Saturday, April 22, 2017

Swinburne's last twenty years in letters

Have you glanced at what few, I should think, would read through – the mighty mass of Coleridge’s collected letters?  It is of course a profoundly depressing book…  (p. 82, Swinburne to William Rossetti, June 16, 1895)

Overcoming some logistical difficulties (the library hid the book from me for a while) I have finished the sixth volume, and therefore all six volumes, about 1,800 pages, of Algernon Swinburne’s letters (ed. Cecil Lang, Yale UP, 1962), this time taking Swinburne from 1890 to his death in 1909.

Swinburne came close to drinking himself to death in 1879, but his friends and family dried him out and kept him dry.  Kept him away from bottles.  This is Edmund Gosse writing about Swinburne:

… he would gradually fix his stare upon the bottle as if he wished to fascinate it, and then, in a moment, flash or pounce upon it, like a mongoose on a snake, drawing it towards him as though it resisted and had to be struggled with.  Then, if no one had the presence of mind to interfere, a tumbler was filled in a moment, and Swinburne had drained it to the last drop, sucking in the liquid with a sort of fiery gluttony, tilting the glass into his shaking lips, and violently opening and shutting his eyelids.  It was an extraordinary sight, and one which never failed to fill me with alarm, for after that the Bacchic transition might come at any moment.  (p. 241)

But that, although described so vividly in an appendix to this final volume, is in the distant past.  Every year after Swinburne’s illness was treated was, as we say, gravy.

I probably at some point described Swinburne’s letters as “like a novel,” meaning that, as Gosse’s memoir suggests, they had vivid characters and a strong narrative interest.  The last two volumes of letters are not much like a novel.  They are the happy ending, in fiction compressed into a two-page denouement, but here filling five hundred pages.  Swinburne is, for the twenty years of these letters, a professional writer.  He mostly writes articles, literary essays, for magazines and encyclopedias.  He engages in controversies in the letters pages of newspapers.  People ask him if they can put a poem in an anthology.  He ages; his friends and family die; his deafness keeps him at home.  He for some reason almost wins the Nobel.  He lives through writing, and lives, and lives some more.

Just as Swinburne’s letters to Dante Gabriel Rossetti were the highlights of earlier volumes, many of the best this time are to William Rossetti.  They are often about Gabriel, or about his wife Lizzie Siddal.  He describes reading her a John Fletcher play (“of course with occasional skips” – these Victorians) – “I can hear the music of her laugher to this day” (93, Dec. 4, 1895).

Thomas Hardy begins sending his books to Swinburne, who is appreciative.  “… for Balzac is dead, and there has been no such tragedy in fiction – on anything like the same lines – since he died” (91, Nov. 5, 1895).  Always interesting.

I strongly recommend that you read Swinburne’s letters – let’s see – in a 500-page edition of selections that also includes illustrations, a smattering of poems, relevant essays about Swinburne, and biographical sections covering the gaps.  This book exists only in my imagination, but it is quite good, and it might exist in reality someday.

Friday, April 21, 2017

the kind of ugliness appropriate to each rank in life - Gertrude Stein's Three Lives

Should I try to write about Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives (1909)?  Do I have anything to say about it?  I don’t know – answer to both questions.

Two longish short stories about German-American women who work as servants surround a novella about an African-American woman who has some money of her own.  None of these characters are the normal stuff of American fiction at this point.  The Baltimore setting, to the extent that the setting matters, is also unusual.

Anna knew so well the kind of ugliness appropriate to each rank in life.

If taken ironically, that could be a statement of purpose.  One purpose.

The book begins with a quote from Jules Laforgue, in French, which post-T. S. Eliot is a good way to establish High Modernist credentials, but this is pre-Eliot.  How many American readers in 1909 knew who the heck Laforgue was?  I have no idea. “Donc je suis malheureux et ce n'est ni ma faute ni celle de la vie” – “So I am unfortunate and it’s neither my fault nor that of life.”  The people in Stein’s stories are ordinary, a lot of things just happen to them, and the things they choose – well, they are the way they are.  The worldview is fatalistic.

Yet the German women are “The Good Anna” and “The Gentle Lena,” and Melanctha is good and gentle, too.  Lena, in the final story, is close to a saint, if a perfectly normal person can be a saint.  Her arranged marriage causes her suffering, something like a suppression of her personality, and eventually her death, but it seems that her husband and children are in some way saved through her.

Anna love animals and children and helpless people, and devotes her life to helping them.  “She knew too, that Anna had a feeling heart.”  The word “feeling” is used constantly in these stories.  From “Melanctha”:

Jeff was at last beginning to know what it was to have deep feeling…  He was very tired and all the world was very dreary to him, and he knew very well now at last, he was really feeling…  He was very sick all these days, and his heart was very heavy in him, and he knew very well that now at last he had learned what it was to have deep feeling.

All of this from a single paragraph, about Dr. Jeff Campbell learning how to feel through his treatment by the deep but restless and willful Melanctha.  Maybe she is also a kind of saint, like Lena.  Maybe all of the characters are saints.

“The Good Anna” has some resemblance to Gustave Flaubert’s “A Simple Heart” (1877).  The simple, kind-hearted servant in that story achieves an apotheosis by means of her beloved pet parrot.  And here is Anna, a servant, who loves animals, and oh lordy – I am re-enacting my reading of the story – Stein has just given Anna a parrot.  In a parodistic move, though, the parrot does not really work out:

… and soon they were all content.  All except the parrot, for Miss Mathilda did not like its scream.  Baby [a dog] was all right but not the parrot.  But then Anna never really loved the parrot…

All right, so if “The Good Anna” is parallel to “A Simple Heart” – what “if,” it is – then are the other two stories in Three Lives related to the other two stories in Flaubert’s Three Tales?  “Gentle Lena” is like Saint Julian, and “Melanctha” is somehow connected to “Hérodias”?  If so, I don’t get it.  But now I wonder what I missed.

The prose style is plain and repetitive, but across rather than within sentences.  The “feeling” passage above gives a sense of how this sounds.  It is rhythmic, but not the rhythm of poetry.  Entire sentences recur.    The prose at times pulses.  I don’t think anyone had written anything quite like it.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

I’m a bit of a pig, a lot, even - Alphonse Allais's I Am Sarcey

Every time I write about Doug Skinner’s translations of Alphonse Allais – the new one is I Am Sarcey (2017, contents 1886-97) – I say that the Allais’s humor columns and so on ought to be period pieces, historical ephemera, but are better than that, are good.  Still funny; still fun.  This is my only idea about Allais, apparently.  If anything this is even more the case with I Am Sarcey – more ephemeral yet not, but even more so.

Francisque Sarcey was for decades the most powerful theater critic in France, like Frank Rich in the distant old days in New York City.  A rebel in his youth, he became more plump and bourgeois as he aged.  To the young cabaret Bohemians and artists of Montmartre, he was made for mockery.

Alphonse Allais mocked him by writing a newspaper column under Sarcey’s name.  I don’t know much about the “real” Sarcey, but Allais’s Sarcey is a great comic creation.  Conventional, banal, inadvertently self-revealing, lecherous, pompous yet deeply ignorant.

Zola doesn’t commit obscenities in his life, but fills his books with them.

Me, in my articles, never a dirty word, but how I make up for it in private!

For – and this is no secret to anyone – I’m a bit of a pig, a lot, even.

Well then!  I’d rather be the way I am, than be like Zola.  (30, 1887)

Allais has no qualms about being vulgarly insulting, but the banality is the primary insult.  There follows a digression about where to buy chickens:

…  go see my cousin in Dourdan.  He’ll take care of you, and it won’t be expensive.

He also sells little baby chicks, and eggs to be hatched.

But I’m chattering, chattering, and I forgot what I was talking about.  (31)

Sarcey is as digressive as Tristram Shandy.  He has the habit of digressing into explanations of the most ordinary things – common card games, or how steam power works (“Few people, outside those in the profession, know what steam is,” 111).  He spends an entire column describing how he was out without an umbrella, and got “as soaked as soup.”

So what do I do now, after that adventure?

I’ll tell you.

Whether it’s a fine day or a bad one, I don’t go out without an umbrella.  (155, 1893)

That is the main source of humor, I suppose – that this powerful man is a friendly, talkative idiot.  What is funniest is the conversational, self-satisfied voice applied to trivia.

A terrific running joke involves Sarcey 1) bragging about how he no longer writes any of the other columns that bear his name, meaning those written by the “real” Sarcey, having handed them off to ghostwriters like a butcher from his neighborhood, and 2) complaining about people writing fraudulent columns, filled with the grossest stupidities, as if they are by him.  Sometimes Allais seems so stunned by the “real” Sarcey’s genuine idiocies that he has trouble inventing fake idiocies.

I suppose these pieces benefit from more notes than usual, more identification of newspaper and Bohemians and so on.  Skinner’s notes are themselves amusing and surprising, so this is hardly a problem.  But Allais’s Sarcey becomes plump and lifelike without much extra help.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I thought again of Dickens - Hope Jahren's science memoir Lab Girl

Through a mix of Twitter flattery and reverse psychology, influential biologist Hope Jahren tricked me into reading her memoir Lab Girl (2016).  It is an unusually good book.  (Other authors, please do not try this again – each spell works only once).

Jahren and her longtime lab manager Bill collect large samples of material – soil, moss, fossils – and run them through a mass spectrometer or some such machine.  Thus, the lab, her own lab, a series of labs that she and Bill have built from scratch and scraps.  The series of labs are one of the frames on which Jahren builds the book.

Another frame is a series of short chapters about tree biology.  All of the tree science is in these little chapters, but the trees are also clear-cut for metaphor.  Pulped for metaphor.  Jahren is as a rule good with metaphor – “The students spilled out of the van like an undone bag of marbles” (114) – but the tree chapters do something well beyond the single image.  Some of the extended metaphors are more obvious than others, but I am looking at the fascinating 2.3, about the symbiotic relationship between trees and certain fungi – “the best – and really only – friends that trees ever had” (104) – where her friend Bill is (also) the fungus.  “Why are they together, the tree and the fungus?”  It’s a dang allegory.

This is like that.  But I have written before about how scientists need metaphor as much as anyone in literature.

In Chapter 1.4, Jahren writes about her first science-like job, preparing intravenous medicine in a hospital pharmacy, a job that is not exactly David Copperfield’s child labor in the bottle-washing factory but with the empty bottles, labels and seals is like it, enough like it that Jahren interlards the chapter with direct quotations from the Dickens novel.

Lydia was magnificent at her workstation, possibly because she’d been doing this sixty hours a week for almost twenty years.  Watching her sort, clean, and inject was like watching a ballerina defy gravity.  I watched her hands fly and thought… in an easy amateur way, and without any book (he seemed to me to know everything by heart), from chapter seven.  (44)

Lydia is a great character, one of those Dickensian creations that are called caricatures by readers who have limited acquaintance with the variety of humanity.   Here is another David Copperfield quotation, upon visiting the hospital psych ward:

What originally struck me as cryptic in chapter fifty-nine was now mundane: they are turned inward, to feed upon their own hearts, and their own hearts are very bad feeling.  (49)

Not only is the chapter full of David Copperfield quotations, but they all contain the word “heart.”  Jahren says she was working on a paper for her English class, making this a truly heroic feat of undergraduate recycling.  I suppose this could look like a gimmick; to me, it looked like a triumph.  The chapter could stand on its own as a short story.

The book is much funnier than I have suggested.  See the chapter with the trip to Monkey Jungle, a Florida tourist “attraction”:

Three Java Macaques that had been straining their brains over some problem that they could neither solve nor abandon propelled themselves toward us, supposing that we somehow represented an answer.  A white-handed gibbon was draped limply across our walkway, either asleep or dead or someplace in between…  A single howler monkey sat high on a branch in the back, wailing out the entire Book of Job in his native tongue while periodically raising his arms in an age-old supplication for an explanation as to why the righteous must suffer.  (116-7, the ellipses conceal a Beckett reference)

But the Dickens chapter was the only part of this fine that I really wanted to write about, surprise surprise.

I stole the title of the post from a later chapter, p. 61.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It is time to rediscover Conrad Aiken

The piece of Aiken appreciation that appeared earlier today on the Los Angeles Times website for some reason puts that in the form of a question, perhaps because its author, Tyler Malone, does not want the rediscovery to occur until the publication, now imminent, of the new issue of his magazine, The Scofield, which for some unlikely reason is entirely devoted to Aiken.

I plan to study the magazine with close attention, but I say let’s rediscover Aiken right now!  In this very blog post!  Which will be about Aiken’s The House of Dust: A Symphony (1920), Aiken’s sixth book of poems in seven years.  All of the poetry T. S. Eliot published during the 1910s and 1920s would fit inside any single Aiken book from the same period.  Aiken published roughly ten times as much poetry as Eliot at this time.

I mention Eliot because Aiken can be so derivative of Eliot, although by this point he has his own voice – Eliot is possibly influenced by Aiken now – which he developed incrementally, book by book, each one a variation on the previous.  Sweeney-like men agonizing about women, books labeled “symphonies” with poems organized in four movements, and recurring motifs that may well be music-like.  Is the third “movement” of The House of Dust meant to be a scherzo, with its climatic witches' Sabbath?  I find these conceptual musical claims hard to see.

One recurring motif is dust, the stuff of which of which me are made and to which we will return, but also – see title – the stuff of which our buildings are made:

What did we build it for?  Was it all a dream…
Ghostly above us in lamplight the towers gleam…
And after a while they will fall to dust and rain;
Or else we will tear them down with impatient hands;
And hew rocks out of the earth, and build them again.  (last lines, ellipses in original)

I would love to interpret this as Aiken writing about his previous books of poems.

The characters are the best part of the book.  House of Dust is like a Spoon River Anthology of a single New York City block.  A construction worker, building a high rise, experiences vertigo (“The Fulfilled Dream”).  An actress, pregnant and unmarried, imagines suicide.  A poet’s dream girl steps out of a Hiroshige print, rewarding his devotion.  A couple steps into a movie – or perhaps it is just the poet, the Sweeney figure finding another dream girl on screen.  Only Aiken and Vachel Lindsay seemed to really get movies this early:

The music ends.  The screen grows dark.  We hurry
To go our devious secret ways, forgetting
Those many lives…  We loved, we laughed, we killed,
We danced in fire, we drowned in a whirl of sea-waves.
The flutes are stilled, and a thousand dreams are stilled.  (“Cinema,” IV.vi)

Those “flutes” are from the movie theater’s organ.  This is not exactly as much fun as Buster Keaton in Sherlock Jr. (1924) but it’s pretty good.

Let’s see, next up is Punch: The Immortal Liar, Documents in His History (1921) and then Priapus and the Pool (1922).  Maybe the reason to read Aiken in a collected or selected volume is to get some distance from his terrible titles.

A holiday approaches, so I will recede for a few days.  Next post on Tuesday.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Thus he stabs ‘em; there, they lie. - Robert Graves in 1921

The Pier-Glass (1921) is the third book of poems by Robert Graves, or sixth if I count three chapbooks.  That’s a book of some kind every year since 1916.  The Pier-Glass is only fifty-three pages, counting just the poems, heading towards chapbook territory.  Graves, judging by his bibliography, hustles at this pace as a poet for another ten years, and then only somewhat more slowly for another forty.

The memoir and novels and all of the Greek stuff is in the future.  Graves is still a charming poet.  The great devotee of the White Goddess has begun to show himself, though, just barely, as in the poem “Raising the Stone,” in which druids are raising a menhir by moonlight.  It topples, crushing one of them,

              but we who live raise a shrill chant
Of joy for sacrifice cleansing us all.
    Once more we heave.  Erect in earth we plant,
The interpreter of our dumb furious call,
    Outraging Heaven, pointing
            “I want, I want.”

Less charming than terrifying, and an inversion of William Blake’s engraving.

The next poem, “The Treasure Box,” is Graves at his most charming.  “Ann in chill moonlight” – just like the ancient druids – “unlocks \ Her polished brassbound treasure-box.”  Most of the poem is just a list of the treasures: ribbons tied in a knot, little gloves that “fold in a walnut shell,” dried flowers, a scrap of lace,

A Chelsea gift-bird; a toy whistle;
A halfpenny stamped with the Scots thistle…

Are these the treasures of a child?

Her mother’s thin-worn wedding ring;
A straw box full of hard smooth sweets;
A book, the Poems of John Keats

No, not a child.  An older woman.  There is also a packet of letters, the greatest treasure, the record of an old love affair so sad that, when the woman tries to read them by moonlight, “the old moon blinks \ And softly from the window shrinks.”

In “The Troll’s Nosegay,” a troll picks a bouquet; in “The Pier-Glass” an old ghost is saved from despair by bees; in “The Gnat” a tormented shepherd, thinking he is dying, murders his beloved horse.  Graves the poet has a strong narrative imagination, an odd one.  I always enjoyed the surprises of his little stories even when I was not sure what they meant.

The last poem, “The Coronation Murder,” is perhaps oddest of all.  It is in four parts, from four points of view: the woman who murders the lecherous, “rat-soul’d” Becker; the victim himself – “His bones are tufted with mildew”; his son, who confronts his father’s ghost; and a parrot, who hears the woman confess in her sleep and thus reveals her crime, maybe:

Soon, when sunlight warms his cage,
    He plots to cheer the passers-by
With burlesque of murderous rage,
    Acting how his victims die:
Thus he stabs ‘em; there, they lie.

It’s a revenge tragedy in five pages.  The war is over, and Graves is no longer a trench poet, but some kind of war continues.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The city corrodes out of sight - D. H. Lawrence wonders what it is like to be a seed

Prolific poets circa 1920 will I believe be my subject for the next few days.  Today: D. H. Lawrence’s New Poems (1918), his fourth book of poems.  The last two, in 1916 and 1917, covered, respectively, his engagement and his honeymoon, often written, the latter book especially, in an especially free free verse that was not afraid to sound absurd as part of sounding like Lawrence.

In New Poems, Lawrence is back in England, or perhaps he is back in the past a bit and has not yet left, and the poems are all in formal clothes – rhymes and so on.  Thus, in a magnificently Lawrentian gesture, the American edition of the book (1920) begins with an almost unreadable preface defending free verse.

This is the unrestful, ungraspable poetry of the sheer present, poetry whose very permanency lies in its wind-like transit.  (v)

But in free verse we look for the insurgent naked throb of the instant moment.  (viii)

And so on, ending with the admission that “[a]ll this should have come as a preface to ‘Look We have Come Through!,’” the previous book.  Hilarious.  When I turn to the poems, they look like this:

from Flat Suburbs, S.W., in the Morning

The new red houses spring like plants
        In level rows
Of reddish herbage that bristles and slants
       Its square shadows.

Bare stems of street-lamps stiffly stand
        At random, desolate twigs,
To testify to a blight on the land
       That has stripped their sprigs.

Rhyme, rhythm, and an imagistic conceit that both has insight into how things actually look and is developed into a worldview, as if Lawrence is a Metaphysical Poet.

Lawrence tours the suburbs, London, and elsewhere.  Some of the poems form a rough sequence.  The mood is alienated:

from Parliament Hill in the Evening

The hopeless, wintry twilight fades,
    The city corrodes out of sight
As the body corrodes when death invades
    That citadel of delight.

The spread of the city lights is described as “verdigris smoulderings,” in case I had forgotten who I was reading.

Browsing the book, it is grimmer than I remember:

from Palimpsest of Twilight

The night-stock oozes scent,
    And a moon-blue moth goes flittering by:
All that the worldly day has meant
    Wastes like a lie.

Geez, David, the sun goes down every day, you know.

The red houses in the suburbs make an oblique return in “School on the Outskirts”:

How different, in the middle of snows the great school rises red!
    A red rock silent and shadowless, clung round with clusters of shouting lads…

This red building is a refuge in a wasteland, “this weary land the winter burns and makes blind,” to the few real students, “obstinate dark monads,” who cling to it, as Lawrence once did.

The season of the poems shifts, near the end of the book, from winter to – no, not spring, too cheery – to autumn, which is just as sad.  “Débâcle” is about, no kidding, the biological struggle of seeds – “all the myriad houseless seeds… \ Moan softly with autumnal parturition.”  They fall “bitterly,” and “Bitterly into corrosion bitterly travel.”  The word “corrosion” is repeated several times, as the angry seeds rot away, their little spark of life wasted, “committed to hold and wait… \ only forbidden to expire.”

Then, of course, some of them sprout, but that is outside of this poem.  For me, this kind of thing is Lawrence at his best, when he works through a conceit that seems crazy but in fact is based on a serious and complex understanding of the world around him.  The poem is full of Lawrence, but it is also really about seeds.  The secret, imagined life of seeds.

I am pretty sure that “Piano” is the best-known poem in New Poems (“I weep like a child for the past”), but I am always happier when Lawrence gets outside of himself a little.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Misery was being prepared for someone - Trollope, The Duke's Children, and the last bit of the horse

The Duke’s Children (1880) ends Anthony Trollope’s Palliser series, with the story shifting from Plantagenet Palliser, Duke of Omnium and in the previous novel an unhappy Prime Minister of England, to his children, particularly his eldest son.  Trollope’s series of novels do not work the way such creatures work today – Palliser is only a minor character in several of the novels in the series that bears his name – but he legitimately aged, developed, regressed – changed, is what I am trying to say since his introduction in a synergistic subplot of The Small House at Allington back in 1864.

This, to me, is close to the whole point of writing novels as a series, as an extended serial.  It allows the fictional passage of time to line up with the actual passage of time, resulting in some powerful effects, which I have tossed aside by reading the books at a rate of two per year.

Bluntly, the last two books, The Prime Minister and this one, are on the weaker side, but good enough that I don’t care.  The problems the Duke and his children face recapitulate a number of the most important themes of the series, the fox hunting scenes do not go on all that long, the new plotline about horse racing – well here’s what Trollope says about that:

How that race was run… the present writer having no aptitude in that way, cannot describe.  (Ch. 17)

Some of Trollope’s fox hunts have a sportscaster quality – heaven help me, he is going to call the entire match – so even though several of the greatest scenes in the 19th century novel are horse racing scenes, I did not quite trust Trollope on this matter.  But everything’s fine.  It’s just a way to get rich characters to do a lot of idiotic gambling, and it keeps the “con man” theme of the series going, in the fine minor character Major Tifto.

The minor characters are at their usual level, like the equally fine Miss Cassewary:

‘That's d---- nonsense,’ said the Earl.  Miss Cassewary gave a start, – not, we may presume, because she was shocked, for she could not be much shocked, having heard the same word from the same lips very often; but she thought it right always to enter a protest.  (Ch. 9)

This chapter is entitled “’In media res,’” and it includes the only extended metafictional joke in the book, another old theme brought back for a last run, as Trollope tells his reader that he is going to start in the middle of a plot (“but only for a branch of my story”), putting the cart before the horse, the horse being all of the exposition, but warns that however much he tries to hide it the horse will still be there.  Then throughout the chapter he points out whenever the characters discuss their backgrounds or whatnot by saying things like “This is another bit of the horse.”

Two lines that summarize much of the emotional content of the novel:

Mary, who watched it all, was sure that misery was being prepared for someone.  (Ch. 59)

‘Young ladies generally have a bad time of it.’  (Ch. 53)

As in George Meredith’s The Egoist from just a year before – I wonder if Trollope knew it – five characters need to be arranged into couples; thus the misery, thus the bad time.  No, not for everyone.

Trollope would die two years later, and this novel would have provided a natural and satisfying close to his career, but he published at least four more novels in the last two years of his life, so forget that idea.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Behold the Madman! - more of Unamuno's Quixote - All of which is literary criticism, and of small concern to us.

The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho is in some sense a work of literary criticism, a comment on the Cervantes novel.  It moves through the novel chapter by chapter and includes substantial quotations.  From each chapter, each adventure, Miguel de Unamuno extracts the principles of Quixotism, and to a lesser degree Sanchopanzism (“a good Quixotist has to be a Sanchopanzist as well,” 462) and by default the system that is his enemy, with which modern Spain is infected, Cervantism.  “We are as short of Quixotism as we are long on Cervantism.”

Unamuno freely skips anything that does not, let’s say, fire up his imagination.  I was so looking forward to Chapter 6, when the curate and the barber go through Alonso Quijano’s books.  Here it is, all of it:

Chapter Six

Cervantes here inserts that Chapter Six in which he describes the grand and clever scrutiny which the curate and the barber made of the library of our ingenious hidalgo. All of which is literary criticism, and of small concern to us.  It is a matter of books and not of life.  Let us pass over it in silence.  (52)

A lesson for me – my interest in the topic is a sad example of my corrupt Cervantism.  I am like the “curious documentalists devoted to factology” (354) who search for errors in Unamuno’s Quixotist writing, never finding them.  In the prologue to the third edition of his book, Unamuno addresses a mistake in which he moves a speech from Sancho Panza to another character.  But that is the attribution, argues Unamuno, in the original Arabic text.  “[I]t was Cervantes who misread the text, so that my interpretation, and not his, is the faithful one” (7).

It is all too possible that Jorge Luis Borges has permanently damaged Our Lord Don Quixote, making it unreadable as anything but a Pierre Menard-like act of imagination.  I would only counter that Borges, Unamuno, and more or less every permutation of fiction is already inherent in Don Quixote.

I was delighted – this is an aside – to see Unamuno recognize Henry Fielding, in “Gloss to a Passage by Fielding, the Cervantine,” as “the greatest, if not the first, of English Cervantines,” and Joseph Andrews (1742) as the great descendent of Don Quixote – the novel that retroactively turned Don Quixote into the “first novel.”  But Unamuno thinks “it [DQ] gains in translation” and “has been better understood outside of Spain.”

Like a novel, but not exactly like the specific novel Don Quixote, Unamuno’s books climaxes in the long episode with the Duke and Duchess.

Your Passion has begun, and the bitterest type of passion at that: passion by mockery…  You are dequixotized to a certain extent, but in exchange all those that mock you are quixotized…  “Behold the man!” they cried in mockery of Our Lord Christ.  “Behold the madman!” they will say to you, my Lord Don Quixote, and you will be the madman, unique, The Madman.  (122)

I need to read someone with more specialized knowledge to know exactly how heretical this heresy was at the time.  Unamuno does a heck of a job ushering in modern (Modern) literature, adapting Quixote for a new century.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

What atrocious ideas! - Miguel de Unamuno's Our Lord Don Quixote - Grant me the gift of your madness, our eternal Don Quixote

Our Lord Don Quixote by Miguel de Unamuno, a book with a title so packed with meaning that it has influenced my thinking about Don Quixote ever since I learned the book existed twenty years ago.  Even better, Unamuno never wrote a book with this title.  He wrote The Life of Don Quixote and Sancho (1905), and someone, perhaps the translator, Andrew Kerrigan, chose the more pungent title for the English version, which is also filled out by a number of related essays.

Still, the phrase is Unamuno’s.

Not even madness is understood here [Spain] any longer.  They go so far as to say and think that a madman must have a hidden reason or an economic motivation for being mad.  The “reason of unreason” has become a fact for these wretches.  If Our Lord Don Quixote were to rise from the dead and return to this Spain, they would seek out the ulterior motives behind his noble extravagance.  (9)

Yes, Our Lord Don Quixote is an example of everyone’s favorite genre, the Lucianic satire, a genuine sequel to The Praise of Folly (1511).  The truest sequel I can think of, since even more than Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (1833) it is a book-length praise of folly, a defense of Quixotism and Sanchopanzism.  As with Carlyle’s novel, it can be hard to tell when the author is serious and when he is joking or rhetorizing.  My sense with both books is that the more outrageous the idea, the more serious the author.  That is more or less the point of writing this kind of book.

I do not want to be reasonable in accordance with that wretched reasoning which feeds the opportunists.  Madden me, my Don Quixote!

Long live Don Quixote!  Long live Don Quixote in his battered defeat!  Long live Don Quixote in death!  Grant me the gift of your madness, our eternal Don Quixote, and let me rest in your bosom.  If you know how I suffer, my Don Quixote, among these countrymen of yours, whose entire reserves of heroic madness you seem to have used up, leaving them only the presumptuous madness which undid you!  (281)

Setting aside the specifically Spanish aspect of the book, which I did find a little cryptic – for example, the call to a mad heroism as a response to Spain’s recent defeat in the Spanish-American War, if I am getting that right, which I doubt – the core argument is that faith in unreason is a better way to live than a corrosive, inevitably faithless reason.  It is a proto-existentialism, where futile activity beats sensible inaction.

Don Quixote has just freed the galley slaves, and Unamuno has defended the action at length:

At this point I can see you, timid readers, raising your hands to your head and exclaiming: What atrocious ideas!  And then you will talk of social order and security and other such gibberish. (106)

These satires always abuse their readers.

Reader, listen: though I do not know you, I love you so much that if I could hold you in my hands, I would open up your breast and in your heart’s core I would make a wound and into it I would rub vinegar and salt, so that you might never again know peace but would live in continual anguish and endless longing.  If I have not succeeded in disquieting you with this Quixote of mine it is because of my heavy-handedness, believe me, and because the dead paper on which I write neither shrieks, nor cries out, nor sighs, nor laments, and because language was not made for you and me to understand each other.  (305)

How rarely a book so perfectly lives up to its title.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

He faced it completely now - some late James "tales"

I took a break from The Ambassadors by reading some easier stuff, including some Henry James.  For a long time, twenty-five years or more, the only “late James” I had ever read had been “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903), so I revisited that, and also tried the dark, strange, anti-comedy “Fordham Castle” (1904) and the surprising novella “The Papers” (1903), surprising in both subject and tone.

Everyone interested in fiction should at least see late James, even if he cannot stand to read it.  How is this for a first sentence:

What determined the speech that startled him in the course of their encounter scarcely matters, being probably but some words spoken by himself quite without intention – spoken as they lingered and slowly moved together after their renewal of acquaintance.

There’s starting in the middle of the action, and starting in the middle of a fog bank.  But in this case, the vagueness suits the theme – the plot – since the story is about a man who knows, just somehow knows, that something is going to happen to him – that the beast is going to pounce.  But what any of that might mean is anyone’s guess.  The story is an appendix to The Ambassadors.  Where Strether implores that we “Live all we can,” this fellow says “Yes, exactly, just as soon as – ,” and just as Strether turns out to be living all he can pretty much by definition, this poor sap more or less discovers that the beast is life, and is perpetually pouncing.  Or else the anticipation causes him to miss the pounce.  Or he does not miss it, but misses that he does not miss it.  And so on.  I can see why Borges loved James’s stories (“I think that the whole world of Kafka is to be found in a far more complex way in the stories of Henry James”).

“The Papers” is about two young journalists who write up gossip and party-going for newspapers.  They are in some sense a couple, and if their comic banter is not up there with His Girl Friday, it is getting there.  The characters are surprisingly cynical for James.  No, that is not right.  The surprise is that they are forthrightly cynical, a necessary stance for survival in their shallow, parasitic profession.  The woman is not sure she is capable of maintaining the proper level of cynicism, which could make for a plot, but James picked something more melodramatic – a celebrity disappears, perhaps committing suicide?  Did the journalist drive him to his death?

A jolly little shocker, all too relevant.  The profession of celebrity journalism seems to be fundamentally unchanged to the present day.

“Fordham Castle” is another comedy, although not of the funny kind, with another faked death.  Abel Taker is at a Swiss hotel, calling himself C. P. Addard so that his wife can pretend he is dead and, presumably, marry someone better and richer.  He meets a woman in exactly the same situation, he thinks, except that it is her daughter who wants her “dead” and out of the way.  Some coincidences ensue.  The last lines:

He faced it completely now, and to himself at least could express it without fear of protest.  ‘Why certainly I’m dead.’

It’s about as dark a James story as I can remember.  And not especially “late” or difficult – nor is “The Papers” – although as I become accustomed to the period I have a lost my sense of what any of that means.  Relative, I guess.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

He gurgled his joy - the immense hedonist in The Ambassadors

Martha Nussbaum argues that the perceptive, particularizing Lambert Strether represents the Aristotelean ethical position and the absent but omnipresent Mrs. Newsome the Kantian position.  In the long, complex, over my head introductory material, Nussbaum also argues against Utilitarian ethics. 

Her specific argument is, setting aside the merits of a given philosopher, that the novel - not just this novel, but the novel as such, as a form – is especially good at working through the kinds of ethical problems that Aristotle’s system is also good at.  Some high proportion of our daily decisions are probably well covered by a pretty basic Utilitarianism, but they hardly make for good fiction.  Chocolate-covered cake donut or plain?  Or maybe I need Kant to help me resist the temptation.  I face this problem often, daily, but as drama it is a little thin.

Although Nussbaum does not really mention it, the Utilitarian position has a representative in The Ambassadors in the great minor character Jim Pocock.  Around the middle, just as Strether was pretty close to resigning his ambassadorship, I began to wonder how James planned to fill so many more pages with this handful of characters.  At just that point, the arrival of new characters was announced, just what the novel needed, including the daughter of Mrs. Newsome, her representative in the flesh, but even more cold and inflexible, completely incapable of adjusting her sense of correctness to her perception.  “The effect she produced of representing her mother had been produced – and that was just the immense, the uncanny part of it – without her having so much as mentioned that lady” (10.3).

But her husband, Jim, that’s who I want here.  Early in the novel, Strether has picked up, along with “wonderful,” the word “immense” – see just above – which is used less flexibly and appears to be some kind of slang.  But it sticks to Jim:

“You see Jim’s really immense…  Jim’s intensely cynical…  He’s awful.”  (9.1)

That’s Strether, thinking aloud.  Jim is only cynical from Strether’s Aristotelian perspective.  In fact, he is a hedonist, a simple-minded Utilitarian, maximizing his pleasure:

He gurgled his joy as they rolled through the happy streets; he declared that his trip was a regular windfall, and that he wasn't there, he was eager to remark, to hang back from anything: he didn't know quite what Sally had come for, but he had come for a good time. (8.2)

And he assumes that Strether and other Americans in Paris are as decadent and ready to party as he is.  He enacts a parody of Strether’s response to Paris, as he

drank in the sparkling Paris noon and carried his eyes from one side of their vista to the other.  “Why I want to come right out and live here myself.  And I want to live while I am here too.”

I could almost detect Strether’s anxiety – is Jim suggesting Strether take him to a brothel? – but Jim’s first “disencumbered and irresponsible” suggestion is that he and Strether, in a cab together, “take a further turn round before going to the hotel.”  Oh, yes, that kind of good time.

In a further irony, there is a hint, at the end of his novel, that his wife, the rigid Kantian Sarah, has taken up with another American.

I meant to use this post as a note dump, a scrapbook of favorite bits of The Ambassadors I Had not yet mentioned, but it turned out to be more of a good time to write about immense Jim.

Let’s see, in a few weeks, optimistically, if The Wings of the Dove is half as much fun.

Monday, April 3, 2017

She had taken all his categories by surprise - Kant vs Aristotle in The Ambassadors

Technically, the greatest trick of The Ambassadors is the hovering, deity-like presence of the Woollett matriarch and corncob pipe baroness Mrs. Newsome.  She is the first person that Lambert Strether calls “wonderful.”  He had better he is engaged – in some mercenary way – to marry her, once he has completed his engagement to drag her no account son back to Massachusetts to take over the chamber pot factory.  (It’s a running joke in the book that no one ever specifies in what embarrassing way the Newsome’s made their fortune).

Mrs. Newsome never appears – the ambassadors in the title are her ambassadors.  Yet she saturates the novel.  She is constantly invoked.  Decisions are made based on the presumed approval, or otherwise, of Mrs. Newsome.  “Mrs. Newsome was essentially all moral pressure” (10.3).

At this point in the book, Strether has shaken himself free from Mrs. Newsome, which allows him to think such a thing, or later say that “’she’s all, as I’ve called it, fine cold thought’” (11.2), a bold thing for a novelist to openly declare, since it is might cast some doubt about characters more generally.  But it is also Mrs. Newsome who is, to pull back a quotation from two days back, “deep devoted delicate sensitive noble.”

Martha Nussbaum, in her chapter on The Ambassadors in Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (1990), argues that she is “no mere caricature, but a brilliantly comic rendering of some of the deepest and most appealing features of Kantian morality” (179).  Strether, by contrast, switches sides from Kant to Aristotle.

Nussbaum’s book is a defense of the ambiguities and complexities of Aristotelian ethics against its strongest competitors, Kant and Utilitarianism.  Both Mrs. Newsome and Strether have strong senses of duty and integrity.  Strether, faced with the complexities he discovers in Europe, finds his American, Kantian rules inadequate.  “[S]he had taken all his categories by surprise,” “she” being the French countess, and thus Paris.  I don’t believe James was really thinking of Kant when he wrote that line, but reading along with Nussbaum it is pretty funny.

“Woollett isn’t sure it ought to enjoy.  If it were, it would.”  (1.1)

Strether, at this point, is only a few pages into the novel, and only barely in Europe, and the old friend he meets in England actively hates “the ordeal of Europe” (1.2), but he is already experiencing subconscious doubts.  All of this is before I learn that he is actually returning to Europe after a long, tragic absence, and before I have witnessed his perceptive powers, which are what really complicate things.

This is about as clear a statement of Nussbaum’s distinction between the improvised, perceptual Aristotelian ethics and the preset, reasoned Kantian system as I could find:

In the new norm of perception, unlike the norm of Woollett, there is a bewildering problem about authority.  For if the ethical norm consists not in obeying certain antecedently established general rules, but in improvising resourcefully in response to the new perceived thing, then it is always going to remain unclear, in the case of any particular choice or vision, whether it is or is not correctly done.  (Nussbaum, 182)

James is on the side of ambiguity and love stories.  They confuse the categories.  Strether is almost a superior being because of his James-like perceptive powers, but the plot is driven by his failures of perception, about himself and those around him.  It is possible that many of those failures are deliberate; it is almost certain, by the end of the novel, that they, the failures, are right.  Strether learns to fail ethically.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

He found himself supposing innumerable and wonderful things - Henry Jame's use of the word "wonderful" in The Ambassadors

She was silent a little.  “How wonderfully you take it! But you're always wonderful.”

He had a pause that matched her own; then he had, with an adequate spirit, a complete admission.  “It's quite true.  I'm extremely wonderful just now.  I dare say in fact I'm quite fantastic, and I shouldn't be at all surprised if I were mad.”  (7.3)

When Mary Kyle Michael of Tipp City, Ohio, wrote her useful article “Henry James’s Use of the Word Wonderful in The Ambassadors” (Modern Language Notes, Feb. 1960, pp. 114-17), she was doing her research the hard way, so I forgive her some errors:

This device is his use of the word wonderful more than sixty times in The Ambassadors.  It remains inconspicuous because James often uses it humorously as well as in its straightforward sense.  (114)

With the help of the Gutenberg electronic text, I effortlessly see that, including a few cases of “wonderfully,” the word appears over a hundred times!  That is one error; the other is the idea that the word is inconspicuous.  Oh no.  It became, for me, at first an irritation – “what are these people gibbering about”?  But Michael is right.  She calls it – the word “wonderful” – “the aesthetic device by which [James] ties together resolution and art.”

“Wonderful” begins as an evasion, a word to describe the powerful matriarch of Woollett without really describing her.  A minor character at a party, the “historic” Miss Barrace (10.1, no idea what “historic” means), says “wonderful” to describe everybody and everything:

Her answer was prompt.  “She’s charming.  She’s perfect.”

“Then why did you a minute ago say ‘Oh, oh, oh!’ at her name?”

She easily remembered.  Why just because --!  She’s wonderful.”

“Ah she too?” – Strether had almost a groan.  (5.1)

Hey, that’s just what I almost had!  Or did have.  As a result of this ludicrous conversation, Strether, our hero, becomes infected with the word, and begins to use it constantly, first as a joke, a deliberate parody of the memorable Miss Barrace, but soon begins to explore the word.

In the quotation at the top of the post, I can see Strether shifting from the joke stage – he is bantering a bit with his friend Miss Gostrey – to something more serious.  And now I see that Strether had been using the word himself, mentally, to describe, what else – “wonderful Paris” – back in, where else, the great Chapter 2.2.  I had not noticed that.  Calling Paris “wonderful” is not so unusual.  It is when the word shifts to the people he knows and admires – the stern woman back home he planned to marry, the French countess who in some sense seduces him, or the wayward son who he envies – that the meaning of the inherently ambiguous word becomes

“You’ve been ‘wonderful, wonderful’ as we say – we poor people who watch the play from the pit…”  (11.1)

Strether is talking to that son here, the one he was supposed to press gang back to Massachusetts.  He has begun to use the word ironically even before the crisis of the novel occurs two chapters later, when it becomes almost poisoned.  Strether’s begins with an innocent wonder at the marvels he finds in Europe.  Here is, almost literally, the moment when he loses his innocence:

He recognised at last that he had really been trying all along to suppose nothing.  Verily, verily, his labour had been lost.  He found himself supposing innumerable and wonderful things.  (end of 11.4, which has five “wonderfuls”)

The word now includes deceit, sex, and other similar, new marvels.

Flaubert had taught me to be alert for and to follow themes across a complex work – the horse theme in Madame Bovary, the ribbon theme in Sentimental Education – and to work out the patterns they create.  James is using “wonderful” to do something similar, linking scenes and ideas together from throughout the novel, but with an important difference.  The characters are aware of the motif.  They make their own use of it, change it.  They make their own patterns, their own meanings.

Many thanks to Mary Kyle Michael of Tipp City.

Friday, March 31, 2017

absorbed interested and interesting - a discovery and a question (still on The Ambassadors)

While writing yesterday’s post, I got tangled in a Twitter “conversation” with people who were pretending to be crazy; it was about, in a sense, The Ambassadors, and in the course of it I realized that Alexander Payne’s brilliant closing segment (link goes to the clip) of the anthology film Paris je t’aime (2006) is an adaptation of The Ambassadors.  The most direct evidence is at the six-minute mark.  Payne also borrows a bit from the closely related “The Beast in the Jungle” (1903).

Maybe it was something I’d forgotten, or something I’ve been missing all my life.  All I can say is that I felt, at the same time, joy and sadness.  But not too much sadness, because I felt alive.  Yes, alive.

That was the moment I fell in love with Paris.  And I felt Paris fall in love with me.

The internet does not seem to be aware of any of this, so it is a gift from me to some poor schmoe writing a paper on Alexander Payne and adaptation.

Now, a question.  What in the devil are these:

… and if he had never seen her so soundless he had never, on the other hand, felt her so highly, so almost austerely, herself: pure and by the vulgar estimate "cold," but deep devoted delicate sensitive noble. (7.3)

He was neither excited nor depressed; was easy and acute and deliberate – unhurried unflurried unworried, only at most a little less amused than usual.  (8.1)

The occupant of the balcony was after all quite another person, a person presented, on a second look, by a charming back and a slight shift of her position, as beautiful brilliant unconscious Mamie – Mamie alone at home, Mamie passing her time in her own innocent way, Mamie in short rather shabbily used, but Mamie absorbed interested and interesting.  (9.3)

In case my edition was full of typos, I checked against two other sources.  The punctuation – and rhymes! – are just as I have them.  This is new in James, right?  New in, well, everybody.  I have been pushing on with shorter James, “The Papers” and so on, and I have not noticed these unpunctuated chains of adjectives.

There is a conventional explanation that the late James style is a combination of the way James talked with a switch from writing to dictation.  Lambert Strether, the center of this novel, frequently speaks like James thinks.

“How can he but want, now that it’s within reach, his full impression? – which is much more important, you know, than either yours or mine.  But he’s just soaking,” Strether said as he came back, “he’s going in conscientiously for a saturation.”  (9.1)

It is not just the hesitations – although Strether does wander – “as he came back,” exactly – but the metaphors that not only become part of speech, but are actually developed.  “Soaking” continuing to “saturation.”   Why is Strether so “tormented”?

“Because I’m made so – I think of everything.”  (9.1)

His companion’s response is that “’One must think of as few things as possible,’” but I do not believe that option is available to Strether.  He is in this sense the shadow of his creator.  James, too,  thinks of everything.

Still – “unhurried unflurried unworried” – that’s not the way anyone talks, is it, even Henry James?  What is it?

Thursday, March 30, 2017

he held off from that, held off from everything - Henry James goes book shopping

Lambert Strether’s idea of France is tied up in French books.  He came back from his honeymoon with

lemon-coloured volumes in general on the brain as well as with a dozen – selected for his wife too – in his trunk; and nothing had at the moment shown more confidence than this invocation of the finer taste.  They were still somewhere at home, the dozen – stale and soiled and never sent to the binder; but what had become of the sharp initiation they represented?  (I’m still in 2.2!)

The wife, we remember, had died, and then their son died.  That last sentence is a sad one.  Strether’s memories are evoked by the bookshop window displays, “behind which lemon-coloured volumes were as fresh as fruit on the tree.”  The French books are always lemon, never yellow; now we know what that means, right?  Even an American French novel about culture has to drag in German Italian Bildung.

In two cases, books are associated with knives:

the novel half-uncut, the novel lemon-coloured and tender, with the ivory knife athwart it like the dagger in a contadina's hair, had been pushed within the soft circle [of lamplight]…  (11.1)

See, there’s Italy again, a sexy Italian peasant stabbing the French novel.  I know she is sexy because Strether is milling around handsome, virile Chad Newsome’s apartment, where everything is sexy – this is, the narrator uncharacteristically interrupts to tell me, “an hour full of strange suggestions… one of those that he was to recall, at the end of his adventure, as the particular handful that had most counted.”  And all Strether does is look at Chad’s books and prints and the view of the street from his balcony and listen to “the unceasing soft, quick rumble below, of the little lighted carriages that, in the press, always suggested the gamblers he had seen of old at Monte Carlo pushing up to the tables.”

Chad’s the one who won’t abandon Paris for Woollett to supervise the manufacture of toothpicks.  Strether spends time in three different apartments, all described as in some way ideally French, two, including Chad’s furnished by Americans (although he turns out to have had help developing his good taste) who had “rummaged and purchased and picked up and exchanged, sifting, selecting, comparing,” one belonging to the French Countess, and thus too perfect, another world, her things not collected but transmitted, the owner “beautifully passive under the spell of transmission” (6.1).  Her books are, when bound, “pinkish and greenish,” and when new “they hadn't the lemon-coloured covers with which his eye had begun to dally from the hour of his arrival.”  The Countess keeps up with foreign literature.

There is, of course, a paper-knife in this scene, in a French Revue that is later described as salmon-coloured.  This knife is aimed at Chad’s forbidding mother somehow.  I did not entirely understand that bit.  Remember that the Review Strether edits is green.

Strether’s full name, Lewis Lambert, is “’the name of a novel of Balzac’s’” (1.1) – oh for pity’s sake, it would be a stretch to get “Louis Lambert” (1832) to fifty pages.  You people and your Balzac “novels.”  “’But the novel’s an awfully bad one.’”  Well, yes and no.  Where was I.

I mentioned the invocation of a subconsciously smut-free Maupassant yesterday.  A surprising meeting takes place in Notre Dame, so the characters discuss “the question of Victor Hugo” (7.1).  If there is a reference or two to Flaubert, it is (they are) oblique.  Lots of books.  Strether edits a literary review, so the world is filtered through books.  Some of us will identify with Strether here:

His conscience had been amusing itself for the forty-eight hours by forbidding him the purchase of a book; he held off from that, held off from everything.  (back to 2.2)

Holding off from books is holding off from everything.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

the effect of tone and tint - Lambert Strether perceives - The Ambassadors as Paris novel

The Ambassadors is a terrific Paris novel, even a bit of a tourist novel.  The point of view belongs entirely to Lambert Strether, returning to the city after a thirty-year absence, and James spends some time just flaneuring around with Strether.  A couple of these chapters moved towards a plotless novel of pure perception that I wish James could have written.

The first example is Book II, Chapter II, “his second morning in Paris,” with bank business and the post, and then a long walk (the novel lends itself to mapping).  Long paragraphs, long sentences, no dialogue – oh thank goodness – barely an intrusion by another character except in Strether’s thoughts.  In the Jardin des Tuileries, he looks for the Palace.

The palace was gone, Strether remembered the palace; and when he gazed into the irremediable void of its site the historic sense in him might have been freely at play – the play under which in Paris indeed it so often winces like a touched nerve.

So I learn that the previous visit had been before the Franco-Prussian War, before the Commune and the burning of the palace.  The first thing Strether finds is an absence.  This is before the passage I quoted yesterday, where I learn that the previous visit had been Strether’s honeymoon.

When he reads his letters, including one from Mrs. Newsome, the woman he plans to marry when he returns from his mission to corral her son, he finds that “this tone of hers… struck him at the same time as the hum of vain things.”  He has escaped this powerful woman, and escaped Woollett.  It only took a day.

It was the difference, the difference of being just where he was and as he was, that formed the escape – this difference was so much greater than he had dreamed it would be; and what finally he sat there turning over was the strange logic of his finding himself so free.

The premise of the novel, the reason that Strether is the protagonist even though he is on the periphery of the Woollett story, is that he is perceptive.  He is comparable in perceptive powers to, say, Henry James.  Thus James, from time to time, has to show him perceiving things.

… he lingered before the charming open-air array of literature classic and casual.  He found the effect of tone and tint, in the long charged tables and shelves, delicate and appetizing; the impression – substituting one kind of low-priced consummation for another – might have been that of one of the pleasant cafes that overlapped, under an awning, to the pavement; but he edged along, grazing the tables, with his hands firmly behind him.  He wasn’t there to dip, to consume – he was there to reconstruct.

James and I watch him do it, even while book shopping.

Now, the way the story works is that although Strether is the most perceptive character in the novel in some fundamental ways, he has huge blind spots, particularly regarding the sexual behavior of others, and possibly himself, both in real life and in literature.  It is likely that he very much does not want to marry the stern, rich, Woollettish Mrs. Newsome, and manipulates his own behavior through the novel to act on that unconscious desire.  That is not living.  The climax of the novel is a great combination of themes, another chapter full of walks (11.3), when Strether seeks out a French country scene, and finds it – it “remind[s] him… of Maupassant,” but a charming cleaned-up American Maupassant with no sex.  The climax is exactly when Strether discovers that there is sex in Maupassant, and also in the lives of the people he knows, and that where he suppresses it unconsciously, they lie deliberately.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beginning The Ambassadors - an elaborate innocent plan of reading, digesting

A good thing about reading the difficult, aggravating The Awkward Age (1899) so recently is that it makes The Ambassadors (1903), a novel written in a dense, purposefully ambiguous style, look almost like a regular old novel.  Not so difficult.  It is, in fact, full of difficulties, but the illusion created by the contrast was helpful.

After James, I moved to Trollope, and the contrast there is – whee! zoom! look at me go!  Something like that.

Where to start.  Everyone – I looked around – starts with a line jerked out of context, “’Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to’” (5.2) which sounds deep and wise but is also, unless the characters are discussing suicide, which they are not, is a tautology.

“It doesn’t so much matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life.  If you haven’t had that what have you had?”

The speaker is Lambert Strether, the novel’s hero and, in limited third person, sole point of view, aside from a few minor interjections from James.  Strether by his patroness, who he thinks he wants to marry, to investigate and retrieve her adult son.  Why won’t he return home to Woollett, Massachusetts, marry a nice girl, and manage the family urinal cake factory?  Could there be a woman involved – a French woman?

Of course; obviously.  But Strether, as he soon as he sets foot in it, falls in love with Paris.  He doesn’t want to leave.  I would occasionally abandon the book for a day or two just to let Strether enjoy Paris more.  I knew that in the end he was going back to Woollett.  He isn’t rich enough to merely live.  Why rush him.

A good part of the high comedy of The Ambassadors comes from the Americans who are so baffled that anyone would want to live in Paris – and would not want to live in Woollett, with Woollett people and by Woollett standards, that they might prefer Paris theaters and sex with a beautiful French countess, even if she is married.  Life as a Balzac character.

Was it at all possible for instance to like Paris enough without liking it too much?  (2.2)

Now I am breaking into the tautology.  It all depends on what “live” means.  Strether did not know that, back in Woollett, editing a Review (“’And what kind of a Review is it?’…  ‘Well, it’s green,’” 2.1), he was not living all that he could, while in Paris he finds other possibilities.

The piece on The Ambassadors in The Cambridge Companion to Henry James (1998), “Lambert Strether’s Excellent Adventure” by Eric Haralson, begins where I began and immediately asks “but what on earth does it mean?” (169)  The entire article is about the extent to which “Live all you can” means “Have all the sex you can” (a wide range of opinions are presented), which tells me more about the state of Henry James studies in the mid-nineties than it does about The Ambassadors, but still does say a lot about the novel.

Strether, it turns out, has been in Paris before.  He did have his life.  He was there thirty years earlier, age twenty-five, with his wife, on their honeymoon.

It had been a bold dash, for which they had taken money set apart for necessities, but kept sacred at the moment in a hundred ways, and in none more so than by this private pledge of his own to treat the occasion as a relation formed with the higher culture and see that, as they said at Woollett, it should bear a great harvest.  He had believed, sailing home again, that he had gained something great, and his theory – with an elaborate innocent plan of reading, digesting, coming back, even, every few years – had then been to preserve, cherish, and extend it.  (2.2)

They even bought a pile of yellow-covered French books.  But Strether’s wife died before they were able to return, and soon after their only son died at boarding school.  Strether retreated from “life,” from sex.  With “under forty-eight hours of Paris,” something of this earlier sense of life returns to him.

The Ambassadors has a sad story underneath the plot.  This lost wife is barely mentioned again.  I only picked her out once more, obliquely.  Maybe it is a happy story, of the expiation of decades of grief.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Twain abolishes himself - There would have been results! Indeed yes.

Harper’s Bazar asked a number of authors to write on the topic “The Turning Point of My Life.”  I believe Twain’s response was his last published piece (Feb. 1910) during his lifetime.  It was not quite the last thing he wrote – that was the almost unreadable “The Death of Jean” (Christmas 1909), a howl of pain on the sudden death of his youngest daughter.

A month ago I was writing bubbling and hilarious articles for magazines yet to appear, and now I am writing – this.

So, back to the bubbles.  “Turning Point” does include, briefly, an account of Twain’s career – how I became a writer – but it is just one more data point in his decade-long argument about determinism.  All events, all endeavors, are the result of circumstance and temperament, itself pre-determined by who knows what.  We do what we do because we are the way we are, moving within a vast chain of events outside our control.  Twain became a writer because Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon – it’s a long, long chain – and because Adam ate the apple and because Sam Clemens had the measles when he was twelve.

The whole village was interested, and anxious, and sent for news of me every day; and not only once a day, but several times.  Everybody believed I would die; but on the fourteenth day a change came for the worse and they were disappointed. (932)

And there were other steps, similarly unplanned, that made Twain a printer, or a riverboat pilot, or a silver miner, or a humor writer.

Leaving the Rubicon incident away back where it belongs, I can say with truth that the reason I am in the literary profession is because I had the measles when I was twelve-years-old. (935)

“Turning Point” is the friendly, public face of Twain’s fatalism, laid out in tedious detail in the What Is Man? pamphlet (1906), a Platonic dialogue in which the Old Man browbeats the Young Man into scientistic, psychologistic determinism, man as not a higher animal, but a middlin’ animal, somewhere below the ants.

As is normal in a Platonic dialogue, the victim sticks to the examples, rather than going after the premises, in this case taking a long time to realize that he is trapped in a logically closed system where examples are useless, even when the Old Man openly admits this to the case.  Having once sought the Truth, and having believed that he has found it,

[t]he rest of my days will be spent in patching and painting and puttying and caulking my priceless possession, and in looking the other way when an imploring argument or damaging fact approaches.  (781)

Refreshing!  Determinism is Twain’s solution, to his own psychological satisfaction, to the problem of evil.  His late life obsession with Satan and Bible stories is part of his writing on theodicy.  Twain does not seem to want God and creation to be evil, so he prefers to abolish free will.  It’s all out of our hands.  The great problem with this strain of Twain’s writing is that he mostly seems to be arguing with idiots, like the Young Man in his dialogue.  Sunday school fundamentalists who do not understand their own arguments.  I see why these people are frustrating; still, maybe it would be better to give up arguing with strangers on Facebook, so to speak.

On the other hand, who does this with more spirit and laughs than Twain?  He ends “Turning Point” with an alternative world, in which the first man is Martin Luther and woman Joan of Arc, “equipped with temperaments not made of butter, but of asbestos,” who resist Satan, and God.

There would have been results!  Indeed yes.  The apple would be intact to-day: there would be no human race; there would be no you; there would be no me.  And the old, old creation-dawn scheme of ultimately launching me into the literary guild would have been defeated.  (938)

Twain ends his career – this is the end of the piece – by abolishing himself.  This is how the Library of America Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1891-1910 ends.  It is a bold move, and cosmically funny.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

“Is the bull-fight a religious service?” - late Twain parodies Sherlock Holmes and I don't know what else

Two examples now of books Twain did finish in his old age, two miniature novels, A Double Barreled Detective Story (1902) and A Horse’s Tale (1906).  “Books,” “novels.”  I was confused for a while.  In editions of Twain’s Complete Stories, these texts are forty or fifty pages long – were those abridgments?  No, these pieces were published as little “books” with huge margins and almost no words per page.  I read them both in the Google Books scans of the original editions, mostly to see the illustrations, and boy did the pages fly by, in the electronic sense.

The illustrations are not worth seeking out, unfortunately.  That is Sherlock Holmes in the upper left corner, threatened by American frontier mob justice.  A Double Barreled Detective Story is in large part a Sherlock Holmes parody.  The famous non-fictional celebrity detective arrives in a Nevada mining town to visit his nephew – and why not – just as the nephew has determined to murder his employer:

“Uncle Sherlock!  The mean luck of it! – that he should come just when…”  He dropped into a reverie, and presently said to himself: “But what’s the use of being afraid of him?  Anybody that knows him the way I do knows he can’t detect a crime, except when he plans it all out beforehand and arranges the clews and hires some fellow to commit it according to instructions.”  (p. 96, ellipses in original)

This is the conceit of the story, more or less.  Holmes makes wild, unfounded accusations, while another character, who has a kind of tracking superpower, solves the crime, to the extent that there is a crime to solve.  If only this were funnier.  The story of the super-tracker involves a lifelong, cross-continental search for revenge against his father, who tortured and humiliated the man’s mother; this story crosses paths with the Holmes story.   This story was a puzzler, even aside from the copyright issues.  Maybe something besides Holmes is being parodied.

That is definitely the case with A Horses’ Tale.  Much of it is narrated by the horse of Buffalo Bill Cody, during his days with U.S. cavalry, before the Wild West show.  Buffalo Bill is barely present.  Most of the story is about a nine-year-old Spanish orphan girl who arrives at the Western fort and instantly charms everyone, general and black servant, horse and dog.

Some of the scenes with the sweet little girl are nigh on unreadable.  I hope they are parody.

The story takes a strange turn when, for no discernible reason, a couple of characters beginning discussing Spanish bullfights in the cruelest possible fashion (“’I have laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks to see it,’” 128).  The horses discuss the bullfight, too:

“Is the bull-fight a religious service?”

“I think so.  I have heard so.  It is held on Sunday.” (130)

And one horse tells another that he is pretty sure that horses do not go to heaven with men – his father “believed we do not have to go there unless we deserve it.”  Now that is the late Twain I have gotten to know.

Suddenly –

“Oh no, I will have to avert my gaze.  The cruel critic is about to ruin – spoil, even –  this novel by revealing its suspenseful twist.”

“What?  You’re not going to read this story!  Why would you read this?  What do you care?”

“Oh you don’t know that.  I might.”

“Oh you will not.”


– suddenly the horse and little girl go to Spain, where the horse is stolen and in a single chapter suffers the torments of Lazarillo de Tormes (1554), ending in a bullfighting ring, where he is horribly, graphically, killed by a bull.  The little girl happens to be in the audience – she recognizes her beloved horse – she rushes down to the horse – she is killed by a bull!  What!  The girl had been a bugler back at the fort, and the story has quite a bit of embedded music – military bugle calls – so the story ends with “Taps.”

Twain wrote A Horse’s Tale as anti-bullfight propaganda, but boy did he have a strange way of making his case.

Friday, March 24, 2017

a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought - The Mysterious Stranger as a vehicle for Twain-stuff

For fifty years, The Mysterious Stranger, A Romance (1916) stood as Mark Twain’s final, posthumous novel.  Scholars working on the Twain archives eventually discovered that the novel was something of a fraud, a composite of several unfinished manuscripts with substantial bowdlerization and some bridging passages invented by the editor – not by Twain at all.

I haven’t read that book.  Now – by “now” I mean for the last fifty years, which does include now – the original manuscripts are available and preferable.  The editor of Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts (1969), William M. Gibson, acknowledges that the carpentered version may well make for a better novel, but it ain’t Twain.

Twain messed with the story for over a decade, from 1897 to 1908.  The basic idea is that Satan comes to Hannibal, Missouri circa 1845, where he astounds people with his magic powers and permanently corrupts or enlightens young Sam Clemens.  Everything shifts around in the different versions, though.  The town moves to Austria, where Clemens happened to be when he began writing.  The time moves to the 18th century, or to the 16th.  Twain needs people to be suitably credulous about magic.

Satan becomes his nephew, or Satan, Jr., perhaps Satan’s 44th son, thus “No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger.”  He always appears as a boy, a companion for Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, who appear in the “Schoolhouse Hill” fragment, or their early modern Austrian equivalents.

The Satan figure is always the most interesting – only interesting – character.  He is a mix of theorist, prankster, ignoramus, truth-teller, obfuscator, and paradoxologist.  He is not obviously evil, and is perhaps well-intended.

At some point in each attempt, Twain becomes obsessed and delighted with his angel’s superpowers, and spends too many pages astounding the humans.  Much of this material is inventive – a maid who is turned into a cat in “No. 44” provides a lot of fun – but dramatically static.

Same goes for the satire – the undermining of received religion and glimpses of the future:

“Two centuries from now [i.e., in 1902],” he said, “the Christian civilization will reach the highest mark.  Yet its kings will still be, then, what they are now, a close corporation of land-thieves.  Is that an advance?  England will be prodigious and strong; she will bear the most honorable name that ever a nation bore, and she will lose it in a single little shameful war and carry the blot and stench of it to the end of her days.  To please a dozen rich adventurers her statesmen will pick a quarrel with a couple of wee little Christian farmer-communities, and send against that half dozen villages the mightiest army that ever invaded any country, and will crush those little nations and rob them of their independence and their land.”  (“The Chronicle of Young Satan,” Ch. 9)

None of this is much help in finding out whether good Father Peter will escape the inquisition and bad Father Adolf get his comeuppance, which is nominally the story.  But pretty soon I was not worrying much about story, but reading these texts as a vehicle for Twain-stuff.  There was never going to be a coherent novel.  If Twain had lived longer, there would be a fourth unfinished version, and a fifth.

Twain did write an ending for “No. 44,” even if he never brought the story near it.  Here it is:

“It is true, that which I have revealed to you: there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell.  It is all a Dream, a grotesque and foolish dream.  Nothing exists but You.  And You are but a Thought – a vagrant Thought, a useless Thought, a homeless Thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!”

He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true.

But that is Satan talking, or a near relative, and we all know how far to trust him; and in fact it is not even Satan but Mark Twain, and we all know how far to trust him.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

old Twain - a list - because I believed in him and could not think he would deceive a mere boy

What was Mark Twain writing in his old age?  I have to make a list.  It is a complex subject.  He lost interest in books, but he wrote an immense amount of stuff.

I am thinking of approximately 1900 through 1910.  Twain has returned from his successful world tour (written up as Following the Equator, 1898) which make him a mountain of money.  But his daughter died, his wife was ill, his nation won a war and its leaders chose to become the kind of imperial power Twain so despised in Europe, and Twain was finding the limits of being the world’s most famous writer.

For my own sake, some categories:

1.  The so called “dark writings,” a series of dream narratives involving ships on endless journeys, dogs dying in fires, and strange microscopic worlds that look like attempts to cope with trauma.  I read a chunk of this material in a collection titled The Devil’s Race-Track, and wrote a bit about it.  The writing is rough, not just unfinished but unfinishable – stories about endless entrapment present narrative difficulties – but the imagery and vision are original.

2.  Similarly, Twain returned several times to a cluster of ideas that emerged posthumously as The Mysterious Stranger (1916) but can now be read in the three distinct manuscripts that were mashed together to create the “novel.”  In each case, a boyish Satan figure – Satan’s 44th son, or a nephew – comes to town and upends things with his magic powers and view that humans are a kind of animal.

3.  Twain becomes obsessed with Satan, “a sacred character, being mentioned in the Bible” (“The Chronicle of Young Satan,” Mark Twain’s Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, p. 41), and he becomes a frequent mouthpiece, a suitably distant observer of the follies of mankind.  Adam and Eve are also recurring figures.  Just as the “Mysterious Stranger” story is tied up with Twain’s Hannibal childhood, the satirical use of the Old Testament stories is a return to the Sunday school of sixty years previous.  The Sunday schools I attended in the 1970s do not sound much different that Twain’s from the 1840s.

As long as Twain did not get into sex, as in “Letters from the Earth” (1909), these stories were publishable.  Twain put a letter in Harper’s Weekly in 1905 in the voice of and signed by Satan (“A Humane Word from Satan”).

4.  Twain’s philosophy, most tediously expressed in What Is Man?, a Platonic dialogue about a purely deterministic universe.  This pamphlet, published anonymously, was dull but helpful, since it clearly states the metaphysical position that shows up everywhere in this period.  Reading this, I knew that Twain meant it.  Some of it.

5.  On the other hand, this is the time of Twain’s most active political involvement, writing scathingly and hilariously against American control of the Philippines, Christian missionaries in China, and the Belgian atrocities in the Congo.  All of this in public.  The pamphlet King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule (1905) is a terrific piece of rhetoric, an inhumane word from a human Satan.

6.  “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” (1899), “The $30,000 Request” (1904) – stories about how money – the possibility of money – ruins lives.  Published in popular magazines, and again in best-selling collections.  Highly effective.  Abolished greed for a time.  Not sure what happened since.

7.  Did everyone else know about Twain’s Sherlock Holmes story, A Double Barreled Detective Story (1902)?  How did the copyright work?  Similarly curious is A Horse’s Tale (1906), much of it from the point of view of Buffalo Bill’s horse, a nasty shocker apparently designed to terrify children.

8.  Once in a while, Twain felt the urge to write a perfect, signature humor piece, just like in the old days.  Something like “Hunting the Deceitful Turkey” (1906):

I followed an ostensibly lame turkey over a considerable part of the United States one morning, because I believed in her and could not think she would deceive a mere boy, and one who was trusting her and considering her honest.

Maybe some kind of allegory in there.

I don’t know why anyone else would read this, but it was helpful to write.  I’ll poke at some of these over the next couple of days.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Gorky's Tolstoy, Gorky's Chekhov - He was wonderfully sympathetic at that moment.

Gorky’s Tolstoy and Other Reminiscences (2008) is translator and editor Donald Fanger’s replacement for an older collection title Reminiscences of Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Andreyev.  The Tolstoy section dates from 1919 and made it into English in 1920.  Gorky was a celebrity author.

Is something wrong with the old translations?  Fanger says no, but the old texts were incomplete.  These are the first English translation of the complete texts.  Fanger added some additional biographical portraits of writers and other oddballs Gorky knew, as well as four portraits of Gorky, by Khodasevich and Zamiatin and so on, plus plenty of commentary and notes.  The whole thing is still under three hundred pages.

This is a useful book.

It is easy to find the “Lev Tolstoy” described as “like a novel.”  I don’t know what novels these folks were reading.  The “Leonid Andreyev” portrait is much more like a novel.  The long night where a drunken Andreyev wants to pick up girls while Gorky tries to get him sobered up, that scene appears in a lot of novels.

The Tolstoy memoir is all anecdote and talk from about six months in 1901 and 1902.  The old literary celebrity enjoying the company of the young one.

Suddenly a hare started under our feet.  L. N. jumped up in excitement, his face flushed, and whooped like some ancient animal-hunter.  Then he looked at me with an indescribable smile and laughed a wise, very human little laugh.  He was wonderfully sympathetic at that moment.  (69)

That is not always the case.  “The subjects he talks about most often are God, the peasant, and woman” – just the subjects to drive Gorky crazy.  “About literature he speaks seldom and grudgingly, as if literature were something alien to him” (35).  Still:

One evening, at dusk, squinting, his eyebrows twitching, he read us a version of the scene in “Father Sergius” where the woman goes to seduce the hermit.  He read it clear through, raised his head, closed his eyes, and said with great clarity:

“The old man really could write!”

He said it with amazing simplicity – his delight at the beauty of what he’d written was so sincere – that I will always remember the thrill I felt then, a joy I could find no words for, and one that cost me an enormous effort to control.  (64)

“Lev Tolstoy” is immensely humanizing, remembering that humans are strange beasts.  The subject of “Anton Chekhov,” by contrast, is a saint, a member of a higher species.  In his presence, people’s falseness, posturing, and vulgarity drop away.

He had fine eyes.  When he smiled they became warm and caressing, like a woman’s.  And his laughter, almost soundless, was somehow particularly fine.  Laughing, he was enjoying the laughter, rejoicing.  I don’t know anyone else who could laugh so – if one could put it that way – “spiritually.”  (103)

When Tolstoy praises Chekhov’s story “The Darling” – “with real emotion. There were tears in his eyes” – Chekhov responds with:

For a long time he said nothing.  Finally, with a sigh, he murmured in embarrassment:

“It’s got misprints in it…”  (105)

The portraits are also self-portraits, by contrast, Gorky’s differences from and exasperations with Tolstoy, Andreyev, and Blok revealing his own character.  But he was mostly interested in other people more than himself.  This was true in his own childhood memoir, and even more so here.

What an enjoyable book.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The grimful glee of Hardy's Later Lyrics

Late Lyrics and Earlier, with Many Other Verses (1922) by Thomas Hardy, his sixth book of lyric poems.  Hardy was something like eighty-two years old.  “Late lyrics” means written since his last book, Moments of Vision from 1917; “earlier” means written before that, mostly in the 1910s; “many other” seems logically redundant and means I know not what.

For context, 1922 is the year of The Waste-Land and Trilce and just a bit before Spring and All, Tulips and Chimneys, and The Duino Elegies.  Hardy has nothing to do with that stuff.  This book has two basic modes, one purely lyric, one narrative – maybe those are the “others.”  All Hardy poems, much like earlier Hardy poems.

The lyric mode is at this point as song-like as Hardy has ever been.  Many poems seem intended to lend themselves to music, perhaps existing hymns or folksongs.  Many are in some way about music, a theme that runs through the book:

from “The Curtains Now Are Drawn”

    I stand here in the rain,
    With its smite upon her stone,
    And the grasses that have grown
    Over women, children, men,
    And their texts that ‘Life is vain’;
    But I hear the notes as when
        Once she sang to me:
‘O the dream that thou art my Love, be it thine,
And the dream that I am thy Love, be it mine,
And death may come, but loving is divine.’

That is the second stanza; the woman is of course alive in the first.  Hardy poems are full of graves.  These have more singing and playing.  Benjamin Britten picked out “At the Railway Station, Upway” for his Winter Words song settings(1953), in which a boy fiddler at a train station plays a tune that causes a funny reaction in another man on the platform:

    The man in the handcuffs smiled;
The constable looked, and he smiled, too,
    As the fiddle began to twang;
And the man in handcuffs suddenly sang
                With grimful glee:
                ‘This life so free
                Is the thing for me!’
And the constable smiles and said no word
As if unconscious of what he heard;
And so they went on till the train came in
The convict, and boy with the violin.

Again, that is the second stanza.  The first is entirely about the boy.  The convict and constable are introduced as we see here, and a little story pops out, the music mixing with the narrative.

“Grimful glee” is a good description of a number of Hardy stories, including many in this book, narrative poems with plots that could easily have found their way into a theoretical Hardy novel, if he had not given up prose fiction twenty-five years earlier.  “The Chapel-Organist,” for example, in which a sexually promiscuous woman finally offends the church elders to the point that she won’t be allowed to play the organ anymore; she poisons herself and dies at the climax of her final performance.  Ludicrous but Hardy has a way of making the ludicrous tragic.

Another hilarious one, where I almost wish there were a novel, is “A Woman’s Fancy.”  A woman visiting a spa town is mistaken for the runaway wife of a man who just died.  They think she has returned out of guilt.  Because no one will believe her denials, and everyone talks to her about nothing but how pitiful her husband was, she falls in love with him – the dead man – and begins visiting his grave with “a bereaved wife’s sorrow.”  At the end of the poem, she is buried with him – “’Call me by his name on the stone!’”

The last poem in the book, “Surview,” has the poet hearing his own voice in a fire.  The fire chides him for betraying his ideals, and then dies:

    And the sticks burnt low, and the fire went out,
        And my voice ceased talking to me.

Those are the last lines of the book.  I suppose every book had to be thought of as the last one, the dying of the fire.  Hardy would publish one more book of poems and have another ready when he died.