- A decade before Virginia Woolf and her calls for a room of one’s own, there was Lola Ridge, a poet whose 1919 presentation “Women and Creative Will” was a watershed moment for feminism: “ ‘They say there never has been, there is not, and there never will be a really great woman artist,’ Ridge begins her speech, fifty-two years before Linda Nochlin asked, ‘Why have there been no great women artists?’ … She sees that ‘the [male] artist is naturally predatory. His soul sits like a patient spider, throwing out infinite antennae, clutching and drawing within,’ and writes that he allows women in the salons solely for his own stimulation.”
- I like to keep all my rare books in my car, for ease of access and transport. I see the error of my ways now. Lawrence Van De Carr, a rare books dealer, had his van stolen with some $350,000 in merchandise in it. “One suspect has been arrested, he said, but his van filled with novels penned by Faulkner, Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy, among other famous authors, has not been found … Joshua Anderson, thirty, went to Moe’s Books in Berkeley shortly after the bookseller association sent out an alert. He and an alleged accomplice had four books, valued around $14,000, that they were trying to sell, said John Wong, manager at the store … The men said they got the valuable volumes from a deceased uncle, but Anthony, one of Wong’s employees, wasn’t buying it … When officers arrived, one of the men escaped through a back door, but Anderson ran out through the front, where he was caught and arrested, Wong said.”
- America’s secret societies have been occultist, dubiously charitable, and occasionally outright supremacist—but they came with some truly bizarre art, as demonstrated in the new book As Above, So Below: Art of the American Fraternal Society, 1850–1930: “As fraternal associations grew in the U.S. in the late 1800s, they looked to Etruscan, ancient Greek and Egyptian, Gothic, Moorish and so-called Oriental sources for themes and influences (echoing that era’s popular fascination with the ‘exotic’), which were reflected in their rituals, costumes and objects, and even in the fantasy architecture of some of their assembly halls.”
- Tough guys are changing, and Deadpool, for all its schlocky vulgarity, is proof: unlike the taciturn screen idols of yore, its hero is free to run his mouth. “The contours of Deadpool’s drama—maturing in love while maturing in allegiance—nudge against those of the classic Hollywood wartime loners exemplified by Bogart … Reynolds is no Bogart (who is?), but, in any case, the very nature of flamboyant sarcasm has changed—and, at least in one way, for the better. In Bogart’s time, the tough guy was epigrammatic, speaking in terse and tight-lipped aphorisms, leaving florid verbosity to the (usually affected, often European) villains. One great thing that hip-hop has done, over the past thirty or thirty-five years, is to create a bridge between intricate verbal intelligence and masculine strength, or, to put it differently, to make poetry streetwise and unleash it from its old-fashioned stereotype as feminine or effete. Pop-culture tough guys can be fast talkers now.”
- Today in subversive skeleton keys: The artist Jordan Seiler makes chunky metal rods that you can use to access the advertisements hidden behind Plexiglas all over the city. His Public Ad Campaign urges people to find and replace every ad they come across—a kind of perfect counter effort against those who seek to plaster every public surface labeled POST NO BILLS with as many handbills as possible. “Seiler’s work seeks to remind you that if you live in a major city, your eyes are currency. Agencies are constantly coming up with new ways to turn public spaces into ads. This is what the Public Ad Campaign hopes to fight. Seiler wants to distribute his keys as widely as possible to everyday people so they can help quiet the unavoidable ads into a dull roar.”
The banker and poet Samuel Rogers (1763–1855) spent his life at the center of political and literary London. He knew everyone (both Wordsworth and Tennyson borrowed his court suit for royal occasions), and like the Brothers Goncourt—or a Regency Renata Adler—he had a nightly habit of writing up his dinner conversations. As Christopher Ricks observes in a preface to Rogers’s Table-Talk & Recollections, Rogers loved to repeat other people’s gossip. But he loved to record their quirks and sayings, too. Of the Whig leader Charles James Fox, for example: “Very candid—Retracts instantly—continually putting wood on the fire.” “He loves children.” “Josephine a very pleasing woman.” Most interesting for me are the private literary opinions of Rogers’s powerful friends, who talk about Milton, Pope, and the classics very much in the tone of late-night Dylanologists two centuries later, and at the same passionate level of detail. —Lorin Stein
While this may be remembered as the week virtual reality went mainstream, I found myself absorbed in a more time-tested medium—a portfolio of photographs, “Weather Man,” by Evgenia Arbugaeva. Arbugaeva, who grew up in the Russian Arctic, spent several weeks visiting a remote meteorological station in Khodovarikha, one in which data on wind speed, precipitation, visibility, water levels, and the like are still measured and recorded by hand—by Vyacheslav “Slava” Korotki, the station’s resident meteorologist. Slava lives and works in isolation, in a station built in, and by all measures still reminiscent of, 1933. Says Arbugaeva (and so her photos attest): “He doesn’t have a sense of self the way most people do. It’s as if he were the wind, or the weather itself.” —Stephen Hiltner Read More
It’s no great shock that Leonard Woolf was recorded on film, not when you think about it—after all, the writer, publisher, and widower of Virginia lived into 1969.
And yet! And yet! It seems somehow magical that here he should be, modern and in color, talking about Maynard Keynes for all the world as if he is not a living bridge to a storied past, most of which went as unfilmed—as though Bloomsbury had not belonged to modernity at all, let alone invented it. Read More
These images are from the Dobkin Family Collection of Feminist History’s exhibition, on display through Saturday, October 24, at Glenn Horowitz Booksellers’ Rare Gallery, in New York. The show takes its title from a powerful passage in Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own about the female novelists of the nineteenth century:
What genius, what integrity it must have required … in the midst of that purely patriarchal society, to hold fast to the thing as they saw it without shrinking. Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë … They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue—write this, think that. They alone were deaf to that persistent voice, now grumbling, now patronizing, now domineering, now grieved, now shocked, now angry, now avuncular, that voice which cannot let women alone, but must be at them, like some too-conscientious governess, adjuring them, like Sir Egerton Brydges, to be refined; dragging even into the criticism of poetry criticism of sex; admonishing them, if they would be good and win, as I suppose, some shiny prize, to keep within certain limits which the gentleman in question thinks suitable … It would have needed a very stalwart young woman in 1828 to disregard all those snubs and chidings and promises of prizes. One must have been something of a firebrand to say to oneself, Oh, but they can’t buy literature too. Literature is open to everybody. I refuse to allow you, Beadle though you are, to turn me off the grass. Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt, that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.
The Dobkin Family Collection, amassed over twenty-five years by the philanthropist Barbara Dobkin, spans five hundred years and comprises thousands of letters, papers, posters, and ephemera pertaining to women’s advancements in all walks of life. It’s intended to help research and writing on the history of feminism. Among the items on display at “No Gate” are Simone de Beauvoir’s working manuscript for The Second Sex; a lighthouse logbook signed by a young Virginia Woolf, who was apparently later moved to write To the Lighthouse by her experience there; Margaret Sanger’s manuscript notebook for Family Limitation; and a letter from Amelia Earhart on Cosmopolitan letterhead naming her as their aviation editor. Read More
A few pages into Barbara Pym’s 1944 comedy of manners Crampton Hodnet, I turned to Sadie in confusion. What’s with the descriptions? On page sixteen, “He was dark and thin, just a little taller than she was”; on seventeen, “He was a tall, distinguished-looking man with a thin, sensitive face”; and on twenty, “He was a short, jolly-looking man, while Mrs Wardell was tall and thin.” As Sadie explained, Pym never saw fit to publish Crampton Hodnet in her lifetime, so it’s possible that all these height measurements are a sign of inexperience and haste. On the other hand, the novel is such a sharp send-up of romantic conventions (handsome new vicar meets long-suffering lady’s companion) that they may be part of the joke. In any case, the book is addictive, with scenes as funny and impatient as anything in her later work. —Lorin Stein
The Greek tragedies were written for and performed by soldiers. Sophocles, a retired general, wrote his plays—many of them postwar tragedies, PTSD tragedies—between two major Athenian wars, and because they were performed during citywide festivals, they seem to have been a part of the civic war mechanism: a way for the citizenry to cope, understand, and grieve together. Bryan Doerries’s Theater of War project, which I first read about in Harper’s, stages readings of ancient Greek tragedies for service members and veterans in an effort to remind them that they’re “not alone across time.” Doerries’s new book is about his readings of the plays—and how he gained support from the U.S. military for his project—but it’s also a study of the therapeutic values of art. Many of us lamely suffer from PTSD headline fatigue: it’s always in the news but rarely makes the front page anymore, not for lack of persistence but because there aren’t many new ways of thinking about it. Doerries’s book implicates everyone when it says that the most useful healing is public rather than private. It’s hopeful, in a way, to consider that we can learn through catastrophe: that this is not a new idea, and that it’s best done together. —Jeffery Gleaves
“All the more elegant forms of cruelty, I’m told, begin / with patience.” That’s the first line in Carl Phillips’s newest collection, Reconnaissance. The book is thin, no more than forty-eight pages, and though you could easily read it in an afternoon, I’d recommend sitting with it awhile longer. Raw and unafraid, Phillips’s poems sift through the cruelties of the heart; he writes of the old lovers that “rise as one before you …/ like perennials you’d forgotten to expect again”; of betrayal, “the kind of betrayal … I’ve been waiting for, / all my life”; of mistakes, “the ones that sweetly rot beneath me.” He left me so mesmerized that I reread the collection as soon as I’d finished it. A few favorite (devastating) lines from “The Strong by Their Stillness”: “You can love a man / more than he’ll ever love back or be able to, you can confuse / your understanding of that / with a thing like acceptance or, / worse, all you’ve ever deserved.” —Caitlin Youngquist Read More
- “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.”