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 doubted if the Black Dwarf material was up to scratch, allowed a friendly reader to confirm his own suspicions, and so brought the curtain down more quickly than he'd originally planned. Here the classic Scott gear-change is more jarring than thrilling.

This, at any rate, is Scott's account of the matter 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 own account only if this plan was a short-lived idea that was already on the scrapheap by the time Scott was composing the The Black Dwarf.  Anyway, Old Mortality was surely conceived on spacious lines from the first.

The main deficiency that Scott talks about 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 the deficiencies of the lead character, 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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