A Fellow from the American Academy in Rome peers down through the Pantheon’s oculus from the roof, ca. 1975. Photo via The New York Review of Books.
- The appeal of Jane Austen’s novels to young women should be no mystery, Mikita Brottman writes, because Austen’s books are full of hidden pain, just like teens: “The world of Jane Austen’s heroines—that ‘two inches of ivory’—is so small that everything matters almost too much, which is precisely what the world can feel like to an eighteen-year-old girl … The tiniest breach in teenage etiquette could have all kinds of terrible repercussions, but the pain it caused couldn’t be expressed. Responses had to be regulated at all times. At eighteen, most girls live in a world of secret anguish. This is why young women such as my students can identify with Austen’s heroines—because they live, for the most part, in a similarly limited world … My students loved talking about the grand country houses, the balls with half-hour-long dances, the old-fashioned courtship rituals, the families, the dresses, the weddings. I tried to tell them Jane Austen was all about pain, but, unsurprisingly, they refused to listen. ‘I myself prefer a novel that gives me an escape from the sometimes crude realities of this world,’ wrote one girl. Another claimed: ‘Reading Jane Austen’s work simply makes me happy.’ ”
- Today in writers who should be more widely read: Albert Murray’s name was “never household familiar,” Thomas Chatterton Williams writes, but “he was one of the truly original minds of twentieth-century American letters. Murray, who died in 2013 at the age of ninety-seven, was an accomplished novelist, a kind of modern-day oral philosopher, a founder of Jazz at Lincoln Center, and the writer of a sprawling, idiosyncratic, and consistently astonishing body of literary criticism, first-rate music exposition, and cunning autobiography. In our current moment of identity politics and multicultural balkanization, the publication of any new Murray text would serve as a powerful reminder that his complex analysis of art and life remain as timely as ever—probably more so … Murray’s name still functions as a sort of password, announcing to like-minded souls a particular willingness to look further and stay longer, to dig a little deeper through the crates in pursuit of hidden treasures. That the broader culture hasn’t held on to Murray reveals far more about it than him.”
- Audrey Munson was, in the Gilded Age, the preferred nude model of the American Beaux Arts movement. As Allison Meier writes, Munson appeared “in countless early twentieth-century statues, from the seated figures that once guarded the Manhattan Bridge and are now installed outside the Brooklyn Museum, to the gilded lady on the top of the Manhattan Municipal Building, to a duo of marble sculptures by Daniel Chester French in the atrium of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Her neoclassical beauty, with her strong silhouette and raised brow, along with feminine curves, made her a favorite among the bohemian artist community of Greenwich Village’s MacDougal Alley, where she went door-to-door looking for work after being discovered on the streets by a photographer.” She became a household name—a new biography, James Bone’s The Curse of Beauty, argues that modernism was her undoing. “Bone describes Munson’s visit to the studio of avant-garde French-Cuban painter Francis Picabia, one of New York’s first modernist transplants from Europe, who asked Munson to walk around rather than hold a static pose. Munson derided the resulting painting as ‘an incongruous collection of color splotches.’ ”
- I think it’s nice that you’re reading this post on a glowing screen. I’m happy you’re here. But if you’re a big picture kind of person, you should probably stop and print this out before you keep going, environmental repercussions be damned. A new study “offers evidence we process texts differently if we are reading them on paper, as opposed to an electronic device. It finds we remember concrete details better if we’ve read a work on a laptop or tablet. We grasp the larger inferences of a story more thoroughly, however, if we’ve read it in print … Seventy-seven participants filled out a survey designed to indicate whether they were thinking in small-bore or big-picture terms. They were given the category ‘Joining the Army,’ for example, and then asked which of the following phrases ‘best describes the behavior for you’: ‘signing up’ (concrete detail), or ‘Helping the nation’s defense’ (big-picture). Forty participants filled out the survey on a digital screen, while the other thirty-six did so using pencil and paper … Those who used the classic paper-and-pencil method ‘exhibited a significantly higher level of preference’ for the more abstract of the two choices, compared to their counterparts who used a touch screen.”