I am lucky enough to know that the third and final volume represents another evolution in this form Cusk has inaugurated—the most political of the three, it will startle and satisfy. The ending is crushingly good. Family Lexicon by Natalia Ginzburg: A hilarious family memoir of art, language, and anti-fascism. The translation by Jenny McPhee is note-perfect. It cannot be described as an expression but rather as the absence of one.
An infinite rest that was always there, behind all of the other faces of his life: the boy sitting proudly by the window on an aeroplane, the young graduate in a suit and tie, the freedom fighter in a beard and red beret. It makes me think that we all carry, from childhood, our death mask with us. Each chapter alternates between a world that seems more or less like our present reality and a dream world removed from markers of time and space, but as the book goes on, more and more links between these worlds emerge. The writing is surreal and beautiful and leaves openings for readers to imagine these spaces in ways that resonate with them.
Point Omega by Don DeLillo was a book that slowed things down and focused on the small moments and the process of looking, which seemed especially important when set against our world that feels all too fast-paced.
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Her writing is often about humans at the brink of their humanness, or thrust up against it, and is hypnotizing, crystalline, probing, and eerie. The story of her life is equally as fascinating. I want to give all the glory to the books that made me forget the push alerts. I loved how seamlessly Robert Moor blends science, philosophy, history, and nature writing in On Trails , a fascinating book on paths of all kinds. The prose and settings and cast are all great, and the fragments add up to a panoptic view of how gay life in Britain has changed over three generations. I read the manuscript for his new novel, Listen to the Marriage , on a plane trip home from the Wordstock Festival.
I tore through it, and at the end of many of the chapters—each one a session with the counselor—found myself in tears. They are comfort food and the times seemed to call for something shrewd and funny and sharp but also, ultimately, kind. And two more books in this apparently mostly English series for me, one old and one new: Edward St. Lawrence, T. Lawrence, John Galsworthy, and others was absolutely fascinating.
The first is about how to understand everything and the second is about how to experience nothing. It brings together beautifully written pieces of personal memoir and more journalistic pieces of reportage and history, but despite the wide range of the material, it reads great as a whole.
Adam Zagajewski, Slight Exaggeration : This insightful essay collection is going to my dad, because reading it was like reliving one of our conversations about books. Hopefully afterwards someone will feel compelled to bake bread with me. The Joan Didion reissues with the original covers are perfect gifts—all of my friends want them! Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry. They just returned from their honeymoon in Japan and are longing to return. And I will be giving Isadora to my father. And he said it was a masterpiece. This from a man who reveres Updike and Kafka.
Amelia Gray just may be their love child. And every other older white man I know. My dad, who, like me, is vainly trying to read his way out of our current political moment, will get Age of Anger. My grandfathers will each get something by John McPhee. Ultraluminous by Katherine Faw: A primer on the inevitable female world takeover, for all my friends who are feeling bleak about the general state of everything in the world.
But also poetry lovers and history lovers and anyone who has ever wondered about the line between art and madness. Draft No. New Collected Poems of Marianne Moore : For the poets and perfectionists, to meditate a while on the sacred duty to improve and on the beauty of precision. Reckless Daughter by David Yaffe: For all the music lovers and secret artists, to read while they listen to some kind of restorative music in the weeks that will end this crazy year. And everyone struggling with how to maintain the necessary pace of activism. My brother is an aspiring chef and I think he would appreciate how weird but enticing the story is.
Cartoon County by Cullen Murphy for the great art and totally charming story. Notes on a Foreign Country by Suzy Hansen, for Americans in particular, white Americans trying to be more conscious of their place in the world. You can give it to anyone interested in living an unconventional, creative life, especially designers, artists, and illustrators like Shopsin herself.
A New Yorker of any stripe—young or old, new or life-long, current resident or displaced—will love it too. These days, the realms of the very large and the very small often seem more appealing than the world at hand. Upon entering this great place and following the path up the hillside, the visitor is struck by the gateway to the impressive Egyptian Avenue, a Pharaonic arch flanked by two columns on either side. The structure is a striking example of the Egyptian Revival style so beloved by the Victorians, an architectural system grounded in the recycling and reworking of the motifs of ancient Egypt.
Interest in the latter emerged from the fanfare surrounding the Napoleonic campaigns in Alexandria and Cairo , a military cavalcade which contained, rather unusually, a sizeable contingent of scholars and scientists. Entrance to the Egyptian Avenue. The road beyond this entryway continues at a gentle incline. Bordering the track are lines of family vaults, home to the slumbering dead, their entrances adorned with a variety of funeral symbols. These cavities were made to accommodate multiple coffins in order to ensure that families could be buried together, sealed units, metaphorically and literally, affection and companionship assured until the end of time.
Leaving this sepulchral cavern behind, one emerges into the almost indescribably exquisite Circle of Lebanon, a wheel of tombs arranged around the roots of a magnificent cedar tree, a striking mass in place long before the construction of the cemetery, part of the grounds of the aforementioned Ashurst Estate. It was only following the passage of the Cremation Act in that the practice became more commonplace, and the notion that the sanctity of the body remain undisturbed post-mortem began to be overcome.
In this same area, the terrace catacombs in Gothic style are to be found, burial spaces hewn from the very hillside itself. Indeed, they occupy the same space as the previous deck of the garden of Ashurst House, formerly a splendid viewpoint from which to gaze out upon the teeming life of the city.
Visitors to the cemetery would seek out this spot for a genteel promenade, ambling up and down in their finest, away from the heady stink of the London smog. As an aside, i f you enjoy bitumen and random facts intended for pub quizzes, the terrace is also apparently the earliest asphalted building in the UK. Within the structure, one encounters a brick-vaulted, eighty-yard long passageway filled with separate recesses on both sides, capable of housing an entire coffin from floor to ceiling. Illustrated London News Behind the Circle of Lebanon is what can only be described as an immense mass of a tomb: the eye-waveringly ornate mausoleum of Julius Beer.
This is a big beast of a burial chamber, the Highgate leviathan. A square structure with bronze doors, pyramidal roof carved to resemble roof-tiles and arched windows, the edifice is said to have been inspired by the fearsome Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, and was designed by John Oldrid Scott , an architect experienced in the construction of religious buildings. Julius Beer is a fascinating example of the model of the self-made man.
Born in Frankfurt, he came to London and promptly made an intimidatingly large amount of money on the London Stock Exchange, before gobbling up several newspapers: the Observer and the Sunday Times. A quirky and perhaps apocryphal tale accompanies this majestic tomb — having become embittered by his lack of acceptance in polite society, Julius decided that, in death, he would have the last laugh. Once I myself had fully taken in its immensity, I was left with nothing but a quiet sense of humanity, thinking of the pathos inspired by the severing of the parental bond.
There are many other graves of note on this side of Highgate, more than a mere written piece can ever hope to encapsulate. Amidst the meandering footpaths and untamed thickets, individuals of great note have found their rest — from the poet Christina Rossetti to the scientist Michael Faraday, from the pioneering lesbian author Radclyffe Hall to the renowned novelist Stella Gibbons, author of Cold Comfort Farm. Even the eponymous founder of the Crufts dog show, Charles Cruft, can be found occupying a tomb. It is a fascinating pastiche of the great and the good, the devoted and the quiet, the industrious and the kind, the pauper and the poet.
In the end, all roads lead to Highgate. Indeed, the eye is drawn not only to those graves commemorating the lives of such eternally famous figures, but also to those who, having once achieved renown, languish, known only to researchers and scholars, campaigners and active taphophiles. One example might be Ellen Wood , better known as the famous writer Mrs. Henry Wood, a literary figure who was as celebrated as Charles Dickens in her era.
Her books were Victorian bestsellers, snapped up in an instant by her devoted followers. These individuals of distinction rub shoulders with those otherwise unknown. As long as there were available funds, Highgate was open to everyone, with your cheque made out to death, the great leveller of us all. The figure atop her stony bed slumbers in perpetuity, her wings carefully folded, an expression of profound mourning.
She is the perfect representation of peace. Reflecting on what we had seen, we made our way back to the entrance, steeped in poignant contemplation. With thanks to the following which proved very useful in compiling this account:. British Newspaper Archive. Highgate Cemetery. Historic England. National Archives. Designed in the style of an elaborate necropolis, with imposing Art Nouveau entrance-gate in marble and an array of ornate, neo-classical monuments, many beloved pets went on to be entombed there. The dog became an international superstar after starring in twenty-seven motion pictures.
Et seul pour nous amers, amons nous, pauvre chien place your head near mine, as none remained to love me, so let us love each other, my poor dog. It is clear that the commemoration of animals had become an important facet of how we conceptualise our relationship with the dead, and, deceased, they were often accorded funeral and sepulchral accoutrements equal to, or even exceeding, those assigned to kin.
Indeed, the commemorative statue in Edinburgh, its nose stroked for luck by visiting tourists, is an excellent example of the need to monumentalise the relationship between animal and man. During this late nineteenth-century period in which the Parisian animal cemetery was born, pet funerals became all the rage, a sepulchral fad found not only amongst those in Europe, but also in the United States. Indeed, in the Hyde Park Dog Cemetery in London opened its doors, receiving animals for interment, crowned by miniature headstones, until The latter burial ground now contains the remains of over seventy thousand animals.
Indeed, it was widely reported in that a young Parisian woman spent francs on a monument erected for her pet pug. Such accounts carefully relate the opulence of these affairs, noting in detail the appearance of coffins and tombs and the disjunctive nature of the seemingly anthropomorphic rendering of the pet in state.
The other day an American woman doctor gave an unusual dog funeral to her Skye terrier, that died after a career of fifteen years. She had the dog embalmed , and he lay in state for one whole day until the crowd became so large and unruly that the door had to be closed. It was covered with white material and trimmed with ribbons. The funeral took place in the afternoon. Interment was in the rear of Baltimore cemetery, where a tombstone will be erected to the animal. The interior of the casket was to be lined with white satin and silk trimmings. All this was for a dead dog belonging to a wealthy family up town.
The animal had been nursed and taken care of for the past 20 years. The dead animal lay in the casket wrapped in a mantle of white satin, with white silk ribands around the neck. The remains were taken to a cemetery close to New York and put into the family vault. Six carriages, containing the friends of the dog, followed the remains to the cemetery.
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What next? A New York paper thus describes the funeral ceremony which obtained in connection with a pet dog named Booby, belonging to a Mr Seeberger. The latter, it was said, had a coffin made by a local undertaker, and arranged funeral ceremonies with a procession and band. Otto Clanberg and Eugene Branenstein walked beside the waggon as pall-bearers. While the grave was being filled Mr Seeberger wept.
He said he felt as bad as if he had lost a child , for Booby was a dog faithful and true. A Mr Wilmarth of that city had for twenty-three years owned a large Newfoundland dog which some long time ago saved his wife from drowning, and upon the animal the aged couple, having no family, lavished all their affection. At length the dog died from fulness [sic] of days, whereupon an undertaker was ordered to make a coffin for it , and to place upon the casket a silver plate. The remains being thus decently packed, two carriages escorted them to Greenwood Cemetery, where in the Wilmarth family plot the dog was buried.
The well-known financier, Mr Pierpont Morgan, whose bulldog had a glass eye , also gave a funeral. Something of a scandal occurred recently, when a Mrs Fish endeavoured to bury her dog in Long Island Cemetery. The pastor successfully opposed the interment. It is now the custom in fashionable society to send around death notices of pet dogs on black-bordered paper which read about like this: —. We beg for your true sympathy. These commemorative acts were not the preserve of dogs alone. In certain circles in Kensington deep interest has been taken in the funeral of a cat belonging to a lady of distinction.
It may be questioned if a pussy has ever had so solemn a burial. Except that the church did not lend its sanction, the function was conducted quite as if it had been the interment of a human person of some importance. A respectable undertaker was called in and instructed to conduct the funeral in the ordinary way; the body was to be enclosed in a shell which would go inside a fine oak coffin. A similar account in the Shepton Mallet Journal of the 24th of February, informed readers that a wealthy American woman, distraught at the demise of her beloved cat, had decreed that the animal should be interred within the grounds of the country club she attended.
Peter Adams, of No. The body was shipped to Superintendent Tuthill , of the club, e ncased in a costly coffin with silver trimmings and green satin linen. With it came the request that the cat be buried in some quiet part of the club grounds. The request was complied with. The cat had been a pet of Mrs. Adams for many years, and was a pure Angora. Perhaps rather more eccentric in nature are the reports of lavish avian entombments, commonly involving pet parrots. He has been buried in the garden adjoining the Romford Bowling Green.
A spray of white narcissus marks the spot. Giles had four favourites — two dogs and two cats. When the parrot was being placed in its grave it was noticed that all four animals had followed the funeral possession from the house and were looking on. Sometimes the animals succeeded in making their escape from the deathly proceedings. Leicester church officials would not permit the burial of a parrot with its mistress , Mrs. Mary Pollard, on Saturday, which had been her dying wish. So it escaped death — and sent a wreath of tulips. Now I shall continue to keep him as a pet. Elsewhere, the trend was often met with a sense of hostility surpassing the playfulness customarily underlying such accounts, particularly as regards the involvement of liturgical practice.
A squad of gendarmes, however, arrived, and entering, seized the dog, which was taken away and chucked on a rubbish heap, and the catafalque, etc. Dripping with sarcasm, the writer barely attempts to conceal his criticism of the proceedings:. An American genius has managed to spend a good deal of money on a dead dog, who must now be worth more than a living lion. The interior of the casket was lined with white satin and silk trimmings. The lamented hound was carried to his long home on the casket, covered with a mantle of white satin.
Six carriages full of sincere mourners followed him or her to a New York cemetery, where he was laid in the family vault of his master. We are not informed, but can easily believe, that his owners engraved R. Bound up with the problematic discourse of empire and the reductive dichotomy at play between East and West was a tenor of journalistic report relaying the details of the commemorative efforts surrounding the deaths of monkeys in India, themselves important sacred symbols of religious and cultural beliefs patronisingly dismissed in these accounts as incomprehensible quirks or uneducated practices.
Quaint Scene in Mysore. Twenty-five wild monkeys have been poisoned by some unknown person in a village near Mysore. Orthodox Hindus venerate the monkey, and the incident is regarded as an outrage to religious beliefs. There are countless other examples of the practice of animal entombment preserved in the local and national newspapers of the nineteenth, twentieth and, indeed, the twenty-first centuries, testament to the widespread nature of the phenomenon and the growing need for the extension of commemorative ritual to those beings whose quiet loyalty and fidelity is so much a component of the human experience for a large number of people.
Indeed, the preservation of memory in regard to deceased pets can be traced back thousands of years, a well-attested incidence in the ancient world. Image by A Grave Announcement. It was an unusually cold Monday morning for early September when I, having found myself in Sheffield for the day, decided to see for myself the Victorian splendour of Sheffield General Cemetery.
The cemetery itself is located in the neighbouring area of Sharrow, bordered by the aptly named Cemetery Road, along which I myself travelled, and edged on the other side by the indolent waters of the Porter Brook. A winged sun surmounted the design, a pronounced symbol in the iconography of the Ancient Near East. The site of the cemetery is spread across a quarried hillside, interspersed by a number of footpaths, both formal and informal, in what is now, I am told, a Grade II listed park.
The presence of buildings manifestly influenced by Greek and Egyptian architectural styles attests to the grandeur and magnificence of the scope of the design — not merely a fine cemetery this, but a veritable Necropolis — a real life city of the dead. Rampant overcrowding, rife disease and paltry conditions in the churchyards of Sheffield had necessitated the construction of a burial site away from the dense congestion of the city itself. Ward, Esq. It was agreed, that the committee should.
It is calculated to contain about twenty coffins. The ground and buildings are now. As the year advanced and the business of the cemetery gathered momentum, directors of the cemetery were appointed and adverts placed for individuals to serve as employees, as seen here in the Sheffield Independent of the 28th May , calling for a Sexton and Gatekeeper in residence:. A Person who understands Gardening will be preferred. Indeed, once ready to receive those to be interred, the cemetery had placed official advertisements in local newspapers.
Sheffield General Cemetery. This beautiful Place of Sepulture, whose picturesque. Vaults of. In this place, in an alleyway lined with crooked tombstones, I stumbled across the final resting place of one Samuel Holberry, the name faintly familiar, the epitaph lengthy and full-hearted:. I wondered why I felt such a twinge of recognition upon scanning these words, and I pondered too about the identity of the grieving widow, nameless, her own exertions unmarked, compelled by injustice to erect this monument to her lost husband, an appeal to martyrdom and an attempt at post-mortem exoneration.
A subsequent search brought my ailing memory back to life: Samuel Holberry, the Chartist activist, organiser of the Sheffield Uprising and champion of democracy. Samuel Holberry was born in the small village of Gamston, Nottinghamshire in , and was baptised on the 21 st of November in that same year.
Martha and John had nine children in total, of whom Samuel was the youngest. He grew up working on the land, watching over livestock and scaring off birds, jobs typical of child workers at the time, whilst receiving some basic schooling, before achieving the position of labourer like his father. Samuel, however, was restless and unsettled, making the decision in March to leave the area and enlist, following in the footsteps of his brother. In April , Samuel bought himself out the army, moving to Sheffield where he began working as a distiller, following a brief period as a barrel-maker.
Mary and Samuel soon established a relationship. It was in this climate of discord and disunity that the Sheffield Rising was conceived, the event for which Samuel and Mary would become almost national celebrities. With Samuel now in a leadership position alongside other prominent Chartists, more extreme plans began to be take shape. There was talk of seizing control of public buildings in Sheffield, namely the Town Hall and the Fortune Inn, with the aid of firepower and explosives. The houses of magistrates would also be torched.
Before such proposals could come to fruition, however, the group was betrayed by the Rotherham landlord of the Station Inn, James Allen, on the 11th of January, Both Samuel and Mary, in addition to a number of their fellow activists, were arrested for conspiracy. Police officers Atcherly and Wilde had entered a dwelling owned by Samuel on Eyre Lane close to midnight, finding Holberry reclining in bed, fully clothed except for his stockinged feet, illuminated by the intermittent flickering of a bedside candle. According to the Northern Star of the 21st March , the conversation proceeded as follows:.
Whilst Samuel and his associates were held in custody, Mary was released, remaining tight-lipped throughout her interrogation. Holberry, a very interesting woman, was also arrested; but the evidence against her not being sufficient, she was discharged.
Unrepentant, Samuel openly admitted his intentions to the police and swore that he would die for Chartist principles. Undeterred, the authorities admitted him for trial at Sheffield Assizes, charging Samuel with seditious conspiracy. A reporter for the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent of the 18 th January described Samuel and, elliptically, Mary in attendance as follows:.
Samuel Holberry: a very tall, well formed, and muscular young man, with much of the appearance and manner of an itinerant showman. He was, I may say, the contriver of the scheme. The classes were to come up to take these places, one man first from every class, then two, and the whole body. Exactly as the clock struck two they were to rush into the Town Hall and Tontine, and take possession of them. Boardman said he could bring about fifty, and I said I could bring about fifty … If they got the Tontine, they were to shut the gates, and barricade them with the coaches inside.
Virginia Woolf found the right way to consider the matter: it is impossible to be dogmatic about such things, for the evidence is lacking. We do know that a related proposition is true: There have been many writers who possessed mag- nificent gifts of expression and a dazzling technique whose work was hollow and unimpressive because they could neither think nor feel deeply. They had nothing to say to us; neither were our contacts with them emotionally fructi- fying in any way. They were at best "clever" writers, and in a few years they were forgotten.
On the other hand, it must be admitted that since, in a wholly successful work of art, idea and expression are inextricably welded, the Shakespeare who lacked means of expression died a potential or embryonic Shakespeare only: that which remained unexpressed never really existed, for the gifts of a Shakespeare come into being only through exercise and expression. Is this, perhaps, what Croce meant by his somewhat cryptic saying that technique either does not exist or else it coincides with art itself?
Genius, too, is a much hardier plant than most of the people who theorize about it have any idea: the many would-be artists who assure us that if only the conditions of their lives were changed, they would be able to accom- plish wonders, are probably mistaken. Jane Austen wrote her novels in the family sit- ting-room, stopping whenever a visitor entered and pushing her manuscript hastily out of sight. Had she grown up in a different environment, she would probably have painted from her youth, but all we can be sure about concerning the pictures she never gave us is that they must have been very different from what, as it is, she produced.
Tech- nically they would probably have possessed many good qualities which the work of "Grandma" Moses now lacks; on the other hand, she might very well, under these dif- ferent conditions, have completely failed to capture that endearing strain of the "primitive" which now seems her most precious contribution to American painting. Literature and Imagination But what, you may ask, has all this to do with the "story- books" with which you began?
If this is how literature comes into being, why do critics always put the emphasis on such things as novels, poems, and plays? If creative writers are primarily concerned to communicate experi- ence, why do they not turn first of all to the essay and the autobiography?
Unearthing the Lives of the Dead
Well, the essay is a form of literature, and we shall have to deal with it before we have finished. As for the autobi- ography, it is not literature if it merely sets down the record of a man's life, but it may very well be if the writer's imagination has operated upon his experiences toward the end of achieving realization and interpretation. I may seem to be suggesting, at this point, that a literary man must falsify his materials, but actually this is not the case.
The Education of Henry Adams is one of the greatest of American autobiographies. That it tells us a good deal about its author's life-experience admits of no doubt. But it also imposes a pattern upon that experience of which the author can hardly have been conscious at the time. It leaves out the whole tragic story of his marriage, which broke his life in two. It selects its materials in accord- ance with a carefully preconceived theory concerning the meaning of Henry Adams's life. Writers differ notably as to just what self-expression means to them. Middleton Murry tells us that "To know a work of literature is to know the soul of the man who cre- ated it, and who created it in order that his soul should be known.
But even amateur writers know, or soon learn, that it is not always the ma- terial we have "lived" that we are most successful in making seem real and convincing on the printed page. This is completely unbelievable. It was my last year in high school. I described it just exactly as it took place.
But he isn't not if he knows his business. It seems the one unreal thing in the story be- cause here alone the writer was content to transcribe. And transcription does not make literature. That, in fact, is pre- cisely the difference between literature and reporting. It has often been pointed out that many of our best novels deal not with the affairs of the passing hour nor yet with a time so remote that the author can know about it only through books, but with a period, roughly speaking, about a generation back from the time of writing, so that their materials, while still fresh enough to be held in living memory, are far enough away to fall into perspective.
Sir Walter Scott's The Heart of Midlothian is a better novel than Ivanhoe, for one reason, because in its composition these conditions were fulfilled. There is, therefore, no requirement that an author should use what are generally called fictional materials in a work of literature. Pepys [says Edith Rickert] apparently intended his Diary as a record of fact; but few persons would deny that much of it is literature.
The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle covers centuries with records of fact; then breaks out into something like literature when it tells of the fight between Cynewulf and Cyneheard. The truth is that all records of fact are subject to incursions of realized experience, which lift them for the moment into literature, and all literature is subject to incursions of fact, which reduce k for the moment to record. Art is always much simpler than life and much less chaotic also. There may, indeed, be a "pattern" in life itself, but so to affirm is an act of faith, not knowl- edge; for such a pattern would be too vast for the mind of man to be able to grasp it; the pattern, let us say, is clear only to the eyes of God.
For this reason, among others, we need art; for art, though based on life, is not life; the artist chooses such aspects of experience as he can understand or finds them chosen for him by his temperament and experi- ence , and presents them in a pattern of his own devising, drawn from his mind and incarnating his values. From one point of view, the sculptor docs not "create" the statue at all. The statue was always there, in that block of marble, from the foundations of the world. What the sculptor did was to cut away those parts of the marble that he did not want; then the statue, which until now only his eyes had been able to see, became visible to all men.
I am not speaking now of didactic literature; didactic literature is a special subject, to which we shall need to give our attention at a later stage of our inquiry. But it is not only in didactic literature that the author must take up an attitude toward his material. This is necessary in all creative writing, and when it does not occur, the reader is vaguely dissatisfied, often without knowing why.
The story is interesting enough; the people arc well characterized; there is nothing wrong with the actual writing. But it does not seem to mean anything. When you have finished you ask yourself what was it all about? Then and there he made up his mind that never again, when he could pos- sibly avoid it, would he lay the scene of one of his stories in any actual place. This is an extreme case. Not all writers can either find or create a Poictesme, nor could they all solve their aesthetic problems by so doing.
Cabell himself did not become a permanent resident of that realm. But in one form or another, the kind of problem which he faced here is en- countered by all writers of historical fiction. A different type of novelist Kenneth Roberts, for example would have solved the difficulty by setting to work to learn all about Tunbridge Wells! But there are problems in this area which cannot be solved by learning all about anything. Suppose, for example, that you are writing a novel which involves a well-known historical character, and that the plan of the book requires that character not only to do something which he never did in life but to do something which is at variance with what he is known to have done and out of harmony with the kind of human being he is known to have been?
Marjorie Bowen, who wrote so many fine historical novels, proceeded on the principle that if the writer alters fundamental matters, she has no right to em- ploy the actual, historical names. In the last scene of his Abraham Lincoln, John Drinkwater found it convenient to put into his hero's mouth a speech which included quo- tations from both the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural, and to permit him to deliver it from his box in Ford's Theater, just before the assassination.
But the audience would not have accepted the play if Drinkwater had falsified Lincoln's moral nature, if he had made him, for example, a man like Adolf Hitler. Even this, however, does not touch the heart of the matter. Basically the creative writer is not concerned either with "faithfulness" to his materials nor with making changes to show how "original" he can be.
Both Chaucer and Shakespeare, who lived early enough to escape the silly accusations of "plagiarism" which would have been hurled toward them at a later period, took what they wanted wherever they found it, apparently without ever giving a thought to whether it came from direct experience, from oral tradition, or from another writer. They knew that all literary material belongs to the writer who uses it best.
What the writer needs essentially is to be free. You can- not put him into a straight jacket and then tell him to create. That is why so little literature of quality is produced in totalitarian countries, and that is why even good writers are likely to write badly when they try to create to order, producing not out of their own inner creative impulse but in response to the "demand" of this editor or that producer. It is easy to make fun of the writer who must have "condi- tions" right before he can produce the classical example is the German poet who could write only with the odor of decayed bananas in the room but though a great deal of nonsense has been talked along this line and a great deal of self-indulgence displayed by the writers themselves, there is no denying that the creative imagination is very capricious and manifests many idiosyncrasies.
James Branch Cabell is, as already noted, a highly indi- vidual artist, but he speaks for all artists when he expresses his need "in my own little world to be omnipotent. It explains why, in spite of all the agitation that individuals have shown from time to time over finding themselves por- trayed in a novel, as a matter of fact there are very few portraits of actual people in fiction.
The world of fiction is not the world of actuality, and actual people cannot breathe in it. They have to be transformed into characters of fiction. An actual man or woman whom he has known may in- deed serve as the novelist's point of departure; some novel- ists even seem to require such contact with reality to set their powers in operation. But the point is that having been brought into operation, these powers do operate, and the character who finally comes to life upon the printed page will find himself profoundly affected by them.
Hugh Kings- mill says of Dickens that his father was Mr. Micawber and his mother Mrs. On the contrary, Dickens him- self was the father of both these characters. John and Eliza- beth Dickens set his imagination going that is all. One does not need to study John Dickens in order to understand Mr. Dickens admitted that he had taken some aspects of Skimpole's character from Hunt, but he was genuinely though somewhat naively distressed over his friend's displeasure at being thus indirectly associated with a character who was, in some of his aspects, something of a u dead beat.
Changes in characterization may be consciously or uncon- sciously wrought; sometimes they are effected in order to bring the character into line with what the author is trying to say, and sometimes the modification is due to the needs of the story. The relationship between art and life is much more com- plicated, then, than anything that can be expressed in a formula. Art is, in the larger sense, "true to life," but it is not bound, in any literal sense, to the "facts" of experience. Neither is it a form of lying upon this account.
The detailed discussion of just why this should be so will have to be post- poned to the next chapter. Here it must suffice to say that the trouble with the people who do not realize it is that they have never learned how to distinguish between truth and fact. A sufficiently great book may sum up the meaning of an age as history itself cannot do it. And life itself, in any age, is so multi-sided that books which are not at all like each other may offer very different summaries or interpre- tations, all of which may be equally true.
The soul of the Middle Ages is in Dante's Divine Comedy, but The Divine Comedy does not touch at all upon those aspects of mediae- val life which are reflected in the fabliaux. But the people who made that democracy refused to read Whitman. Instead they read Longfellow, whom we too must read if we would understand their tastes and their aspirations which made up a very important part of their lives , and whom, we might do well to remember, Whitman himself read and relished. Residuum in Literature Reference was made, a few pages back, in the quotation from Edith Rickert, to the way in which predominantly factual material is subject to ''incursions of realized experi- ence" which turn it, for the moment, into literature, and to how, by the same token, literature may sink momentarily to the level of record.
It is important to remember that a complete assimilation of his materials by the imagination of the creative writer is the exception rather than the rule. The percentage is higher in poetry and in the poetic drama in brief lyric poems it may often approximate one hundred per cent and considerably lower in types like the realistic novel in which an actual picture or impression of the sur- face variety of life fails to be indicated.
Poe denied the term "poetry" to anything but the short lyric poem because he could not consent to apply it to any work with a considerable unassimilated element in it. Some novelists succeed in assimilating a larger proportion of their materials than others: thus the percentage is higher in Haw- thorne, James, and Conrad than it is in Bennett, Wells, or Dreiser.
Dickens's novel, Bleak House, contains an attack upon "the law's delay," as manifested in the workings of the Court of Chancery. The reader of Scott's Kenilnjoorth learns something about Elizabethan history. Such material can be assimilated, or it can remain an extraneous element, as when Victor Hugo stops the story of Les Miserables to argue at length in favor of the use of human ordure as fertilizer, or again when Dreiser breaks in upon Sister Carrie to describe the workings of a department store.
But not even the presence of unassimilated materials alters the funda- mental character of the book in which they are contained. The mere fact that you "learned" incidentally about the Court of Chancery from reading Bleak House and you could have learned much more from a legal work will no more take that book out of the novel category than the fact that you enjoyed reading Havelock Ellis will remove his work from the category of scientific discussion.
The Girl Who Married on "English Teacher" But why, it may be asked, should there be all this to-do about what literature is or isn't? What difference does it make if the Young Lady uses the term carelessly or the Earnest Seeker is priggish about it? I am afraid it makes all the difference between under- standing and misunderstanding, between realizing that art is a basic form of human activity and viewing it as something with which only a few abnormal, or very highly developed, human beings have anything to do.
We are living in a uni- verse, not a multiverse, and we cannot understand anything unless we see it in its relationship to everything else. Little flower but if I could understand What you are, root and all, and all in all, I should know what God and man is. A current newspaper supplement contains an article by a young lady who writes to explain how it feels to be mar- ried to an "English teacher. All this proves the husband to be a very unusual "Eng- lish teacher" indeed. It may also be said to have established, on the part of the wife, the strangest motive for marriage that has ever been known.
Only, one is left wondering why she did not set up housekeeping with a copy of Webster's New International. The implicit assumption underlying the article, of course, is that "English teachers" are freaks. They do not marry for the same reasons as other people do. Presumably they do not behave in marriage like other people. They are inter- ested, in fact, in only one thing: words. Evidently this idea is entertained not only by the woman who wrote the article but also by the editor who printed it, or else he believes it to be held by the majority of his readers.
Otherwise it is difficult to see why he wasted space on such idiotic drivel. It seems a safe assumption that nobody who thinks about "English teachers," or "artists," or "authors," or "actresses," or any other class of people in this way, will ever, on God's earth, really find out anything about them, not even, one might add, if they should marry one. Edward Johnson, former director-general of the Metropolitan Opera Com- pany, once overheard a woman's remark, "That man doesn't look in the least like a singer! John Livingston Lowes had all these things in mind, on a much higher level, when in his great study of the workings of Coleridge's imagination in The Road to Xanadu, he wrote that it is of the utmost moment to more than poetry that instead of regarding the imagination as a bright and ineffectual faculty with which in some esoteric fashion poets and their kind are specially endowed, we recognize the essential oneness of its function and its ways with all the creative endeavours through which human brains, with dogged persistence, strive to discover and realize order in a chaotic world.
Every woman is at least entitled to marry a man. God knows that is little enough! A Glance at Some Youthful Connoisseurs Here are Tom and Jack Mulligan, aged six and eight neither of them can really "read" having a battle royal of a Sunday morning over who is to have the first chance at the "comic section. These youngsters have never heard the word "art. Yet they are all passion- ately devoted to the thing itself, so enthralled by it, indeed, in the only form in which it has come their way, that at the moment they are indignantly rejecting every comfort 5 John Livingston Lowes, The Road to Xanadu: A Study in the Ways of the Imagination Houghton Miffim, , p.
And if some well-meaning idiot of a grown-up should hap- pen along at the moment to tell them that they must not mind their deprivation because "there are so many other things they might do that would be equally enjoyable," they would all bawl that "That's not the same thing! Indeed, much of the distress which cultivated adults often manifest over the tawdry quality of the art which enthralls the children might easily be avoided if these critics pos- sessed a more adequate understanding of the strength and power of the child's imagination.
Some years ago, I en- countered an old collection of early Katzen jammer Kids cartoons which I had first read when I was five, and which I had never come across since I grew up. I was amazed to discover how many of the stock "properties" of romantic literature pirates, cannibals, desert islands, the sea, and many more I had first encountered in this strip.
And I should be very ungrateful if I failed to acknowledge the tremendously stimulating effect which Rudolph Dirks and his Katzenjammers thus exercised upon my imagination! Similarly, I shall never know how many of the basic char- acters and great stories of literature and history first became my mental property through the early one-reel "movies," where, sooner or later, in the absence of adequate copy- right regulations, everything was filmed.
It is a stupid and unimaginative adult, indeed, who supposes that because the Star of Bethlehem must be painted by a Botticelli before it can take hold of his imagination, the same must be true of a child. That will suffice. The difficulty, then, with the boy who is still "stuck" with comic books or "horse operas" when he ought to have gone on to something better is simply that he has failed to grow.
You cannot solve his problem by telling him that these things are bad in themselves, or that they are not "real" or important. As it is, he has really got into that magnificent mansion, though unhappily only, through the servants' entrance, into the basement. Your job is not to kick him outside again.
It is to lead him upstairs. That can be done only through the development in him or in yourself of needs which the basement cannot satisfy. If you actually cannot see any difference between what you could pick up at a fire sale and what you have to go to the "28 Shop" for, why on earth should you pay the higher prices which the "28 Shop" demands? And if you have no needs which "swing" and the "pulps" cannot satisfy, why should you bother about Beethoven or Shakespeare? Only, you should remember this: that great art, great music, and great literature developed in this world not because any- body thought they "ought" to be here but because people themselves developed in such a way that the humbler forms of art no longer satisfied them.
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So Virginia Woolf speaks of "the seasoned and the fastidious, who in process of time have eaten their way to the heart of literature and there turn over and over a few precious crumbs. But it was not only at such theaters as the Comedie Frangaise that God might choose to manifest Himself; you might catch a glimpse of Him in very unexpected places, as Yvette Guilbert's cafe audiences sometimes discovered. Nevertheless there is a difference between the Comedie Franchise and the Moulin Rouge, and normal people, with the right kind of reading habits, do develop as Virginia Woolf has indicated, though not many of them arrive at the place to which she herself at last attained.
By and large, we do find the books that were destined for us. But we read them because we need them and because we want to read them. You can no more relish a book because you think you "ought" to than you can love or even like a person for the same reason. In both cases you can pretend that you do, but that is a very differ- ent thing.
As long as he lived, Bernard Shaw did his best to keep his plays out of the school books. He didn't, he ex- plained, want young people to come to hate him as they hated Shakespeare! Artists in general have always been "yes-sayers to life," in James Huneker's fine phrase, and their eager responses have often shocked or repelled colder and less sensitive people. Eagerness, appetence are required, too, for the ap- preciation of art, for though art is not life, it is the distilled essence of life; as J.
Kerfoot said, "Reading is a form of living. You may enjoy it because it deepens your experience, by inter- preting it to you in some aspect that you had not previously considered. Or, finally, you may enjoy it because it enlarges experience for you by introducing you to some new phase or aspect of life. But, in any case, the only means you have of savoring the book is to apply the yardstick of yourself to it your background, your comprehension of life, your capacity for responding to life.
No human being's experience has ever been exactly like that of any other human being; consequently, no book has ever meant quite the same thing to any two readers. Sir Herbert Tree used to be fond of saying that "Every man has the God he deserves. But to say that you are unlike everybody else, though it is true, is only half the truth; the other half is that you are also like everybody else. And for this reason, this key to literature to which you possess a clear title in the mere possession of your own humanity will, if you use it wisely, come in time to unlock many doors.
For as the Roman dramatist Terence long ago perceived, you are a human being and nothing that is human can be alien to you. Of course the same book may recall for one reader, deepen for a second, and widen for a third. It deals with the world of childhood; in this aspect it performs, in some measure, a recollective function for every reader who has ever been a child, that is for all readers. But it also has a locale: it deals with childhood in a particular place and time lower- and middle-class Brook- lyn, a generation ago.
For the Montana reader, on the other hand, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn will have a widening function which will not exist at all in the case of the Brook- lyn reader. But the deepening function may operate with equal force for both, depending not upon the accidents of geography but rather upon their own sensitiveness and depth of understanding, as readers and as human beings.
For unless Miss Smith was able to perceive something in her childhood experiences which most of her readers did not discern in theirs, then she will not, after all, be able to give them very much. They may enjoy her book, but it will not, in that event, be a means for them of growing deeper into life. And here we come back to the author himself, to the author's presentation of life in terms of his own personality, and to his addition to the stuff of experience of something which does not, essentially, belong to the material at all, but which he has added to the material by means of passing it through his own heart and brain.
Chesterton once wisely reminded us that as a bad man is still a man, so a bad poet is still a poet. The self- righteous snobbery which results from failure to heed such counsel is as devastating in criticism as it is in morals. Neither the author nor the readers of this chapter have, as I conceive it, been particularly interested to describe or to understand the conditions under which they think art "ought" to be created.
Our concern has been simply to describe that which is. Man, as he has grown up on this planet, is a very complex creature who has developed mani- fold needs. Some of these he has tried to satisfy by creating pictures or images of life by means of the pen or the brush. Such productions, be it repeated, are not life, but in a sense they often seem more vital than life itself. Hamlet never lived, yet he has outlived many generations and bids fair to outlive many more.
No man was ever quite like him, but few men are altogether unlike him. Through literature man inter- prets man to himself, and through literature men interpret themselves to each other. Sometimes they do it very badly. Often they do not do it very well. Perhaps it has never been done with complete success. But it is wonderful that it should be possible to do it at all.
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But we ought first to establish the necessity for doing this, for it happens that the importance of criticism is greatly over- estimated in some quarters and greatly underestimated in others. Moreover, a great many people have completely erroneous ideas as to what criticism is. To begin with, it should be understood that criticism has only a secondary, never a primary value. President Coolidge once made the penetrating remark that the United States was not maintaining an army and navy primarily for the benefit of the supply concerns.
By the same token, the great writers of the world have not created their immortal works in order to provide schoolboys and girls with the materials for a series of exercises ingeniously designed to take as much joy out of their lives as possible. It seems a pity that some teachers have never grasped this profound truth. Unfortunately there are some reviewers for the public press who have not grasped it either. They themselves have no reason for being except to inform the public concerning the content and the merits or demerits of this work.
But their own notion seems to be that the author's job was simply to furnish them with a point of departure for demonstrating how clever they can be. In "A Gossip on Romance," Robert Louis Stevenson goes at the matter from a very different angle: In anything fit to be called by the name of reading, the process itself should be absorbing and voluptuous; we should gloat over a book, be rapt clean out of ourselves, and rise from the perusal, our mind filled with the busiest, kaleidoscopic dance of images, incapable of sleep or of continuous thought. This is a very high ideal, and one which assumes great gifts, both in the author and in the reader.
It can hardly be necessary to point out here that it resembles most ideals in that considerable difficulty would be encountered by anyone who should attempt to apply it literally in a very imperfect world. Walter Russell Bowie writes of a friend, a clergyman, who, instead of telling the young couples whom he marries that he hopes they will be very happy an amiable but essentially witless sentiment, since everybody knows that marriage, like everything else which widens and intensifies the range of human experience, must necessarily increase our opportunity and capacity for both pleasure and pain simply tells them, "I hope you will be alive all your lives.
Says Browning, in "Christina": Oh, we're sunk enough here, God knows! And Shelley, in his "Hymn to Intellectual Beauty" is quite in accord with him: Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart And come, for some uncertain moments leant. All sensitive people agree about this. We live on the heights only for moments, but we may spend years preparing for these experiences and weeks in recovering from them. So is it, too, with reading.
A voracious reader, a professional critic or scholar, who should react to all his reading so intensely as Stevenson demands would, I fear, soon find himself in a mental hospital. But in spite of these reserva- tions, we must all realize that when we are at our best as readers, we do respond to the printed page in some such fashion as Stevenson has described. Essentially, all our read- ing is a search for these moments. And no reader has really discovered literature until he has had such an experience. But if that is so, why not leave it at that?
Why bother with all this troublesome business of judgment and evalua- tion? There are, I believe, a number of very convincing reasons. Whether the development of human consciousness upon this planet is, as we generally assume, the crowning achieve- ment of the cosmic process, or whether it is, as weary and disillusioned spirits sometimes tell us, the disease of which this earth is destined at last to perish, the fact remains that it is here, and we cannot do away with it, even by the process of taking thought itself. For better or for worse,.
You can no more avoid passing judgments, tentative though you know them to be, upon what you read than you can avoid "judging" the people you meet: you "like" this one, and you "don't like" that other. Mutt and Jeff is lousy. Jane wants to know about The Story of Three Loves so that she can make up her mind whether to go to see it or not. Henry tells Philip about King Aroo because he wants his brother to share the pleasure he has found in it. And Philip is spon- taneously giving vent to his feeling of disappointment in Mutt and Jeff.
But in every case, what we call "judgment" is unavoidable. Henry could not read King Aroo without either enjoying or failing to enjoy it, and if he enjoys it, then he cannot help feeling that it is "good. Jane will be very unwise to stay away from it on that account, unless she has already very carefully tested Mildred's judgment on other films. Perhaps Mildred does not like this kind of film. Or she may even be jealous because neither she nor her "boy-friend" could help realizing that both Moira Shearer and Pier Angeli, whom they saw in the picture, arc prettier than she is.
Again, Philip's unfavorable reaction to Mutt and Jeff may have been caused not by any fault of Bud Fisher's but simply by the fact that he does not seem to be in a very good mood this morning. For the moment, however, let us content ourselves with having established the fact that criticism in some form is inevitable. Of Aims and Methods Yet this is only one aspect. However brilliant it may be in itself, criticism still fails absolutely unless it contributes to a fuller understanding and a richer enjoyment of the work to which it is applied, j Understanding cannot be achieved without sound critical principles and, in some cases, solid historical knowledge; There is a great deal in Shakespeare's plays, for instance, which must be seriously OF AIMS AND METHODS 59 misunderstood by persons incapable of visualizing the out- door theater, with a platform stage, for which Shakespeare w r rote, and unable or unwilling to follow the reasoning and responding processes of the Elizabethan mind to which he addressed himself.
Wordsworth believed that poetical works "contain within themselves all that is necessary to their being com- prehended and relished," but he knew, too, that every writer w r ho is not content merely to follow in the foot- prints of his predecessors must, in a measure, create the taste by which he is understood. So he found it necessary to furnish a lengthy Preface to the second edition of his and Coleridge's Lyrical Ballads, in w r hich he very carefully explained just what he meant by poetry and what, in these poems, he had tried to do.
Many readers of were still bound by neo-classical ideals in poetry; what poetry meant to them was essentially what it had meant to Pope. The so-called "pre-romantics" had, in a measure, broken the mold, but neither Thomson nor Gray nor Collins had departed so boldly or so radically from previously formulated ideals as to make comprehen- sion impossible for reasonably open-minded and intelligent readers. But this is exactly what Wordsworth fears that he and Coleridge may have done. If they are to be judged by the standards which most contemporary readers of poetry have in mind, they will be misjudged altogether.
He writes his Preface, therefore, to try to teach his readers how to read him. This shows that it is not always true that we need more help in reading ancient or very foreign literature than we need to read the literature of our own time. Those who dislike "modern," or avant-garde, or experimental art are always being told by its admirers that the fault is in them: they "do not know how to look at it.
It acclimatizes itself, so to speak, becomes a part of the at- mosphere in which we breathe. Joyce's Ulysses is still a very difficult book, but it is less difficult for us than it was for those who attempted it when it was first published. And Meredith and James, who, in their time, were often considered almost as difficult, now lie comfortably within the range of the intelligent reader. In short, we need to be equipped with historical knowledge, and to possess our- selves of the fruits of historical scholarship, if we would read the literature of the past with maximum efficiency, but we feel the need of a new reading technique primarily in our attempts to grasp the more "advanced" writers of our own time.
Moreover, criticism is quite as necessary for enjoyment as it is for understanding. It is odd that this fact should so often have gone unrecognized Who would argue for a moment that a painter who can explain the perspective, com- position, brushwork, and color in a painting and can tell pre- cisely how such an effect was produced is prevented by his technical understanding from feeling appreciation of the pic- ture?
Or who will defend for a moment the view that the musician who can analyze a fugue or a symphony cannot feel the beauty of the music? Why should literature be on a differ- ent basis?