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Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

The True True Detective, and Other News

August 20, 2015 | by

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Two covers from True Detective, a true-crime magazine. Image via io9

  • “Several times the proper business of bed has been interrupted by mosquitoes,” Virginia Woolf wrote to a friend on her honeymoon with Leonard, which does not appear to have been an unqualified success: “They bloody the wall by morning—they always choose my left eye, Leonard’s right ear, whatever position they chance to find us in. This does not sound to you a happy life, I know; but you see, that in between the crevices we stuff an enormous amount of exciting conversation—also literature.” Books: the eternal consolation prize.
  • Subdued, black, drab, ruffled, veiled—the fashions of Victorian widows have once again wandered on to the catwalk. Rejoice. “The original moment when such styles took a somber turn was in 1861, after the death of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s great love. For the last forty years of her life, the monarch wore only black and expected everyone else to follow suit. A vogue emerged for gorily erotic storytelling tinged with mysticism. The image of the sexually experienced widow was regarded as a destabilizing factor, with her mourning frocks and jet jewelry subtly advertising the charms of the bereaved to potential second husbands. Darkness, then and now, becomes her.”
  • And what would these fashions be without black, the official color of death? The history of black is a history of perfectionism, a quest to find the blackest black, a black that could be, as the members of Spinal Tap put it, “none more black.” “In the words of the French artist Pierre Soulages, black ‘opens up a mental field all of its own.’ He began his epic journey into blackness in 1947, when he started creating abstract expressionist works using a dark walnut stain to make bold slashes across canvas. By the 1950s he was working in oils, thickly smeared onto surfaces using a palette knife. And in 1979, he began a new series of works in a style he dubbed ‘Outrenoir’—roughly translated as ‘beyond black’—with canvases completely saturated in black.”
  • Also back in style: gin, that most disreputable of liquors. Britain has seen fifty-six new gin distilleries open in the past two years, suggesting that it may finally have shrugged off any lingering resentment from the time of Georgian London, when “the city’s fetid backstreets spawned the Gin Craze, causing decades of soul-searching among philanthropists, politicians and magistrates about the wretched lives of the poor. Gin’s reputation as the crack cocaine of its day was cemented with lurid press tales about gin-fuelled degradation and squalor, culminating in William Hogarth’s infamous 1751 engraving Gin Lane.”
  • Before True Detective the mediocre TV show, there was True Detective, the mediocre true-crime rag, which ran from 1924 to 1996. The magazine had an appetite for the lurid, which, combined with its deeply lax editorial standards, made it very successful: “Consider these three not at all atypical tales of crime detection from a typical issue of True Detective: ‘I Was Raped,’ ‘I Hit Her with the Bowling Pin,’ and ‘Sex Monster At Large’ … The covers reached peaks of exploitation not seen since the ‘shudder pulps’ of the 1930s. They pictured screaming, scantily clad models frequently bound, often gagged … Editing appeared to be almost non-existent, as guidelines carefully instructed writers to leave margins wide enough so manuscripts could fit the typesetter’s copy holder.”

Byron the Bloodsucker, and Other News

May 28, 2015 | by

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Detail from a hand-colored engraving of Villa Diodati, by Edward Francis Finden, ca. 1833, after a drawing by William Purser.

  • Jonathan Franzen gave his first interview about his new novel Purity yesterday, and even the Associated Press showed up: “Those who left early missed a highlight of the event, a self-described ‘rising sophomore at the University of Connecticut’ telling Franzen that The Corrections was the basis for her project on the ‘depressed male protagonist in post-9/11 literature.’ ‘Say no more,’ answered a surprised, but amused Franzen.”
  • John Polidori was Lord Byron’s physician, and they traveled Europe together—no mean task, given the latter’s celebrity, which left the doctor feeling “like a star in the halo of the moon, invisible.” He was often the butt of Byron’s jokes that he began to write a cruel story about him—“The Vampyre,” which “establishes the vampire as we know it … reimagining the feral mud-caked creatures of southeastern European legend as the elegant and magnetic denizens of cosmopolitan assemblies and polite drawing rooms.” One problem: when the story was finally published, it was attributed not to Polidori but to Byron himself.
  • Virginia Woolf’s suicide—admittedly one of literary history’s more memorable, in its methods—has come to overshadow her life. Depictions of the author focus almost exclusively on her melancholic side, and Woolf Works, a new ballet, is no different: “What a miserable Woolf it always is! The focus in Woolf Works, The Hours, and Waves alike is on her tragic demise. This limits our view of her as a person—there’s none of the wit, charm and spirit that Woolf, by all accounts, had.”
  • Next time you see a commercial for Swiffer, remember the big picture—in the vastness of the cosmos, dust is not our enemy, but our friend. And we have the pictures to prove it. “Dust plays an essential part, not only in the history of life, but in the history of the universe as a whole. Although dust is a very small part of the mass of the universe, it controls the birth and death of stars and the heating and cooling of interstellar gas. Dust is prominent in the Hubble pictures, not only because dust clouds are beautiful, but because dust-clouds are big players in the cosmic drama.”
  • When the recession hit in 2008, an eighty-year-old novel, Kanikosen (Crab Cannery Ship), landed on Japan’s best-seller lists. What explains its sudden popularity? Well, it’s a story of the people: a tale of proletarian struggle based on a 1926 mutiny aboard a Japanese fishing ship. “Kanikosen laid bare not only the grueling reality of capitalism, but also the possibility of united resistance by workers.”

She Would Buy the Flowers Herself

May 14, 2015 | by

Today marks the anniversary of the 1925 publication of Mrs. Dalloway. The stream-of-consciousness novel has long been considered a modernist classic, perhaps the most accomplished work in Woolf's oeuvre—and though its elliptical prose and complex themes render Mrs. Dalloway a particular challenge for adaptation, this has naturally not stopped people from attempting to do so, with varying degrees of success. 

The above is either the worst or the best such adaptation, depending upon how highly you value things like coherence, tone, and style. It has none of Marleen Gorris’s respectful fidelity, none of Philip Glass’s aggressive atmosphere. Indeed, Natalia Povalyaeva’s animated short, Mrs. Dalloway and the Flowers, has almost nothing to do with the novel at all. Unless, that is, we are talking about the line, “It might be possible that the world itself is without meaning.”

Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.

The Philosophy of Your Word Processor, and Other News

October 27, 2014 | by

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A promotional photo for the Canon Cat, an early word processor.

  • April 1975: Updike and Barth hung out in Baltimore. They ate some soft-shelled crabs and visited Poe’s grave. “I don’t think we’re very unlike,” Updike later wrote. “We’re both sons of the hard-working, temperate Middle Atlantic region, twice married, depression-conscious, and stuck with the belief that there is such a thing as American littrachoor.”
  • A lost Malcolm Lowry novel, In Ballast to the White Sea, is soon to see print for the first time. Lowry spent some ten years on the book, which was lost when his home in Vancouver burned down in 1944. He’d left an early copy of the manuscript with his first wife’s mother; it wasn’t rediscovered until 2001.
  • Wash your hands of Microsoft Word and its misguided Platonism: embrace WordPerfect. “Intelligent writers can produce intelligent prose using almost any instrument, but the medium in which they write will always have some more or less subtle effect on their prose … When I work in Word, for all its luxuriant menus and dazzling prowess, I can’t escape a faint sense of having entered a closed, rule-bound society. When I write in WordPerfect, with all its scruffy, low-tech simplicity, the world seems more open, a place where endings can’t be predicted, where freedom might be real.”
  • Virginia Woolf to Katherine Mansfield, 1921: “I’m in the middle of my novel now, but have to break off, of course, to make a little money. I shall write an article on Dorothy Wordsworth, and so pay for our new sheets.”
  • Does the Internet ever sleep? Not in America.

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The Death of the Pay Phone, and Other News

September 22, 2014 | by

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A man in a Miami retirement community uses a pay phone, 1973. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

  • It’s Banned Books Week. Read something that some prudish bureaucrat condemned as mind-polluting trash. The options are nearly endless
  • Woolf v. Wharton: “Critics exalted Dalloway as an important advance in literature. In the Saturday Review, the critic Gerald Bullett unfavorably compared Wharton’s latest, A Mother’s Recompense, with Mrs. Dalloway, calling Woolf ‘a brilliant experimentalist,’ while Wharton was ‘content to practice the craft of fiction without attempting to enlarge its technical scope.’ ” Wharton was stung by the slight, and disapproved of modernist experimentalism—but it may have goaded her into attempting a “stunning narrative maneuver” in The Age of Innocence.
  • Among Nabokov’s “menagerie” of pet names for Véra: Gooseykins, Pussykins, Monkeykins.
  • Graham Greene’s 1952 open letter to Charlie Chaplin, defending him against trumped-up charges from the House Committee on Un-American Activities: “I suggested that Charlie should make one more appearance on the screen … He is summoned from obscurity to answer for his past before the Un-American Activities Committee at Washington—for that dubious occasion in a boxing ring, on the ice-skating rink, for mistaking that Senator’s bald head for a rice pudding, for all the hidden significance of the dance with the bread rolls … at the close of the hearing Charlie could surely admit to being in truth un-American and produce the passport of another country, a country which, lying rather closer to danger, is free from the ugly manifestations of fear.”
  • Doomsday for NYC pay phones: “Next month in New York City, a contract will expire that requires the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) to maintain the city’s 8,000 remaining pay phones.”

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Where Are They Now? Part Five

August 29, 2014 | by

The last in a week-long series of illustrations by Jason Novak, captioned by Eric Jarosinski.

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