Posts Tagged ‘World War II’
February 4, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
One imagines that MI5 was busy during World War II. But not too busy, it would seem, to take the time to investigate Agatha Christie. Why? Well, says the Guardian,
The answer, it can now be revealed, lay in the name of a character in her wartime novel N or M, whom she called Major Bletchley. He appears in the book as a friend of Christie’s pair of detectives, Tommy and Tuppence. In the book, published in 1941, N and M are the initials given to two of Hitler’s agents as Tommy and Tuppence hunt for the enemy within. Major Bletchley comes across as a tedious former Indian army officer who claims to know the secrets of Britain’s wartime efforts. Christie happened to be a close friend of Dilly Knox, one of the leading codebreakers at Bletchley Park. MI5 was concerned that the major’s inside knowledge of the progress of the war was based on what the codebreakers knew about Hitler’s plans. Had Christie mischievously named the character Bletchley because Knox told her what was going on there?
The codebreakers at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire had broken German Enigma machine cyphers, enabling Churchill and his military commanders to know what the enemy was planning. Berlin believed Enigma was unbreakable, making it all the more essential to ensure that only a very small circle of people knew what the codebreakers at Bletchley were up to.
What worried MI5 even more was that it was Knox who had just broken the Enigma machine cypher used by German secret service officers sending spies to Britain.
It is almost unthinkable to imagine equal concern being lavished on the work of a modern bestseller; James Patterson and John Grisham somehow don’t seem likely tools of espionage, although it’s tempting to imagine government agents poring over the bestseller list in search of security breaches. In any event, MI5’s fears were unfounded. When confronted, Christie responded, “Bletchley? My dear, I was stuck there on my way by train from Oxford to London and took revenge by giving the name to one of my least lovable characters.”
January 18, 2013 | by Sadie Stein
Today is A. A. Milne’s birthday. While he is certainly best known as the creator of Winnie the Pooh, Milne was a prolific writer who came to resent his association with the beloved bear of very little brain. One of the more intriguing episodes of Milne’s life is his feud with author P. G. Wodehouse.
The two men were initially friends: exactly the same age, and both comic writers, they moved in the same circles in 1920s London, playing on the same cricket team and contributing to many of the same publications. In 1928, they even collaborated on the adaptation of Wodehouse’s A Damsel in Distress. By the 1930s, their friendship had cooled somewhat—Wodehouse defenders cite jealousy—but it wasn’t until World War II that things became actively hostile. Read More »
November 13, 2012 | by Nelly Kaprielian
Last month our friends at the French cultural magazine Les Inrockuptibles reported that Philip Roth has called it a day, and the world took notice. Here is the full interview with Nelly Kaprielian, in English. —Lorin Stein
Out of all your novels, Nemesis seems to be the one where you lay out most clearly your own vision of existence.
That’s true. I think everything in life is a matter of luck. I don’t believe in psychoanalysis, or in a subconscious that guides our choices. All we have is the good luck or the bad luck to meet certain people who will be either good or bad for us. My first wife, for example, turned out to be a criminal—she was always stealing, lying, and so forth—and it’s not as if I chose her for that reason. I hate criminals. But there you are, I had the bad luck to marry a bad person. Psychoanalysts will tell you that I chose her unconsciously—I don’t believe in that, though in a certain way this isn’t far from my own view, which is that, in the face of life, we are innocents. There is a certain innocence in each of us in the way we deal with our lives.
Nemesis belongs to a group of four novels entitled “Nemeses” (including Everyman, Indignation, and The Humbling). How are they connected?
Each one deals with the subject of death from a different point of view. In each of these books, the protagonist has to face his “nemesis,” a word one hears a lot in the United States, and which could be defined as doom, or misfortune, a force that he can’t overcome and that chooses him as its victim. Read More »
July 11, 2012 | by Liz Brown
Michelangelo Antonioni was not happy with the grass. This was the summer of 1966, and London was experiencing an extreme drought. The director had shot the pivotal scene in Blow-Up where David Hemmings photographs an unconsenting Vanessa Redgrave and her lover, and maybe, or maybe not, a murder at Maryon Park. But the grass looked terrible, scraggy and yellow, so Antonioni had the crew spray-paint it green, and then shot the whole sequence again.
Antonioni would’ve approved of the grass in Kassel, though. It was incredibly green, food-coloring green. The leaves, too. The city, at the northern tip of the province of Hesse, in the middle of Germany, is known for having been nearly obliterated by Allied bombs in World War II and for Documenta, the hundred-day international exhibition of 150 contemporary artists that takes place every five years. I was there with my girlfriend, Liza, for the event's thirteenth incarnation, but at some point, everyone I met would mention the destruction—whether to explain the city’s history of manufacturing weapons or the blocky postwar architecture.
The painter and professor Arnold Bode organized the first Documenta in 1955 in order to exhibit publicly the “degenerate” art that had been banned under the Third Reich. The work of prewar and wartime modernism was displayed in the ruins of the Fridericianum Museum, not just as an act of recovery but of testimony, too. This year, the director is Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, and the exhibition spread beyond the renovated Fridericianum to the main square, the train station, the Brothers Grimm Museum, the sprawling Karslaue Park, and more. There were paintings, installations, films, performances, lectures, seminars, and, as described in the press packet, “periodic activity.” I was there for three days, which is enough time to realize how little time that is, especially since this year Documenta extends beyond Kassel to Alexandria, Cairo, and Kabul, where ruins, recovery, and testimony are not distant concepts.
May 17, 2012 | by Jessica Gross
Radio journalism is having some trouble with self-definition right now. Every art form always is, of course, but radio’s growing pains are under particular public scrutiny. In January, This American Life broadcast part of a monologue by Mike Daisey, who had visited factories in China that make Apple products; it turned out he’d invented pieces of the narrative based on reports he’d heard, not seen, about labor conditions in other factories. This American Life retracted the episode, and a thousand questions bloomed. What does this mean for the industry as a whole? Is journalism even about facts anymore? Are larger truths ever more important, or is that a false dichotomy? Is storytelling different from journalism? Where do documentary-style shows like This American Life fall on the spectrum, and to what standards must they adhere?
Good questions, all, and vital ones. May I sidestep them? If the spotlight is on fact versus fiction, the refracted light falls somewhere else: on the reason this episode matters so much to us. The original Mike Daisey program was the most popular in This American Life’s sixteen-year history. Listeners cared about Daisey’s character and about the ones he described: his translator; a thirteen-year-old laborer; a man with a mangled hand. All, save for Daisey, were invented, in the pure sense of the word, but visceral.
This is the point: we can’t care about information until we can feel, and we can’t feel until we know people. We can’t learn until we empathize. This American Life may be the go-to example of character-driven radio journalism, but it’s a pervasive practice right now. Radiolab, StoryCorps, The Moth, Radio Diaries—name a radio program and I will show you its protagonists.
It’s impossible to say, for certain, where a form of expression begins. But I offer that this concept—that we need characters in order to understand pretty much anything—was first put into practice in radio by Edward R. Murrow, during World War II.
February 22, 2012 | by Meredith Blake
Let it be known that Lady Fiona Herbert, the eighth Countess of Carnarvon, occasionally answers her own phone. When I call the Countess’s office to discuss her new book, Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, I am unusually anxious; it’s not every day I speak to a member of the British aristocracy. “Hello?” answers a startled-sounding voice. I nervously ask if Lady Carnarvon is available. “This is Lady Carnarvon,” the voice replies, erupting into hearty laughter—which, happily, is not directed at me. The Countess had been reaching for the phone just as it rang and was caught off guard. “I’m completely useless as a receptionist,” she says.
For a woman who lives at Highclere Castle, one of Britain’s most impressive “family piles,” as well as the primary setting of the spectacularly popular PBS costume drama Downton Abbey, Lady Carnarvon is surprisingly warm and unpretentious.
She projects an image of slightly disheveled glamour: her household is not a well-oiled machine, but something more akin to a living archaeological site, where one might just discover a decades-old scrapbook while foraging through an out-of-use desk drawer. “We found a staircase recently. That was quite exciting,” she tells me.
Downton Abbey isn’t Highclere’s first brush with fame—parts of Eyes Wide Shut were filmed there, and British tabloid curiosity Jordan celebrated her 2005 wedding at the castle, arriving via a pumpkin-shaped carriage—but the phenomenal success of the series has thrust the Carnarvon family’s ancestral home into the spotlight like never before. It’s also spawned a cottage industry of Downton Abbey tie-in books, including two competing biographies about Almina, the colorful and controversial fifth Countess of Carnarvon. Read More »