Monday, April 30, 2007


A Shropshire Lad includes many lyrical poems. Some, including the following, are appropriate to commemorate his death on this date in 1936:

White in the moon the long road lies,
The moon stands blank above;
White in the moon the long road lies
That leads me from my love.
Still hangs the hedge without a gust,

Still, still the shadows stay:
My feet upon the moonlit dust
Pursue the ceaseless way....

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Bleak House

Dickens concludes his novel, Bleak House, with a wonderful and exciting immersion into the world of Detective Bucket. Bucket brilliantly solves the murder of Mr. Tulkinghorn (with the assistance of his wife) and goes on an unfortunately unsuccessful search for Lady Dedlock. In the process of bringing together the main elements of the narrative Dickens manages to portray some of his best characters as Sir Leicester Dedlock and John Jarndyce demonstrate their benevolence and exceedingly good natures. Esther and Allen Woodcourt manage to surmount their communication difficulties with delightful result. The novel, in all it complications and seeming "modernity" closes as leaving the reader smiling.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens. Penguin Classics, New York. 1996 (1853)

Friday, April 27, 2007


The world described in The Trial by Franz Kafka is nightmarish and irrational. While superficially recognizable to most people (haven't we all experienced a bureaucratic snafu that seems inexplicable), upon analysis it becomes a world that is uniquely unanalyzable. That seems to be a contradiction, but I would argue that the contradiction is Kafka's and the attempted analysis is a futile pursuit. There are no answers for the whys that the events suggest for there is no causal connection in the world of Kafka. Things just happen in this book and one thing may happen rather than another for no reason whatsoever because reason does not apply in the world of Joseph K. (a particularly unlikeable character). There also seem to be symbolic references that should have meaning for the reader, but that is no more reasonable than the text itself. Joseph K. is well beyond the reality of this reader and there is no way to connect to his realm, thank goodness.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Bleak House

Masterpiece Theater began a reprise presentation of Bleak House yesterday evening. This is one of the best adaptations of a literary work that I have seen. On a level with Brideshead Revisited (also a Masterpiece Theater presentation) and John Huston's film of Joyce's The Dead, this co-production of the BBC conveys the essence of the Dickens novel from the first moment of the film.
The acting is uniformly excellent with standout performances from Gillian Anderson as Lady Dedlock and Anna Maxwell Martin as Esther Summerson. Charles Dance is sinister as the lawyer Tulkinghorn while Richard Griffiths shines in the small role of Mr. Badger. The dramatic suspense will continue for three more Sunday evening performances which I shall plan to view.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Reading in the novel

I am rereading Of Human Bondage by Somerset Maugham and I am immediately impressed by the importance of reading for the young Philip Carey. He turns to reading to escape the pain of losing his mother and father, of being different, of his inability to satisfy his uncle whose harshness rivals some of Dickens's famous hard-hearted characters. Philip seeks and finds solace in his reading and it is one of the characteristics that make him a sympathetic character for this reader. Just as David Copperfield and others before him have found reading a meaningful salve for the pains encountered in their lives - readers of this novel may find themselves.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Franz von Suppe

My first introduction to the music of Franz von Suppe was a youth orchestra performance of the Dichter und Bauer (Poet and Peasant) Overture in the 1960s. I found his music delightful and invigorating with its energy and lively melodies. I soon began to listen to his other overtures (this is about the only music of his that is commonly available today) and found even more appealing compositions among them. Today is the anniversary of his birth in 1819. Following his youth he was appointed to the post of third conductor at the Theater in der Josefstadt in 1840 at the age of 21. He would go on to create more than three hundred works for the stage and other compositions. Among them are my personal favorites, Ein Morgen, ein Mittag and ein Abend in Wien (Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna) and Die schone Galathee (The Beautiful Galatea). These overtures continue to be a delight for this listener.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Classical Austen

I am impressed with the clarity and classical balance of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. From the balanced structure with three sections of almost equal length to the deliberate, yet pleasing, way that the story advances the novel seems designed to display both an intimate and timeless story with a reasonableness that does not deny the underlying emotions on display. Mr. Bennet's apparent sedate approach to life provides counterpoint to the dizzying distress displayed by Mrs. Bennet. Life's little problems (yes they are little, in retrospect), while they seem large and insoluble at the time, will work themselves out, despite the immediate concerns over whether daughters will marry. Will the young Bennet women be able to demonstrate their marriageability, much less choose among the landowners, the clergyman, the overly-proud (?) and the gamester to find fitting matches? Interweaving the misunderstanding of misplaced perspective and the imprecision of unwarranted judgements Austen has created a classic comedy of manners and marriage with a sensible narrative. Within a limited time and space she illumines both the rational and irrational in the humanity on display in this seemingly sheltered world (the turmoil of the outside world is indirectly displayed in the presence of the militia). Austen would go on to more mature demonstrations in Emma and Persuasion, but this book continues to delight the discerning reader.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bleak House

As my reading of the novel continues, Dickens introduces character after character until the story absolutely teems with a multitude of humanity. In spite of this both plot lines and themes begin emerging from the mist of the fog that is introduced on the first page. The suspense builds for Esther as we wonder, perhaps more than she seems to, about her parentage. This plot line blends into a general theme of children and parents as it appears that in many cases (eg. Jellyby and Pardiddle) having parents is not the best thing for children, at least parents like these. The complexity of the story, told alternately by the third person narrator and Esther herself, is amazing considering it was originally published in monthly installments. It makes the achievement all the greater. This reader is grateful, not only for the achievement, but for his ability to read and enjoy it. Unlike poor Jo!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Evelyn Waugh

On this day in 1966 the English novelist Evelyn Waugh died at the age of sixty-three. Even those commentators who disagreed with Waugh's views and behavior thought him the best stylist of his day -- a writer, said Gore Vidal, of "prose so chaste that at times one longs for a violation of syntax to suggest that its creator is fallible, or at least part American." Many regard Waugh's earlier satires -- Decline and Fall, A Handful of Dust, Put Out More Flags -- as his greatest achievement; some prize the elegiac Brideshead Revisited; many prefer the less-filtered Waugh of the posthumously published letters and diaries. In different measure, all three categories combine the master stylist and the arch-conservative for our amusement and alarm: "Of children as of procreation -- the pleasure momentary, the posture ridiculous, the expense damnable" and "The only human relationships I abide are intimacy, formality and servility." Personally, Decline and Fall is still my favorite of all even though I admire tremendously the beauty and achievement of Brideshead Revisited. My disagreement with the philosophical point of view expressed in that book outweighs the stylistic achievement in my mind. I plan to read the Sword of Honour trilogy and look forward to more pleasure from the pen of this master.

Monday, April 09, 2007


On this day in 1553 the French monk, physician, humanist scholar and writer, Francois Rabelais died. His influential and much-imitated satiric masterpiece, Gargantua and Pantagruel (five books, 1532-52) is in the mock-quest tradition, with the emphasis decidedly on the 'mock.' The author's lampoon of religious orders, lawyers, Sorbonne pedants and just about every other power-group going brought condemnation and censorship in the author's lifetime; modern readers marvel more at the style, that exuberant combination of humor, sex and scatology now deemed "Rabelaisian." His irreverence in part stemmed from ignorance of the "rules" of the novel, which I believe this is an early example. So he made his own rules and the result is a delight for readers ever since. One modern example of the Rabelaisian that I enjoyed reading is Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer, a wild ride indeed.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Mahler's First

Last night I heard a wonderful, exciting and eccentric performance of Mahler's First Symphony by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by the young Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel. This morning the Los Angeles Times reported that Dudamel will be named Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, succeeding Essa Pekka Salonen, on Monday, April 9. He vivaciously led (and bounced some of the time) the orchestra to extremes of tempi, particularly in the first and final movements. Mahler's luscious melodies, including references to his Songs of a Wayfarer, were prominent. This followed a beautiful performance of Bruch's g minor concerto for Violin and Orchestra in the first half of the concert with Pinchas Zuckerman handling the soloist duties. The first piece on the concert was unfamiliar to me, and it was a premiere for the orchestra. Santa Cruz de Pacairigua (Holy Cross of Pacairigua), Suite Sinfonica by Evincia Castellanos (1915-1984) was a lively melange of folk tunes with dazzling rhythms reminiscent of a young Shostakovich with a Spanish accent. There was just enough dissonance to remind you this composition by the Venezuelan composer was from the twentieth century (1954) without dwelling too long in it before returning to a beautiful song-like melody or rapid rhythm. Overall a thoroughly enjoyable concert.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Colour of His Hair

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after, that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they’re taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.
'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.
Oh a deal of pains he's taken and a pretty price he's paid
To hide his poll or dye it of a mentionable shade;
But they've pulled the beggar's hat off for the world to see and stare,
And they’re taking him to justice for the colour of his hair.
Now 'tis oakum for his fingers and the treadmill for his feet,
And the quarry-gang on portland in the cold and in the heat,
And between his spells of labour in the time he has to spare
He can curse the god that made him for the colour of his hair.

-- A. E. Houseman

This day marks the anniversary of Oscar Wilde's arrest in 1895. Houseman's poem is a a moving tribute/portrait.

Thursday, April 05, 2007


Some poetic thoughts from Christina Rosetti's poem, Remember:

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Hound of the Baskervilles

I find this to be not only an enjoyable detective novel, one of the best in the series by Conan Doyle; but even more than that, a supreme example of the best of classic Victorian literature. It is well-constructed with examples of the techniques found in more typical "literary" novels. Arthur Conan Doyle demonstrates both superior narrative creation of a mood and elegant development of characters. His use of techniques such as advancing the plot through cleverly-placed letters (a technique use by Dickens, Dostoevsky and others) puts this novel in a class of fiction well beyond the genre to which it is often consigned. It is more than just a delightful read!
The Return of Ulysses

Yesterday afternoon I attended a performance of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640) by Claudio Monteverdi. This Chicago Opera Theater production was an excellent conclusion to their multi-year presentation of Monteverdi's three complete operas from the early seventeenth century. They had previously presented his Orfeo (1607) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1642). The current production of Ulysses benefited both from outstanding performances by a large singing ensemble and orchestra. The production set was efficient, yet elegant in an unobtrusive way. Overall this opera has survived the decades because it can still provide musical joy for opergoers like those of us who shared yesterday's beautiful performance.

"The change from storm and winter to serene and mild weather, from dark and sluggish hours to bright and elastic ones, is a memorable crisis which all things proclaim. It is seemingly instantaneous at last."

This brief excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau provides suggests the change of seasons is worth noting. I share his thought in the spirit of the season.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bleak House

Having just begun a rereading of Bleak House I find myself comparing it to David Copperfield, which I just finished reading. I note immediately the difference in narrative style as it opens with a third person narrator; however it soon, in the third chapter, introduces a first person narrator, Miss Esther Summerson, who is almost as charming as David himself. The opening sets the stage wonderfully with contrast of the London Fog and the Chancery of the first chapter with the world of Fashion in the second. Throughout the opening chapters Dickens continues to introduce new characters to populate this increasingly complex novel. With the discovery of a dead body (a law-writer) by Mr. Tulkinghorn we have a mystery to add to the growing suspense.