- It may surprise you that literary history could frown upon Seth Grahame-Smith, the “mash-up novelist” famous for his Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Grahame-Smith is now being sued by Hachette, his publisher, for breach of contract. Alison Flood explains the case at the Guardian: “The complaint says the Grahame-Smith delivered the second manuscript in June 2016, but alleges that the work was ‘not original to Smith, but instead is in large part an appropriation of a 120-year-old public-domain work,’ that it ‘materially varies from the 80,000–100,000 word limit’ agreed on, and that it ‘is not comparable in style and quality to Smith’s wholly original best seller Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.’ ” Maybe this will put an end to Jane Austen rewrites not penned by Whit Stillman.
- Today in dripping-wet Regency heartthrobs: this is not a drill, people. Mr. Darcy’s soaked white shirt is bound for these shores. You know the one: it doesn’t exist in the pages of Pride and Prejudice, but Colin Firth made it famous in the 1995 BBC adaptation. And now: “The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington confirmed that it has secured a loan of the billowing white shirt worn by Mr. Firth in an indelible scene in the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice … In the scene, Mr. Firth, playing the aloof Mr. Darcy, dives into a pond and emerges with the garment molded to his strapping physique … A half-serious proposal to keep the shirt wet and molded to its display dummy by using misters like those in the produce sections of grocery stores was deemed ‘curatorially unsound’ … But outside the protective glass case, the library is bracing for a humid reaction.”
- Has the rise of the M.F.A. left a mark on American literature? Not really, according to two professors who have, as is their professorial wont, crunched the numbers, using “computational text analysis” to compare novels by writers within and without M.F.A. programs. They found “no real distinctions at the level of language, themes, or even syntax. When we went further to test whether the way writers constructed their characters was any different, once again nothing significant showed up. It was extremely difficult to separate the M.F.A. and non-M.F.A. writing groups in any meaningful way … The M.F.A. promises to make the distinction of race come alive, take on literary heft, through learning how to write and the work of writing. But we have no evidence that M.F.A. authors are any better at this than their less educated non-M.F.A. peers. If there’s a quality that distinguishes a writer as Asian American or black, we could not find it.”
- The French writer Serge Brussolo has published more than 150 books—sometimes as many as three a year—zero of which are available in English. That will change with The Deep Sea Diver’s Syndrome, a 1992 novel about “a gang of metaphysical burglars who enter a dreaming mind and pull daring heists to retrieve its treasures.” (Christopher Nolan’s Inception borrows liberally from the concept.) As Tim Martin writes, “The anarchic surrealism at work in Brussolo’s novel is such that it can never quite be reduced to a parable about the artist and society. Like Burroughs in his cut-up fictions, or Ballard in the mad Californian dreamscapes of his Vermilion Sands stories, he is coolly at home in the deranged landscape he creates, in which hypnotists whisper cryptically to security cameras, dead dreams lie frozen in special vaults lest they explode when they thaw and flowers sprout wildly in cityscapes of the mind as the dreamers’ bodies decay.”
- Christine Smallwood on The Paris Review’s anthology of new writing, The Unprofessionals: “There are more relationship problems here, treated in isolation; more people alone, talking to themselves, remembering. This is not an accident, but an aesthetic … We continue reading not to see what will happen, but to find out how the narrator will think about whatever happens to happen. Though characters wake up in beds, walk around city streets, or drive in trucks, they do not really live anywhere except their own minds. They sense place as one might sense a phantom limb … Dislocation is not synonymous with disembodiment. A strong attention to bodily experience runs through The Unprofessionals.”
- Today in facades: Jean Stein’s West of Eden: An American Place is an oral history of Hollywood and Los Angeles that deploys, as Andrew O’Hagan writes, “a wonderful grace in uncovering a monstrous reality.” He summarizes a story in the book about Jennifer Jones: “In later life Jones went to bed in full make-up and hair—it took four hours every day—just in case she was taken ill in the night and had to go to hospital. Stephen Sondheim remembers seeing her in Ravello during the shooting of John Huston’s madcap movie Beat the Devil. ‘I recall her sitting at an umbrella table in the square,’ Sondheim says, ‘rehearsing a scene with Edward Underdown, who played her husband. Above the surface of the table she was bantering blithely with him, but below it she was tearing her napkin into shreds. This was not in the script.’ ”
- When he was in his early seventies and gravely ill, Goya began a series of private drawings, full of piss and vinegar and intended to amuse his friends—among them were pictures of naked witches, newborn babies tied to poles, and a procuress fingering her rosary and slugging some rotgut. “The captions are minimal: ‘Monk,’ ‘Nothing is known of this,’ ‘I can hear snoring’ … Goya’s drawings may leave us up in the air, filled with a disquieting unease. Yet in the end, the witches and old people are tokens of life, not death—even the tired, ancient man shuffling on his sticks, mockingly captioned Just can’t go on at the age of 98.”
- By piecing together years of letters, diaries, and newspapers, one scholar believes she’s discovered the man who inspired Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy. She noted, for instance, “that the physical similarities between the Earl and the description of Darcy are ‘obvious,’ with the former looking ‘very intense.’ ” An airtight case.
- In Park Slope, Brooklyn, for thirty-five years, a gated storefront hid an artist’s studio. “Behind the black gate was a world of color, hundreds of abstract works created and hidden away by Mr. [Leo] Bates, who had a promising start as a painter in the 1970s before renouncing the art world and retreating to his storefront to paint.”
- Eight rare books, including one by Benjamin Franklin, had long-ago disappeared from the New York Public Library. A woman who recently tried to sell them to an auction house “said the books have been in her family for decades, and there’s no proof that her late parents obtained the books illegally.”
- Everyone loves a good sentence—and clauses, subordinate or not, are beloved throughout the land—but what of the paragraph, that other indispensible unit of prose? Why do we speak so often of “a great writer of sentences” and so rarely of “a great writer of paragraphs”?
- Edmund Wilson on the Fourth of July circa 1925: “The last random pops and shots of the Fourth—the effortful spluttering and chugging up a hill—the last wild ride with hilarious yells on its way back to New York. Then the long even silence of summer that stretches darkness from sun to sun.”
- And here’s a handbook for firework design from 1785. (Note: The Paris Review does not endorse the unsupervised construction or detonation of homemade pyrotechnical devices from any era, past or present—unless you’re reasonably sure you know what you’re doing, in which case, have at it.)
- Forget King Lear with people—that’s old-fashioned. What you want is King Lear with Sheep. “The actors are actually incapable of acting or even recognizing that something is expected of them.” (Because they’re sheep.)
- “Here’s the problem for someone trying to give Pride and Prejudice a contemporary twist … Jane and Lizzy Bennet are twenty-two and twenty years old, respectively. This means that, in the novel’s world, the two are pretty much teetering on the edge of spinsterhood. The whole twenty-three-year-old-spinster idea will not resonate, of course, with contemporary readers.”
- Is Moby-Dick something of a roman à clef?
In the summer in 2014, in honor of the Pride and Prejudice bicentennial, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill held its first annual Jane Austen Summer Program, described informally as the “Jane Austen summer camp” and inspired in part by the Dickens Project at UC Santa Cruz. Our correspondent kept an illicit diary of his experiences, excerpted below.
Thursday, June 27
4:35 P.M. I have been hoodwinked into wearing many hats at this conference, some of them literal. E-mails from the braintrust inform me that I am to play Mr. Darcy at the Meryton Assembly on Saturday night, to which end I must shave my beard and attend two sessions of Regency dance instruction, all while perfecting my scowl. During convocation, I scan the order of the dance: “Braes of Dornoch”; the “Physical Snob”; “Mr. Beveridge’s Maggot.” The more boisterous sounding the dance, the more I fear for my newly fitted tights and breeches on generous loan from the Playmakers Repertory.
Professor James Thompson of UNC is our first plenary speaker. Thompson explains the etiology of the program, suggests that next year’s gathering will likely focus on Sense and Sensibility, and floats the idea of one day holding a summer conference about “Austen and the Brontës.” From the collective intake of breath, he may as well have been talking of 2Pac and Biggie. Thompson also expresses gentle alarm over suspected “crypto-Trollopians” in audience, a joke that lands with shocking force among this mix of academics, various regional representatives of JASNA, garden-variety superfans, Ladies of a Certain Age Wearing Sun Visors, archaic dance enthusiasts, and one very precocious eleven-year-old who takes notes at each of the plenaries. I give thanks that Thompson is a friend and banish anxiety over the tights. Read More
The results of Book Riot’s “Books you pretend to have read” survey are in, and they’re explosive. While the usual lengthy suspects—Ulysses, Moby-Dick, Infinite Jest—are represented, Pride and Prejudice is a surprise dark horse number-one. (Maybe after investing six hours in the BBC miniseries, people feel they’ve got the idea?) Other surprises include the relatively short To Kill a Mockingbird and Great Expectations—perhaps purely due to their inclusion on hundreds of syllabi?—Harry Potter, and, somewhat mysteriously, Fifty Shades of Grey. And this prompts several follow-up questions: When you listen to a book on tape, does that count? Is there a point at which, via osmosis, adaptations, and self-delusion, one can actually begin to believe he has in fact read a book, and is there a German compound word for this phenomenon? And what of the monstrous Mr. Darcy in the Serpentine?