Thursday, December 31, 2015

Books and things read, 2015

Fyodor Dostoyevsky Krokodil
Angell & Marzluff In the Company of Crows and Ravens
Scieszka & Smith The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales
Marly Youmans Glimmerglass
Gene Wolfe The Shadow of the Torturer
Anton Chekhov Sakhalin Island
Anton Chekhov "The Seagull"
Anton Chekhov "The Cherry Orchard"
Lev Tolstoy Tolstoy on Shakespeare
Anton Chekhov "Three Sisters"
Anton Chekhov "Uncle Vanya"
Anton Chekhov The Notebook of Anton Chekhov
Gorky, Kuprin & Bunin Reminiscences of Anton Chekhov
Gene Wolfe The Claw of the Conciliator
Rosamund Bartlett Chekhov: Scenes From a Life
Anton Chekhov "Ivanov"
William Shakespeare "The Tempest"
Harvey Pitcher Chekhov's Leading Lady
Evelyn Waugh Brideshead Revisited
Edith Wharton Ethan Frome
Walter Scott Guy Mannering
Mikhail Bulgakov Heart of a Dog
Franz Kafka The Castle
Yukio Mishima Spring Snow
Anonymous The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier (Jeff Sypeck, trans)
Anton Chekhov The Steppe
Fr Alban Butler Lives of the Saints
T.S. Eliot The Waste Land and Other Poems
Julie De Sherbinin Chekhov and Russian Religious Culture: Poetics of the Marian Paradigm
Heiko Haumann A History of East European Jews
Ezra Pound ABC of Reading
Alberto Moravia Contempt
Geoffrey Chaucer The Canterbury Tales
Aeschylus The Oresteia (R. Lattimore, trans)
Sophocles, the Theban plays (var trans.)
Greek Tragedies, Vol. I, Richmond Lattimore, ed.
Greek Tragedies, Vol. III, Richmond Lattimore, ed.
Hesiod Theogeny
Tristan and Iseult as told by Joseph Bedier
Henry James New York Revisited
Aeschylus The Complete Plays
Sophocles The Complete Plays
Mikhail Bulgakov A Country Doctor's Notebook
Bertolt Brecht "Der Augsburger Kreidekreis"
Arthur Scott Bailey The Tale of Rusty Wren
Mikhail Bulgakov White Guard
Various Der Weg Zum Lesen
Thucydides The Peloponnesian War (Richard Crawley trans.)
Hesiod Works and Days
Äsop Fabeln
Nathaniel Hawthorne The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter, a Critical Case Study
Selected Essays of Samuel Johnson (W.J. Bate, editor)
W.B. Yeats "Cathleen ni Houlihan"
W.B. Yeats "On Baile's Strand"
W.B. Yeats "Deirdre"
W.B. Yeats "The Death of Cuchulain"
Selma Lagerlöf The Wonderful Adventures of Nils
Anton Chekhov In The Twilight
Lionel Terray Conquistadors of the Useless
D.H. Lawrence Lady Chatterley's Lover
Euripides The Complete Plays, Vol I
Edith Wharton The New York Stories
Gertrude Stein Three Lives
Gertrude Stein QED
Alexander Pushkin The Captain's Daughter
Isak Dinesen Out of Africa
Ernest Hemingway A Moveable Feast
Sandra E. Adickes To Be Young Was Very Heaven
Michael Smith Tom Crean
David Von Drehle Triangle
Virginia Woolf Selected Stories
Gunter Grass Katz und Maus
Angela Thirkell Wild Strawberries
E.R. Dodds The Ancient Concept of Progress and other essays
Marly Youmans Maze of Blood
Jennifer Niven The Ice Master

The surprise winner of all of the above books is Thucydides' The Peloponnesian War. What a great book that is. I'm usually not a fan of history, non-fiction in general not being all that well written, frankly, but this is a tremendous book. In 2016, hopefully, I'll read Herodotus and Xenophon, the bookends of Thucydides, so to speak.

I did not, I see, finish my Greek Tragedies Project, and have one fat volume of Euripides to go. Well, it'll be waiting for me in 2016, alongside the last of the Shakespeare and everything else I haven't read yet (an infinitude of literature, which is a good thing for me because one hates to run out of new things to read). I did manage to read more books in German this year than in years past, and that's likely a trend that will only increase, though I still read German fairly slowly, depending on the writer's vocabulary and use of figurative language. But I already have a stack of German novels waiting for my attention next year, another good thing.

I would like to take a moment to recommend Jeff Sypeck's The Tale of Charlemagne and Ralph the Collier, a translation of a long medieval poem that starts with a tradesman slapping a king and goes on to incorporate ideas of nobility and then swallows the Crusades whole. A ripping yarn in a strange poetic form that Sypeck makes sing in colloquial English. Buy a copy at his Quid Plura? blog.

Marly Youmans continues to put out superb novels. Early in 2015 I read her excellent Glimmerglass, a book about life and inspiration. Very late in 2015 I read her latest, Maze of Blood, which is naturally getting good reviews and you should buy two copies, give away one and read the other. I will hopefully be able to write something both worth reading and coherent about this excellent new novel. I've twice already written incoherently about it. Go read the book, is what I mean.

Because it's traditional for these obligatory "what I read this year" posts to also say something about what I wrote this year, I will tell you that I completed a first draft of a novel called Antosha!. It used to be called Antosha in Prague, but I have decided that an exclamation point is necessary for this one. It is some of my finest writing, some of my best thinking. Clearly unpublishable. I also have revised, for the nth time, a novel called Mona in the Desert. I am working on the pitch letter, so I can query the novel to literary agents in 2016. Mona is a nonlinear narrative about women and love, spanning 60-odd years, with large doses of literary theory and philosophy. Clearly unpublishable. Currently I am drafting a new novel, called Nowhere But North, a book about a fictional American expedition to Antarctica in 1914. It's about Emersonian ideals versus human decency, by which statement you can tell I think the two are opposed. The book is in three parts, which overlap and tell the story in sideways-reverse chronological order. Clearly unpublishable. I expect to finish the first draft come spring 2016, at which point I'll go back to Antosha! and revise that MS. I do not plan to write any more novels after I complete Nowhere But North. I do plan to buy more hats.

The German-language blogging seems to have been a mistake. I will do more English-language blogging. Possibly a foray into Esperanto at some point, too. Has anyone written a novel in Esperanto? Yes, I see that lots of people have.

What else, what else? In 2016, I plan to read more poetry, more Ruskin, the rest of Euripides, whatever Aristophanes I haven't read, more theology, more Melville, the final six (five?) books of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, more Virginia Woolf, more Shakespeare, more early 20th-century British women novelists, a lot of Chekhov, and I don't know what else. That Le Guin trilogy, certainly. Max Frisch's Homo Faber. The German-language edition of The Hobbit I picked up a few years ago. More Henry James. I might read Middlemarch and the epic of Gilgamesh and The Long Ships finally. I'll come up with plenty of things to read, I always do.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In Our Stars: notes on Marly Youmans' "Maze of Blood"

I realize that Marly Youmans' remarkable new novel Maze of Blood is based loosely on the biographical facts of Robert E. Howard, who shot himself in the head when it became apparent that his consumptive mother had fallen into a terminal coma. Conall Weaver, Youmans' fictional pulp fiction writer, lets "normal" life, "normal" love, and "normal" success pass him by as he remains in the family home, providing his mother the care and attention his mostly-absent physician father won't provide. Conall's friends have gone away, to college or other callings, as he stays behind in his small Texas town where he is an outcast, a freak who writes foolish stories nobody in his home town will read. That Conall makes more money than his neighbors is no mark of success to them. He is not one of them, and never will be. My argument is that, despite Conall Weaver's suicide at the age of 30-something, this is not a tragic story of lost opportunities.

Youmans has, in previous books (Thaliad and Glimmerglass especially), shown that the creation of art is itself an otherness, a thing not of "normal" life. To choose the way of art is turn from the "normal" path, at least in part, because the "normal" world is not generally friendly to a life of making art. Conall Weaver chooses the way of art. More importantly, he also chooses the way of compassion, staying with his mother, nursing her when she is too sick to care for herself, honoring a childhood promise many of us would forget as we grow into adulthood. Conall strains against both the way of art and the way of compassion, and it would be easy to see him as a defeated man, brought under by his obligation to his mother and his entrapment in a small Texas town. I do not think we are meant to see Conall Weaver this way, though. Youmans is a subtle writer, and I've been thinking about how little Maze of Blood feels like a story of defeat and desperation. It wasn't until I was leafing through Butler's Lives of the Saints last weekend that I began to think that Conall Weaver's story is possibly one of grace, like the grace achieved by Flannery O'Connor's characters. Conall Weaver, then, presented as a sort of anchorite, choosing to remain in that small town to look after his mother, because he knew it was wrong to go. (This is all a bit too reductive, I know, but I'm going to follow this angle anyway.)

I don't really know if that's Youmans' argument, that Conall Weaver stayed where he was because he knew it was wrong to go anywhere else. He chose to remain with his mother, possibly making a professional sacrifice but, you know, possibly not. It might simply be that Conall's place was with his mother, and he knew that. He and his mother formed a sort of small private world, and if you don't insist on a Freudian spin, maybe there was nothing wrong with that small private world. Maybe Maze of Blood isn't a story of repression and loss. Maybe it's a story of Conall Weaver making the most of what he was, of what he had. Maybe his mother and his small republic of letters was the biggest world he could have, and when his mother died, he recognized the impossibility of entering a new--another--world. Hence the borrowed pistol. Conall's dedication to his mother was the correct moral choice if you take selfishness off the table. The villain of the piece, if there is one, is Conall's father, a doctor who spends as much time away from home as he possibly can, proud of Conall's success as a writer but taking almost no responsibility for his wife's quality of life.

I don't think that Youmans intends us to look at Conall Weaver's story and think, "Oh, what a pity, what a pity." I don't think that we are to see Conall remaining at home as a great tragedy. I think a lot of reviewers recognize Youmans' high achievement in prose and storytelling, but somehow misunderstand the action of the tale, seeing a thwarted hero's journey. These readers miss the particular truth of Conall Weaver by looking for a happy generality they can apply to themselves, I think. Conall Weaver was victorious on the moral plain, the place where it counts. This is one of the great strengths of Youmans as a novelist: she defies the easy commonplaces of fiction, refusing to align her novels with the cliches of the day. She gives us beautiful and discomfiting works of art, and we should pay better attention.

(I thought I was going to quote from Maze of Blood, but apparently I'm not. Maybe in my next post, when I talk about the book instead of talking about myself.)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Happy Christmas

Best gifts received, 2015:
  • A small hexagonal box of which I unfortunately don't have a photo handy
  • Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy in the original covers (Earthsea was my teenage choice for high fantasy, much preferred to LOTR; I last read the books about a decade ago and they held up fine)
  • Drinking With the Saints by Michael Foley, a mixology guide that's a cross between Butler's Guide to the Saints, the Roman missal, and Paul Clarke's Cocktail Chronicles. I like that Foley takes the theology seriously, that faith isn't the butt of jokes.

Monday, December 21, 2015

no-limit Texas hold 'em

Yesterday I read the first half of Marly Youmans' latest novel Maze of Blood. There is a point, about a third into the book, where Youmans does an amazing and subtle thing: the protagonist Conall (a professional genre fiction writer) and his girl Maybelline (a schoolteacher with ambitions of being a writer) are having an argument about stories. Conall denies that the real-world events all around him are compelling stories; real life is dull and empty compared to the fantastic tales he writes. Maybelline denies that the fantastic tales Conall writes tell the truth about actual human life; they are false and ignore the intimate details of real lives. Both of these people, Youmans shows, are wrong; both "realism" and the fantastic have the power to tell truths, both large and small, about real life. Youmans brilliantly demonstrates this by having the lives of Conall and Maybelline exist simultaneously as prosaic narratives and as myth-sized wonder tales, the daily lives informing the mythic fictions, the mythic fictions transforming into the daily lives, the real-world scene in which Conall and Maybelline have their argument itself existing in both worlds, both the "real" and the fantastic, the whole narrative wobbling ironically around these people's denials. It's just wonderful stuff, high-degree-of-difficulty writing, and Youmans is wise enough that she doesn't point out what she's doing, she just does it and perceptive readers might ask themselves how their own lives are both prosaic narratives and mythic battles between primal forces. Great writing indeed.

The closest thing I can think of to what Youmans does here is the bit in Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight where, as the narrator V describes Sebastian's various novels, the narrative itself becomes those novels for a few pages. That was a cool trick, Vladimir. Youmans does something different, but it is also a cool trick. I could barely contain my excitement while reading that chapter. Yes, I thought. Yes, this is the stuff.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

"Three, Wise"

The first raised an astrolabe. There’s the Star, he said. We’re directly below it. Where are we?

Yehuda, the second answered. He was tired of carrying the chest of valuables. He'd thought they'd assign him the astrolabe.

Directly below is vague, don't you think, asked the third. You can't triangulate with one sighting. We should have maps, stand apart on the edges of the plateau. Can we identify one woman in these villages? What if she's in al-Quds?

Let's just walk, the first said. We're bright fellows.

Behind the three, the starlight fell upon the raised swords of Herod's soldiers.

This is my small contribution to Loren Eaton's annual Advent Ghosts shared storytelling event. Every year Loren invites a large and varied group of writers to come up with 100-word stories that might be creepy and might have the season as a theme. It's always a good time and I always dash off my story at the last minute. Thanks again, Loren!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

on transhumanism

The extraordinary claim that the technological enhancement of the human brain's neocortex will make us more "godlike" suffers from a mistaken comparison between God and human beings. God is not a super-creature among creatures. The characteristics traditionally predicated of God with respect to knowledge, power, and love, for example, are not possessed by God in a greater degree than they are possessed by human beings. When we use terms such as omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving when referring to God, we must remember that all such language about God is at best analogical and that, finally, God transcends all such categories. The temptation to be "like God" is an old one, and it always needs to be resisted, even in its modern technological guise.

Folks like Kurzweil strike me as having a thinly-veiled contempt for humanity, as if what we are is "merely" human, that humanity is and always will be inferior to machines, and that the creations of man (that is, machines) are in some way more virtuous than humanity itself, and so the worship of the machine is founded upon a form of self-loathing, Kurzweil despising himself for being an animal, an ape, a man. After Nimrod built his tower, when he climbed to the top he was astonished to find that he was no nearer to heaven, that the god of Abraham remained beyond his grasp forever.

Wait, wait: this isn't about reading or writing, is it? No, it's not directly, but I am planning a novel featuring a philosopher, so I will be thinking a lot about philosophy and the metaphysics of humanity for the next several years. Tomorrow, though, if I find time, I will post about Out of Africa.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Elizabeth Gaskell writes about Twitter

I am an old woman now, and things are very different to what they were in my youth. Then we, who travelled, travelled in coaches, carrying six inside, and making a two days' journey out of what people now go over in a couple of hours with a whizz and a flash, and a screaming whistle, enough to deafen one. Then letters came in but three times a week: indeed, in some places in Scotland where I have stayed when I was a girl, the post came in but once a month;--but letters were letters then; and we made great prizes of them, and read them and studied them like books. Now the post comes rattling in twice a day, bringing short jerky notes, some without beginning or end, but just a little sharp sentence, which well-bred folks would think too abrupt to be spoken. Well, well! they may all be improvements,--I dare say they are; but you will never meet with a Lady Ludlow in these days.
from My Lady Ludlow, 1858

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

There is nothing more dreary than old age in animals

Her old blind dog, Baby, was sick and like to die. Baby had been the first gift from her friend the widow, Mrs. Lehntman in the old days when Anna had been with Miss Mary Wadsmith, and when these two women had first come together.

Through all the years of change, Baby had stayed with the good Anna, growing old and fat and blind and lazy. Baby had been active and a ratter when she was young, but that was so long ago it was forgotten, and for many years now Baby had wanted only her warm basket and her dinner.

Anna in her active life found need of others, of Peter and the funny little Rags, but always Baby was the eldest and held her with the ties of old affection. Anna was harsh when the young ones tried to keep poor Baby out and use her basket. Baby had been blind now for some years as dogs get, when they are no longer active. She got weak and fat and breathless and she could not even stand long any more. Anna had always to see that she got her dinner and that the young active ones did not deprive her.

Baby did not die with a real sickness. She just got older and more blind and coughed and then more quiet, and then slowly one bright summer's day she died.

There is nothing more dreary than old age in animals. Somehow it is all wrong that they should have grey hair and withered skin, and blind old eyes, and decayed and useless teeth. An old man or an old woman almost always has some tie that seems to bind them to the younger, realer life. They have children or the remembrance of old duties, but a dog that's old and so cut off from all its world of struggle, is like a dreary, deathless Struldbrug, the dreary dragger on of death through life.
From "The Good Anna" section of Three Lives by Gertrude Stein. A struldbrug is a creature from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, a human who does not die, but does age, getting older and older and older and sticking around on the earth, ancient

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

an arduous and troubled life in Gertrude Stein's "Three Lives"

Anna led an arduous and troubled life.

Anna managed the whole little house for Miss Mathilda. [...] This one little house was always very full with Miss Mathilda, an under servant, stray dogs and cats and Anna's voice that scolded, managed, grumbled all day long.

"Sallie! can't I leave you alone a minute but you must run to the door to see the butcher boy come down the street and there is Miss Mathilda calling for her shoes. Can I do everything while you go around always thinking about nothing at all? If I ain't after you every minute you would be forgetting all the time, and I take all this pains, and when you come to me you was as ragged as a buzzard and as dirty as a dog. Go and find Miss Mathilda her shoes where you put them this morning."

"Peter!",--her voice rose higher,--"Peter!",--Peter was the youngest and the favorite dog,--"Peter, if you don't leave Baby alone,"--Baby was an old, blind terrier that Anna had loved for many years,--"Peter if you don't leave Baby alone, I take a rawhide to you, you bad dog."

The good Anna had high ideals for canine chastity and discipline. The three regular dogs [...] together with the [...] many stray ones that Anna always kept until she found them homes, were all under strict orders never to be bad one with the other.

A sad disgrace did once happen in the family. A little transient terrier for whom Anna had found a home suddenly produced a crop of pups. The new owners were certain that this Foxy had known no dog since she was in their care. The good Anna held to it stoutly that her Peter and her Rags were guiltless, and she made her statement with so much heat that Foxy's owners were at last convinced that these results were due to their neglect.

"You bad dog," Anna said to Peter that night, "you bad dog."

[...]Innocent blind old Baby was the only one who preserved the dignity becoming in a dog.

You see that Anna led an arduous and troubled life.
I'm reading Gertrude Stein's first novel, Three Lives, published in 1909 by a vanity press in America while Stein lived in Paris. The book's sideways Brothers Grimm sort of prose made the publisher think that English was not Stein's first language, and he vainly pressured her to have it professionally edited and rewritten into standard English prose. Stein's first publisher did not get what was going on, but he was a publisher of primarily books about genealogy and family histories, not a publisher of novels. All of the major publishing houses had passed on it and so Stein was forced to finance the book herself. She was lucky to have a large inheritance. It's amazing, really, that this book made it to market.

I'm not sure why it's taken me so long to get around to reading Stein. She's doing, in Three Lives anyway, the sort of thing I do in my own writing. There is no plot, no principle action of the story; the narrative is made up of events, surely, events that illustrate the psychology of the characters, and so things are constantly happening, but the only connectedness between those events are the characters. There's no real causation in the novel, no puzzle to solve, no goal to be reached. In other words, it's a lot like life. I'm really enjoying the book so far. Stein could clearly see the comedy of being human. Yes, yes, stereotypes of immigrants and minorities, and all of that. She had her prejudices and blind spots. But she could write, and she knew what she was about with her ideas of structure, of making everything in the narrative of equal importance, of writing about character rather than quest.

Before an unhappy romance drove her to flee to Paris, Stein was a medical student. I am constantly amazed at the link between physicians and novelists. Though perhaps there is a greater link between, say, taxi drivers or bricklayers and novelists. I have done no particular research into this.

I am reading the Penguin Classics edition of the book, which contains as back matter Stein's early unpublished attempt at a novel (QED). That's a nice touch, editors of Penguin Classics, but what the hell is going on with the layout of this book? The gutter is so tight that it is nearly impossible to read the text along the right-hand margin of the left-hand pages. I could become quite cross about this were I so inclined. Gertrude Stein gets none of the blame for this, I hasten to add.

Friday, October 2, 2015

"move out the old prejudices and make room for new ones" Edith Wharton in old New York

Her house, in a minor way, bore witness to the craving. One felt it to be the result of a series of eliminations: there was nothing fortuitous in its blending of line and color. The almost morbid finish of every material detail of her life suggested the possibility that a diversity of energies had, by some pressure of circumstance, been forced into the channel of a narrow dilettanteism. Mrs. Quentin's fastidiousness had, indeed, the flaw of being too one-sided. Her friends were not always worthy of the chairs they sat in, and she overlooked in her associates defects she would not have tolerated in her bric-a-brac. Her house was, in fact, never so distinguished as when it was empty; and it was at its best in the warm fire-lit silence that now received her.
Mrs Quentin is the protagonist of Edith Wharton's short story "The Quicksand." Mrs Quentin has returned home one evening to encounter her son, Alan, in a dark mood. Only moments after she has cast off her furs and begun laying out tea, Mrs Quentin is suffering "the mother's instinctive anger that the girl she has not wanted for her son should have dared to refuse him."
Aloud she murmured, "You must give her time."


"To move out the old prejudices and make room for new ones."

"My dear mother, those she has are brand-new; that's the trouble with them. She's tremendously up-to-date. She takes in all the moral fashion-papers, and wears the newest thing in ethics."

Her resentment lost its way in the intricacies of his metaphor. "Is she so very religious?"

"You dear archaic woman! She's hopelessly irreligious; that's the difficulty. You can make a religious woman believe almost anything: there's the habit of credulity to work on. But when a girl's faith in the Deluge has been shaken, it's very hard to inspire her with confidence. She makes you feel that, before believing in you, it's her duty as a conscientious agnostic to find out whether you're not obsolete, or whether the text isn't corrupt, or somebody hasn't proved conclusively that you never existed, anyhow."
Mrs Quentin and her Alan are shallow and wicked, contemptuous of the whole world and even--though they'd never admit it even to themselves--of each other. "Her friends were not always worthy of the chairs they sat in" is such a great line; I'm probably going to steal it and claim it as my own.

Wharton's stories are full of this sort of thing, of people blind to their own shortcomings, or mistaking their character flaws for virtue. I am reading the NYRB volume of The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. So far, they are all very much structurally of the Maupassant school of "naturalism," which means of course that they all have a quite unnatural plot twist at the end. The quality of having a moral lesson also gives Wharton's tales a sort of O. Henry feel to them. I try hard to overlook both this moral lesson and the plot twist, because otherwise they are fine stories, generally well-observed character studies with some beautiful descriptive passages. I am reading them as research, of course, of turn-of-the-century New York culture. When I'm done with the Wharton, I'll read NYRB's The New York Stories of Henry James, which contains much I've previously read but it will be good to have them all crammed together at me in one big chunk.

photo credit: Mighty Reader

Thursday, October 1, 2015

"if the men wore scarlet trousers" a last gasp from Lady Chatterley's Lover

Lady Chatterley's Lover is a wish-fulfillment novel, a social and sexual fantasy that attempts to put the world--damaged irreparably by the competing forces of capitalism and Marxism--back to rights. It is a failure, both as a social program and as a novel, but at least as a novel the book is a spectacular failure, a failure worth having been done. A good half of it is an artistic success, a wild and reckless thing shining with aesthetic joys and madness. Lawrence thought--as I believe he thought of all his novels--that he was making something important and useful and beautiful. Chatterley is nowhere as successful as Sons and Lovers or Women in Love, and I've found myself rather mocking the novel when I think I should be praising it.

Some of it, admittedly, is easy to mock. Lawrence's conviction that uninhibited sex between men and women (Lawrence dismisses gays and lesbians as less than genuine humans), combined with a return to a pre-industrial economy where luxury is eliminated and humans seek the simple animal pleasures of life, is naive and Lawrence's attempts at uninhibited writing about sex are very often as clumsy as his writing about neoprimitive society. I pause to admit that my own prudishness might be a force behind my giggles over these sex passages, but a lot of it's merely inelegant prose, unworthy of Lawrence. Some of it's pretty good, though. All of it, even when it fails, demonstrates that Lawrence was writing with furious courage and I admire that a great deal. He doesn't pause when saying things that might embarrass him or his reader; he just pushes on, his eyes aflame, a bit like William Blake's loonier moments.

Though perhaps I'm trying too hard: "Come, ladies and gents, join me in applauding the erotic dance of Lawrence's limping spawn!" Why am I so concerned about defending this malformed novel? I am of course less interested in the late David Lawrence's reception than I am about my own writing, yes? Am I so intent on holding up Lawrence's book--which was banned and never published in complete form until well after the author's death--because as a writer I sympathize with his difficulty in getting a very personal and wacky and weirdly moral(istic) book published? Yes, yes, I think that's so. Every critical stance is an implicit claim about reality, you know. So maybe I'm done with Lady Chatterley's Lover. I will leave you with a bit of the book's ending:
The pits are working badly; this is a colliery district like Tevershall, only prettier. I sometimes sit in the Wellington and talk to the men. They grumble a lot, but they're not going to alter anything. As everybody says, the Notts-Derby miners have got their hearts in the right place. But the rest of their anatomy must be in the wrong place, in a world that has no use for them. I like them, but they don't cheer me much: not enough of the old fighting-cock in them. They talk a lot about nationalization, nationalization of royalties, nationalization of the whole industry. But you can't nationalize coal and leave all the other industries as they are. They talk about putting coal to new uses, like Sir Clifford is trying to do. It may work here and there, but not as a general thing, I doubt. Whatever you make you've got to sell it. The men are very apathetic. They feel the whole damned thing is doomed, and I believe it is. And they are doomed along with it. Some of the young ones spout about a Soviet, but there's not much conviction in them. There's no sort of conviction about anything, except that it's all a muddle and a hole. Even under a Soviet you've still got to sell coal: and that's the difficulty.

We've got this great industrial population, and they've got to be fed, so the damn show has to be kept going somehow. The women talk a lot more than the men, nowadays, and they are a sight more cock-sure. The men are limp, they feel a doom somewhere, and they go about as if there was nothing to be done. Anyhow, nobody knows what should be done in spite of all the talk, the young ones get mad because they've no money to spend. Their whole life depends on spending money, and now they've got none to spend. That's our civilization and our education: bring up the masses to depend entirely on spending money, and then the money gives out. The pits are working two days, two and a half days a week, and there's no sign of betterment even for the winter. It means a man bringing up a family on twenty-five and thirty shillings. The women are the maddest of all. But then they're the maddest for spending, nowadays.

If you could only tell them that living and spending isn't the same thing! But it's no good. If only they were educated to LIVE instead of earn and spend, they could manage very happily on twenty-five shillings. If the men wore scarlet trousers as I said, they wouldn't think so much of money: if they could dance and hop and skip, and sing and swagger and be handsome, they could do with very little cash. And amuse the women themselves, and be amused by the women. They ought to learn to be naked and handsome, and to sing in a mass and dance the old group dances, and carve the stools they sit on, and embroider their own emblems. Then they wouldn't need money. And that's the only way to solve the industrial problem: train the people to be able to live and live in handsomeness, without needing to spend. But you can't do it. They're all one-track minds nowadays. Whereas the mass of people oughtn't even to try to think, because they can't. They should be alive and frisky, and acknowledge the great god Pan. He's the only god for the masses, forever. The few can go in for higher cults if they like. But let the mass be forever pagan.

But the colliers aren't pagan, far from it. They're a sad lot, a deadened lot of men: dead to their women, dead to life. The young ones scoot about on motor-bikes with girls, and jazz when they get a chance, But they're very dead. And it needs money. Money poisons you when you've got it, and starves you when you haven't.
These pages, the end of the final act, are the real Lady Chatterley's Lover, not the fucking and the flowers woven into pubic hair and the phallos. Lawrence wants an antidote for the poisons of the modern age. Lawrence was a romantic. I almost called this post What is to be Done?

photos: Mighty Reader

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

D.H. Lawrence looks for love in the broken world of Lady Chatterley's Lover

photo credit: Mighty Reader

What it's not is a book about sex, not really. There is sex, there is explicit writing about sex and sexual anatomy, but not a great deal of it because Lady Chatterley's Lover is not a book about sex; it's a book about people, a book about striving toward love and truth and beauty and meaning in a world that seems to contain none of those things, a world in which love and truth and beauty and meaning have been trampled into mud and had factories built over them. Lady Chatterley's Lover is a book that searches for life among the ruins of culture. Where it finds life is in a strange and idiosyncratic sensuality that Lawrence attempts to describe, which is where the sex comes into the novel. A strange and idiosyncratic sex.

A lot of the writing about sex is awkward, it's true. Lawrence had no model, and so he was making it up as he went along, writing explicitly and seriously about sex and genitalia and trying not to embarrass himself. Some of it is painful but much of it seems honest and compassionate, as Lawrence has great compassion for humanity even while he runs amok scourging humanity for it's vanity and selfishness. Lawrence writes about sex the same way he writes about motor cars, the same fascinated way he writes about flowers or the moon, taking it all earnestly and layering it with emotion. The second act, the long midsection of the novel that tells the story of Lady Chatterley's affair with her husband's gamekeeper Mellors, has an internal structure of increasingly intensified writing about sex (interpolated with a great deal of social commentary), of gradual coarsening of language, of Lawrence's battle to strip shame away from sex and sensuality. He's not successful in the battle, but he fights it bravely. For the characters, at least, the battle is won, and that's good enough. Idiosyncratic phallocentric sexuality carries the day and Connie--Lady Chatterley--is delivered into freedom. After that, the novel sort of unravels and becomes far less interesting.

The third act of the novel is, regrettably, pretty conventional stuff. It ties up plot threads and solves the logistical problems of the action and contains a good number of commonplace and talky scenes, sometimes swerving drunkenly into Jane Austen denouement territory. The groundskeeper, the man with whom Lady Chatterley has her affair, turns out to be less of an outsider than a misunderstood solid chap who is really a straight shooter with management potential. Even Lawrence could not bring his socialite heroine to lower herself to the level of the working class, a powerful irony the author was no doubt unaware of:
"...his name is Oliver Mellors."

"And how would you like to be Mrs Oliver Mellors, instead of Lady Chatterley?"

"I'd love it."

There was nothing to be done with Connie. And anyhow, if the man had been a lieutenant in the army in India for four or five years, he must be more or less presentable. Apparently he had character. Hilda began to relent a little.

"But you'll be through with him in awhile," she said, "and then you'll be ashamed of having been connected with him. One CAN'T mix up with the working people."

"But you are such a socialist! you're always on the side of the working classes."

"I may be on their side in a political crisis, but being on their side makes me know how impossible it is to mix one's life with theirs. Not out of snobbery, but just because the whole rhythm is different."

Hilda had lived among the real political intellectuals, so she was disastrously unanswerable.
Lawrence, too, is on their side in a political crisis, but he has no wish to be a collier like his father, or to accept that a collier has the same ultimate worth as an artist. That's an argument for another day, though. In Lady Chatterley, Lawrence is singing the praises of common humanity:
The nondescript evening in the hotel dragged out, and at last they had a nondescript dinner. Then Connie slipped a few things into a little silk bag, and combed her hair once more.

"After all, Hilda," she said, "love can be wonderful: when you feel you LIVE, and are in the very middle of creation." It was almost like bragging on her part.

"I suppose every mosquito feels the same," said Hilda.

"Do you think it does? How nice for it!"
In praise of mosquitoes, then. Maybe tomorrow I'll get around to talking about the mosquitoes, the machines, the mine-owning dukes and the bolshevists.

photo: Mighty Reader

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

"jigging English sisters" DH Lawrence in Paris with Lady Chatterley

In Paris at any rate she felt a bit of sensuality still. But what a weary, tired, worn-out sensuality. Worn-out for lack of tenderness. Oh! Paris was sad. One of the saddest towns: weary of its now-mechanical sensuality, weary of the tension of money, money, money, weary even of resentment and conceit, just weary to death, and still not sufficiently Americanized or Londonized to hide the weariness under a mechanical jig-jig-jig! Ah, these manly he-men, these FLANEURS, the oglers, these eaters of good dinners! How weary they were! weary, worn-out for lack of a little tenderness, given and taken. The efficient, sometimes charming women knew a thing or two about the sensual realities: they had that pull over their jigging English sisters. But they knew even less of tenderness. Dry, with the endless dry tension of will, they too were wearing out. The human world was just getting worn out. Perhaps it would turn fiercely destructive. A sort of anarchy! Clifford and his conservative anarchy! Perhaps it wouldn't be conservative much longer. Perhaps it would develop into a very radical anarchy.

Connie found herself shrinking and afraid of the world. Sometimes she was happy for a little while in the Boulevards or in the Bois or the Luxembourg Gardens. But already Paris was full of Americans and English, strange Americans in the oddest uniforms, and the usual dreary English that are so hopeless abroad.

She was glad to drive on.
I, on the other hand, was quite happy to find myself in Paris. But I'm not making the argument that Lawrence is making in Lady Chatterley's Lover, the argument based upon false nostalgia, that mankind should return to some primitive, pre-industrial state, that the straining after money has emasculated men which has in turn unsexed women and there is nothing left of real humanity except walking corpses modeled psychically upon machines, machines that have no purpose and will eventually--even hopefully (says one of Lawrence's characters in a nod to Nietzsche)--destroy themselves and leave nothing left except a space for the next species to come along and inhabit the earth as masters. Lady Chatterley's Lover is a political novel, a social novel, a big Dickensian argument against the status quo and the grinding down of the working classes. Dickens' solutions were always social, a diverting of money and an awareness of the dignity of the poor. Lawrence's solutions are quite different, and alien, and it might surprise Lawrence to see how they are also patronizing and don't actually solve the problems of real life. Yet he makes them, because he has conflated the economic problems of England with the psychological problem of true love. To solve the one, Lawrence argues, is to solve the other.

It also occurred to me on the walk from the bus to my front door this evening that Jonathan Franzen's Freedom is a weak version of Lady Chatterley's Lover, a version that takes the phallos (as DHL would say) seriously but has none of the bravery, humanity, or originality of Lawrence's narrative. Chatterley is a risky novel, in a number of ways.

photo credits: Mighty Reader

Monday, September 28, 2015

especially popular novels

Connie heard long conversations going on between the two. Or rather, it was mostly Mrs Bolton talking. She had unloosed to him the stream of gossip about Tevershall village. It was more than gossip. It was Mrs Gaskell and George Eliot and Miss Mitford all rolled in one, with a great deal more, that these women left out.' Once started, Mrs Bolton was better than any book, about the lives of the people. She knew them all so intimately, and had such a peculiar, flamey zest in all their affairs, it was wonderful, if just a trifle humiliating to listen to her. At first she had not ventured to 'talk Tevershall', as she called it, to Clifford. But once started, it went on. Clifford was listening for 'material', and he found it in plenty. Connie realized that his so-called genius was just this: a perspicuous talent for personal gossip, clever and apparently detached. Mrs Bolton, of course, was very warm when she 'talked Tevershall'. Carried away, in fact. And it was marvellous, the things that happened and that she knew about. She would have run to dozens of volumes.

Connie was fascinated, listening to her. But afterwards always a little ashamed. She ought not to listen with this queer rabid curiosity. After all, one may hear the most private affairs of other people, but only in a spirit of respect for the struggling, battered thing which any human soul is, and in a spirit of fine, discriminative sympathy. For even satire is a form of sympathy. It is the way our sympathy flows and recoils that really determines our lives. And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flow of our sympathetic consciousness, and it can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things gone dead. Therefore, the novel, properly handled, can reveal the most secret places of life: for it is in the passional secret places of life, above all, that the tide of sensitive awareness needs to ebb and flow, cleansing and freshening.

But the novel, like gossip, can also excite spurious sympathies and recoils, mechanical and deadening to the psyche. The novel can glorify the most corrupt feelings, so long as they are conventionally 'pure'. Then the novel, like gossip, becomes at last vicious, and, like gossip, all the more vicious because it is always ostensibly on the side of the angels. Mrs Bolton's gossip was always on the side of the angels. 'And he was such a bad fellow, and she was such a nice woman.' Whereas, as Connie could see even from Mrs Bolton's gossip, the woman had been merely a mealy-mouthed sort, and the man angrily honest. But angry honesty made a 'bad man' of him, and mealy-mouthedness made a 'nice woman' of her, in the vicious, conventional channelling of sympathy by Mrs Bolton.

For this reason, the gossip was humiliating. And for the same reason, most novels, especially popular ones, are humiliating too. The public responds now only to an appeal to its vices.
from Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence I will have stuff to say about this novel in the coming days, I think. Meanwhile, I remain jet lagged from our flight back from Paris.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

first world problems

I have not been here, as is clear to my hypothetical dedicated readers, nor have I been elsewhere on the interwebs. I've been hard at work in an office and in a house, preparing for a vacation. I will continue to not be here once the vacation actually begins, because I am leaving the interwebs behind. At odd moments I think about the stack of revisions to my novel Mona in the Desert that will be waiting for me at the close of our vacation; I feel a neutral sort of headache about all the work I'll need to do in the way of typing up changes, but at least all of the revisions are made to the MS and all the new material is written. I feel decidedly not neutral regarding all the work that will be waiting for me at the office, but that's the price we pay for taking time for ourselves, I suppose. "First world problems," as meine Frau would say.

I also, in odd corners of free time, torture myself with the question of what book I'll take on the plane. Possibly The New York Stories of Henry James. Possibly The New York Stories of Edith Wharton. Possibly a Chekhov collection, for comfort. I don't know. I will know when I pack the book.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

"Evil has changed sides; he who was erst a mighty king is now turning his life backward into the road to Hades." Euripides drives Heracles mad.

All hail the marriage! wherein two bridegrooms shared; the one, a mortal; the other, Zeus, who came to wed the maiden sprung from Perseus; for that marriage of thine, O Zeus, in days gone by has been proved to me a true story beyond all expectation; and time hath shown the lustre of Heracles' prowess, who emerged from caverns 'neath the earth after leaving Pluto's halls below. To me art thou a worthier lord than that base-born king, who now lets it be plainly seen in this struggle 'twixt armed warriors, whether justice still finds favour in heaven.

The spectres of MADNESS and IRIS appear from above. The CHORUS sees them.

Ha! see there, my old comrades! is the same wild panic fallen on us all; what phantom is this I see hovering o'er the house? Fly, fly, bestir thy tardy steps! begone! away! away! O saviour prince, avert calamity from me!
"Heracles" splits wide open in the middle of the play: the returned hero is driven mad by a goddess sent from Hera, right at the moment of Heracles' triumphant reunion with his family. A minute later, the bodies of the wife and sons whom Heracles has just saved from assassination are dragged onstage, the mad Heracles having killed them himself. Just like that, with a snap of Euripides' fingers, the hero's fortune is reversed. Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad, you know.

An interesting detail is that the goddess Madness acts under Hera's orders, but only grudgingly. Still, a craftsman takes pride in her work:
I call the sun-god to witness that herein I am acting against my will; but if indeed I must forthwith serve thee and Hera and follow you in full cry as hounds follow the huntsman, why go I will; nor shall ocean with its moaning waves, nor the earthquake, nor the thunderbolt with blast of agony be half so furious as the headlong rush I will make into the breast of Heracles; through his roof will I burst my way and swoop upon his house, after first slaying his children; nor shall their murderer know that he is killing his own-begotten babes, till he is released from my madness. Behold him! see how even now he is wildly tossing his head at the outset, and rolling his eyes fiercely from side to side without word; nor can he control his panting breath; but like a bull in act to charge, he bellows fearfully, calling on the goddesses of nether hell. Soon will I rouse thee to yet wilder dancing and sound a note of terror in thine ear.
Madness takes to the task once started; you see her getting carried along by her own enthusiasm. The first audience for this play had no idea what was coming. The appearance of Madness and Iris atop Heracles' palace the moment the chorus of old men is celebrating the hero's return must've been quite a jolt. I imagine it was something like the storm in "King Lear."
Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench'd our steeples, drown'd the cocks!
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Smite flat the thick rotundity o' the world!
Crack nature's moulds, an germens spill at once,
That make ingrateful man!
Heracles gets nothing so fine as that speech from Shakespeare's king. The best Euripides gives him comes when he awakens from his madness, to find himself lying bound, a captive:
Aha! my breath returns; I am alive; and my eyes see, opening on the sky and earth and yon sun's darting beam; but how my senses reel! in what strange turmoil am I plunged! my fevered breath in quick spasmodic gasps escapes my lungs. How now? why am I lying here, made fast with cables like a ship, my brawny chest and arms tied to a shattered piece of masonry, with corpses for my neighbours; while o'er the floor my bow and arrows are scattered, that erst like trusty squires to my arm both kept me safe and were kept safe of me?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Her headlong haste

Descriptive of the miseries of War; from a Poem called "The Emigrants," printed in 1793.

TO a wild mountain, whose bare summit hides
Its broken eminence in clouds; whose steeps
Are dark with woods: where the receding rocks
Are worn with torrents of dissolving snow;
A wretched woman, pale and breathless, flies,
And, gazing round her, listens to the sound
Of hostile footsteps:--No! they die away--
Nor noise remains, but of the cataract,
Or surly breeze of night, that mutters low
Among the thickets, where she trembling seeks
A temporary shelter--Clasping close
To her quick throbbing heart her sleeping child,
All she could rescue of the innocent group
That yesterday surrounded her--Escaped
Almost by miracle!--Fear, frantic Fear,
Wing'd her weak feet; yet, half repenting now
Her headlong haste, she wishes she had staid
To die with those affrighted Fancy paints
The lawless soldiers' victims--Hark! again
The driving tempest bears the cry of Death;
And with deep, sudden thunder, the dread sound
Of cannon vibrates on the tremulous earth;
While, bursting in the air, the murderous bomb
Glares o'er her mansion--Where the splinters fall
Like scatter'd comets, its destructive path
Is mark'd by wreaths of flame!--Then, overwhelm'd
Beneath accumulated horror, sinks
The desolate mourner!
The feudal chief, whose gothic battlements
Frown on the plain beneath, returning home
From distant lands, alone, and in disguise,
Gains at the fall of night his castle walls,
But, at the silent gate no porter sits
To wait his lord's admittance!--In the courts
All is drear stillness!--Guessing but too well
The fatal truth, he shudders as he goes
Through the mute hall; where, by the blunted light
That the dim moon through painted casement lends,
He sees that devastation has been there;
Then, while each hideous image to his mind
Rises terrific, o'er a bleeding corse
Stumbling he falls; another intercepts
His staggering feet--All, all who used to
With joy to meet him, all his family
Lie murder'd in his way!--And the day dawns
On a wild raving maniac, whom a fate
So sudden and calamitous has robb'd
Of reason; and who round his vacant walls
Screams unregarded, and reproaches Heaven!
"blunted light" is very good. This is from the collected works of Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806), courtesy of Umbagollah, to whom I say thanks. Great stuff from Smith, of whom I had never heard until this Wednesday. The prefaces Smith wrote to the various editions of her collected works are all worth reading, too.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The 82 best books

Everyone keeps posting these "best books" lists and I feel--and have felt for some time--awfully left out, not having a list of my own. So here is a list, cobbled together hastily this morning, of the 82 Best Books I Have Read In The Last Couple of Years. The arbitrariness and incompleteness and utter uselessness of this list appeal to me greatly. The list has been sorted, mostly, into alphabetical order by author's first name, because that seems as good as anything else.

1. Aeschylus, The Oresteia (R. Lattimore, trans)
2. Albert Camus, The Plague
3. Albert Camus, The Stranger
4. Alfred Jarry, The Ubu Plays
5. American Colonial Prose, Mary Ann Radzinowicz (ed.)
6. Andre Gide, The Counterfeiters
7. Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
8. Anton Chekhov, A Life In Letters
9. Anton Chekhov, The Seagull
10. Anton Chekhov, Tales of Chekhov, Volumes 1-13
11. Anton Chekhov, Three Sisters
12. Apuleius, The Golden Ass
13. Blaise Pascal, Pensées
14. Cesar Aira, Ghosts
15. Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
16. Charles Portis, True Grit
17. D.H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers
18. D.H. Lawrence, Women In Love
19. Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
20. Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading
21. Flannery O'Connor, The Violent Bear it Away
22. Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood
23. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
24. Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales
25. Hannah Pittard, The Fates Will Find Their Way
26. Henri Troyat, Daily Life in Russia Under the Last Tsar
27. Henrik Pontoppidan, Lucky Per
28. Henry James, The Ambassadors
29. Herman Melville, Moby Dick
30. Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea
31. Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons
32. Jaimy Gordon, Lord of Misrule
33. James Joyce, Dubliners
34. James Joyce, Finnegans Wake
35. John Cowper Powys, Weymouth Sands
36. John Milton, Paradise Lost
37. John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture
38. John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice (abr.)
39. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths
40. Jose Maria de Eca de Quieros, The Illustrious House of Ramires
41. Jose Saramago, Death With Interruptions
42. Kazuo Ishiguro, An Artist of the Floating World
43. Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim
44. Laurence Sterne, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
45. Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murad
46. Louis de Bernieres, Birds Without Wings
47. Marly Youmans, Thaliad
48. Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
49. Michel Houellebecq, Atomised
50. Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote
51. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
52. Mikhail Bulgakov, White Guard
53. Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
54. Nadine Gordimer, Get A Life
55. Nikolai Chernyshevsky, What is to be Done?
56. Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls
57. Peter Carey, Oscar and Lucinda
58. Rebecca West, The Return of the Soldier
59. Richard Rive (Ed.), Modern African Prose
60. Robert Browning, The Ring and the Book
61. Robert Browning, The Shorter Poems
62. Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book
63. Rudyard Kipling, The Man Who Would Be King
64. Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies
65. Samuel Beckett, Molloy
66. Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable
67. St Augustine of Hippo, Confessions
68. T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land and Other Poems
69. Thomas Mann, Death in Venice and Seven Other Stories
70. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War (Richard Crawley trans.)
71. Virgil, The Aeneid (Fitzgerald, trans.)
72. Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway
73. Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse
74. Vladimir Nabokov, Mary
75. Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire
76. Vladimir Nabokov, Pnin
77. Vladimir Nabokov, The Defense
78. Voltaire, Candide
79. Yasunari Kawabata, Snow Country
80. Yasunari Kawabata, The Sound of the Mountain
81. Yukio Mishima, Spring Snow
82. Yukio Mishima, The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea

Exactly half of these books first appeared in English. One of the items on this list made it in by mistake, but it's a good book so I'm leaving it. I somehow managed not to include the Norton Anthology of English Poetry or the collection of Yeats or A Practical Course in Wooden Boat and Ship Building by Richard Van Gaasbeek. Nor have I included any Shakespeare.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The gods know who began this tragedy: "The Medea" of Euripides

One of Euripides' great strengths as a playwright is his way of showing the normal humanness--the non-mythic proportions--of his mythological/historical subjects. Euripides brings the heroes down to earth and so Jason of golden fleece fame was just another self-serving schmuck, and no mistaking. Medea the sorceress, however much she loved Jason, was a scheming murderess with a temper and King Creon of Corinth was justifiably afraid of her; Medea had by now made it clear that she was not a woman to be trusted and so Creon banished her after convincing Jason to put her aside to marry Creon's daughter. Neither of those was exactly a safe move on Creon's part. Was he not familiar with the story of the Argo, Medea's magic potions, etc? Well, the Corinthians were not highly thought of by the Athenians in Euripides' audience. Maybe they could accept Creon as just another not-so-bright Corinthian. But I push too hard on the Creon subplot; Creon's mistakes in dealing with Medea are not the point of the play. Creon and his order of banishment are merely plot devices to force Medea into action. She suddenly remembers that she is a sorceress, and an angry one at that. All the magic she has used to benefit her husband will now be turned against him. Hell hath no fury, etc. Everybody step back, please.

"The Medea" also contains what may be the best stage direction in Greek theater: Medea appears above the palace in a chariot pulled by dragons, the corpses of her children in her arms.

Wait: Medea could summon a chariot pulled by dragons? This is all going to be ammunition for Aristophanes, Euripides. You have no one but yourself to blame. But "The Medea" showcases another one of Euripides' strong points, sharp and realistic dialogue:
You will suffer too and share in this tragedy.
You can be certain of that. But the pain is pleasure if you do not laugh.
Oh children, what a terrible mother you had.
Oh children, how you were destroyed by your father's disease.
My right hand did not strike them.
But your abuse and your new marriage.
You thought the marriage bed was worth your children's lives?
Do you think this a trivial wrong for a woman?
If she is a good woman. But to you nothing is good.
The children are dead. This will sting you.
They are a pollution to you.
The gods know who began this tragedy.
Then they know the vileness of your heart.
Hate me. I, too, hate your irritating voice.
And I yours. The separation is easy.
This is true-to-life breakup speech, parents arguing about whose fault the misery of their children is. One of Euripides' other strengths is to get your sympathy for characters you would not normally sympathize with. By the end of "The Medea," you feel for the title character despite her intention to murder an innocent young woman as well as the children Medea has borne Jason. The whole play is possibly a response to Pericles' public comments about the proper role of a woman in Athens, to be neither seen nor heard, to accept her fate and her man's rule, etc. "If she is a good woman," indeed. Euripides was the Kurt Vonnegut of ancient Athens, sort of.

Medea may have been mad (who am I kidding with that may have been?), but she did her best by Jason, who abandoned her when she was no longer young and convenient. Jason gets what's coming to him (and how many divorced parents have not used their children as a battlefield upon which to attack their ex-spouse?) though it will cause Medea to also suffer. Though she will not suffer as much as Creon, his daughter Glauce, or her own children. How much Jason actually suffers is hard to say; he does not strike one as the owner of much depth of feeling. The description of Glauce and Creon's death is especially vivid, by which I mean violent and gory.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

the Reverend Mr Arthur Bovary and Emma Dimmesdale

I cannot help thinking, while finishing up the novel, that The Scarlet Letter is a precursor to Madame Bovary, that Bovary is a version of Letter. Certainly Hawthorne's book was known in France before Flaubert wrote Bovary. Critic Émile Montégut had been writing about Emerson and Hawthorne since 1848, and I believe The Scarlet Letter was being read in France by 1852, when Montégut's essay about Hawthorne's novels was published. Flaubert is supposed to be more of a realist than Hawthorne, but who can deny the network of allegory and symbolism so tightly-woven throughout Bovary, making it almost as thickly unreal as The Scarlet Letter? Flaubert created a surface realism affixed to a metaphorical world; he did not actually create The Realist Novel. I digress, though.

There are differences between the books, of course, but they seem to me quite the same thing in many ways. Both are rather intimate tales of adultery and death by poisoning (real poison in one case, moral poisoning in the other) in somewhat repressive remote locations, with dreams of escape to freedom in the big city. In both novels, the physician husband is seen by the straying wife as the villain of the piece. The two wives are both deeply interested in clothing. The men with whom the wives commit adultery are symbols of a possible new and better life. Did Flaubert read Hawthorne?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

regime change, Athenian style

Pisander, in the midst of much opposition and abuse, came forward, and taking each of his opponents aside asked him the following question: In the face of the fact that the Peloponnesians had as many ships as their own confronting them at sea, more cities in alliance with them, and the King and Tissaphernes to supply them with money, of which the Athenians had none left, had he any hope of saving the state, unless someone could induce the King to come over to their side? Upon their replying that they had not, he then plainly said to them: “This we cannot have unless we have a more moderate form of government, and put the offices into fewer hands, and so gain the King’s confidence, and forthwith restore Alcibiades, who is the only man living that can bring this about. The safety of the state, not the form of its government, is for the moment the most pressing question, as we can always change afterwards whatever we do not like.”

The people were at first highly irritated at the mention of an oligarchy, but upon understanding clearly from Pisander that this was the only resource left, they took counsel of their fears, and promised themselves some day to change the government again, and gave way.

...the authors of the revolution were really to govern. However, the Assembly and the Council of the Bean still met notwithstanding, although they discussed nothing that was not approved of by the conspirators, who both supplied the speakers and reviewed in advance what they were to say. Fear, and the sight of the numbers of the conspirators, closed the mouths of the rest; or if any ventured to rise in opposition, he was presently put to death in some convenient way, and there was neither search for the murderers nor justice to be had against them if suspected; but the people remained motionless, being so thoroughly cowed that men thought themselves lucky to escape violence, even when they held their tongues. An exaggerated belief in the numbers of the conspirators also demoralized the people, rendered helpless by the magnitude of the city, and by their want of intelligence with each other, and being without means of finding out what those numbers really were. For the same reason it was impossible for any one to open his grief to a neighbour and to concert measures to defend himself, as he would have had to speak either to one whom he did not know, or whom he knew but did not trust. Indeed all the popular party approached each other with suspicion, each thinking his neighbour concerned in what was going on, the conspirators having in their ranks persons whom no one could ever have believed capable of joining an oligarchy; and these it was who made the many so suspicious, and so helped to procure impunity for the few, by confirming the commons in their mistrust of one another.
--Thucydides, Crawley translation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

sending the mercenaries home

...everything the city required had to be imported from abroad, and instead of a city it became a fortress. Summer and winter the Athenians were worn out by having to keep guard on the fortifications, during the day by turns, by night all together, the cavalry excepted, at the different military posts or upon the wall. But what most oppressed them was that they had two wars at once, and had thus reached a pitch of frenzy which no one would have believed possible if he had heard of it before it had come to pass. For could any one have imagined that even when besieged by the Peloponnesians entrenched in Attica, they would still, instead of withdrawing from Sicily, stay on there besieging in like manner Syracuse, a town (taken as a town) in no way inferior to Athens, or would so thoroughly upset the Hellenic estimate of their strength and audacity, as to give the spectacle of a people which, at the beginning of the war, some thought might hold out one year, some two, none more than three, if the Peloponnesians invaded their country, now seventeen years after the first invasion, after having already suffered from all the evils of war, going to Sicily and undertaking a new war nothing inferior to that which they already had with the Peloponnesians? These causes, the great losses from Decelea, and the other heavy charges that fell upon them, produced their financial embarrassment; and it was at this time that they imposed upon their subjects, instead of the tribute, the tax of a twentieth upon all imports and exports by sea, which they thought would bring them in more money; their expenditure being now not the same as at first, but having grown with the war while their revenues decayed.

Accordingly, not wishing to incur expense in their present want of money, they sent back at once the Thracians who came too late for Demosthenes, under the conduct of Diitrephes, who was instructed, as they were to pass through the Euripus, to make use of them if possible in the voyage alongshore to injure the enemy. Diitrephes first landed them at Tanagra and hastily snatched some booty; he then sailed across the Euripus in the evening from Chalcis in Euboea and disembarking in Boeotia led them against Mycalessus. The night he passed unobserved near the temple of Hermes, not quite two miles from Mycalessus, and at daybreak assaulted and took the town, which is not a large one; the inhabitants being off their guard and not expecting that any one would ever come up so far from the sea to molest them, the wall too being weak, and in some places having tumbled down, while in others it had not been built to any height, and the gates also being left open through their feeling of security. The Thracians bursting into Mycalessus sacked the houses and temples, and butchered the inhabitants, sparing neither youth nor age, but killing all they fell in with, one after the other, children and women, and even beasts of burden, and whatever other living creatures they saw; the Thracian race, like the bloodiest of the barbarians, being even more so when it has nothing to fear. Everywhere confusion reigned and death in all its shapes; and in particular they attacked a boys' school, the largest that there was in the place, into which the children had just gone, and massacred them all. In short, the disaster falling upon the whole town was unsurpassed in magnitude, and unapproached by any in suddenness and in horror.
--Thucydides, The History of the Peloppenesian War, translated by Richard Crawley. The war in Sicily against the Syracusans has been lost, the greatest military force in Athenian history (20,000+ men, 200+ ships) all dead, imprisoned or sold into slavery. Nicias and Demosthenes both murdered by the Syracusans after their surrender. Back in Hellas, the Spartans have built a fort 12 miles from Athens, visible to the Athenian citizens, from which they sally forth every day to ravage the Athenian countryside. Things are coming to an end. In a decade Sparta will overthrow Athens, by 404 BC no longer a democracy, no longer the Athens of Pericles.

This morning I add the following passages, where Thucydides describes the reaction of the Athenians to news of the loss of their military in Sicily:
When the news was brought to Athens, for a long while they disbelieved even the most respectable of the soldiers who had themselves escaped from the scene of action and clearly reported the matter, a destruction so complete not being thought credible. When the conviction was forced upon them, they were angry with the orators who had joined in promoting the expedition, just as if they had not themselves voted it, and were enraged also with the reciters of oracles and soothsayers, and all other omen-mongers of the time who had encouraged them to hope that they should conquer Sicily. Already distressed at all points and in all quarters, after what had now happened, they were seized by a fear and consternation quite without example. It was grievous enough for the state and for every man in his proper person to lose so many heavy infantry, cavalry, and able-bodied troops, and to see none left to replace them; but when they saw, also, that they had not sufficient ships in their docks, or money in the treasury, or crews for the ships, they began to despair of salvation. They thought that their enemies in Sicily would immediately sail with their fleet against Piraeus, inflamed by so signal a victory; while their adversaries at home, redoubling all their preparations, would vigorously attack them by sea and land at once, aided by their own revolted confederates. Nevertheless, with such means as they had, it was determined to resist to the last, and to provide timber and money, and to equip a fleet as they best could, to take steps to secure their confederates and above all Euboea, to reform things in the city upon a more economical footing, and to elect a board of elders to advise upon the state of affairs as occasion should arise. In short, as is the way of a democracy, in the panic of the moment they were ready to be as prudent as possible.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Let's have a war: hawks and doves in ancient Athens

“Indeed, even if we leave Athens with a force not only equal to that of the enemy except in the number of heavy infantry in the field, but even at all points superior to him, we shall still find it difficult to conquer Sicily or save ourselves. We must not disguise from ourselves that we go to found a city among strangers and enemies, and that he who undertakes such an enterprise should be prepared to become master of the country the first day he lands, or failing in this to find everything hostile to him. Fearing this, and knowing that we shall have need of much good counsel and more good fortune — a hard matter for mortal man to aspire to — I wish as far as may be to make myself independent of fortune before sailing, and when I do sail, to be as safe as a strong force can make me. This I believe to be surest for the country at large, and safest for us who are to go on the expedition. If any one thinks differently I resign to him my command.”

With this Nicias concluded, thinking that he should either disgust the Athenians by the magnitude of the undertaking, or, if obliged to sail on the expedition, would thus do so in the safest way possible. The Athenians, however, far from having their taste for the voyage taken away by the burdensomeness of the preparations, became more eager for it than ever; and just the contrary took place of what Nicias had thought, as it was held that he had given good advice, and that the expedition would be the safest in the world. All alike fell in love with the enterprise. The older men thought that they would either subdue the places against which they were to sail, or at all events, with so large a force, meet with no disaster; those in the prime of life felt a longing for foreign sights and spectacles, and had no doubt that they should come safe home again; while the idea of the common people and the soldiery was to earn wages at the moment, and make conquests that would supply a never-ending fund of pay for the future. With this enthusiasm of the majority, the few that liked it not, feared to appear unpatriotic by holding up their hands against it, and so kept quiet.
From Book Six, Chapter XVIII of The History of the Peloponnesian War, by Thucydides, translated by Richard Crawley. Alcibiades is exhorting Athens to mount a campaign to subdue the island of Sicily and so extend Athens' (and his) political power and increase Athens' (and his) wealth. Nicias, the other general of Athenian forces, vainly urges caution and is ignored when he points out that the island of Sicily is as big as the Peloponnesian peninsula and as heavily populated and hey, remember how we failed to subdue the Peloponnese? Alcibiades successfully appeals to Athenian pride and greed. This Sicilian campaign is the very thing that raises up stodgy old Sparta and her allies once again against Athens and leads, finally, to the complete and final defeat of Athens, the destruction of the defensive walls the Athenians have taken shelter behind for decades, the end of the Athenian "Golden Age."

Thursday, July 16, 2015

"after which he immediately led off the army without giving any explanation" Sparta versus Argos

In the middle of the next summer the Lacedaemonians, seeing the Epidaurians, their allies, in distress, and the rest of Peloponnese either in revolt or disaffected, concluded that it was high time for them to interfere if they wished to stop the progress of the evil, and accordingly with their full force, the Helots included, took the field against Argos, under the command of Agis, son of Archidamus, king of the Lacedaemonians. The Tegeans and the other Arcadian allies of Lacedaemon joined in the expedition. The allies from the rest of Peloponnese and from outside mustered at Phlius; the Boeotians with five thousand heavy infantry and as many light troops, and five hundred horse and the same number of dismounted troopers; the Corinthians with two thousand heavy infantry; the rest more or less as might happen; and the Phliasians with all their forces, the army being in their country.

The preparations of the Lacedaemonians from the first had been known to the Argives, who did not, however, take the field until the enemy was on his road to join the rest at Phlius. Reinforced by the Mantineans with their allies, and by three thousand Elean heavy infantry, they advanced and fell in with the Lacedaemonians at Methydrium in Arcadia. Each party took up its position upon a hill, and the Argives prepared to engage the Lacedaemonians while they were alone; but Agis eluded them by breaking up his camp in the night, and proceeded to join the rest of the allies at Phlius. The Argives discovering this at daybreak, marched first to Argos and then to the Nemean road, by which they expected the Lacedaemonians and their allies would come down. However, Agis, instead of taking this road as they expected, gave the Lacedaemonians, Arcadians, and Epidaurians their orders, and went along another difficult road, and descended into the plain of Argos. The Corinthians, Pellenians, and Phliasians marched by another steep road; while the Boeotians, Megarians, and Sicyonians had instructions to come down by the Nemean road where the Argives were posted, in order that, if the enemy advanced into the plain against the troops of Agis, they might fall upon his rear with their cavalry. These dispositions concluded, Agis invaded the plain and began to ravage Saminthus and other places.

Discovering this, the Argives came up from Nemea, day having now dawned. On their way they fell in with the troops of the Phliasians and Corinthians, and killed a few of the Phliasians and had perhaps a few more of their own men killed by the Corinthians. Meanwhile the Boeotians, Megarians, and Sicyonians, advancing upon Nemea according to their instructions, found the Argives no longer there, as they had gone down on seeing their property ravaged, and were now forming for battle, the Lacedaemonians imitating their example. The Argives were now completely surrounded; from the plain the Lacedaemonians and their allies shut them off from their city; above them were the Corinthians, Phliasians, and Pellenians; and on the side of Nemea the Boeotians, Sicyonians, and Megarians. Meanwhile their army was without cavalry, the Athenians alone among the allies not having yet arrived. Now the bulk of the Argives and their allies did not see the danger of their position, but thought that they could not have a fairer field, having intercepted the Lacedaemonians in their own country and close to the city.
The Spartans, at long last, have the Argives right where they want them: surrounded, outnumbered, and clueless. Naturally, the Spartans walk away from this battle. The Spartans were not what you might call a decisive people. Their innate cautiousness could easily be mistaken for inactivity. Or a coma.

The war has been going on for sixteen or seventeen years at this point. You can feel Thucydides' growing exhaustion and cynicism. He served as an Athenian general at Amphipolis and his poor performance there has earned our historian an exile from Athens. He spends this time wandering around the Greek territories, researching his history, getting the perspectives of the opponents of Athens. By now Athens is no longer the heroic democracy coming to aid free cities against the repression of places like Corinth. Athens is an imperialist power looking to expand and conquer. When the Athenian forces land at Melos, offering to destroy the Melians if they don't submit to Athenian rule, they excuse their aggression thusly:
They [the other free cities] think...that if any maintain their independence it is because they are strong, and that if we do not molest them it is because we are afraid; so that besides extending our empire we should gain in security by your subjection; the fact that you are islanders and weaker than others rendering it all the more important that you should not succeed in baffling the masters of the sea.
In other words, Athens must act like a superpower in order to remain a superpower; being a superpower is of course its own reward. It's amusing (and tiresome) that the Athenian delegation once again trots out the hoary old claim that they have a right to rule all of Greece because they did, after all, defeat Xerxes once upon a time. They freed Greece from the Persians in order to rule it in the name of democracy. The Spartans, a non-democratic kingdom, are ironically cast in the role of liberators. This is all fascinating and unsettling.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The wrath of Bulgakov: running through the night with the White Guard

I seem to be reading a lot of war literature just now; I'm not sure how that happened. I am however happy with my reading choices: Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and Bulgakov's first novel White Guard are absolutely fantastic. I was going to write a post that compared the two books, claiming that the use of the military in pressing political agendas has not changed in 2500 years (I was also going to point out the parallels between the way military alliances shifted during the ancient Greek war and the way the Ukrainians allied themselves out of political expediency with the Germans--or perhaps I should say the way the Germans allied themselves with the Ukrainians in order to place a large number of troops in Kiev during 1918, until the Germans abandoned Kiev after the fall of the Kaiser back in Berlin), but I have decided that is all less interesting than the observation that Bulgakov's White Guard is a parody of Tolstoy's War and Peace, as well as a version of Dostoyevsky's Devils. The most important thing to keep in mind when reading Bulgakov's novel, I think, is that the author was angry. Very, very angry.

White Guard is set in December 1918. Tsarist Russia has been overthrown in the October Revolution, the Russian army has withdrawn from World War I, and Russia is being torn apart by a civil war. Ukraine, now an independent state, is a battleground as four armies (the Imperial German army, the Whites (monarchists), the Reds (Bolsheviks), and the Ukrainian Nationalists (led by a warlord named Petlyura)) fight for control. Bulgakov's novel dramatizes the fall of Kiev--capitol city of Ukraine--as the Germans withdraw, the White army collapses and the Ukrainian Nationalists sweep into Kiev while the Red army marches south from Moscow. Bulgakov lived through the events of White Guard and gives a detailed and scathing account of both the high-level political maneuvering and the intimate lives of the citizens caught up in the fall of Kiev. In this way the novel is modeled on War and Peace, as the action shifts between troop movements on the battlefield and terrified lovers hiding in darkened houses as gunfire rattles on the other side of the wall.

I seem to be losing my topic as I write, there being so many things in this novel to distract the essyist, so I will just throw out these other signs that Bulgakov is alluding to War and Peace: the central action of Tolstoy's novel is the Battle of Borodino, a huge conflict between the Russian army and the army of Napoleon, a struggle to stop Napoleon's advance on Moscow. The Russians lost the battle but declared it a victory so as not to demoralize the army. Soon after Borodino, Napoleon's troops walked the streets of Moscow. Bulgakov mentions Borodino a dozen times and the White army commanders who hope to defend Kiev invoke the "victory" at Borodino to rally the troops. The irony is, of course, that Borodino was a defeat for the Russians, and just as Moscow fell, so will Kiev. In White Guard, Bulgakov focuses his attention on a Kiev artillery division that is formed from cadets and civilians, is given uniforms, weapons and a day's training, and is then disbanded the following day without having seen combat when the unit's commander learns that Kiev's government has abandoned the city. Tolstoy, of course, served in the Imperial Russian artillery, and cannons (and cannonballs) play a tremendous role in Tolstoy's telling of the Borodino fight. In Bulgakov's novel, the Kiev artillery is impotent, unused or futile. One of Bulgakov's artillery officers has read only one novel: War and Peace. So we are meant, I believe, not only to see that the battle to save Kiev for the Whites was doomed from the start and the political leaders of Kiev's resistance were self-serving cowards, but also to consider that tales of patriotic heroism and grand struggles to save empires are just grand historical lies.

When a novelist mentions books in a work of fiction, I always suspect that I am being given a hint. Bulgakov mentions three works of literature in White Guard: Tolstoy's War and Peace, Dostoyevsky's Devils (a pointer to the madness which descends upon Kiev, the evil chaos personified by the followers of Petlyura's Ukranian Nationalists), and unnamed "literary journals from the 1860s" which are used as tinder by the artillery division to light their heating stoves. I am not quite sure what Bulgakov is saying with that last bit, ha ha.

Whatever, man. This whole post is just an excuse to quote two of my favorite passages from the novel:
Deep in the snow, some five miles beyond the outskirts of the City to the north, in an abandoned watchman's hut completely buried in white snow sat a staff captain. On the little table was a crust of bread, the case of a portable field telephone and a small hurricane lamp with a bulbous, sooty glass. The last embers were fading in the stove. The captain was a short man with a long sharp nose, and wearing a greatcoat with a large collar. With his left hand he squeezed and crumbled the crust of bread, whilst pressing the knob of the telephone with his right. But the telephone seemed to have died and gave no response.

For three miles around the captain there was nothing but darkness, blizzard and snowdrift. [...]the telephone rang.

"Is that Number 6 Battery?" asked a distant voice.

"Yes, yes," the captain replied, wild with excitement.

"Open fire at once on the target area..." quacked the blurred voice down the line, "...with maximum fire power..." the voice broke off. "...I have the impression..." At this the voice was again cut off.

"Yes, I'm listening," the captain screamed into the receiver, grinding his teeth in despair. There was a long pause. "I can't open fire," the captain said into the mouthpiece, compelled to speak although well aware that he was talking into nothingness. "All the gun crews and my three lieutenants have deserted. I'm the only man left in the battery. Pass the message on to Post-Volynsk."

The captain sat for another hour, then went out. The snowstorm was blowing with great violence. The four grim, terrible, field guns were already half buried in snow and icicles had already begun to festoon their muzzles and breech mechanisms. In the cold of the screaming, whirling snowstorm the captain fumbled like a blind man. Working entirely by feel, it was a long time before he was able to remove the first breech block. He was about to throw it into the well behind the watchman's hut, but changed his mind and went into the hut. He went out three more times, until he had removed the four breech blocks from all the guns and hidden them under a trap door in the floor, where potatoes were stored. Then, having first put out the lamp, he went out into the darkness. He walked for about two hours, unseen and unseeing through the darkness until he reached the highway leading into the City, lit by a few faint sparse streetlamps. Under the first of these lamps he was sabred to death by a party of pigtailed horsemen, who removed his boots and his watch.

The same voice came to life in the receiver of a telephone in a dugout four miles to the west of the watchman's hut. "Open fire at once on the target area. I have the impression that the enemy has passed between your position and ours and is making for the City."

[...] Three officers and three cadets clambered out of the dugout with lanterns. The fourth officer and two cadets were already in the gun position, standing around a lantern which the storm was doing its best to put out. Five minutes later the guns began to jump and fire into the darkness. They filled the countryside for ten miles around with their terrible roar [...]

Prancing through the snow, a troop of cavalry leaped out of the dark beyond the lamplight and killed all the cadets and four of the officers. The battery commander, who had stayed by the telephone in the dugout, shot himself in the mouth. The battery commander's last words were: "Those swine at headquarters. It's enough to make one turn Bolshevik."
Before 1914 Kozyr had spent all his life as a village schoolmaster. Mobilized into a regiment of dragoons at the outbreak of war, in 1917 he had been commissioned. And now the dawn of December 14th 1918, found Kozyr a colonel in Petlyura's army and no one on earth (least of all Kozyr himself) could have said how it had happened. It had come about because war was Kozyr's true vocation and his years of teaching school had been nothing more than a protracted and serious mistake.

This, of course, is something that happens more often than not in life. A man may be engaged in some occupation for twenty whole years, such as studying Roman law, and then in the twenty-first year it suddenly transpires that Roman law is a complete waste of time, that he not only doesn't understand it and dislikes it too, but that he is really a born gardener and has an unquenchable love of flowers. This is presumably the result of some imperfection in our social system, which seems to ensure that people frequently only find their proper metier towards the end of their lives. Kozyr had found his at the age of forty-five. Until then he had been a bad teacher, boring and cruel to his pupils.
In 1926 Bulgakov wrote a stage play based on White Guard which was immensely popular in Moscow despite a sympathetic portrayal of the White Guard officers. It was apparently a favorite of Stalin's. This baffles me, given the intensely anti-revolutionary slant of the novel, but it's true that Stalin had the crazy in his head. I have not seen/read the play. It's been nearly forty years since I read War and Peace.