Thursday, July 12, 2018

Graham Greene -- A Few Notes -- July 12, 2018

Graham Greene (or what I remember from the 3-volume biography; I could be wrong in places, but I doubt I am too far off):

First real job: British spy during World War II. Got the job because of his intellect. Sent to western Africa as a spy; either failed in the field or couldn’t get along with his superior. In either event, he was sent back to work at intel headquarters in/near London.

As a spy, Graham Greene knew the infamous British double spy, Kim Philby. When Philby was exposed, Greene hurriedly and unexpectedly resigned from British intelligence; some continue to wonder if Greene knew enough to get him in trouble, or if Greene remained a spy and used his globe-trotting authorial skills as a cover. He was everywhere in the post-WWII / cold war world – Vietnam when the French were there (1956), etc.

He was known as a “Catholic novelist,” which bothered him. He said he was a novelist who happened to be Catholic. Having said that, he said his “favorite” book was The Power and The Glory.  The Heart of the Matter is full of Catholic guilt; critics write about that a lot, but I think they miss the point. More on that later perhaps. Even in The Third Man there is a bit of Catholicism, but much less, but then the book is only 75 pages long; hardly enough to get into anything.

I don’t know if one would call Graham a misogynist.  He certainly had no second thoughts – well, he did, but the thoughts didn’t change his habits – about cheating on his wives, visiting brothels more than one could imagine. While in Southeast Asia with French fighting, he spent every night, it seems in a brothel, and used drugs (opium) to drown out his feelings of sinning. He continued to use opium (which must be an interesting drug) when he returned to London but probably eventually came off. He said he used just enough to get the effect without becoming addicted. (The description of the opium dens/prostitutes in Thailand were very, very sordid in the Norman Sherry biography; at that point I almost wanted to quit reading; this was a middle-aged man – fifty, I suppose – when he was using opium to numb him before having sex. The Quiet American, published in 1956, is another autobiographical novel, as it were, where these episodes were chronicled. Despite all this, he was given a private audience with the Pope because of such books as The Power and the Glory.  

He converted to Catholicism to marry his first wife, who delayed and delayed about getting married. She seemed a saint; he cheated on her and became passionately in love with a second woman – this was during the blitz in London. He sent his wife to the safety of a village outside London, and he carried on a highly sexual affair / a passionate love affair with (probably) the real love of his life in the underground during the bombing raids, and then the two of them would spend the following hours pulling people from the rubble.

He was known as a Catholic writer. Very important point.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale And The American Tragedy In Vietnam, Max Boot

c. 2018

From the Grapevine Library.

605 pages of biography
4 pages: acknowledgements
50 pages: notes (mostly just sources of citations; uninteresting)
15 pages: select bibliography
39 pages: index

Coordinator of Information (COI) becomes, as of June, 1942,
Office of Strategic Services (OSS)

Worked initially out of the Military Intelligence Service office at 74 New Montgomery Street in San Francisco; later able to re-join the US Army; later, about 1947, switched to US Air Force, a new service; but always kept ties with OSS

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Life And Letters Of Alexander Wilson, Clark Hunter, 1983

Printed by the American Philosophical Society, Independence Square, Philadelphia -- 1983.

Only 73 pages of biography, in Part One: The Live of Alexander Wilson

Then about 330 pages of his letters, in Part Two.

Bottom line: preceded Audubon. Author argues that Wilson was better at his craft than Audubon.

From wiki:
Alexander Wilson (July 6, 1766 – August 23, 1813) was a Scottish-American poet, ornithologist, naturalist, and illustrator. Identified by George Ord as the "Father of American Ornithology", Wilson is regarded as the greatest American ornithologist prior to Audubon.
So, born ten years before the American revolution; died well before the US Civil War.

High points
  • died at age 47
  • much more than an ornithologist
  • a weaver, pedlar (sic), poet, reformer, pioneering ornithologist, and remarkable traveler, artist and writer
  • letters to David Brodie, his weaving friend turned schoolmaster 
The editor/author had little to go on except Wilson's letters. Wilson never got around to writing the book he wanted to write.

Paisley: Scottish lowlands near the River Clyde. The town is on the northern edge of the Gleniffer Braes, straddling the banks of the White Cart Water, a tributary of the River Clyde.By the 19th century, Paisley was a centre of the weaving industry, giving its name to the Paisley shawl and the Paisley Pattern.
The Literature Page

I'm still in my "China phase." That will probably last a long time and considering my age, I may still be in my "China phase" in the nursing home.

However, my love for Scotland never wanes, as they say. I've talked about my relationship with Scotland many times.

On my last trip to Portland, OR, I came across a most interesting "antique store," the kind of store about which Owen Wilson's character in Midnight in Paris most likely dreamed. I had to force myself to leave the antique store before I "broke the bank."

One of my purchases was a hardcover, 1983, book edited by Clark Hunter, The Life and Letters of Alexander Wilson. My notes taken while reading this book will be placed at this site.

I love the Brits, or perhaps, better said, the English. They just assume, when writing, that everyone knows everything about England. No background is necessary. In the US we have the American Automobile Association. In England, simply the Automobile Association. Everybody knows the Automobile Association is in England; nothing more need be said.

Int the Wilson biography, I found it just the same. This was almost the opening line:
When searching for unpublished letters of Alexander Wilson, I found in private hands in Paisley his own copy of the 1791 edition of his poems. 
Okay, so "Paisley." What is "Paisley"?

Well, it turns out that "Paisley" has its own wiki page. Of course, so does Williston. But I digress.

Having just read much about China's silk industry, and the running water that powered the mills that ran the silk factories, this little nugget was worth the price of the book, which for a used book ws fairly expensive and much more than I generally spend for such books. (A typical English silk mill will be turned into a youth hostel.)

So now I know a bit more about Paisley.

Alexander Wilson

  • born in Scotland, in 1766, ten years before the American Revolution
  • first book of poems before age 22; self-taught; "inspired" or "depressed" by the Industrial Revolution
  • March 4, 1801: delivered an address in Milestown, PA, to celebrate Jefferson's first election -- imagine that -- a Scotsman born ten years before the American Revolution, gives a celebratory speech in honor of Jefferson's presidency -- wow [the American Revolution was a war between the Scots (or Scotch-Irish) and the English, and this was one war the Scots one; it is little wonder that Wilson would praise Jefferson]
  • 1802: a schoolmaster at Gray's Ferry; there, mentored by William Bartram began his "career" in ornithology; William Bartram schooled by his father, John Bartram (1699-1777), described by Linnaeus (yes, that Linnaeus) as "the greatest natural botanist in the World"
  • through Bartrem, Wilson got to know Charles Willson Peale, the founder of the internationally famous museum of natural history in Philadelphia
  • his Ornithology, first volume was published in 1808
  • wow -- Wilson noted that "the first considerable list of our [US] birds was published i 1787, by Mr Jefferson (yes, that Mr Jefferson), in his celebrated "Notes on Virginia"; that list contained 109 species
  • the next list to be published, 1791, by William Bartram, 215 different species, North and South Carolina
  • other shorter lists: Dr Barton, Pennsylvania; Dr Belknap, New Hampshire
  • Mark Catesby: southern states and the Caribbean for more than a decade; his Natural History, 1731, 100 plates depicting birds and botanical specimens; before Wilson, the earliest significant ornithologist in America
  • so, we have the baton passing:
  • Catesby -- Bartram -- Wilson -- Audubon (with an assist from others, including President Jefferson)
  • Wilson's Ornithology: nine (9) volumes; individual essays on 293 birds; 315 birds portrayed in 76 plates
  • the debate over whether Wilson was "greater" than Audubon are long past, according to the author; methinks the author would like to re-open the discussion
    • "in his drawings the flamboyant Frenchman (Audubon) sought dramatic effects and succeeded wonderfully well while the cannier Scotsman aimed for facts and accurate delineation"
    • "Audubon and his splendid engraver Robert Havell, whose skill added an extra dimension to the finished plates, used Wilson's book as a standard guide, and there is no reason why Audubon should have pretended otherwise"
    • "it would not have diminished Audubon to give credit to the long-dead Wilson for his groundwork, just as Wilson made acknowledgment to Bartram"
    • "Wilson cleared the ground and planted the seed while Audubon reaped the crops" -- wow
    • "in the account of Wilson's life accompanying the letters, I have tried to be true to him and to avoid the dramatics dear to his follower, Audubon" -- a second "wow"
  • in the book there are "several" letters to and from Thomas Jefferson
And this is where I will stop for now as I start to read Chapter One.

Chapter One

Incredible history of Paisley and weaving.

Alexander Wilson christened by the minister of the local kirk, Dr John Witherspoon. Both the minister and the babe in arms were to become notable citizens in the as yet unborn United States of America. Almost exactly ten years later Witherspoon, now president of the College of New Jersey, was the only minister of religion or educator to sign the Declaration of Independence.

1794: Wilson emigrates to America; Witherspoon dies the same year.


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Best Biography Of Virginia Woolf? -- March 15, 2018

A 60-page essay/biography of Virginia Woolf by Camille-Yvette Welsh, "A Biography of Virginia Woolf" in Bloom's BioCritiques: Virginia Woolf, c. 2005, DDS: 823VIR.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Cleanth Brooks, c. 1963

I don't recall having ever read anything by William Faulkner and that's saying a lot. Starting back in 2000, I voraciously started reading, ultimately putting together a reading program of which I am quite proud. Going through my journals (literally scores of journals devoted to literature) I have nothing on Faulkner except a listing of the top 100 best English novels as compiled by Time Magazine critics Lev Grossman and Richard Lacayo back in 2009, from a list of novels dating back to 1923.

The list is alphabetical, not ranked in any order. Faulkner is on the list with Light in August and The Sound and the Fury.

It's time, I guess, for me to read a bit about, and perhaps read a bit of, William Faulkner.

I will start with William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country, Cleanth Brooks, c. 1963. The first thing I noted: what little I have read reminds me a lot of Rob Roy and Sir Walter Scott. Wow.

Nothing new under the sun.

I can't wait to really get into this book.

Chapter 1: Faulkner the Provincial

William Faulkner: the South; with the past and the rural;
Thomas Hardy: Wessex
Robert Frost: northern New England
Dylan Thomas: Wales

Did Faulkner get his facts right?

Chapter 2: The Plain People

Though the planter families of the Old South and the Negroes play a very important part in Faulkner's novels, the folk who dominate much of his fiction are descendants neither of the old ruling class nor of the slaves. They are white people, many of them poor, and most of them living on farms; but they are not to be put down necessarily as "poor whites" and certainly not necessarily as "white trash." It is with characters such as these that the non-Southern  reader of Faulkner is likely to have most trouble. he may too easily conclude that the McCallums and the Tulls are simply poor white trash. Hasty or unobservant readers may even see them all as allied to the infamous Snopes clan.

That was the opening paragraph and immediately reminded me of Sir Walter Scott and Rob Roy.

Chapter 3: Faulkner as Nature Poet

Chapter 4: The Community and the Pariah (Light in August)

From notes, p. 375.

A folk idiom: a cow that is expected to calve in August will be "light in August." The rather boving Lena who, at the beginning of the novel, is heavily pregnant, is to become "light" in August.

But Faulkner, when asked, said this:

In August in Mississippi there's a few days somewhere about the middle of the month when suddenly there's a foretaste of fall, it's cook, there's a lambence, a luminous quality to the light, as though it came not from just today but from back in the old classic times ... from Greece, from Olympus ... It lasts just for a day or two, then it's gone, but every year in August that occurs in my country, and that's all that title meant, it was just to me a pleasant evocative title because it reminded me of that time, of a luminosity older than our Christian civilization. Maybe the connection was with Lena Grove, who had something of that pagan quality.

Chapter 5: The Old Order (The Unvanquished)

The Unvanquished has suffered more than any other Faulkner's novels through having been dismissed as a sheaf of conventional Southern Civil War stories.

Chapter 6: The Waste Land: Southern Exposure (Sartoris)

Chapter 7: Discovery of Evil (Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun)

Chapter 8: Odyssey of teh Bundresn (As I Lay Dying)

The author's fondness for As I Lay Dying is easily understood. The writing in this novel is as good as Faulkner has ever done, and the book constitutes a triumph in the management of tone. Faulkner has daringly mingled the grotesque and the heroic, the comic and the pathetic, pity and terror, creating a complexity of toe that has proved difficult for some readers to cop with.

Chapter 9: Faulkner's Savage Arcadia: Frenchman's Bend (The Hamlet)

More than any other novel of Faulkner's, The Hamlet introduces us to a strange and special world.

The hamlet is a very small town, not the Shakesperian play.

Chapter 10: Passion, Marriage, and Bourgeois Respectability (The Town)

The second part of the trilogy; the first was The Hamlet.

Chapter 11: Faulkner's Revenger's Tragedy (The Mansion)

The third novel in Faulkner's trilogy.

Chapter 12: The Story of the McCaslins (Go Down, Moses)

Could have been titled The McCaslins for that is all the book is about.

Chapter 13: The Community In Action (Intruder in the Dust)

Intruder in the Dust represents a very curious mixture of literary excellence and faults.

Chapter 14: History and the Sense of the Tragic (Absolom, Absolom!)

Absolom, Absolom!, in my opinion the greatest of Faulkner's novels, is probably the least well understood of all his books. The property of a great work, as T. S. Eliot remarked long ago, is to communicate before it is understood; and Absolom, Absolom! passes this test triumphantly. It has meant something very powerful and important to all sorts of people, and who is to say that, under the circumstances, this something was not the thing to be said to that particular reader?

Chapter 15: Man, Time, and Eternity (The Sound and Fury)

The Sound and Fury proved to be Faulkner's first great novel, and in the opinion of many qualified judges it remains his best. It has attracted, more than any other of his books, a mass of detailed exegesis and commentary, some of it beside the point, some of it illuminating as well.

The salient technical feature of The Sound and Fury is the use of four different points of view in the presentation of the breakup of the Compson family. This special technique was obviously of great personal consequence to Faulkner, as evidenced by his several references to it in the last few years.

Chapter 16: The World of William Faulkner (The Reivers)

The events that make up the story told in The Reivers take place in 1905. The world of mechnization comes into the dozing little county seat of Jefferson in its most romantic form -- as the improbable and exciting early automobile.

And then 76 pages of notes.

Compson genealogy.

McCaslin genealogy.

Stevens genealogy.

Sartoris genealogy.

Sutpen genealogy.

Snopes genealogy.

Character index.

General index.

Mary Shelley, Emily W. Sunstein, c. 1989

Much more complete notes at this post.

Mary Shelley: Romance and Reality, Emily W. Sunstein, c. 1989.

Author says this if the first complete or definitive biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley -- the only stellar English Romantic author for whom there is no complete or definitive biography.

1780 - 1830: the age of Romanticism.

Namesake daughter of the pioneer feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, died giving her birth in 1797; father was philosopher and novelist William Godwin; she was the lover and wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley; she literally embodies the English Romantic movement.

Romanticism: among its many definitions or qualities, this one -- an intensity not merely in love and sex but in all the passions; expressiveness, imagination, innovation, risk, exploration, exoticism, glory; ordeal and woe.

What distinguishes Mary Shelley is her love of justice, learning, wisdom, and freedom.

Wrote Frankenstein at the age of 19.

Born during the 8th year of the French Revolution.

"At 16 she ran away to live with 21-y/o Shelley, the unhappily married radical heir to a wealthy baronetcy, who personified the genius and dedication to human betterment she passionately admired all her life. Although she was cast out even by her father, the dynamism of this liaison produced her masterpiece, Frankenstein, which she conceived during one of the most famous house parties in literary history with Shelley and [Lord] Byron on Lake Geneva, and wrote while being battered by a series of calamities. The worse of these was the suicide of Shelley's wife. Albeit reluctantly, the lovers married, but fierce public hostility drove them to Italy. Here their two children died, a trauma from which Mary Shelley never entirely recovered. Nevertheless, Shelley empowered her to live as she wished: to enjoy intellectual and artistic growth, love, freedom, and a 'wild, picturesque mode of living ... ' When she was 24, he drowned, leaving her pnniless with with a 2-y/o son.

She lived for another 29 years.

Invalided at the age of 48; died of a brain tumor in 1851; poetic timing, just as Prince Albert opened the Great Exhibition, a showcase of technological progress against which she had warned in her most famous book.

Chapter 3 and 4:
  • background of the main characters
  • ends with Mary eloping with Shelley (married), and Shelley's stepsister, Jane
From the internet:  By July, when Shelley and Mary eloped, Harriet's unhappy, though not impossible, situation seemed clear. With her marriage her father had settled £200 a year on her; Shelley gave her a further £100, which was doubled the next January, after the death of his grandfather. So she was comfortably situated as far as her financial situation was concerned. Yet she was clearly unhappy. For a time she returned to her father's house, but found it overly constraining. At some point she took a lover: anecdote has it that he was an office connected with the military establishment in Chelsea. Sometime in the late summer of 1816 Harriet took lodgings nearby, in Hans Place, Knightsbridge, clearly to shield her family from a pregnancy out of wedlock. In late November or early December, having written a despondent farewell addressed to her father, her sister, and her husband, she walked the short distance from her lodgings to Hyde Park and drowned herself in the Serpentine River. At the time of her death she was just twenty-one years old.
Chapter 7: the house party in Lake Geneva
  • the birth of Frankenstein
  • June 22, 1816: Byron and Shelley to go sailing
  • June 22, 1816: after a nightmare the night before, sits down to write the opening line of Frankenstein, "It was on a dreary night of November..." a beginning, only.
  • When Shelley returned on June 30, he was impressed and urged her to go on. 
  • falling out of those at Lake Geneva
Chapter: writing and completion of Frankenstein
  • officially published, March 11, 1818

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Bourgeois: Between History And Literature, Franco Moretti

The Bourgeois: Between History and Literature
Franco Moretti
c. 2013

Franco Moretti: teaches Literature at Stanford; at Stanford, he is the Director of the Literary Lab. Several books, and chief editor of The Novel.

Chapter 1: much of the chapter is devoted to Robinson Crusoe (1719) and Daniel Defoe.

The concept of aventiure trade and adventure.  

The Protestant Ethic.

Rousseau and Goethe, the latter, Wanderjahre.

Heart of Darkness.

Chapter 2

Johannes Vermeer; paintings, letters

Pride and Prejudice

The painter Caillebotte and his Place de l'Europe

Goethe, again, this time, Wilhelm Meister's Years of Apprenticeship (1796).

Waverly (1814), Scott.


Fillers: the only narrative invention of the entire 18th century. Huge transition. Before 1800, few fillers. A hundred years later they are everywhere (the Goncourts, Zola, Fontane, Maupassant, Gissing, James, Proust ...)

Chapter 3

Communist Manifesto

Paintings, again:

Manet's Olympia: the masterpiece of the bourgeois century

By contrast, Ingres' Venus Anadyomene.

Millais' The Knight Errant.

Charlotte Brontë.

Back to Robinson Crusoe.

Chapter 4

Chapter 5: Ibsen

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Crusoe: Daniel Defoe -- Katherine Frank -- c. 2004

Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox, and the Creation of a Myth 
Katherine Frank
c. 2004

Chapter One: Two Writing Men, London, 1719

Defoe: poor; in debt; surrounded by women (wives, sisters) in his rented home north of London; 60 years old; stole the name Robinson Crusoe from childhood friend, Timothy Cruso (without the "e")

Robert Knox: well-off; retired sea captain; nearly 80, writing letters to his cousin, Reverend John Strype, also about 80 years old; Knox has no wife or children; in home north of London, but a bit south of Defoe

1660: Robert Knox, age 19, and his father, taken captive on Ceylon; would not see England again for 20 years

Robert Knox escaped in 1680, or thereabouts, and published a bestseller in 1861

Among its many early buyers and readers was a young London wholesaler of hosiery and cloth in Freeman's Yard named Daniel Foe.

In 1719, by then, had reinvented himself as Daniel DeFoe.

Robinson Crusoe written in four months.

Chapter Two: Crusoe's Secret, London, 1719 - 20

The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe -- published April, 1719

Becomes an overnight sensation. DeFoe sold the book and the rights to a printer for 50 English pounds.

Illicitly ran as 78 serial installments in a newspaper called The Original London Post. Continued to run until late March, 1720 (the installments began October 7, 1719).

Defoe is the father of the English novel.