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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

W. H. Auden’s Potent Syllabus, and Other News

January 29, 2015 | by

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Light reading. Image via More Than 95 Theses

  • W. H. Auden was a professor at the University of Michigan for the 1941–42 academic year. His course was called Fate and the Individual in European Literature, and its syllabus mandated more than six thousand pages of reading: The Divine Comedy, The Brothers Karamazov, Moby-Dick, Fear and Trembling 
  • Coming to the Huntington Library: Jane Austen’s family letters, Wicked Ned the Pirate’s watercolors, Louis Pasteur’s beer notes (“scribbled on pages of various sizes, in black and blue ink”).
  • On Pedro Lemebel, a Chilean writer (and artist and activist and provocateur) who died last week: “a writer who called himself a ‘queen’ (una loca) and ‘a poor old faggot’ (un marica pobre y viejo), and whose style and obsessions were forged on the social margins and in political opposition.”
  • Alfred Hitchcock’s unreleased documentary about the Holocaust, suppressed for decades, is being screened in full for the first time later this year. “The film, shown at test screenings, extremely disturbed colleagues, experts and film historians.”
  • Fear death? Sure you do! Don’t just sit there drumming your fingers and waiting for the end, though. Talk about it. Over coffee. At a Swiss death café. “The idea for the café mortel was simple: the gathering was to take place in a restaurant, anyone could come, and [Bernard] Crettaz [a Swiss sociologist] himself would gently marshal the conversation. The only rule was that there was to be no prescription: no topic, no religion, no judgment. He wanted people to talk as openly on the subject as they could.”

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John Bayley on British Wit

January 22, 2015 | by

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John Bayley with Iris Murdoch, 1980.

The New York Times has reported that John Bayley died last week at eighty-nine. A literary critic and Oxford don, Bayley was best known for his vivid, searching memoir, Elegy for Iris, about his married life with Iris Murdoch, who in the late nineties had fallen deep into Alzheimer’s disease. “To feel oneself held and cherished and accompanied, and yet to be alone,” he wrote. “To be closely and physically entwined, and yet feel solitude’s friendly presence, as warm and undesolating as contiguity itself.”

But Bayley was a keen critic, too. Remembering him in the Guardian, Richard Eyre writes,

John was a brilliantly readable reviewer, often witty and sometimes waspish, but invariably bearing the authority of a man who could speak knowledgeably of all European cultures. He believed that the point of literature was to make sense of the world, and, although shy and unassertive, he was a blazingly confident guide to how and where to discover those truths. If I were looking for an epitaph for him it would be from Tolstoy: “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

In our Spring 1998 issue, The Paris Review asked thirteen British writers to answer questions about the state of the nation’s literature. Bayley was one of them—here, to remember him, are the two questions he answered.Read More »

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Characters Get Together

December 31, 2014 | by

We’re out until January 5, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2014 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!

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Wilshire Boulevard ca. 1959. Photo: Roger Wollstadt, via Flickr

There were extenuating circumstances. I was in LA for work, and I had known, intellectually, that it would be warm in California—hot, even. But when you’re deep in a New York winter, who really thinks to pack a sundress?

The lightest thing I had was a pair of jeans. So on a particularly Saharan afternoon, I ducked into a thrift store and grabbed a cotton dress off the rack without trying it on. When I got back to my room and changed, I noticed that the dress was brief. It wasn’t until I had donned my sandals that I realized the dress was in fact too small for me. Oh well, I thought. Better to look silly than to burn, as Saint Paul would most certainly not have said.

The bus let me off some distance from my destination. I didn’t mind; I like to walk. But I was the only pedestrian on that stretch of Santa Monica. Then, as the wind whipped my flimsy skirt up around my thighs, motorists started honking. One car slowed so the driver could catcall me.

If you think this is flattering—and no woman reading this does—think again. Read More >>

How She Knows

December 17, 2014 | by

Penelope Fitzgerald’s shifting reputation.

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From the cover of Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.

Penelope Fitzgerald would have been ninety-eight today. We should mark the occasion by remembering that it is not extraordinary that she became a prize-winning novelist, though you may have heard otherwise.

In 2008, Julian Barnes described Fitzgerald as a jam-making grandmother, carrying a plastic, purple handbag. “Many readers’ initial reaction to a Fitzgerald novel,” he wrote, is, “ ‘But how does she know that?’ ” He said that he has reread the first scene of her book The Blue Flower (2000) many times, “always trying to find its secret, but never succeeding.”

And most everyone knows the story of the Booker dinner in 1979, to which Fitzgerald supposedly wore a flannel housedress. When she beat out V. S. Naipaul for the prize with Offshore, Robert Robinson of Book Programme proposed that the judges had made the wrong choice.

Then there’s Michael Dibdin, who once compared Fitzgerald to Jane Austen, of whom Lord Grey of Fallodon said something like, How astonishing that, despite the dullness of her life, she should write not only one novel, but several, and they are very good, too. Didbin was also incredulous of The Blue Flower: “How on earth was this done?” Read More »

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Emma, Cover to Cover

November 13, 2014 | by

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Margaret Sullivan’s new book, Jane Austen Cover to Cover, collects dozens of the covers that publishers around the world have concocted for her six major novels; it’s “two hundred years of publication, interpretation, marketing, and misapprehensions.” These six examples of Emma indicate Austen’s singular place in the canon: the covers range from the lurid to the leather bound—highbrow, lowbrow, middlebrow, every brow—with Emma Woodhouse taking on a new look and mien to suit every era. The art provides a fascinating glimpse into a variety of publishing cultures, and it reminds that even our classics are mutable, pitched to appeal to any number of sensibilities, their literary status in constant flux per the dictates of the market.
Read More »

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Coming Soon: More Vengeful Deities, and Other News

November 13, 2014 | by

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The wrath of God.

  • Everyone’s going nuts for Serial, an impeccably reported (and very self-aware) true-crime podcast spun off from This American Life. But Janet Malcolm was up to something similar many decades ago, wasn’t she?
  • Then again, this should come as no surprise. “Hasn’t it all been done before? Perhaps better than anyone today could ever do it?” Why should any of us bother with the new when so much of the old is out there waiting for us?
  • Actually, why should any of us leave our houses at all? We’re just going to encounter the absurd—a bunch of loony scholars, for instance, tooling around town with a life-size statue of Jane Austen in tow …
  • And even the best literature offers no respite from the absurd and the terrifying. Quite the opposite. “In August a man in the Bronx tied a chain to a pole, wrapped it around his neck, got behind the wheel of his Honda and stepped on the accelerator. The chain severed his head from his body, which crashed through the windscreen and landed on the street when the Honda slammed into a parked car … It put me in mind of a passage early in Donald Antrim’s first novel, Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World.”
  • But it’s all right. As the world grows more confused and tempestuous, we’ll at least find ourselves with more righteous, awesome, angry gods. A new study finds that “belief in moralizing high gods is ‘more prevalent among societies that inhabit poorer environments and are more prone to ecological distress’ … In societies that exist in places with violent monsoon seasons or periods of extreme drought, cooperation is more important than it is in temperate areas … And what better way to promote cooperation and fair play than the idea of an all-seeing god who demands it?”

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