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Posts Tagged ‘E. M. Forster’

Beware Usen’t To

January 28, 2014 | by

Constance_Charpentier_-_Melancholy_-_WGA04799

This is what happens when you use usen’t to. Constance Charpentier, Melancholy, 1801, oil on canvas.

At ten every morning, Garner’s Usage Tip lands in my inbox—I’m sure Garner could suggest a less clunky formulation for “in my inbox”—providing a quick bit of unfussy, eminently sensible grammatical advice. There are worse things to look forward to.

Yesterday’s installment was the third in a scintillating four-part series on used to, which gets pretty spicy, as far as grammar goes. Fun fact: the contracted form of used not to is usen’t to, which has been, despite its pleasant lilt, almost wholly displaced by didn’t use to.

You could try to bring it back into style, but apart from sounding pretentious—which you would—you’d run the risk of becoming very miserable. Take a look at usen’t to as it appears throughout literature and you’ll see: it’s almost always used in the context of a total bummer. See below for examples from Forster, Trollope, Beckett, et al., none of which make the sun shine any brighter.

Please, if you can find any positive instance of usen’t to, direct me to it. Otherwise I’m inclined to offer a warning: abstain from this phrase, or you’re liable to be plunged into cafard, parochialism, censoriousness, or just sort of a downer mood. Read More »

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This Is Growing Up

December 26, 2013 | by

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A panel of Adam and Eve in Lorenzo Ghiberti’s Gates of Paradise.

All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

I had only been in Europe for two weeks when I started to feel homesick.

I’d decided to study in Florence on a whim, after having vaguely planned my entire sophomore year on traveling to Prague to study film at the famed FAMU. But while for FAMU there was a separate application I would have had to fill out, Florence was a simple checkbox on the registration website. And student housing in Florence was even cheaper than at my university in New York.

The general idea was to get a handful of my general education requirements out of the way and maybe even try to pick up some Italian while I was at it. I flew over to Italy with my mother, who was looking for a few days away from Chicago to take in, as she called it, la dolce vita. “I want a gondolier to sing to me, like in the movies,” she said. The gondolier spoke on his cell phone the entire time.

We arrived at the Florence Airport mid-morning. On the cab ride into the city, the driver informed us that one of the city’s time-honored traditions was complaining about the tourists, and, even worse than the general run of tourists, the hordes of visiting college students. I soon found myself in a large apartment off via Guelfa introducing my mother to ten other college students and an Italian RA. My mother quickly pulled me aside. “Please don’t get into any trouble. You know what the driver said.”

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Girls Moping in Hotels

September 23, 2013 | by

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Film still courtesy of Focus Features.

In Lost in Translation, sad-eyed Charlotte spends much of the film curled up on the windowsill high above Tokyo in a sleek Japanese hotel, gazing balefully over the city, acknowledging her loneliness. Played with winsome melancholy by Scarlett Johansson, Charlotte doesn’t verbalize her isolation, but director Sofia Coppola’s gently circumnavigating camera makes it evident. Charlotte plods the halls like baleful Eloise. She quietly considers her loneliness while curled up in hotel sheets, or judging the patrons at the hotel bar, or diving into the beautifully designed hotel pool.

An unlikely literary analog can be found in a passage from D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. When the protagonist is left by her sister in a hotel room, Gudrun

immediately felt her own existence had become stark and elemental. She went and crouched alone in her bedroom, looking out of the window at the big, flashing stars. In front was the faint shadow of the mountain-knot. That was the pivot. She felt strange and inevitable, as if she were centered upon the pivot of all existence, there was no further reality.

Gudrun, like Charlotte, is hoisted in isolation, in a sort of heavenly limbo.

Lost in Translation, which celebrated its tenth birthday this summer, is the consummate contemporary example of a young woman who finds herself in beautiful accommodations, in a fascinating foreign city, unable to do much but sulk and consider ordering room service. The hotel is, of course, an ideal place for cerebral brooding; hotels are, by their nature, in between. It is where you sleep, but it is not your home. You are a guest without a host, surrounded by scores of strangers hanging up their clothes in the room next door, as close as family.

Is it a certain kind of woman who broods in hotels, who peers out over the vista and ponders her existence? Read More »

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Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, 1927–2013

April 3, 2013 | by

ruth-prawer-jhabvalaIt was announced this morning that Ruth Prawer Jhabvala died today at her home in Manhattan, at the age of eighty-five. Jhabvala is best known as an award-winning screenwriter for Merchant Ivory Productions. Together, with the late producer Ismail Merchant and the director James Ivory, she helped make twenty-two films. Perhaps, like me, you have watched her adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View dozens of times, which garnered her an Academy Award for screenwriting in 1986. Or perhaps you, too, lusted after a Kelly bag after watching her adaptation of Diane Johnson’s Le Divorce. Over the course of three decades, she helped project the stories of writers such as Forster, Henry James, Evan S. Connell, Jean Rhys, and others onto the screen. Often, though not always, these films captured a lost era. One where women were chaperoned to Italy, where a stolen kiss on a hilltop could cause scandal, where class was never directly discussed, and fortune was hunted like prey. And today we must mourn the loss of a kind of filmmaking that took care to not appear superficial in obsessing over the past. (Much as Merchant Ivory always got the look right, one never said that the best part of the movie was the costumes. Look, for example, at Hollywood’s latest adaptation of Anna Karenina.) As Jhabvala explained to Philip Horne around 2001: “The main purpose is that I have such a good time. I mean, think of all that marvelous material. Just think of spending all that time in The Golden Bowl and the other James and Forster books we have done. But especially Henry James because he has such marvelous characters and he has such strong dramatic scenes. You just put your hand in and pull them out.”

This is because Jhabvala read as a writer. Despite—or perhaps because of—her many successes, she called herself a novelist first and foremost. And with reason. Heat and Dust was awarded the Booker Prize in 1975. She was given a MacArthur in 1984, and her short stories were published in The New Yorker throughout her career. “I was never interested in adapting classics at all,” she told Horne. “I’d written four novels. I was never interested in film. Never. I never even thought of it. I never thought of it until Merchant and Ivory came to India and filmed one of my books—they said: ‘Why don’t you write the screenplay?’ I said I’d never written a screenplay and I hadn’t seen many films because I was in India by that time and hadn’t really had any opportunity to see new films or art films or classic films or anything. So they said, ‘Well, try. We haven’t made a feature film before.’ So that was really my introduction into film.”

Thessaly La Force is a student at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and coauthor of My Ideal Bookshelf.

 

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William Styron in Letters

December 3, 2012 | by

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end,” explained William Styron in his 1954 Art of Fiction interview. “You live several lives while reading it. Its writer should, too.” Such is the experience in reading Styron’s Selected Letters, edited by Rose Styron, with R. Blakeslee Gilpin, and published this week. Alongside major cultural and political events of the latter half of the twentieth century are intimate accounts of family life, depression, writing, frustrations, and friendships.

Of his many lives, Styron may be best remembered in this office for his influence on the early years of The Paris Review. It is awfully fun to see those moments surface in his correspondence, and our selection was made with those moments in mind. Look for a new letter each day this week.

To Dorothy Parker

July 19, 1952 Paris, France

Honeybunch darling—the story is, I believe, coming along just dandy and my pretty much night and day work on it is the main reason I haven’t written you before this. It is now between 11,000 and 12,000 words, which I figure is about two-thirds complete. It has some really good—fine—things in it so far, and I think it will be even better when it’s finished. In fact I think I can say it has some of my best writing in it and will make stories by people like Hemingway and Turgenev pale in comparison. That sounds a bit like what Hemingway would say, doesn’t it? Read More »

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Staff Picks: Social Networks, David Foster Wallace

November 5, 2010 | by

Zadie Smith takes aim at The Social Network, writing, “It’s clear that this is a movie about 2.0 people made by 1.0 people.” It’s an assessment that echoes what Lawrence Lessig wrote for The New Republic a few weeks back: “But the most frustrating bit of The Social Network is ... its failure to even mention the real magic behind the Facebook story. In interviews given after making the film, Sorkin boasts about his ignorance of the Internet. That ignorance shows.” Agreed, but the truth is—you still gotta see it. In the same way everyone joins the real Facebook to complain about it, everyone sees the film in order to join the discussion. —Thessaly La Force

The weather’s turned; time to make a cup of tea and settle down with something melancholy. Jonathan Franzen’s elegy for David Foster Wallace, read at the New York memorial following his suicide two years ago, is a good place to start. Franzen’s heartache as he describes his friend’s ultimately doomed efforts to climb out of a hole of “infinite sadness” is palpable. Follow it up with “The Boy,” a previously unpublished DFW short story that recently appeared on the Internet. Sure, it’s depressing to remember that Wallace will never write anything new, but one can’t help but be grateful for the work he did leave us. —Miranda Popkey

Too much of what I read these days is distraction: an irritating flurry of sexist commentary on the DKE “no means yes” incident at Yale, and a dispiriting analysis of Bush’s attempt at image rehabilitation: “He seems to think that baffled surprise, on the part of a President, is somehow exculpatory. (It is not.)” So it was nice to curl up with something timeless and humanizing this week—Howards End, by E. M. Forster. Here are the Schlegel sisters at the end of the book: “The present flowed by them like a stream. The tree rustled. It had made music before they were born, and would continue after their deaths, but its song was of the moment. The moment had passed … Life passed. The tree rustled again.” Thanks, Mr. Forster. —Kate Waldman

For some good eighteenth-century gossip, read Doctor Augustin Cabanes’s Cabinet secret de l’histoire. It's not an easy book to find: You have to look for copies in carts along the Seine or in antiquarian shops, but they are fun to collect. Apparently, some aristocrats tried to pay Marie-Antoinette’s doctor, Seiffert, to start a rumor that the Queen could not conceive because of de Lamballe’s “moral influence.” De Lamballe was Marie-Antoinette’s attending lady and the envy of all the other ladies of the court. Which is probably why de Lamballe was the first woman to be guillotined during the Revolution, her flesh impaled upon a spike and paraded all over Paris. —Alexandra Zukerman

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