Thursday, June 14, 2018

Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais--The Barber of Seville (1775)

One more shorter reading--there has been a little series of them here. Long more celebrated in this country at least in its operatic incarnation, surprisingly few English editions of this play have been published in the last century, apart from a Penguin edition that gets reprinted from time to time. The only old hardcover copy of the sort that I like to collect that I could find was a book from the 1893 Heath's Modern Language Series, an American school book that has the play in French, with an introduction and extensive notes in English. As the play runs only 83 pages, the language is mostly classical (and therefore consistent and unconfusing) French, the notes are directed at readers whose reading level in that tongue is not more advanced than my own, and I often find English translations of pre-revolutionary French plays to be unsatisfying, I decided to read it in the French. On the whole this was successful; reading over the summary in the IWE the only major plot point that escaped me was that Bartholo was persuaded in the end to agree to give up Rosina so easily because it was suggested that as her guardian there might be an investigation into what had become of her property. I am not sure why I missed that, because it is not an obscure or difficult passage. Perhaps I was tired or otherwise distracted by that point (it was on the second to last page) and it failed to sink in. 





From the IWE introduction, which I confess I am not sure makes any sense:


"The Barber of Seville is now best known in the history books (?), though it was only a symptom and not a contributing factor in the last mad years of the French kingdom."


It's a jolly and entertaining play, great construction, compares favorably with the better English comedies of the Restoration and 18th century, which I also have derived some enjoyment from in the course of my life. Unlike everything else I have been reading lately, there is nothing in this that I can interpret as being about death. It is concerned neither with the past or the future, but entirely with present action. Figaro is one of those characters of the European tradition whose existence maintains, or did maintain, a sort of universal present and freedom from most of the bounds and constraints that even afflict literary inventions. It contains a humor that seems to me to take much more after the English manner than what is usual in French writing. Its quality is that of being humorous without being over-serious, which has always been a source of much charm in English literature, though not a quality that I have found much elsewhere. 


I only took a few notes on this, lines that I found amusing, though they may not work taken out of context. The translations are my own.




My cute little book.


Act II, scene XIV:


LE COMTE: Elle est votre femme? (Is she your wife?)
BARTHOLO: Et quoi donc? (And what of it?)
LE COMTE: Je vous ai pris pour son bisaieul paternal, maternal, sempiternal; il y a au moins trois generations entre elle et vous. (I took you for her great-grandfather, paternal, maternal, eternal; there are at least three generations between her and you).


Act IV, scene I:
BARTHOLO: ...Il vaut mieux qu'elle pleure de m'avoir, que moi je meure de ne l'avoir pas. (It is better that she cries in having me, than that I die of not having her).


Act IV, scene VII:
LE COMTE: Mon maĆ®tre Bazile, un rien vous embarrasse, et tout vous etonne. (My master Bazile, nothing embarrasses you, and everything astounds you).


Act IV, scene VIII: (an example of the tone of the play's humor)
BARTHOLO voit le comte baiser la main de Rosine, et Figaro qui embrasse grotesquement don Bazile; il crie en prenant le notaire a la gorge. Rosine avec ces fripons!... (Bartholo sees the count kissing the hand of Rosine, and Figaro, who is grotesquely embracing Don Bazile; he shouts in grabbing the notary by the throat. "Rosine, with these rascals!")


From one of the footnotes: "...the excellence of this comedy resides in the acuteness with which Bartholo sees through the devices of his enemies, who have all the harder a task to outwit them."




I believe this is now the second French language book to appear in this program, after Around the World in Eighty Days. While it is exciting to be finally starting to encounter some of the classics of this great tradition almost five years in, it is somewhat funny to consider that we have still to encounter a book written in French that is actually set in France or features nominally French characters. There is not anything especially Spanish about Figaro or the other characters in the Barber of Seville I suppose, though they do not seem to be intensely French either. They have a kind of all purpose continental Latin-derived quality about them. There have been a number of American books thus far with Parisian settings, The American, Alice B. Toklas, part of Anthony Adverse; so we have not had to do entirely without Paris, at least, though it is of course a different kind of Paris.




The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge


Decent Challenge this time, heavy on opera books and antiquities.


1. Lucy Lethbridge--Servants: A Downstairs History of Britain, etc.......................83
2. Leah Kaminsky--The Waiting Room....................................................................40
3. Louis Sachar--Marvin Redpost #4: Alone in His Teacher's House......................31
4. Gustav Kobbe--The Complete Opera Book..........................................................21
5. Charles Osborne--The Opera Lover's Companion.................................................8
6. Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais--The Marriage of Figaro......................................3
7. Honore de Balzac--About Catherine de Medici, Seraphita and Other Stories.......3
8. Benjamin Disraeli--The Young Duke......................................................................1
9. Thomas Hood--Poetical Works of...........................................................................1
10. Rosina Bulwer-Lytton--Cheveley..........................................................................0
11. John Cordy Jeaffreson--The Real Shelley..............................................................0
12. Mabel Wagnalls--Stars of the Opera.....................................................................0








Qualifying Round


#5 Osborne over #12 Wagnalls


Availability


#6 Beaumarchais over #11 Jeaffreson
#7 Balzac over #10 Bulwer-Lytton
#9 Hood over #8 Disraeli


Very close contest. The New Hampshire State Library has both of these books, but the Disraeli is too old to circulate. Also I have read a Disraeli novel before (Vivien Grey) and it did not instill in me any great desire to go deeper in his oeuvre.


Quarterfinals


#1 Lethbridge over #9 Hood
#7 Balzac over #2 Kaminsky


I actually thought Kaminsky might take this one, but her book has not broken through to the libraries (and maybe never will).
#3 Sachar over #6 Beaumarchais


One of those pesky tournament upsets, and over Beaumarchais, who is essentially the host. We have Sachar's famous young adolescent book Holes in our house, and my impression is that at least one of my children has actually read it, so I am not disinclined to see him advance.


#4 Kobbe over #5 Osborne


Epic battle of Opera guides.


Semifinals


#1 Lethbridge over #7 Balzac


The power of the seed and the upset are too great for even the awesome Balzac to overcome here. I'm sure we'll see Honore in the tournament again.


#3 Sachar over #4 Kobbe








Championship


#1 Lethbridge over #3 Sachar


In the end, I want to stick with an adult book on a somewhat different topic than what I have been taking up lately.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

June 2018

A List: Edith Wharton--The House of Mirth........................................256/347
B List: Between books
C List: John Steinbeck--East of Eden...................................................215/601


While Edith Wharton is a capable enough writer, she is also very much after the manner of Henry James, albeit without some of the density, and I find that going deeper into her oeuvre, at least at this stage of my life, is bringing diminishing returns with regard to pleasure. This book is in much the same vein as The Custom of the Country, and both of these share an obvious bloodline with The Age of Innocence, which I remember writing some complimentary things about at the time I read it. This one is probably not bad for what it is, I just am not finding it to be interesting at this time.


Now East of Eden, on the contrary, I am enjoying a great deal. Remarkably, I had never read any Steinbeck before, even Of Mice and Men, which is still widely read in the schools. This is the kind of book that I was raised on, so to speak, in my earliest forays into literature as a teenager, and it is comfortable to me as far as pace, length, character development and so forth. Whenever I take it up (so far) I never fail to find it interesting, nor do I find myself falling asleep or my concentration drifting when I try to read some in the evening, which is an increasingly important consideration. So it is always exciting to have a book like that going, especially when it has some claim to being a classic, even a minor one or one with a lot of contingencies attached to it. I hope it keeps up.
It's hard to believe that a little more than a hundred years ago central California was barely inhabited. I have never been to California. I still imagine I will make it out there someday, but the years keep going by and there is no real opportunity to take that trip in sight anywhere on the horizon.


One more week and I will have gotten to the end of what has been a very long and particularly grueling school year, after which I'll have 2 1/2 months to try to recover and get ready to survive the next one. Only two more years until people start going to college. Having done essentially no planning for this, as was the case with myself as a youth, though in a somewhat different time when getting through a regular college experience was still reasonably manageable for a middle class person with by traditional standards adequate academic credentials, I can only imagine what that is going to be like.










A lot of pretty girl pictures this month. We should try to include some more serious, or at least artistic pictures too.




The character played by James Dean in the movie is still an infant at the part I am at in the book, which I think bodes well for my continued interest in the story.






America.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Par Lagerkvist--Barabbas (1950)



We return to one of my favorite genres within the IWE program, the (usually earnest) Biblical-inspired novel. Unlike most books in this class, this one is quite short as well, coming in at 180 slight pages. It is also, I am pretty sure, the first Swedish book that has turned up thus far, of which there are surprisingly many (well. maybe 12 or so), on the program. It would not the first Scandinavian book overall though, Hans Christian Anderson and his works having turned up a couple of years back. Par Lagerkvist does not seem to be particularly celebrated today, though he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1951, the year after Barabbas, which in the English-speaking world at least seems to be his best known work, was published. While I did like this lean, understated volume, which undoubtedly possesses a substantial amount of literary skill, it did not stand out to me on an initial reading at least as fitting my idea of a Nobel-quality work. However, I haven't read any of his other works (and he had been nominated three times for the prize before Barabbas came out) and I generally don't get too worked up about Prizes--though obviously I don't mind their existence either--unless I really dislike the winner, which rarely seems to be the case with me. The reason given by the Nobel committee for Lagerkvist's prize was that it was "for the artistic vigour and true independence of mind with which he endeavors in his poetry to find answers to the eternal questions confronting mankind" which does seem however like something that could apply to most winners (besides its assumption of some fixed set of 'eternal questions confronting mankind' whose answers, or attempts at answers, at the very least one suspects would invariably reveal themselves to be hopelessly Euro- and phallocentric). Interestingly Hemingway would be awarded the Nobel Prize just a handful of years after this right after the publication of The Old Man in the Sea, a similarly stripped down, elemental kind of work, and Camus, whose most famous novels also seem to me to partake of these kinds of qualities, won it a few years after that. So even apart from the Swedish Academy, there was clearly something in the atmosphere of the reading portions of the postwar West, and especially Europe, that needed and responded strongly to this type of literature.


From the IWE introduction, after giving the background of the Barabbas Story:


"This is all the Gospels tell. The challenge to novelists is apparent and dozens of them have drawn on their imaginations to give the fuller story of Barabbas--where he had come from, what he had done, what became of him. This is the most distinguished of the many efforts. It has, of course, a Swedish and Protestant outlook...The English translation by Alan Blair is superb (ed--This is true)."






As is my habit I did not read this introduction closely before reading the book, and I did not pick up on the book's having a notably Swedish and Protestant outlook as opposed to anything else. Though I do not come out of that tradition specifically, I suppose its worldview meshes somewhat with my own temperament enough that it does not stand out as strange to me. In the book the character of Barabbas, even with witnessing several episodes of Christ's life, miraculous and otherwise, at first hand or very near to it, and being strongly affected by the experience, is never really able to believe wholeheartedly in the man's divinity, and as such life is a lonely, existential struggle for him devoid of peace or joy. I am guessing this is what is referred to by the Swedish and Protestant outlook.


I did not make any notes on this book as there were no individual sentences or passages that would be very striking taken apart from the rest of the novel. It is small and easy to read and I found it to be thought-provoking in a manageable, comprehendible way.




Here is my book. Unfortunately I was not entirely successful in effacing the sticker that comes on every book I have to order online. This Vintage paperback from the 50s, along with a 90s reprint, is the only English language edition of this book I could find.


The Challenge
1. C. S. Lewis--Mere Christianity.....................................................3,322
2. Barabbas (movie-1961)....................................................................164
3. Gregory A. Boyd--Crucifixion of the Warrior God............................45
4. Bruxey Cavey--(Re)Union..................................................................32
5. Gregory A. Boyd--Cross Vision..........................................................25
6. Colin Wilson--A Criminal History of Mankind...................................21
7. Robert J. Hutchinson--The Dawn of Christianity................................21
8. Rahim & Thomson--Jesus Prophet of Islam.......................................12
9. Marie Corelli--Barabbas: A Dream of the World's Tragedy.................3
10. Benjamin Constant--On Religion.........................................................0
11. Trench H. Johnson--Phrases & Names: Their Origin & Meanings....0
12. Now Barabbas (movie-1949)...............................................................0
13. Did Jesus Die? (movie--2003).............................................................0
14. The Jesus Tomb (Secrets of the Cross) (movie--2009)........................0
15. Lois Windon--My Walk With God........................................................0


This Challenge is inevitably heavy on Christian themes.


1st Round


#2 Barabbas over #15 Windon


I am being discriminatory against the Windon book because it does not seem to be published by a respected house nor does it have any other signs of success going for it.


#3 Boyd over #14 The Jesus Tomb
#13 Did Jesus Die? over #4 Cavey


Upset special


#5 Boyd over #12 Now Barabbas
#6 Wilson over #11 Johnson
#7 Hutchinson over #10 Constant
#9 Corelli over #8 Rahim & Thomson


The Johnson and Constant books have been out of print for over 100 years. Corelli is a writer of some fame whose book interests me slightly more than her opponents'.








Final 8


#13 Did Jesus Die? over #1 Lewis



Brutal for the quality of the competition, but the documentary was entitled to a rare two upset tournament


#3 Boyd over #7 Hutchinson


I thought this would be a real game, but there isn't a single library in my state that has a copy of either of these books.



#9 Corelli over #2 Barabbas
#5 Boyd over #6 Wilson


This Boyd isn't available in any libraries either, while Wilson made it into two, but this Boyd has an upset to play.


Final 4


#3 Boyd over #13 Did Jesus Die?
#5 Boyd over #9 Corelli


No libraries have the Corelli book.


Championship


#5 Boyd over #3 Boyd






Author List Volume XIV

Abbe Prevost (1697-1763) Manon Lescaut (1731) Born: Riverside Holiday Home, 11 Rue Daniel Lereuil, Hesdin, Artois, France. Buried: Le Moulin de St Nicolas d'Acy, Corteuil, Picardy, France. Le Calvaire de l'Abbe Prevost, Rue du Calvaire, Corteuil, Picardy, France. College: Prytanee National Militaire.


Jules Massenet (1842-1912) Born: Montaud, St. Etienne, Lyonnais, France. Buried: Churcyard, Egreville, Ile-de-France, France. Monument, Jardin du Luxembourg, 6eme, Paris, France. College: Paris Conservatoire.








Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) Born: Puccini Museum/Casa Natale di Giacomo Puccini, Corte San Lorenzo 9, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. Buried: Estate Grounds, Private Chapel, Torre del Lago, Tuscany, Italy. Piccolo Hotel Puccini, Via di Poggio 9, Lucca, Tuscany, Italy. College: Milan Conservatory.




Edward Everett Hale (1822-1909) The Man Without a Country (1863) Born: Tremont Street, Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. Buried: Forest Hills Cemetery, Jamaica Plain, Suffolk, Massachusetts. Hale House, Matunuck, Rhode Island. Edward Everett Hale Monument, 16 Charles Street (Boston Common), Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts. College: Harvard.


Andre Malraux (1901-1976) Man's Fate (1933) Born: 53 Rue Damremont, 18eme, Paris, France. Buried: Cemetery, Verrieres-le Buisson, Ile-de-France, France. Museum of Modern Art Andre Malraux, 2 Boulevard Clemenceau, Le Havre, Normandie, France.



Walter Pater (1839-1894) Marius the Epicurean (1885) Born: Stepney, London, England. Buried: Holywell Cemetery (St. Cross Churchyard?), Oxford, Oxfordshire, England. College: Queens (Oxford).

Euripides (480-406 B.C.) Medea (431 B.C.) Born: Salamis Island, Greece. Buried: Arethousa, Macedonia, Greece.

Medea: Colchis, Georgia. Medea Sarcophagus, Altes Museum, Berlin, Germany.

Jason: Iolcus, Thessaly, Greece.

Harry Leon Wilson (1867-1939) Merton of the Movies (1922) Born: Oregon, Illinois. Buried: Unknown (?)

Elbert Green Hubbard (1856-1915) A Message to Garcia (1899) Born: Bloomington, Illinois. Buried: Died at sea in Lusitania sinking. Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum, 363 Oakwood Avenue, East Aurora, Erie, New York.

Ovid (43 B.C.-18) Metamorphoses (8) Born: Sulmona, Abruzzo, Italy. Buried: Statue, Ovid Square, Constanta, Romania.

Narcissus: Thespies, Boeotia, Greece.







Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) Born: Hamburg, Germany. Buried: Dreifaltigkeitsfriedhof, Kreuzberg, Berlin, Germany. Mendelssohn-Haus, Goldschmidtstrasse 12, Leipzig, Saxony, Germany. College: Humboldt University (Berlin).


Max Rheinhardt (1873-1943) Born: Baden, Austria. Buried: Westchester Hills Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, Westchester, New York. Schloss Leopoldskron, Leopoldskronstrasse 56-58, Salzburg, Austria.


Karl Gjellerup (1857-1919) Minna (1889) Born: Roholte Vicarage, Praesto, Denmark. Buried: Old Cemetery, Klotzsche, Dresden, Saxony, Germany. College: Copenhagen.


Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) Mr Midshipman Easy (1836) Born: Great George Street, Westminster, London, England. Buried: St Andrew and St Mary Churchyard, Langham, Norfolk, England.


Herman Melville (1819-1819) Moby Dick (1851) Born: 6 Pearl Street, New York, New York (*****2(?)/1998*****) Buried: Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York (*****2/1999*****). Arrowhead, 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield, Berkshire, Massachusetts (*****8(?)/2000(?)*****). Herman Melville House, 2 114th Street, Troy, Rensselaer, New York. Whale Rock, Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah.


As you can see, I have been to several of these places, but as the years go by, the exact dates, and in some instances even the year that I was there. All of these dates were recorded on some now long-lost computer or disk. I went to Arrowhead after the 2 New York City sites (which I remember visiting on separate occasions in successive years) but before my children were born, which would put the excursion somewhere in the 1999-2001 period, but I cannot remember which year it was.






Ahab (c. 852 B.C.) Buried: Samaria, Israel (West Bank).


Ascot Racecourse, Ascot, Berkshire, England.


Daniel Defoe (1660-1731) Moll Flanders (1722) Born: Fore Street, City, London, England. Buried: Bunhill Fields, Islington, London, England (*****9-3-1996*****). Robinson Crusoe House, Bottcherstrasse, Bremen, Germany.


Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) Born: 56 Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, 9eme, Paris, France. Buried: Calvary Cemetery, Altuona, French Polynesia. Paul Gauguin Cultural Center, Atuona, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia.


Unfortunately the Gauguin museum in Tahiti appears to be permanently closed.


Wilkie Collins (1824-1889) The Moonstone (1868) Born: 11 New Cavendish Street, Marylebone, London, England. Buried: Kensal Green Cemetery, Kensal Green, London, England


Grazia Deledda (1871-1936) The Mother (1923) Born: Grazia Deledda Museum, Via Grazia Deledda 42, Nuoro, Sardinia, Italy. Buried: Cimitero Comunale Monumentale Campo Verano (Near Termini), Rome, Lazio, Italy. Parco Letterario Grazia Deledda, Via Sassari, Galtelli, Sardinia, Italy. Grazia Deledda Restaurant, Via di Sacco Pastore 14, (Libia), Rome, Lazio, Italy. Hotel-Ristorante Grazia Deledda, Loc. Tilzitta, Arzachena, Sardinia, Italy. Hotel Grazia Deledda, Viale Dante 47, Sassari, Sardinia, Italy.









Thursday, May 10, 2018

Felix Salten--Bambi (1923)

Thought of, doubtless due to the Disney cartoon, primarily as a children's book,  the novel Bambi is actually a highly emotional, and in some ways rather brilliant meditation on the arc of life, nothing like I expected. For some reason--probably because I had confused him with Maurice Maeterlinck--I was thinking when I started the book that Felix Salten was Belgian and wrote in French, though in fact he was Jewish and a native of Hapsburg Budapest who wrote in German. Salten was very prominent in intellectual circles in his time as far as activity goes, though most assessments of his raw brainpower in these tough crowds did not accord him a particularly high rank. At least one writer has opined that Bambi can be interpreted as a commentary on the Jewish experience in Europe. I found it to be very sad, though essentially truthful. It really is not a children's book. There is nothing in it of humor or whimsy, despite which I think it is quite good, and well worth the time to read, if you have an intellect and psychological makeup like I do, which admittedly does not seem to be very many people.






p. 20 (I started pretty early with the notes in this book) "These were the earliest days of Bambi's life. He walked behind his mother on a narrow track that ran through the midst of the bushes. How pleasant it was to walk there." The melancholy, wistful tone is established right at the beginning. The English translation by the way was done by Whittaker Chambers, who was a name of some renown in his lifetime, though I don't have a good sense of what specifically he was renowned for.


p. 56 "In a moment Bambi darted after her. Gobo followed him. They flew around in a semi-circle, they turned tail and fell over each other. Then they chased each other up and down. It was glorious."


p. 59 "And Bambi's mother said to him, 'Come, it's time to go.' 'Wait just a little longer,' Faline pleaded eagerly, 'just a little while.' 'Let's stay a little longer, please,' Bambi pleaded, 'it's so nice.' And Gobo repeated timidly, 'It's so nice, just a little longer.'"


See what I mean.


Around this point I made a rather snide note that if a marginalized culture had produced this story, it would probably be held up as so subtly profound and wise as to be inaccessible to us.


pp.70-73 "'It was a bad business', he said, 'a monstrous uproar! You wouldn't believe how scared I was. I hunch myself up as still as a mouse in the corner and hardly dared move. That's the worst of it, having to sit there and move. And all the time you're hoping nothing will happen." This is a squirrel talking. I thought this passage might have been related to the Jewish experience in Europe.


Fall comes for the first time and Chapter VIII is a brief aside featuring the last couple of brown leaves clinging to a branch in complete denial about their future prospects, a real meditation on the reality of death. It hit home with me.


p. 234 I don't know what happened in the middle of the book, I meant to write down some notes but never got around to it. By this time Bambi has come to the point in life where I seem to be: "For his thoughts had grown serious and his heart heavy. He did not know what was happening within him. He did not even think about it. He merely recalled things aimlessly, and his whole life seemed to have become darker."


p. 258 Then he suffers injury and illness: "Not until the fever had entirely left his body did Bambi begin to think over all that had happened to him. Then a great terror awoke in him, and a profound tremor passed through his heart. He could not shake himself free of it. He could not get up and run about as before. He lay still and troubled." Obviously this whole passage would be lost on a child and would have to some extent been lost on the me of ten years ago. The depiction of the emotions of aging, not even out of youth, but really out of the prime years of life is eerily good. Salten, for the record, was 54 when Bambi was published, so he still had a few years on me. Books on these classics lists written by authors older than I am at the time of publication are not quite rare yet, but it has definitely reached the point where the circumstance is worth noting.


p. 268 "But of all his teachings this had been the most important; you must live alone, if you wanted to preserve yourself, if you understood existence, if you wanted to attain wisdom, you had to live alone."




Stolen picture. Since it's getting harder to do this, I'm going to have to start preparing more from my own materials. It shouldn't be hard.


The story meanders a little more in the second half, though it is obviously still an allegory. Though perhaps I should see it again, I think this aspect was completely lost in the Disney adaptation, which Salten apparently liked nonetheless.


I suppose I should at least briefly touch on the question of whether hunting is evil or not. Besides the brutality of humans which are duly noted, many of the animals are obviously predators too. After a heartwarming description of a family of ducks, a fox drags the mother duck out of the water and devours her, the mice live as virtually universal prey, and so forth. While death and inter-species violence are endemic to life, I think Salten would not have us find them lovable or heroic aspects of existence. He has chosen as his hero-animals the deer, who do not attack other animals, after all. I have, of course, never been on a hunt of any kind, unless we count setting mousetraps, the bringing of which latter death I must confess I have never lost any sleep over. I do not avoid hunting for any ideological reason, but merely because I did not grow up among people who ever did those sorts of things. It is a skill, and historically an important one for humans, especially male humans, to have, and I don't have any strong feeling that it was a skill that would better have remained undeveloped, so I have no urge to denounce it. Even the desire to virtue signal in me at this point is not powerful enough to give me any real pause in considering a position.


The edition of the book I read I found some years back in my attic (two copies of it in fact) in one of the many boxes of books that had been left up there for many decades by my wife's family. The book was published by Noble and Noble, with a brief forward by John Galsworthy and illustrations by Kurt Wiese. It looks like it dates from the World War II era, since there is an announcement on the copyright page declaring the book to have been made in strict conformity with WPB regulations of essential materials. It is a nice little book, though unfortunately I got something on my hands one day while I was reading it and smudged the cover.






There is my book, the worse for wear after my usage of it.


The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge


1. Chicken Soup For the Cat Lover's Soul.......................................2,055
2. Philip Pullman--The Subtle Knife...................................................718
3. Jane Yolen--Owl Moon...................................................................268
4. Emile Zola--Germinal.....................................................................158
5. Bob Grant--Bambi (Golden Book)..................................................134
6. Kenneth Oppel--This Dark Engineer................................................84
7. Mary Eberstadt--It's Dangerous to Believe.......................................57
8. Victor Hugo--The Man Who Laughs.................................................37
9. Pippa Mattinson--Total Recall...........................................................28
10. Victor Digenti--Windrusher............................................................21
11. Velda Brotherton--Once There Were Sad Songs............................21
12. Maxim Gorky--Mother....................................................................20
13. Felix Salten--Bambi's Children........................................................13
14. Susanne Davis--The Appointed Hour................................................7
15. David Zindell--Splendor....................................................................5
16. Jana Richard--Lies and Solace...........................................................5


First Round


#16 Richard over #1 Chicken Soup


This is a pretty excruciating matchup.


#2 Pullman over #15 Zindell


In battles of two genre books, I am going to go chalk until the final four from now on.


#3 Yolen over #14 Davis


The Yolen book is a children's book but it did win the Caldecott medal


#4 Zola over #13 Salten


A rare clash of IWE authors in the Challenge. I am actually curious about the Bambi sequel, but it wasn't enough for me to give it a win here.


#5 Grant over #12 Gorky


Upset card played over another IWE stalwart.


#6 Oppel over #11 Brotherton


#10 Digenti over #7 Eberstadt


Eberstadt's book is about religion and contemporary issues, not a genre novel. Unfortunately Digenti has an upset card.


#8 Hugo over #9 Mattinson




No one really studies like this anymore, but at least someone else wishes they did.


Elite Eight


#2 Pullman over #16 Richard


#3 Yolen over #10 Digenti


#4 Zola over #8 Hugo


Another clash of titans


#6 Oppel over #5 Grant


Oppel uses up his upset card.


Final Four


#2 Pullman over #6 Oppel


#4 Zola over #3 Yolen


Champiuonship


#2 Pullman over #4 Zola


Pullman had a upset coming that he didn't have to use until the final. His books certainly appear to be popular. I have no idea what they are about.




This is that Philip Pullman guy.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

May 2018

A List: E. M. Forster--"The Road From Colonus"................4/10
B List: Between Books
C List: Gloria Steinem--Marilyn.....................................117/182


When I started working on this month's update I had just finished 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I have enjoyed all of Jules Verne's tales of masculine adventure during this strangely anomic period I have been going through. He had a true storyteller's gift, as well as a gusto for the idea of inventions and scientific breakthroughs that seem more appealing and less off-putting in its attitude and triumphalism than I find in contemporary champions of technological progress, though this is doubtful. I'm sure if I had lived in the 1860s I would found every new innovation as terrifying and threatening as I do the ones today. But having finished this run of books by Jules Verne I will miss him until he comes up again, if I live that long.


The C entry is a half-coffee table size book of photographs of Marilyn Monroe published in 1986 with an accompanying text. Amazingly my library retains a copy of it in their basement storage, but for how much longer will anyone keep this sort of thing around? Who besides me would ever take this book out again? This kind of book is like taking a holiday from my usual reading. I have never been particularly fascinated by Marilyn Monroe, who was a very sad person and does not appear to have been particularly bright, although she was so unsophisticated compared to almost everyone in the modern media world that her manner of expressing herself was at least unique at times. (for example, from an interview excerpt. Marilyn is discussing one of her more intellectual ex-lovers: "'You cry too easily,' he'd say. 'That's because your mind isn't developed. Compared to your breasts it's embryonic.' I couldn't contradict him because I had to look up that word in a dictionary.") If nothing else this book reinforces the idea that it's a benefit to children to have their parents around even if the parents are mediocre or in some instances decidedly below average. Lots of men had sex with Marilyn Monroe. There isn't much of a record of her turning anyone down who applied any amount of aggression, which in those days of course everyone did under the delusion that it was healthy masculine behavior. She did refuse to meet, or at least avoided having to meet, Norman Mailer when he expressed an interest in meeting her. He famously developed a bit of an obsession with her that lasted well after her death. It is suggested in the text that short-lived husband and onetime American hero Joe DiMaggio gave her bruises on several occasions during their brief marriage, which is disappointing. Needless to say many of the successful men especially at this time were by today's standards near perpetual sexual harassment machines, and proud of the virility it revealed. It's no wonder some of the older men who have recently been punished for what was once expected behavior (Mailer ridiculed rival Arthur Miller's failure to make a pass at Monroe when they first met in 1950 in a play about her that he later wrote) don't seem to think they have done anything especially wrong.


Gloria Steinem is of course a famous feminist and, yes, that informs her writing, though compared to more contemporary feminists, she seems, if not exactly mild, more restrained in her vision and far less inclined to take a contemptuous attitude towards. She seems very much to be concerned with things like women's being able to achieve respect (when deserved) in male-dominated fields. The idea that women would ever threaten to become numerically a majority in a number of these fields, as seems to be happening in today's younger cohorts, does not seem to have been something that was on her radar as having any likelihood as late as the 1980s.


"The Road From Colonus" looks like it is about an old guy dying. Not a subject dear to my heart these days.


Also during this month I read a book of stories for the C List called 20th Century Ghosts by a writer named Joe Hill, who is actually Stephen King's son. Both because of this and because the book was advertised as vaguely horror-y, I was not too excited about reading it, but I have to say I liked it quite a lot. Much better than anything by his father, actually, whose books I have never been able to get into. While the stories do turn on horror or supernatural effects, the overall tone is literary and nostalgic, with the grotesqueries insinuating themselves into an ordinary story that has an interest of its own rather than overwhelming it. The stories here were first published between 1999 and 2005. They all are set in the kinds of New England or upstate New York faded towns and small cities such as the one where I live, and take place among a (somewhat scarily) already fading world of video store employees. movie theaters, tenured academics with "heartbreaking dreams of someday having a poem published in the New Yorker"), low circulation magazines that print fiction, and the like. I was very impressed and even moved by it, which doesn't happen with me very often.


I have some other poignant anecdotes I wanted to write about, but maybe I will save them for another post. I have to get this out tonight.




Monday, April 16, 2018

Mathew Arnold--Balder Dead (1855)



I suppose I could make the claim that Matthew Arnold is one of my favorite poets, based on the circumstance that "Dover Beach" and "Thyrsis" are two of my favorite poems. I was not however familiar with any of this author's other poetic productions, though I have read several of his famous critical essays over the years, and I generally liked those too (he is a staunch Great Books kind of guy after all). I felt that my readings of the last two longer form Victorian poets that came up on this list, Swinburne and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, were not as satisfactory as might have been hoped. It is possible that the poems in question were not especially great (I don't think that they were, in fact), or that the style in which they are written has become too difficult for my aging 21st century brain to follow (I hope not), but I also made the mistake when reading these of trying to keep on a schedule, even if it meant reading later at night when I was tired, or was otherwise distracted. It was after the Browning book I believe that I decided not to be so ironclad about following the schedule going forward, at least where poems or other more, I don't want to say difficult, books, but books requiring more time or concentration, were concerned. So I determined to take my time with Balder Dead, though my pre-existing affinity for Arnold's poetry also led me to hope that I would be able to get into the poem more easily.


As is not infrequently the case with the IWE listthis particular poem is something of an eccentric selection, not because it is not a decent poem, but because I feel like it is not very well known, and it is even difficult to find a copy of the full poem in a bound book put out by a major publishing house within the last 100 years. I ended up ordering a 1942 Oxford edition of Arnold's poems from somewhere in Wales, which was the only place I could find selling a copy of this book. I discovered when it arrived that it is actually a fairly short poem, only 31 pages. The IWE doesn't say anything about Arnold, and only notes that "the story of Balder is a favorite in Norse mythology" and then goes on to relate some of the basic elements of the story. Why Arnold chose this particular story to be the subject of a fairly long poem none of the materials I have at hand has anything to say about at all.


As is usual with me, I did not mark any passages until I was a good way into the reading.


II ll. 166-8: "And old men, known to Glory, but their star
Betray'd them, and of wasting age they died,
Not wounds..."


I thought it interesting that even the brave and glorious don't make it to Valhalla if they don't die in battle.


III ll. 162-72. Almost the whole third section of the poem is given over to Balder's funeral.




"...then the corpse
Of Balder on the highest top they laid,
With Nanna on his right, and on his left
Hoder, his brother, whom his own hand slew...
And slew the dogs which at his table fed,
And his horse, Balder's horse, whom most he lov'd,
And threw them on the pyre..."


A lot of living creatures needed to be slain to be tossed on Balder's pyre, including his wife, who had already been taken care of in these lines.


III ll. 190-215. The description of the burning ship is good. Appropriately grim, especially the references to the northern forests, the sound of fires in winter, and the like.


As noted earlier, I had a difficult time discerning Arnold's particular motivation for choosing this story. Obviously he had one. And it is a good poem after his style, I am just not sure what he is so taken by in it. Is it the dramatic and serious manner in which this culture addressed death?


III ll. 509-14. Perhaps this is it? The ghost of Balder is speaking:


"For I am long since weary of your storm
Of carnage, and find, Hermod, in your life
Something too much of war and broils, which make
Life one perpetual fight, a bath of blood.
Mine eyes are dizzy with the arrowy hail;
Mine ears are stunn'd with blows, and sick for calm."


III ll. 565-70. I like this image. It also revisits the theme of storks which is prevalent in a lot of European stories.


"And as a stork which idle boys have trapp'd,
And tied him in a yard, at autumn sees
Flocks of his kind pass o'er his head
To warmer lands, and coasts that keep the sun;
He strains to join their flight, and from his shed,
Follows them with a long complaining cry--"


Is Balder referring to Christianity at the end, from his ghostly perch (of perception)? It is not clear to me.








The Bourgeois Surrender Challenge


The keywords in this one were two source specific to bring up many titles outside the realm of Norse mythology.



1. D'Aulaire's Book of Norse Myths..........................................................237
2. H. R. Ellis Davidson--Gods and Myths of Northern Europe...................58
3. Graham Masterson--The House That Jack Built.....................................45
4. Dan McCoy--The Love of Destiny, etc....................................................41
5. Robert J. Mrazek--Valhalla.....................................................................34
6. Snorri Kristjansson--Swords of Good Men..............................................20
7. Urdu to English Dictionary......................................................................19
8. Allen Mawer--The Vikings.........................................................................3
9. A Guide to the Common Epiphytes and Mistletoes of Singapore..............0




This subject does not appear to attract a lot of women authors. I thought Snorri Kristjansson might be one, but he too is a man.




Play-In Game


#8 Mawer over #9 Guide to Epiphytes









Round of 8


#1 D'Aulaires over #8 Mawer
#2 Davidson over #7 Urdu to English Dictionary
#3 Masterson over #6 Kristjansson


These are both genre books, though I would have been inclined to give Kristjansson the edge based on his being from a foreign literary culture, being a native of Iceland, though it looks like he may write and publish primarily in English anyway. Masterson was entitled to an upset however.


#4 McCoy over #5 Mrazek


Because I dread genre fiction so much I always try to make sure it loses when I have a chance.




Final Four


#1 D'Aulaires over #4 McCoy
#2 Davidson over #3 Masterson




Championship


#2 Davidson over #1 D'Aulaires


Published in 1964, which is in the heart of the era wherein I actually trust the intent of much academic scholarship, H (for Hilda!) R. Ellis Davidson's study might be difficult to procure a copy of, but I think it is the clear choice here. I have many of the D'Aulaires' books at home, and I have always been a fan of theirs, but they are essentially children's writers. I'll have to see if I can make this happen.