Friday, September 26, 2014

Metambesen - Robert Kelly etc


[This note, about a new US poetry PDF site, has now been moved to Intercapillary Space:

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/09/greetings-to-metambesen-robert-kelly-etc.html

]


Random bonus Metambesen quote:

Refusing to define it. What comes against these other magics. That I do is
enough. From this center I react, train crawling north still above ground,
fog and rain trails, umbrella hat and rain-jacket soaked through. Rain from
the ground up.   (Tamas Panitz)

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer - Leyendas


The striking portrait of Gustavo Adolfo.Bécquer painted by his brother, Valeriano Domínguez Bécquer. An iconic image formerly used on 100-peseta notes.

This was my holiday reading, bought at a beachside bookstall on the Playa del Cura in Torrevieja. My book contained only seven of the twenty-eight legends; I imagine from the attractively minimal apparatus that it was a booklet supplied free with some newspaper or other.

Leyendas (1860-65) is a well-known book in Spain, and a regular on the school curriculum; Becquer's stories have also been adapted for children.  It is a collection of romantic tales in the tradition of Hoffmann and Heine. Most of the stories feature the supernatural. Another implication of the title is that the author doesn't consider any of the stories to be true. This creates a fertile arena for literary artistry; in effect, these are early exercise in the use of an unreliable narrator, because the author's commitment to the material is always uncertain. The artistry coexists happily with a healthy simplicity for the most part, but sometimes the ironies become more restive. Bécquer is also, of course, an important poet, his poems speaking with a kind of direct freshness that was then new in Spanish literature.


Bécquer adapted for children

El cristo de la calavera (The Christ of the skull)

In the streets of Toledo at midnight, two fierce rivals for a beautiful woman search for a place to settle their differences, and eventually find a Christ on a wall that is illuminated by a torch. But every time they cross swords the torch goes out, plunging them in darkness. Eventually they get the message and make friends, and they decide to go together to seek out their lady and ask her to choose between them; but when they get to her lodgings they are disgusted to find another, unsuspected, lover just leaving.

El Gnomo (The Gnome)

An old shepherd describes finding a subterranean cache of incredible treasures guarded by the gnomes. Most of his audience dismiss the story as nonsense but it affects two sisters, Marta and Magdalena. The two sisters are very different from each other. They encounter the gnomes themselves and (after a protracted choral set of temptations), the idealistic Magdalena escapes the lure of the treasure while Marta is drawn in and disappears underground for ever.


Illustration by David Vela for "El Gnomo" - http://davidblogcartoon.blogspot.co.uk/


La cueva de la mora (The cave of the Moorish lady)

The Christians attack a Moorish stronghold. The Christian leader is captured but after some days ransomed. However he remains melancholic, having met a beautiful Moorish lady while in captivity. He gets together another force and re-attacks the fortress, but is wounded. The Moorish lady carries him to a cave, but he is dying from thirst. She goes to get him water, and is accidentally shot by Moorish soldiers. Before they both die, the hero baptises her in the Christian faith. The ghost of the lady continues to haunt the river-bank outside the cave.

La promesa (The promise)

A noble leaves his reluctant beloved to go to the wars, making a promise to return and save her honour. He returns successful but hag-ridden by a mysterious hand that rescues him from dangers and is always visible to him. Eventually a troubador explains to him that his beloved has died but will not allow her hand to be buried until he has come back to redeem his promise.

Sketch by Santiago Caruso for "La promesa" [http://santiagocaruso.tumblr.com/]


La corza blanca (The white roe-deer)

A nobleman, out hunting with his daughter and retinue, meets a half-crazed shepherd who tells them of his meetings with deer - including a white one - who talk in human voices. While most dismiss this as gibberish, one person does not. This is the daughter's servant, Garcia, who is in love with his young mistress (a pale girl with dark eyes and a somewhat mysterious history). He determines to hunt the white deer for his mistress's honour. She mocks him and tries to dissuade him, but he persists. He finds that the shepherd's story is true, he sees the deer, hears them talk, sees them swim and transform into beautiful women, one of whom looks a lot like his mistress. Time and again he decides not to shoot, but each time he draws back he hears the sound of jeering. Eventually the hunting instinct overcomes him and he looses his arrow at the white deer as it disappears into the shadows. Following up, he finds to his horror that he has slain his mistress.

El beso (The kiss)

The French army are occupying Toledo during the Peninsular War. Avoiding a resentful populace, they are compelled to bunk down in churches. Our hero, a French officer, finds himself in these strange surroundings. Wakeful, he finds himself falling for a marble statue of a beautiful woman on a tomb (accompanied by a statue of her husband). He invites his officer pals to a drunken party, and during the increasingly outrageous evening, mockingly addresses the husband and finally attempts to kiss the lady. At this moment, he is felled by a blow from the husband's stony fist.

Luis Buñuel used the climax of the story in the opening scene of The Phantom of Liberty (1974).




La Rosa de Pasión (The Rose of the Passion)

In old Toledo there is a Jewish metalworker (Daniel) with an inveterate hatred of Christians. He has a beautiful daughter, Sarah, who constantly rejects her Jewish suitors. One of them hints to Daniel that his daughter has a Christian lover. Daniel and his allies plan to secretly and gruesomely murder the Christian, and gather together instruments reminiscent of Christ's passion, but Sarah foils their plans and boasts to her father of her own conversion. Daniel kills her instead, and some time later a new kind of flower containing symbols of the Passion appears in the ruins of the old church where they carried out their evil deed. (Evidently this is the New World plant known to us as the Blue Passion Flower (Passiflora caerulea), now a common alien species in Spain.)

Obviously an example of a "blood libel" story (like Chaucer's Prioress's Tale), and it's uncomfortable that Bécquer should choose to tell this story in 1862, even though he frames the tale in ironies. The pious girl who, he says, told him the story, is both very good and very pretty; that is, naive and uneducated. And the story abundantly underlines the persecution of the detested Jews by a Christian populace addicted to just such anti-Jewish stories as this one seems to be.

The bald summaries I've supplied fail to represent the concise artistry of the author's presentation, and this story is particularly rich in that respect, but it doesn't make me feel much more comfortable. Can the story be re-focussed as one in which the father is only "said" to be a wicked bogeyman, and in which his sad sacrifice in honour of his religion balances his daughter's fervent martyrdom?      






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scraps of a journey

Glebionis segetum in farmland

Corn Marigold (Glebionis segetum), a native of the E. Mediterranean, long since spread to arable land in the rest of Europe and historically once a serious weed;  apparently there are medieval Scottish laws about the farmer's duty to eradicate it.

I found this group a few days ago in farmland near Abbeville (Normandy) and, since they were reasonably far away from any dwelling, I supposed they might be - not native, of course, but - at least a "natural" occurrence of a genuine weed going about its weedy business. It's often difficult to be sure, because these pretty flowers are now often included in wild-flower-meadow seed-mixes and deliberately introduced into urban planting schemes; doubtless the origin of the stray plants I see in Swindon. Meanwhile, Corn Marigold had become quite local in its former arable haunts; some people link this to the modern practice of liming soil to lower its acidity.


Glebionis segetum, detail of flower


Remnants of "Frutas de Aragon", traditional sweetmeat of candied fruit wrapped in dark chocolate from Zaragoza, and also of St Michel Roudor biscuits - simple but very delicious.

Aragon is a varied county and there did not seem much possibility of growing fruit in the arid tablelands just off the AP-2 near Pina de Ebro.


Still, there is one activity that the terrain does suit and that is warfare. We found this lonely memorial nearby:


The partly legible inscription says:

En memoria de 29 vecinos de
Gelsa vilmente asesinados por
los enemigos de ----- y de la -- -
--en este mismo lugar-----
---dia -5 de octubre de 1936
 los familiares suplican
 una oración por sus almas

(In memory of 29 inhabitants of Gelsa vilely murdered by the enemies of ... and of the ....  in this self-same spot ... the fifth day of October 1936 ... the families beg a prayer for their souls.)

Evidently a pious memorial of an atrocity by the Reds. Later, in 1938-39, similar acts were carried out by the winning side.


Butcher's-broom (Ruscus aculeatus) growing in Sweet Chestnut coppice at Fenioux (Deux-Sèvres). An odd genus; both the small flower and the large berry seem to arise from the centre of the leaf (these apparent leaves are actually flattened stems called cladodes).



Grapevine (Vitis vinifera) at Fenioux (Deux-Sèvres)

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Monday, September 22, 2014

arbaraxa

Dec ontufestamingge en lespid guarnic sospedacho al anche gruzura, anfitron es jeguiles dy Ana; bes cantua suprin, de fallem cin ye tojos infetjiles, arrohagarys luministry i harrabad carcules yn circla. Vano erminsty deo ur munkea frayly, dysw Quyrys yun iyer constaba.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

lazy journalism

I realize because I've done it that a lot of journalism is lazy, that's to say just researched at the desk by googling things. And this behaviour with its sometimes interesting but never verifiable findings is typical of the modern writer's lifestyle.

I think that's why every so often I write about nature. Even though much of what I say is still second-order information sourced from books or the internet, still the fact is that I did see the plants with my own eyes, and here's the photo to prove it.

Something was real. And it was that real contact that I wanted to report; but even then it isn't easy. To describe the real moment. So quite often I fall back on related material that I've read somewhere else. And I just hope that what I'm writing manages to convey some little breath of that true moment about which, so often,  I feel so tongue-tied.


*

What is a forest?  For me the idea contains reassuring elements of darkness and infinitude, that is, uncountableness.

Levin, of course, reproves his brother-in-law's vagueness. No, a forest isn't really infinite. A merchant always counts the trees before he buys.


*

I supposed I had no brothers. And indeed I don't. But when I listened to my first vocal overdub I was surprised by the effect it had on me. It sounded like I had brothers. We were singing a country song and we sounded like crooning cowboys.

*












Monday, August 04, 2014

Sir Walter Scott: Tales of a Grandfather, Marmion, etc.



[Original frontispiece of Tales of a Grandfather, Second Series as published by Cadell in 1829 (actually Nov 1828). From the Walter Scott Image Collection, Edinburgh University Library.]

A LONGER NOTE ON Tales of a Grandfather (1827-31) and The History of Scotland (1829)

Tales of a Grandfather is a history of Scotland up to 1745 - at least this is the bit that people usually talk about, and it equates to the first three series; there was a fourth series (1831) on French history, and an abandoned MS of a 5th series, continuing the French history. The abandonment may have been related to Master Littlejohn's death at ten years old.  He was the grandchild addressed in these volumes, though Scott didn't except in the early pages make much concession to infantile capacities. He does however dwell on memorable tales (even if legendary) and he steers clear of analysis. Until quite recently this was a widely-read book in Scotland; it makes a bizarre appearance in the Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s Tomorrow Belongs to Me (1975) – Harvey (born in 1935) made a virtue of being older than other rock stars and of having access to forgotten things. The History of Scotland  (for the Cabinet Cyclopaedia) covers a briefer period, ending in 1603. This is harder to come by, but it makes better reading than the first series of TOAG, which covers the same ground. Both however are good books, if this kind of historical material interests you; in other words, wars, power-struggles, heroic and villainous deeds; not much about social or cultural matters.

On the assumption that even scholars are likely to leave these volumes unread, I’ll mention some passages that deserve attention. (TOAG is, however, currently in print as four paperback volumes with new titles.)

TOAG Chapter XXXIV (the first of the second series), is titled “Progress of Civilisation in Society”. It’s on such a theme that one gains from the clarity enforced on a writer who addresses a child. This is what most of Scott’s contemporaries thought, if they thought at all, but rarely had occasion to say: for example, about the origin and function of property, money, trade, social class and education. It’s interesting that Scott mentions peoples who did not know about boiling water (natives of New South Wales) or even making a fire (presumably the Tasmanians, at that time still in existence).

Read more »

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Sir Walter Scott, Woodstock (1826)



[Frontispiece of 1871 edition, image from Russell Library, McMaster University

The action of Woodstock is extraordinarily concentrated on its titular location; we are mainly inside the Lodge, almost as often in the grounds, sometimes in the town, but the only time we get any further afield during the main narrative is when Wildrake meets with Cromwell at Windsor (Chs VIII-IX). This scene (which Lockhart ridiculously called better than Macbeth) is certainly a fine one and it sets up a touch of menacing expectation; at some point we know we will see more of Cromwell.

But the novel’s strength is already there and it is fugal in nature.  Woodstock persistently and often literally goes over the same ground. The most speedily revolving cogs are e.g. Wildrake the disguised cavalier gving vent to his royalist feelings or having a drink, motifs that recur incessantly. At a more stately pace, consider the number of substantial scenes that occur while approaching the Lodge:

Approach 1: Trusty Tomkins, then Joceline (Chs 2-3)
Approach 2: Everard and Wildrake (Ch 5)
Approach 3: Everard, Wildrake, Mayor, Holdenough (Ch 10)
Approach 4: Everard, Wildrake, then Tomkins, Harrison (Ch 14)
Approach 5: Everard, Charles, Sir Henry Lee (Ch 25)
Approach 6: Charles, Alice, Rochecliffe (Ch 28)
Approach 7: Cromwell, Pearson and soldiers, Everard, Holdenough, then Rochecliffe, Joceline (Ch 33)

Somewhere at the back of the reader’s mind is the persistent feeling of “I’ve been here before”. Thus when we attend the planned duel of Charles and Everard in Chapter 28, we feel the weight of accumulated combat: this very pair have already crossed swords at the end of Ch 24, Wildrake has mimed a combat with Harrison, Henry Lee has fenced with Tomkins. These clashings have always come to nothing, but the sensation grows that someone, sometime, is going to get themselves killed out here. And that is in fact what’s about to happen, when Joceline’s quarterstaff smacks into Tomkins’ temple.

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Sir Walter Scott, Quentin Durward (1823)



When I wrote my mini-critiques of Scott’s novels, I was rude about this one and I still think I’m right. The praise accorded it in the book by Angus and Jenni Calder seems inexplicable to me, unless they were dazzled by its reception in Europe. For all that, it’s a book that can be read, just. The awful judgment of a critic - was it Taine? - that Scott is “tame” is not easily shrugged off, yet  the critic perhaps didn’t fully appreciate Scott’s anti-heroic instincts.

It occurs to me too that Scott’s interest in royalty is associated with a determination to view the behaviour of a human being when untrammelled by institutions. In the Duke of Burgundy and King Louis he has his chance. These were exceptional lives in their own time, but ours have more in common with them than with the merchants and soldiers. We don’t have all the wealth, but we do have nineteen parts of the freedom. We too can become our own personalities.

C.L Bennet’s (of Dalhousie University) comatose 1967 introduction to Quentin Durward betrays how unrewardingly Scott has been read for at least a century, and what an increasingly ungrateful task popular publishers found it to present Scott classics. This copy, “specially selected for the Airmont Library from the immortal literature of the world”, appears as usual never to have been read.

There are after all considerable obstacles in the path of one who may have been attracted (or whose gift-buying relative was attracted) by the front cover, with its muscular hero (in an astonishing costume of Ivanhoe-meets-Rob Roy) posing heroically while a pitched battle engages furiously a few yards away. After Bennet there is Scott’s 1831 Preface which, with some seriousness and some dullness, and a full page of quotation in French, moralizes over King Louis XI, dispiritingly adding: “It will be easily comprehended, that the little love intrigue of Quentin is only employed as the means of bringing out the story” (as poor a piece of salesmanship as Henry James’ remarks on the mechanism of The Ambassadors). This is one of the later Prefaces that ought now to be relegated to an appendix, because it destroys the effect that Scott first aimed for. He was not one of those rare artists (like Brahms) who could add new material so seamlessly that we are convinced the whole work was built around it.

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Sir Walter Scott, The Abbot (1820)



[Catherine Seyton, engraving after Landseer, 1833. "As they put off, Roland thought he could discover the face of Catherine Seyton... peeping from a loophole to view his departure" (Ch 25). Image from The Walter Scott Image Collection at Edinburgh University Library.]


“By Heaven, Catherine, your tongue wears as many disguises as your person!” Roland Græme complains of the girl he loves. He’s mistaken, for the “audacity” that we admire in Scott’s most entrancing heroine is not deceptive at all, though admittedly she does try to take advantage of the Lady of Lochleven’s belief in a supposed poisoning. The circumstances are a bit unusual. Normally Catherine is, whatever Roland thinks, perfectly sincere and direct. Her games are the spiritedness of youth, and “in sad earnest” she hardly troubles to hide even her love for Roland, and certainly never her unalterable commitment to the Catholic faith. Scott’s most attractive women (Flora MacIvor, Rebecca) are for some reason often committed to a creed he disapproves.

The Abbot is indeed a book full of even more than the usual quota of people in disguise. In the village of Kinross, Roland encounters four in very short order: Henry Seyton as a country maiden, Magdalen Græme as Mother Nicneven, Father Ambrose as a “mean and servile” retainer, and Father Boniface as the gardener Blinkhoolie. All are of course adherents to the “ancient and only road” (Mary’s phrase) that the ruling Protestant party is trying to suppress.

Disguise has the potential of allowing someone to assume a character that expresses their inner selves more openly than their everyday identity does, and here this might be claimed (in their different ways) of both Magdalen-as-Nicneven and Boniface-as-Blinkhoolie.

Pursuing that line of thought as regards Henry is intriguing, but the truth is that whenever Roland tries to treat Henry femininely he walks into a wall. This seems maybe like a crude device for nourishing an artificial mystification in Roland’s mind; he keeps mistaking Henry-as-maiden for Catherine, his supposedly “identical” twin, and there seems no good reason why the real Catherine doesn’t enlighten him. (Roland is apparently unaware that Catherine has a twin at all, even though Henry Seyton is a prominent noble.) The upshot is an androgynous tangle that links the three in features of their personalities. But what is “audacity” in Catherine is impulsiveness and violence in the two young men.

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Sir Walter Scott, Rob Roy (1818)


(Above: Jacket of Rob Roy, illustrated edition in Coleccion Historias, Editorial Bruguera, Barcelona 1960 - currently for sale.)


I have finally re-read Rob Roy, and found myself pronouncing it a failure (albeit one written in the midst of Scott’s best period). If so, it’s an interesting kind of failure.

The author of Waverley was, as that book sufficiently shows, an innovator by nature. Rob Roy’s failure is the sort that only innovations are prone to.

It‘s a travelling book, the locale shifting as the book proceeds. In that respect it’s like Waverley or Guy Mannering. This is familiar from picaresque novels, but Scott’s novels are not picaresque novels; they seek a unity of purpose that is different. Or, one could speak of a “narrative logic” - and therefore, potentially, a failure in that “logic” -  that is not courted by picaresque novels. Besides, in the picaresque novel the travelling is a device. The stage backcloth moves but the hero never gets to a new country. When Scott began to make Scotland seem Scottish, that was the end - for the moment, anyway - of the picaresque novel.

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Sir Walter Scott, Old Mortality (1816)


[Image from www.forgottenbookmarks.com]


With Tales of My Landlord, Scott took the opportunity to break free from the already-palpable constraints of being "the author of Waverley" and travelled back a lot further than 60 years; Old Mortality takes place 127 years since. Nevertheless, of all his novels it was the one that stirred most political debate in Scotland. When Scott put the Covenanters stage-centre, he was writing about a historical group who had in recent times become a political symbol of resistance to government tyranny, e.g. for the textile workers who assembled at Loudon-hill in 1815 to celebrate Napoleon's escape from Elba.

The recently-restored title, The Tale of Old Mortality, reminds us that the narrative purports to be based on stories told by the latter-day Covenanter "Old Mortality", as adapted by the author Peter Pattieson,  who writes:

My readers will of course understand, that, in embodying into one compressed narrative many of the anecdotes which I had the advantage of deriving from Old Mortality, I have been far from adopting either his style, his opinions, or even his facts, so far as they appear to have been distorted by party prejudice...

In fact the narrative that follows certainly does not look as if it could have had any basis in such tales as Old Mortality might have spun, except very sporadically, as perhaps in the heroic account of MacBriar's torture and execution; Scott, once he starts to write the story, doesn't attempt to make it reflect the complicated provenance that he has imagined for it in the frame.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

business today

The acquisition of WhatsApp has given Facebook two major advantages, believes Brian Taylor, Digital MD at Jaywing.

"It's removed a serious competitor threat," he explained. "Where Facebook owns 'capturing our moments', WhatsApp dominates one-on-one communication, particularly in emerging markets across Asia."

(Times of India article)

Something about that word "moments" reminds me of some other piece of business language that I read recently. Oh yes, that's it. It was the mission statement in British American Tobacco's investor piece.

WORLD'S BEST AT SATISFYING CONSUMER MOMENTS IN TOBACCO AND BEYOND

(BAT: Our Vision and Strategy)

Our "moments", those things we think most private to us, are of course commoditized. But it's easy to forget that, and it's arresting to see the word used in these contexts.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

under the black poplar




Black Poplar (Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia)




Prickly Lettuce (Lactuca serriola forma serriola)
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Friday, July 25, 2014

More flora of West Swindon



An outbreak of Meadow Cranesbill  (Geranium pratense) by the cycle track near John Lewis at Home. Photo from 22/6/14, hence living up to its Swedish name of Midsommarblomster.


Great Water-dock (Rumex hydrolapathum) by the remnant of canal. Photo 22/6/14.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

literary trivia


I'm following Tom Clark's daily posts about the Gaza war on children. I don't want to, but I am.

http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/hijos-de-un-dios-menor.html
http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/and-then-alien-turned-toward-zanna.html
http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/i-am-bullets-oranges-and-memory-mahmoud.html
http://tomclarkblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/have-mercy-mr-obama-do-you-have-heart.html
etc

I read D.S. Marriott's Dogma last night. This is a Barque pamphlet whose contents would have subsequently ended up in one of the more recent Shearsman collections, but I do like a pamphlet.

Marriott's poems are consciously impure, they develop an image of someone who cannot be other than a thrown-together mixture of drowned ghosts and western imagery. The latter, of course, pre-eminently includes the Cambridge influence that continues to sound in these poems even though it's so obvious how different these poems are from Prynne or Milne or Brady or Sutherland.

The poems are impure not because they think it's thrilling to be impure, as per the Montevidayan swamplands (bit of reductive stereotyping there, but you'll know what I mean); these poems are impure because they can't help being impure. Because the conditions of life don't allow it. Specifically black life, according to Marriott's desolately unillusioned analysis.

Andrew Duncan has mentioned Eliot in the same sentence as Marriott, which I interpreted as an attack, but it isn't so. Duncan actually wrote a brilliant and informative piece about Dogma here:

http://jacketmagazine.com/20/dunc-r-trio.html

But anyway, Eliot did cross my mind while reading the Dogma poems.

The Barque people also sent me Monika Rinck (trans. Alistair Noon), which I don't remember ordering but am glad to have, and Streak_Willing_Artesian_Forgotten which I haven't read but which surprises me by being so beautiful to look at.  I'm talking about when you open it up and look at the poem - the beauty comes from the book as a whole product.  The jacket on its own is just functional (and a shade of green that reminds me of something put together in a classroom, which it probably was).

Read more »

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sir Walter Scott's novels, a brief guide




Those dusty, dull-bound, heavy books lie like pre-Cambrian bedrock on the lower shelves of pubs and hotels. Such is the fate of the former best-seller, the man who popularised tartan shortbread tins, the man who speckled the suburbs of Birmingham with houses called Loch Lomond in streets called Waverley Crescent and Lammermoor Close, where the daughters were once named Rowena, the sons Nigel. 

Scott is the most under-rated writer in the canon of British literature, second only to Dickens among our great nineteenth-century novelists, readable, fertile, vivid, profound, a master. Like every great novelist, he has huge faults. His English prose style is clumsy and slipshod; he “sows from the sack, not from the hand” and the impact of his best work, essentially poetic, is hard to represent from quotations. His output is vast and many of his novels fail. He inaugurated, if he did not cause, the curious Victorian literary convention that sexual feelings don’t really exist; his scenery and weather are often perfunctory, his heroes and heroines are for the most part as stiff as bookmarks. He was also a Tory and a Unionist, which meets with little favour here. But his massive humanity, comedy and invention are triumphs: once discovered, he is never abandoned. So here goes: 25 novels in six pages, a lifetime of reading. 

THE SCOTTISH PERIOD (1814-1820)

Although these are his earliest novels, they are not beginner’s work. When he published Waverley anonymously he was already 40, a celebrated man of letters thanks to his sensationally popular narrative poems. The novels of this period include his greatest achievements. Some of the later novels are deeply immersed in (lowland) Scottish culture too, but here it’s a continuous presence, the lifeblood of the books.

1.  Waverley (1814)

Seminal, and deeply pondered over many years, this is the first historical novel worthy of the name in world literature. Perhaps his masterpiece, although subtler achievements were to follow. Here are all his great themes: the process of change in society, adolescence, humour, outcasts, ideals, compromises, progress and extinctions. Every adventure, every western movie, every sci-fi fantasy adventure you’ve ever read is indebted to this brilliantly innovative book; not to mention Balzac, Tolstoy, George Eliot... A great place to start.10 out of 10.

2.  Guy Mannering (1815)

Scott with a head of steam up, this is frankly an improvisation. Despite its many wonderful scenes and characters, it’s carelessly executed and doesn’t run very deep. The Victorians loved it, but in our severer times: 7 out of 10.

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Flowers of Roslagen - July 2014




Above: a distant Ek (Quercus robur, Pedunculate Oak) framed by aspen, birch and pine.

These pictures were taken in or near Harö in Roslagen. (Coastal edge of Uppland, more or less the northern part of the Stockholm archipelago). Harö means "Hare Island". It isn't quite an island now, but it probably was until recently; the land rises fast along this coast. Nevertheless, the sea is always nearby, and Roslagen's mild climate allows many plants of south/central Sweden to flourish further north than elsewhere. The spectacle of oak and ash trees - and roses! - growing among the usual pines and spruces is extraordinary to a Norrlander's eyes.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Sir Walter Scott: The Black Dwarf (1816)



The Black Dwarf was published as the first volume of the first series of Tales of My Landlord; the other three were occupied by Old Mortality. Scott allowed a friend to echo his own thoughts about the deficiencies of the material and brought the curtain down more quickly that he'd originally planned; the upshot is that the classic Scott gear-change is here disorientating rather than thrilling.

This, at any rate, is Scott's account in the final paragraph of his 1830 Introduction. But the Edinburgh University Library page gives a different impression. According to this page the ending was rushed because Scott was being pressured by his new publishers Blackwood and Murray. It also seems to suggest that the original plan for Tales of My Landlord was four one-volume tales. That could be reconciled with Scott's account only if this plan was a short-lived idea that was already on the scrapheap when Scott was composing the The Black Dwarf.  Anyway, Old Mortality was surely conceived on spacious lines from the first.

The main deficiency that Scott mentions is the Black Dwarf himself, and certainly this static creation (Note 1) doesn't convince as a realistic portrait. Nevertheless I'm sure that Scott's insights into the anguish of being cursed with a monstrous appearance must have influenced the young Mary Shelley, who was just starting to write Frankenstein when The Black Dwarf appeared*. Besides that, the book has a perfunctory insurrection (how unlike the one in Old Mortality!) and a double kidnap that incomprehensibly fizzles out.

So reading the book is more a matter of salvaging lovely details than committing to the tale as a whole. But the details are worth your trouble. This is Scott in 1816, after all!

Read more »

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

D. S. Marriott Poetry links

[This mini-note about the poet D.S. Marriott has moved to Intercapillary Space:

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/ds-marriott-poetry-links.html


Instead, here's a bit of "The Dog Enchanter":

What if he were to set off
panting through the ruins
swishing his tale
                     over debris
mooching near the craters
the full-throated bark
deep inside the vertebrae
synchronized
           to the weak, the yielding—
his trick to know that ‘ghost’
isn’t the right word for
                              scents
maundering his way
over the ragged ridgeline
where mines make effigies of sense
                 and the universe presses in
pissing on the leafless trees:
                out there, see him return,
                              where the dust
makes his tracks so easy to see
                      as the journey opens before him
                      his cry impending.
                             Yes, see him return...



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Thursday, June 19, 2014

midsummer wood



New leaves of Common Box (Buxus sempervirens)





Not-yet-open panicles of Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa).

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

John Aubrey: The Natural History of Wiltshire (1656-91)

John Aubrey in 1666, portrait by William Faithorne


[Image from the Ashmolean Museum website]

The book I have read is in fact an abridgement first published in 1847. The book was not published in Aubrey’s lifetime and represents a sort of ongoing compendium of “papers” that was added to over many years. He had freely offered these papers to Dr Plott, so he does not seem to have thought of them as a book, even when “tumultuarily stitch’t up”.

[This 1847 edition is available on E-Gutenberg.]

I pointed out a maybug on the pavement of a residential street in Bath. “Look at his antennae, they look like fans”, I lectured happily to a child in the vicinity -  “and look! his poo is green!” The child lingered while we strolled off up the hill. When we were far enough off, there was a stamping sound.

Of his own secret impulse to “make a scrutinie into the waies of nature”, Aubrey says that generally “’Twas held a sinne”, and of himself “Credit there was none; for it gets the contempt of a man’s neighbours”. So it does still, except in highly buffered zones such as universities (where, however, Natural History is not regarded as a subject).


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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Molière (1622-73)


[pseud. Jean-Baptiste Poquelin]



Molière, re-imagined by Charles-Antoine Coypel (1694-1752)

You can easily read through Molière, mildly entertained, but thinking, how hackneyed all this is! When two people are at cross-purposes for pages at a time (e.g. Harpagon and Valère in Act V of L’avare), it seems a weak sort of entertainment, like a sitcom before the watershed. Then the sun shines, you feel a little more apt to join the human race, and all the jokes get deeper, they put down roots and extend into the play around them.

Scene from Tartuffe directed by Dominique Serrand, photo Michal Daniel 2006


Le Tartuffe, ou L'Imposteur (1664, revised several times to 1669)

A famous play, but the text that grew out of its difficult history is rather a bodge. Orgon seems to impose on himself, and this utter stupidity distracts from Tartuffe's power. When we eventually meet Tartuffe he seems a bit dim himself, merely a snake in the grass. The main point of the drama, Tartuffe's deception of his host, is hardly dramatized.

"Tartuffe himself is a titanic creation, one who makes our own 'Heap of Infamy' seem by comparison a mere cringing shadow" (John Wood). Strange remark. I really have a problem with seeing Tartuffe as a titanic creation. A role that doesn't appear until Act III more or less cedes any claim to be a protagonist. All we see him as is a conventional seducer. His power as a hypocrite is known only indirectly, and deceives no-one but Orgon and his mother. (Wood's allusion dates him - he is referring to Uriah Heep in David Copperfield.)

[This is a useful free Tartuffe, with introduction by Roger W. Herzel, translation by Prudence L. Steiner.

http://ptchanculto.binhoster.com/books/-Lit-%20Recommended%20Reading/Theater%20-%20Drama/Moliere_Tartuffe.pdf

]


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Monday, June 09, 2014

Bird Cherry (Prunus padus)

Here are some photos of Bird Cherry (Punus padus) when it was newly in bloom  (I took these on April 15th 2014 in West Swindon).






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Friday, May 23, 2014

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

Ben Jonson (1572-1637)

Sejanus (1603), The Alchemist (1610), Catiline his Conspiracy (1611), Bartholomew Fair (1614)


Ben Jonson, portrait by Abraham van Blyenberch

[Image taken from the splendid website of the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Ben Jonson, http://universitypublishingonline.org/cambridge/benjonson/k/essays/jonsons_images_essay/1/ . This is the painting in the National Portrait Gallery. Though unsigned, there's little doubt of the artist or the sitter; it was immediately much copied. It apparently belonged to George Villiers, first Duke of Buckingham, and it probably shows Jonson in about 1618.] 

Sejanus (1603) 

I have always favoured Ben Jonson’s writing - he is of course abundantly entertaining, but there is something else too, a sort of rugged justice in the grain of his writing, so it's a something I can also find in a poem, even in a panegyric addressed to some obscure noble. ("Favoured" means that I think I approve of Ben Jonson, rather aside from any particular thing that happens when I read him.) 

In spite of this I had never happened to read some of his masterpieces. Sejanus deserves to be called one of these, and is an astonishing play.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

specimens of the literature of Sweden: bottle of shampoo






This is an everyday shampoo. "Swedish hair-care tradition from Dalarna", says the bottle. The county of Dalarna, romantically rural but not too remote from Stockholm, has desirable connotations and is often thought of as the home of folksong; a sort of hyperreal heart of the Swedish nation, as exemplified by the painted wooden horses (dalahästar) that you find in airport souvenir shops, or the idyllic domestic paintings by Carl Larsson that you find on calendars. Here these idyllic connotations are helped along by the fanciful floral design on that very traditional Swedish shade of grey-blue. In Sweden there is, or is imagined to be, a continuity between nineteenth century folk art and tasteful modernist design: in the UK the discontiuity is felt to be stark. This sense of integration with the folk-past has very profound implications for Swedish life and for its economy. It is one of the main stories that Sweden sells to the world. It sells it to its own people too.

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Friday, May 09, 2014

Anne Righter: Shakespeare and the Idea of the Play (1962)




Anne Righter (née Bobbyann Roesen, later Anne Barton, 1933 - 2013) is mainly remembered for this book, her first.

When I bought it recently (from Oxfam, because it was the cheapest book in the shop), I imagined hopefully that it would talk about the conception of the play that was shared by Shakespeare, his fellow-actors, and their audiences. Of course that conception could only be discovered by inference. But Righter sticks to a narrower and more directly accessible topic, Shakespeare's use of the play-image within the plays themselves. And, after all, this rigorous concentration does lead to interesting results. The principal one of which, is that Shakespeare's play-references grow to a sort of apotheosis of positivity around 1600, with the chorus speeches of Henry V* and the troupe of players in Hamlet, before then turning negative in character (the poor player who struts and frets). The negativity being especially apparent in Troilus and Timon.
Righter concludes that after 1600 Shakespeare experienced a growing disillusion with the stage; so her book is in effect a late contribution to the Victorian notion of Shakespeare's "dark period". But she links this observation to the history of the Elizabethan drama as a whole. After a long period of development from medieval drama, involving both disintegration and reintegration, a certain high point of naturalistic drama was attained (above all in Shakespeare), then something curdled and then came the transformation into masque which is echoed in certain ways by the elimination of naturalistic illusion in Shakespeare's last plays.

*To be accurate about this, Righter suggests that the Chorus's self-deprecating references to the "Wooden O" etc might mark the beginning of Shakespeare's disillusion with the stage. But I see the speeches as really glorying in the incredible things the stage can do, albeit by recruiting the audience's imagination.

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Saturday, May 03, 2014

Leaving the cottage

(poem still in progress)

LEAVING THE COTTAGE

1

The grass lies on the land - 
     that set of keys.

Dumb as a bunch of keys, the grass is.
    It’s you who know!

Do you know what you know?
   Take this clutch of grass

and potter back and forth,
  letting out your prisoners.

2

This blue morning is also over Syria;
    this sky is too high for

that kind of division.
   A dove clears its bowels as it

takes off into the air.
   So many have engraved

their messages on the blue stone:
    everyone is writing on the cover, and

yet the pages are blank.

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Thursday, May 01, 2014

My essay about Tim Allen now on Intercapillary Space

My longish review-essay of various works by the fantastic contemporary UK poet Tim Allen is now on Intercapillary Space:

http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/tim-allen-settings-etc.html

As usual the essay initially took shape on this blog. I've removed it from its original location, but if you are curious about the context and why I start off by talking about classic novels rather than modern poetry, then this will expain it all:

http://michaelpeverett.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/interim-cluttered-desk.html



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Monday, April 28, 2014

William Shakespeare: King Lear (1605-06)


[Cordelia (Ashley Ricard), Lear (Ron Gural), Regan (Trina Beck), Goneril (Rebecca Frank) in a Tulane Shakespeare Festival production from 2009. Photo by Brad Robbert, image sourced from http://www.nola.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2009/06/post_30.html]


[Line references are to the Series 3 Arden edition, ed. R.A. Foakes, 1997. This conflates the three scenes usually numbered II.2-4 into one tremendous composite scene that begins at dawn and ends at night (II.2).]


From The Faerie Queene, Bk II, Canto X:

                                 27

Next him king Leyr in happie peace long raind,
  But had no issue male him to succeed,
  But three faire daughters, which were well vptraind,
  In all that seemed fit for kingly seed:
  Mongst whom his realme he equally decreed
  To haue diuided. Tho when feeble age
  Nigh to his vtmost date he saw proceed,
  He cald his daughters; and with speeches sage
Inquyrd, which of them most did loue her parentage.


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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Prunus avium 'Plena'




Prunus avium 'Plena'.  Photos taken 15th April 2014 (a very early year), when a lot of the flowers are opening but the leaves are still small and reddish.

This a double variety of Wild Cherry. It flowers a bit later than most single-flowered Wild Cherry trees, and even from a distance has a noticeably different appearance when flowering: more tufty and irregular, the flowers less obviously sleeving the shoots.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities - "bestselling novel of all time". Allegedly.





The internet generally, and Wikipedia in particular, is obsessed with records. Consequently, you are quite likely to run across the the widely repeated claim that  A Tale of Two Cities is (as the Wikipedia article on Charles Dickens puts it) "the best selling novel of all time".

It isn't the most unlikely statement I've ever heard, but when I tried to trace it back to an authoritative source, I at first got no further than a chatty review by the novelist David Mitchell  in the Daily Telegraph from May 8th 2010.

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/bookreviews/7685510/David-Mitchell-on-Historical-Fiction.html

"Charles Dickens’ second stab at a historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, has sold more than 200 million copies to date, making it the bestselling novel – in any genre – of all time."

 Did Mitchell know what he was talking about? Maybe, but it seems that no-one else does.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Gerald Brenan, Richard Ford, Ronald Fraser



Gerald Brenan (portrait by Dora Carrington)

(Image from http://www.losgazquez.com/blog/?p=342)


Gerald Brenan, South of Granada (1957) 

This feels like it's becoming a rare occasion. I've actually finished a book, what's more a book that I haven't read before, and I've even read it in the prescribed order, from start to finish!  Dr Johnson, they say, never finished a book. I fear I'm going the same way, and can only look back with some relief at all the books I got under my belt in my twenties.

South of Granada, published in 1957 but mainly about Spain in the 1920s, is probably the most admired book in the "Hispanist" genre (i.e. books about Spain in English), notwithstanding Richard Ford. Most of it is about living in a then-remote village (Yegen) in the Alpujarras. The road from Almeria to Granada didn't yet exist, and only mule-traffic was possible. Don Geraldo is now remembered by a plaque, a circular walk (Brenan walked vast distances) and a projected museum. [Chris Stewart's popular books (Driving over Lemons etc) are also set in the Alpujarras. Did you know Chris was once a founder member of Genesis? Wikipedia can be quite interesting sometimes. Eventually everything becomes swamped by its hyperreal projection. The trivia section is what makes tomorrow's news. (In effect, the word "iconic" means "rich in trivia"; there's a vacuum at the heart of it.)]

One of the nicest things, I now remember, about writing about a book is that it gives me a chance to re-discover the pages that, by the time I finish it, are already gliding out of my memory.  Have I commented before, on the tendency of book reviewers to get hung up on the book's ending, to the detriment of their review? And sadly it's rare for the ending to be the most important part of a book.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Prunus sequence UK


Prunus 'Shirofugen', 20th April 2014

In 2014 we're seeing a more spread-out sequence than last year so it's easier to make sense of what's going on  (in 2013 all the early flowerers, except P. cerasifera, were held back by the freezing March and then bloomed all at once). These dates/times are for Southern England. As it's been such a mild winter this year, these dates are very early, around three weeks earlier than last year.

Phase I (very early, before equinox (Mar 20)

White-flowered:

Prunus cerasifera (Cherry-Plum)  - starts before the end of Feb.

Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn)  - starts mid-March, before the equinox; continues to mid-April.

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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

cherry laurel begins



Cherry Laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) just coming into flower, on March 21st 2014. (On the same day I also saw the first flowers of Wild Cherry (P. avium) and Sargent Cherry (P. sargentii).)


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Monday, March 24, 2014

hand off


The grass lies on the land,

(1)        that set of keys.

Dumb as a bunch of keys, the grass is.

            It's you who know!

Do you know what you know?

           Take this clutch of grass

& potter back and forth,

           letting out your prisoners.


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Friday, March 21, 2014

visit to the local sewage farm

...attracted in by morning sun and a large golden patch of Colt's-foot (Tussilago farfara).

Photos from 17th March 2014.



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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Jenny Allan's "Kit"

Now transferred to here:


  http://intercapillaryspace.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/jenny-allans-kit.html




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Thursday, March 13, 2014

William Shakespeare: Measure for Measure (1604)


Kenneth Colley as the Duke* in the 1979 BBC film

[* In the First Folio, the Duke is named as Vincentio (not Vicentio!) at the end of the text, in the "The names of all the Actors". No-one calls him by that name in the text itself, (well, you wouldn't) and so far as I can see he is always just Duke in the speech prefixes and SDs.]


In short order and skyingly, Measure for Measure can now be enjoyed for what it is, a wonderful and serious romantic comedy that is more usefully seen in apposition to Twelfth Night than to the plays it’s more commonly linked with. It works by fleet-footed scenes (all, bar the final one, rather brief) and is not afraid to leave gaps and to make momentary, casual use of characters and situations in pursuit of its object. The play has in fact a formal brilliance that perhaps was a springboard for Shakespeare to leap beyond such perfection into the wild elongations of Lear and Antony and Cleopatra.

Measure for Measure was after Shakespeare’s death rather neglected for three centuries. The reasons, e.g. its bawdiness and the central place it gives to dubiously legal sex, no longer survive as “problems” and nor do the more recent concerns that have been expressed as moral doubts about the behaviour of (chiefly) the Duke and Isabella. Problematizing is not after all a once-for-all process; problems vanish sometimes, and to notice this is a necessary clarification that does not, as some people fear, make things less complex than they are; on the contrary, it just clears the deck for what now appear as the real complexities.


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Thursday, March 06, 2014

pulmonaria begins

Pulmonaria officinalis
Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis), just coming into flower. I saw this one, just coming into flower on 5th march 2013, in a young woodland shelter belt between road and housing in West Swindon.

Pulmonaria is good for chest ailments, thus proving the doctrine of signatures to be not so silly after all. But probably the resemblance of the spotted leaves to diseased lungs was only noticed when the medicinal properties were already known. If Pulmonaria had been good for heartburn or urinary infections then we'd see that, instead.  NB I'd like to have a definite literary source for this resemblance. I'm quite suspicious about it, and it isn't in William Coles Art of Simpling.

P. officinalis is native to central Europe, and is a frequent non-native plant almost throughout the UK. In Sweden it's much rarer and  only seen in the extreme south. On the other hand P. obscura (unspotted leaves) is native and fairly common in central Sweden. (This latter is the plant known in Sweden as Lungört; P. officinalis is known as Fläcklungört.) P. obscura is also known (though incredibly rare) in Suffolk,  - first recorded 1842, but very likely native: all records are on ancient woodland and nobody bothers to grow P. obscura in gardens.


Pulmonaria officinalis, early flowers

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Wednesday, March 05, 2014

William Shakespeare: The Merchant of Venice



29/10/00 - Alone in the flat - I revert to atavistic behaviour - reading Shakespeare, whose plays I’ve neglected for ages. The last time it was The Merry Wives of Windsor - this time The Merchant of Venice - a better play, indeed intermittently gripping (I.3, IV.1). Questions unanswered: Why is Antonio sad (I.1)? Is Shylock’s speech supposed to sound “foreign”? What does “The quality of mercy is not strained” mean, exactly? Why does Portia deny Shylock his principal? (She has saved Antonio - what else matters?)

-----

Yes, there’s no doubt Shakespeare keeps us waiting in the Merchant - in fact, it’s our main posture. Hate and financial embarrassment are significantly more interesting than love in this play. So Act I builds with a dramatic force and logic like the swiftest tragedies. Portia appears as a lively prattler - her good sense is a benefit of economic independence - you can hardly foresee how instrumental she will become in the major plot.

In I.3 it must be said that Antonio behaves with dignity; his outburst of anger surely appeals to us as a principled rejection of usury. In fact we have only Shylock’s word for Antonio’s anti-Semitism, and if Antonio acts imprudently here it is from the practical and productive motives of love (Antonio not denying his previous bald rudeness, but not displaying it either). If his later explanation of Shylock’s hatred is countenanced, it seems that the play intends us to think that Shylock is morbidly over-sensitive. Which is how inconvenient oppressed minorities are usually described by their oppressors.

Whatever may be justly said in extenuation, I think the Merchant is seen most accurately as fundamentally anti-Semitic and also (in David Nirenberg’s terms) anti-Judaic - an author working within the general climate of opinion. If Shakespeare for the most part restricts coarse racial insult to the lips of Graziano, that is more from manners than principle - Graziano is a great joker (so no harm done, then?) and is within the fold of the righteous - fit to marry Nerissa.

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Note for "Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights"



[Juliette Binoche and Ralph Fiennes in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1992 movie).]

 I probably will write a post about Wuthering Heights one day. But for the moment:

It's always nice to recommend on-line material,  and I think the following is a terrific collection of biographical and critical ideas by Clare B. Dunkle (arising from her researches for a prequel to Wuthering Heights)

http://www.claredunkle.com/Design/maidsbrmaster.htm

She writes about the question of Emily's hypothetical second novel here:


Emily could have had more than two years for writing a second novel - i.e. from the time that Wuthering Heights was first packed off to publishers (July 1846?)  up to when she became ill on October 1st, 1848 (at Branwell's funeral).

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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Miny imperial

#the tower
#
#
towers, buoyant serapi
Garlands
Berenice strolled on flags
and on heavy inscriptions
Oh, heavenly. I am stood here patient enough

Have you forgiven gas attax yet?

I must feed my child
Cathy.. betrayal #

Berenice scrambled flailed
the plaster knife ran all over the surface
They mustered, unbuttoning

Sov, du lilla videung

Franco in Moscow

Language can't say what I know

They're always asking for strength

the village lives only on its surface,
courting, labouring...
its dead are forgotten

Life, an illusion

The pearl waves pouring through the flume

An afternoon dark with mustering pines

And the child ran into the barn, I panicked,
I couldn't see her I flew
and then I trod on my ankle
like a fool

I banged the cupboards
and the dust flew what a dingy night

I was life, multitudes, when I came to know this.

I rose straight up with my child held above my head, the warmth of patterned blankets descended from Government Hill and burst into floral borders is that the way you imagined it

*

yellow mint tabs, caplet abstracted, multiplication red plaza mosaic,
The figures were cultivating the green, soil plots and the cream chimneys,
generators of a low grey thudding hum across a walkway behind a temple.
The fox-form slunk into the bramble,
The fox's buoyed tail like the sock of coastal plains; no paintings near the coast,
grey and mint panels, ranks of long canted grass reflexion,
the lofted spokes energised, enervated. sink-white aloft. 


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Monday, February 17, 2014

flowers from Jämtland (July 2013)

A few more photos from my stay in Jämtland last July:

Angelica sylvestris

Wild Angelica (Strätta, Angelica sylvestris). One of the most characteristic plants of Norrland.  Often, as here, flushed pink. Grey Alder in the background. 

Dianthus deltoides

Maiden Pink (Baknejlika, Dianthus deltoides). Quite common in villages, road-verges, old farmsteads, pastureland... anywhere, in short, that human beings have managed to win back from the blanket forest.  

Trichophorum alpinum

Cotton Deergrass (Ullsäv, Trichophorum alpinum, formerly known as Scirpus hudsonianus). Common in northern Sweden. Once recorded in Scotland (a bog in Angus from 1791 - c. 1813), but long extinct. An extremely beautiful sight, I thought.

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The flowers of Jämtland - Nattviol

Platanthera bifolia flowers and fruits

Pictures from a stay in East Jämtland last summer (early July 2013).

Above, Lesser Butterfly-orchid = Nattviol (Platanthera bifolia). This one is the woodland variety with longer spurs (ssp. latiflora (Drejer) Löjtnant), known in Sweden as "Skogsnattviol".  On the right of the picture above, you can see a dried-up spike from the previous year.

Nattviol means "night violet" and refers to the fragrant scent at evening, designed to appeal to moths.

Here in Jämtland it's close to the northern limit of its range, but this should not lead you into thinking that the plants are rare or sickly.  Here in the woody copse known as "Sjögrens" at the back of our old summer cottage (to which, alas, we were saying our goodbyes) there has always been this healthy colony of nattviol. Perhaps the conditions are exceptionally good, in the sheltered Indal valley, on a calcareous west-facing slope.

Nattviol is a common plant in Sweden (especially central Sweden) and much celebrated, tending to become a symbol of the mystery and melancholy in those white nights of summer.

Dofta, dofta nattviol,
sommarnatt är ljum,
ingen oro sjuder.
Och till skogens tysta rum
långt ur fjärran ljuder
vemodsensam bondfiol.

Fragrant, fragrant night-violet,
summernight warm,
no unease here.
In the wood's silent spaces,
far from commotion,
one sad and lonely peasant violin.

(Erik Grotenfelt - a Finland-Swedish poet, 1891 - 1919. This unhappy poet, novelist and children's-book author, who was an early champion of Edith Södergran, received his military training in Germany, fought for the Whites during the Finnish Civil War, ordered the execution of sixty Red Guards and at least two women at Västankvarn in May 1918, initially carried out the sentences himself  (the men, he said afterwards, were not experienced in the enforcement of judgments), and shot himself a year later.  He was later claimed by Finnish Nazis as an inspirational forerunner, which more or less terminated any lingering interest in his writings.)

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