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Posts Tagged ‘London’

One Shade of Grey

September 2, 2015 | by

Photo: Bookfoolery

“A 1907 page-turner about American heiresses marrying impoverished, effete English aristocrats,” reads the description affixed to the shelf below The Shuttle. Obviously, I want to read it. And obviously, this is the work of Persephone Books.

You don’t need to go to their shop in London to read Persephone, of course. Their Web site lists all their titles, and many can be found at bookstores around the English-speaking world. Their catalog makes for good reading, too—and it’s lovely to look at, with the same attention to color and pattern that enlivens the flyleaves of the entire gray-jacketed Persephone library. Read More »

Where Every Night Is Ladies’ Night, and Other News

June 17, 2015 | by

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Thomas Rowlandson, The Covent Garden Night Mare, 1784.

  • Máirtín Ó Cadhain’s 1949 Cré na Cille is a landmark work of Irish modernism, available now in a new translation called The Dirty Dust. It’s a must-read for connoisseurs of decomposition: “All the characters are dead and speaking from inside their coffins, which are interred in a graveyard in Connemara, on Ireland’s west coast. The novel has no physical action or plot, but rather some 300 pages of cascading dialogue without narration, description, stage direction, or any indication of who’s speaking when.” If there’s an afterlife, let’s hope God isn’t a modernist.
  • Of course, the God of antiquity wasn’t such a stand-up guy, either. The Bible finds Jesus promising a rich man “treasure in heaven” if only he’ll give to the poor in life. Somewhere along the line, that caveat fell by the wayside: “By the third century, however, in both Judaism and Christianity, the gesture of giving had become miniaturized, as it were. One did not have to perform feats of heroic self-sacrifice or charity to place treasure in heaven. Small gifts would do … Heaven was thus not only a place of great treasure houses, it included prime real estate in a state of continuous construction due to almsgiving performed on earth by means of common, coarse money.”
  • If you were a woman wandering the streets of eighteenth-century London at night, you were generally taken for a prostitute. A 1754 book called The Midnight-Ramble: or, The Adventures of Two Noble Females: Being a True and Impartial Account of their Late Excursion through the Streets of London and Westminsteralmost certainly written by a man, of course—supposedly aimed to rebuke young ladies for their wanton behavior. But it probably only served to encourage them—these “noble females” seem to have had a great time after dark:The two women resolve to disguise themselves as monks in order to monitor their husbands’ nocturnal activities in the city. In prosecuting this plan, they commission their milliner, Mrs Flim, whose name signals that she is adept at idle deception, to bring them ‘ordinary Silk Gowns, close Capuchins, and black Hats.’ And, having taken care ‘to exhilerate their Spirits with a Bottle of excellent Champain,’ the three of them set off in pursuit of the men.”
  • Elizabeth Taylor wrote twelve novels and several collections of stories, but her name recognition was compromised—turns out there was a certain actress who also happened to go by Elizabeth Taylor. “Another, more eventful world intrudes from time to time in the form of fan letters to the other Elizabeth Taylor,” she wrote. “Men write to me and ask for a picture of me in my bikini. My husband thinks I should send one and shake them, but I have not got a bikini.”
  • Francine Prose on Felix Moeller’s new documentary Forbidden Films, a harrowing study of the cinema of Nazi indoctrination: “One of the most fascinating and disturbing sequences in Forbidden Films deals with Ich Klage An (1941), I Accuse, a film that was used to foster public discussions of euthanasia and to persuade the German public of the necessity of the Nazi euthanasia program. In the film, a doctor’s young and beautiful wife, afflicted with multiple sclerosis, begs her husband to ‘release’ her before her sufferings increase and she degenerates into an unrecognizable version of herself … ‘Her suffering was inhumane,’ the doctor claims in his own defense. ‘That is why I released her.’ During the period that the film was being produced and shown, the Nazis had already murdered, or would subsequently murder, a total of some 70,000 people ... ”

Roger That

May 13, 2015 | by

The complicated sex drive of William Byrd II.

William_Byrd_II

Hans Hysing’s portrait of Byrd, ca. 1724.

William Byrd II was a colonial Virginia gentleman who, on occasion, was no gentleman at all. Writing about himself in the third person, in 1723, he bemoaned “the combustible manner in his constitution”; he cursed the innate passions that “broke out upon him before his beard,” making him a “swain” before all women. Byrd’s carnal drive underscored the eyebrow-raising vigor of his lust. On a trip to London in 1719, according to his secret diary, he “rogered”—an easy enough euphemism—no fewer than six women in nine days. Of one woman, he (proudly) recorded having “rogered her three times” in a single evening. That same night, Byrd, aged forty-four, noted with a tinge of sadness that he had “neglected my prayers.”

When he wasn’t on a whore-chasing jag in the metropolis, Byrd was back on his Virginia estate, called Westover, with his wife, Lucy. At Westover, his sexual proclivities certainly raged with similar, singleminded intensity—he wrote in his diary about having urgent sex with Lucy on a billiards table—but it was also tempered by a healthy desire to achieve mutual pleasure with her. He was just as inclined to “give my wife a flourish”—bring her to orgasm—as he was to “roger” her, a semantic shift suggesting that Lucy’s response to their sexual union mattered as much to Byrd as his own physical gratification. On April 30, 1711, he noted in his diary that although he discovered his wife in a “melancholy” mood, the “powerful flourish” he delivered filled her with “great ecstasy and refreshment.” He recalled one morning during which “I lay in my wife’s arms” while, during another, his wife “kept me so long in bed” that “I rogered her.” That evening he got around to saying his prayers—before rogering her again. The man could be a virtuous, even tender, Tidewater lover when he wasn’t being a London sleazebag. Read More »

More Paintings About Poets and Food

February 20, 2015 | by

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Djordje Ozbolt, Poet Smoking, 2014, acrylic on board, 27 ½” x 23 5/8”.

Tomorrow’s the last day to catch Djordje Ozbolt’s show “More paintings about poets and food”—a welcome nod to Talking Heads’ 1978 album More Songs About Buildings and Food—at Hauser & Wirth.

Ozbolt grew up in Belgrade and now works in London, where he’s lived for many years; though he denies any kind of “East-meets-West” tensions in his work, his paintings evoke the kind of rambunctious, vivid satire of Western culture that comes best from outsiders. Ryan Steadman, writing in the New York Observer, calls Ozbolt “a master of the deadpan historical zinger … While an artist like John Currin seems to begin from a kitschified American view of classical painting (think Norman Rockwell), Mr. Ozbolt pointedly razzes the medium’s deeper history (a history that reflects our own) in a way that a New-Worlder never fully could.” It would be easier to shrug off his paintings as jokes if they didn’t reappear, some hours after seeing them, in one’s nightmares. I don’t know how Ozbolt burrows so deep into his subconscious, but I applaud him for it; he’s found a labyrinthine, underground network of our bugbears and bêtes noires. In Delivery, for example, a raven makes a brisk descent with a glazed donut in its beak—it took me a while to make the connection, but eventually I was brought back to the scene in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks wherein Waldo the Myna Bird is executed above a tray of jelly donuts. This is America, people: whenever birds and baked goods meet, suffering is sure to follow. Read More »

Too Much of a Good Thing

October 17, 2014 | by

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An ad by Mensing & Stecher, ca. 1870.

Fact: two hundred years ago today, eight Londoners drowned in a flood of beer.

I don’t know what else to say.

I guess I can tell you a little about it: how it began at the Meux and Company Brewery on Tottenham Court Road, where an enormous vat ruptured, unleashing more than a hundred thousand imperial gallons of beer; how the force of that gushing beer apparently caused the brewery’s other vats to rupture, thus sending some 1,470,000 liters of beer into the streets; and how that beer washed through a nearby home, killing a mother and daughter as they took tea. The Times reported that “inhabitants had to save themselves from drowning by mounting their highest pieces of furniture.” And the story goes that that the beer deluged right through a living room where a wake was in progress, killing a few mourners with intoxicating irony.

When I learned of the flood, my first question wasn’t “How many people died?” It was “What kind of beer was it?” And according to no less reputable a source than FunLondonTours.com, the answer is porter. Porters tend to be pretty strong, so anyone who managed to gulp down a few mouthfuls as he or she was enveloped by the beer wave … well, you can see where I’m going with this.

For more on the flood, check out Atlas Obscura.

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Inside Stories

September 3, 2014 | by

Quentin Blake at the House of Illustration.

SP46b_16 Twits (c) QB 2010

From The Twits

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From The Clown

LP32015A Wild Washerwomen (c) QB 1979

From The Wild Washerwomen

LP90A_089 Danny (c) QB 1997

From Danny Champion of the World

Quentin Blake - Inside Stories

Inside Stories

LP122a007 Sad Book (c) QB 2004

From Sad Book

LP10004 Capt Najork (c) QB 1974

From How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen

LP40025 Dancing frog (c) QB 1984

From The Story of the Dancing Frog

LP79018 Clown (c) QB 1995

From Clown

SP46b_23 Twits (c) QB 2010

From The Twits

SP162 p75 The Boy in the Dress (c) QB 2008

From The Boy in the Dress

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From Candide

Located somewhat improbably behind King’s Cross St. Pancras, the thrumming London tube and train stations, is the cheery House of Illustration, which opened in early July. The path leading to it is lined with illustrated panels, a showcase of the visual treasures to come: advertisements and poster art, medical and botanical sketches, children’s books and fashion illustrations. The center’s present exhibition, “Inside Stories,” features original work by the beloved illustrator Quentin Blake, one of the House’s trustees and now an octogenarian, whose drawings have enchanted young readers for nearly half a century.

Blake is perhaps best known for his work with Roald Dahl, but no matter who he’s collaborating with, his illustrations retain a buoyant, often impish air. His first drawings were published in the magazine Punch when he was still in high school. He began illustrating children's books in 1960, and taught for more than twenty years at the Royal College of Art. Since the nineties, he’s worked as exhibition curator, and has more recently created larger-scale works for health care wards and communal spaces.

Claudia Zeff, a publishing industry art director who has spent twenty years designing book jackets, curated “Inside Stories.” Zeff’s collaborative process with Blake was already comfortable—the two have worked together for more than a decade. The ideas for the exhibition “evolved quite gradually,” Zeff said. “Quentin came up with the idea of using the story behind the books as the theme … and expressed the different approaches/techniques he uses to illustrate to different types of narrative.” Read More »

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