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Biographer Stephen Gill: Wordsworth’s Prelude

Written by Chris Routledge, 26th November 2007

The Reader’s outreach project, Get Into Reading, was kick-started by Melvyn Bragg’s Radio programme In Our Time. I was driving through the north end of Birkenhead (if you don’t know those happy fields imagine a wasteland among the worst indices of deprivation in Europe) listening to Melvyn’s guests discussing something or other, when one of them said ‘it’s the Prospero effect, isn’t it?’ and all agreed, yes, it was, without needing to explain to each other what the ‘Prospero effect’ was because they all knew: Shakespeare, literature, was something they had in common and, I suddenly understood, it gave them a language for thinking. It was at that point that I realised it was necessary to get great literature out of the University and into Liverpool's North End and other socially, economically, pschologically and educationally devastated areas. Six years later,through Get Into Reading, The Reader has 50 weekly read-aloud reading groups doing just that.

I still occasionally listen to In Our Time in the car and had the best radio pleasure of the year this week when Melvyn hosted a show about Wordsworth’s great autobiographical poem, The Prelude. It wasn’t the erudite discussion, though that was mildly interesting, nor Melvyn Bragg’s faux-naïve questioning. (Was William a big head? I loosely paraphrase). No, it was biographer Stephen Gill’s warm and measured reading of an extract from Book Two of the poem that really got me. Stephen Gill’s accent is a lovely deep black-country+Oxford don combo, and you can feel a lifetime of loving Wordsworth in the reflectively steady walking rhythm his voice gives these great lines. It’s not often you can feel love and thought coming out of your car radio but don’t take my word for it--listen to him here. Or try it yourself--read aloud but very slow and steady:

But ere the fall
Of night, when in our pinnace we return'd
Over the dusky Lake, and to the beach
Of some small Island steer'd our course with one,
The Minstrel of our troop, and left him there,
And row'd off gently, while he blew his flute
Alone upon the rock; Oh! then the calm
And dead still water lay upon my mind
Even with a weight of pleasure, and the sky
Never before so beautiful, sank down
Into my heart, and held me like a dream.

Here's the link to the In Our Time page. You can subscribe to the programme's podcast here.

Here's the link to Stephen Gill's reading.

By Jane Davis

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