Friday, December 12, 2014

The Great Gatsby

Having completed my Girl-With-The-Dragon-Tattoo phase I am now in my Great-Gatsby phase. 

Truthfully, it will be awhile before I get out of my GWTDT phase. In addition to everything else, the novel has an interesting structure, several stories within the novel, which is not unusual, but the way the author bookended the murder mystery with a boring financial exposé was fascinating. I'm not sure if I had seen that type of structure in other books I have read. It was a great book, but probably one I won't read again. On the other hand, I will watch the movie over and over, probably any number of times, before I finally get it out of my system, if I ever do.

On the other hand, it is very likely that I will read The Great Gatsby over and over, any number of times, and I may never get it out of my system. It took a long time for me to "get over" Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. While reading Mrs Dalloway the second time, I had the uneasy feeling, I wasn't "getting it." I tried to solve that by typing the entire novel. That exercise took about six months, typing a couple of hours every other night or so. When I was done, I found myself blown away by the novel, and was able to read it a third time, and can now go back and enjoy reading it again and again.

The Great Gatsby is going to be like Mrs Dalloway for me. I won't re-type the entire novel, but I certainly might type out all the impossible-to-understand and almost-impossible-to-understand phrases, sentences and paragraphs. I don't recall reading TGG in high school or college. I don't remember ever reading it until 2004 or sometime around then when I was beginning my aggressive reading program. I read it, and remembered parts of it, but it wasn't until I saw the 2013 movie, that I really followed the story line.

I'm slowly reading TGG again. Today on page 116, chapter VI, a bit more than halfway through the book, I recognized the climax.

According to wiki:
According to Freytag, a drama is divided into five parts, or acts, which some refer to as a dramatic arc: exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement. Although Freytag's analysis of dramatic structure is based on five-act plays, it can be applied (sometimes in a modified manner) to short stories and novels as well, making dramatic structure a literary element.
Briefly, J. Gatsby has spent the last five years of his life, ostensibly, trying to "get back" with Daisy, the love of his life. Wow, as I write that, and try to think next what to say, it becomes overwhelming. It is an incredible book, and an incredible story. Of course, it helps to know the ending. In fact, one needs to know the ending to a) recognize the climax; and, b) realize how really great this book is/was.

This was Fitzgerald's third huge, immeasurable, success. Two earlier novels had made him the "rock star" of his generation. He was having trouble, probably sensing intense pressure, to "do it again," to hit a third home run. The Great Gatsby was a grand slam; he predicted as much but did not live long enough to see that play out.

Wow, what a digression.

Briefly, J. Gatsby has spent the last five years of his life, ostensibly, trying to "get back" with Daisy, the love of his life. And then this, Chapter 6, about halfway through the book, on page 116, near the bottom of the page. J. Gatsby felt that he had failed up to that point in winning Daisy back. His "friend," his neighbor, the novella's narrator, declares:

    "I wouldn't ask too much of her, "I ventured. "You can't repeat the past."

    "Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"

    He looked around him wildly, as if the past were lurking in the shadow of his house, just out of reach of his hand.

That was the climax. Then begins immediately the downward trajectory of the dramatic arc:

    "I'm going to fix everything just the way it was before," he said, nodding determinedly. "She'll see."

At that point it is just a matter of seeing how the novel plays out. In the end, the story becomes a metaphor not only of F. Scott Fitzgerald's life but the lives of many who read the book and realized how really good this book was.

It literally happens that fast. One is casually reading the book, and then it hits, the climax, "you can't repeat the past. Can't repeat the past? Of course you can." Talk about stripping down a literary effort to a dozen words, an practically monosyllabic at that. Wow.

[It's possible some folks will argue that the climax was the moment when Gatsby and Daisy got together for tea at Nick's house. But that was not a "moment." It was a scene. That scene begins somewhat earlier than the "true" climax, beginning on page 91. It is a comedic scene, not a tragic scene, and does not "feel" climactic." The scene does not provide the weight (as in "gravitas") that a climax would need for a book to be called a classic.]

[There may be a foreshadowing of the climax on page 98, still part of the "tea" scene. The narrator suggests that the "colossal significance of {the green light at the end of Daisy's dock} had now vanished forever. Compared to the great distance that had separated him from Daisy it has seemed very near to her, almost touching her. It had seemed as close as a star to the moon. Not it was again a green light on a dock. His count of enchanted objects had diminished by one.]


Did F. Scott Fitzgerald recognize he was trying to re-live his past? Was he his own psychoanalyst? I need to go back and read his biography and Zelda's to review what was going on in their lives in 1920. He was starting to write the book in 1922 or thereabouts (published in 1925), so whatever the book is "about" was based on his internal struggles before 1922. This Side of Paradise was published in 1920; The Beautiful and The Damned was published in 1922. Born in 1896, he was only 26 years of age in 1922.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Juggling And The Boulogne (France) Coat-Of-Arms

Some years ago I read for the first time Andrew Bridgeford's 2005, 1066: The Hidden History in the Bayeux Tapestry, but as so often with my reading, I did not really recall the thrust of the book. Rushing out the door the other day, I grabbed a book to read just in case I had spare time. It was Bridgeford's book again.

For background one may want to quickly read Wiki's overview of the Angle-Saxon Chronicle.

Then, this paragraph (which I have broken up) -- second from the end in Bridgeford's book:
It was at St Augustine's Abbey that one of the versions of the Angle-Saxon Chronicle was kept up, nowadays called the E version. The E version of the Chronicle tends to be the most favourable towards Earl Godwin and his family, but it, like the other versions of the Chronicle, passes over in silence the whole matter of Harold Godwinson's fateful journal to the continent that was the catalyst of all that followed.
The truth behind Harold's mission, and with it King Edward's crucial wishes toward the end of his reign, was recorded at St Augustine's not, on this occasion, in ink scratched upon parchment but with colourful stitches pierced through white linen cloth (the Bayeux Tapestry).

In this sense, the Bayeux Tapestry can truly be described as the lost Angle-Saxon Chronicle as wellas the secret Chronicle of the House of Boulogne, a generation before the blood of Charlemagne achieved a new pinnacle of success in the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
I can add something to the mysteries of the book: the origin of the coat-of-arms for the French region of Boulogne: the three balls.

Modern heraldry is traced back to the 12th century. The knights, 1066 A.D., in the Bayeux Tapestry carry shields, but there appears to have been no system of hereditary coats of arms. However, if one looks closely, one sees the "three balls" on the shield of Eustace II.

The tapestry begins with the scene of a juggler holding a couple of horses readied for the invasion of England by William the Conqueror.

Heraldry, juggler, the importance of Turold the juggler in the tapestry, and the three balls on the shield of Eustace's shield seem to be several dots that can be connected.

Turold, through the Song of Roland is considered the father of French literature. The Song of Roland relates the exploits and successes of Charlemagne. Eustace was a descendent of Charlemagne. Eustace II, Count of Boulogne, showed his respect for Turold by placing him in the tapestry, at the very beginning, no less, and perhaps further "honored" him by placing the juggler's "universal symbol" on the coat of arms for Boulogne. See also Taillefer.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Journal Of The Plague Year, Daniel Defoe, 1722 -- The Plague Year Was 1666

A Journal of the Plague Year published 1722 notes begun on 22 July 05 by Daniel Defoe (1660 - 1731) born in London.

  • A political rabble-rouser -- for which he was imprisoned several times -- and pamphleteer. 
  • Sustained financially with his wife’s sizeable dowry -- nonetheless, bankrupt by 1692 -- and never recovered. 
  • At age 59 (1719), Robinson Crusoe -- fictional biography -- followed by several more “biographies.”
  •  “Arguably the most prolific writer in the English language -- considered by many the father of the novel and the founder of modern journalism. 
  • Influenced Benjamin Franklin. Left Church of England --> Presbyterian Dissenter, 1662 
[interesting to read this, just as I have finished Rob Roy where Presbyterian Dissenters are referenced].

Introduction to the Journal Plague Year: 1665
  • (Defoe would have been about 4 - 5 years old) 
  • (The “journal” was so good, I thought it was nonfiction! It was only later that I learned that it was fiction, but Defoe refused to write anything that was fiction. It had to be as near truth as possible.)
  • The Journal published 1722 (Robinson Crusoe had been published 3 years earlier -- 
  • Crusoe: origins of the modern novel. Great fire of London, 1666 -- destroyed 3/4 of housing in London!! 
  • The South Sea Bubble popped in 1721 --> economic ruin for many. 
The Journal: “really a novel, reveling in Defoe’s infallible ear for the cadences of real speech” (definition of novel includes characters speaking)

London at the time: recovering!

Continental war over -- restoration of Charles II, Cornwall dead.

Defoe: the plague was divine intervention -- but he can’t understand it: “the wealthy get what they deserve, but the poor die just as quickly”

He wrote the journal at age 62 -- he was known for his research -- but the emotional aspect must have been based on what he saw / remembered from age 5 or 6! I wonder what family members / what friends he lost to the plague?? He wrote this --as a journal -- of an adult male who had lived through it --so -- HISTORICAL (FICTION) NOVEL.

The plague -- like business cycles -- was cyclic.

Previously: 1656 Sept 1664: Londoners heard plague returned to Holland (Amsterdam / Rotterdam) 1663: Amsterdam / Rotterdam -- from Italy? from the Levant via their Turkey Fleet? from Candia (Crete)? from Cyprus?

(Drury Lane: way west of walled city of London) (St Giles) No newspapers (remember the oldest newspaper was in Scandinavia about this time) Word of mouth -- from letters/ memos; written by merchants 1st known deaths in London: -- two Frenchman, Nov / Dec 1664 -- Long Acre, upper end of Drury Lane Parish of St Giles in the Fields and Parish of St Andrew’s Holburn

See website:

“spotted fever” -- typhus or meningitis -- I would bet typhus

“Certificates of Health” -- p. 9 -- required to travel through towns and lodge at inns.

Location of H.F.’s house -- p. 9 His own plans -- p. 9 - p. 10

Divine cause -- why he felt he should not flee London -- p. 12

How Islamics fared -- p. 13 -- badly -- because they felt outcome was all predestined -- they took no precautions -- it was all in hands of God

Decides to stay in London, p. 15 Mid-July, 1665 Talks of the comet that appeared just before the plague, p. 20

Mentions Poor Robin's Almanack (Poor Richard’s?)

Merry-andrews: clowns

Pudding-jacks: jesters, p. 30

Quack: this word goes back at least to he 17th century! p. 31

 ...gardens, walls, pales (beyond the Pale) (pales - think “picket fence” -- what is the word for the pointed logs used in American forts? that’s what I envision “pales” are” ) [pales to poles? -- yes! from a website: Middle English, from Old English pal, from Latin plus, stake; see pag- in Indo-European roots. “beyond the pale” --- “off the reservation”

The notes at the end of the book are superb. Rats are mentioned only once. -- p. 116

The quarantine actually worked -- p. 37 -- had it really been enforced -- could more lives have been saved?

Why did plague end so abruptly? Plague reached its peak in September; great statistical analysis, p. 213

Not only were active cases decreasing but more people were surviving -- initially death -- 4/5; now it was 3/5 surviving. [4/5 die; now 2/5 die] Other cities after London: Norwich, Peterborough, etc.
 Quacks = Mountebanks

Monday, September 15, 2014

The God Particle

Two books that are fun to read together if interested in "pop" physics:
  • The Particle at the End of the Universe: How the Hunt for the Higgs Boson Leads Us to the Edget of a New World, Sean Carroll, c. 2012
  • Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World, Lisa Randall, c. 2011
If I had time to read only one, I think I would recommend Sean Carroll's. Lisa Randall's is just a bit too wordy. Sean has some nice glossy photos and a great graphic of the Standard Model.

There are four forces: electromagnetic, strong nuclear, weak nuclear, and gravity.

There is a fifth force field: the Higgs field.

Our universe would not need the Higgs field or Higgs boson to exist but it would be a very, very different world. The four "legacy" forces are the forces that mediate relationships among the particles of the universe.
  • the electromagnetic: charged particles
  • strong nuclear: hold hadrons together inside the nuclear; 100x stronger than the e-m force
  • weak nuclear: radioactivity; neutron decay
  • gravity: very, very, very weak; 
The Higgs field gives mass to all particles: without the Higgs boson, all particles would be massless. The Higgs field is also a force field -- just as the four "legacy" fields are force fields, but the Higgs field is much different. It is likely physicists and students will be referring to "four" forces of the universe for a long, long time, despite knowing there is a fifth force, the Higgs field.

As least that's how I understand it.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Discovery Of Middle Earth, Graham Robb

c. 2013

Every once in awhile one comes across a book that is simply the "cat's meow." For me, The Discovery of Middle Earth appears to be one such book.

I happened to see it in an obscure location on the very top shelf -- almost out of my reach -- in the corner of the museum bookstore at the Getty Museum, Santa Monica, California, yesterday. I was simply looking for a new book to read; there were several possibilities but then I saw this one, and that ended the search. I was only going to buy one book and this would be the book.

I am only a few pages into the book but I can already tell I am really, really, going to enjoy this book for so many reasons.

The premise is this: while planning a cross-European bicycle riding route, the author claims to have discovered the Via Heraklean to be the Celtic backbone of Europe. I do not know if this is an original thought with this author, but early on he met with his editor/publisher and swore them to secrecy, when asking their opinion whether it was worth pursuing as a publishable book.

If so, I put this book among the handful of books that opens up an entirely new world for me:
  • Mrs Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
  • The Truth Will Out: Unmasking the Real Shakespeare, Brenda James
  • Thh Discovery of Middle Earth, Graham Robb

I have only begun reading; I have only begun taking notes.

while writing the book, author living in Oxford, England
Matthew Arnold's Scholar Gypsy
a spindle tree; it is interesting -- the author happening to mention this tree (see link)
Iron Age
Uffington White Horse -- Iron Age hill figure
Bablock Hythe, a ferry crossing; would have been much like the one described in The Lord of The Rings, no doubt; described in Matthew Arnold's Scholar Gypsy

Cumnor Village
flood plain of the Thames at Farmoor
Via Heraklea -- fabled route of Hercules
"Sacred Promontory" to the Alps
Roman Via Domitia, modern A9 autoroute
Alpine pass of Montgenevre (Matrona, Celtic)
Matrona: spring of the mother goddesses

ancient cultures -- Celts, Etruscans, occasionally the Romans -- angled temples, tombs, streets -- NE -- rising sun solstice
21 June
21 December
several days the sun appears to stand still (solstice) -- rising, setting exactly same spot
ancient cultures afraid sun would disappear forever if not worshipped
author noted two coincidences, and, later a third:
1) the diagonal of Via Heraklea
2) orientation of Celtic, Etruscan, Roman structures (NE)
3) Mediolanum -- an enigmatic name; Celts called about 60 locations between Britain and Black Sea: Mediolanum

our sacred sites on Middle Earth correlate to places in the upper and lower worlds
Midgard: the word for Middle Earth /Mediolanum in Norse and Germanic mythology
1974: Yves Vade -- scholar who noted a Celtic network of these "middle places" -- Mediolanum -- each site equidistant from two other sites; on the Via Heraklea there are no less than 6 places found to named Mediolanum
author started to connect the dots; finds ancient birth of modern Europe
the geography of the western world had been organized into a grid of "solstice lines"
the network was based on the Via Heraklea
much of this was lost; Romans destroyed so much

 a solar-lunar calendar discovered near a lake in the Jura, the Coligny Calendar; 2 AD; considered the earliest map of the world; it is very, very possible, per this author, that the Via Heraklea is an even earlier map (it had its genesis around 700 - 600 BC) -- seven centuries before the Roman calendar/map of the world
author claims the Heraclean Way and all that follows from that is the earliest map of the world

Monday, July 28, 2014

Sorting Out Virginia Woolf's "The Waves"

Virginia Woolf remains my favorite author, or perhaps better said, the author that is most important for me.

I have transcribed -- completely, word for word -- two of her novels: Mrs Dalloway and The Waves. In transcribing Mrs Dalloway I discovered on my own that it was a "prose poem," something I did not know existed until then, and then discovered I had "re-invented the wheel," as they say. Having said that, it was one of the best "literature" things I have ever done, transcribing Mrs Dalloway in free verse.

I transcribed The Waves for a number of reasons. It is perhaps the most difficult to follow, and yet it is considered by many to be her best novel. In addition, closer to home, a close family friend, Ellen, considers it her favorite novel.

Mostly because I could not understand it, I transcribed The Waves.

Today I added the following to that transcription:

Perhaps somewhere else I tried to correlate the Greek party-goers and the characters in The Waves with Virginia Woolf’s circle, but if I did not, a couple of thoughts:
Jinny: serial lover of men, can only be Nessa, (Vanessa, Virginia’s sister; who had at least three lovers)
Percival: can only be Thoby; a he-man who died falling off a horse; Virginia worshipped her brother Thoby
Neville: homosexual; could only be Clive Bell, Nessa’s husband
Susan: possibly Virginia – Jinny’s life partner through extension of Greek counterparts
Socrates: could Virginia’s husband Leonard Woolf be Socrates?
Bernard is the storyteller in The Waves which is most likely Lytton Strachey. From wiki: he is best known for establishing a new form of biography in which psychological insight and sympathy are combined with irreverence and wit. His biography Queen Victoria (1921) was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He was perhaps best known for his Eminent Victorians.
Rhoda is the youngest; I can’t think of a third woman in Virginia Woolf's circle; it was just Virginia and Vanessa, and many men: Leslie, Thoby, Adrian, Clive, Duncan Grant, Lytton Strachey. Roger Fry was also one of Vanessa’s lovers – she had at least three lovers: Clive, whom she married; Duncan Grant, whom she probably loved most, if I remember correctly; and, Roger Fry. There were several women in the group, but less well-known: Dora Carrington, Angelica Garnett, Julia Strachey, Molly (Mary) MacCarthy, Lydia Lopokova. Based on the linked essay below, Mary MacCarthy.  MacCarthy would have been, by far, one of the youngest. Virginia was born in 1882 and MacCarthy was born in 1912.
A superb essay, by the way on The Waves and the Bloomsbury Group: Utopian Wholes: Virginia Woolf's The Waves and the Bloomsbury Group

Friday, June 27, 2014

The 40s: The New Yorker, The Editors, c. 2014

I think if I could bring only one “new” book to the beach this year, it would be: The 40s: The New Yorker.

Almost 700 pages of short essays writing by the best (or at least some of our most famous authors) about one of the most exciting decades of our parents and/or grandparents. Below is a sampling of the short essays or articles that were originally printed in The New Yorker. If it’s a best-seller, perhaps The New Yorker would consider duplicating the effort with one on the 60s, perhaps the most important decade of my generation.

So, here goes, a sampling of selections from The 40s: The New Yorker.

 “Survival,” John Hersey, June 17, 1944 (On Lieutenant John F. Kennedy). Worth the price of the book. The quintessential story of "PT-109." I think as a teen-ager I wanted to build a model of the boat.

 “The Great Foreigner,” Niccolo Tucci, November 23, 1947 (On Albert Einstein). The author takes his mother-in-law, who is visiting from Italy, to visit Albert Einstein in Princeton. It turns out that Einstein’s sister came later to join her brother and now lives with Einstein. Einstein’s sister had been the “surrogate mother” for the author’s own mother. Along with his mother, the author brought his 6-y/o daughter. Very, very enjoyable on so many levels.

 “Come In, Lassie,” Lillian Ross, Febraury 21, 1948, On the Red Scare in Hollywood. Besides being written by a writer I wanted to know more about, a great subject.

“D-Day, Iwo Jima,” John Lardner, March 17, 1945. What can one say, to read this in “real-time” by a great writer?

“The Birch Leaves Falling,” Rebecca West, October 26, 1946 (On the Nuremberg Trials) This helps one understand events following the US toppling of Saddam Hussein. From wiki: Time called her "indisputably the world's number one woman writer" in 1947.

 “Letter from London,” Mollie Panter-Downes, September 14, 1940 (On the Blitz). An excellent first-person account. Reminds me of the biography of Graham Greene when he was in London during the Blitz.

 “Cross-Channel Trip,” A. J. Liebling, July 8, 144 (On D-Day). Superb.

 “La France Et Le Vieux,” Janet Flanner, February 12, 1944 (On Marshall Petain). In addition everything else great about this article, it helps explain a bit of trivia in Casablanca, the greatest movie ever.

 “The Suspended Drawing Room,” S. N. Behrman, January 27, 1945 (On Post-Blitz London). Superb.

“Greek Diary: Communists, Socialists, and Royalists,” Edmund Wilson, October 20, 1945.

“The Beautiful Spoils: Monuments Men,” Janet Flanner, March 8, 1947 (On Nazi Art Theft). I might have skipped this article, saving it for later, had it not been for current interest in the subject and the movie on the subject.