I thought Steve Aylett was joking when one of the characters in his phosphorescent noir-action novel, Novahead, says that a character in Charles Dickens’ Bleak House died from spontaneous human combustion. I have obviously never read Bleak House. David Perdue tells us that “Dickens sparked controversy in Bleak House when he had a rag and bone dealer named Krook die by spontaneous human combustion, a phenomenon where the human body catches fire as a result of heat generated by internal chemical action. Although scientists have denied the existence of this phenomenon, supposed cases of spontaneous human combustion are still reported today.”
In the next paragraph of Novahead, one of Aylett’s characters refers to Howard’s End as a “vampire novel.” It’s not, of course, but in some strange way, it seems like it could have been mistaken for a vampire novel by someone from the future (if that makes any sense). The E. M. Forster novel is set in Old England, the people have defined roles based on social class. Aren’t the rich always sucking life from the poor? Rob Doll, in his E. M. Forster web site, Pharos, reminds us that the character named Leonard is called the “grandson to the shepherd or ploughboy whom civilization had sucked into the town; as one of the thousands who have lost the life of the body and failed to reach the life of the spirit.” It’s only a small leap from that idea to the recent proliferation of historical vampire and zombie fiction, like Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian or Seth Grahame-Smith’s revision of a Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
All that from a couple of sentences in Novahead; sentences which have little to do with the plot, but go a long way in illustrating the density of knowledge we have come to expect from Steve Aylett.
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