I found the chapter on Ralph Ellison especially interesting. I wish there'd been a full chapter on John Berryman - he's on the cover, and some of hisI found the chapter on Ralph Ellison especially interesting. I wish there'd been a full chapter on John Berryman - he's on the cover, and some of his lines haunt the text. ...more
Not really a biography. It read like a play, a one person show in which Berberova explains Blok, and channels him - performs her idea of Blok. LayersNot really a biography. It read like a play, a one person show in which Berberova explains Blok, and channels him - performs her idea of Blok. Layers of apocalypse: a "monstrous and insane" Europe readying a global war; the suicide of the Russian state; the revolt of the masses; the confusion of the intelligentsia; and the prescience and frantic motions of one generation of that tortured tribe, the Russian Poets. Discipleship, rivalries, love triangles. Night walks. Despair in the dram shop. "He was above all proud of knowing, of being prepared for the catastrophe for which there was no cure."...more
Read this for the superbly nasty Warren Bogart, a villain righteous in his contempt, critically intricate in his abuse, and for that worthy of the narRead this for the superbly nasty Warren Bogart, a villain righteous in his contempt, critically intricate in his abuse, and for that worthy of the narrator's single sympathetic glance his way. Charlotte Douglas, his ex-wife, is the kind of female character Didion is known for: numb, baffled, drifting in and out. I don't find characters like Charlotte very interesting, but Didion does milk a kind of poetry from their stunting and disappointment, their air of unfulfillment; and Didion's portraits have at least a documentary value, as we're littered with Charlottes, women who had an illusion of an idea of themselves at, say, age 19, but who soon hit a rock, and in the subsequent years allow their spouses and lovers to talk over them, talk for them, while she warbles ineffectually over the souvenirs of youth. ...more
The prose is dry and the format proto-PowerPoint, but this is a fascinating account of a tragic civil-military misunderstanding. James O. Richardson wThe prose is dry and the format proto-PowerPoint, but this is a fascinating account of a tragic civil-military misunderstanding. James O. Richardson was CINCUS (Commander-in-Chief United States Fleet, or “Sink Us” in Fleet parlance) until January 1941, when he told Roosevelt in an Oval Office meeting that he had no confidence in the President’s leadership. Roosevelt promptly relieved him of command. Richardson’s portrait of Roosevelt is more damning than any conspiracy yarn. He portrays Roosevelt as a naval hobbyist, a vain amateur who had no real grasp of how fleets fight; and dangerously arrogant, unable to take Japan seriously. Roosevelt, fully obsessed with the undeclared U-Boat war in the Atlantic, where US Navy assets were secretly aiding the British, thought he could deter the Japanese from conquest by imposing oil and scrap metal embargoes, freezing its overseas assets, by sending stealthy flotillas of US ships to suddenly “pop up” in Japanese home waters, and by forward deployment of the US Pacific Fleet, “out on a limb,” as it were, at a vulnerable, second-rate Hawaiian base. Richardson advised the President and the Secretary of the Navy that these moves would provoke and tempt the Japanese leaders, not cow them. Richardson also noted an irony: moving the Fleet from its home port of San Diego to Hawaii was a political show of force, but the movement actually degraded the Fleet’s fighting edge and combat readiness – Pearl Harbor’s docking, repair, and training facilities were at the time woefully inadequate – and he suspected the Japanese admirals would call Roosevelt’s bluff. Richardson seems to have been one of those rare people capable of learning from history. His 1933 Naval War College thesis was on the Japanese penchant for undeclared commencements of hostilities and opportunistic surprise attacks, in past wars with Russia and China – but he didn’t style himself a prophet. He candidly admits that a carrier-borne air raid on Pearl Harbor was not his major worry. He feared that the Japanese would pounce on the measly US Asiatic Fleet in Chinese and Philippine waters, wipe that Fleet out, and then be in good position for a showdown with the undermanned and ill-prepared US Pacific Fleet, steaming frantically westward from Pearl Harbor. After attacking Pearl Harbor, the Japanese did wipe out the Asiatic Fleet, and sank its flagship, the heavy cruiser USS Houston, Roosevelt’s favorite ship in the Navy, and one that served as a Presidential yacht during late 1930s cruises of the Pacific and Caribbean. That must have stung. ...more
I think this book could drive you nuts if you read it closely too many times.
"Farther south, another Marine company took the last hill and came to a cI think this book could drive you nuts if you read it closely too many times.
"Farther south, another Marine company took the last hill and came to a cliff from which civilians were leaping, as at Saipan. Some jumped alone, some in pairs and small groups; a few pushed one another. A platoon leader who had fought straight through from L-day [three months prior] watched with mixed relief and caution: It was like ants when their nest has been dug up. Mass confusion. Civilians running here, running there, looking for a place where their fall wouldn't be broken on their way down, for a rock down below where they could hit full. Women too. It was the end of a long rabbit hunt: you'd been flushing them out and they kept running for new cover ahead of you. Now you flushed them out again and they were trapped, so they dove onto the rocks or went into the sea. We didn't shoot them but we didn't try to stop them either. Seeing civilians do all that didn't bother me one bit, not one iota. Maybe I was half crazy myself by that time, I don't know - but I had other worries. I'd seen a lot of horrors by then..."...more
A Backward Glance: An Autobiography takes readers up to 1934, but Wharton's account of the years post-1918 barely amount to an epilogue. She is not deA Backward Glance: An Autobiography takes readers up to 1934, but Wharton's account of the years post-1918 barely amount to an epilogue. She is not desolate, she still draws from her usual sources of joy. Writing, reading, the conversation of a circle of brilliant though fast-dwindling friends, travel, especially yachting the Aegean and motoring in far reaches (given her identification with the French elite, I found it perfect that her exploration of Morocco was smoothed by none other than General Lyautey). But, she says, life is not the same, many have died, much is ended. Her account of Henry James' decline and death during the war, in a nightmare of empathetic anguish, is hard reading:
I have never seen any one else who, without a private personal stake in that awful struggle, suffered from it as he did. He had not my solace of hard work, though he did all he had strength for, and gave all the pecuniary help he could. But it was not enough. His devouring imagination was never at rest, and the agony was more than he could bear. As far as I know the only letters of mine which he kept were those in which I described my various journeys to the front, and when these were sent back to me after his death they were worn with much handing about. His sensitiveness about his own physical disabilities gave him an exaggerated idea of what his friends were able to do, and he never tired of talking of what he regarded as their superhuman activities. But still the black cloud hung over the world, and to him it was soon to be a pall. Perhaps it was better so. I should have liked to have him standing beside me the day the victorious armies rode by; but when I think of the years intervening between his death and that brief burst of radiance I have not the heart to wish that he had seen it. The waiting would have been too bitter. ...more
The first meeting of Inez Christian and Jack Lovett at the ballet - the beginning of Lovett's "grave attraction" that would last over twenty years - iThe first meeting of Inez Christian and Jack Lovett at the ballet - the beginning of Lovett's "grave attraction" that would last over twenty years - is the sexiest scene I've read in a while:
Cissy Christian smoking a cigarette in her white jade holder. Inez, wearing dark glasses...pinning and repinning a gardenia in her damp hair. This is our niece, Inez, Dwight Christian said. Inez, Major Lovett. Jack. Inez, Mrs. Lovett. Carla. A breath of air, a cigarette. This champagne is lukewarm. One glass won't hurt you, Inez, it's your birthday. Inez's birthday. Inez is seventeen. Inez's evening, really. Inez is our balletomane.
"Why are you wearing sunglasses," Jack Lovett said.
Inez Christian, startled, touched her glasses as if to remove them and then, looking at Jack Lovett, brushed her hair back instead, loosening the pins that held the gardenia.
Inez Christian smiled.
The gardenia fell into the wet grass.
"I used to know all the generals at Schofield," Cissy Christian said. "Great fun out there. Then."
"I'm sure." Jack Lovett did not take his eyes from Inez.
"Great polo players, some of them," Cissy Christian said. "I don't suppose you get much time to play."
"I don't play," Jack Lovett said.
Inez Christian closed her eyes.
Carla Lovett drained her paper cup and crushed it in her hand.
"Inez is seventeen," Dwight Christian repeated.
"I think I want a real drink," Carla Lovett said. ...more
Carter hasn't made Sade a pressing priority, hasn't propelled his books any higher up my to-read list, but her readings, especially of Justine; or, ThCarter hasn't made Sade a pressing priority, hasn't propelled his books any higher up my to-read list, but her readings, especially of Justine; or, The Misfortunes of Virtue (1791), are full of striking passages. These are perfect summaries of a very familiar type:
...in the character of Justine Sade contrived to isolate the dilemma of an emergent type of woman. Justine, daughter of a banker, becomes the prototype of two centuries of women who find the world was not, as they had been promised, made for them and who do not have, because they have not been given, the existential tools to remake the world for themselves. These self-consciously blameless ones suffer and suffer until it becomes second nature; Justine marks the start of a kind of self-regarding female masochism, a woman with no place in the world, no status, the core of whose resistance has been eaten away by self-pity.
Justine’s virtue is not the continuous exercise of a moral faculty. It is a sentimental response to the world in which she always hopes her good behavior will procure her some reward, some respite from the bleak and intransigent reality which surrounds her and to which she cannot accommodate herself. The virtuous, the interesting Justine, with her incompetence, her gullibility, her whining, her frigidity, her reluctance to take control of her own life, is a perfect woman. She always does what she is told. She is at the mercy of any master, because that is the nature of her own definition of goodness.
For Justine is extraordinarily single-minded. This single-mindedness makes her rebel against that Fate that mistreats her; she is in revolt, even, against human nature itself, or, rather, against a view of human nature as irredeemably corrupt. Justine would say, as all good revolutionaries have said: ‘Even if it is so, then it should not be so,’ and, though she is far too pusillanimous to do anything about it, she never deviates from her frail and lonely stand, from the idea that men and women need not necessarily be wicked.
Fitzroy Maclean, SAS, Yugoslavia, in Eastern Approaches:
"With a jerk my parachute opened and I found myself dangling, as it were at the end of a strinFitzroy Maclean, SAS, Yugoslavia, in Eastern Approaches:
"With a jerk my parachute opened and I found myself dangling, as it were at the end of a string, high above a silent mountain valley, greenish-grey and misty in the light of the moon. It looked, I thought, invitingly cool and refreshing after the sand and glare of North Africa. Somewhere above me the aircraft, having completed its mission, was headed for home. The noise of its engines grew gradually fainter in the distance. A long way below me and some distance away I could see a number of fires burning. I hoped they were the right ones, for the Germans also lit fires at night at different points in the Balkans in the hope of diverting supplies and parachutists from their proper destinations. As I swung lower, I could hear a faint noise of shouting coming from the direction of the fires. I could still not see the ground immediately beneath me. We must, I reflected, have been dropped from a considerable height to take so long coming down. Then, without further warning, there was a jolt and I was lying in a field of wet grass. There was no one in sight."
Patrick Leigh Fermor, SOE, Crete, in Abducting a General:
"The sierras of occupied Crete, familiar from nearly two years of clandestine sojourn and hundreds of exacting marches, looked quite different through the aperture in the converted bomber's floor and the gaps in the clouds below: a chaos of snow-covered, aloof and enormous spikes glittering as white as a glacier in the February moonlight. Then, suddenly, on a tiny plateau among the peaks, were the three signal fires twinkling. A few moments later they began expanding fast: freed at last from the noise inside the Liberator the parachute sailed gently down towards the heart of the triangle. Small figures were running in the firelight and in another few moments, snow muffled the impact of landing. There was a scrum of whiskery embracing, a score of Cretan voices, one English one. A perfect landing!"
Maclean's passage is an old favorite, but he yields the palm of eloquence.
Abducting a General consists of three parts, progressively arcane: his ninety-page account of the abduction and getaway, written in 1965 and here published in full for the first time; a selection of his official reports for SOE Cairo, jaunty and humorous little pieces penned by torchlight in various hideouts, over a span of two years; and a guide to western Crete written by two current climbers, for the true cultists who might wish to hike the abduction route. ...more