- At the Morgan Library and in England, Jane Austen miscellanea abounds: recent years have seen the discovery, exhibition, and/or sale of Austen’s turquoise ring, Austen’s nephew’s memoirs (with her handwriting somewhere among the pages), Austen’s teenage notebooks, fragments of her unfinished novel, a stone shield excavated from a house near her birthplace …
- “Once a sci-fi plot conceit, time travel has become among the most popular structural devices in contemporary fiction. Today ‘time machine fiction’ reigns supreme.”
- Before Moby-Dick there was Mocha Dick—not a coffee-chocolate phallus but “a real-life whale … who fought off whalers for decades before being killed by harpoon.” It was a magazine story about Mocha that inspired Melville to write his novel; now, in a new illustrated book, Mocha Dick: The Legend and the Fury, the original whale gets his due.
- The history of nine terms of endearment, including such perennials as sweetheart (1290) and sugar (1930), but also some deep cuts: mopsy (1582), bawcock (1601), and prawn (1895), the last of which ought to come into vogue again any minute now.
- A manual for the first computer game—“The Ferranti Nimrod Digital Computer,” dubbed “Faster than Thought”—has sold for $4,200. The computer was designed specifically to play “a match-stick game called Nim that was played in the French movie L’Année Dernière à Marienbad.”
The Morgan Library has published a rich cache of Rembrandt’s etchings—nearly five hundred of them—in a new digital archive, a remarkable testament to his skills as a printmaker. (He was Rembrandt, after all.) The portraits are especially affecting: here are preachers, gold weighers, print sellers, a woman having her nails trimmed, many men in exotic plumed caps. My personal favorite, above, is Self Portrait in a Cap, Open-Mouthed, from 1630: what a pleasure to see the Dutch Master himself, flummoxed, staring just over the viewer’s right shoulder, from a distance of many centuries.