I tend to be suspicious of film and television adaptations of my favorite books. This might stem from a kind of jealousy—the slow unraveling of a narrative or the exact right word used for the exact right idea are part of the pleasures of literature, but sometimes, as a writer, I wish I could borrow from film the immediacy of a jump cut or image. So it was with some apprehension that I began to watch My Brilliant Friend, HBO’s new adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. Would this first season—eight episodes in total, dedicated entirely to portraying the first novel in the series—water down the source material, with its unflinching portrayal of the violence and poverty of postwar Naples and the simultaneous terror and joy of girlhood and female friendship? After devouring the first few episodes this past weekend, I can assure you that, so far, it does not. Rather, this is the rare adaptation that both hews closely to its source material and yet manages to escape any stiltedness. And while Ferrante’s novels remain first in my heart, there are moments in the television series—the visual shock of a red menstrual stain amid the otherwise muted color palette—that might work even better on film. —Rhian Sasseen Read More
Wordsworth’s Prelude, subtitled “Growth of a Poet’s Mind,” exists in many versions, written throughout half a century and revised until the poet’s death. It seems fitting that there should be so many, expanding revisions in parallel with the accumulating layers of a life.
In an 1805 letter to the art patron Sir George Beaumont, Wordsworth says of his greatest work that it is “a thing unprecedented in literary history that a man should talk so much about himself.” During the many years that he wrote it, he did not think that he could be justified in “giving [his] own history to the world” unless he published it alongside a sober, philosophical work, The Recluse.
Wordsworth spent years talking about The Recluse without ever really writing it. But the idea was always there, in his correspondence, in his descriptions of future work, and in the rest of his poetry. In 1814, he published The Excursion, which he called “a Portion of The Recluse,” outlining the rest of the unwritten work in three sections. Eighteen years later, he had made little more progress on The Recluse, but had completed the fourteen-book Prelude and was still editing it. His daughter Dorothy wrote in a letter:
Mother and he work like slaves from morning to night—an arduous work—correcting a long poem, written 30 years back … and not to be published during his life, The Growth of his own Mind—the ante-chapel, as he calls it, to The Recluse.
Wordsworth’s procrastination on The Recluse seems almost pathological; and as the years pass, his constant references to it appear naive, even delusional. So much so that in reading them, one begins to wonder whether the looming idea of The Recluse, which was never written, might have been the driving force for completing The Prelude. Was the blueprint of a different great work the necessary illusion that allowed him to compose a different, equally demanding one?
In 1895, at the Societe d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale in Paris, Auguste and Louis Lumiere debuted the cinematographe to a small group of colleagues and friends. The camera was officially released to the public later that year, and the Lumiere brothers become known as the fathers of cinema. Present for the private release was Alice Guy-Blaché, the twenty-two-year-old secretary to Leon Gaumont, inventor, industrialist, and founder of the Gaumont Film Company. He had been concerned about Alice’s youth when he hired her. “It will pass,” she assured him.
Inspired by the screening, Alice Guy-Blaché wrote, directed, and produced one of the first narrative films ever made, La Fée Aux Choux, or, The Cabbage Fairy, in 1896. Gaumont permitted her to use the company’s equipment under the condition that “the mail doesn’t suffer.” This film, in which babies are plucked from cabbages by a fairy, cements Alice as one of the first filmmakers in history, and the first ever female film director—a mother to cinema.
Guy-Blaché’s career outpaces that of legends like the Lumieres and Georges Mélies, with whom she was a contemporary. At the 1900 Exposition Universelle, Alice won the Diplome De Collaboratrice (Collaborator Award). Her competition included Melies, Ferdinand Zecca, and Edwin S. Porter. She wrote, directed, and produced over a thousand films and was among the first to employ techniques like close-ups, hand-tinted color, and synchronized sound. Many of her films were created through Solax, the production company she founded in 1910 in Fort Lee, New Jersey, (America’s original Hollywood) in 1910, three years after moving to the United States with her husband, Herbert Blaché. For Alice, to become a filmmaker, “was my fate, if you will.” And she was, at the time, well-known for it.
Why, then, had I never heard of her? Read More
Ludmilla Petrushevskaya’s bio describes her as “a world-renowned writer and singer.” We were aware of the former—her story “Two Sisters” appears in the new Winter issue—but knew nothing of the latter. We decided to investigate. On the page, Petrushevskaya is sneaky and brilliant. Onstage, she sings cabaret songs, wears big hats, and saunters about like Cruella de Vil. Below, join us on a journey into the annals of Russian YouTube as we explore the musical career of one of Russia’s greatest living writers (with occasional comments from her fans).
Старушка не спеша дорогу перешла – Л. Петрушевская 2010 HD (The old woman slowly crossed the road – L. Petrushevskaya 2010 HD)
“Патрушевской браво. Давно не испытывал такого восторга.” (“Petrushevskaya bravo. I have not experienced such delight for a long time.”) —Witaly123 Read More
In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Sarah Kay is on the line.
I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve crushed, I’ve rejected, I’ve (potentially) stalked, I’ve dated, I’ve idealized, I’ve fallen for fictional characters, I’ve kissed—but I’ve never been in a relationship. I realize I don’t need a partner to live my best life, but all the same, I crave it. I crave a hand in mine, a jaw to nuzzle, an ear to whisper into, a voice reading to me. Is there a poem that expresses this craving without viewing romantic love as a life-altering, world-saving thing?
Not Lonely, Just Looking for a Lover
Recently, while reading a new book of poetry, I noticed a certain signature of influence: a poem with a macabre playfulness that reminded me of “Daddy.” Plath-y!, I wrote in the margin beside it. I pulled my copy of Plath’s Collected Poems off the shelf (inscribed Merry Christmas, 1994, Mom & Dad; I would have just turned fifteen) and reread “Daddy” for the whatever-eth time.
For most of my life I read “Daddy” quite literally, as a renunciation of Plath’s father: “Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.” She all but calls him Hitler, with his “neat mustache” and “Aryan eye.” As Janet Malcolm points out in The Silent Woman, the poem “has had a mixed reception.” She quotes Leon Wieseltier in The New York Review of Books, 1976: “Whatever her father did to her, it could not have been what the Germans did to the Jews.” Irving Howe, writing in 1973, found “something monstrous, utterly disproportionate” in the metaphor. I think of the Sharon Olds poem “The Takers,” which begins, “Hitler entered Paris the way my / sister entered my room at night.” (My friend Chris, in grad school, read these lines and said, simply, “No.”)
However, in 2012, newly released FBI files on the German-born Otto Plath suggested that he may have been a Nazi sympathizer. As the Guardian reported at the time, “the files reveal that he was detained over suspected pro-German allegiance.” Unlike her critics in the twentieth century, Sylvia may have had the inside scoop on those allegiances. She may have meant to literally call him a Nazi.