Madness of the Day demands to be watched, but then, I would think that. I first came upon it at La Mama, a theatre I’m ashamed to say I’d never been t...moreMadness of the Day demands to be watched, but then, I would think that. I first came upon it at La Mama, a theatre I’m ashamed to say I’d never been to before the beginning of this year. Mystified too – how on earth could I have spent 15 years living in Melbourne going to the theatre with the fervour of a fanatic and be writing this now?
It was the experience of seeing it performed – soliloquies, one-man shows, how I love them – that made me come back to Geneva and buy the English translation. The haziness of the experience of reading it and recognising chunks of it, but not sure if it was all as in the show, not least because it was over 40C in the shade the night we saw it, made me write to La Mama and ask.
I received back a detailed reply from the director, Laurence Strangio:
I wish to register most strongly in public my dismay to see the already ludicrously large number of fake accounts that have been set up to give 1 star...moreI wish to register most strongly in public my dismay to see the already ludicrously large number of fake accounts that have been set up to give 1 star ratings to this book.
I have written to goodreads to ask what they are going to do about it. As far as I can see, it is against their avowed policies. In this case it seems particularly important that they are seen to do the right thing, since there is the unfortunate fact that it may be argued to be in their interests for this book to receive a low rating - however this occurs.
But this aside, in any case, if goodreads permits an author or a book to be bullied in this way, how can they possibly see a future as a promoter of authors and their works, which is now their business model?
As far as I can see, Goodreads is being threatened with damage to their integrity from which it is hard to imagine a recovery unless this is addressed now.
Looking at these two works now, one is so struck by the similarities, it is remarkable to consider their differing fates at the time of their appearan...moreLooking at these two works now, one is so struck by the similarities, it is remarkable to consider their differing fates at the time of their appearance. As it happens I finished reading The Awakening the same day as I went to see Strange Interlude, so the points of comparison stood out. Both are American, experimental in form, controversial in content. Continue here:
I am in such a bad mood after reading this and it really isn’t the author’s fault. She needed a competent ed...more A cross rant followed by a fabulous story.
I am in such a bad mood after reading this and it really isn’t the author’s fault. She needed a competent editor and evidently there is not one to be found at OUP.
Recall that this book uses the word ‘recall’ maybe a hundred times.
Sorry, you can’t, can you? You haven’t read it. So, imagine how it feels, reading a book that tells you to recall things it assumes you know and don’t. Apparently the rationale is that the people who do know, won’t be offended by what is about to be explained. Me, I was offended both ways and more. I was offended when I was told to recall something and obviously didn’t. I was offended when I was told to recall something I did already know. And I was offended as an editor by this gross misuse and abuse of the word.
At some point I became so cross with this stylistic catastrophe that I ceased to enjoy the book.
But recall I am an editor (what, you didn’t know that?) and it is as such that I rant. If you aren’t, and you don’t mind a book, the writing technique of which suffers under the weight of this ridiculous and unnecessary habit, there is much to enjoy. I really don’t want to put you off reading about two women whose impact on the science world of France and the UK lasted for hundreds of years.
Inevitably – given the logically chronological order – this book has the misfortune of starting with the more interesting of the two stories it tells. The tale of Chatelet verges on the incredible, after which Somerville’s life palls in comparison. I can’t help thinking with some creativity applied, this history might have been presented in reverse chronological order to good effect. There might even have been some advantage in having done so, aside from making it more readable.
Is this a new way of presenting references I have never seen before: there are no footnotes/references in the body of the book. As I was reading it, I was rather taken aback that this would be the case, as it is a scholarly book which would seem to require them. In fact, one simply discovers them at the end, one has to work out for oneself what is going to have a footnote, go to the back of the book to see if there is one, which involves complicated searching…this just doesn’t work. It is really dreadful. The book reads perfectly well without them, but if they are going to be supplied in such an unuseable way, why bother taking up space with them at all?
The author makes some attempt to explain the personal side of this venture, her own development in the field and how it drew her to her subjects. There is a brief discussion of the status of women in science at the time of writing. I don’t think any of this works. The author’s life is not an interesting addition to the story of the subjects and the discussion of ‘how things are now’ is simply way too cursory for it to have any point. Nor is is possible to see the soul mate connection: the author spent a bit of time in her life deliberately eschewing modern conveniences which is simply not anything like the difficulties under which these two were forced to labour.
I bought this book because I discovered the influence that Mary Somerville had in England for a hundred years or so as the translator (and 'improver') of Laplace used in universities until the mid-nineteenth century, at least, and wished to find out more about the background to this. The first part of the book, however, tells the nicely complementary story of Emilie du Chatelet, who somewhat earlier translated Newton to French, standing the test of time so that even late in the twentieth century it was highly regarded. Chatelet, like Somerville, was forced to set about her own education as an adult, no easy thing despite being an aristocrat. Her life was spent looking after an estate, having at least some times to educate her children herself, it was spent in part with her husband - if only for form and friendliness - and in passion and intellect with Voltaire. It is evident from this book that Voltaire would have been greatly diminished in the absence of Chatelet. Although one could say this was a reciprocal relationship, it nonetheless was a relationship that made things harder in some respects for Chatelet as she put Voltaire first always. Thus her life also consisted of keeping him out of gaol, getting him out of gaol, getting him unexiled, keeping him out of trouble, and helping him with his scientific endeavours. This latter was particularly important since he really wasn't up to it, whereas she was. Her own research, however, tended to be conducted in secret in the middle of the night, in her bedroom, using as equipment torn sheets and the like, so that it didn't interfere with his work or make him jealous.
Indeed, maybe she underestimated him in this last regard, since it seems he was anything but jealous of her greater abilities, generous in his praise and loyal to -
Loyal to? How to finish that. Emilie was beautiful, extremely intelligent and men were loyal to her. Her husband put up with the fact that her relationship with Voltaire utterly broke the formal rules of extra-marital affairs in France: it was real and it was public. Voltaire, when Emilie was in her late thirties, told her he didn't want to have sex with her any more. She was gutted but still stunning. After she found out by accident that Voltaire had moved on sexually, so did she. She became involved with a young man of society. Despite this Voltaire was utterly loyal in that he stayed with her, her husband stayed with her and Newton stayed with her. She was still desperately trying to finish her translation of Newton when the unthinkable happened. She felt pregnant to the young man. In her forties! I imagine that would be like being in your sixties and becoming pregnant now. Life expectancy can't have been more than around that figure, I would have thought. So now she has the disgrace of this happening, she has Voltaire livid - somehow he seemed to think that she would remain celibate in memory of him?! - her husband is humiliated, the young man is confused...but she still has them all. They are all still with her, now a bub inside her too...AND Newton. I am truly in awe of the fact that in this state she was still working on Newton. Voltaire, somewhat losing patience, said to a friend
'Madame du Chatelet has not yet delivered. She has more difficulty bringing into the world a baby than a book'.
Despite that, the baby did slip out with incredible ease, Emilie spent the next days making last changes to Principia...
And then? Suddenly one week after giving birth she died, just like that.
The husband, the ex-sexual-lover and still lover in other ways Voltaire, the young lover and father of the baby Saint-Lambert, were all utterly devastated. Of the latter it was said by a friend 'I would never have believed him capable of such passion,' his grief led to a breakdown from which he took a year to recover.
I can't help thinking Humphrey Bogart would have said 'This is some dame'. Boy, is she what.
Then, this heartbreaking footnote from some 40 years later in the 1790s when the churchyard in which she was buried was ransacked. One of her young admirers, now 83 years
watched a shocking desecration of Emilie's grave, in which her bones were scattered and her jewellery and finery mocked and stolen by uncomprehending 'citizens' of the new republic. When the mob had gone, Devaux lovingly replaced Emilie's remains in her grave. There was no inscription on her black, marble tombstone, but the old man regularly kept a silent vigil in honour of her memory, sitting by her grave and remembering the glory days of the philosophes - the days of hope, through faith in reason, before reason temporarily turned into madness.
This is the story that is unputdownable, it is impossible not to love Emilie and the author does a fair job of putting you in her shoes, at her dinner table, in her pained thoughts about her work. She also does a reasonable job of putting science as it was into the social and philosophical setting of the period. For me, she did not do a good job of making the science itself accessible, but aside from being a scientific imbecile, you will recall I was also irritated beyond endurance by the recall word and after a while skipped over the science. The author already has a reputation for pop maths/science, so I am prepared to take all the blame.
I've been discussing the whole issue of reviewing lately, being honest vs saying nice things and I'm rather torn on this one. It has large flaws, but nonetheless the subject matter is in my opinion so rarely dealt with, that it is worth endeavouring with this and most readers might not even notice some of the things that I have been picky about. Although the author herself was full of praise for the publishing assistance she received when she wrote to me in response to a query, I think she has been utterly let down by completely inadequate editorial process. I simply cannot understand at a point in time where real publishing houses should be stating loudly and clearly that there is genuine value and purpose to their role, why it is that we see instead something that quite simply fails the writer. The material was here to make a GREAT book, instead of which it is far far less than that.
Written during my reading...
Recommended for: all the male scientists and academics who think they have it tough.
I bought this to find out more about Mary Somerville, having discovered how influential her work was in the UK for a hundred years. What a bonus to discover the story of the scientist, mathematician and writer Emilie Du Chatelet.
The book is in chronological order and hence starts with an account of du Chatelet's life and work. She has the advantage of being a wealthy aristocrat. Against that, however, all the disadvantages stand out, the consequence of being female. Even becoming educated as an adult was a great struggle.
The legacy of the crippling handicap of being female was that even when she overcame it to produce a translation of Newton which remains the standard French account (as well as the first), at the time there was the usual condemnation and presumption that it was the result of the work of the various men in her life. I understand it is only over the past forty years or so, as women are slowly being accepted as approximately 'equal' to men, that history is being rewritten to put Du Chatelet where she should be.
Arianrhod is a competent writer and mathematician and gives an account which is nicely dispassionate while occasionally finding it impossible not to express her emotion. You will understand why, if you read the book. You will read it with your heart in your mouth for Du Chatelet. You'll be barracking for her all the way.(less)
If you have ever lost faith in the idea that theatre can be clever, modern, deconstructionalist and still worthy, please, please do go to see this. It...moreIf you have ever lost faith in the idea that theatre can be clever, modern, deconstructionalist and still worthy, please, please do go to see this. It is stunning. Makes my heart beat faster with excitement every time I think about it...Seen twice, would be happy to see it any number of times.(less)
I happened to come upon a newspaper report which suggested there was some sort of sexist conspiracy that means Sowerby was not the household name she...moreI happened to come upon a newspaper report which suggested there was some sort of sexist conspiracy that means Sowerby was not the household name she should be.
She was acclaimed at the time of writing this, early 1900s, as the first female playright of note. This play came out with her gender disguised and there is an argument, which can't be proven, that it would not have been the big hit it was at the time otherwise. Her gender was quickly made public, but the feminist view is that she would have received bad reviews if not for her anonymity to begin with.
So, 100 years down the line, has there been some sort of plot to 'airbrush her' as one commentator put it, from history?
May I counter with a couple of obvious points. I gather from all reports of its various revivals over recent years, that it isn't much of a play: one of those fixed in its time and the very reasons for it being a contemporary hit contain the seeds for it being uninteresting with the passing of time.
Add to this - and more importantly than the quality of the piece - the sad fact that the Play is astonishingly ephemeral. It might seem to have a solidity lacking in ice sculpture, but in practice that isn't so. I go to see a lot of theatre and this preys upon me, that the many new plays I watch, thrilled by them, will all, or almost all, be completely forgotten for ever in next to no time.
So, around the time of Sowerby, in this case, there were many talented playwrights, almost every one of whom has been completely unknown for most of the period since then and will continue to be. Supposing only one of these was female, the chance of what happens to be the only female being 'airbrushed from history' are enormous. It would have been the most felicitous bucking of the odds for anything else to happen. Playwrights are airbrushed from history all the time. I doubt many of them are more deserving of this fate than Sowerby.
I wonder if the author wrote this, hoping it would get picked up as a movie? I sat through the Ides of March today, wondering how it could be that I'd...moreI wonder if the author wrote this, hoping it would get picked up as a movie? I sat through the Ides of March today, wondering how it could be that I'd seen it before. I guess that makes the play not particularly memorable. I just don't think there is enough in it and that applies to the movie too. Ryan Gosling looking like Ryan Gosling isn't enough.(less)
Now and then one has the privilege to see a young performer and know one is in the presence of somebody who is going to go on to great things. Long ag...moreNow and then one has the privilege to see a young performer and know one is in the presence of somebody who is going to go on to great things. Long ago my father came back from Melbourne and announced he had witnessed such an occasion, seeing the debut of Geoffrey Rush.
In this case, Kat Stewart in a stunning performance in the main role of this play. She was utterly worthy of a difficult role in a very difficult but well worth seeing piece of theatre. It is a shame Redstitch lost her, since no other girls, at least for several years, came close to her abilities, but I guess Redstitch's aim of providing an avenue for actors, as well as good affordable theatre in Melbourne came to fruition. It is, unfortunately, a place for actors to move on from.(less)
I saw this with a friend who thought the basic premise - that a girl about ten years old, I think - could watch one of her parents murder the other an...moreI saw this with a friend who thought the basic premise - that a girl about ten years old, I think - could watch one of her parents murder the other and then block it out. I imagine the world is full of examples and I can readily believe it looking back on my own childhood. When I was about that age, I'm told I watched my father in an unbalanced mentally ill frenzy tear all the books from a bookshelf, drag it through the house and out the back door, manically hack it to pieces with an ax and then set it on fire. You can block anything out, the worse it is, the easier, I expect, having absolutely no recollection of this terrifying event whatsoever.
One thing stands out for me as to the strength of this play: Redstitch has always suffered for want of female actors as good as its males, but this play stood up to this.
Big Wow factor. A tiny theatre, where one is a few feet from somebody being imprisoned and badly treated, really changes the impact of this one. You A...moreBig Wow factor. A tiny theatre, where one is a few feet from somebody being imprisoned and badly treated, really changes the impact of this one. You ARE part of what is happening. I just can't imagine how it would behave in a movie setting or even a big theatre.(less)
My brother cracked a fruity about this one. 'I'm sick to death of that Irish stuff' or words to that effect. I thought it was okay, to me the setting...moreMy brother cracked a fruity about this one. 'I'm sick to death of that Irish stuff' or words to that effect. I thought it was okay, to me the setting wasn't particularly relevant to the stuff of the play.(less)