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The House of Doctor Dee by Peter Ackroyd (Author) (1993)


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This is the second book I’ve read by Peter Ackroyd, the first being Hawksmoor. The story is set in the 1500’s and is a fictional account of a real historical person, John Dee. John Dee was an academic of the time, learned in the fields of math, astrology, navigation and also having an interest in the supernatural. The story is set in the current time and tells the story of Matthew who has inherited a house from his father that was a home of the famous John Dee. Then the story goes back and forth between the two periods as did Hawksmoor. This however is easier to read because it doesn’t use Middle English. The story centers on the John Dee that was interested in Hermetic philosophy. Into the fictional part of this story, the author has explores sexual activities of these men and discusses time and history. There are some great quotes to be found. Overall, this is easier reading than Hawksmoor but of a similar vein. As a mystery it is slow moving and really never comes to a clear ending.

Why I read it? I read this because it is set in the 1500s. So what did I learn? This book explores some culture of the time. It starts with a play that John Dee is setting up. He used mechanics in such a way that the populace accuse him of black magic. I checked out the author’s book Tudors which is his historical account of the time period, the Renaissance. Entertainment consisted of bear baiting (the book covers this), rich fabrics and garments (the book includes this) and dancing. Queen Elizabeth enjoyed dancing. There are lists of dancing. The time period was extravagant in its appetites.

John Dee was one of the most learned men of the times. He was a college graduate. Had a large library and proposed a public library to Queen Mary which was not taken up. He also was friends with Edward Kelley and pursued scryering (crystal ball gazing). He wrote books but his storng desire to communicate with angels led him to this friendship with Edward Kelley. The book explores that relationship and does take some license in the accuracy but it was a relationship where Kelley may have been deluding Dee and Dee was gullible.

The sexual content is minimal (thankfully) and hits upon some themes of sexual abuse of son by father, rape, and crossdressing homosexual relationships. I do not think this was necessary to the story at all.

OPENING LINE: I inherited the house from my father. ( )
  Kristelh | Jun 13, 2015 |
A young man inherits the house of his father in London. He knows London by heart is nevertheless astonished that he has never been before in this neighborhood. As historian he quickly discovers that the fundaments of the house are quite old. The house generates strange feelings.
Parallel to this develops the story of Doctor Dee a previous owner? He was a scientists - astrologer with a knack for magic. ( )
  albertkep | Jan 21, 2014 |
Dr. Dee was a sort of Free-lance intellectual and astrologer in London at the time of Queen Elizabeth I. He had an unconventional marriage, and the framing tale of the novel has much imaging set in a bombed out Clerkenwell. I'm intending a reread of a good Akroyd experience. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Sep 28, 2013 |
This review contains spoilers, but I want you to read it anyway to make sure you never make the mistake of trying this horrible, horrible book.

As a history of John Dee, it gets the most basic facts wrong: for one example, it ends after the death of his first wife with his partner Kelley burning his library down and fleeing. Kelley did no such thing; they continued to work together for years after Dee remarried. They only split up after Kelley announced that the archangel Uriel had told him through a crystal ball that he and Dee should experiment with wife-swapping. (And not before they tried it. So yes, this is a book about John Dee that skips the most interesting thing about him.)

As a book on its own merits, it's equally bad. It's set up as a mystery, and mysteries tend to succeed or fail based on how well they wrap up their threads at the end. Here almost none of them are wrapped up, and those that are, unsatisfyingly. Again, just as one example: what happened to the Act III revelation that the protagonist's father sexually abused him? What was that for? He never mentions it again!

I gave [b:The Da Vinci Code|968|The Da Vinci Code (Robert Langdon, #2)|Dan Brown|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1303252999s/968.jpg|2982101] two stars because while it's terrible history, it's at least effective junk food. This book gets nothing right. It's bad history and it's bad reading. I hate it. ( )
  AlCracka | Apr 2, 2013 |
I finished this book weeks ago and I am still rolling it over in my mind. So I am going along reading this book and thinking it is a darker more difficult riff on Zafon until I get to the final pages. Then I am blown away to learn all my assumptions have been wrong. Recommended to readers who are looking for the offbeat and weird. FYI: John Dee wrote preface to 1570 Billingsly translation of Euclid's "Elements." ( )
  mtnmdjd | May 20, 2012 |
Showing 1-5 of 17 (next | show all)
The significance of the past in this case is that it would solve the mystery of Palmer's identity. Given that his identity is ultimately linguistic, the text of the past engenders the text of the present through the arbitrary privilege of the past as having a unilateral influence on making the present present. However, as we have said, the past is made past through its connection to the present. The past and the present depend on one another for their respective self-constitutions. This insight is illustrated imaginatively in the book when the past and present are destroyed, so to speak, when they begin to inhabit the same space, a space that could be understood simultaneously as mental, elemental, and linguistic. This event, the simultaneity of the past with the present, is rendered as either a transcendental, epiphantic experience, or madness.
At first it seemed as if The House of Doctor Dee was typical Ackroyd in the style of his Hawksmoor – creeping menace in a London the author loves so much that he becomes self-indulgent. However, as the novel progresses, and as matters regarding the soul, time and history are explored, and as we come to the magnificent, visionary ending, Ackroyd seems less possessed by Dr. Dee than by the spirit of William Blake. This, and the virtuoso use of language in The House of Doctor Dee, marks a new stage in Ackroyd’s powers. That Dee lived in Mortlake, not Clerkenwell, and that the plot is made to conform with that of a ghost story, perhaps for commercial reasons, are mere niggles.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ackroyd, PeterAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Silcox, PaulaCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I inherited the house from my father. That was how it all began.
I had grown up in a world without love--a world of magic, of money, of possession--and so I had none for myself or for others.
There is no way to conquer time and live eternally except through vision. The vision, not the body, transcends this life.
I took ship [at Gravesend] and carried with me my own provisions for the journey, including biscuit, bread, beer, oil and vinegar; in my wallet I also had a good store of parchment, quill and ink (together with black powder to make more), so that I might keep a record of my travels into foreign lands.
My true glory lies within my books, printed or anciently written, bound or unbound ... all found and gathered by me ... For their exact copying, and for my own writings, I need a plentiful supply of pens and inks; so here, at my left hand, are quills of all sorts. When the ink runs down the hollow truck of my pen, then on this writing-table, with all my notes scattered about me, I begin to chronicle marvels.
I left for the National Archive Centre in Chancery Lane. ... Most of the old parish registers and rate-books were now on microfiche, but I still preferred to consult the bound volumes which had been placed in the Blair Room.... a quite protracted search led me to three leather-bound volumes which contained the records of the parish of St James, Clerkenwell, in the sixteenth century. I could hardly lift them from the shelves, and when I held them in my arms I savoured the stink of dust and age. It was as if I were lifting down corpses wrapped in their shrouds. And of course this was precisely what they contained - names, signatures, the long-dead set down in lists, lying one upon another just as they might have been buried under the ground. I am accustomed now to the peculiarities of sixteenth-century script, but even so it was hard to decipher some of the words scratched in an ink which had faded to the lightest brown.... All the time my hands were lying across a deed written on parchment; I could feel the texture of the paper beneath my fingers, and it was like earth baking in the heat of this modem city.
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This novel centres on the famous 16th-century alchemist and astrologer John Dee. Reputedly a black magician, he was imprisoned by Queen Mary for allegedly attempting to kill her through sorcery. When Matthew Palmer inherits an old house in Clerkenwell, he feels that he has become part of its past.
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