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The House of Doctor Dee (1993)

de Peter Ackroyd

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This novel centres on the famous 16th-century alchemist and astrologer John Dee. Reputedly a black magician, he was imprisoned by Queen Mary for allegedly attempting to kill her through sorcery. When Matthew Palmer inherits an old house in Clerkenwell, he feels that he has become part of its past.
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As with all things Ackroyd, this novel suffers from not only an obsession with London now, but, as if that wasn’t ethnocentric enough, London then.

Even though it’s been 8 years since he published Hawksmoor, he’s still playing the same old riff. Any reader coming to Ackroyd for the first time is going to find it enchanting to consider the same geographical space inhabited by characters centuries apart. But for those who’ve already gone through it, it starts to get a bit tired.

This is particularly because Dee, like Hawksmoor before it, doesn’t really communicate why Ackroyd has to draw parallels in the space-time continuum. I think most of us have enough imagination to realise that there were people who lived many years ago where we are sitting right now who may have had things in common with us. And?

The eponymous Doctor Dee did actually exist as a polymath alchemist-cum-philosopher. It’s interesting to read about him, and the Tudor era parts are very well written.

Why on earth we have to bother coming back to the modern day is lost on me. Nothing of any consequence seems to happen there, and nothing is of any interest whatsoever. I have no idea why Ackroyd just doesn’t stay in the past. He’s much better at it.

Towards the end, it all kind of falls apart a bit as Ackroyd gaze gets more and more captivated by his navel (more parallels with Hawksmoor), and by then most readers will be glad to find it doesn’t last much longer. ( )
  arukiyomi | Dec 27, 2020 |
Two storylines – Matthew has inherited a house from his father in the current day (book was published in the early 90s), and there is a brief mystery in figuring out whom it once belonged to. Turns it out, Doctor John Dee once lived there (during the time of Queen Elizabeth’s reign in the 16th century). No idea what the Doctor Dee storyline was all about.

This was incredibly boring, especially the Dee storyline. I have no idea what happened in that part except that (I think) his wife, Katherine, was sick. He was apparently a doctor (and possibly a “sorcerer” of some type?). Anyway, not really worth the time, in my opinion. ( )
  LibraryCin | May 23, 2020 |
Ever since Pynchon's V, ambitious authors have hoped that shuffling various narrative platforms would reveal something greater, some gestalthinting at a reincarnation of the imagination. The House of Doctpr Dee is not one of the btter examples of this experiment. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
I must admit to not being a Peter Ackroyd fan. I read his breakthrough novel Hawksmoor, quite a while ago and while I appreciated his ability to create tensions in time and space by the juxtaposition of two story threads: one in the past and one in the present, I felt that he was more concerned in creating a sense of place and an atmosphere of a part of London that fascinates him than he was in telling the story. I found some of his writing a little pedantic and struggled to maintain my interest through the novel. It just somehow didn’t work. I have also read his poetry collection The diversions of Purley, and other poems and found a similar difficulty in getting involved with the author. The House of Doctor Dee in my opinion is a step up in both the story telling aspects and his writing style, somehow his writing has lost some of its density, which made it much easier for me to become involved in the novel and to appreciate his ability to conjure up the links between two different periods of time.

It has to be said that Ackroyd plays fast and loose with historical accuracy. Dr John Dee’s main residence was at Mortlake in South West London and it was here at the turn of the sixteenth century that his prodigious library was vandalised, this fact does not get in Ackroyd’s way of wanting to maintain his love affair with the streets of East London and so he transpose Dee’s residence to Clerkenwell in East central London. He tells the story of John Dee’s obsession with magic and his relationship with Edward Kelly a shady character who is best described as a mountebank, Its a kind of master pupil relationship, but with hazy lines as to who is in control. with the aid of a crystal ball they are attempting to divine the future and Dr Dee who uses Kelly as a medium is also attempting to create a homunculus. The novel starts with a story from the present: Mathew Palmer has inherited a house in Clerkenwell, he is an archivist and historian and soon realises that it is the house of John Dee and it has a strange fascination from the moment he sees it. He has a friend Daniel Moore and both men are steeped in archival work and are a little solitary although Moore seems to be the more senior figure. The two stories are told in the first person and in alternate chapters and it is Dr Dee’s old house that makes the initial connection. Mathew feels a presence in the house at times he can almost see Dr Dee as he explores the basement where Dee did some of his work. Edward Kelly scrying with the crystal ball at one point says he sees two men in strange costumes calling each other Mathew and Daniel.

The relationships in both stories are fraught with difficulties. Dr Dee has implicit faith in Edward Kelly, but reluctantly starts to doubt his motives. His wife and servants both warn him that Kelly is a crook, only working with Dee to gain access to his work in alchemy, magic and the homunculus. Kelly is accused by the servants of poisoning Dr Dee’s wife. Dee himself becomes convinced that he is about to discover some sort of portal that will take him back to a time of London’s glorious past. Mathew Palmer glimpses his friend Daniel in a cross dressing establishment and then learns that he was his fathers lover and that he himself may have been molested by his father. He has an uneasy relationship with his mother only starting to realise the reasons for her estrangement from her husband. His mother cannot bear to be in the house in Clerkenwell sensing that it was a place where activities took place that she cannot face. A house then with many secrets that seems to give glimpses of a past and a future. Troubled relationships, magic, sex, murder provide a heady brew that permeates the house in Clerkenwell and the two stories describe a palimpsest, where a curtain between the past and the present quivers; always threatening to open up.

I like the way Ackroyd writes about Elizabethan times, he creates an atmosphere and feel for the period by using language and a style of writing that evokes those times. The reader usually knows when he is in the sixteenth century or more recent times, however Ackroyd does not quite achieve this with his present day story, his nostalgia for the past seems to carry him back to a London in the 1950’s. Troubled psyches perhaps tend to dream, even have visions and Ackroyd uses these to enhance the tension in the lives of his characters. Dr Dee and Mathew are both in fear of what they might find, but their quest for knowledge keeps them pushing for answers. Dr Dee has his religious faith to bolster his spirits, even when searching for angels, but this is something that Mathew lacks in present times and this is an interesting juxtaposition between the two stories.

Ghosts, visions, dreams in two parallel stories can provide novelists with difficulties to reconcile, but the reader is not disappointed in this book. Ackroyd lets his two stories speak for themselves and the reader can make the connections that the author clearly signposts. At the end of the book, Ackroyd can’t resist blurring the lines between himself and the first person character of John Dee that he has created. He asks:
“ And what is the past after all? is it that that is created in the formal act of writing, or does it have some substantial reality. Am I discovering it or inventing it? or could it be that I am Discovering it within myself, so that it bears both the authenticity of surviving evidence and the immediacy of present intuition? The House of Doctor Dee leads me to that conclusion……”

There is mystery, there is atmosphere and even a resolution of sorts and some brilliant evocative writing that kept this reader enthralled throughout the whole novel. The best thing that I have read by Peter Ackroyd (perhaps I need to do some re-reading) and so 4.5 stars. ( )
3 vota baswood | Oct 14, 2017 |
This is the second book I’ve read by Peter Ackroyd, the first being Hawksmoor. The story is set in the 1500’s and is a fictional account of a real historical person, John Dee. John Dee was an academic of the time, learned in the fields of math, astrology, navigation and also having an interest in the supernatural. The story is set in the current time and tells the story of Matthew who has inherited a house from his father that was a home of the famous John Dee. Then the story goes back and forth between the two periods as did Hawksmoor. This however is easier to read because it doesn’t use Middle English. The story centers on the John Dee that was interested in Hermetic philosophy. Into the fictional part of this story, the author has explores sexual activities of these men and discusses time and history. There are some great quotes to be found. Overall, this is easier reading than Hawksmoor but of a similar vein. As a mystery it is slow moving and really never comes to a clear ending.

Why I read it? I read this because it is set in the 1500s. So what did I learn? This book explores some culture of the time. It starts with a play that John Dee is setting up. He used mechanics in such a way that the populace accuse him of black magic. I checked out the author’s book Tudors which is his historical account of the time period, the Renaissance. Entertainment consisted of bear baiting (the book covers this), rich fabrics and garments (the book includes this) and dancing. Queen Elizabeth enjoyed dancing. There are lists of dancing. The time period was extravagant in its appetites.

John Dee was one of the most learned men of the times. He was a college graduate. Had a large library and proposed a public library to Queen Mary which was not taken up. He also was friends with Edward Kelley and pursued scryering (crystal ball gazing). He wrote books but his storng desire to communicate with angels led him to this friendship with Edward Kelley. The book explores that relationship and does take some license in the accuracy but it was a relationship where Kelley may have been deluding Dee and Dee was gullible.

The sexual content is minimal (thankfully) and hits upon some themes of sexual abuse of son by father, rape, and crossdressing homosexual relationships. I do not think this was necessary to the story at all.

OPENING LINE: I inherited the house from my father. ( )
  Kristelh | Jun 13, 2015 |
Es mostren 1-5 de 20 (següent | mostra-les totes)
The significance of the past in this case is that it would solve the mystery of Palmer's identity. Given that his identity is ultimately linguistic, the text of the past engenders the text of the present through the arbitrary privilege of the past as having a unilateral influence on making the present present. However, as we have said, the past is made past through its connection to the present. The past and the present depend on one another for their respective self-constitutions. This insight is illustrated imaginatively in the book when the past and present are destroyed, so to speak, when they begin to inhabit the same space, a space that could be understood simultaneously as mental, elemental, and linguistic. This event, the simultaneity of the past with the present, is rendered as either a transcendental, epiphantic experience, or madness.
 
At first it seemed as if The House of Doctor Dee was typical Ackroyd in the style of his Hawksmoor – creeping menace in a London the author loves so much that he becomes self-indulgent. However, as the novel progresses, and as matters regarding the soul, time and history are explored, and as we come to the magnificent, visionary ending, Ackroyd seems less possessed by Dr. Dee than by the spirit of William Blake. This, and the virtuoso use of language in The House of Doctor Dee, marks a new stage in Ackroyd’s powers. That Dee lived in Mortlake, not Clerkenwell, and that the plot is made to conform with that of a ghost story, perhaps for commercial reasons, are mere niggles.
 

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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Peter Ackroydautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Silcox, PaulaAutor de la cobertaautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat

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I inherited the house from my father. That was how it all began.
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I had grown up in a world without love--a world of magic, of money, of possession--and so I had none for myself or for others.
There is no way to conquer time and live eternally except through vision. The vision, not the body, transcends this life.
I took ship [at Gravesend] and carried with me my own provisions for the journey, including biscuit, bread, beer, oil and vinegar; in my wallet I also had a good store of parchment, quill and ink (together with black powder to make more), so that I might keep a record of my travels into foreign lands.
My true glory lies within my books, printed or anciently written, bound or unbound ... all found and gathered by me ... For their exact copying, and for my own writings, I need a plentiful supply of pens and inks; so here, at my left hand, are quills of all sorts. When the ink runs down the hollow truck of my pen, then on this writing-table, with all my notes scattered about me, I begin to chronicle marvels.
I left for the National Archive Centre in Chancery Lane. ... Most of the old parish registers and rate-books were now on microfiche, but I still preferred to consult the bound volumes which had been placed in the Blair Room.... a quite protracted search led me to three leather-bound volumes which contained the records of the parish of St James, Clerkenwell, in the sixteenth century. I could hardly lift them from the shelves, and when I held them in my arms I savoured the stink of dust and age. It was as if I were lifting down corpses wrapped in their shrouds. And of course this was precisely what they contained - names, signatures, the long-dead set down in lists, lying one upon another just as they might have been buried under the ground. I am accustomed now to the peculiarities of sixteenth-century script, but even so it was hard to decipher some of the words scratched in an ink which had faded to the lightest brown.... All the time my hands were lying across a deed written on parchment; I could feel the texture of the paper beneath my fingers, and it was like earth baking in the heat of this modem city.
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This novel centres on the famous 16th-century alchemist and astrologer John Dee. Reputedly a black magician, he was imprisoned by Queen Mary for allegedly attempting to kill her through sorcery. When Matthew Palmer inherits an old house in Clerkenwell, he feels that he has become part of its past.

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