The Underground Man

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Overview

William John Cavendish Bentinck Scott, the fifth Duke of Portland, who died in 1879, was a singularly eccentric man. What sets him apart from other famous eccentrics is the fact that he had the wealth to indulge his manias to the fullest. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to have a vast network of underground tunnels built beneath his estate, from which, with his horses and carriages, he could secretly escape to the outside world. On a visit to the Duke's establishment, which still more or less stands, Mick ...
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1998 Trade paperback New. NEW SOFT COVER. BOOKER PRIZE 1997 FINALIST. SHIPS FROM WA-USPS. EXPEDITED SERVICES AVAILABLE. Trade paperback (US). Glued binding. 272 p. Audience: ... General/trade. NEW SOFT COVER. BOOKER PRIZE 1997 FINALIST. SHIPS FROM WA-USPS. EXPEDITED SERVICES AVAILABLE. Penguin Books, 1998. 19th Century; England; Fiction; Great Britain; Historical; Nobility; Nottinghamshire Read more Show Less

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Overview

William John Cavendish Bentinck Scott, the fifth Duke of Portland, who died in 1879, was a singularly eccentric man. What sets him apart from other famous eccentrics is the fact that he had the wealth to indulge his manias to the fullest. Perhaps his greatest achievement was to have a vast network of underground tunnels built beneath his estate, from which, with his horses and carriages, he could secretly escape to the outside world. On a visit to the Duke's establishment, which still more or less stands, Mick Jackson became fascinated not only by the tunnels but by the stories that surrounded the memory of this strange man. He began to embroider them with fictional ideas of his own, and with the tales the local people passed on to him. Some of the characters' names in the book are genuine, as indeed are some of the most bizarre details. The actual narrative is, however, pure invention, filled not only with tales of the Duke, but also with the excitement and discoveries of the age in which he lived, and the mysteries that we are still exploring.
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Editorial Reviews

Observer
As a first novel, this is, quite simply, astonishing. Jackson's Duke is a brilliant comic creation...both funny and moving...
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I have no idea how an apple tree works. The quiet machine beneath the bark is quite beyond my ken. But, like the next man along, my Imagination is willing to jump into Ignorance's breach...." So begin the fictionalized journals of William John Cavendish Bentinck-Scott, fifth Duke of Portland (1800-1879), best remembered for having, in real life, dug a complex network of tunnels beneath his estate in England. Jackson intersperses historical anecdote with pure invention in his exploration of the reclusive Duke's life. Most of the book is composed of diary entries in which the Duke muses about such things as an encounter with two young children playing a game, his passion for cartography and the interior of his lungs. Mixed in with these firsthand accounts are the reports of others: an artist who works for the Duke, various servants and random near-acquaintances ("A Local Woman's Account"). What emerges is less a traditional plot than the portrait of a mind as mazy as the tunnels it loves. Though appealing for its quirkiness, the diary can be a frustrating read. Without their dates, the entries might be rearranged entirely, and it is difficult to glean any sense of progress toward a final outcome. The rich metaphor of the tunnels is in the end underexplored; the duke remains underground in more ways than one.
Library Journal
Through a fictional journal, Jackson constructs a portrait of William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, fifth Duke of Portland (d. 1879), a prodigious eccentric best known for the elaborate network of tunnels he built beneath his estate. The duke is portrayed as a repressed hypochondriac, an old man morbidly curious about the workings of his body and mind. During the months encompassed by the novel, he grows increasingly obsessed with the fleeting bits of memory that intrude upon his ruminations and hint at some horrific, long-buried secret. A prime example of the psychological bent of the contemporary British neo-Gothic novel, this first novel from a British filmmaker and teacher of creative writing explores the darker fringes of consciousness. A subdued, though peculiarly compelling, tale. Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, Andover, Mass.
Kirkus Reviews
An ingenious, sympathetic (though somewhat claustrophobic) fictional exploration of the odd life and peculiar obsessions of William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott, the fifth Duke of Portland (1800-1879), and one of the great Victorian eccentrics.

Jackson's debut novel takes some of what is known of the Duke's life, in addition to folktales about him that still circulate in his native Nottinghamshire, and adds a considerable amount of invention to create the portrait of a bright, hopelessly baffled figure, struggling to carry out the hereditary obligations of his office while sinking deeper and deeper into a hypochondriacal frenzy. The exceedingly wealthy Duke is best remembered for having created a series of vast tunnels—each wide enough to allow a coach-and-four to pass through—leading to his home, to allow him to come and go without being watched by the neighbors. Jackson adds to that actual occurrence an obsession with health—and a desperate fear of the impermanence of life—that drive the Duke to ever wilder attempts to regain well-being. He besieges a number of doctors, convinced that he is exhibiting hideous symptoms of illness and decay, and visits a variety of healers, including spiritualist sisters and a "bone manipulator." All of this is narrated in the first person, as the Duke sets down in his journal a running commentary on the state of his body and on his confusing encounters with the world. There's much here that is sharp and winning: Jackson's re-creation of the Duke's voice—querulous and exact—and of the voices of his many baffled, indulgent retainers. His portrait, through the Duke's eyes, of an age poised between credulity and science is shrewd and fascinating.

But a little of the Duke goes a long way. Jackson's excavation of a damaged, self-absorbed figure finally becomes somewhat wearying. Still, there's enough vigor and imagination here to suggest the emergence of a lively new talent.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140274370
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 6/1/1998
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.34 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 0.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Mick Jackson was born in Great Harwood in Lancashire, England. His first novel, The Underground Man, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Whitbread First Novel Award and won the Royal Society of Authors' First Novel Award. While researching Five Boys, he enrolled in beekeeping classes and to this day, keeps two hives at his home in Brighton, England.

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Read an Excerpt

FROM HIS GRACES JOURNAL

SEPTEMBER 30TH I have no idea how an apple tree works. The quiet machine beneath the bark is quite beyond my ken. But, like the next man along, my imagination is always willing to leap into Ignorance's breach...

The tree roots, I imagine, play a major part—somehow managing to soak up the richness of the earth. I picture this richness being drawn slowly up the trunk and pumped out along every branch.

No doubt the sun and rain are also involved, their warmth and moisture in some way being essential to the constitution of the tree. But how the richness of the earth, the sun and the rain come together to produce (i) a perfect blossom, then (ii) a small apple bud—well, that remains a mystery to me.

Excerpted from The Underground Man. Copyright ) 1997 by Mick Jackson.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2003

    Great first novel

    It is well over two years since I've read this book but I still remember it as one of the best-written, most disturbing books I've ever read. The book is funny but sad. I would strongly recommend reading it.

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