Welcome, book qlubbers! So, most of us have read through Part 1 by now, and there’s so much to unpack in there. I’m going to start the conversation with the topics I found the most pervasive and compelling, but by all means, feel free to bring up additional things you found interesting.
I think it’s impossible to discuss this book without talking about forgery. All of the many poets and writers in this novel seem very preoccupied with the idea of forgery tied up with legacy and death. I think of Harriet attributing the quote “Reality is the invention of unimaginative people” to Charles, though she knows very well its from a book review. He is duped by this; is it because of vanity? Is it more complicated than that?
Then I wonder–Thomas Chatterton is often considered one of the greatest examples of literary forgery. Do you consider the invention of Thomas Rowley to be a forgery? What about what Harriet did–as Philip calls it her “borrowings”? Do you agree that there are only a limited number of plots in the world?
Bringing me to my next thought: Charles’s obsession with the painting and with Chatterton. Do you think the poet’s fascination with a poetic “forger” comes from his own anxieties about originality? Is it somehow linked to his illness? What do you think is wrong with Charles that worries Vivien and Philip?
Finally, I’m really interested to know what you think about the idea that Thomas Chatterton did not really commit suicide and actually lived on into middle age, continuing to write. There are volumes of scholarship dedicated to the attribution of found literature, but it’s not exactly a hard science. Can we ever know the true author of any historical (or contemporary, even) work? Lastly, like Charles wonders on page 59, “What was the point of pretending that Chatterton was dead?”–what do you think could be the point of faking your own death and continuing to write poetry that is ultimately attributed to others?
Please feel free to leave your replies below!
Bonus: Since Harriet Scrope has a reproduction of John Keats’ death mask in her homeRead more about Death Masks