Wednesday, November 9, 2016

November Update

Late this month because I didn't have a computer on Sunday and then I had to rush to put up something about the election on parent blog on Monday, and then I got caught up in the election on Tuesday. So here it is:


A List: Between books, again.


I just did a bunch of short stories from the 1910-1940 era for this list.


B List: Sholem Asch, The Apostle..............................................................312/754


C List: Maria Augusta Trapp, The Story of the Trapp Family Singers......148/312


The Apostle is a novel about the life of St Paul, written originally in Yiddish, though never published in that language, appearing publically for the first time in an English translation in 1943. There is much about it and its author that I find interesting. Needless to say I will do a big review of this when I have finished it.


The Von Trapp book is indeed the source material on which The Sound of Music is (loosely) based. It is a charming little book. Maria would probably be considered a simpleton by most book people nowadays, but she really seems to have been one of those energetic positive people who never whines and makes things, such as her marriage into the Austrian aristocracy and the family's international music career, happen, by her account without intentionally seeking them but in the course of celebrating and honoring God's creation. The book was the selection of the Catholic Book Club for December, 1949, and the tone is devout and pro-Catholic Church. Most of the book takes place after the family moved to the United States, the Austrian portion made famous by the play and movie only taking up about the first third. The captain is a much softer touch than he is depicted as being in the film, though the bits about the whistles and the insistence on formality at all times were taken from the book. The von Trapps had lost most of their fortune during the crash of the 30s prior to the Nazi invasion, though they were able to keep their castle/palace by taking in boarders, mostly priests and students. Also Maria had married the captain way back in the 1920s--in the movie the Nazis arrive just as they are getting back from their honeymoon. The edition I am reading notes that the baron and baroness had had to give up their titles and the use of the 'von' in their names upon coming to America. I had thought this was a rule that American citizens could not possess or demand to be called by titles, but I feel like this has been relaxed in recent years. One of Hillary Clinton's good friends, Lady de Rothschild, who was born in New Jersey, seems to use her title socially in the United States without encountering a lot of indignation from democratic types.


The Gallery


I was going to put up some personal pictures with Von Trapp themes, particularly from a visit we made to their lodge in Vermont around 2004, but I have not been able to find them. Which is too bad, because there were some very nice pictures. We had just the two children at that time, and we were younger, and the pictures of my wife that day were especially pretty, and I remember that now as a happy time for me, though I am sure all manner of troubles were causing me to be miserable that have been forgotten now. So I will have to find other pictures.











Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shakespeare--Antony and Cleopatra (1606)

I did a series on this for my original blog back in 2009, (Here and Here) to which I do not have anything substantial to add at this time. Antony and Cleopatra still ranks as one of my personal favorites in the Shakespeare ouevre, along with the other Roman plays, mostly because I don't have the sense that too many other people have claimed it as one of theirs. I need some patch of ground in the realm of Shakespeare appreciation on which to stake a foothold. Also its cleanness and formal perfection of composition has always impressed me, though I suppose other writers are able to give us something approaching this, and the most forcefully sentient people are more drawn to the robust protean energy of the most essential works.



This is the second Shakespeare play to come up on the IWE list, and the first tragedy. The alphabetical order is fine for this as I will be reading most of the plays that are on it for the second, third, fourth, etc, time. I have been on a bit of a Shakespeare binge lately--four plays in the last month for my "A" list plus this one and I am evidently overwhelmed as far as being able to pick out any especial insights or mildly interesting thoughts I had in reading it. I seemed to have had more to say directly in 2009. At that time I had not read any Shakespeare in several years, and I also think my mind was in one of those periodic windows in one's life where it is receptive to new impressions of old things. Also the rhythm of how I read now, especially for this IWE list, has seemingly been adjusted to consume the long novels which dominate it, so when plays come up, especially the super classics like Sophocles and Shakespeare, I want to spend some time with them, but my perception is not adjusting to the scale and density of the work. In truth, I am having difficulty in organizing and executing this essays. For one thing, though one of the purposes of this program of reading is to detach myself somewhat from the contemporary mental environment, it still seeps in, and of course I still crave a certain degree of intellectual camaraderie with the living, which I have never been able to obtain to my satisfaction. On this latest occasion I kept noting Shakespeare's attitudes with regard to what men should be like and what women should be like, which seemed to exist within a more or less traditional framework, though of course as with most of the better authors it recognized the existence of outliers, even if he largely maintained that the ideal even for these was ultimately to be constrained within a version of the traditional roles that was acceptable to them. Like a lot of people, the election, and the intense reactions and emotions it is provoking in people, are having effects on me. I was never attracted to Trump, but trying to persuade myself that Hillary Clinton is as wonderful as we are increasingly pressured to concede that she is only causes me to be unhappy and surly. The contempt and lack of respect for men that she projects and legions of her supporters openly revel in is not something I am able to embrace or celebrate. I told people, jokingly as I thought, that as long as Hillary Clinton demonstrated at any point in the campaign anything resembling respect for men who are not potentially large donors that she would have my vote. We are now two weeks from the election and I am still waiting. I am not going to vote for Trump, and I don't understand beyond the most primitive level why his supporters have put their hopes in him, but in my own life it is the increasingly aggressive and obnoxious progressives who loom as the greater problem, because I don't agree with their attitudes where men, particularly of the heterosexual, European descended variety are involved. I do not want a full restoration of 1950s gender roles and attitudes even if that were possible, but men do need to figure how to reassert themselves and play a strong and at least an equal part in life and regain some of the respect they have lost with women as well as among themselves, or I think we will continue to see very ugly politics centered around gender divisions and other various resentments. The current atmosphere is untenable.



But what of Antony and Cleopatra? The political choice wasn't really that appealing in that conflict either, to one of a democratic mindset. It was probably for the best that Augustus Caesar prevailed. He was the more modern man, though symbolically at least, more associated in the mind with despotism and unassailable power, while Antony symbolically represented the last link to the Republic, and a less absolute state. But I guess you should read my older posts on this play, since I really have not come up with any new thoughts since the last time.

The Challenge

Once again the magic words invoke so blatantly the great characters of the play that nearly all of the contestants in the Challenge can claim a Roman theme:

1. Hail, Caesar (movie).................................................................1,055
2. Stacy Schiff--Cleopatra: A Life....................................................731
3. Bernard Cornwell--Death of Kings................................................513
4. Tom Holland--Rubicon: Last Years of the Roman Republic.........259
5. Suetonius--Lives of the Twelve Caesars........................................200
6. Julius Caesar (movie--1953).........................................................194
7. Clay Griffith--The Greyfriar (Vampire Empire #1).......................154
8. Anthony Everitt--Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor....148
9. Barry Strauss--The Death of Caesar..............................................139
10. Colleen McCullough--The October Horse...................................129
11. Joanne DeMaio--Beach Blues........................................................80
12. Isaac Asimov--Asimov's Guide to Shakespeare.............................66
13. Joseph Max Lewis--The Diaries of Pontius Pilate........................66
14. Steven Saylor--The Triumph of Caesar.........................................62
15. Chris Scarre--Chronicle of the Roman Emperors..........................45
16. The Last Days of Pompeii (movie--1935)......................................40


Round of 16

#16 The Last Days of Pompeii over #1 Hail, Caesar

Hail, Caesar is probably a better movie, but the general custom of the Challenge favors older movies in head-to-head matchups.




#15 Scarre over #2 Schiff


Scarre is shorter by 77 pages.


#14 Saylor over #3 Cornwall


Two basically identical books, genre novels published 2 years apart, both available. Saylor is 9 pages shorter.


#4 Holland over #13 Lewis


History (I think) beats more genre work.


#12 Asimov over #5 Suetonius


Suetonius would have been the choice, especially as Asimov clocks in at over 800 pages, but Asimov has an upset coming in this tournament, and he gets it in the first round.


#11 Demaio over #6 Julius Caesar

#7 Griffith over #10 McCullough

Battle of genre novels. Griffith about 400 pages shorter.

#8 Everitt over #9 Strauss

I can't tell if the Strauss is a serious book or not. Otherwise, they look pretty similar. Strauss is slightly shorter, but Everitt too is entitled to an upset. Which he does not need to get by here however.


Round of 8

#4 Holland over #16 Last Days of Pompeii

#7 Griffith over #15 Scarre

Griffith also had an upset in reserve.

#8 Everitt over #14 Saylor

#12 Asimov over #11 Demaio

The Asimov is 843 pages but I can't have it lose to a literal beach novel.

Final Four

#4 Holland over #12 Asimov

#8 Everitt over #7 Griffith

Championship

#4 Holland over #8 Everitt

The Holland is about 30 pages longer but it looks like a more solid book. Plus Holland also has an upset in reserve, which cancels out Everitt's unused upset in an extremely tight title game.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Sophocles--Antigone (441 B.C.)


We have an interlude now in the midst of these long books with a couple of foundational, all-time standard plays. Antigone, especially, is so short (or, if you prefer, concise) that even going over it at the most leisurely pace possible while still getting any productive reading done, a couple of days is about the maximum required to complete a reading in English. I don't remember how many times I have had to read this, for school, or one list or another. Three? Four? This time felt to me like the most successful effort, that I had the best frame of mind, concentration, the best overall grasp of the literary and mythical world in which the play took place. Of course one can only get so far reading it in English. It is pretty much certain at this point that I will ever become proficient enough in Greek to be able to really read the literature, beyond making painstakingly slow translations, which I can do to some extent now, though my vocabulary remains weak. So I am not going to kill you with a lot of literary analysis, which you will either already know or can get elsewhere. I read the old Elizabeth Wyckoff University of Chicago translation, which is the good old mid-century scholarship I am most comfortable with and have the most trust in with regard to emotional tone and things like that. This (the tone) seems to me at least, based on my biases and school experiences, what Greek literature conveyed into English should be like, especially for middling intellects. 



The concern with order and duty and the conflict between the competing ideas of what constitutes these that form the subject of the play made a stronger impression on me on this occasion than they had formerly, perhaps since in our own time these ideas as they apply to governing bodies and societal harmony, and oddly to me, perhaps even the cosmos itself, are weakening and being relentlessly questioned. They are not associated with promoting a greater, or common good, at least the ideas of duty and order that are invoked. Such ideas were strong however among ancient writers and in the systems that they devised or made records of. Creon comes across negatively in the play because he wishes to suppress an action rooted deep in custom and long practice for the sake of order. The implication is that he is attempting to impede the carrying out of necessary activity, of necessary duty, which is the true source of order. The importance of Antigone's being a woman is not of paramount significance to me, other than that I think it heightens the drama of the act of defiance, and suggests an awareness and interest in the feminine will and capacity for opposition that is not always evident in classical authors....      





I had inserted a heading here to be filled out later called Notes on my feelings. That would be feelings evoked by this reading. Naturally any Greek reading evokes memories, usually fond enough ones, of my school days, and will always continue to inform my encounters with these kinds of books, because I can associate them with the people, and social activities of that time, which in many instances involved real experiences and relationships rather than the more imaginary ones with which I associate other kinds of books. The story I accept as a kind of fact in itself, possessed of a being that is greater and more essential to the aspects of human existence that are of interest to me. And all of that.

The Challenge


The magic words for Antigone are frequently ones that are very particular to itself. This has the effect, as with other classical stories, of leaving a very small field for the tournament.





1. Virginia Woolf--Night and Day..............................................................301
2. Charles Boyce--Shakespeare A to Z..........................................................31
3. Antigone (film--Greece 1961)...................................................................25
4. Harold Bloom--Bloom's Critical Interpretations: Oedipus Rex................23
5. John Gardner/John Meier--Gilgamesh......................................................22
6. Seamus Heaney--The Burial at Thebes.....................................................21
7. Eleanor Fuchs--The Death of Character: Perspectives on Theater, etc.....0
8. Dina Gujesnova--European Elites and Ideas on Empire 1917-1957..........0
9. Patricia Clark--Wreath For the Red Admiral...............................................0




Play-in Round


#8 Gujesnova over #9 Clark


I can't tell what kind of book the Clark is, but libraries don't have it anyway.


Round of 8


#1 Woolf over #8 Gujesnova


#7 Fuchs over #2 Boyce


#6 Heaney over #3 Antigone


#4 Bloom over #5 Gardner/Meier


I don't particularly like Harold Bloom, but his book here is shorter than Gilgamesh, and I don't think I am really up for that epic at this time anyway.


Final Four


#7 Fuchs over #1 Woolf


The Fuchs book is fairly obscure, but there are places that have it, and it is only 224 pages. Woolf is intriguing here, since I have never heard of this particular novel. However it runs around 450-500 pages, and especially with the insertion of the Knausgaard book into the slot where the challenge books go, I am going to need some shorter winners.


#6 Heaney over #4 Bloom


Championship


#6 Heaney over # 7 Fuchs


The Heaney book is actually just his version of the Antigone, which would be technically illegal. However, being a Nobel Prize winner and one of the handful of most celebrated poets in English of the last fifty years, his version probably can be counted as a work of literature in itself rather than a straight translation. And at 79 pages, it is practically a no-brainer here.





Thursday, October 6, 2016

October Update

A List: Between books currently

B List: Between books currently

C List: Karl Ove Knausgaard--My Struggle: Book 1........196/441

For the A-List I have just finished a trio of Shakespeare plays--Measure For Measure, Cymbeline, and Henry V--that I had not managed to read before. I decided to tally up the overall number of Shakespeare plays I have read through via these lists, and to my surprise this recent batch just put me over the halfway point, at 20 out of 37. I thought I must have read more by this point. But it is legitimate, I have missed thus far most of the early comedies and histories, as well as the five or so plays that are generally obscure, Pericles, King John, Henry VIII and so on. Measure for Measure and Cymbeline were better than I was anticipating. Henry V was mildly disappointing in that I was expecting it might join the ranks of my all-time favorites, and parts of it certainly have that quality, but I was not positively enthralled by it all the way through on this first reading anyway as I thought it possible I might be. At this point of my life, expectation plays an outsize part in my response to literature and other works of art encountered for the first time after having only read about them, in some instances over the course of decades.

I am working on an essay for a book I have just finished for the B-list. I have made a rule that I cannot move on to the next book on this list until the posting for the previous book is published, otherwise I would never complete them, Hopefully that will be up in the next day or two.

The Knausgaard is also a deviation from my usual strict system. An old classmate had a copy mailed to me because he wanted me to read it, the first volume anyway, and the series has received effusive praise among the intelligentsia here so I decided to take it up. To this point it is largely a record of memories of ordinary life as experienced by a Norwegian teenager--and a heterosexual male at that--in the 1980s. Knausgaard is only about a year older than I am and I also went to high school in a cold northern place that was not unpleasantly a couple of decades behind the times in certain aspects. So his experiences are very similar to mine, with the exception that he was, if not a full-blown stud, a little less hopeless with the ladies during his high school years. There was at least some mild kissing and breast touching going on, and this with Scandinavian girls too, it must be borne in mind. I have to admit, the enthusiasm for this writer among many normally jaded and scornful critics and intellectuals, the kind of people who understand everything new and move with it and are bored by anything that is at all informed by the past we have left behind, is puzzling to me. I do not yet see the genius and brilliance that these other very exacting people are evidently seeing. I am not persuaded that it is not coming, because I am quite fascinated by the attraction it has for this self-consciously smart and superior class of readers, and I really want to know what they are finding in it. I don't dislike it, and I am curious to finish the first volume at least--maybe I will continue on to the other books down the line, one a year or something like that--but it does not strike me as being particularly funny (maybe this is because, as the argument was made against Bob Hope, Knausgaard is not Jewish, and Americans are conditioned now to understand humor as existing in the form in which it has been presented by Jewish comedians for the last 80 years). I also do not think the writing itself is that special. He constantly records very plain and seemingly unimportant exchanges of conversation verbatim, but then when a brash and confident boy comes into a room at school where the author is sitting with a girl he is in love with and the intruder proceeds to cast a spell over her and prompts her to (unconsciously?) open her legs when he takes a step near her (this was a good observation) he does not actually transcribe what this rival said that was so mesmerizing and effective, which I was dying to know. But perhaps this is consistent with the overall plan of the book...

No pictures this month. Too late in the evening.    

Monday, October 3, 2016

Author List Volume XI

Henry IV of England (1367-1413) Born: Bolingbroke Castle, Lincolnshire, England. Buried: Cathedral, Canterbury, Kent, England.


Henry V of England (1386-1422)  Born: Monmouth Castle, Monmouth, Wales. Buried: Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London, England. Cradle, Museum of London, 150 London Wall, City, London, England. College: Queen's (Oxford)


Henry VI of England (1421-1471) Born: Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England. Buried: Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England.






Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) Born: 26 Wathen Road, Dorking, Surrey, England. Buried: Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London, England. Riad Laurence Olivier (Hotel), Marrakech, Morocco. College: Central School of Speech and Drama






Catherine of Valois (1401-1437) Born: Hotel Saint-Pol, St Paul Church, 4eme, Paris, France. Buried: Westminster Abbey, Westminster, London, England.




Henry VIII of England (1491-1547): Born: Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London, England. Buried: St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England. Hampton Court Palace, Richmond-upon-Thames, London, England.


Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482) Born: Pont-a-Mousson, Lorraine, France. Buried: Angers Cathedral, Angers, Anjou, France.




Lady Grey (Elizabeth Woodville) (1437-1492) Born: Grafton Regis, Northamptonshire, England. Buried: St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, Berkshire, England.



James II of England (1633-1701) Born: St James's Palace, Westminster, London, England. Buried: Church of the English Benedictines, Rue St Jacques, 5eme, Paris, France.

Cecil Scott Forester (1899-1966) Beat to Quarters (1937), Ships of the Line (1938), Flying Colours (1939) Born: Cairo, Egypt. Buried: Loma Vista Memorial Park, Fullerton, Orange, California.

Arthur Joyce Cary (1888-1957) The Horse's Mouth (1944) Born: Bank Place, Derry (Londonderry), Northern Ireland. Buried: (?) College: Trinity (Oxford)

Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) The House of the Seven Gables (1851) Born: Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace, 54 Turner Street, Salem, Essex, Massachusetts.(*****3-4-01*****) Buried: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts.(*****7-20-97*****) House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby Street, Salem, Essex, Massachusetts.(*****3-4-01*****) The Wayside, 455 Lexington Road, Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts (*****7-20-97*****). The Old Manse, 269 Monument Street, Concord, Middlesex, Massachusetts. College: Bowdoin.

Samuel Butler (1612-1680) Hudibras (1663-78) Born: Strensham, Worcestershire, England. Buried: St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, England (*****6-21-99*****)

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771) Humphrey Clinker (1771) Born: Dalquhurn, Renton, Strathclyde, Scotland. Buried: Old English Cemetery, Livorno, Tuscany, Italy. Cameron House, Loch Lomond, Alexandria, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. College: Glasgow.

In my old literary tourism guides from the 1970s and 80s the Cameron House, which was home to the Smollett family for many generations, was apparently open for regular tours and contained a small museum dedicated to the writer in one of its rooms. It looks as if now it has been transformed into a five star luxury resort, however.

Pierre Loti (1850-1923) An Iceland Fisherman (1888) Born: La Maison Pierre Loti, 141 Rue Pierre Loti, Rochefort, Poitou, France. Buried: Saint Pierre d'Oleron, L'Ile d'Oleron, Poitou, France. Pierre Loti Hill, Istanbul, Turkey. Pierre Loti Tepesi (CafĂ©), Idris Koeskue Cad, Eyup, Istanbul, Turkey. Pierre Loti Hotel, Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey. College: Brest Naval College.

Robert Graves (1895-1985) I, Claudius (1934) Born: 1 Lauriston Road, Wimbledon, London, England. Buried: Deia Cemetery, Deia, Mallorca, Islas Baleares, Spain.  La Casa de Robert Graves, Carretera Deia a Soller, Deia, Mallorca, Islas Baleares, Spain. College: St John's (Oxford).  

Claudius (10 B.C.-54) Born: Lyon, Rhone-Alpes, France. Buried: Mausoleum of Augustus, Campus Martius, Rome, Lazio, Italy. Claudius Therme, Sachsenbergstrasse 1, Cologne, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany.





Livia (58 B.C.-29) Born: (Rome?) Buried: Mausoleum of Augustus, Campus Martius, Rome, Lazio, Italy. Painted Garden of the Villa of Livia, National Roman Museum, Palazzo, Massimo, largo di via Perretti 1, Rome, Lazio, Italy.

Tiberias (42 B.C.-37) Born: Rome, Lazio, Italy. Buried: Mausoleum of Augustus, Campus Martius, Rome, Lazio, Italy. Villa of Tiberius, Sperlonga, Lazio, Italy.

Lancelot

Guinevere Born: Old Oswestry Hill Fort, Oswestry, Shropshire, England. Buried: Glastonbury Abbey, Somerset, England.

Pelleas

Ettarre

A.S.M. Hutchinson (1879-1971) If Winter Comes (1921) Birthplace: India.

For whatever reason there is a real dearth of biographical information available about Hutchinson compared to just about every other author on this list. I can find nothing with regard to a gravesite or scattering of ashes, whether he attended a university or not, or any more precise birth location than "British India".

Homer (before 700 B.C.) The Iliad (c.1000 B.C.) Born: Smyrna, Turkey. Buried: Tomb of Homer, Plakoto, Ios, Greece.

I am aware that there is no hard historical evidence that any particular poet named "Homer" ever lived, or that either of these places has a definite connection with anyone with a claim to be the author of the Homeric poems. I am not a scholar, however, and in the absence of any positive evidence of anything, I happily revert back to these traditional memes, which have their origins in antiquity itself. While numerous cities and islands have also staked claims to being the birthplace of the legendary poet, the Smyrna (Izmir) claim is the one I have seen the most and in the most affable sources, so it is the city I have settled on to honor the poet pending further evidence.

George Chapman (1559-1634) Born: 35 Tilehouse Street, Hitchin, Hertfordshire, England. Buried: St Giles in the Fields, Camden, London, England.

Nestor: Nestor's Palace, Chora, Greece.

Machaon Born: Trikala, Thessaly, Greece. Buried: Gerenia, Messenia, Greece.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) Born: Oscar Wilde Centre, 21 Westland Row, Dublin Ireland. Buried: Cimitiere du Pere-Lachaise, 20eme, Paris, France. Oscar Wilde House, 1 Merrion Square, Dublin, Ireland. College: Trinity (Dublin); Magdalen (Oxford).

Halldor Kiljan Laxness (1902-1998) Independent People (1945) Born: Reykjavik, Iceland. Buried: Fossvogskirkjugardur, Reyjavik (Hofudborgarsvaedi), Iceland. Gljufrasteinn, Posthof 250, Mosfellsbaer, Iceland.


 









Liam O'Flaherty (1896-1984) The Informer (1925) Born: Gort na gCapall, Inis Mor, Galway, Ireland. Buried: Haven't found this yet. College: University (Dublin).


Victor McLaglen (1886-1959) Born: Stepney (Tower Hamlets), London, England. Buried: Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, Los Angeles, California. Quiet Man Cottage Museum, Circular Road, Cong, Mayo, Ireland. Danagher's Restaurant, Cong, Mayo, Ireland.








Charles Sheldon (1857-1946) In His Steps (1896) Born: Wellsville, Allegany, New York. Buried: Mount Hope Cemetery, Topeka, Kansas. Charles Sheldon Museum, 1248 SW Buchanan Street, Topeka, Kansas. (maybe). College: Brown.

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.


Championship


#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
Elvis
Claudette Colbert
Actors in Louisiana
Girl; Baton Rouge