Monday, October 20, 2014

Albert Camus: L'Étranger (1942)

Le Livre De Poche edition, jacket design by Lucien Fontanarosa 


[Image source: Alexis Orloff, https://www.flickr.com/photos/aorloff/6072937176/]


A book that (as The Outsider, in Stuart Gilbert's translation) 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 , Voltaire's Candide 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 underline the glaring issue of the book's 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; westerners can no longer regard the Arab world as something separate. 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. 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. In the study, especially. (Meanwhile in the real world, it remains unclear when the number of Arabs being killed by Westerners is going to stop accelerating.)

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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.


The Gun Portrait, from an old photo

Arthur Bell Nichols thought the painting so poor (or so unflattering to his late wife Charlotte) that he destroyed it, retaining only the part showing Emily, who definitely came out best.


Emily, from the Gun Portrait (NPG)

Even so, the portrait is markedly improved by the cracks (which, for instance, make her nose look interestingly snub instead of characterlessly straight). But what above all transformed 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 an altogether more forceful image. Here is a woman, we're convinced, who 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 generally the meaning of "novelette" over the past two centuries has been derogatory. Classically it evoked 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/

"Penny-novelettes" were, I suspect, the direct forebears of what my own generation called "Mills and Boon romances". Economics plays a big part in this. The novelette was cheap. Hence it tended to be short and written without much care. Appealing to connoisseurs was out of the question. Originality was out of the question. The skill was to hit off broad effects for a popular audience.

(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 today's post 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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