The Surgeon of Crowthorne
I am working full tilt on the first draft of a new novel and that makes it hard to find time to blog. It also makes it hard to find time to read fiction, or rather, it’s not so much a matter of time, more there is something about being deep in my own narrative that makes me reluctant to muddy the waters by reading someone else’s. During the week, non-fiction is better with fiction being saved for week-ends. Fortunately there is plenty of non-fiction to hand and I’ve very much enjoyed my reading group’s latest choice, THE SURGEON OF CROWTHORNE by Simon Winchester. It is subtitled ‘A Tale of Murder, Madness, and the Love of Books’ and is the extraordinary story of how a convicted murderer played a vital role in the compilation of the Oxford English Dictionary. There are a number of remarkable aspects to this, not the least being that it was quite a while before Dr James Murray, editor of the Dictionary, came to realise that his assiduous correspondent, Dr, W. C. Minor, was not, as he had supposed, leading the leisured life of a country gentleman, but was actually banged up in Broadmoor. Minor, an American surgeon who had served in the Civil War had been committed there after shooting dead a labourer in Lambeth in 1872. He was suffering from what would now be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia. Relatively well-off he was allowed to amass a substantial library from which he supplied thousands of quotations recording the context in which entries to the dictionary had been used. The account of how the great dictionary was begun and complied are as fascinating as anything else in the book and it’s a thoroughly good read.