Thursday, December 11, 2008

Joyce even slurs his pauses

For those of us who enjoy this kind of contact, Richard Fairman of the British Library has been rooting through his sound archives to make collections of authorial speech, most recently in a three-CD set, The Spoken Word: British Writers (,an assortment of utterances by 30 writers. Today, when every interesting author gets recorded often, it's surprising to learn from Fairman that there is exactly one known recording of Arthur Conan Doyle's voice extant, and also only one of Virginia Woolf's. They both lived well into the age of sound recording (Conan Doyle died in 1930, Woolf in 1941) but the idea of preserving voices hadn't yet taken hold among broadcasters and librarians.

People simply didn't keep radio broadcasts. As Fairman says, "They went out on the air and that was it. They were lost forever." Woolf spoke on the BBC several times, but on only one occasion did someone think it a good idea to save part of a talk she gave. The piece included in The Spoken Word: British Writers runs only eight minutes, but it's a revelation. Heard in 2008, she sounds like a vicious parody of an English intellectual. I had to listen three times before I could get past her mannerisms and absorb what she was saying.

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