Ten of the best bells in literature

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers

In sleepy Fenland St Paul, the death of a villager is marked by nine rings of the great bell, Tailor Paul, in the tower of the church. The visiting sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, finds himself challenged by a mystery involving jewel theft and murder that centres on the bell tower. Only Wimsey’s knowledge of campanology allows him to decipher the coded message that unravels the tale.

Notre Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo

Quasimodo, the hunchbacked bellringer, lives in the belfry of Notre Dame and has been made deaf by the bells. He loves ringing them, “long morning serenades, which lasted from prime to compline; peals from the belfry for a high mass, rich scales drawn over the smaller bells for a wedding”. But when he encounters the beautiful Esmerelda, he abandons the bells for a greater love.

“Monody on the Death of Aldersgate Street Station” by John Betjeman

Betjeman’s characteristic celebration of the City of London’s “steepled forest of churches” evokes the sounds of bells breaking the “Sunday silence”. It begins with the “tingle tang” of “the bell of St Mildred’s Bread Street”, and ends by drowning in “the roaring flood of a twelve-voiced peal from Paul’s”.

“Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” by Thomas Gray

One of the best-known opening lines in English poetry is the sound of a bell ringing: “The curfew tolls the knell of parting day.” Gray’s tolling curfew was the traditional sound of the country parish. Since the days of William the Conqueror, the curfew bell had been rung to signal that it was time for bed.

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

A wonderfully batty cast of characters converges on Imber Abbey in Gloucestershire. According to legend, the abbey bell flew into the lake centuries earlier when a bishop cursed the place because of the sexual misdemeanours of one of the nuns. A new bell is to be installed, but Toby and Dora find the old bell in the lake and decide to effect a bell-swap. Chaos ensues.

Peter Pan by JM Barrie

Tinkerbell the fairy communicates with the sound of a tinkling bell, which can only be understood by initiates. “It is the fairy language. You ordinary children can never hear it, but if you were to hear it you would know that you had heard it once before.”

The Magician’s Nephew by CS Lewis

In the distant, dying world of Charn, Digory comes upon a small golden bell with a hammer next to it and this needling rhyme: “Make your choice, adventurous Stranger; / Strike the bell and bide the danger, / Or wonder, till it drive you mad, / What would have happened if you had.” He cannot resist striking the bell, whose reverberations bring the witch Queen Jadis to life.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Macbeth waits for his wife to signal that the sleeping Duncan’s guards have been drugged. She rings a bell, and Macbeth exits to do the terrible deed. “I go, and it is done; the bell invites me. / Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell / That summons thee to heaven or to hell.”

“The Bells” by Edgar Allan Poe

Poe’s lyric starts cheerily with sleigh bells, proceeding to wedding bells and then alarum bells, before the poem’s final section evokes the “iron bells” that make us shudder with terror. “For every sound that floats / From the rust within their throats / Is a groan”.

In Memoriam AHH by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

“Ring out the old, ring in the new.” In section CVI of Tennyson’s elegy, church bells ring out across the Lincolnshire snow at Christmas, lifting the poet from the gloom and pain that have engulfed him. “Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky, / The flying cloud, the frosty light: / The year is dying in the night; / Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.”


Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/mar/06/ten-best-bells-in-literature