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We who are about to read: Victorian advice.

August 3, 2011 \pm\31 9:31 pm

It’s been a while since I taken part in any sort of publit [public + literary] reading, but maybe you dear blog-reader are embarking on a cross-country book-reading expedition and are wishing you had practiced a little more. This blog then is for you. I recently discovered some pointers in a Victorian poetry anthology.

Excerpted from Victorian Parlour Poetry: An Annotated Anthology, edited by Michael Turner, 1967.

If the matter of recitation was important, the manner of its performance was vital. This was the province of the elocutionist, and most juvenile reciters and other anthologies of verse and prose for parlour and platform give valuable advice on gesture as well as on voice production. Here [below] are a few tips from The Popular Elocutionist and Reciter of 1902, edited by J.E. Carpenter, M.A., PhD.:

TRANQUILITY – This may be expressed by the composure of the countenance and a general repose of the whole body, without the exertion of any one muscle, The countenance open, the forehead smooth, the eyebrow arched, the mouth nearly closed, and the eye passing with an easy motion from object to object, but not dwelling too long on one. Care must be taken to distinguish it from insensibility.

CHEERFULNESS adds a smile to tranquility, and opens the mouth a little more.

LOVE must be approached with the utmost delicacy; it is best expressed by a deep impassioned, fervent tone; the right hand may be pressed over the heart, but the “languishing eyes” recommended by some authors border too closely on burlesque. A steady, respectful gaze on the assumed object of affection may be permitted.

HATRED draws back the body as if to avoid the hated object; the hands at the same time spread out, as if to keep it off. The pitch of the voice is low, but harsh, chilling and vehement.

[I’m curious if there were any more emotional states described with their nuanced movements.]

Also listed are cures for hoarseness, which include chewing a small piece of horseradish, sucking a cayenned lozenge, or biting a lump out of the back of a red herring. Luckily, if none of those tasty remedies are available, a good bottled stout, which has been drawn sufficiently long for the froth to subside, is the best thing to sing or speak on. Sherry, spirits, and excessive water are to be avoided, although a glass or two of old, dry port wine is recommended. And if you choose to cure your hoarseness with a stout, may I suggest a fine Gonzo Imperial Stout from the good Doctor’s Flying Dog Brewery.





Cheers and happy reading.


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