The sot-weed madness


I’m still struggling through The Sot Weed Factor at an embarrassingly slow pace. All my usual reading habits have gone out the window and I’ve taken to browsing the internet on my phone at all my usual reading times. Obviously this has to stop or I’ll never finish it. It occurred to me today that maybe if I blog as I go along it might help me stay motivated. It’s worth a try I reckon.

I didn’t know a great deal about this book before I began and I’m not sure I’m much the wiser yet. It’s a fictionalised account of the life of Ebenezer Cooke, who wrote a satirical poem of the same name about the colonisation of America in 1708. Since starting we’ve heard all about Ebenezer’s education (under his beloved tutor Henry Burlingame III), his unsuccessful years at Cambridge and his time as an unhappy clerk in London. Most recently his father has become enraged by reports of Ebenezer’s behaviour in the taverns and brothels of the capital so Eben has been ordered to depart for Maryland at once so he can prove his worth by taking charge of the family tobacco plantations. Since then he’s blagged a commission to write an epic poem on his travels (the Marylandiad!), attempted unsuccessfully to purchase a notebook in which to write said poem, and been happily reunited with his long lost tutor (who’s been having some adventures of his own in the meantime).  I’m currently on Chapter 6 of Part 2 and at last reading the two men were on their way to Plymouth to begin their long voyage to the New World.

Of course this all takes place in the seventeenth century so along the way we’ve been treated to quite a bit of bawdy drunkenness and whoring, made all the funnier by Ebenezer’s fierce defence of his virginity in the face of some trying temptation.

“…What am I? Virgin, sir! Poet, sir! I am a virgin and a poet; less than mortal and more; not a man but Mankind! I shall regard my innocence as badge of my strength and proof of my calling. Let her who’s worthy of’t take it from me!” 

This has more than made up for an unbelievably looooong treatise by Ebenezer’s patron on the province’s complicated history. It’s only nineteen pages long but in all truth it took me 4 days to read. FOUR. DAYS. And I’m not convinced I’ve remembered any of it.

Although published in 1960 The Sot Weed Factor is written entirely in a sort of mock eighteenth century style which I quite like, although it took some getting used to. I’ve understood most of it and the bits I haven’t understood have started to make sense the more I’ve read. There have been some wryly funny moments so I’m not too sure why I’m dragging my heels with it so much. Perhaps I just need to keep persevering until eventually something (hopefully) clicks.


2 thoughts on “The sot-weed madness

  1. Pingback: The Tapestried Chamber (1828) by Sir Walter Scott | the blue bore

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