The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘England’

A Jolly Companion

August 17, 2016 | by

Hans Hoffmann, A Hedgehog, sixteenth century.

Ted Hughes was born on this day in 1930. In a 1950 letter to Edna Wholey, he dilated on his love of hedgehogs. Read more of his correspondence in Letters of Ted Hughes, edited by Christopher Reid. Read More »

In Praise of Minor Literature

July 8, 2016 | by

houseboats

Houseboats by the Thames.

Some of the writers and books I hold in the highest esteem were discovered en passant: buried in the archives of a little-read blog; mentioned in a thirty-year-old essay devoted to more prominent writers; planted near the end of a long list on Wikipedia. (Idleness and obsession are the impetus for most of my discoveries.) Most of these books are rare tastes, not even well known for not being well known. They are not likely to come up at dinner parties, and they are not part of any canon or curriculum. I don’t get any credit for having read them. They are what some people call minor. 

What does it mean to be minor? It’s not the same thing as being obscure. Leon Forrest’s oeuvre is a megalith, but there seem to be about six of us who have read him. Nor is a minor writer a bad writer. Guy Davenport proposed that Thomas Love Peacock, Colette, Simenon, and Michael Gilbert were all “impeccable stylists” but also, next to Tolstoy, Cervantes, Balzac, and Proust, incontrovertibly minor. Davenport, a self-described minor prose stylist who was great enough to be genuinely self-effacing, said that “the theme of a major work must be universal and time-defying.” When judged by this standard, he suggested, even Borges and Poe were minor, since “a Martian could not learn about human nature from either of them.” Read More »

An Extraordinary Delivery of Rabbits

July 5, 2016 | by

How Mary Toft convinced doctors she’d given birth to rabbit parts.

Mary-gravida-coelhos-londres-1

Edward White’s The Lives of Others is a monthly series about unusual, largely forgotten figures from history.

News travels fast in London, where opinions are swiftly made and loudly shared. It is a great irony that the capital of a nation famed for its icy reserve should also be one of the historic crucibles of free speech; where Putney debaters, Clapham abolitionists, and Camden punks have all found voice in the past, and where Hyde Park philosophes, Westminster politicos, and East End grime-spitters still do today. Of course, the most urgent symptom of the loose London gob is Fleet Street, that ruthless, rabid hive of tabloid journalism. There, the byzantine codes of British politesse are redundant: gossip rules and “private lives” are a contradiction in terms. “Privacy is for pedos,” in the words of Paul McMullan, a twenty-first-century London hack of Dickensian aspect, the Platonic ideal of the Fleet Street guttersnipe; “circulation defines what is the public interest.”

When Paris got its first daily newspaper, in 1777, London already had nearly three hundred. Half a century earlier, the French writer César-François de Saussure had traveled to London and observed that the people were “great newsmongers. Workmen habitually begin the day by going to coffee rooms in order to read the latest news.” Step on to the tube in the morning rush hour today and you’ll find much the same: silent tessellated blocks of humanity crammed and twisted like human Tetris patterns, each head uncomfortably bowed into the morning paper. By evening, carriages are ankle-deep with those same pages, now discarded. There are times when the chatter becomes too much, a deafening white noise of rubbernecking intrigue. At other times, when the tabloid hydra has a doe in its jaws, it is as if witnessing one of the public hangings in the city’s good old, bad old days. You hate yourself for it, but you cannot look away as a reputation, a life, is split open like the steaming belly of a sacrificial beast. Read More »

Woman Alive

June 29, 2016 | by

The memoirs of an imprisoned suffragette. 

suffragette-votes-for-women

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the previous entry, on John Cleland’s very erotic prison novel, here.

In 1908, when she was thirty-seven, Lady Constance Lytton took a vacation by the sea in Littlehampton. She’d accepted a friend’s offer to spend the summer at the Esperance Club, a charity meant to teach working-class women traditional English dances and folk songs. During a walk through town one day, she found a crowd gathered around “a sheep which had escaped as it was being taken to the slaughterhouse.” Watching the animal stagger around to the crowd’s amusement, she wrote,

A vision suddenly rose in my mind of what it should have been on its native mountain-side with all its forces rightly developed, vigorous and independent. There was a hideous contrast between that vision and the thing in the crowd. 

The vision of the sheep comes at the start of her 1914 autobiography, Prisons and Prisoners, in a chapter titled “My Conversion.” “It seemed to reveal for me for the first time,” Lytton continued, “the position of women throughout the world.” Read More »

The Native Henry James

February 26, 2016 | by

February 28 marks the hundredth anniversary of James’s death.

Photo: Alice Boughton, 1916.

Henry James died in London, at the age of seventy-two, on February 28, 1916, in the midst of World War I. His funeral was held at Chelsea Old Church on March 3, with a mostly British congregation of mourners—though his sister-in-law Alice, widow of his brother, the philosopher William, was in attendance, having crossed the war-torn ocean when she heard of his illness.

The U.S. had not yet entered the war—the issue was controversial, and indeed, James and his old antagonist Theodore Roosevelt, who had long denounced him as un-American, had found common cause in their indignation at their country’s prolonged neutrality. This caused particular tension on James’s death, because the novelist had taken British nationality in July 1915, an implicit protest against America’s refusal to join the conflict. As he had written to his fellow American-in-London John Singer Sargent just after the event, “It would really have been so easy for the U. S. to have ‘kept’ (if they had cared to!) yours all faithfully, Henry James.” He had finally grown tired of waiting for America to end its neutrality, and felt he needed, by this gesture, to end his own detachment from the conflict. The memorial in Chelsea Old Church tactfully describes him as “a resident of this parish who renounced a cherished citizenship to give his allegiance to England in the first year of the Great War”—the “cherished” insisting from the grave that James had been a good American. Read More »

Northern Powerhouse

February 11, 2016 | by

David Storey’s classic rugby novel, This Sporting Life, speaks to an enduring schism in English culture.

From a Penguin paperback edition of This Sporting Life.

“I went straight for the full-back,” the up-and-coming rugby star of David Storey’s 1960 novel, This Sporting Life, tells us: “and when he came in I gave him the base of my wrist on his nose. The crack, the groan, the release of his arms, all coincided with a soaring of my guts.” Crucially, the sport here is Rugby League, the fast and furious sister of Rugby Union—the latter being what most people would recognize simply as “rugby.” Save for a few rule differences, the two are similar, yet in a thousand intangible ways, many of them to do with the inescapable pall of class that covered English life throughout the twentieth century, they’re worlds apart. Much of the unique power of This Sporting Life, crafted straight from Storey’s personal experience, is in how it shows us these ways. Read More »