For some time it has occurred to me that I must find a way of letting Stephen Fry know how grateful I am for his inspiration. I've been writing a novel on literary characters, and every time I conjure up Samuel Johnson, it's Stephen Fry I see. The same devotion to the English language and genial kindness (with patches of black dog), and he even hosts a salon.
So. How pleased I was to stumble across this nest of Frypers and realise that here was my opportunity.
Thank you, Stephen! Here is the evil you've inspired. Due to length, only the first paragraphs are given here - more is contained in the link. Subsequent chapters will follow. Sorry.
‘Most people would agree upon Master Shakespeare.’
‘So they would, Johnson, although one might – if one didn’t mind one’s head being eaten – say that Shakespeare is rather the greatest adapter in the English language. But what writer isn’t a shameless magpie?’
‘If we rank solely by money generated, the laurels must surely go to you, Milne. Quite half the children on the planet must have an ill-bred ass or a fatuous yellow bear – ’
‘I think you mean whimsical.’
‘Pardon – whimsically fatuous yellow bear leering at them from their bookshelf. Not to mention the film and television adaptations.’
Boswell stabbed a finger at the man opposite him to emphasise his point.
‘If they had had a Disney in your day, Master Shakespeare, your Romeo would not only have lived happily ever after with his Juliet, he would have sung a duet about it with a talking tom.’
‘O God, James, do not say it! It might happen yet.’
Shakespeare slouched back in his chair, staring with a frown into the cold fireplace.
‘Whoever said death was a release was a damnable fool!’
The vast man at the head of the table grunted, scratching his nose to cover a twitch.
‘Not so much foolish, perhaps, as blessedly ignorant. Dying is like biting Eve’s apple – one may possess all knowledge, and never escape the horror of it. What was it they added to the dictionary recently, Bozzy?’
‘Sexting,’ said Boswell promptly.
‘Sexting! Indeed. I know not how I contrived to omit it from the first edition. Everyone should know the joy of sending one another lewd messages by telephone. It gives one’s society such a polish.’
‘It really is getting worse, isn’t it?’ Milne said, shaking his head. ‘England.’
‘We say it every week,’ Boswell replied.
‘And every week it’s even more true.’
‘We should all be described as curmudgeons,’ Johnson said with a wry twist to his mouth. ‘If anyone alive knew the art of spelling it.’
‘Never!’ cried a new, female voice. ‘For that makes me one too, and I cannot have that.’
Johnson’s frown turned into a beam of pleasure, and he rose from his seat. A dark-haired lady of about twenty in appearance had just stepped in the door, smiling at them.
‘Ah, Miss Austen, do come in, do come in! There is a chair by Master Shakespeare. And here are the Misses Bronte and Mrs Nicholls. Who’s for a dish of tea?’
Johnson’s wife Tetty suddenly appeared with a tray of cups, and the next few minutes were a fuss of pouring and offering and passing cakes. Eating wasn’t a necessity, of course, not when the guests had all given over the habit of breathing. But it was a pleasure, and that was not to be sneered at. Johnson could not bear the sight of an empty plate; it made him feel a failure as a host. It was just another of those little involuntary habits that endeared him to his friends and made him an object of ridicule with his enemies.
Seeing that everyone was armed with enough food to last them the week, he leaned forward, rubbing his hands and making a sort of satisfied tutting. Tetty vanished as quickly as she had come, with a smile and a waft of lavender.
‘Well, most of us are here, so we might as well begin.’
'Let the great catalogue of misfortunes be wheeled in!'
‘Contain yourself, Milne. You grow dangerously like your ass. Do we all have a drink?’
There was a chorus of ‘Ays’.
‘Doyle sends his apologies; some séance he is attending. Has anyone seen Geoffrey?’
Everyone looked at the empty chair, to Shakespeare’s right. Its cushioned seat was almost worn threadbare.
‘I am certain he will come,’ Jane Austen replied. ‘He never misses.’
‘Ay,’ said Johnson, frowning. ‘Well, make an apology, James - you can always scratch it out later.’
He rapped a wooden gavel once on the tabletop.
‘I hereby proclaim the British Literary Injustice Society in session. Who goes first today?’
Boswell consulted the agenda.
‘We are back to the start of the alphabet. That’s you, Miss Austen.’
Jane Austen sighed, setting down her tea.
‘Oh dear, where does one begin? Or rather, how does one undo what has begun? If he were not already among us, I would consider it an act of great charity to murder Mr Bram Stoker and thrust a very blunt stake through his heart.’
Shakespeare groaned theatrically.
‘O! S’blood, yes! If any more of my plays are larded with bum-sucking vampires I shall dig up his bones and piss on them!’
‘Master your tongue, sir,’ said Johnson mildly, with a sideways glance at the trio at the foot of the table.
Charlotte and Anne’s faces reflected their disapproval, although Emily was gazing fixedly out the window, and appeared not to have noticed.
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