Posts Tagged ‘executions’
June 2, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
Are you enjoying yourself at the moment? Please stop. It’s Thomas Hardy’s birthday, and he will wipe the smile right off your smug, contented, life-affirming face. You’re dealing with a man who knew how to deploy the word Niflheim, defined by the OED as “the region of eternal darkness, mist, and cold inhabited by those who died from old age or illness.” Hardy uses it to dispirited perfection in The Woodlanders, relating a kind of failure to connect: “But he continued motionless and silent in that gloomy Niflheim or fog-land which involved him, and she proceeded on her way.” Actually, The Woodlanders is full of an evocative, despondent murkiness. It extends even to the tiny twigs on the ground, which Hardy takes care to describe as they’re destroyed by a passing carriage: “they drove on out of the grove, their wheels silently crushing delicate-patterned mosses, hyacinths, primroses, lords-and-ladies, and other strange and common plants, and cracking up little sticks that lay across the track.”
But I’ve already digressed. I’m writing mainly to share a few excerpts from his letters that find him at his morose peak (nadir?). As a kind of warm-up, here’s a note from 1898 in which he critiques a prime minister’s funeral—always an exercise in good taste. Read More »
October 15, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Richard Flanagan has won this year’s Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. “He instinctively hugged the Duchess of Cornwall as he received the award at a black tie dinner in London.”
- Last night everything was peachy, but the Booker has a history of dust-ups and disorder. Also idiocy—Julian Barnes recalls an encounter after his novel Flaubert’s Parrot failed to win the prize: “I was introduced after the ceremony to one of the judges, who said to me: ‘I hadn’t even heard of this fellow Flaubert before I read your book. But afterwards I sent out for all his novels in paperback.’”
- The guillotine at the dawn of the media age: in the Paris of 1939, the simplest way to stop executions was to film them. “Unbeknownst to Parisian prison officials, a film camera had been set up in one of the apartments overlooking the Place Louis-Barthou. The film recorded [an] execution and by the next morning photographic stills appeared on the cover of nearly every French newspaper … The public was scandalized by their own violence; the government embarrassed. In response France banned public executions.”
- James Wood on the Australian novelist Elizabeth Harrower, whose work is back in print after twenty years: “[Harrower] essentially terminated her literary career. She has said that she thinks of her fiction as something abandoned long ago, buried in a cellar. She can’t now be bothered with writing. ‘I don’t know anybody who knows I’m a writer,’ she said in 2012.”
- Against basic, the most modish putdown of 2014: “While what it pretends to criticize is unoriginality of thought and action, most of what basic actually seeks to dismiss is consumption patterns—what you watch, what you drink, what you wear, and what you buy—without dismissing consumption itself. The basic girl’s sin isn’t liking to shop, it’s cluelessly lusting after the wrong brands, the ones that announce themselves loudly and have shareholders they need to satisfy. (The right brands are much more expensive and subtle and, usually, privately owned.)”
September 19, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Why is our vice president quoting Thomas Pynchon? In a speech in Des Moines, Joe Biden expounded on this bit of vintage paranoia, from Gravity’s Rainbow: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
- James Boswell had more hobbies than just following around Samuel Johnson; he was also “an inveterate execution goer in an age when such activity was considered prurient for a gentleman … Boswell diligently noted the names and crimes of the condemned: robbery, theft, escaping a prison hulk, forgery and murder. He describes a brother and sister convicted of burglary who met their deaths holding hands, only to be separated when they were cut down from the gallows.” He attended at least twenty-one executions, though they gave him nightmares and depressed him. The best hobbies (e.g., writing) often do.
- At a recent school-board meeting in Murphy, Oregon: fuddy-duddies. “Some parents complained Tuesday night that students should not be allowed to read the book Persepolis without parental approval. The novel by Marjane Satrapi contains coarse language and scenes of torture, and it’s in high school libraries within the Three Rivers School District in southwest Oregon.” (“I’m boiling mad,” one parent said.)
- The world’s oldest joke book, the Philogelos, dates to maybe the fourth century AD—but are its jokes funny today? The Internet has delivered its unassailable verdict: “kind of, sometimes.”
- I’ve mentioned the Write a House project in this space before: it offers authors lifelong residencies in Detroit by renovating vacant homes and then simply giving them to writers. Now the first winner has been announced: the poet Casey Rocheteau, from Brooklyn.
August 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
From “Hanging: From a Business Point of View,” a chapter in James Berry’s My Experiences as an Executioner (1892). Berry was a renowned hangman in England from 1884 to 1891; he refined the “long drop” method pioneered by William Marwood, and once famously failed to execute John Babbacombe Lee, “The Man They Couldn’t Hang,” when the scaffold’s trap door repeatedly stuck.
I am not ashamed of my calling, because I consider that if it is right for men to be executed (which I believe it is, in murder cases) it is right that the office of executioner should be held respectable. Therefore, I look at hanging from a business point of view.
When I first took up the work … I made application on a regular printed form, which gave the terms and left no opening for mistake or misunderstanding … I still use this circular when a sheriff from whom I have had no previous commission writes for terms. The travelling expenses are understood to include second-class railway fare from Bradford to the place of execution and back, and cab fare from railway station to gaol. If I am not lodged in the gaol, hotel expenses are also allowed. Read More »