Most extraordinary by a long verst is Vladimir Nabokov ...
Writer's voices: listen to rare recordings from the British Library
Raymond Chandler and Virginia Woolf are among the writers sounding off in a new set of archive recordings
Listen to the original British Library archive recordings:
Arthur Miller Sir Arthur Conan Doyle F.Scott Fitzgerald John Steinbeck Virginia Woolf
To hear Florence Nightingale pronounce her own name with such precise, emphatic enunciation — “Florence [dramatic pause] Nightingale” — takes you straight into her living presence and tells you in an instant what a powerfully self-possessed character she must have been. The speech she is giving, In Aid of the Light Brigade Relief Fund, recorded in 1890, is just one among the British Library’s unrivalled sound archives, running to a mind-boggling 1m discs and 200,000 tapes. The library has released two new three-CD sets, one of British and one of American writers, talking about life, literature and their work. They include EM Forster, Evelyn Waugh, Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams, F Scott Fitzgerald, and a whisky-sozzled Raymond Chandler talking to Ian Fleming, and breaking into frequent snuffly giggles.
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Most extraordinary by a long verst is Vladimir Nabokov, sounding part Welsh, part Bela Lugosi. In answer to a simple question on how he writes, he laments “the pencil that must be sharpened, the bladder that must be drained”. He recalls a former editor to whom he used to send “indignatory quests” for his advances. Indignatory quests? Is this English? No, it’s Nabokovian. Evidently, he spoke it as well as wrote it. When he alludes to “that morphic and limp creature known as the general reader”, this is Nabokov speaking naturally. You would never get bored listening to him; at least, not before he got bored with talking to us, morphic and limp creatures that we are, and stalked off to catch butterflies.
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The Spoken Word: British Writers and American Writers, £19.95 each; The Spoken Word: Poets is only available second-hand
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