Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Ill Frackemby

Been there (nb, that's Ilfracombe) for a few days of walking in wind and sun among those disorientating slate cliffs.

I saw all of spring in flower, long before (perhaps not that long before) it gets to Frome: wild strawberry, red campion, cow parsley. Odd effect. Travel changes time, everyone knows that.

I also saw three-cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum, above, showing curious junction between stem and pedicels, and withered spathe), and a wonderful Prunus 'Shirotae' outside Ilfracombe Museum (below).

(Below) Great Woodrush (Luzula sylvatica) - flower, barren stem, progressive growth on old leaf-bases... A common enough plant in acid woodland, but as is often remarked we don't get much acid in Frome...

I worried about why common scurvygrass seemed to vary so dramatically in size, behaving like two different plants, the small kind (which looked the same as in other places) and the big kind, which looked like a different plant I hadn't seen before.

Took photos of the common garden tree/shrub known as Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii). Sometimes called Snowy Mespil or Snowy Mespilus, but these names may also refer to other Amelanchier species, such as the sole species native to Europe, A. ovalis. A. lamarckii is not known as a native in the wild and is assumed to have arisen as a true-breeding hybrid of two American species.

I was reading Molière. The Misanthrope is a masterpiece, but is so unlike his other plays, or any other play of the period, that it gives us a sense of improvisation. It struck me that it's his Brat Pack thing, and also a bit like "The Only Way is Essex". Fly-on-the-wall is the right way to see life in Célimène's house, very splintered and unexplained, eg. those letters -we don't ever really find out who either of them is addressed to, or whether what anyone says about either of them is true. In this case observation of the unities creates a slice-of-life that is distinctively open-ended. So far as the play is a portrait of Generation X this all works out. But it leaves Alceste a bit out of the picture, and Philinte too.

Considering how tolerant Philinte is, his judgment of Célimène is a bit damning. He's jealous, don't you think? Philinte's sanity is attractive, but he doesn't get everything right. For instance he credits Arsinoé's virtue, but we see that she's an interfering old bat, even if we're also aware she doesn't quite deserve all the payback that Célimène delivers with such relish (and to our delight). Philinte is a bit too in with Eliante, who can also be sharp-tongued against her cousin. A sort of tacit distance lies between Philinte and Célimène. He is never the object of her satire. He never says anything exceptionable to her, but he listens to those who do.

(If you think you'd do better with a less informal account, forget it. Wikipedia needs a step change on its canonical literature articles. I've seen two recently - one on "The Misanthrope", one on Joyce's "The Dead" - that seem to have been written at the back of the class by someone who didn't understand the story. Wikipedia's methods of cross-improvement based on certain ground-rules - e.g. full references, objectivity - don't apply well to literary interpretation. If someone thinks it worth while to tell us that Oronte's reaction to his sonnet being criticised reveals his low self-esteem, you can't exactly dispute it as not true; more that Oronte's character just isn't the point here. If someone claims that Gabriel fails at first to recognize his wife on the staircase - well, I feel perfectly certain that this isn't what Joyce means us to understand, but how could I objectively demonstrate it? In each case what is being revealed is that the writer isn't inward with the kind of work they're describing, not because they haven't read it but because they don't belong to the traditional literary community that the text in part projects and that in part has slowly developed through centuries of polite criticism. But is that wrong? Does one need to belong to some sort of informal club of informed readers, i.e. informed of what is loosely called the critical context, to be qualified to write the Wikipedia entry? It seems that that's in fact my level of expectation, but the grounds for it are open to question.)

"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 part 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 means Uriah Heep. I heard the David Copperfield music sounding strongly in Ill Frackemby; in fact I nearly bought it in a charity shop. (There wasn't much else to buy, we're a long way from a university here, the bookish graduates have not moved here, the stocks of retirees from more literate generations have run dry, - a bit better book-choice than Swindon, but less than Frome..)

Psalms 69:12 They that sit in the gate speak against me; and I was the song of the drunkards.

Verse 12. They that sit in the gate speak against me. The ordinary gossips who meet at the city gates for idle talk make me their theme, the business men who there resort for trade forget their merchandise to slander me, and even the beggars who wait at men's doors for alms contribute their share of insult to the heap of infamy. (C.H Spurgeon, Treasury of David).

The influence, if influence there was, ran from Dickens to Spurgeon not the other way around. But David Copperfield does have a surprising number of phantoms of biblical allegory (not my idea, I read it in a book somewhere); impressionistic, not evidently significant allegory (unlike the symbolic patterns in Tale of Two Cities and Little Dorrit). The names David and Uriah being notable examples - too close together to pass altogether unnoticed, yet the point is - what? I would associate it with the unconscious depths that the author allowed himself to stir up in this book. Things that, if we are honest, meant more to him than us. The book amazed him when he re-read it. Nevertheless the atmosphere of its programme is distinctive and heady. It's the Dickens book I least often think about consciously.

We discussed our total failure to hear any perceptibly Devonian accents; the origin of the saying "green around the gills" (inconclusive; apparently jocular piscification as per "stewed to the gills"); whether Ilfracombe Art College is just a normal secondary school in disguise; fused double/triple dandelions - usually early in the saeson? ; whether motorway services cause accidents; why some clifftops make you feel vertiginous, others not; the eagerness of llamas to meet people; the 650-year-old lighthouse keeper's memory for cakes; millwheels ceasing to turn when the water is too low. And from the cliffs we saw peregrines courting in flight, with little squawking cries.

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