After completing the groundbreaking experiment The Waves, Woolf “rested” by working on what she considered a mere trifle—a short novel that would evenAfter completing the groundbreaking experiment The Waves, Woolf “rested” by working on what she considered a mere trifle—a short novel that would eventually become Flush: A Biography, a version of the courtship of poets Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning as seen through the eyes of their omnipresent cocker spaniel. Using historical facts as a platform, what emerges is a witty and unusual take on one of the most famous real-life romances of all time, and even if it comes off as rather slight when placed next to Woolf’s other novels (particularly her later ones), it’s certainly one of her most lighthearted and irrepressible, and tremendous fun. ...more
Though his reputation was made as a poet, Ford's artistic interests took him in many directions--prose, the visual arts, even directing a feature filmThough his reputation was made as a poet, Ford's artistic interests took him in many directions--prose, the visual arts, even directing a feature film. But if the back cover of this volume, a decade-long expanse of Ford's personal dairies, is to be believed, Ford himself considered this to be his masterpiece. And having read a collection of his poetry concurrently, it's rather hard to disagree. Ford's background as a poet is obvious and serves him well, as the diaries are mostly long strings of short anecdotes polished to a sparkling epigrammatic brilliance--there's definitely a talent for diverting what could conceivably be a long digression and summing it up perfectly with a witty line or shrewdly recorded bit of dialogue. Famous names waft in and out of the pages--the Sitwells, Djuna Barnes (Ford's former lover), Cocteau, Genet, Capote, as well as the not-so-famous that made an impression on Ford during his many travels and international places of residence. It's also remarkably candid about his sexual adventures and misadventures, though in the end the entire thing can almost be characterized as an elegiac valentine to his longtime partner, the Surrealist painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Though Tchelitchew, fondly referred to throughout by his pet name Pavlik, often comes off as conflicted and unbearably cantankerous, Ford still manages to convey his great love and affection, and as the diary comes to a close by recording Tchelitchew's last days and painful death I found myself, unexpectedly, near tears. A particularly notable example of the personal diary as a work of art.
"Sometimes, one has to empty out oneself to feel the world's fullness."...more
After a second reading had to include the missing fifth star. Full reassessment soon.
So I'm not used to this kind of reaction with a book--finisheAfter a second reading had to include the missing fifth star. Full reassessment soon.
So I'm not used to this kind of reaction with a book--finished it this morning, and I might very well start it all over again. Immediately. This never happens to me.
And this despite not knowing what the hell was going on half (most?) of the time, but by the end I became intoxicated by the sheer absurdity that made me laugh stupidly despite being in public, the unexpected submersions into harrowing despair, the (to blatantly steal Ned Rorem's characterization) "gorgeous claustrophobia" the novel evokes. I've never come across anything quite like this before.
Was initially intrigued by Susan Sontag's comment in her journal that her and her friends were essentially characters out of this novel; I wonder now how much of her own romantic sufferings were modeled off of Norah Flood's...
"'How do you stand it, then?' she demanded. 'How do you live at all if this wisdom of yours is not only the truth, but the price?'"
Not only does it uncannily anticipate many of the themes and ideas that became preoccupations in feminist analysis upon Woolf's "rediscovery" many decNot only does it uncannily anticipate many of the themes and ideas that became preoccupations in feminist analysis upon Woolf's "rediscovery" many decades later, it is a very accessible and readable analysis of Woolf's major texts up to that time (The Years and Between the Acts had yet to be written). Ruth Gruber's own account of writing this dissertation and meeting Woolf herself as a young American Jewish woman studying in Germany in the 1930's is a fascinating read in and of itself.
And remarkably, Ms. Gruber still appears to be alive and well at the ripe old age of 99, making her a rather remarkable link to this era now long-past....more
Looking back now, The Big Sleep looks like a crucial point of transition from being an voracious but indiscriminate reader to, well, a more discriminaLooking back now, The Big Sleep looks like a crucial point of transition from being an voracious but indiscriminate reader to, well, a more discriminate reader of serious Literatuh. Before that time most of my reading was centered on Agatha Christie mysteries and equally amusing diversions, so after the Bogie and Bacall classic brought this novel to my attention about halfway through high school, I figured "awesome, more mysteries!" and checked out Chandler's novel from my local library.
I don't remember many specifics of that first reading, other than the unbridled enthusiasm it inspired (I went on to read everything by Chandler available to me over the next year or two). But boy did those similes and poetic descriptions stick with me—for whatever reason the characterization of a street as a "curving ribbon of wet concrete" imprinted itself on my memory ever after. If I wanted to attempt analyzing my life as a chain of neat cause-and-effects, I could very well select this as the lightbulb moment where I finally began to perceive the power of writing and literary artistry, and truly realize how the mundane can be transformed into the sublime through just a few well-selected words.
It wasn't a conscious decision, of course, but after that encounter with The Big Sleep less and less Christie novels were checked out from the library; it was also during this time I began taking my English classes more seriously. By the time I entered college several years later I dimly perceived that I might actually want to devote my attention and major in these book thingies (it took a while, but I did ultimately did head in that direction).
Just after Christmas I revisited the film, a favorite that I hadn't seen in years. Afterwards I picked up the book, but not without a bit of trepidation. I never reread The Big Sleep, but over the years my returns to Chandler had yielded disappointments (The Lady in the Lake underwent a particularly drastic fall from grace).
But much to my surprise, I found The Big Sleep even better than I remembered it. Oh, as a mystery narrative it's more or less a bust—the legend surrounding both the novel and film regarding the plot holes are surely justified. But that seems rather beside the point to me: the brilliance is in the vivid individual episodes rather than the sum of the narrative parts. Frankly, I could care less who killed who—I read this to savor Marlowe's constant wisecracks and wry musings, and to meet the eccentric character that seems to emerge from behind every door. And I'll just straight out say it: within The Big Sleep are some of the most evocative, unexpectedly beautiful similes and descriptions I've ever come across in all 20th century American literature.
"She gave me one of those smiles the lips have forgotten before they reach the eyes."
"It was a crisp morning, with just enough snap in the air to make life seem simple and sweet, if you didn't have too much on your mind. I had."
To say Lincoln Kirstein was a man of many talents is a massive understatement, but it seems pretty clear from his single published novel that creativeTo say Lincoln Kirstein was a man of many talents is a massive understatement, but it seems pretty clear from his single published novel that creative fiction cannot be counted as one of them. Written when Kirstein was in his mere twenties and drawn heavily from his own life experiences, it is primarily of interest for what it reveals about its author than as any kind of satisfying reading experience. Kirstein, gutted by the patronizingly lukewarm (at best) reaction he received upon publication, gave up his aspirations to be a novelist and decided instead to devote his considerable energies to a seemingly harebrained idea of establishing a ballet company in America to rival Europe and Russia's best.
The rest, as they say, is history. So maybe all good balletomanes, and fans of the vast amount of erudite scholarly writing on art Kirstein subsequently wrote, owe a debt of gratitude to this apparently "lost" and forgotten novel. Because without its failure, who knows what young Kirstein would have decided to do instead?
As for the novel itself: quite frankly, it is deathly dull (or at least what I managed to get through was). The prose is characteristically elegant but utterly lifeless—I dutifully plodded through the first chapter, an extended vignette set in an upper-class New England boarding school, and admitted defeat (afterwards I focused solely on several chapters pertinent to something I was researching). Really, the idea of this novel is more interesting than its actuality—it is fascinating to consider that its author, the brilliant upstart editor of Hound and Hornand considered to be at the forefront of literary modernism and all things new and avant-garde, would himself write a novel that could, at best, be charitably described as amiably antiquated. Really, it's essentially of the quality that would have been expected of a bright, artistic but relatively unexceptional young man of a certain means during the second half of the 19th century. But in the 1930's? This sad little book didn't have a chance.
But it is, ultimately, this dissonance that intrigues me, and it does serve as an early indicatation one of the great contradictions that would mark all of Kirstein's subsequent work: a man whose taste in art and aesthetics was essentially neoclassic, and yet who defended adamantly and often brilliantly to a generally skeptical American public all that was modern and experimental and new. As Flesh is Heir makes abundantly clear, this seemingly incongruous dynamic was there right from the very beginning.
And, truth be told, I do expect to return and read the whole thing someday. Only this time with properly adjusted expectations and a bountiful reserve of patience, of course.
If I'm honest, to say that I "read" this is more than a bit of an overstatement. I fully intended to read more, but after reading several short sectioIf I'm honest, to say that I "read" this is more than a bit of an overstatement. I fully intended to read more, but after reading several short sections it struck me as pretty flimsy stuff—perhaps it'll serve as a good introduction to many of these people and places, but for anybody at all familiar with them already it feels like little more than a tedious rehashing of information already readily available. Decided my time was better spent elsewhere and immediately abandoned ship. ...more