Saturday, 12 August 2017

The Dreamy Nature of this Retreat

The Prerogative Court, Doctors' Commons
Illustrated London News 1 June 1850

The languid stillness of the place was only broken by the chirping of this fire and by the voice of one of the Doctors, who was wandering slowly through a perfect library of evidence, and stopping to put up, from time to time, at little roadside inns of argument on the journey.
David Copperfield, ch. 23


David begins work, apprenticed to Doctors' Commons, a legal backwater that seems very agreeable: he commends the 'dreamy nature of this retreat'. Such undemanding havens have attractions for Brookner's characters too, not least Jane Manning in A Family Romance, who goes to work at a press cuttings agency (somewhat unimaginatively called ABC Enterprises), where she is immediately looked after by 'the dearest women', Margaret and Wendy (ch. 5). But this is Brookner, not Barbara Pym, or for that matter Dickens. Nothing can be allowed to remain too cosy for long. Class tensions start to intrude: Margaret and Wendy also live in Battersea, but in council flats, not Prince of Wales Drive. Later the agency changes hands and Margaret and Wendy move on, and all the charm is lost. But Jane remains loyal in her way to the now renamed JH Enterprises. When questioned by some American academics about her workplace experiences, Jane is recalcitrant:
Any discrimination? I am demanded. Only being taken out to dinner by the boss, I reply, by which time I am regarded with the purest suspicion. (Ch. 9)

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