According to Queeney

According to Queeney

by Beryl Bainbridge

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Bainbridge's brilliantly imagined, universally acclaimed, Booker Prize-longlisted novel portrays the inordinate appetites and unrequited love touched off when the most celebrated man of eighteenth-century English letters, Samuel Johnson, enters the domain of a wealthy Southwark brewer and his wife, Hester Thrale. The melancholic, middle-aged lexicographer plunges


Bainbridge's brilliantly imagined, universally acclaimed, Booker Prize-longlisted novel portrays the inordinate appetites and unrequited love touched off when the most celebrated man of eighteenth-century English letters, Samuel Johnson, enters the domain of a wealthy Southwark brewer and his wife, Hester Thrale. The melancholic, middle-aged lexicographer plunges into an increasingly ambiguous relationship with the vivacious Mrs. Thrale for the next twenty years. In that time Hester's eldest daughter, the neglected but prodigiously clever Queeney, will grow into young womanhood. Along the way, little of the emotional tangle and sexual tension stirring beneath the decorous surfaces of the Thrale household will escape Queeney's cold, observant eye. "A dark, often hilarious and deeply human vision ... a major literary accomplishment."—Margaret Atwood, Toronto Globe and Mail " the end of this luminous little novel ... we feel two losses ... the personal one and the loss to civilization."—Richard Bernstein, New York Times "Dialogue and descriptions subtly and skillfully convey a sense not only of the period but also the personalities."—Merle Rubin, Los Angeles Times "[Bainbridge's] most accomplished novel so far."—Washington Post Book World "Majestically deft.... Absolutely wonderful."—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

Editorial Reviews

Richard Bernstein
Ms. Bainbridge has wrought a Johnson so intellectually scintillating and emotionally unpredictable that her novel becomes a study not so much of character as of the mysteriousness of character....[Johnson] is a brilliant creation, and when, at the end of this luminous little novel, Ms. Bainbridge brings us to his end, we feel two losses simultaneously, the personal one and the loss to civilization.
New York Times
Publishers Weekly
As she has proved time and again, most recently in Every Man for Himself and Master Georgie, few novelists now alive can match Bainbridge for the uncanny precision with which she enters into the ethos of a previous era. This time it is the period of Dr. Samuel Johnson, and the strange relationship he built in his later years with wealthy Southwark brewer Henry Thrale and his vivacious but moody wife, Hester. Some of it is seen through the eyes of Mrs. Thrale's eldest daughter, the Queeney of the title, but such is Bainbridge's virtuosity with points of view that she can move into Dr. Johnson's or Mrs. Thrale's heads at will. This brief novel for each scene is pared down to its essentials is more a sketch of a way of life and feeling than a full-blown narrative. The great lexicographer is brought to life more vividly than by any chronicler since James Boswell. We see him enjoying the Thrales' hospitality, indulging in mostly imaginary dalliances with his hostess and sparring with the likes of Garrick and Goldsmith. He accompanies the Thrales and their hangers-on on a European journey that is freighted with woe, and also proudly escorts them on a pilgrimage to his hometown of Lichfield. The tension between the bizarre manners of the day and the unexpressed passions burning within is beautifully caught, and Queeney's skeptical commentary lends just the right distance. If in the end the impression is more of a study in the difficulties of friendship and the ravages of time, the extraordinary craft more than compensates for a lack of narrative drive. (Aug.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In recent years, Bainbridge's novels have shifted from pure fiction to the ironic treatment of historical figures or events: The Birthday Boys (1991) considered Scott's Antarctic expedition; Every Man for Himself (1996), the sinking of the Titanic; and Master Georgie (1998), the Crimean War. Beginning and ending in 1784 with the death (and autopsy report) of Dr. Samuel Johnson, her latest work ranges over his last 20 years, when Hester Thrale, the wife of a wealthy brewer, was pivotal in his life a relationship that continues to interest Johnson scholars. The viewpoint is not exclusively "according to Queeney," Mrs. Thrale's precocious oldest daughter, but her caustic assessment matters. Latin tutor and family friend Johnson was gentle and kind to Queeney, but here the eminent man of letters is portrayed as slovenly, eccentric, unstable, and ill. Bainbridge's novel is interesting as an experiment in writing about a figure from the past, but the fiction is often submerged beneath the history. For comprehensive collections of British literature. Ruth H. Miller, Univ. of Southern Indiana Lib., Evansville Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The Grand Cham of 18th-century English letters is the primary subject of Bainbridge's majestically deft new novel: the best yet in her series of dazzling historical reconstructions of British history ("Master Georgie", 1998, etc.). James Boswell's great "Life "gave us the partial lowdown on scholar-lexicographer Samuel Johnson's tenure as permanent honored guest of the family of prosperous Southwark brewmaster Henry Thrale-and the Great Man's courtly friendship with his host's charming wife Hester, a self-made bluestocking and the mistress of an ineffably fashionable salon that also embraced eminences like author Oliver Goldsmith and actor David Garrick. Bainbridge's conceit is that Johnson-a middle-aged widower (bereft of his much older wife) whose teeming brain waged continual warfare with his "lower' faculties-was both sustained and tormented by the sophisticated mixed signals emitted by the intellectually flirtatious matron, a fascination mirrored in his avuncular friendship with the Thrales' precociously gifted eldest daughter, the eponymous "Queeney." The latter's perspective on her mercurial parent's outwardly platonic relationships is conveyed in letters in which Queeney replies to a female acquaintance's importunate queries, some 20 years following Johnson's domination of her mother's circle. Testimony from several other characters (many servants) is skillfully integrated into the swiftly moving narrative, and Bainbridge also offers brief glimpses of Johnson's own tempestuous demeanor, dictated by his vulnerability to gout, depression, sudden and impulsive emotional outbursts, and the occasional "loathsome descent into sensuality." The tale is told with its author'scustomary masterly economy, graced by Bainbridge's tone-perfect imitations of period speech (even illiterate nursemaids speak-quite believably-like Jane Austen characters) and genius for suggestive imagery ("a glimpse of gray river beneath a rind of weeping sky"). Absolutely wonderful. Grateful thanks, too, to Carroll & Graf, which has stepped in where many "major" publishers have faltered, bringing us the otherwise neglected recent work of British masters like the late Anthony Burgess and the irresistible, indispensable Beryl Bainbridge.

Product Details

Da Capo Press
Publication date:
Bainbridge, Beryl
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
5.54(w) x 8.14(h) x 0.65(d)

Read an Excerpt


On the morning of the 15th December, 1784, a day ofbleak skies heralding snow, a box-cart rattled into BoltCourt and drew up outside No. 8. Three men entered the houseand presently emerged carrying a roll of threadbare carpet asthough it were a battering ram.

    Mrs. Desmoulins, shawl tight against her, remained on thesteps of the house and forced tears from her eyes. Though shefelt grief she was too old, too used to death, to weep without aneffort. She stood alone, save for a black and white cat busy washingitself. A number of neighbours came out and waited withbowed heads until the cart had gone from sight. From the openwindow of No. 6 could be heard the jangling of a spinet. Itwas not known whether Mr. Kranach, a man who summer andwinter wore a coat lined with the fur of a white wolf, wasserenading the departed or merely about his daily practice.

    The conveyance turning into Fleet Street, a gaggle of urchinsran in pursuit and leapt for the tail-board, at which the driverflicked backwards with his whip. Frank Barber, walking behind,accompanied his master as far as the church of St. ClementDane's in the Strand; then, the bitter cold of the early hour gettingto his living bones, he ducked away and sought refuge in atavern.

    Arriving in Windmill Street the cart trundled into the yardof William Hunter's School of Anatomy. The carpet was carriedto the top floor and laid on a dissecting table. A fire roared inthe grate and the air was filled with an aroma of herbs, that ofmint being the most pervasive. In the corner of the cosy room,a dog, half-flayed, hung from a hook in theceiling; above, thegrey heavens nudged the skylight.

    Present that morning were the physicians Heberden,Brocklesby, Butter, Wilson and Cruikshank. Also in attendancewere Mr. Wilson's son, Arthur, and a Mr. White, neither ofwhom were as yet qualified in the practice of medicine.

    Mr. White unrolled the carpet and removed the windingsheet. Arthur Wilson made the first incision, cutting downwardsfrom the thorax. A quantity of water spilled from the cavity ofthe chest and dripped onto the floor. Mr. White was told tothrow more herbs upon the fire to disperse the stink of dissolution.

    Dr. Heberden made the second incision, this time across thestomach. He was troubled with a cough, and once, bending overhis departed patient, the force of his breath fluttered the deadman's eyelashes, at which Mr. White turned pale and swayedwhere he stood. Mr. Cruikshank, noticing his pallor, orderedhim to swallow a measure of brandy.

Later, under the instruction of his father, Arthur Wilson wrote the following report:

Opened the chest. Lungs did not collapse as they usually do, as though power of contraction lost.

Heart exceedingly strong and large.

Abdomen appeared to have incipient peritoneal inflammation and ascites.

Liver and spleen firm and hard.

A gallstone size of a pigeon's egg removed from bladder.

Pancreas enlarged.

One kidney (left) quite good. That of the right entirely destroyed.

Left testicle sound in structure but with a number of hydatids (cysts) on surface. Right testicle likewise. Spermatic vein leading to it exceedingly enlarged and varicose.

Body, large in life, now somewhat shrunken, save for left leg swollen from the dropsy. Right leg, recently stitched following self-inflicted wound.

Left lung removed for perusal of John Hunter, also slice of scrotum and gallstone. Specimens transferred to jars. Mr. White pricked his middle finger when sewing up body. The following day had red lines running up arm and was laid low with slight fever

    Afterwards, the fire dying and the candles lighted, Mr.Hoskins of St. Martin's Lane, sent to Windmill Street at therequest of Sir Joshua Reynolds, mounted the stairs to undertakea death mask. When the wax had cooled and he pulled away thecast, the eyelids were dragged open; he was too engrossed inscrutinising the imprint of the face to notice the staring aspectof the original.

    The candles extinguished and the door locked, the dead manand the dead dog waited in darkness, gazing upwards to wheresnowflakes, star shaped, now fell upon the skylight.

Excerpted from According to Queeney by BERYL BAINBRIDGE. Copyright © 2001 by Beryl Bainbridge. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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