Sunday, May 14, 2017

Swooning over an English Accent

As a longstanding, inveterate Anglophile, I found on a very recent car trip that it was a wonderfully distracting delight to listen to Penelope Dellaporta read to me, via Books on Tape (1993), “Shroud for a Nightingale” (1971), by P. D. James. Her lovely, lilting English accent, in all its permutations as she read the voices of various characters, was music to these ears. The story itself, a mystery which I have read before, is compelling, even on a second read. Over a period of many, many years, I have read most if not all of P.D. James’ wonderful novels, both mysteries and otherwise. James, a hugely well-esteemed author who died in 2014 at the age of 94, wrote literary mysteries, books that were admirable and enjoyable far beyond the who-done-it aspect, as well as other novels. But as much as I have praised and want to praise again this author, and as much as I have praised and want to praise again the joys of listening to books on tape/CD, my main point here is how fascinated, delighted, and soothed I am by the English accent itself, which of course is reinforced by the English vocabulary and style found in England as opposed to in the United States, where I live. There are more traces of “English English” in my native Canada than here in the U.S., but still there are big differences. I feel some ambivalence about my rather predictable and romanticized worship of the English accent; I have spoken and written about this in my academic work, especially as it unfortunately implies, perhaps, a kind of colonial perspective. As a student of linguistics and especially sociolinguistics, I am also aware that there is not just one “English accent,” and further that the whole idea of “accent” is fraught with political and social issues. But, as Emily Dickinson said about love, “The heart wants what it wants,” and my heart is always rendered mushy by a certain classic type of English accent. For that matter, I have also had a decades-long literary crush on P.D. James’ fictional hero, the Scotland Yard chief detective ("commander" is his title) and poet (how romantic is that?!) Adam Dalgliesh, who is described as speaking beautifully. I know he is a fictional character but I would love to hear his voice. I guess it is time for me to peruse more British Books on Tape, more BBC, and more of a certain genre of PBS's Masterpiece (think "Downton Abbey").
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