Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Wilkie Collins (1824-1889)

Photo of Wilkie Collins, probably from 1866, the year of Armadale's publication

[Image source: . Information about the probable date comes from Paul Lewis' excellent site, which includes a chronological list of Collins' many portraits:]

Armadale (1864-1866)

The first thing it came into my head to say about Armadale, I suddenly realized, would utterly deflate the book for someone who hadn’t read it; and this is certainly a book that ought to be read once – which can’t be said of all Collins’ books (see below). And it ought to be read without knowing too much in advance, because (as John Sutherland says in his introduction) manipulation of the reader’s tensions is a principal factor in what the book means.

 [I’m inclined to invite those who have read Armadale to guess what my first thought was.]

In fact I’d now venture it the most interesting of Collins’ books, placing it in front of The Woman in White and The Moonstone. By “now” I’m alluding to the continuously changing way in which nineteenth-century fiction refracts upon us. But one day I might delete these sentences.

This is getting intertextual, but then Armadale is a very intertextual book. Its most central character, Lydia Gwilt, is presented with extraordinary indirectness. She makes no (recognized) appearance at all until the third book, and then we come into contact with her at first through letters. Collins is most reluctant to show her to us in his third person narrative, which is nevertheless increasingly about her. Her very first appearance in the third person (which somewhat paradoxically appears to the reader as the “unmarked case” of presentation), is the climax of Book III Chapter IX:

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Alfred Duggan: Family Favourites (1960)

I found this book, with several others by the same author, on a friend's bookshelves. Intrigued by the unlikely choice of title (from a popular radio show) for a historical novel set during the later Roman Empire, and more so by the drily brilliant opening, I couldn't resist asking to borrow it.

The story is related by an old soldier in retirement (he had been first a legionary and then a Praetorian), called Duratius. He eventually becomes a friend and member of the inner circle of the young and flighty Emperor Elagabalus (c. 203-222 - Emperor from 218-222). When the court implodes he is unceremoniously knocked on the head and given an honourable exit. The beautiful Emperor is killed offstage.

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Friday, September 25, 2015

Surrealism and the English Channel

Paul Nash, painting of Dymchurch sea-wall

[Image source: from Cathy Lomax's pretty wonderful blog:]

Lee’s poems had about them a remarkable tone. They were ‘quiet’ compared to the work of the Americans I was reading, but they were also surreal. It was a surrealism of everyday things. I often felt that surrealism arrived in Britain as flotsam; objects that floated across the Channel and sat displaced on a beach in southern England. It’s something you can see in the paintings of Paul Nash.

(From Laurie Duggan's post about the late Lee Harwood:

I wonder if Tim Allen (who grew up on the Isle of Portland) would recognize that particular psychogeographical configuration?

Thinking back to my Hastings days, maybe even (in early childhood)  my Eastbourne days, I'd say that I always had a vague sense of it.

A sense confirmed when, much later, I discovered Montale's poem "Eastbourne" (not that Montale was a Surrealist, but...) , and by the Channel-Islander Jeremy Reed's translations of Montale in The Coastguard's House, generously and rightly praised by Michael Hoffman in the LRB;  still surely one of Reed's most stunning achievements.

Maybe it's something about any town that sharply abuts the sea. The sudden, enormous sea-blankness always intrudes a kind of questioning commentary, a kind of provisionality, into the life of the land.

But maybe, too,  it's particularly something unique about the English Channel. Already when I was quite young, the experience here was not just of enormous sea-blankness but of a pressing awareness that, not very far beyond the blankness, though invisible to us, lay a populous, clamorous and totally different world; different languages, different history, different art, different thinking.

Plus it was a fact that continental visitors, like Montale, were a lot more likely to show up in South Coast towns than in, say, Derbyshire.

It always seemed to me quite natural that my own grandmother, an Eastbourne resident long estranged from her husband, should have nourished her imaginative and emotional life with visits to Paris and Austria. She even made me call her by a German name (Mutti). I never really thought of her as English.

Though I couldn't see across the English Channel myself, it was obvious that Mutti could.

[I've been here before.

In an essay I wrote in 2010 about Elizabeth Bletsoe's collection Landscape from a Dream (named after a Paul Nash painting), I felt concerned that taking an interest in Nash's South Coast localities might mean "an unsurrealization of Surrealism". I'm still not sure if it's true or not.]

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Monday, September 14, 2015

Notes on Andrea Brady's "Export Zone"

"Export Zone" is a poem by Andrea Brady in Presenting, the second collection within Cut from the Rushes (Reality Street 2013)

An earlier version of the poem appeared here:

Invisibly Tight Institutional Outer Flanks Dub (verb) Glorious National Hi-Violence Response Dream (lifegangdocuments, March 2008) (hereafter Invisibly Tight)

The earlier version capitalizes Burundi, UN HCR, Venus, ABCDE, London Lite, Salt, Basra, and Eastern. (Some of those are helpful clues.)

There are some more substantial differences, too.

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