a short site about The Divine Comedy

French version

The Booklovers

Lyrics & Music: Neil Hannon

Published by: Damaged Pop Music / BMG Music Publishing Ltd.

Originally interpreted by: The Divine Comedy


To see the lyrics, click on the name of the version you are interested in (on the left).




The third song from Promenade is a Divine Comedy classic. Although, it doesn’t features proper lyrics, but only an enumeration of names and samples, it gave The Divine Comedy the image of a literate band because of the many references. Although the song is said to be influenced by A House’s ‘Endless Art’ [1], it is actually less pop: Neil Hannon had written a complex instrumental piece for which no proper lyrics could fit [2].

First, the album version begins with a sample from Funny Face, with Audrey Hepburn, during a scene in a book shop where she is supposed to sale a book for a model for a fashion shooting.
The chorus echoes the sample taken from the film Tom Jones which is at the end of Promenade (“Happy the man, and happy he alone,/He who can call today his own./He who secure within can say:/“Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.””). It’s adapted from Horace’s Ode to Man.

In the verses, each name of writer (more or less in chronological order) is followed by a sample. Some samples are taken from films, but other where recorded by the people (including Keith Cullen or Sean Hughes) who came in the studio and to whom Neil asked to choose a couple of names from his list. [3]

The song has been played a few times in ’94-’95, sometimes in an instrumental form, and other times by replacing the writers by footballer’s names. In 2004 during the orchestral tour the song was played in a different form: at each gig a guest would come and read an extract from a novel.

Here is a summary to explain most of the references of the samples:
  • Aphra Behn is said to be the first female novelist.
  • Miguel De Cervantes (Spain, 1547-1616) wrote Don Quixote, where the hero rides a donkey instead of a horse.
  • Daniel Defoe (England, 1660-1731) wrote Robinson Crusoe, where the hero christens an aborigine Friday because it’s the day they met.
  • Henry Fielding (England, 1707-1754) wrote Tom Jones, a novel of a gossipy style. The corresponding extract is said to be taken from the film of the same name with Sir Lawrence Olivier.
  • Lawrence Sterne (Britain, 1713-1768) wrote Tristram Shandy, a novel displaying much bawdy humour, hence the Leslie Phillips style “Hello…”.
  • Mary Wolstencraft (Britain, 1759-1797) was one of the first feminist and wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
  • Jane Austen (England, 1775-1817)’s heroines are perky and childish.
  • Sir Walter Scott (Scotland, 1771-1832) inspired Private Fraser, a prophet-of-doom coffin maker, in the sitcom Dad’s Army.
  • Edgar Allan Poe (US, 1809-1849) wrote short-stories of the fantastic style.
  • Charlotte (England, 1816-1855), Emily (England, 1818-1848) and Anne Brontë (England, 1820-1849) had one brother. It was said at one time that they never wrote all their works but he did. Hence the big voice for Anne; however according to Neil the big voice was here just to be funny [4]. One of the female voices was recorded by Alice Lemon of The Catchers, who were recording at The Church studio at the same time.
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne (US, 1804-1864) wrote The Scarlet Letter, where the heroine stitches a red A for adultery on her clothes.
  • Herman Melville (US, 1819-1891) wrote sea stories, such as Moby Dick.
  • Charles Dickens (Britain, 1812-1870) wrote many novels which story took place in London, but his London can’t be called “beautiful”, contrary to what is said in the corresponding Monty Python quote.
  • Mark Twain (US, 1835-1910) wrote stories about the Mississippi river including Huckleberry Finn. Mississippi is also a notoriously difficult word to spell. The voice playing a Southern accent is Ben Wardle, an A&R who wanted to sign Neil at the time. [1]
  • “George reads German” is a sample from A Room with a View and does not actually refer to George Eliot (Britain, 1819-1880)
  • Emile Zola (France, 1840-1902) wrote J’accuse! a letter in support to Jewish colonel Dreyfus against anti-Semites.
  • Henry James (British of American origin, 1843-1916) and Edith Wharton (US, 1862-1937) were intimate.
  • Thomas Hardy (Britain, 1840-1928) wrote stories set in Wessex, hence the accent.
  • Joseph Conrad (British if Polish origin, 1857-1924) was an impressionist writer. Nothing much happens in his novels.
  • Katherine Mansfield (Britain, 1888-1923) died of TB.
  • DH Lawrence (Britain, 1885-1930) wrote highly controversial novels with emancipated heroines. Some were even censured (for instance, Lady Chaterley’s Lover). Thus, people who had read him would deny having ever heard of him. The quote is from the film A Room with a View.
  • EM Forster (Britain, 1879-1920) wrote A Room with a View and Maurice, a homosexual story, which was controversial at the time. The quote is also from the movie A Room with a View. It’s different from the one before.
  • Virginia Woolf (Britain, 1882-1941) was mad and committed suicide.
  • Marcel Proust (France, 1871-1922) wrote Remembrance of Things Past.
  • F Scott Fitzgerald (US, 1896-1940) wrote ‘Bernice Bobs Her Hair’. Hence “ba bababa ba”.
  • The quote for Herman Hesse (Switzerland, 1899-1961) means: it’s all so ugly. He was a writer of German language.
  • The quote for Evelyn Waugh (Britain, 1903-1966) is a joke of his name.
  • The quote for William Faulkner (US, 1897-1962) is taken from Breathless.
  • Anaïs Nin (US, 1903-1977) wrote erotic books.
  • “Any colour as long as it’s black” was actually said by car-maker Henry Ford, nor the British writer Ford Madox Ford (Britain, 1873-1939).
  • Jean-Paul Sartre (France, 1905-1980) and Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986) were a famous couple of intellectuals. Le Dôme was a bar in Paris frequented by many writers it seems.
  • Albert Camus (France, 1913-1960) wrote The Outsider, where the hero kills a man on a beach.
  • Franz Kafka (Czechoslovakia, 1883-1924) wrote paranoiac stuff such as The Trial. The sample is perhaps taken from the film with Harold Pinter.
  • “Mam” is a joke on Thomas Mann (Germany, 1875-1955). With a bad handwriting, it works…
  • Graham Green (Britain, 1904-1991) wrote Brighton Rock, a novel which was adapted in a film with Richard Attenborough as Pinkie. The sample is taken from the film.
  • Jack Kerouac (US, 192261969) wrote On The Road.
  • William S. Burroughs (US, 1914-1997) took LSD and hence wrote hallucinatory stuff.
  • Sir Kingsley Amis (Britain, 1922-1995) was the father of Martin Amis (born in Britain in 1949).
  • Doris Lessing (born in Britain in 1919) is a feminist writer.
  • Vladimir Nabokov (British of Russian origin, 1899-1977) wrote Lolita, where the hero is a paedophile.
  • William Golding (GB, 1911-1993) wrote Lord Of The Flies, which describes how a group of young boys beached on a desert island come back to a tribal and violent stage. One of the protagonists is called Busby, and the joke is a reference to the album Achtung Baby by U2 (1991).
  • JG Ballard (born in Britain in 1930) wrote Crash. The “instrument binnacle” is an expression Ballard uses for dashboard, it is said by Ben Wardle.
  • The quote for Günter Grass (born in Germany in 1927) is a joke. Snails are often found in the grass.
  • The sample for Gore Vidal (born in the States in 1925) is taken from The Monty Python. John Cleese is dressed as a chef, hitting a table with a meat cleaver (gore).
  • John Updike (born in the States in 1932) wrote Rabbit Run.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro (British writer born in Japan in 1954) wrote The Remains of the Day, where the main character is a butler in a country house. While it seems that people I country houses always say “old chap”, Japanese always say “ah so”.
  • Iain Banks (born in Scotland in 1954) wrote The Crow Road. The sample is from an advert for Kia-Ora orange squash.
  • Dame AS Byatt (born in Britain in 1936) wrote Possession.
  • Brett Easton Ellis (born in the States in 1964) wrote American Psycho.
  • Umberto Eco (born in Italy in 1932) writes books which are quite hard to understand.
  • Gabriel García Marquez is a Colombian writer (born 1927). Hence, “Mi casa es su casa”, a Spanish phrase.
  • Roddy Doyle (born in Ireland in 1958) wrote Paddy Clarke, Ha Ha Ha.

[1] Hot Press 05/1994
[2] Best 05/1994
[3] Ben Wardle’s blog
[4] The Liberator Q&A, 1999.