The Uncommon Reader
A First edition of the novel
|Cover artist||Peter Campbell|
|Publisher||Faber & Faber and Profile Books|
The Uncommon Reader is a novella by Alan Bennett. After appearing first in the London Review of Books, Vol. 29, No. 5 (8 March 2007), it was published later the same year in book form by Faber & Faber and Profile Books.
An audiobook version read by the author was released on CD in 2007.
The title's "uncommon reader" (Queen Elizabeth II) becomes obsessed with books after a chance encounter with a mobile library. The story follows the consequences of this obsession for the Queen, her household and advisers, and her constitutional position.
The title is a play on the phrase "common reader". This can mean a person who reads for pleasure, as opposed to a critic or scholar. It can also mean a set text, a book that everyone in a group (for example, all students entering a university) are expected to read, so that they can have something in common. A Common Reader is used by Virginia Woolf as the title work of her 1925 essay collection. Plus a triple play – Virginia Woolf's title came from Dr. Johnson: "I rejoice to concur with the common reader; for by the common sense of readers, uncorrupted by literary prejudices, after all the refinements of subtilty and the dogmatism of learning, must be generally decided all claims to poetical honours."
In British English, "common" holds levels of connotation. A commoner is anyone other than royalty or nobility. Common can also mean vulgar, as common taste; mean, as common thief; or ordinary, as common folk.
The Queen's reading
Several authors, books and poems are mentioned in the novella including:
- J. R. Ackerley's My Dog Tulip
- Lauren Bacall
- Anita Brookner
- David Cecil
- Ivy Compton-Burnett
- Jean Genet
- Thomas Hardy's "The Convergence of the Twain"
- Winifred Holtby
- Henry James
- Francis Kilvert
- Philip Larkin's "The Trees"
- Nancy Mitford's The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate
- Alice Munro
- George Painter's biography of Proust
- Sylvia Plath
- The Brontës
- Marcel Proust
- Mary Renault
- Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint
- Vikram Seth
- Denton Welch
- William Shakespeare
- Charles Dickens
- William Makepeace Thackeray
- Jane Austen
- George Eliot
- E. M. Forster
- BBC Audiobooks Ltd. ISBN 978-1-4056-8747-8.