Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Notes to "It was only during the age of candlelight that the race of ghosts really flourished," or, Edmund Wilson as uncanny anthologist

* Which is worth reading in its entirety if only so that you can compare the incredible number and type of ads in that May 25th, 1944 issue of the New Yorker to what appears in today's New Yorker. In a review that stretched across ten pages, there were six full pages of ads, the majority of them advertising liquor: Philadelphia Blended Whiskey, Hennessy, G&D American Vermouth, Aqua Velva, Kentucky Tavern Whiskey, Harvey's Old World Wines, Ronrico ("the best rum bar none"), Abbot's Bitters, Fox Head "400" Beer and Ale, Carstairs White Seal Whiskey ("every drop is coming from our limited pre-war reserves"), Valliant burgundy ("Meet the challenge of rationing with this smooth full-bodied burgundy."). Throw in the Chris-Craft ad, which urges you to put a Chris-Craft at the top of your list for after Victory--and until then to buy war bonds with the money you might have spent--and you've got dual pictures of very different personal and corporate worlds than those suggested by the contemporary New Yorker, for all its undeniable virtues.

**Elsewhere in the interview, which is collected in The Paris Review Interviews II, King says that his sort of story,
should be a kind of personal assault. It ought to be somebody lunging right across the table and grabbing you and messing you up. It should get in your face. It should upset you, disturb you. And not just because you get grossed out. I mean, if I get a letter from somebody saying, I couldn't eat my dinner, my attitude is, Terrific!
And thus Wilson and King part ways . . .

*** Of whose The Turn of the Screw he writes, "It is probably that James, like Kipling, was unconscious of having raised something more frightening than the ghosts he contemplated."

**** In as stark a reminder of the distance between 1944 and now as I've come across in a long time (along with the aforementioned ads, that is), Wilson (and, one presumes, his editor) feels that he needs to explain that The Metamorphosis
deals with a young traveling salesman who suddenly wakes up one morning to find that he is an enormous cockroach, to the great horror of his parents, with whom he has been living and who have been counting on him to pay off their debts.
It's hard to even imagine a world in which this story isn't yet universally familiar to readers with any sort of claim to literary knowledge--to say nothing of the ensuing decades of parody, homage, and riffs on its central metaphor, all instantly familiar to the serious reading public.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Notes to "Tis like enough, that all Monasteries had Dungeons too; for they have the power of Life and Death within themselves," or, More John Aubrey

* And maybe also from another book that Britten mentions in his preface to the Aubrey, T. J. Pettigrew's "little volume," On the Superstitions connected with the History and Practice of Medicine and Surgery (London, 1844)--for someone as squeamish as I am about medical matters, what better book could there be?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

"The faintest restless rustling ran all through them," or, Frost hears a ghost story

* Actually, Powers misquotes the line slightly, having his character remember it as "The dead are holding something back." It's unclear whether the mistake is intentional, a reminder that this is the character is drawing from memory rather the author drawing from his bookshelves, but the resulting alteration definitely weakens the line.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Loving H. P. Lovecraft

* This post is bringing to mind a guy I knew casually more than a decade ago who, being fairly unpleasant, had nothing I can recall to recommend him except an appreciation of Lovecraft. Which makes me wonder: is a love of Lovecraft, in the absence of any other apparent good qualities, actually a bad quality? A red flag?

And if so, are there any other interesting authors of whom the same could be said? Vonnegut, maybe? Heinlein--to the extent that we might think he qualifies as good? Anyone else?

** Whose wonderful blog, Pinakothek, he writes--in seasonally appropriate fashion--"like a vampire, is not wholly dead, but neither is it entirely alive." May Pinakothek forever succeed in frustrating the knavish tricks of all modern-day Van Helsings.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Notes to An inner sanctum of sorts

* Though it was apparently successful enough in its day to have its title adopted as the name of a literary group in Chicago. The Wikipedia entry for early twentieth-century Chicago writer Bert Leston Taylor notes that he belonged to a literary circle called The Little Room, after the story:
The group mimicked the story in that it disappeared and reappeared on Friday afternoons at such places as Chicago’s Auditorium Hotel (now occupied by Roosevelt University) and Fine Arts Building. The group was comprised of an eclectic range of distingued members including reformer Jane Addams, sculptor Lorado Taft, architects Allen Bartlit Pond and Irving Kane Pond, dramatist Anna Morgan, painter Ralph Clarkson, and poet Harriet Monroe.

** I first encountered "The Hour after Westerly" in the anthology Timeless Stories for Today and Tomorrow, edited by Ray Bradbury, on the advice of James Hynes last fall. To my surprise, when I returned to that book tonight to check the story's date, I discovered that its first publication was in the New Yorker--a far cry from the bland realism that at is, for the most part accurately, thought of as the typical New Yorker story these days!

*** Is it not appropriate to pause and appreciate Google Book Search for a moment? The book's been out of print for more than a hundred years and is in the collection of a mere handful of libraries--yet I was able to print and read it within seconds of discovering its existence. And--if I understand the Espresso Book Machine correctly--in a few select bookstores I could, rather than reading a loose stack of printed pages, have ordered the book itself, and by the time I'd finished browsing have had a bound copy in hand. There are plenty of questions about where Google's going with their book scanning project, but oh, the benefits!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Notes to Man is wolf to man

* Another bit that I wanted to share but couldn't find a use for is this observation from Cromwell, the ever-watchful:
Possibly it's something women do: spend time imagining what it's like to be each other.

One can learn from that, he thinks.
Like all of Mantel's work, Wolf Hall pays particular attention to the difficulties faced by women in a world dominated by men. Her portrait of Anne Boleyn is stunning: she is as intelligent and perceptive as she is ruthless; at the conclusion of a hurried meeting of her family and supporters in the wake of a crisis, Cromwell--who fears her even as he supports her--notes,
They think they are fixing her tactics, but she is her own best tactician, and able to think back and judge what has gone wrong; he admires anyone who can learn from mistakes.
But Mantel's portrait of Anne's sister, Mary, is if anything more impressive: Mary suffers the king's attention but gains none of his favor, and her plight makes her as clear-eyed as anyone in the whole book outside of Cromwell, to whom early on she issues this chilling warning:
"One day," she says, "Anne will want to talk to you. She'll send for you and you'll be flattered. She'll have a little job for you, or she'll want some advice. So before that happens, you can have my advice. Turn around and walk the other way."