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Doctor Copernicus by John Banville

Doctor Copernicus (1976)

by John Banville

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I’d only read one book by John Banville before: his celebrated novel The Sea, which I read on a balmy summer day, propped up against a grassy bank by the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It was an occasion when place and book complemented each other perfectly and I found myself lost in Banville’s heady, languid writing. When I stumbled across this book, I was delighted: not only because it gave me a chance to lose myself again, but because it’s always refreshing to find a book set in one of the less familiar periods of history. When you think of the ubiquity of Tudor, Roman or Victorian-set historical fiction, the first decades of the 16th century in Prussia, Poland and the Baltic states are relatively uncharted territory. I was also keen to find out a bit more about Copernicus, because I am aware of the Ptolemaic and Copernican systems only in the broadest sense and I hoped that the novel would make me better acquainted with the details of Copernicus’s theory...

For full details, please see my blog:
https://theidlewoman.net/2013/04/07/dr-copernicus-john-banville/ ( )
  TheIdleWoman | Nov 15, 2018 |
  mahallett | Oct 16, 2018 |
After reading Kepler", I was very eager to tackle "Doctor Copernicus" and "The Newton Letter".

This year I decided that I'd start with a bang with "Doctor Copernicus". I've always believed in strong starts...

Drawing a parallel between "Kepler" and "Doctor Copernicus", they both have a very strong sense of architecture and style. I like to compare them with a very dark baroque cathedral, filled with elaborate passages and sometimes overwhelming to the casual tourist (aka reader). For this, Banville makes no apologies—he's fully committed to language and to rhythm above plot, characterization, or pacing. So, when reading a Banville book don't go looking for a mainstream writer, which is something that he’s not...

The only part that I think seemed a little uneven was the “Cantus Mundi” chapter. Rheticus’ first person narrative was a bit off-putting. Maybe this device was necessary because it was vital to give the character Copernicus a more humane perspective, seen from outside. Given the fact that Rheticus was the person that in real life convinced Copernicus to publish his “On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres” makes it the more valuable in terms of narrative structure.

John Banville personifies the art of writing sentences in which we hear that wonderful harmonic chime that makes us believe that's possible to write the way he does.
" ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
John Banville's Doctor Copernicus is a fiercely interior historical novel about the Renaissance polymath and astronomer. It is divided into four parts, one about his childhood and youth, a second about his mature career, a third regarding the publication of his masterwork De revolutionibus, and a final section on his death. All but one of these are delivered in a third-person omniscient narration that includes glimpses of Copernicus' own perspective. The exception is part three, where the narrator is Copernicus' disciple and editor Rheticus (Georg Joachim von Lauchen). Banville makes Rheticus out to be a rather unsympathetic character, and certainly an unreliable narrator.

The novel does good work in exposing the intellectual and cultural backdrops of Copernicus' life: a Hermetic Renaissance in Italy, and Catholic Orders menaced by Reformation in Prussia. The achievement of his "system" is presented as ambivalent in his own regard, and he is repeatedly shown in the grips of epistemological despair.

The final section of the book, though brief, is very effective. It does not perpetuate the sanguine legend that Copernicus happily took in the first sight of the published and bound De revolutionibus on his deathbed. It does, however, fold his subjective impressions back onto the images and persons established in the earlier sections of the book, so that there is an awful symmetry to this last reckoning.
1 vote paradoxosalpha | Mar 8, 2016 |
A thing is pure and independent, the object and the idea of the object utterly united with no division and no corruption. Then comes language and the thing acquire a name and suddenly the idea of a tree and a tree itself are divided, and the idea becomes a separate thing to the thing it's supposed to describe. Thus Nicolas Copernicus, who has a bright vision of the motions of celestial bodies that will turn everything humanity has understood about the world on its head, that will eventually unmoor us from our conception of the world and from religion, soils this vision, destroys it and mars it with his efforts to express it in language. And yet it is the world itself that is diseased and corrupt and downright petty, and he himself fears and hates the world and its imperfections.

John Banville's Copernicus, brilliant but cowed and cringing, dominated by his uncle, savagely haunted by the deteriorating spectre of his brother, seared by the knowledge that he has failed before he has even begun his great work, so that even if he completes it, he almost cannot bring himself to release it to the world because of what his flawed ideas of planetary motion will set in motion. A novel of ideas and angst, fear and base cunning, failure and futility - though his success as an administrator to his war-torn province seems oddly at odds with Banville's portrayal of his internal life, and so gets glossed over a bit. ( )
  Nigel_Quinlan | Oct 21, 2015 |
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in memoriam Douglas Synnott
First words
At first it had no name.
You must become an ignorant man again
And see the sun again an ignorant eye
And see it clearly in the idea of it.
Wallace Stevens,
"Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction"
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679737995, Paperback)

Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1976 this historical novel is based on the life of Nicholas Koppernigk, better known as Copernicus, whose ideas and writings shattered the medieval view of the universe. "Kepler", also by John Banville, won "The Guardian" Fiction Prize in 1981.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:30 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The work of Nicolas Koppernigk, better known as Copernicus, shattered the medieval view of the universe and led to the formulation of the image of the solar system we know today. This is a novel based on his life and work.

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