Curiosities of Literature, By John Sutherland

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The Independent Culture

Though every page testifies to the well-stocked mind of Sutherland, it is particularly revealing of his chain of thought.

This begins with stock cubes in Howards End, which leads Sutherland to Vril, the "powerful quasi electrical fluid" consumed by subterranean reptilian superwomen in Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race. Weirdly, this condiment inspired both Bovril and the Vril Society of the Luminous Lodge, an Aryan group possibly joined by Hitler.

Phew! Sutherland also explores the aftermath of consumption with six pages on farting in literature. Some may think such ephemera as Allen Ginsberg's alleged last word ("Toodle-oo") to be unworthy topics for the Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern Literature at UCL, but Sutherland is far more interesting than most lit-crit.