A performance piece needing only a classic English novel, readers-aloud on public benches, and passers-by, it released the much under-appreciated qualities of these works of literary art as auditory phenomena. Rain dripped from the trees turning the paper translucent and making letters merge through the pages, so the readers struggled at times to distinguish each resonant word, though for the most part the long and tendrilled sentences of Virginia Woolf’s ‘To the Lighthouse’ unfurled beneath the Hoe unimpeded, while ‘The Waves’ rippled among readers at the other end of Armada Way, neither of course ever getting to the sea or indeed the lighthouse, but perhaps reaching some harried denizens of the Anthropocene, who stopped, sat down and listened, perhaps for the first time since adulthood to people reading aloud.
The idea came to Dr Bram Arnold from noticing the strange concurrence of the first public parks in the 1840s with the great rise in popularity of the British novel (the one facilitating the other perhaps – weather permitting). It is also a protest against technology with its effortlessly infinite sound selections and quick-switching screen time, leaving little for chatting or sharing long, elaborately wrought texts such as these. It is not so much a re-enactment – Victorians probably preferred the drawing room to the perils of public places for extended reading sessions – more of a revival of the texts’ lost sound, and an attempt to gently talk the public into reading aloud again not just to children: a public of actual people or some people or no one but oneself.
The readers had a social experience this time, and almost a spiritual one, as voicing the novel, famously written through the thoughts of its characters in a seaside setting expanded their perception of it to such an extent, it seemed, their enjoyment was such that they could barely bring themselves eventually to stop.