- In France, 40 percent of TV programming comes from America, which means dubbing is a major industry, and voice-over actors have enough work to collect a following of their own: meet the French Jennifer Lawrence and the French Daniel Radcliffe, for instance.
- The Brothers Grimm published seven editions of their famous tales—the last edition is best known today. But the first edition sounds a lot more fun: “Rapunzel is impregnated by her prince, the evil queen in Snow White is the princess’s biological mother, plotting to murder her own child, and a hungry mother in another story is so ‘unhinged and desperate’ that she tells her daughters: ‘I’ve got to kill you so I can have something to eat.’ ”
- In the nineties, Bob Dylan pursued a gutsy alternative career: “After binge-watching Jerry Lewis movies on his tour bus, Dylan came to the conclusion that slapstick comedy was where he wanted to put his artistic stamp … ‘We finally wrote … a very elaborate treatment for this slapstick comedy, which is filled with surrealism and all kinds of things from his songs and stuff.’ ” HBO bought the show, but Dylan’s interest waned soon after.
- The Gothic is “having a moment” now—and a new exhibition at the British Library explores 250 years of the Gothic tradition. But what does it mean to be Gothic, anyway? “The term suffers from its implicit pluralism: Are we talking about novels, horror films, flying buttresses, Alice Cooper, black-painted fingernails or a specific period in North-European history? On the one hand, it seems fair to say that John Ruskin’s famous comments on the architecture—that most of us know Gothic when we see it, without being able to identify exactly what makes it so—still have something to say about the thing as a whole. On the other, the Gothic really does just mean the spooky and the titillating.”
- “I’m not a cynic. I prefer irony, which depends on the ability to hold contradictory ideas, which probably springs from ambivalence. People confuse and conflate irony with insincerity and dishonesty; they believe an ironist isn’t serious. But saying the opposite of what is meant allows for at least two meanings to fly. Irony couples and uncouples statements, while revealing the hidden agendas of language and its conventions.”
Lately I’ve been listening to the excellent BBC documentary World War I, which you can download and then listen to, incongruously, while waiting on line at the grocery store. The series presents the listener with a multifaceted portrait of the Great War, but—for obvious reasons, given the topic—it’s not exactly a laugh a minute.
That’s part of what makes the British Library’s new exhibition, “Enduring War: Grit, Grief, and Humour,” so surprising. Of course, people have always laughed and joked and made the best of awful situations—resilience is a marvelous thing. But the lighter side of World War I hasn’t come in for much scrutiny.
The exhibition is multifaceted: there are propaganda posters, excerpts from Rupert Brooke’s war journals, harrowing accounts of gassings and shell-shock, and horrifying casualty numbers. But along with this, the curators have made a point of highlighting soldiers’ darkly humorous letters and joke postcards; photos of servicemen goofing off; and satirical excerpts from the morale-boosting publication Honk! The voice of the benzine lancers. Read More
Last week, the British Library launched Discovering Literature, an online collection of more than 1,200 items from the Romantic and Victorian periods, all of it meant to arouse interest in classic English lit. There are manuscript pages and juvenilia from Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Keats, Wordsworth, and Blake, among others, but the diligent forager will find Charles H. Bennett’s vivid illustrations for Aesop’s Fables; more than twenty-five drawings from Gustave Doré’s London: A Pilgrimage; nineteenth-century gynecological gaffes (“the majority of women [happily for them] are not very much troubled by sexual feeling of any kind”); and early vampire stories.
There’s also this: The Yellow Book. Not to be confused with the Yellow Pages or Redbook, The Yellow Book was an illustrated quarterly magazine with a provocative name; it came
from the notorious covering into which controversial French novels were placed at the time. It is, in fact, a “yellow book” which corrupts Dorian in Wilde’s original novel; this generally thought to be Joris-Karl Huysmans’ A Rebours (1884).
The founding principles were that literature and art should be treated independently and given equal status, and Aubrey Beardsley, illustrator of Wilde’s Salomé was appointed art editor.
Indeed, when Wilde was arrested in 1895, there were rumours he had been carrying a yellow-bound book. Though this was actually Pierre Louÿs’s French novel Aphrodite, a confused crowd thought it was a copy of this magazine, and gathered to throw stones at the publishers’ offices.
Those were the days, when the mere sight of a literary quarterly, or even something resembling a literary quarterly, could move a crowd to violence. The Yellow Book was published for only a few years, from 1894 to 1897, but it loomed large; nearly a century later, the scholar Linda Dowling called it “commercially the most ambitious and typographically the most important of the 1890s periodicals. [It] gave the fullest expression to the double resistance of graphic artists against literature, and Art against commerce, the double struggle symbolized by the paired words on the contents-pages of the Yellow Books: Letterpress and Pictures, Literature and Art.”
The miniature book The Infant’s Library. Part of the British Library’s current exhibition “Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain.”
I’m told foxes are all the rage right now. Specifically, that “foxes are the new owls.” Owls, of course, were the new squirrels, and I forget what preceded that, but it all started with birds. And birds, as we know, are, in our post-Portlandia world, beyond parody. But the seemingly arbitrary celebration of anointed fauna is nothing new. In the Middle Ages, it would seem, scribes were enamored of knights and snails.
The British Library blog notes, “as anyone who is familiar with thirteenth- and fourteenth-century illuminated manuscripts can attest, images of armed knights fighting snails are common, especially in marginalia.” But why? Throughout history, scholars have floated theories ranging from resurrection allegory, to class struggle, to mockery of the Lombards (apparently the targets of much medieval badinage). At the end of the day, no one knows for sure. What is certain is that the gallery of images on the site is fascinating, and peculiar indeed.
Said the philosopher and theologian Albert the Great,
If thou wilt forejudge, or conjecture things to come … Take the stone which is called Chelonites. It is of purple, and divers other colours, and it is found in the head of the Snail. If any man will bear this stone under his tongue, he shall forejudge, and prophesy of things to come. But notwithstanding, it is said to have this power only on the first day of the month, when the moon is rising and waxing, and again on the twenty-ninth day when the moon is waning.
In the spirit of that Dominican (albeit a few days early), I shall make so bold as to prophesy something: I see no reason why knights and snails, representing either marauding Lombards or rebellious serfs, shouldn’t be the foxes of F/W 2014. You read it here first.
- A tribute to the Blackwing 602, the favored pencil of many a writer, including Nabokov.
- The saga of the Jane Austen ring continues! Now, an anonymous donor has given £100,000 to prevent Kelly Clarkson from spiriting the gold and topaz bauble off to America.
- “All had a little twinkle in their eye that suggested a colorful, lively imagination!” The secret lives of erotica writers.
- The British Library’s Wi-Fi blocks Hamlet on grounds of “violent content,” fixes it.