Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Hervey Allen--Anthony Adverse (1933)

I finally finished my summer reading, the 1200+ page 1930s publishing phenomenon Anthony Adverse, a few days short of the start of autumn. In this I followed the adventures of the title hero and those connected with him from France to Italy to Cuba to Africa and back to Italy and across the Alps to the Rhineland and Paris and England and back to Paris and Spain and New Orleans and up the Missouri River into the unmapped depths of the American West and down again to Santa Fe and El Paso and Mexico City and finally back again to somewhere in what is now the Southwestern United States spanning the years from approximately 1776 to 1821. Against the backdrop of the ongoing European war, numerous immense fortunes are made, women wooed, slaves captured, sold and owned in massive quantities, and historical figures encountered. All of these various episodes and often the journeys between them are stretched out to a very leisurely length. The reader never feels that he is being forced to leave a scene too soon, even from Paris, nor can he complain that he is being rushed along the highways or oceans to arrive at the next theater of action in an unseemly haste. While the first hundred pages or so were weighed down by somewhat excessive artificiality and the last hundred dragged considerably, across much of the middle parts I was lulled into thinking the book might actually be better than its present reputation, that there might well be an argument for its being literature. Coming to the end and having to take it as a whole however its weaknesses became more readily apparent again. The main problem is that Adverse himself never develops into a particularly interesting or alive character by the standards of higher literature, though through much of the book the possibility that he might be about to move part of the way there at least has the effect of carrying the reader through much of the narrative. The same is true of almost all of the major fictional characters, especially the women. The most vivid personality in the book is Napoleon, whose appearances are reminiscent of those he made in War and Peace, and other historical personages such as the Lafitte brothers of New Orleans, one of the early Rothschilds and the crowd at the decrepit court of the King of Spain, also make greater impressions than their invented counterparts. Another difficulty is that while enormous amounts of money are made via transatlantic commerce from slaves, sugar, cotton, Mexican silver and the like (often involving complicated transactions and banking terms that I struggled to grasp fully, though this is my peculiar fault), there is not a tremendous amount at stake in these speculations as far as the story goes apart from Anthony and all of his associates getting ever more fabulously rich. I guess part of the idea is to show the daring and nerve out of which great fortunes are born, but in most instances the protagonists are extraordinarily well situated and connected so as to get in on the opportunities that arise.

Claude Rains as Don Luis in the movie version.

Since Hervey Allen is not well known, I will note such scant biographical facts about him as I can find. He was born in Pittsburgh in 1889 and attended the University of Pittsburgh. He fought in World War I. He wrote an autobiography of Edgar Poe (Israfel, 1926) that was well-regarded in its day. After Anthony Adverse, he embarked on a series of novels about colonial America, of which three were published complete and part of a fourth. These sound like a slog to read. He died of a heart attack in 1949. Anthony Adverse sold an estimated 600,000 copies during the 1930s and was beloved by many of its readers. While many of its parts are interesting enough, I find it difficult to detect or commune with the quality that made people feel such affection for it in its time.

My notes on this book are not too extensive. It was very long, and there were several passages I liked but forgot to note and then was not able to find again.

p.97 "Sancho rejoiced as only a Spaniard can at finding himself on the back of a mule." The kind of humor we probably won't see again in our lifetimes.

p.416-17 "A stark naked, young negro boy, not at all embarrassed by a hearty morning erection, opened the gate." Probably needless to say, the black characters are mostly simple-minded, unless they are half-white, and then they are bitter and despise the black part of themselves, and lack the dignity and fierceness we have grown accustomed to seeing such characters usually depicted as having in modern artworks. While Allen failed many sections on the test of racial sensitivity, his description of the structure and organization of a slave ship with attention to telling details is actually one of the most effective in imprinting a more vivid sense of the totality of the foulness and wickedness of this practice, to me anyway, that I have come across. It is especially strange to come across in the middle of a book where the hero is a major trafficker of human beings and in which even later on when he has moved to New Orleans he owns hundreds of slaves, which the author shrugs off as being more or less dictated by the conditions of the time and place if one expected to function there as a significant man, which motivation in this kind of book generally trumps human rights, at least until the hero has proven himself able to contend with the most forceful men of his time in the most competitive arenas, after achieving which he can let go of his slaves and other tokens of dominance if he feels the urge. It is long, but I should copy some of the section about the slave ship here, in case anyone else finds it of interest:

"The slaves were taken out by batches of ten in boats and canoes. As they stepped on the deck they were stripped of every rag; of even the smallest article they might still possess. Every bead and the tiniest fetish and charm went overboard. Buckets of water were then dashed over them and they were mercilessly scrubbed...The gangs were now marched forward and their shackles struck from them while they dried off and shivered. Cries and lamentations whether from children or adults were ruthlessly suppressed. The work proceeded with the greatest order and dispatch.

"Every slave was made to wash his mouth out with vinegar. As each approached the hatchway he was seized by a gang of tattooers, thrown over a spare spar and had three white dots tattooed on his back. This was the Gallegos mark which had been substituted for branding with a hot iron...

"The slaves were next separated and led below. Whip in hand the mates and boatswains superintended the stowing of the cargo. The women were stowed on the starboard side of the ship facing forward; the men on the port side facing aft. All lay with their heads in each other's laps and on their right sides as this was supposed to favour the action of the heart. A clear space along the centre of the deck was kept open for the guards and for other necessary passing to and fro.

"Between-decks the ship had been scrupulously cleared of every loose article from stem to stern. Wherever possible even the bulkheads had been removed. Short of pulling up a plank or ripping out one of the ship's timbers from its bolts, there was literally not a single article in the hold of La Fortuna that could serve the slaves as a weapon of any kind...

"In the dark cavern of the ship's hold fell here and there streams of pale daylight down the open hatches, each barred with a heavy iron grating against which a lion might have hurled himself in vain...

"Outbursts, or infractions of sanitary rules, quarrels or lamentations were promptly visited either by the canes of the mess-leaders or by the whips of the overseers...It was an absolute rule that no fire whether for lantern or tobacco could ever be taken below. So their nights were spent in pitch darkness when not even the overseers ventured among them, and their days in deep gloom."

Picture of the author.

p 422--One of Anthony's mentors, the fellow slave trader and Havana bon vivant Carlo Cibo, on how the days are passed there: "Por Dios, you will use three suits a day or more. Today--today in that costume you will do nothing! I shall do nothing. We shall sit here and talk, and drink, and smoke. We shall eat and sleep. What will be accomplished? Much! We shall have lived another day comfortably. No one can do more. Have you ever spent a day like that? I bet you, not. Try it.
p.666--"The bond between him and Anthony was one which, though nowadays rare, once developed in more heroic states of society perhaps the chief moral virtues in man. It was friendship based upon an essential compatibility in manful attitudes and pursuits; in war, hunting, barter, and the frank relaxations and conversations of the camp fire, the tent, and the town."

p.743--Humorous (to me) reference about the 1770s heyday of the Leghorn (Livorno) establishment "The Blue Frog", whether fictitious or not I do not know: "As far away as 'Strawberry Hill' Horace Walpole had learned how to coddle eggs in mulled wine." lol.

p.765--The ineffectual intellectual Toussaint when he realizes he isn't getting the woman he thought he was getting (he has been shouting at her bolted door) shortly before killing himself: "He heard his own voice. For the first time recognized it for something frantic and ridiculous; something which even the stones hurled back. It struck him down. He lay on the steps and writhed while his ego withered." I have to laugh out loud because otherwise the self-recognition of failed and inadequate manhood, especially in a book that is a celebration of exaggerated hyper-manliness, is too painful to contemplate.

p.854--Napoleon to the son of the exiled writer Madame de Stael, when he petitions for her to be allowed to return to France. "I do not want women about who make themselves men, any more than I want men who render themselves effeminate. What use is unusual intellectual attainment in women?...She has a mind; she has too much, perhaps. But it is a mind insubordinate and without curb. She was brought up in the chaos of a crumbling order and a revolution...It would be weak of me to permit it. The greatest curse of nations is weakness of will in the great-magistrate. The next is for him to be funny. The last and most fatal is for him to be serious and to permit others to make him seem funny...Sarcasm is the seed of anarchy."

The edition of the book that I had.

p.866--Some interesting lines about bankers in Paris circa 1801: "Quite distinctly the possessors and manipulators of capital were coming into their heyday. The Revolution which had ideally devoted itself to the 'rights of man' had in reality cleared the way for the unrestricted power of the capitalist...They felt themselves able to say to one another with truth, 'We are coming men.' Their class feeling was that of sharing an increase of power which was being daily conferred upon them by fate. That is one of the most potent feelings that unite men and force them to act together. They felt it strongly; they felt a growing air of triumph and mastery when they met together even informally."

I liked the way the drawn out and very busy last day in Paris was done. It gave brief nods to the possibility of sentiment, but even I have found that in reality last days in a place where has accumulated a decent amount of friends and other acquaintance tend to be a whirlwind of activity, almost a compression of all the time one has spent there, or at least the latest segment of it.

p. 1082--A local resident on the Louisiana Purchase: "If the smart Americans could only be kept out, lower Louisiana under the dons or the French might grow slowly, the only way anything worth while can grow, into a fine, mellow little country. Now we are going to have floods of democrats, oratory, humbug, Protestant anarchy, and the world and man for sale at the river mouth."

There is also a scam to rip off the Indians later on--"We can pay the Indians in banknotes and hold the coins as deposit. No one needs to tell the Indians how to cash the notes...It will be clear, clean profit." I need to get in with friends like this. Or needed to. It's a bit late now.

Befitting the book's contemporary popularity, there was a big budget film adaptation in 1936 starring Frederic March as Anthony, Olivia de Havilland, who seems miscast, as Delores, his aristocratic Spanish love interest, and the great Claude Rains as Anthony's nemesis Don Luis. Popular at the time, it is largely forgotten and rated as mediocre now. Since it is not readily available on any of the movie services I already have and I don't feel like paying $14 or $15 for a DVD of it, I'm probably going to pass on seeing it at this time.

I do love Olivia de Havilland.

Between this and Anna Karenina, I have spent about the last four months reading just two books. While the time in which I read Anna overlapped with a lot of emotional feeling, what with the end of the school and various family milestones and personal distractions that were affecting me, the summer months over which I read Anthony Adverse were fairly tranquil, and there were no outside the book experiences which I equated as being connected with the reading. Probably because it is not a great book compared to the other one, nor does it suggest all kinds of other connections and connotations with one's exterior life.

The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge

1. Secret Life of Walter Mitty (movie)......................................................3,235
2. Life: Season 2 (TV)..............................................................................1.147
3. Maria Augusta von Trapp--The Story of the Trapp Family Singers.......513
4. Peter Robinson--Children of the Revolution...........................................263
5. Ernest Becker--The Denial of Death.......................................................203
6. Paul Allen--Idea Man..............................................................................130
7. Margaret Walker--Jubilee.......................................................................101
8. Art That Changed the World (DK)...........................................................85
9. Safety Last (movie)...................................................................................75
10. Life and Times of Tim: Season 3 (TV)....................................................37
11. Leigh Michaels--The Wedding Affair......................................................20
12. Alps (movie)..............................................................................................9
13. Elizabeth Cadell--Royal Summons............................................................1
14. Peter H. Wilson--Holy Roman Empire 1495-1806:A European Perspective...1
15. Why Him? (movie).....................................................................................1
16. Mabel Esther Allen--Margaret Finds a Future.........................................0
17. Encyclopedia of Painting: Painters and Painting of the World, etc..........0
18. Encyclopedia of the Renaissance and the Reformation (Speake & Bergin)...0
19. A History of Prison and Confinement in Africa..........................................0
20. The Un-Holy Bible (ed. Jonathan Gee)......................................................0
21. Bloomsbury Publishing Adult Rights Guide 2015......................................0
22. Zeina Karam--Life and Death in Isis..........................................................0

Play-In Round

#22 Karam over #11 Michaels
#12 Alps over #21 Bloomsbury
#13 Cadell over #20 Gee
#14 Wilson over #19 Prison and Confinement in Africa
#18 Encyclopedia of Renaissance over #15 Why Him?
#17 Encyclopedia of Painting over #16 Allen

Round of 16

#1 Secret Life of Walter Mitty over #22 Karam
#2 Life over #18 Encyclopedia of Renaissance

Both of these were entitled to upsets.

#3 Von Trapp over #17 Encyclopedia of Painting
#14 Wilson over #4 Robinson

Robinson is a genre book. Having tried some of these, I consider it established that I generally don't like them.

#5 Becker over #13 Cadell
#6 Allen over #12 Alps
#7 Walker over #10 Life and Times of Tim
#8 Art That Changed the World over #9 Safety Last

Elite 8

#14 Wilson over #1 Secret Life of Walter Mitty
#8 Art That Changed the World over #2 Life
#3 Von Trapp over #7 Walker

The Von Trapp was shorter. In truth the Walker, which looks like a fairly dense 1970s era book about race, is not something I am particularly up for at the moment.

#5 Becker over #6 Allen

In a pinch between books that I think were fairly even lengthwise, the philosopher has a slight edge over the billionaire memoir.

Final Four

#3 Von Trapp over #14 Wilson

The Wilson looks kind of like a school textbook. Also it isn't available at the library.

#5 Becker over #8 Art That Changed the World

Similar scenario to the other semi-final round match-up.


#3 Von Trapp over #5 Becker

A close call. I was very tempted to go with Becker, but given the disappointments I have had recently with the Challenge books--I couldn't even get through the Robert Heinlein book that won the last time out, much to my surprise, since he is something of a guru among the STEM crowd (obviously my mind is lacking something that would enable me to get him) I wanted something more safely in the vein of what I am likely to enjoy, since at this point in my life, improvement seems to be beyond me.

The winners in real life.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

September Update

A List: In between books currently

B-List: Allen--Tony Adverse................................1,074/1,224

C-List: Rushdie--The Ground Beneath Her Feet.......564/575

Not much to report. I have been plowing through the two volumes listed here for several months now, finally approaching end of both. A big recap of the Allen awaits in probably 2-3 weeks. I have spent a lot of time with this book and I feel a good deal of affection for it. When the end comes I will be ready to part with it, because I am pretty sure the themes and characters will be fully exhausted, but I don't mind the riding out to that end.

I couldn't quite finish the Rushdie in time for this month's report. It's one of those books that in the end I don't feel is really particularly great but about which I'm still a little worried about having missed something elementary to any understanding of literary greatness, which is often my experience with modern books. As I have been noting all along, it has a certain amount of virtuosity, but compared even to Anthony Adverse, its scenes and characters, with the exception of the early chapters in Bombay, lack for me any sense of solidity, or heaviness, which is a style of book that I guess I like. It moves all over the world, has major historical events as a backdrop anyway, and features a constantly revolving cast of high-flying eccentrics, but it never quite enters into the belly of these various worlds and theaters of action the way that the classics of this type of literature do.

My relationship with the A-List is kind of a mess right now. The last thing in it I read was Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, which I had difficulty getting into, though usually I am a pretty stout admirer of old Bysshe's poems. My head has not been in it.

Picture Gallery
Claudette Colbert
Actors in Louisiana
Girl; Baton Rouge

Friday, August 5, 2016

August Update

It's a day early because the 6th is a Saturday and I am not if I will have any computer time or not.

A List: Between books. Recently "finished" Les Fleurs du Mal.
B List: Allen--Anthony Adverse....................................569/1,224
C List: Rushdie--The Ground Beneath Her Feet.............314/575

I put the quotations around "finished" for Fleurs du Mal because I got lazier as it went on and stopped, first, writing out all of my translations, and then by the end I was not bothering to look up words, or keep looking them up, since some of them kept appearing over and over again and I could not remember/keep straight what they meant. The A list, though it gave me at one time a pretty good foundation in English literature at least, has not been working for me in a long time, and perhaps at some point I will abandon it. I am otherwise so generally dismal and sluggish though in the hours when I do this reading that it is not evident that I will attack whatever replaces it with any more vigor or enthusiasm.

The B List is where I get most of my literary enjoyment these days, even when the books are not Great. However it takes me back to one of the more hopeful and fervid interests of my youth, which has a much-needed positive effect on my overall mood and state of mind. I have to admit that there are a lot of things I like about  Anthony Adverse, though it is still longer than it needs to be and it is definitely a book to read either before age 18 or after 45, and the after 45 only if you have gone as far as you are ever likely to go with real literature. There are also political incorrectness issues. The book features a great diversity of national and racial origin among its characters, though stereotypes and the traditional negation in books written by western men of the sexual potency of their non-western counterparts are the rule, even when the exotic is otherwise portrayed as a good or admirable fellow by European standards (Natty Bumppo syndrome). The hero of course is a fair-haired Anglo-Celtic type. At the point of the narrative that I have reached Anthony is in Africa making good money in the slave trade. He does have a French monk with him who is setting up as potentially being a sort of conscience and who I suspect will turn Anthony away from this perfidious practice, but having already shipped out fourteen cargoes to Havana, the come-to-Jesus moment will be coming a little late to endear him to modern audiences.

I like the more swashbuckling aspects of the book, its generally good-natured admiration of high-spirited and thriving masculinity, albeit often at the expense of others. These old books are at least as judgmental of masculine failure and inferiority as contemporary books are, but the measure one feels to be taken of himself is less personal, due in part to the changing moral circumstances among other things. I also find it interesting to consider the various problems that arise, such as, how to gain control of the ship with various enemies plotting against me. I am not good in coming up with solutions or even sniffing out what bigger actions the various observable little actions portend. It is important to be able to react thus in real time however. (I have more to say about this but I am running out of time).

The C List book I only read a little each day, with the idea of getting a taste of the more current world scene, which is why I favor shorter books for it hen possible. The Rushdie book is meandering quite a bit as it goes on. That he has a considerable amount of talent is apparent, at times, and it is worth reading for those times. But the control over the material is not always as tight and focused as you get used to reading classics.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Addendum to July Update

I wanted to note another book I read during the interval between updates, the Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano.  By his own account Equiano was born around 1745, probably in what is now southeastern Nigeria, and was captured by slave traders as a ten year old child and carried to what is now that . Even I was shocked at the cruelty and inhumanity of that story in the book, though there has been some credible recent scholarship suggesting that he may actually have been born in South Carolina and not Africa. As a boy he was sold quite frequently and ended up serving primarily on ships running between England and the West Indies, especially Barbados and Montserrat, becoming adept at navigation as well as trade and enduring, as seamen do, numerous calamitous voyages, including one shipwreck on an uninhabited and waterless island off the coasts of the Carolinas. He was able to buy his freedom when he was around twenty-two and moved to England, which was a safer and more congenial environment for a free black man than anywhere in the Americas--he pointedly named the West Indies as the worst of the worst for being abused, robbed, risk of re-enslavement without any hope of appeal to the white authorities, though he had a dangerous episode in Savannah, Georgia also. Though the book is mostly about his travels he also became prominent in the abolitionist movement in England in the 1780s and 90s.

I recommend it. It is quite short, only around 160 pages, but the travels are interesting, and it certainly covers a strain of that period of history that was of major importance but tends to be underrepresented in the canonical literature and history of that time. I am sure anybody reading this will already be much more attuned to and fired up about the injustice and cruelty of North America's history than any outrage I would be able to summon in behalf of this, but that is in the book too, and at a time when it was a living, active force. Equiano as a writer is interested in relating the facts and making his points, and is not given much to expansiveness, which sometimes makes the writing come off flat. No more time.

I wanted to report also that the Salman Rushdie book I got from the library has a beautiful shimmering golden dust jacket. I love it.

I can't find any good pictures on a quick search. Maybe next month.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

July Update

A List--Baudelaire--Les Fleurs du Mal...131/229

B List--Hervey Allen--Anthony Adverse...68/1,224

C List--Salman Rushie--The Ground Beneath her Feet...87/575

I am reading Baudelaire in (or from) French, for what it is worth. My favorite insight so far that I can fruitfully apply to my own life is that our own personal Paris, the Paris of our youth, and probably that of any great city that means something to us, is always dead and gone by the time we are thirty-five, if not thirty.

Le vieux Paris n'est plus (la forme d'une ville
Change plus vite, helas! que le Coeur d'un mortel);

It is becoming evident to me that my primary obstacle to finishing the "B" list before I shuffle off the old coil here is that its lineup is heavier than I realized on 1,000+ page books, one after another after another, leavened with the occasional 2,500 page trilogy. I like reading these large books, especially if they are good, of course, and I suppose I feel a certain pleasure at coming to the end of something that took a month or two to finish that I don't feel in finishing something shorter, though this is silly from any kind of serious or intellectual standpoint. It is going to be hard for me to make much headway towards getting on pace to finish the whole list prior to entering my 80s for a while though.

Anthony Adverse is a category of book that I suspect may be the weakness of the IWE list, giant, mega-selling (loosely) historical fiction from the 30s and 40s, of which Gone With the Wind is the primary exemplar, though it actually is not on the list.  Forever Amber is on the list however, as is So Red the Rose and I am not sure if there is anything else from this school, but there is probably something I am forgetting. I am guessing whoever was in charge of creating the IWE canon had a fondness for these books dating from youth that he or she was not able to put by. Adverse is not completely unreadable to me, and it has the elements of what could be an interesting book in places, but it isn't literature, and if I were younger and still had hopes of developing into a serious person, I would feel that I should be reading something else. It's the kind of book where the amusing lines are things like (when the hero's mistress offers to sell her jewelry for him) "One can take a man's wife and remain a gentleman, but taking his jewels would not do". The women characters are all straight clich├ęs from the romantic school and are beyond redemption, the pace is slow, the descriptions are probably overdone...all that said, I am looking forward to going home and reading my ten pages before bed, so strong is the nostalgia and romanticism of the List with me as to overrule any sense of taste.

The Rushdie book is not Anna Karenina, I suppose, and I don't remember it being lauded as a great book when it came out (in long-ago 1999), though maybe it was and I missed it, but so far I find I am liking it. I am already nostalgic for 1950s Bombay, something I never thought about before taking up this book. There have been a few episodes where the narrative appeared to be tottering dangerously close to the edge of magic realism, but it pulled back just enough to remain in the realm of literary fictional plausibility. So far so good on this one.

I don't have time to do pictures this month. Maybe I'll put a literary girlie picture up tomorrow or something.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Leo Tolstoy--Anna Karenina (1877)

In the course of going through any long-term reading list such as this one I have embarked on, especially one that consists almost entirely of older books, with many of those being what are today considered extremely long novels, coming to a book such as Anna Karenina marks an emotional high point in the course of the journey. This has not only to do with how enjoyable the experience of reading the book is, or appreciation of its numerous superiorities when compared even with other books on the list, but because of its very wide status throughout the reading world as a kind of lodestone, or highly treasured masterpiece. The very best and smartest people have not been able to possess it entirely, while still acknowledging for the most part that it still possesses the highest worth. So it has been exciting, in a low-level kind of way, for me to read this, especially as it my second time with the book, and I did not have the same response to it the first time I read it that I did on this occasion. 

My history with Tolstoy goes back to the summer before the old senior year of college; War and Peace is the traditional summer reading before that last year there, and I suppose probably still is. Everyone comes back for the final fall having read it and in most cases willing to engage in conversation about myriad of his aspects, sometimes after a few drinks, spirits being as infused with the reading as they are, the 1812 Overture will be put on the stereo. It is a hopeful and fun time, as beginnings always are, though one that, in my usual lunkheaded way, I largely missed out on because I had let the approach of the new school year sneak up on me and did not begin the book until the day before the first class. I did manage to get through about 400 pages, which is enough to get a sense for its special qualities, but not enough to be a member of the War and Peace club. I did read through the whole thing some time in the late 90s, and it is on this list too, course, though as I am doing this alphabetically I am not on schedule to get to it until I am about 80. I read The Death of Ivan Ilych somewhere in the early 2000s as well as my previous reading of Anna Karenina. I have not read any other Tolstoy, though I have often had the desire to throw off all of these other books and go through his whole opus. Boyhood, Childhood and Youth look, based on glancing over a few pages, like they would be considered classics in their own right if anyone else had written them, the short stories, The Sketches of Sebastopol, The Kreutzer Sonata, even A Confession, though one of my friends, back when I used to have friends, told me it wasn't very good. But I haven't done this yet.

I read the Constance Garnett translation this time. On the previous occasion I had used the Maude translation. I love the Maude War and Peace and in a comparison of passages I prefer it to Constance Garnett, but with Anna Karenina I found I preferred the Garnett. I can't say what was lacking in the Maude, or my first reading of the book. It is not that I didn't like it, but it had not stayed with me, and even at the time I remember thinking it was like Madame Bovary, which I had read around the same time, and maybe not as good. Perhaps Garnett's translation style fit the spirit of the book better. I certainly think I was more drawn into it as an experience, or inhabited world, which is much of what sets Tolstoy apart from other novel-writers.

While I was reading this there was an article published by a respectable outlet about how lousy various of the recent English translations of the Russian classics are. I felt somewhat vindicated in my own decision to stick with the old translations, my reasoning being that these were the versions of these authors that all of the old guys, Joyce and Hemingway and George Orwell and whoever else you want to throw in there, read, and I have not been persuaded yet that the people reading the new translations, wonderful and advanced as some of them probably are, are as yet getting any more literary-wise out of the books than the best readers of past ages did. Still, I must always bear in mind that it is perhaps my primary (curable) flaw to be skeptical of all progress and innovation even when it has been proven beyond all doubt to be superior to whatever preceded it.

Even on this reading I found the earlier parts to be somewhat as I felt the first time, not inadequate by any means, but not extraordinary or as spectacular as I had been led to expect. But this time I really felt, as is often the case with long old books, how it got better and better as it went along. I actually neglected to take any notes for my report until I was on page 658, when I thought I had better start noting a few things to remember about this time, or I would lose them.

On that page 658 there was a description of a scene in the country which reminded me of our camp in Vermont and my own happy life, or at least one of the parts of my life that is happy:

"...he left the edge of the forest where they were walking on low silky grass between old birch-trees standing far apart, and went more into the heart of the wood, where between the white birch-trunks there were gray trunks of aspen and dark bushes of hazel...It was perfectly still all round him. Only overhead in the birches under which he stood, the flies, like a swarm of bees, buzzed unceasingly, and from time to time the children's voices were floated across to him."

The period in which I was reading this--roughly April 26 to June 24--were unusually emotion months for me, as it began with spring vacation and went through the end of the school year, which included my two older sons going a trip to England and Iceland, my daughter finishing pre-school, which means she'll be going to all day kindergarten next year, and last of all, my oldest son's completing 8th grade, at the school he had been going to for eight years, getting him through all eight years of which was a big deal to me. I had a couple of odd recurring visions throughout my time with Anna Karenina, which I assume something in the book called up to remind me of pleasant associations, one being the old elevated running track at St John's, the other being a rather tired Friendly's restaurant located on U.S. 7 in Bennington, Vermont that we went to for ice cream at the end of an otherwise not very productive day during April vacation right when I was beginning the book--we had driven out that way to do a hike, only to find the park closed; then we went to some other places, minor sites and used book stores mostly, that were either closed, nothing ever being open in this part of the world before Memorial Day, or had gone out of business. I liked the location of it, right near the old part of town, and the atmosphere inside called up the less coldly efficient era of my youth in the late 80s or early 90s. After my son's graduation we went to the Friendly's in Concord on Main Street, which is similarly plunked down in the middle of an older neighborhood, and I had to take baby, who was rambunctious, out to walk around the block numerous times while trying to contemplate the meaning (to me) of this end of the first of the children in this school, thinking about which I now realized had occupied so much space in my mind over the previous eight years. All of this is a propos of nothing with regard to the book, but I wanted to record something of my mental state during this time when I was reading it.

I have to admit that I often felt nostalgia in reading Anna Karenina, not only that evoked by the writing about nature, which was a considerable amount, but also for the (dying?) western literature tradition that has been so important to me, so much of what is superlative and most admirable about which is contained within its pages. I was about two thirds of the way through when an article entitled "The Canon is Sexist, Racist, Colonialist, and Totally Gross. Yes, You Have to Read it Anyway" was making the rounds of the internet, in which younger scholars are advised that, unfortunate though it is, "If you want to become well-versed in English literature, you're going to have to hold your nose and read a lot of white male poets." Eventually, one assumes, this odious necessity will be mitigated somewhat by the appearance of greater, or at least equally great, poets, whose backgrounds and outlooks are less personally offensive. I won't say that I do not understand emotionally the idea that one might love or care deeply about English literature without caring much for, to list the authors featured in the course under protest in the above article, "Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, and Eliot", though I think it is probably unlikely to do so in any kind of deep or thorough way. It is true that I come out of a background that insisted very strongly that, especially at the Chaucer-Shakespeare-Milton level, the work under consideration is of such a high and rare quality and importance as to be really beyond taste or transitory political or social orientation. An extremely intelligent and learned person, practiced in thinking at levels serious enough to be productive of interesting insights, might be able to offer some meaningful criticism or question various aspects of the civilizational significance of the authors under consideration; but even such people as this are rare. Obviously this viewpoint continues to hold a lot of weight with me.

p. 701: "And again the light died away in his eyes. Again, as before, all of a sudden, without the slightest transition, he felt cast down from a pinnacle of happiness, peace, and dignity, into an abyss of despair, rage, and humiliation. Again everything and everyone had become hateful to him."

I noted that this passage described my current state.

p. 709. "At home, looking after her children, she had no time to think. So now, after this journey of four hours, all the thoughts she had suppressed before rushed swarming into her brain..."

I noted that the description of Anna on horseback on page 715 was "great, characteristic stuff." It obviously made a strong impression on me at the time.

pp. 742-3: "During the game Darya Alexandrovna was not enjoying herself. She did not like the light tone of raillery that was kept up all the time between Vassenka Veslovsky and Anna, and the unnaturalness altogether of grown-up people, all alone without children, playing at a child's game."

I noted that I often felt this way myself. Like on Facebook.

p. 790 On debt: "Even the consideration that with such an expenditure he could not go on living for a year without debt, that even had no force." This is pretty much the condition I have been driven into psychologically. I have given up resisting.

p. 794 The meeting at the university, especially the cloth-covered table, reminded me happily of old Europe type associations. Prague perhaps?

p. 823-4 Levin, the night before his wife has her baby. This relates to the debt question also. "There are no conditions to which a man cannot become used, especially if he sees that all around him are living in the same way. Levin could not have believed three months before that he could have gone quietly to sleep in the condition in which he was that day, that leading an aimless irrational life, living too beyond his means, after drinking excess (he could not call what happened at the club anything else), forming inappropriately friendly relations with a man with whom his wife had once been in love, and a still more inappropriate call upon a woman who could only be called a lost woman, after being fascinated by that woman and causing his wife distress--he could still go quietly to sleep."

There is a great deal of what constitutes life in this paragraph, and yet it is so straightforward and unremarkably stated. This is what I admire most in this author.

p. 839 "This position, like all such appointments, called for such immense energy and such varied qualifications, that it was difficult for them to be found united in any one man." This one I just thought was funny.

For the most part I found the best realized characters to be relatively minor ones. Oblonsky perhaps is not minor, but his personal story is not one of the central dramas. Both of Levin's brothers, the consumptive, acerbic, pitiful, rather Dostoevskyan Nikolai, and the intellectual Sergei Ivanovitch, both seemed to me more realized than Levin himself. While they only appeared in one brief scene, I was also taken with Levin's exquisitely educated and serenely wealthy and stable in-laws, Lviv and the mysterious and beautiful third Shtcherbatsky sister, Natalia. I had vividly remembered Natalia's "beautiful arms" being, as I thought, noted at least a couple of times in the Maude translation, though she only appeared briefly in this, and I don't think her beautiful arms were mentioned.

p. 876. Anna's glimpse out the window at the carriage, an observed moment of fleeting and lost life:

"As she passed through the drawing-room she heard a carriage stop at the entrance and looking out of the window she saw the carriage., from which a young girl in a lilac hat was leaning out giving some direction to the footman ringing the bell. After a parley in the hall, some one came up-stairs, and Vronsky's steps could be heard passing the drawing-room. He went rapidly down-stairs. Anna went again to the window. She saw him come out onto the steps without his hat and go up to the carriage. The young girl in the lilac hat handed him a parcel. Vronsky, smiling, said something to her. The carriage drove away, he ran rapidly up-stairs again."

I had a congenial, if brief, talk with my wife about the book, which she read quite a few years ago, when we were in school actually, but she has a better organized memory than I have, and was able to pull up numerous thoughts that she had had at the time. I mentioned that Anna's neuroticism, in combination with the generally chilling nature of the superiority of most of her other qualities, i.e. beauty, carriage, taste, manners, and so on, was so pronounced as to make it difficult for me to like her very much. My wife said that the conditions of her life (or something like that; she would not have said "society") made her that way, because it was too limited, there was nothing for her to do. I agreed that the society depicted in the book was an unhealthy one, though this was a meaningless statement, as all societies everywhere seem to be eternally unhealthy in their relations between male and female as far as anyone is ever satisfied with them. She said that it appears that way to us, now, but that the views of women that it expresses would have been accepted as true, by men at least, up to thirty years ago, such as the old saw that there are two types of women, one represented by Anna, and one by the childish Kitty. She mentioned that at the time she had read it, when she was around twenty, that a man had said something to her to the effect that one of the hard truths underlying the story was that women become unattractive under childbirth, which she said had always bothered her. I would not say such a thing as this, in part because I don't actually believe it, and given that Tolstoy makes a point of depicting Anna as a ravishing beauty even after she has had children, I doubt he wholly believed it either, though the idea that this is so obviously has a power that plays on women's minds, that men who are attuned to this psychology are able to use with effect.    

This is last of the three "Anna"-titled books we have to read on the list. 

The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge

1. Helen Bryan--War Brides....................................................................9,070
2. Skyfall (movie)....................................................................................9,058
3. J. K. Rowling--The Casual Vacancy...................................................5,672
4. Les Miserables (movie-2012).............................................................3,978
5. Malala Yousafzai--I am Malala..........................................................3,122
6. The Duchess (movie)..........................................................................2,172
7. Tom Rob Smith--Child 44..................................................................1,143
8. Anna Karenina (movie--2012)..............................................................976
9. Ghost and Mrs Muir (movie)................................................................774
10. Louise Renneson--Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging...........686
11. Ricki and the Flash (movie)................................................................644
12. Robert Heinlein--The Moon is a Harsh Mistress................................521
13. Jill Alexander Essbaum--Hausfrau.....................................................467
14. Amy Belding Brown--Flight of the Sparrow......................................417
15. Shirley Jackson--We Have Always Lived in the Castle.......................385
16. Lois Liveen--Secrets of Mary Bowser.................................................376

1st Round

#16 Liveen over #1 Bryan

Because my library has the Liveen book. Otherwise they look pretty similar in terms of length, age, etc.

#15 Jackson over #2 Skyfall

#14 Brown over #3 Rowling

Shorter, plus the library has it.

#13 Essbaum over #4 Les Miserables

#12 Heinlein over #5 Yousafzai

Malala did get shot while standing up to the Taliban in the cause of women's rights, but I have been interested in reading Heinlein for some time.

#6 The Duchess over #11 Ricki and the Flash

Neither of these particularly excites me, but the loser looks more painful.

#10 Renneson over #7 Smith

The Smith book looks like some kind of thriller, with which genre I have not had satisfying experiences.

#8 Anna Karenina over #9 Ghost and Mrs Muir

Normally I would choose the oldie (Ghost and Mrs Muir dates from 1947), but the modern Anna Karenina presented itself so many times in the qualifying stages that I have to weight it some. There were no than 5 Anna Karenina adaptations that offered themselves as competitors for the tournament--the 1967 Soviet version, the 1935 version starring Greta Garbo, the 1947 version starring Vivien Leigh, and a 1997 version starring Sophie Marceau--but the 2012 version, which does not look very interesting to me, was the only one with enough reviews to make the field in what was one of the more competitive of our challenges, with a score of 376 points required to be in the tournament. There were a number of interesting old movies (and books) that did not qualify, the most notable looking to me among these being a 1964 film called On the Streets of Moscow.

Elite 8

#16 Liveen over #6 The Duchess

#8 Anna Karenina over #15 Jackson

A painful upset, but the weighted system requires it.

#10 Renneson over #14 Brown

A close contest, but the Renneson has some slight advantages in the metrics.

#12 Heinlein over #13 Essbaum

Final Four

#8 Anna Karenina over #16 Liveen

#12 Heinlein over #10 Renneson


#12 Heinlein over #8 Anna Karenina

I had to add a new rule ensuring that a movie could not defeat a book in the championship round to overcome my upset rule. I am always adapting to steer the results somewhat in the direction I want them to go.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Author List Volume X

Alain Rene Le Sage (1668-1747) The Adventures of Gil Blas of Santillane (1715-1735) Born: Sarzeau, Brittany, France. Buried: Boulogne, Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardie, France. Cathedral of St Mary, Toledo, Castile-La Mancha, Spain.

Though there is a famous anecdote regarding Le Sage's funeral and the inscription on this tomb that shows up frequently in old books, there is no indication as to where he was buried other than one reference to its being in Boulogne. The site, wherever it was, may very well have been destroyed in the Second World War. 

Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987) God's Little Acre (1933) Born: The Little Manse, Erskine Cladwell Museum, East Camp Street, Moreland, Georgia. Buried: Scenic Hills Memorial Park, Ashland, Oregon. College: Erskine (S.C.)

There are indications on the internet that the Caldwell Museum is now closed. He does seem to be increasingly forgotten as the years go by.

Lucius Apuleius (124-c.170) The Golden Ass of Lucius Apuleius (c.150) Born: M'Daourouch, Algeria.

James Hilton (1900-1954) Goodbye, Mr Chips (1934) Born: 26 Wilkinson Street, Leigh, Lancashire, England. Buried: Knollkreg Memorial Park, Abingdon, Virginia. Shangri-La, 900 South Beretania Street, Honolulu, Hawaii. College: Christ's (Cambridge)

J.B. Priestley (1894-1984) The Good Companions (1929) Born: 34 Mannheim Road, Manningham, Yorkshire, England. Buried: St Michael and All Angels Church, Hubberholme, Yorkshire, England. College: Trinity Hall (Cambridge).

Pearl Buck (1892-1973) The Good Earth (1931) Pearl S. Buck Birthplace, 8129 Seneca Trail, Hillsboro, West Virginia. Buried: Green Hills Farm Grounds, Perkasie, Pennsylvania.  Pearl Buck House, 520 Dublin Road, Perkasie, Pennsylvania. Pearl Buck Museum, 6 Runzhoushan Road, Zhenjiang, China. College: Randolph-Macon.

Jaroslav Hasek (1883-1923) The Good Soldier Schweik (1929) Born: Skolska Street, Prague, Czech Republic. Buried: Old Lipnice Cemetery, Lipnice nad Sazavou, Czech Republic. Hasek Museum, Lipnice nad Sazavou, Czech Republic. Monument, Prokopovo Namesti, Prague, Czech Republic.

Selma Lagerlof (1858-1940) The Story of Gosta Berling (1894) Born: Marbacka, Sonne, Sweden. Buried: Ostra Amtervik Kyrkogard, Sunne, Sweden. College: Uppsala.

John Steinbeck (1902-1968) The Grapes of Wrath (1939) Born: John Steinbeck House, 132 Central Avenue, Salinas, Monterey, California.  Buried: Garden of Memories, Salinas, Monterey, California. National Steinbeck Center, 1 Main Street, Salinas, Monterey, California. College: Stanford.

George Barr McCutcheon (1866-1928) Graustark (1901) Born: nr Lafayette, Indiana. Buried: Spring Vale Cemetery, Lafayette, Indiana. College: Purdue.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) The Great Gatsby (1925) Born: 481 Laurel Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota. Buried: Old St. Mary's Catholic Church Cemetery, Rockville, Maryland.                     Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum, 919 Felder Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama. College: Princeton.

Louis Bromfield (1896-1956) The Green Bay Tree (1927) Born: Mansfield, Ohio. Buried: Olivet Cemetery, Lucas, Ohio. Malabar Farm, 4050 Bromfield Road, Lucas, Ohio. Oak Hill Cottage, Springmill Street and Oakhill Place, Mansfield, Ohio. College: Cornell.

Lynn Riggs (1899-1954) Green Grow the Lilacs (1931) Born: Claremore, Oklahoma. Buried: Woodlawn Cemtery, Claremore, Oklahoma. Lynn Riggs Memorial Exhibit, 121 North Weenonah, Claremore, Oklahoma. College: Oklahoma.

Lorenz Hart (1895-1943) Born: Harlem, New York, New York. Buried: Mt Zion Cemetery, Maspeth, Queens, New York. College: Columbia.

Michael Arlen (1895-1956) The Green Hat (1924) Born: Rousse, Bulgaria. Buried: (possibly) Golders Green Crematorium, Golders Green, London, England. College: Edinburgh.

W. H. Hudson (1841-1922) Green Mansions (1904) Born: Museo Historico Provincial Guillermo E. Hudson, Calle 1356, Avenida Hudson, Quilmes (Florencio Varela), Argentina. Buried: Broadwater and Worthing Cemetery, Worthing, Sussex, England.

Marc Connelly (1890-1980) The Green Pastures (1930) Born: McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Buried: Kensico Cemetery, Valhalla, Westchester, New York.

Roark Bradford (1896-1948) Born: Lauderdale County, Tennessee. Buried: Unknown. College: California (Berkeley)

Jakob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859) Grimm's Fairy Tales (1815) Born: Parade (now Freedom) Plaza 1, Hanau, Hesse, Germany. Buried: St Matthaus Kirchhof Cemetery, Schoneberg, Berlin, Germany. Bruder-Grimm-Haus und Museum Steinau, Bruder Grimm-Strasse 80, Steinau-an-der-Strasse, Hesse, Germany. Bruder Grimm-Museum Kassel, Bruder Grimm-Platz 4A, Kassel, Germany. Monument, Am Markt 14-18, Hanau, Hesse, Germany. College: Marburg (all both).

Charles Perrault (1628-1703) Born: 5eme, Paris, France (baptized, Eglise St Etienne-du-Mont). Buried: Carrieres de Paris, 14eme, Paris, France. Chateau d'Usse, Rigny-Usse, Centre-Val-de-Loire, France.

Knut Hamsun (1859-1952) Hunger (1890), Growth of the Soil (1917) Born: Lom, Norway. Buried: ashes in garden, Norholm, Grimstad, Norway.  Knut Hamsun Centre, Hamaroy, Norway.

The Knut Hamsun Center in remote northern Norway. 

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) Gulliver's Travels (1727) Born: 7 Hoey's Court, Dublin, Ireland (*****9-3-96*****). Buried: St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland (*****9-3-96*****) College: Trinity (Dublin).

Hamlet: Buried: (1) Marienlyst Castle, Helsingfor, Denmark. (2) Ammelhede, Randers Municipality, Denmark. Kronborg Castle, Helsingfors, Denmark.

Brian Donn Byrne (1889-1928) Hangman's House (1926) Born: New York, New York. Buried: Churchyard, Rathclarin, Cork, Ireland. College: Dublin.