Length: 2520 words (7.2 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Hawksmoor - There are many puzzling features in this novel - Discuss
three in detail, looking at the way they are communicated.

'Hawksmoor' as a novel is on the whole, puzzling. As it is a detective
story, Peter Ackroyd uses different techniques of involving the reader
in his plot so that even if the beginning is not fully understood, we
have to go on reading it just to see what happens next. These
different features, for example, the juxtaposition of the time periods
between the chapters; the post-modernistic aspects of Ackroyd's
writing; and the conflicts between reality and fiction all make the
novel puzzling.

Time in this novel is very confused, with two time periods (the modern
day and the eighteenth century) being juxtaposed in alternate chapters
throughout the novel. The theme of time is continued on this premise
and there are many references to time by the characters themselves.
For example at one point, Nicolas Dyer says:

"..how do we conclude what time is our own."

Nicolas Hawksmoor also asks:

" 'Well, Walter, what do you make of that timing?'

'It's impossible, sir.'

'Nothing is impossible. The impossible does not exist'"

Not only are there direct referrals to time, like this but also there
are tenuous links and suggestions to it as a dominant theme. For
example, Hawksmoor is looking for the zero meridian when he is in
Greenwich and there are many others. The changes in time are
highlighted by the interesting use of language for the chapters
narrated by Nick Dyer. Many spellings are different from modern
English, for example, corpse is spelt 'corse'. Ackroyd also uses
capital letters for nouns in these chapters. The eighteenth century
writing is a constant reminder to the reader of which time period is
being read about and is particularly prominent when the chapter and
therefore the time period changes. Furthermore, it means that the
reader has to concentrate more and because of the different formation
of sentences it is difficult for the reader to follow at times, which
is consistent with the detective story theme. Ackroyd wants the reader
to be actively involved in the plot and they need to pick up on any
small threads that he drops.

As the novel progresses, there is an increasing confusion with time,
so much so that at points it seems barley present. Ackroyd highlights
this with the abundance of flashbacks that both the main characters
have and because of this the time is changing not only between the
chapters but also within them. Dyer has many flashbacks to his past
and they often come without warning or relevance to what was
previously talked about.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Hawksmoor." 123HelpMe.com. 29 Jan 2020

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

The Ways in Which Narrative Perspectives Vary in The French Lieutenant's Woman and Hawksmoor

- The Ways in Which Narrative Perspectives Vary in The French Lieutenant's Woman and Hawksmoor Although there are many different perspectives taken in the two novels that shape the overall theme of each plot, comparisons can be drawn between them to show that they share a few fundamental similarities in the way that the authors present their narrative. By looking at the this presentation, it is possible to extract that the authors share common ground in the role that they take in the novel, the post-modernist way they seem to perceive their own role as a novelist and their perspectives on the theme of time in a novel....   [tags: Papers]

Research Papers
3932 words (11.2 pages)

The History of Five Churches in London Essays

- ... The curch of St. Olave Hart Street was built in 1270 and already restored in the 15th century with funds from Robert and Richard Cely. During and the first century after the Reformation in England, which took place between 1517 and 1648, not a lot of new churches were built but the existing ones were changed, mostly on the inside because the liturgical requirements changed. The medieval church St. Nicholas Cole Abbey which was destroyed in the Great Fire in 1666 was one of the frist to be rebuilt by Christopher Wren ....   [tags: destroyed, damaged, background]

Research Papers
649 words (1.9 pages)

For example Nick and Walter are talking in
the office when Nick's narrative unexpectedly switches to talking
about his memories of the plague:

"And the yeares turn so fast, adds Walter, and now he is vanish'd and

I am gone back to the time of the Distemper"

This flashback highlights how flexible time is in this novel and also
hints at the character of Dyer and more specifically how his mind
works. Another example of the confusion of time is nearer the end of
the novel when Hawksmoor seems to in effect travel back in time when
looking for a church in Greenwich. He becomes confused as to the
direction he is going when he turns down an alley and finds himself
surrounded by what could be eighteenth century shops, which overhang
the street. He then sees a wall that is not there and it is as if he
had gone back to a time when the wall used to be there:

"..in his confusion he hurried down another lane only to sop short
when the stone wall of the church apparently blocked off the end; but
this was an illusion since a child then walked across it, singing."

Then he goes in search of the Greenwich meridian only to not be able
to see it. It is as if, once again, he has travelled back to a time
when it would not have been marked. These are most certainly allusions
to the madness of Hawksmoor but more importantly, I think that he has
been identifying so closely with Nick Dyer that he had gone back to
his time, in his own mind. The growing identification with the murder
is later backed up with a statement that comes later:

"And once again his voice trailed off for he knew that, just as he
would recognise the murderer, so also would the murderer recognise

The growing confusion in time is also enhanced by Ackroyd's use of
links between the chapters and the time periods. One of the strongest
of these links is the cohesion between the end of one chapter and the
start of the next. The chapters tend to end fairly open-ended, for
example, chapter two ends with the line: "And he looked up at the face
above him." When chapter three starts, Ackroyd has now switched back
to the eighteenth century but it begins with the line: "The face above
me then became a voice" Ackroyd links the ends and beginnings of all
chapters in this way and this adds to the puzzling sense of time. Not
only are the chapters linked in this way, they also have a lot of
links in the chapters' text too. Some of the strongest of these are
the reoccurring ones like the constant mentions of dust. It is
mentioned in nearly every chapter, perhaps most prominently in the
first chapter where its relevance is explained as dust being traces of
the past:

"Is dust immortal then, I asked him, so that we may see it blowing
through the centuries?"

There are also names that are the same in both time periods that are
used for different characters. For example, there are the two Nicks,
their two assistants called Walter and the two boys called Thomas that
are both killed, to name a few.

Many of the individual puzzling or interesting features of this novel
all point to the fact that the way Ackroyd has written this novel is
the way of a post-modernist writer. The post-modernist writers reject
the conventional ways of writing and many of the unconventional
aspects of this book lead to its puzzling nature. Many post-modern
books are historiographic and 'Hawksmoor' is certainly this. It also
plays on the idea of history not being based on fact but on the
memories or accounts of the different individuals, which can differ
dramatically. This is backed up by something Dyer says about possible
witnesses to the death of Hays:

"..others declared that they had observed a drunken Man by the New
Church, and yet others beleeved that they had heard violent Singing in
the Dusk of the Evening. All these had but a confus'd sense of Time,
and it became clear that nothing was Certain."

Another post-modern idea is having an unreliable narrator, often
multiple narrative voices and a disruption of the linear flow of
narrative. 'Hawksmoor' has an unreliable narrator, as we cannot trust
Dyer in his suspicions of his co-workers because he is mad. He
suspects Yorik Hays and then later, Walter of plotting to uncover
Dyer's interests in black magic so to get him fired but has little
evidence to support it. He attempts to enforce his clearly biased and
paranoiac opinions of Hays on us:

"Mr Hays, the maggot-headed Rogue and no good Surveyour and writer of
Letters that threaten me, had come to the Door of my Lodgings we he
knows that I am not withine, so that he might Disturb me and Confound
me and Perplex me."

We also have multiple narrative voices and disruption of the flow of
narrative due to the switching between time periods. Nick Dyer is our
narrator for the eighteenth century chapters, which are the
odd-numbered chapters, but for the modern day chapters, which are the
even-numbered chapters, Ackroyd forms the third person narrative. This
is puzzling enough but Ackroyd goes further by, at some points,
extracting the narrative altogether in the conversations and setting
them out like play scripts. This is even more puzzling as it is
difficult to see why he has done this. The fact that the person that
Dyer shares a dialect with was a real-life playwright as well as in
the novel could be one suggestion or the fact that Dyer is paranoiac
about Vanbrugghe threat to him could be Ackroyd's reason for
suspending Dyer's biased narrative. In post-modern novels a common
theme is calling certainties into question and Ackroyd definitely does
this in 'Hawksmoor' with his linking history so closely with the
present. There is a line said by Dyer that backs up the way the author
plays with time in this novel. Dyer makes the conclusion after talking
to Christopher Wren:

"This is our Time, says he, and we must lay its Foundacions with our
own Hands; but when he used such words, I was seiz'd with this
Reflection: and how do we conclude what Time is our own?"

The conversation between Hawksmoor and Walter can also be used to show
Ackroyd's perceptions of time in the novel:

" 'Well, Walter, what do you make of that timing?'

'It's impossible, sir.'

'Nothing is impossible. The impossible does not exist'"

Another thing that 'Hawksmoor' does that hints at it being post-modern
literature is that it actively involves the reader in the novel. As
this is a detective novel, the reader has a part to play because they
attempt to solve the puzzle before the book reveals it. So Ackroyd
gives the reader many threads and they have to concentrate hard on
what is happening because they can easily miss something. For example,
Hawksmoor when following a lead, pulls a letter out of his jacket
pocket but we have little indication as to how he got it. However,
Ackroyd has not produced a completely post-modernistic novel with
'Hawksmoor' as he has not embraced all the most common aspects of
post-modernism like the novel referring to itself, as you might find
in novels like 'The French Lieutenant's Woman' by John Fowles. This
suggests to us that he has not intended to consciously be post-modern
but the many post-modern aspects make the novel puzzling.

The last main point which needs discussing is the conflicts between
was is real and what is not in 'Hawksmoor'. Many of Ackroyd's novels
explore the ideas of invention and authenticity and this novel is no
exception. The title of the book itself points us towards one of the
main conflicts between reality and fiction in this novel. Nicolas
Hawksmoor was a real architect who worked with Sir Christopher Wren to
rebuild churches in London and Ackroyd has used this person as a base
for the character of Nick Dyer, just giving him a new surname. The
name Hawksmoor is, however, used for the modern day detective in the
novel and the book title, which leads to a mixture of reality and
fiction at the base of the story. There are also other characters
whose creations have links with reality, like Sir Chris who works with
Dyer in their architecture who is Sir Christopher Wren in real life
and Vanbrugghe, a playwright in the novel and in real life. Although
it is a fictional book, it has a confusion of what is real and what is
fiction and this is one of the puzzling aspects. Ackroyd, even when
given the opportunity, refuses to define this gap. When Hawksmoor in
the modern day looks at a plaque on one of Dyer/ Hawksmoor's churches,
he does not read the part where the name is written as it would be
impossible for Ackroyd to say who made it because it would either
undermine his own writing or historical fact:

"This church was built on the traditional site of martyrdom of Alfege.
It was rebuilt by".

The confusion over what is real and what is not also extends to the
characters themselves and is a theme within the text. Both the main
characters experience conflicts with reality and illusion/ dreams.
Dyer has many vivid dreams and experiences with people that seem like
dreams where he exhibits abnormal behaviour. When Dyer sees some
tramps ritualistically dancing around a fire, something surreal

"..and then a confus'd Hurry of Thought and Dizzinesse came upon me
like a Man often meets in a Dreame. I ran towards them with
outstretch'd Arms and cried, Do you remember me? I will never, never
leave thee!"

Hawksmoor also experiences many of these conflicts, most of which make
him seem mad. An already quoted example is when he looks for the
meridian but cannot see it and when he sees a wall that is not there.
Here he is confused and finds it difficult to work out what is real
and what is not and the reader will have the same problem. He also
meets characters that do not seem real for example he meets people in
a church that do not interact with him in a normal way and one seems
to disappear. These textual conflicts with the characters add to the
supernatural elements and confusion of time in the novel and for
Hawksmoor, many of his experiences link him to Dyer and the past. They
also have echoes of some of the other conflicts that are presented in
the novel, such as the conflicts between black magic, science and
religion or rational and irrational thought. The differences between
Hawksmoor and Dyer are seen by the belief by Dyer in life being
irrational but Hawksmoor believes that "we live in a rational
society". It is Dyer's belief in black magic and the subversive that
he had to put his ideas into the churches in his rejection of religion
that Hawksmoor has to understand in order to solve the murders. Dyer
in his beliefs conflicts with the rest of eighteenth century values
but highlights the underground and dark side of London.

We have looked at the ways Ackroyd communicates the puzzling features
of this novel to the reader but we have not fully established why he
has given his novel these strange and unconventional aspects. It is
after all a detective story and so must get the reader thinking and
encourage them to pay attention to detail, giving us clues to follow
in the text. However, it is not a normal detective story because the
clues he has given us are all hidden the confusing and jumbled past,
found in the eighteenth century narrative by Dyer. Ackroyd has used
his astonishing historical knowledge to a large extent but rather than
novelise history, he uses the past as a springboard in to the world of
imagination, giving the reader a background source and an advantage
over the detective, Hawksmoor. He therefore gives us a chance to try
to find out the ending and solve the mystery before it is actually
revealed, in a feature that is true to the detective genre. This also
can help create drama in the novel when, for example, we know what
Dyer's intentions are even before he has killed his victim.
Return to 123HelpMe.com