November 23, 2008

Notes on a Cellar-Book by George Saintsbury, edited and annotated by Thomas Pinney (UC Press, Berkeley)

Saintsbury, a prolific journalist at the turn of the last century, layered his work with so many obscure allusions and references to major and minor works of literature and contemporary news that it was most likely tough going in its day; it’s that much more so a century later. Historian Thomas Pinney, in masterful detective mode, makes Saintsbury’s impenetrable notes more transparent and accessible. He has traced obscure quotes to their source, identified wines no longer in vogue (such as brown Syracuse, a Marsala, or Vöslauer, an Austrian red wine), and shed light on curious references such as Dora the Detestable (a play on the acronym for the UK’s Defense of the Realm Acts). Even Pinney is occasionally confounded by the most obtuse commentary, The book remains a fascinating read, a lively record of a time, place and a man who enjoyed most every drink with great relish.

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