Click to enlarge the following images:
To be continued….
“…the glory that was Greece, / And the grandeur that was Rome.” – The Classical World by Nigel Spivey
Freud had followed the excavations at Troy with passionate interest, and eventually came to liken his own methods of psychoanalysis to an archaeological process of ‘peeling away’ layers in quest of some residual ‘truth’ that had become ‘mythical’ over time….the significance of Freud’s reaction to the marble relics of classical Athens lies precisely in the sensation that caused pangs of filial piety. The Acropolis was symbolic not only of Athens at the height of her ancient glory in the mid-fifth century BC, but of civilized values generally. So for Freud, and for many others, it symbolizes a bourn, a destination, for the human spirit, amid the amber glow of columns standing on a rocky mass.**************************
The sources…tell us that Alexander, though well proportioned, was not a physically large man…Yet…by consensus, [he] possessed a commanding presence, radiating from his eyes. These generated much comment, regarding their size, colour and glistening quality, but above all their contribution to a ‘heavenwards gaze.’ Accordingly, many images of Alexander show him as if transfixed by some distant prospect. Admirers took this as a symptom of his ‘divine inspiration’ (enthousiasmos). He appeared superhuman.
The villa of Livia Drusilla, wife of Caesar Augustus
The paintings from this room, relatively well preserved, are among the loveliest pictures from antiquity — at least, in their cumulative effect; they create a vista that seems like an earthly paradise. Only when we peer closer do we notice a strange level of biodiversity here. Flowers that bloom in the spring, such as blue periwinkles, appear with fruit that mature in autumn, such as quince. Birds — quails, thrushes, nightingales — animate the foliage, regardless of their migratory habits. Such is the marvel of the Golden Age created by Augustus.
The commission to compose an epic about Rome’s arch-founder Aeneas was, we are told, reluctantly undertaken by Virgil. He worked upon it for a decade, licking its lines into shape (as he put it) as a mother bear would tend her cubs. He died, in 19 BC, without finishing it to his satisfaction, and asked his friends to burn the manuscript. Fortunately for us, those friends disobeyed the poet’s wishes.The Aeneid survives as proof not only that epic could be written, after Homer, but also that epic could grow, in moral scope, beyond Homer….With Virgil, the epic tradition resonates with concerns of justice and sympathy, earning him the critical accolade of writing ‘civilized poetry’. His capacity ‘to harmonize the sadness of the universe’ – the dictum approved by scholar-poet A.E. Housman as poetry’s purpose – has endeared Virgil to pessimists down the ages; in his time, however, Virgil articulated a vision of Roman identity that made the construction of empire a mission of laborious benevolence.
The Aeneid, Book VI, translated by Seamus Heaney
(excerpt published in the March 7 2016 issue of the New Yorker)
Fatherly and intent, was off in a deep green valley
Surveying and reviewing souls consigned there,
Those due to pass to the light of the upper world.
It so happened he was just then taking note
Of his whole posterity, the destinies and doings,
Traits and qualities of descendants dear to him,
But seeing Aeneas come wading through the grass
Towards him, he reached his two hands out
In eager joy, his eyes filled up with tears
And he gave a cry: “At last! Are you here at last?
I always trusted that your sense of right
Would prevail and keep you going to the end.And am I now allowed to see your face,
My son, and hear you talk, and talk to you myself?
This is what I imagined and looked forward to
As I counted the days; and my trust was not misplaced.
To think of the lands and the outlying seas
You have crossed, my son, to receive this welcome.
And after such dangers! I was afraid that Africa
Might be your undoing.” But Aeneas replied:
“Often and often, father, you would appear to me,
Your sad shade would appear, and that kept me going
To this end. My ships are anchored in the Tuscan sea.
Let me take your hand, my father, O let me, and do not
Hold back from my embrace.” And as he spoke he wept.
Three times he tried to reach arms round that neck.
Three times the form, reached for in vain, escaped
Like a breeze between his hands, a dream on wings.
Peter Robinson’s Children of the Revolution more than fulfilled my expectations. Intriguing story, wonderful team of investigators headed up as always by the ever-reliable though sometimes stubborn Alan Banks, nice North Yorkshire atmospherics, and the usual music references. How do I love the British police procedural? Let me count the ways…. (And that goes especially for this long running, very fine series.)
Leave it to me to start with Book Two, then wish I’d read the first one – well, first. I did it with Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful Corduroy Mansions; now I’ve done it again with Slough House, the highly original series penned by Mick Herron. Having read the second, Dead Lions (and inadvertently skipped the award-winning first, Slow Horses), I proceeded immediately to the third, Real Tigers.
Whoever heard of an espionage series in which the dramatis personae almost never get out of London? Usually we have to struggle to keep up with spies as they ricochet from one exotic locale to the next. Not here. The Slow Horses of Slough House are agents who have messed up big time. For reasons best known to their handlers, it would be imprudent to fire them outright. So they’re pensioned off and exiled to no man’s land, in the fervent hope that they’ll stay out of trouble. Fat chance! Jackson Lamb and his ill-sorted, gifted but wayward crew want only to prove themselves worthy of reinstatement in the intelligence pantheon. In pursuit of this elusive goal, they manage to stir up all sorts of fresh trouble.
In Literary Review, critic and novelist Jessica Mann – see my review of A Private Inquiry embedded in this post – had this to say about Real Tigers:
Although this is Mick Herron’s ninth book, and despite the fact that he has won the prestigious Gold Dagger award for his crime fiction, Real Tigers is the first of his books to come my way. What a find!…The story, though good, is not the main reason to read this book. Rather, it is its elegant style, original viewpoint, dry wit and spring-to-life characters, some recognisable.
Mick Herron writes great dialog and is a master storyteller with a sly sense of humor and an ironic world view. He might be the best thing that’s happened to spy fiction since the great LeCarre. Jessica Mann’s prediction: “I think Herron’s is the next big name in crime fiction.”
In the July issue of The Atlantic, Terence Rafferty proclaimed that “Women Are Writing the Best Crime Novels.” (His article also has the variant title, “‘Gone Girl’ and the Rise of Crime Novels by Women.”) Rafferty is alluding to a specific subgenre of crime fiction, what he calls “tortuous, doomy domestic thrillers.” Women writers, he asserts, are uniquely capable of delivering the goods where these kinds of narratives are concerned.
One of the titles Rafferty mentions is Megan Abbott’s You Will Know Me. I decided to read this book during the Summer Olympics primarily because it deals with young female gymnasts. It was also getting excellent reviews.
Normally, on the theory that life is too short, I avoid reading anything about sports, with the exception of “The Sport of Kings,” for which I have a lingering fondness from my childhood. But You Will Know Me seemed worth a shot, for the reasons enumerated above. And the fact is, it was good – very good. The crime forms an intriguing subplot, but the novel is really about these young gymnasts, their fierce dedication to the sport, and the cost of that dedication to their minds, bodies, and families. The writing is excellent.
The particular teenage gymnast – and potential Olympian – around whom this novel’s events center is called Devon; the story unfolds from the point of view of her mother Katie. Their relationship is close and intense, and prone to sudden bouts of disequilibrium:
It was remarkable, when Katie thought about it. How her daughter, so strong already, her body an air-to-air missile, had metamorphosed into this force. Shoulders now like a ship mast, rope-knot biceps, legs corded, arms sinewed, a straight, hard line from trunk to neck, her hipless torso resting on thighs like oak beams. Sometimes Katie couldn’t believe it was the same girl.
I recommend reading the Rafferty article referenced above. He makes some interesting points about the history of American crime fiction as well as its current state. As for the ascendant status of domestic suspense, he may be right, but it’s not my first choice in this genre and probably never will be. (I’m a dissenter from the ranks of Gone Girl enthusiasts; Gillian Flynn’s writing rubbed me the wrong way for some reason, and I found the “Amazing Amy” trope contrived and irritating.) Call me old fashioned and/or out of touch, but my favorite mystery subgenre remains the police procedural.
By the way, For my money, where You Will Know Me is concerned, I found Devon’s sweet younger brother Drew to be the unsung hero of the whole scenario. Read it and see if you don’t agree with me.
Maria Oakey Dewing and her husband Thomas Wilmer Dewing were both American Impressionist painters. Both are represented in The Artist’s Garden.
Certain of Thomas Wilmer Dewing’s paintings have a dreamy, otherworldly quality that I find quite intriguing. These particular works often feature lovely young women moving languorously through a pastoral landscape.
In an essay in The Artist’s Garden, James Glisson, makes the following observations about the work of William Merritt Chase and Charles Courtney Curran:
What sets Chase’s and Curran’s work apart from much of the work in this exhibition is not that they depict women being looked at…but that movement and, therefore, time has entered the garden. They do not picture sempiternal moments of perfect efflorescence, like Philip Leslie Hale’s The Crimson Rambler [pictured above on the book cover] or winter senescence, like John Henry Twachtman’s winter landscape Snowbound….
I especially like that part about time entering the garden, and I think it applies equally to the paintings of Thomas Wilmer Dewing.
(I think you’ll agree that this writer must have aced every vocabulary test he ever took!)
Here is a portrait by Thomas Wilmer Dewing of his wife, Maria Oakey Dewing.
Born in New York City in 1845, Maria Richards Oakey came from a cultured family. At first, she thought she would be a writer, but by the age of seventeen knew that her chief desire was to paint. Her specialty was the depiction of flowers.
In her day, Maria Oakey Dewing became quite well known and appreciated. But she had her struggles:
Despite the success, her career held disappointment. As the wife of one of the most prominent figure painters of the day, she felt unable to compete with her husband, substituting her flower painting for the figure compositions she had exhibited in her student days. At the end of her life, Dewing expressed doubt in her accomplishments and regret for what she had given up: “I have hardly touched any achievement,” she wrote in a letter the year she died. “I dreamed of groups and figures in big landscapes and I still see them.”
There’s an interesting piece on Dewing on an excellent art site which I only just discovered, called Art Inconnu (Unknown Art). In commenter Jane Librizzi’s view, “There is something unutterably sad about the career of Maria Oakey Dewing.” (To read the entire article and comments, click here.)
Maria Oakey Dewing’s essay “Flowers Painters and What the Flower Offers to Art” appeared in the journal Art and Progress in June of 1915.
Quite an opener, that. Right up there, I’d say, with Kafka’s metamorphosed insect.
And it strikes just the right note from the outset, since this testy speaker is in fact a late-term male fetus, impatient with his cramped and watery surroundings, more than ready to be born, to claim his right to a life. “I’m owed a handful of decades to try my luck on a freewheeling planet,” he proclaims.
We aren’t given a name for this rather unique narrator. But wait: his mother’s name is Trudy; her lover is called Claude. Together they are conspiring to cause the death of John, Trudy’s estranged husband and Claude’s brother. Oh – and the biological father of our pre-born raconteur. He is the silent witness to these machinations, helpless save for his ability to deliver, from time to time, a well placed kick.
This quotation appears in the book’s front matter:
“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” – Hamlet, II.ii
I’ve worked out what’s meant by most of the dialog in that play – but I’ve never understood this particular line. Ah well, no matter – McEwan has here put it to very cunning use.
In many ways, this is a strange and wondrous novel, a bravura performance. The fireworks and provocative observations that characteristically enliven McEwan’s prose are everywhere on display. These thoughts, for example, are entertained by the little mini-Hamlet (micro-Hamlet?) in response to a podcast filled with bleak thoughts and bleaker predictions. (Trudy had listened to it and he – inevitably – had overheard):
Pessimism is too easy, even delicious, the badge and plume of intellectuals everywhere. It absolves the thinking classes of solutions….Why trust this account when humanity has never been so rich, so healthy, so long-lived? When fewer die in wars and childbirth than ever before – and more knowledge, more truth by way of science, was never so available to us all? When tender sympathies – for children, animals, alien religions, unknown, distant foreigners- swell daily?…When smallpox, polio, cholera, measles, high infant mortality, illiteracy, public executions and routine state torture have been banished from so many countries? Not so long ago, all these curses were everywhere….what of the commonplace miracles that would make a manual labourer the envy of Caesar Augustus: pain-free dentistry [and this, from a little guy who doesn’t even have teeth yet!], electric light, instant contact with people we love, with the best music the world has known, with the cuisine if a dozen cultures?
He could go on – and believe me, he does – yet he ends on this plangent note:
We’ll always be troubled by how things are–that’s how it stands with the difficult gift of consciousness.
Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all….
The background presence of Shakespeare’s masterpiece is at times even more powerfully resonant. Here the fetus has retreated into a decidedly more melancholy disposition:
But lately, don’t ask why, I’ve no taste for comedy, no inclination to exercise, even if I had the space, no delight in fire on earth, in words that once revealed a golden world of majestical stars, the beauty of poetic apprehension, the infinite joy of reason. These admirable radio talks and bulletins, the excellent podcasts that moved me, seem at best hot air, at worst a vaporous stench.
And here is the Prince of Denmark’s famous “What a piece of work is man” soliloquy:
I have of late–but
wherefore I know not–lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.
(This passage contains what is, for me, the single most astonishing locution in all of English literature: ‘…a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” Amazing!)
I don’t want to give the impression that Nutshell is an exercise in dreary pessimism. Quite the opposite: It’s alive with sheer inventiveness. In the course of its short duration – just under two hundred pages – you rarely know what’s going to happen next, or if you do, you still don’t know how it’s going to happen. From time to time, the author’s mordant wit enlivens the proceedings. Even given its brevity, the novel is an exceptionally fast read – at least, it was for me.
I have to admit that when I first learned of the novel’s premise, I thought, well, this is rather bizarre! And more than one book-loving friend has admitted to finding it rather off putting. Having now read it, I have to say that I enjoyed it. It seems to have been undertaken in the spirit of, Can I pull this off? A literary sleight of hand, in other words. Very clever. But not especially deep.
When Ian McEwan told his editor his new novel would be told from the point of view of a foetus, fully inverted in his mother’s womb, “I got a rather glassy look. He [the editor] said ‘Oh, great’ in a rather flat tone; he was not sort of throwing his hat in the air,’’ McEwan recalls with a chuckle so dry and light, it barely registers down the phone line.
I would love to discuss this novel, but possibly with just one other person, and I’d be more comfortable if that person were a woman. You see – and I haven’t got around to mentioning this yet – Nutshell contains the most explicit sex scenes that I’ve encountered since On Chesil Beach.
I really love Ian McEwan’s work. I consider him brilliant. So, while this book was fun, I’m ready for a return to profundity. Ready, in other words, for another novel like The Children Act.
In honor of her approaching birthday, we present Etta, her parents, her brother, and any other interested parties, with The Book of Etta!
From an early age, Etta has loved to travel with the family. She enjoys their frequent visit to the beautiful mountains of Jackson, Wyoming. Here she is with her Dad. At an early age she became an avid beachcomber. Here she is, fashionably attired as always, enjoying the sun and sand. (Once again, Dad’s along for the ride!)
Etta takes just as much pleasure in local outings with family and friends. Here we all are last year at a picnic to celebrate the end of the school year. It was a typical Spring day in beautiful Chicago: mid fifties, spitting rain, high winds… But we had fun anyway! (The company was excellent.)
Etta’s always ready to cut a rug while playing at home. Little brother Welles – himself a recent birthday celebrant – often joins in the fun.
Etta likes a variety of sports. Here she instructs her Mom in the fine art of wielding a lacrosse stick while playing defense: Etta is bold in the pursuit of athletic achievement: And then, of course, there was the famous ski adventure. (She was only four years old!)
Whether it’s the first day of the new school year or on the trail in Jackson, Etta always has time for her little brother.
I could go on – what grandparent couldn’t – but I’m sure you get the idea. As you turn six, Dearest Etta, may you discover more and more people and things in the world to bring you joy!
The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
Robert Louis Stevenson
With love from Grandpa Ron and Grandma ‘Berta
The Wikipedia entry begins thus: “Fidelia Bridges…was one of the small number of successful female artists in the 19th and early 20th centuries.” Yes, there number was small, but their accomplishments were great. I’ve been reading about several of these women lately and gazing with wonder and admiration at their works. I shall be writing about them from time to time, in this space.
I’m starting with Fidelia Bridges, who was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1834. By the time she was fifteen, she had lost both her parents; she and her three siblings – two sisters and a brother – were left to shift for themselves. Fidelia became a live-in mother’s helper in the household of a prosperous merchant. The family moved to Brooklyn, and Fidelia moved with them. Her sister Eliza proceeded to open a school there.
As soon as she was able, Bridges struck out on her own, determined to achieve success as an artist. She felt she had a vocation, and she was right. Beginning with her studies at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia, she honed her technique to a fine point. She was able to study abroad for a year, returning to the U.S. in 1868.
Having begun by working in oils, she switched almost exclusively to water colors.In 1874, she became the sole female member of The American Society of Painters in Watercolors. (Originally founded in 1866, this organization is now known as The American Watercolor Society.) Her paintings were shown in a variety of venues; she had achieved considerable success.
In 1892, she moved to a cottage in Canaan, Connecticut. It was blessed with a beautiful garden, providing the subject for many of her paintings.
I like this depiction of Bridges’s life in Canaan:
She soon became a familiar village figure, tall, elegant, beautiful even in her sixties, her hair swept back, her attire always formal, even when sketching in the fields or rider her bicycle through town. Her life was quiet and un-ostentatious, her friends unmarried ladies of refinement and of literary and artistic task who she joined for woodland picnics and afternoon teas.
From Notable American Women, 1607-1950, by Edward T James and Janice Wilson James, quoted in the Wikipedia entry
Yet an article in the Salem Patch paints a decidedly more melancholy picture:
Throughout her life, Fidelia was a frequent letter writer, especially to her Salem friend, Rebecca Northey. Her letters provide insights into her life, and often spoke of her loneliness. This sadness at being alone without someone to share her experiences with was constant in her life.
Fidelia Bridges had never married. She died in Canaan in 1923, just shy of her 89th birthday. I like the biographical essay entitled “The Voice of Nature” on the Newington-Cropsey Cultural Studies Center site. Still, I would like to know more about this somewhat enigmatic figure.
Paintings by Fidelia Bridges:
In quick succession, we are introduced to three sets of people: Mass Malthe, whose grown son Eddie is dependent on her; Bonnie Hayden and Simon, her five-year-old son; and Inspector Konrad Sejer, his second-in-command Jakob Skarre, and Sejer’s dog Frank, a somewhat somnolent Shar-Pei. Frank is the sole source of comic relief in this relentlessly bleak saga. I wish we’d seen more of him.
Karin Fossum has chosen an unusual way to construct her story. From the outset, you know who the victims are – or were. Yet the reader spends a good part of the novel getting to know them while they are still vibrantly alive and utterly heedless of the future – or the lack of a future – that awaits them. The identity of the perpetrator is no great mystery, either. The puzzle concerns the why of it. (With its evocation of dread, and the reader’s desperate desire to somehow avert the looming catastrophe, this novel reminds me of Ruth Rendell’s chilling masterpiece, A Judgement in Stone, with its famous tell-all first sentence.)
Hell Fire is nominally a police procedural, and I would have welcomed more of a police presence in the novel. Instead, we get a great deal of detail concerning the lives of Malthe mother and son and Hayden mother and son. I’m not saying that this material is dull. Quite the opposite, in fact. This is especially true of Bonnie Hayden’s work as a cleaner and home health care aid for the elderly. Her experiences with these individuals are carefully and empathetically described.
I think Karin Fossum is a terrific writer. I consider myself an advocate and an admirer of her crime fiction oeuvre, of which I’ve read some nine or ten titles. But this was one tough read. Recommended, but consider yourself cautioned.
This week’s New Yorker Magazine arrived on Tuesday and was in its usual place on the kitchen table when I unwrapped the Washington Post yesterday morning. I was somewhat bemused by the juxtaposition of these two images:
Who are the American Impressionists? Depends on who you ask. Wikipedia has a rather exhaustive list; the Art Encyclopedia‘s is similarly comprehensive. The Metropolitan Museum has a more select list, possibly weighted toward those artists represented in its collection.
On a site called Emsworth: A Critical Eye for the Arts in Rochester, the blogger lists ten of his favorites, along with some captivating examples of their work, to wit:
There are several more, plus Emsworth appends some additional names at the end of the post. (These are beautiful; thank you, Emsworth!)
T.C. (Theodore Clement) Steele was a member of the Hoosier Group of Impressionist artists:
More of Steele’s art can be found at the Athenaeum.
Charles Ottis Adams was also a Hoosier artist:
I’ve just scratched the surface as far as these marvelous artists are concerned. More on this later.
I would like to dedicate this post to Eve, my friend and former colleague at the library. She appreciated beautiful things, and we appreciated her. Hail and farewell, Eve; we will miss you.