empty, rolling, sheep-covered grass and you’ll find what used to be the farthest town gate.

It’s tempting to call Winchelsea luckless, except what’s left of it is absoLUTEly lovely. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that every building in the town is listed. And everywhere, the sweet, pervasive, inescapable, permeating smell of contemporary money. Gobs and gobs of it.

Winchelsea being Winchelsea, their Guy was a guy. In a Guy Fawkes costume. The good citizens gathered around the town well and put on a little pageant, with the Himself, two guards in 16th Century armor and a narrator. Then they trussed Guy up in a cart with a rope around his neck, and we all marched him around the town to the commons behind a small pipe and drum troupe from the local prep school and had a jolly good bonfire and fireworks display.

They replaced dude with an effigy for the bonfire, of course, but Winchelsea being Winchelsea, it was a really good effigy. Highly realistic. There was more than one gasp and nervous laugh when the Guy caught fire and burned up all convincing-like.


Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 9, 2010, 12:41 am

Mark Twain embargoed his autobiography for 100 years after his death. It has now been 100 years and the University of California Press releases the uncensored version for the first time.

Serialized on the BBC’s Radio 4, beginning here. Uncle B’s in the kitchen whipping up a curry and laughing his ass off to it.

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: November 9, 2010, 2:34 am

Is the text on-line anywhere? I would really rather read it than hear it, and my budget for books is nil or worse at the moment.

I had a very difficult time with the reader’s voice. He begins with what Dick Francis called a “mid-Atlantic” accent, but drifted in and out of attempts to utilize American Southern speech patterns, MA, and RP. To me, MA is pretentious, Old South is comfortable as an old shoe, and RP is musical and enjoyable. The shifts back and forth were quite annoying.

Clemens himself, or so I understand, spoke in the Missouri version of Old South dialect, modified by his long residence elsewhere. It would make sense for Mr. Shale to try to reproduce that speech in the interest of authenticity, although it’s annoying to a native because it’s almost always done badly, but he should decide on synthetic OS or RP and stick with one or the other.


Comment from David Gillies
Time: November 9, 2010, 6:55 am

Re Sussex bonfires: I read some poor bugger got himself blown up at the Lewes do this year and is rather poorly. The professional ones pack a lot more punch than the toy rockets you stick in a pop bottle so mishaps tend to be a bit more alarming.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: November 9, 2010, 9:01 am

I’m with Ric – who has the autobiography in print ?

Mark Twain is my hands-down, all-time favorite author.

Comment from Mike C.
Time: November 9, 2010, 9:44 am

Never mind – found it at Amazon. Duh.


Pingback from Twainian Culinary Wisdom | Nazi Surf Kittens Must Die
Time: November 9, 2010, 10:11 am

[…] From the BBC via Stoaty […]

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: November 9, 2010, 12:50 pm

Sorry folks – I’d slunk-off to bed before seeing the Twain info requests.

I agree about the reader’s accent which sounded awful, even to my anglo ears. Which is curious because the reader is actually an Namerican.

Whether he was trying to pitch it for a British audience, or whether he was just struggling with what he imagined MT might have sounded like, I couldn’t begin to guess.

On that point, the accent here has changed so much that if someone today tried to speak like even a 1940’s announcer – let alone a Victorian – it would be pure comedy – as indeed, Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse have inter alia proved.


I do hope all Her Stoatliness’s female readers enjoy… 😉

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 9, 2010, 4:36 pm

With all the bucks the Clintons have supposedly amassed in the last few years, you’d think Hillary could afford a consultant to tell her DO NOT INVITE PEOPLE TO COMPARE YOU TO A PUMPKIN

Comment from Mitchell
Time: November 9, 2010, 4:42 pm

^Urrk. It’s like she’s competing with the First Klingon for the “Ugliest Outfit” award.

On another note, be sure to remind Uncle B. that Christmas is coming up Stoaty!

Comment from Scubafreak
Time: November 9, 2010, 8:59 pm

gawd, Lucy and Linus would be SOOOO disappointed….

Comment from Mike C.
Time: November 9, 2010, 9:23 pm

Pants suit on a pantload…

And I have never enjoyed having somebody read something, especially something literary, to me. Much better to use the Mark I eyeballs (sad as they are) and let the “voice” assume it’s own sound in my head. I’ve read about everything currently available by Mark Twain, and I can’t say as I have any particular “voice” associated with him, so I’m certain hearing somebody trying overly hard to hypothetically sound like him would be irritating in the extreme.

Comment from Frit
Time: November 10, 2010, 1:30 am

Year ago I got to see Hal Holbrook in person doing a monologue as Mark Twain. It was delightful, and he did a fair job of the accent without trying to play it up. (I’ve lived in Virginia, Texas, and Kansas, and visited several other Southern (And Western, but that’s not relevant here.) states, so have some idea how different Southerners sound.)

Thank you for the heads-up on the autobiography – I have his collection of books, and this will be a perfect addition. As long as I don’t eat or drink while reading. Gotta keep the book un-splattered, after all. 😉

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: November 10, 2010, 3:39 am

I found on the net a recording made by a guy who claimed to have known Twain, and to be a gifted mimic. He was reading The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.

F* that. Twain was famous as a gifted public speaker; the guy doing the reading sounded like he had a mouthful of mush. Even before teevee nobody would have sat still for half an hour of that, let alone a long speech.

It’s really rather remarkable. Clemens lived at the time recording technology was being invented; he was known as a speaker; and he was personally acquainted with some of the inventors. He’s even known to have dictated part of a book on Edison cylinders! How did he escape being recorded?


Comment from Can’t hark my cry
Time: November 10, 2010, 4:29 am

Er. Um. Does the mustelid household have any opinion with respect to Eleanor Farjeon? I believe that in “Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field” she wrote about Winchelsea, but I’d have to go look (and, being ear-deep in trial preparation, I’d rather not go do that if you’ve never heard of her). . .

Comment from Mike C.
Time: November 10, 2010, 8:33 am

Twain was just a decade or so too early for anybody to have thought of recording one of his lectures. The technology was sorta there, but the concept wasn’t. Pity.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: November 10, 2010, 12:41 pm

All I know of Eleanor Farjeon is “Morning is Broken,” Can’t hark. That was supposedly written about another lovely local village, Alfriston.

I saw Hal Holbrook do his schtick many, many years ago. I suspect he doesn’t have to wear quite so much makeup now 🙂

Before the microphone was invented, around 1925, recording in plein air was awkward. There is a bit of silent film footage, though. (A commenter on YouTube, where I searched this up, said that there were supposedly some wax cylinders made that burned up in a fire).

Comment from Dennis
Time: November 10, 2010, 4:06 pm

I listened to the reading and agree with the fact that it’s annoying. As bad as the people who narrate the history channel vignettes of the 19th century. I think the premier example of the old southern voice is Shelby Foote (who, unfortunately, died in 2005). Here’s an example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBghmvRMluY

Even that, though, is too soft and understated for my imagined Twain voice. If Foote were a little more forceful and acerbic it would probably be close to what I imagine.

At any rate, thank you for alerting me to the release of the autobiography. Like Uncle Badger, Twain can have me rolling on the floor like a young child even after all these years.

Comment from Ric Locke
Time: November 10, 2010, 4:46 pm

Foote’s accent, to those of us who recall the nuances, is Western Tennessee, Northern Mississippi and Alabama, Eastern Arkansas, so is very plausible as a stand-in for Twain’s Missouri roots. Twain’s residence elsewhere would probably have sharpened his consonants and made his vowels a bit more harsh.

In that clip Foote is using a conversational voice, which is, yes, soft and understated compared to a public-speaking voice. The distinction exists in all accents, but it may well be more pronounced in Southern. RP is almost entirely a public-speaking dialect; in my experience, people who use it speak much less distinctly in private conversation.


Comment from Nina
Time: November 11, 2010, 3:04 am

And I just have to say that the Twain papers are at the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, which I visited on many occasions as a student, thank you veddy much, /gratituitious name dropping.

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