Monday, October 20, 2014

Albert Camus: L'Étranger

A books that was on all our male youthful minds and bookshelves in the 1970s. In other words a classic Peng-gie Modern Classic, along with Gormenghast, The Glass Bead Game, etc.

(I think I studied it for French A-Level, along with Racine's Britannicus and Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac.)

 L'Étranger being so short and easy to read, is a good study-text for schools; you can still find out all about it in Shmoop and places like that. And it still gets plenty of discussion, though I've a feeling its moment has passed, that the urgency of the issues Camus intended to raise is less clear-cut than it was., and that on the other hand time has only tended to reinforce the issues of the books quite primitive attitudes to women and to colonized "natives". In particular our awareness of and contacts with the Arab world have been completely overhauled since 9/11; now, as not then, westerners conceive the Arab world and theirs as inextricable parts of a whole. But as recently as 1980, when The Cure released an admired single called "Killing an Arab" (based on  L'Étranger), I was probably typical of British 21-year-olds in having only the smallest sense that this could possibly offend someone somewhere. I don't necessarily claim that modern sensitivities in the west are all 100% positive or well-directed, but I do think they mostly are and they've certainly changed how we think and feel, especially in the study.

Camus' L'Étranger (1942) - The Stranger, The Foreigner, The Outsider - tends to be interpreted against the background of other material. As usually happens with much-discussed books, this accumulated material is apt to set the agenda. The material includes Camus' own 1955 note on the novel, Cyril Conolly's Introduction, Camus's other early writings, conceptions of the Absurd and Existentialism, and the more glaring contrasts between the book's assumptions and our own (i.e. about colonial Algeria, the Arab world, men and women...) Then there's the fact of L'Étranger having been so influential and so eagerly consumed; some people saw it as an expression of their own philosophy, and an indispensable guide to life. In these circumstances the most important thing may be what L'Étranger meant then; in the heyday of its influence, the 1950s and 1960s. (And no doubt it meant different things in the English-speaking and French-speaking worlds..) These things are all relevant, but still I want to get back to the text before me.

1. "Mother died today."  (Stuart Gilbert's translation - others have pointed out that "Maman" is more intimate and childish in tone - "Mum died today ...")

People have made much of Meursault not knowing when exactly she died, as if this already betrays a striking indifference. But the first paragraph is real-time diary entry in the present tense. At this moment he cannot know because the telegram has not told him. (At this moment he still has not caught the bus.

By the 4th paragraph, the narration has subtly slipped into past-tense narrative, ("I took the two o'clock bus") and from this point there are no further indications of how much time lies between the narrated events and the moment of narration.

The final chapter (Part 2, Ch 5) again begins in real-time. "I have just refused, for the third time, to see the prison chaplain." But after a few pages the chaplain unexpectedly walks in - and again the book shifts to past tense narration.

The impression persists that the early chapters are daily diary-entries, inasmuch as the chapters usually end with Meursault going to bed, and usually begin with a new day.

There is no attempt to account for the narrative we are reading (e.g. as a diary or a piece of writing). I don't think most people will imagine that Meursault is the writing type. We don't therefore suppose that he conceives himself as presenting the story to an audience. He suppresses things. Is that because the topics are painful, or because he considers explanation pointless?

Meursault does not trouble to report if he was later told about what time his mother died. He probably was told, even if he didn't ask. The impression is of a man who is quite incurious, particularly about matters that are usually thought to be of interest. His apparent incuriosity about the man he has killed is one glaring example.

Meursault seems to disdain lying. Talking too much, claiming feelings you don't have. But reserve can also be a way of withholding the truth. When reserve is patently misinterpreted, isn't it best to explain a bit?

Meursault takes refuge (that's my interpretation) in being uninterested. He is, I think, conscious of feeling inarticulate.

He often feels that he is in a bad state to interact with people. The sun and the heat affect him. So do crowds. He frequently says he is tired or dizzy; at other times he may be bored.  For one reason or another he frequently doesn't take in everything that someone is saying to him.  



2. The chaplain, at the start of their talk, suggests to Meursault that, though he thinks he's sure he doesn't believe in God, perhaps he isn't really so sure as he thinks.  "Are you really so sure of that?"
Finding Meursault unwilling to reply, he then generalizes the case - don't people often feel sure of something, when they're really not?

Meursault replies:

I said that seemed quite possible. But, though I mightn't be so sure about what interested me, I was absolutely sure about what didn't interest me. And the question he had raised didn't interest me at all.

This is nearly a very a-propos reply. If he had said: "though I mightn't be so sure about what I believed, I was absolutely sure about what didn't interest me", that would be a reasonable argument requiring some thought to counter. What he says instead, on the other hand, looks like weak bluster. Someone who admits the possibility of not being sure about what interests them can't be absolutely sure about what doesn't interest them. It sounds like Meursault gets ahead of himself, picks up his own favourite word (interested) and deploys it too early.

Did Camus really mean to write this? Is it an intentional instance of how Meursault tends to tie himself in knots so his replies are inarticulate?

I think we can see the same inarticulateness in the long diatribe that he finally unleashes when he loses his temper with the priest. It is repetitive, it jumps about, and does the argument about fatalism really carry any weight in the end? Meursault himself seems aware that he hasn't put it well: "[C]ouldn't he grasp what I meant by that dark wind blowing from my future?"

 If Meursault is conscious of being inarticulate, his frequent claims of lack of interest look tactical; they are a way of avoiding communication.

Some might add to this, Meursault not relishing the task of explaining things to the women, after Raymond is wounded. But I suppose this means, explaining not what happened but the background - the letter, the Arab girl being beaten up, etc. Telling that story to his own girl-friend might well seem problematic.

3. A number of Amazon readers have commented on how much Meursault reminds them of autistic narrators in more recent books.

4. At a late stage in the trial, Meursault does attempt an explanation:

I tried to explain that it was because of the sun, but I spoke too quickly and ran my words into each other. I was only too conscious that it sounded nonsensical, and, in fact, I heard people tittering.

5. The account of events leading up to the killing is ambiguous. It suggests that Meursault isn't thinking clearly. If Meursault is so hot, why doesn't he go inside or bathe his head in the sea? (The water, we are told, comes right up to Masson's bungalow.) Or anything but walk back, under that  pitiless sun, to the place where the dangerous Arabs might reasonably be supposed to be? He says he was taken aback by the reappearance of the Arab, so presumably the killing was not premeditated, though Raymond's earlier walk along the beach did perhaps did have vengeful intention, Meursault supposed; so what really drives Meursault to return to this same spot? What about that ominous thought, "[O]ne might fire, or not fire.." For the four additional shots he has no explanation, but despair at the ruinous event of the first might be a possible motive.

The appearance of a steamer at the time of the fateful encounter is possibly intended to be echoed by the steamer's siren on the book's final page.

6. The first chapter in the second part (Book 2, Ch 1 if you were wondering!) describes - or rather, fails to describe - Meursault's explanations after being arrested.  By the way, we never find out how he was arrested. Did the shots alert a crowd to this lonely spot, or did M. give himself up? At any rate, we can perhaps infer that he made no resistance to arrest.

Regardless of how different the judicial system may have been in Algeria in the 1930s, you can't get arrested for murder without someone saying to you, probably fairly swiftly, "Tell me in your own words the whole story of how it happened."  We find out eventually that this question was asked repeatedly and that Meursault did give an account, if not several accounts. But by a certain authorial sleight of hand, we never get to hear these accounts which, as readers, we consider so crucial to appraising the subsequent actions of both the lawyers and the accused.

The message, I suppose, is that appraisal is not going to be the most helpful approach to this particular novel.

What we do get to hear is Meursault being obstructive: saying things that are irrelevant and counter-helpful, or commenting without further explanation that some matter seems very simple or of minor importance, or flat-out refusing to answer a direct question (about the four shots).




*




http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2006/apr/12/books.comment



http://fuckyeahcamus.tumblr.com/post/50653536999/afterword-by-albert-camus-for-the-outsider

Albert Camus' 1955 note, which has been highly influential on interpreting the novel, as has Cyril Connolly's Penguin Introduction.



Interview with David Carroll, author of Albert Camus The Algerian:

https://cup.columbia.edu/static/carroll-interview

Interesting interview defining Camus' changing politics and his plea for non-violent democratic change in Algeria, rejected by both sides.



http://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/dec/09/outsider-albert-camus-smith-review

Review of Sandra Smith's translation.




Commentary by Sophie Lioulias

http://trajetslitteraires.wordpress.com/2013/09/17/letranger-dalbert-camus-lenigme-meursault/comment-page-1/




Amazon review, by jacr100, criticizing the novel:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R4OZHW205IJTA

jacr100's against-the-tide unfavourable review of The Outsider.  One of the most indefatigable Amazon.co.uk reviewers and not someone to ignore - jacr100 has reviewed more modern novels than you've ever read. Uninterested in modernism and tends to take an emperor's-new-clothes viewpoint; clearly operating outside the academic literary community.

If the narrator is a purely sensual mediterranean blah, why does he have such a humdrum job and futile semi-demi-friendships and nothing else?

"if being an individual entails such a lack of zest for life, it might be preferable to be a suppressed cog in the wheel."

 "a near total lack of environmental description which removes the tale from any geographical or cultural context"

That's an accusation that would surprise a lot of people, but it has something in it. Algeria is not exoticised at all; pretty much without Arabic life or "local colour"; this is more difficult to pronounce on since the colonial environment in which Meursault (and Camus) lived has completely disappeared.



Amazon review, by Christopher H, arguing that it should be treated as a roman dur: 

http://www.amazon.co.uk/review/R11UIBWZET75WK/ref=cm_cr_pr_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=0141182504




Detailed chapter-by-chapter commentary by Simon Lea:

http://www.camus-society.com/camus-stranger-study.html




L'Étranger as a cartoon book (by Jacques Ferrandez).

http://www.bdencre.com/2013/04/10326_rencontre-avec-jacques-ferrandez-auteur-de-letranger/




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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Alain-René Le Sage (1668-1747): Gil Blas de Santillane



.... I therefore went in search of Doctor Sangrado, and brought him to the house. He was a tall, meagre, pale man, who had kept the shears of Clotho employed during forty years at least. This learned physician had a very solemn appearance, weighed his discourse, and gave an emphasis to his expressions: his reasoning was geometrical, and his opinions extremely singular.

After having observed the symptoms of my master’s disease, he said to him with a very physical air: “The business here is to supply the defect of perspiration, which is obstructed: others, in my place, would doubtless prescribe saline draughts, diuretics, diaphoretics, and such medicines as abound with mercury and sulphur; but cathartics and sudorifics are pernicious drugs, and all the preparations of chymistry are only calculated to do mischief: for my own part I practice a method more simple, and more sure. Pray, what is your ordinary diet?” – “My usual food,” replied the canon, “is broth and juicy meat.” –“Broth and juicy meat!” cried the doctor, surprised, “truly, I do not wonder to find you sick: such delicious victuals are poisoned pleasures and snares, which luxury spreads for mankind in order to ruin them the more effectually. You must renounce all palateable food: the most salutary is that which is most insipid: for as the blood is insipid, it requires such victuals as partake the most of its own nature. And do you drink wine?” added he. “Yes,” said the licentiate, “wine diluted.” –“O! diluted as much as you please,” replied the physician, “what an irregularity is here! what a frightful regimen! you ought to have been dead long ago. How old are you, pray?” –“I am going in my sixty-ninth year,” replied the canon. “Right,” said the physician, “an early old age is always the fruit of intemperance. If you had drunk nothing else than pure water all your life, and had been satisfied with simple nourishment, such as boiled apples, for example, you would not now be tormented with the gout, and all your limbs would perform their functions with ease. I do not despair, however, of setting you to rights again, provided you be wholly resigned to my directions.”


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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

William Congreve: The Way of the World (1700)

William Congreve, portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller



William Congreve (1670-1729) threw over his career as a dramatist at the age of thirty. The Epilogue to The Way of the World ends:

So poets oft, do in one piece expose
Whole belles assemblées of cocquets and beaux.

It was not so true of other poets as it was of him. The Way of the World soars above the details of its ingenious plot-line and even the real passion of its lovers - it creates an edifice of wit that none could match, and you feel this came easily to him, easily enough to cast aside after a disappointment.  

What single model, indeed, could deserve the honour of inspiring such a flight as Lady Wishfort's ever-more-salacious propriety?

But as I am a person, Sir Rowland, you must not attribute my yielding to any sinister appetite, or indigestion of widow-hood; nor impute my complacency to any lethargy of continence– I hope you do not think me prone to any iteration of nuptials––
Wait. Far be it from me––
Lady. If you do, I protest I must recede– or think that I have made a prostitution of decorums, but in the vehemence of compassion, and to save the life of a person of so much importance––
Wait. I esteem it so––
Lady. Or else you wrong my condescension––
Wait. I do not, I do not––
Lady. Indeed you do.
Wait. I do not, fair shrine of virtue.
Lady. If you think the least scruple of carnality was an ingredient––

The scene can only end by being interrupted. What coarse stuff "Malapropisms" must seem to be, after this.


(2008)


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John Dryden (1631 - 1700)


John Dryden (portrait by John Michael Wright, c. 1668)
[This recently identified painting was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 2009 (Image from ArtFund)]

Scattered notes written in 2001 and 2004...

Dryden’s Poems

January 2001. For the last four months or so I’ve been reading Dryden. It began with an accidental dip into the Auden/Pearson anthology of English poetry - a book my father acquired from a brief dalliance with Heron Books, a sort of classic book club. He passed it on to me when I began university twenty-five years ago. I’ve always used it, and it survived the purge of my library in 1996 - by choice not accident; I wanted to keep the canon by me.

So, I dipped in Volume III, my least-loved period in English verse. Then I wanted to read Absalom and Achitophel in full, so I went to Waterstone’s. There was no Dryden at all - I was astonished, and then of course hooked on the quest. A second-hand bookshop in Bath supplied further inadequate selections, eagerly devoured. Then came the Arthos selection, found in St Leonards on Sea; like all in the Signet series, generous and attractive. Finally the Oxford Poems, borrowed from Frome library, and - ordered from bookshop - the cheap Wordsworth volume - £2.99, and as complete as any.

[This curious hiatus of Drydens didn’t last; there are now, it seems, a mass of Selected Drydens in the shops (2002).]

Dryden is a poet who can’t quite be made to fit into a single volume. But after many years I can more or less claim that I have read another “complete” English poet, to add to Shakespeare, Marlowe, Jonson, Milton and Keats; but that was all a long time ago. It means more now; there’s less time. And I have really immersed: I feel like saying (as biographers do) “Dryden has been a good companion”. Indeed, I don’t want it to end. I have an eighteenth-century volume of Plutarch with an introductory Life by Dryden; his prose too is a fine thing – though somehow a bewilderingly different thing.

None of the books mentioned is really complete because there’s no Aeneid - though I have since discovered that this has an unexpectedly vigorous life on the Internet, since it’s invariably the translation used by those benefactors who have made Virgil available on their websites. I was at first misled into thinking that the bulky Oxford volume was complete but it’s a selection, pointedly excluding The Hind and the Panther. I appreciate the polemical gesture, but don’t really condone it; a poet’s original work, however unsatisfactory, must always supply a fuller idea of the writer than translations. And whether Hazlitt is right to say this, it is certainly a higly defensible claim, that  “it has more genius, vehemence, and strength of description that any other of Dryden’s works, not excepting the Absolom and Achitophel. It also contains the finest examples of varied and sounding versification...” You need The Hind and the Panther to sign off Dryden.  

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Wednesday, October 08, 2014

another note on Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights - Naturalism


Penguin English Library jacket (1970s style) - turning a detail of Branwell's bad picture into an iconic image


[Branwell's painting of 1833-34, commonly referred to as the Gun portrait, showed himself and his three sisters. Emily was 15 or 16 at the time. Arthur Bell Nichols thought the portrait so poor (or so unworthy of his late wife Charlotte) that he destroyed it, retaining only the bit showing Emily, who had definitely come out the best. Nevertheless, her portrait is markedly improved by the cracks (which, for instance, make her nose look interestingly snub instead of characterlessly straight), but what above all transforms the effect is  the Penguin jacket-designer's crop.  This, by eliminating the back of Emily's head, conceals the Victorian sloping shoulder-line and the languid hair, and creates a much more forceful image. This woman, we're convinced, already has Wuthering Heights in her sights.]

This note is about David Daiches' 1965 Introduction to the Penguin English Library edition of Wuthering Heights.

And first some trivia.


DAVID DAICHES

1.  Professor Daiches was an interesting man - read his 2005 obituary in The Scotsman:

http://www.scotsman.com/news/obituaries/professor-david-daiches-1-720657

His surname (Jewish/Yiddish rather than Scottish) is pronounced  "day chiz"  or "die chiz". That's probably how you pronounced it already, but it's good to know..!


NOVELETTISH

2.  Daiches (referring to an article by Thomas Moser, in which Heathcliff is identified with the Id) says:

This view involves an admission that the latter part of the book - Heathcliff's revenge and its final abandonment, the growth of love between the younger Catherine and a now-civilized Hareton - is inferior and indeed novelettish, the grafting on to the real novel of a conventional moral pattern ... etc etc. 

OED novelette, n. :

1. A story of moderate length having the characteristics of a novel. Now: a short, light, romantic, or sentimental novel (freq. depreciative).

These days the unusual word "novelette" is apparently still used in the world of writing competitions to refer to a fiction longer than a short story but shorter than a novella, i.e. 7,500 - 18,000 words, approximately.

But from the 1850s up until the late 1960s the principal meaning of "novelette" was derogatory. It referred to a class of books that were typified by sentimentality, triviality, and trite morality. They might be chauvinistically dismissed as reading material for young ladies or uneducated persons.  The novelette might be regarded as namby-pamby.  A typical example is A.A. Milne's send-up "The Seaside Novelette".

http://www.readbookonline.net/readOnLine/37693/

I suspect most "penny-novelettes" were pretty much the direct forebears of what my own generation called "Mills and Boon romances".

(On the other hand the word novelette could also be used to mean trashy genre fiction, e.g. a "pornographic novelette").

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Thursday, October 02, 2014

in the business park



I once wrote a post in which I extolled the botanical virtues of my local scruffy industrial estate. And maybe the message of this one should be, Don't neglect the business park!

The business park environment can be characterized by ample, but highly manicured, green space; many trees and shrubs, often exotic, for reasons of privacy and low maintenance; often some freshwater features (artificial ponds); extensive tarmacked and paved areas. Sometimes the business park may include a "nature reserve" (there's one in mine) but that's a separate topic. In this post I am talking about the business park proper.

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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.

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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.


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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).

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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).

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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!

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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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