A rare pearl, a story were not a single word is wasted. Whatever one's opinion is of the author's biography, choices &c., this short story is a ma...moreA rare pearl, a story were not a single word is wasted. Whatever one's opinion is of the author's biography, choices &c., this short story is a masterwork. Go to gutenberg.org and download it NOW. Also available as a free ebook pdf from Dodo Press: http://bit.ly/60aNWJ You really have no excuses.
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Una perla rara, una storia in cui non una sola parola è superflua. Qualsiasi opinione si abbia dell'autrice, della sua biografia, delle sue scelte &c., questo racconto è un capolavoro. Andate su gutenberg.org e scaricatelo ORA. È anche disponibile come PDF della Dodo Press: http://bit.ly/60aNWJ Davvero non avete scuse.
I wrote a paper on this story, coupling it with The Real Thing also by Henry James. Probably not amongst his best, but there's an ironic strain in it t...moreI wrote a paper on this story, coupling it with The Real Thing also by Henry James. Probably not amongst his best, but there's an ironic strain in it that I find very entertaining. Plus a ridiculous amount of coincidences with actual paintings by Holbein... very tongue in cheek. (less)
Back in 1909 Henry James had planned this as a play, which it never became. *
He had tried to become a successful playwright on the London stages since...moreBack in 1909 Henry James had planned this as a play, which it never became. *
He had tried to become a successful playwright on the London stages since the 1890s (although being contemporary to Oscar Wilde didn't help, as Guy Domville was simply swept aside by The Importance of Being Earnest), had meanwhile given up the whole idea and moved on to write his now infamous 'major phase' trilogy, only to give the stage another go. If my memory doesn't fail me, this time he was almost through with it: the production was set & all. And then Edward VII died in 1910, causing the theatres to be shut down in mourning. Sorry about that, Henry.
James then adapted the script and published it as a novel in 1911. Ironically, it would be the last of his published novels, and the first to posthumously follow his brother William's suggestion to please stop writing bloody unreadable stuff. The Outcry is in fact a peculiar work in the Henry James canon, utterly lacking, for obvious reasons, the introspection that characterized (i.e. burdened) his previous efforts. It is short and based largely on dialogue and fast action (well, 'action' according to Henry James's standards).
Very fancy edition by the New York Review of Books.
* actually, according to wikipedia it did, posthumously, in 1917. (less)
Henry James’ last ghost story, and his finest since The Turn of the Screw, is also his final meditation on some of his most pers...moreThe Jamesian Reread #2
Henry James’ last ghost story, and his finest since The Turn of the Screw, is also his final meditation on some of his most personal concerns: the international theme, the American who goes back after a long period spent in the Old World and his impressions of a rapidly changing country that at the turn of the century was rising to the role of world power.
Spencer Brydon, 56, a New Yorker, returns home after living in “Europe” [sic] for 33 years, in order to look after his property: two NY buildings, whose leases constitute his income and which are now to be subjected to “reconstruction as a tall mass of flats” (2). He accordingly finds himself willing to supervise the works –something he would never have dreamed of doing in his long European years– and discovers thus a dormant talent. Spencer Brydon is therefore a late assessment of the Jamesian theme of the life not lived, that had already run through the so-called major phase of his career (i.e. the first years of the new century) often in the guise of what could have been of a character had s/he (not) gone abroad. The theme, however, takes a peculiar turn in this case. Brydon, who has acquiesced to the conversion of one of the buildings, is reluctant about the other one: the house on the corner (the jolly corner) of street and Avenue, where he and his family had always lived. He secretly enjoys nightly visits to the place, now utterly devoid of furniture but still full of his memories. In the course of such visits he develops the belief that his own sense of wonder for the New York he has find upon his return inhabits the house, and that the very life he has not lived is impersonated in a human figure, his alter-ego. He grows more and more obsessed with the idea, to the point of overcoming his fear and of actually hunting the ghost. James therefore collapses the traditional ghost story trope. Leon Edel has shown that this idea was based on a personal experience: while both his father and his elder brother (Henry senior and William junior) had at some point in their lives hallucinatory experiences of evil and invisible presences, Henry James dreamed a similar situation but was able, in his unconscious, to react and confront the ghost, eventually driving it away. As in The Turn of the Screw, the terror of a haunted person can be scary as well.
The Jolly Corner then revises themes that had already surfaced in James’ canon, and is in fact a reworking of the aborted novel The Sense of the Past. It also runs parallel to another, earlier story, The Beast in the Jungle. John Marcher, the protagonist, is obsessed quite like Spencer Brydon; except for the fact that the Beast, the event he believes will make his life exceptional, lies in the future (constantly in the future), while Brydon is haunted by his past—or better, by the ghost of the past he has never lived. The two tales build on a similar concept of the untrodden path: The Road Not Taken is actually the title of a Robert Ford poem, of which TJC is considered a narrative rendering. Both men, moreover, are middle-aged egocentrics, and yet both have the caring attentions of a sensitive, altruistic woman, whose love is their redeeming factor. Curiously, moreover, in both cases a reading influenced by queer theory is possible, again based on James’ closeted homosexuality: the mysterious thing that haunts the two protagonists can be interpreted as an unconfessed homoerotic drive. Spencer Brydon self-obsession (in the end, who would ever dream of being haunted by his own ghost?) may then be read in narcissistic terms. And before you label this as far-fetched, remember that both Henry James Sr. and Alice James were probably closeted homosexual as well.
As I said earlier TJC, especially in its opening pages, is a profound meditation on the rapid changes of early 20th century USA. The theme had strong autobiographical elements, since James himself had returned to the States in 1904-5 after twenty years. Passages such as the following from p. 8: http://bit.ly/tXHVYe show his fiction questioned how he might himself have changed under different circumstances. James’ re-evaluation of his country is complex and multi-faceted. But for all this, TJC remains James’ most haunting and thrilling ghost story after The Turn of the Screw (which should at this point be the next logical step in my Jamesian Re-read), full suspense and psychological subtleties. And my favourite amongst his short stories, so far. (less)
Jamesian studies in my department were so strong that three courses of my curriculum dealt with Henry James, of which one was m...moreThe Jamesian Reread #1
Jamesian studies in my department were so strong that three courses of my curriculum dealt with Henry James, of which one was monographic and a second analyzed American history and institutions through the works of the James Bros. (I shan’t dwell). As a consequence I developed a barely-concealed and equally strong dislike for the novelist. I still can’t stand his novels, and some of his novellas. On the other hand, years afterwards I still maintain a fond memory about his short stories. Which brings me to the current and long-postponed re-read.
James was an American master of the short story, the worthy heir of Poe and Hawthorne. His stories, besides, have the not secondary quality of offering the complexities and subtleties of his prose in a manageable measure. The Beast on the Jungle, for instance, was conceived and composed at the same time as James’s celebrated major phase, and published in 1903, the same year as The Ambassadors. The story shares the source of inspiration, and has many themes in common, with the first novel of the trilogy to be published, The Wings of the Dove (more on this point later on). It is the story of John Marcher, a man who has “the sense of being kept for something rare and strange, possibly prodigious and terrible, that was sooner or later to happen” to him (7): a mysterious event he refers to as the Beast in the Jungle of his life. During a visit to an English aristocratic country house he is re-acquainted with May Bartram, a young woman he had met ten years before in Naples. On that occasion he had told her about the Beast. As they talk about it, May confesses she has never forgotten his revelation, and proposes to ‘watch’ with him the coming of “the thing”. The tale accordingly becomes breathy, as it spans the years of their lives: a lifelong wait for something momentous that never happens. Through James’ prose, a magnificence of sensitivity and delicacy, it becomes clear that while May’s unswerving dedication implies deeper feelings than the friendship they develop, John’s self-obsession prevents him from finally seeing beyond curiosity and firmness. The ‘watch’ is his only concern, and it makes him incapable of serious commitment: “a man of feeling doesn’t cause himself to be accompanied by a lady on a tiger-hunt” (13).
As Leon Edel has pointed out, the inspiration for the story, the ‘seed’ to use the author’s terminology, was autobiographical. James had been deeply affected by the death of his friend and fellow novelist Miss Woolson, who killed herself in 1894 while in Venice. James was fond of her, but had not understood the real nature of her feelings towards him. So deep was the mark that the event left on him that nearly a decade later he adapted it as the climax of The Wings of the Dove. In the novel as in the real event, the heroine dies alone while her friend is in London. For The Beast in the Jungle, though, written in four mornings just after The Wings of the Dove was finished, James decided to give the characters the chance for a final confrontation before the death of the woman—what he did not have with Miss Woolson.
At this point in his career, James had refined his prose into an instrument capable of recording and rendering the subtlest emotion, the least variation of a feeling, with a precision that makes my jaw loose and my brows fly. James’ late style is both infamously convoluted and greatly admired for its psychological accuracy, “closer to Joyce than to Balzac” * as one of my professors used to say—before adding that readings of James as a Modernist ante-litteram only make sense in retrospect, from our point of view. The truth is James hated Modernism. Yet, at sixty, he anticipated it with his 20th century trilogy, his major phase according to F.O. Mathiessen’s career-defining definition. And, guess what, his short stories are only 40 pages long rather than 400. Besides, there’s more. James’ skills in weaving his texts is always impressive. One example among many would be the many references to the seasons, starting with the characters’ own names: May, Marcher (and if you think James wasn’t prone to play with names, you’ve never read such works as The Beldonald Holbein). When Marcher and Bartram meet at the country house it is autumn. Their final encounters at her London house, instead, take place in the spring: “she was presented to him in that long fresh light of waning April days which affects us often with a sadness sharper than the greyest hours of autumn” (26). In between, the cold and sterile winter that is their entire acquaintance, a long wait for a blooming that never takes place—not even belatedly. And then there’s the Jamesian touch, the tiny detail that goes unnoticed at first reading: the country house where they meet is called Weatherend.
The Beast in the Jungle is justly held as one of James’s finest short stories. It is NOT, however, a ghost story, not even one without a ghost. James called it one of his 'ghostly tales', which is quite another matter, since he was more interested in the psychology of a character convinced of the existence of supernatural presences, than in ghosts per se. And the guy knew what he was about.
* The laborious progress from Naturalism to Modernism reminds me of Pirandello, who similarly moved from Verga to Ionesco. (less)
I read the poem in preparation for the movie, I confess. Obviously I had already come across selections (everybody has) but never actually read it top to bottom (many haven't).
Allen Ginsberg was Walt Whitman reincarnated, nobody will question the cliché I guess. The high-pitched declamative tone, at once oral and heightened, the stretched verses, the accumulations, "I am America". And the beard. Crucially influenced by Kerouac, W.C. Williams, and jazz, Ginsberg eventually found his own voice, true, personal, outrageous, shining. He made various references to specific events in his and his fellow beats' lives, that may be obscure if wikipedia didn't come to the rescue. Histories about inspiration for single lines are in fact very entertaining, if one is inclined to check 'em out.
"who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C., secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver--joy to the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings & especially secret station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys too..."
The book & its publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti (but not the author) underwent an obscenity trial in 1957: which if nothing else proves that Howl was a watershed, era-defining work.
I once owned the Italian edition of this book, then gave it as a present to a friend of mine. Borrowed this copy from the department of anglo-american...moreI once owned the Italian edition of this book, then gave it as a present to a friend of mine. Borrowed this copy from the department of anglo-american studies.
Burroughs was a lifelong lover of cats, and I guess it was only natural that this fact should produce one such output. The book is a collection (collation, I would say) of short pieces, although at times the events go on from page to page like singled paragraphs of a longer narrative. Some of the pieces have a date & seem to have been written day-to-day, like a diary: "May 8, 1982. Today the female cat..." Burroughs probably was keeping a diary, or maybe notebooks, henryjameslike. The fact that some of it was written just after my birth gives it a quirk feeling. This is what Burroughs was doing while I was born.
B. has the classic pathological concern of the chronical pet lover, who worries about his animals as if they were babies, unable to speak and to take care of themselves.
The design is quite beatiful; the backcover photo is, in B.'s words, "touching". The pages are roughly cut at the edges, but being a very short book with hardcover this doesn't seem to matter. (less)
Structure Capote has the best ear for dialogue since maybe Oscar Wilde, and a talent for the off-hand aphorism to match Andy Warhol’s. And please note the cleverness in picking my points of reference. Breakfast at Tiffany’s is a novella (just short of the hundred-page mark) taken up largely by dialogue, in size and structure looking almost as a play―and it’s no wonder that it should be made into a film. Some of the plot’s best ideas would, and as far as I can remember did, sound as effective in screenwriting. What at first looks like a superficial story about NY upper-class café society is in fact very worldly, including references to Texas farmers, Hollywood starlets and traffickers, Brazilian diplomats, German-speaking psychiatrists, Italo-American mobsters from Sicily and another century…
Autobiography How much of the plot is autobigraphical, to some extent or other? Not just the character of Rusty Trawler but the whole Southern dimension of the story; plus the biographical elements of Lulamae/Holly, born and raised in the South and then transplanted in NY as a socialite. And then, how much did Capote wish to have the same irresistible effect on men as Holly’s? How much of Capote is there in the narrator? Who has no name throughout the story; except the multiple borrowed names Holly lends him―which collectively amount to nothing.
Gatsby and Golightly If I hadn’t read Breakfast at Tiffany’s right after The Great Gatsby, perhaps I wouldn’t be writing the following words. But I did and I will. Both stories are told in the first person by a narrator who looks up to and admires the protagonist, to the point of constructing him/her as better characters than they really are; the narrator in turn presents himself as the anti-protagonist. Jay Gatsby and Holly Golightly are both very successful NY upper-class socialites, are in fact possibly the most talked-upon figures in their obits, and both hide a childhood and youth lived in extremely poor environments. The respective historical periods (the Twenties and World War II) are very much present, if only as background to the endless stream of parties. Both stories are portraits of the society of their time, and of America at large, as well as commentaries on the American Dream; but while Gatsby’s social climb is doomed, Golightly always manages to stay afloat (she’s “top banana” not only “in the shock department”) even if by eloping with men that she openly, and repeatedly, defines as “rats”. The Great Gatsby is tragedy; Breakfast at Tiffany’s is comedy.
There’s in both cases a particular focus on the season(s).
The other short stories In this edition, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is published with three more short stories. The overall feeling is akin to that of certain music albums whose first side is taken up entirely by a single piece, while the second side offers some compositions as side dishes. These do not add anything to the final value of the product, if anything they fall short of the main piece in terms of scope, beauty, quality; yet they’ll entertain you for several minutes. One cannot help but feel they’re there only to fill up space (either pages or vinyl). Think of Alice’s Restaurant: in that case the main song gives the title to the whole collection, too. (less)
'A most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale'. - Oscar Wilde.
(being not a proper comment, just notes to be read after the st...moreThe Jamesian Re-read #3
'A most wonderful, lurid, poisonous little tale'. - Oscar Wilde.
(being not a proper comment, just notes to be read after the story).
I’ve always enjoyed the anecdote that inspired James to write this novella. On January the 10th, 1895, he was hosted by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Edward White Benson, at Addington Park (the archbishopric country house since 1807). In front of the hearth, after tea, conversation turned to the ghost stories: the good ones, the two men agreed, all seemed to have been told; while the new type, the ‘psychical’, apparently offered little precisely on the grounds of its trustworthiness. The Archbishop then proceeded to tell a story, which had in turn been told to him as a child, by a lady who couldn’t, anyhow, neither remember nor relate it well enough. James recorded the story two days later in his notebook: http://bit.ly/zDqzOQ
I love the way James, nearly three years later, managed to turn the missing details and the faulty memories into the very strength of the text: reshaping a story badly told into superb storytelling. I also appreciate the fact that, even before being written, the story already counted multiple retelling. The Turn of the Screw is, first of all, a series of Chinese boxes. James consistently used the framing device as a method to undermine the reliability of his narrator(s), especially in his ghost stories. But here the suspension of disbelief becomes suspension tout court. Even as we accept the reality of one narrative voice, we can’t take for granted what the voice says. Are the ghosts real? Is everything the governess says true? Her manuscript, after all, was written (so we are told) years after the events. Perhaps the manuscript is a fake, and the whole story is invented; and so on. The only fact we can be sure of is James’ own voice, as he dictated the story to his young Scottish typist, William McAlpine (incidentally, legend has it that McAlpine showed no emotion as he transcribed this most scary of tales; that’s one for Scotland). Pointedly, neither the governess nor the 1st person narrator of the prelude have a name: all the voices that say “I” in the text are anonymous.
The unreliability, the gaps and contradictions account for the various interpretations: some more convincing than others, all equally preposterous*. Because, as T.J. Lustig has pointed out, “to read The Turn of the Screw is to establish the reading, and if necessary to defeat other readings” (Introduction to the OUP edition of 1992). It is exactly what the governess tries to do: she tries to assert her own interpretation, with the same “fury of intention” she imputes to Miss Jessel. Easily, and with good reason, her version can be doubted; the governess seen as a psychological, even psychiatric case; especially from the point of view of the last chapters. The very first words of her manuscript are in fact a testimony to her instability: “I remember the whole beginning as a succession of flights and drops” (ch. I). Her self-awareness is indeed quite puzzling: "I go on, I know, as if I were crazy; and it's a wonder I'm not" (ch. XII).
She describes her arrival at Bly in terms that are clearly, almost ostentatiously literary. The governess is a literate person: her manuscript, we are told, is written in a beautiful hand; she makes explicit references to novels. And whereas the governess sees Bly and what happens there through the lens of her readings, we discover that Mrs Grose cannot read: the "stout simple plain clean wholesome woman" (ch. I) is also illiterate. Flora, on the other hand, is learning to write. All this in a scene crucially involving the letter from the school’s headmaster (a letter whose content is never disclosed to the reader).
Mentions of Fielding’s Amelia, of Jane Eyre and of The Mysteries of Udolpho, however, only mark what the novella fails to be. “Marooned in a novel which refuses to satisfy her narrative desires, the governess seems to use Miles in the obscure ritual she is enacting”, in Lustig’s words. Her desires are quite explicit, and from the very start, as regards the master of Bly. She readily admits to having been “carried away” when she met him, twice, in Harley St. Other desires, though, are only uncovered through a close reading of the text; particularly of the governess’s final dialogue with Miles. She confesses to being “infatuated”—namely with her sense of victory over the evil presences; yet the choice of terminology is an interesting spy. Towards the beginning of the scene, she compares the silence between her and Miles to that of “some young couple [...] at their wedding journey”. A little later she says Miles has been for her “a revelation of the possibilities of beautiful intercourse”. The governess seeks possession of the children. When she fears they are secretly being visited by the ghosts, she explodes into: “They’re not mine—they’re not ours. They’re his and they’re hers!” The ghosts are, first and foremost, a threat to her exclusive ownership. At the crucial moment of the final confrontation with Miles, cited above, she gleams with supremacy: “I have you” (ch. XXIII-XXIV).
The Turn of the Screw is one of several texts, such as Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Dracula (1897), and Heart of Darkness (1899), which “examine the crumbling edges of the Victorian edifice” (quoting Lustig again). The accepted sexual and social values are not so much questioned as ignored, rendered pointless. The gentleman in Harley St. and his wards act as though social distinctions simply did not exist. Miles spends more time than would fit his status with the lowly Quint, who also has a less than commendable relationship with Miss Jessel. The master, meanwhile, does not care. The only ones who do seem to care, in fact, are Mrs Grose and the governess. On interviewing the governess, the master says there are at Bly “a cook, a housemaid, a dairywoman, an old pony, an old groom and an old gardener, all likewise thoroughly respectable”. The inclusion of the pony in the list undercuts the gentleman’s methods for ascertaining the ‘respectability’ of his employees; which would indeed explain Quint’s and Miss Jessel’s presence at Bly.
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Miles & Douglas There are those who take Douglas to be none other than the grown-up Miles himself. In which case, Douglas’ version of how he first met the governess would be so much rubbish, as well as his profession that the experience in question had not been his own. This hypothesis, though, seems to me to be far-fetched and unsatisfactory. Besides, as Leon Edel has pointed out, the death of the little boy and the survival of the little girl is a recurrent Jamesian trope; the archetype for this being, Edel argues, James’ own suppressed male exuberance as a child. Miles is not Douglas. The fact that both of them are ten years younger than the governess only proves that, even as a mature woman, she is still attracted to, and trying to attract, younger males.
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Time Interestingly, the governess often looses track of time passing―always during, or immediately after, a visit from the ghosts. There are many other references of this kind: she is late when Miles arrives from school, it takes her a long time to break the seal of the letter... she even speaks of "the small clock of my courage" (ch. VI). And I suppose it is by no chance that the novella has 24 chapters.
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The End The metaphor of the Chinese boxes I used earlier is only partly accurate, since the narrative frame appears at the beginning but not at the end. Actually the novella doesn’t even end, it just stops (cf. the last word of the text). Yet the reader knows more than he believes about what is going to happen. In the preface, Douglas says the governess never saw her employer again, after the two initial interviews. This means, amongst other things, that she did not attend the funeral.
Virginia Woolf, The Old World Credo di avere un problema con le prefazioni che la Woolf ha scritto per le opere jamesiane: avevo già letto l'introduzio...moreVirginia Woolf, The Old World Credo di avere un problema con le prefazioni che la Woolf ha scritto per le opere jamesiane: avevo già letto l'introduzione al volume delle Storie di fantasmi curato da Leon Edel, e ho trovato quella come questa noiosa, poco brillante. Forse il mio errore consiste nell'averla letta prima del testo principale: se letta successivamente ha quantomeno la funzione di promemoria dei più interessanti aneddoti narrati da James. Ad ogni modo la Woolf ha azzeccato alcuni concetti, che ora vedremo.
Henry James, The Middle Years In tarda età James aveva iniziato a lavorare ad un ciclo di testi autobiografici. Dopo A Small Boy and Others e Notes of a Son and Brother, che raccontano della sua infanzia e giovinezza, questo The Middle Years è il terzo volume - nonché l'ultimo: James ci lavorò nell'autunno del 1914, ebbe un attacco di cuore nel dicembre del 1915 e morì, settantatreenne, il 28 febbraio 1916. Il ciclo autobiografico rimase quindi incompiuto; il numero di testi che avrebbe potuto includere fosse stato portato a termine è suggerito dal semplice fatto che James ne abbia riempiti due solo con i primi 25 anni di vita. Il titolo originale è omonimo a quello di un suo racconto - l'edizione Mattioli aggiunge la dicitura 'autobiografia' nel titolo per evitare fraintendimenti. Il volume rimase quindi incompiuto; ha ragione la Woolf nel dire che i ricordi di James s'interrompono. Sarebbe forse interessante analizzare il testo come esempio di manoscritto che James non ebbe modo di rivedere; ma in quel caso bisognerebbe lavorare sul testo originale (io ho un'impostazione accademica, portate pazienza). Ha ragione la Woolf quando scrive che "tra le mani ci sembra di avere solo il preludio di ciò che stiamo per leggere, solo il primo assaggio di un banchetto che ci è stato ora e per sempre negato". Si è però scordata di specificare che, nella caratteristica tarda maniera jamesiana, il 'preludio' è molto elaborato e il nostro 'assaggio' è un boccone elaborato, non di facile digestione. Credo che 'autobiografia incompiuta di Henry James' sia, per chi è familiare con i tre termini, una definizione sufficiente a racchiudere queste caratteristiche. Questo volume si apre con lo sbarco dell'autore a Liverpool in primo marzo 1869 ed avrebbe dovuto coprire i suoi anni inglesi (quantomeno i primi). Di fatto, i primissimi capitoli fungono da introduzione e servono più che altro a trasmettere le aspettative dell'allora venticinquenne scrittore, al suo arrivo nella capitale dell'impero; seguono alcuni incontri interessanti, ad es. con George Eliot e Tennyson; ma il tutto s'interrompe quando il lettore ha iniziato a prenderci gusto. E procedere fino a quel punto, come dicevo, non è cosa leggera.
Andrebbe letto contestualmente ad altri testi (epistolari, notebooks, recensioni...) che illustrino meglio cosa abbia significato per lui vivere in Inghilterra in quegli anni.
Mattioli 1885 Crediateci o meno, questo è il primo Mattioli che leggo. Sono libri molto curati sia nella forma (copertina, veste tipografica) che nel contenuto (traduzione, testi di accompagnamento). Inoltre la lista di autori farebbe la felicità di chiunque, come il sottoscritto, si occupa di americanistica: London, Twain, ancora London, ancora Twain, Melville, Poe, la Wharton, un altro London, un altro Twain... C'è da chiedersi cosa aspettino a pescare nella vasta produzione di racconti di Hawthorne. Detto questo, sono forse troppo trotzkijsta nell'opinare che €10 per 120 pagine in un formato selleriano mi sembrano eccessivi, considerando anche il fatto che i testi dei suddetti autori sono disponibili gratuitamente nella versione originale? È stato così che ho letto I and My Chimney di Melville, ad esempio. Colgo l'occasione per ringraziare chi mi ha prestato il libro, che a sua volta non l'ha pagato... (less)
Georg Brandes definì “det moderne gennembrud” il movimento naturalista e anti-romantico che negli ultimi trent’anni del diciannovesimo secolo diede vi...moreGeorg Brandes definì “det moderne gennembrud” il movimento naturalista e anti-romantico che negli ultimi trent’anni del diciannovesimo secolo diede visibilità europea ai letterati scandinavi. Uno degli esponenti di spicco fu Herman Bang (1857-1912), che, dopo aver dimostrato un talento precoce pubblicando a vent’anni due volumi di saggi critici sul naturalismo, viaggiò molto come giornalista. Ma a costringerlo all’esilio fu anche lo scandalo provocato dai suoi romanzi, oltre che dalla sua omosessualità. Come Oscar Wilde, era una penna raffinata e un dandy eccentrico, non privo di affettazioni, satireggiate da Strindberg nell’opera Predatori del 1886.
Nei due memoriali gemelli La casa bianca e La casa grigia, pubblicati a cavallo del nuovo secolo, Bang offre un ritratto della propria infanzia e giovinezza, sullo sfondo della decadenza del casato dei Hvide (ovvero “bianco” in danese); quasi a voler avvallare le parole di Thomas Mann, che in Bang vedeva un fratello del lontano nord danese. La casa bianca che fornisce titolo e ambientazione al primo dei due romanzi è la residenza dei Hvide sull’isola di Als, teatro dell’ultima battaglia della seconda guerra dello Schleswig (1864). La sconfitta bellica e la conseguente cessione alla Prussia dello Schleswig-Holstein aveva segnato profondamente il senso nazionale danese, e questo sentimento serpeggia agli angoli della narrazione: la magione è arredata con i mobili provenienti dall’asta del castello di Augustenborg, che per secoli era stato la sede del ducato. Il tono prevalente è tuttavia quello elegiaco e dolcemente malinconico dei ricordi d’infanzia, fin dall’invocazione iniziale:
Giorni d’infanzia, vi voglio richiamare, tempi ignari di malignità, tempi gentili, di voi voglio rievocare i ricordi. I passi leggeri di mia madre risuoneranno per le stanze luminose e coloro che ora sopportano mesti il fardello della vita sorrideranno come chi non è consapevole della propria sorte. Che parlino di nuovo con voci soavi quelli che sono morti, e antiche canzoni riaffioreranno attraverso il coro dei ricordi. Anche parole amare riecheggeranno, parole gravi, pronunciate da chi conosce la dura resa dei conti con la vita.
È proprio la voce materna a risuonare al di sopra della narrazione corale: nella prima scena è suo il canto sullo sfondo di un crepuscolo innevato. Volubile e scostante, Stella è sempre pronta a trascinare i figli e le cameriere in un turbine di giochi, canzoni, scherzi, travestimenti; appassionata origliatrice dei pettegolezzi nella cucina della servitù; troppo indulgente con i dipendenti, che se ne approfittano; intraprendente nel prendere parte ai lavori domestici, solo per accasciarsi stremata pochi attimi dopo: “tutto quel far niente l’aveva stancata”. Ma questa iperattività, che s’interrompe bruscamente non appena il marito Fritz rientra a casa o si affaccia dal suo studio, cela una profonda infelicità:
“Sa, Tine, cosa vorrei tanto fare? Vorrei poter scrivere una canzone che fosse triste come la vita” Taceva di nuovo, mentre le bianche mani risplendevano sui tasti. “Ma è ben pensato che la felicità non abbia alcun plurale”. “Già, è strano”. La madre posava il capo sulla mano. “No, non è strano”, diceva “perché ce n’è una sola”.
La cameriera Tine era già stata protagonista del romanzo omonimo di Bang, che ambientava una storia d’amore fallita sullo sfondo della sconfitta danese del 1864. Con uno stile che Claude Monet in persona aveva definito impressionista, il testo scivola da un ricordo all’altro senza soluzione di continuità, disponendoli secondo il ciclo delle stagioni: di modo che la narrazione si apra con il lungo inverno che termina con lo spuntare dei bucaneve e l’allungarsi delle giornate, prosegua con la primavera e il raccolto estivo e si concluda con la vendemmia. Nella postfazione, Luca Scarlini osserva che “la celebrazione del passato lontano e splendente di infinite infanzie è aspetto di un risarcimento emotivo che non giunge mai, nella perpetua celebrazione di una «nobiltà della sconfitta» più sognata che reale”. Non è un caso che il tono sia ovattato, a differenza di quanto avverrà ne La casa grigia; eppure, come recita il brano di Georg Hirschfeld citato nell’exerga, “ho dato loro parte del mio cuore — ma io non ho provato emozioni, non ho provato felicità”.
A tre anni di distanza da La casa bianca, Herman Bang pubblicò la seconda parte del mémoir romanzato in cui rivisitava i suoi anni formativi e precede...moreA tre anni di distanza da La casa bianca, Herman Bang pubblicò la seconda parte del mémoir romanzato in cui rivisitava i suoi anni formativi e precedenti agli esordi letterari. Il piccolo William, alter ego dell’autore, è ora un giovane uomo e vive con la famiglia nella capitale, nel palazzo in Amaliegade n. 7 noto come la casa grigia: il candore degli Hvide è ormai solo nel nome. Il palazzo, a due passi dalla residenza reale di Amalienborg, appartiene al vecchio patriarca, il nonno paterno Ole Hvide.
Nell’arco di una giornata, dalla prima mattina fino a tarda sera, la narrazione lo segue quasi come una macchina da presa in un unico piano sequenza quasi ininterrotto; laddove La casa bianca per contro ‘montava’ i ricordi d’infanzia di William lungo un intero anno solare. E questo colpisce ancor di più in un attore fallito e poi regista teatrale di successo come Bang, amico di Eleonora Duse e Sarah Bernhardt, famoso per i suoi adattamenti ibseniani e romanziere i cui libri divennero a volte pellicole molto apprezzate: come nel caso della rilettura che Carl Theodor Dreyser diede nel 1924 di Mikaël, considerata un caposaldo del cinema gay. “Sua Eccellenza” Ole Hvide è il personaggio centrale del romanzo, come la madre di William lo era stata del precedente. Al cambio di prospettiva corrisponde anche un diverso tono narrativo: se la casa bianca risuonava della voce di Stella, che ancora prega una delle cameriere di cantare per lei, la casa grigia scricchiola “come se emettesse lamenti nel silenzio”. Ole è il rappresentante di una generazione che ha “indovinato un intero secolo” solo per testimoniarne la decadenza, che si circonda ancora di camerieri in livrea e che nel suo cieco anacronismo assomiglia all’anziano barone dalla “strana figura da diciassettenne raggrinzito”. Una generazione che costringe i propri figli ad una rovinosa carriera agraria perché le sconfitte belliche del secolo precedente, causando la cessione dello Skåne alla Svezia e dello Schleswig-Holstein alla Prussia, avevano sottratto alla Danimarca le sue regioni più sviluppate. “Sei nato tardi”, dice Ole, amaro e disincantato, al nipote William quando questi gli fa visita per avere notizie dei suoi scritti, che nessuno più legge. Non è un caso che, in un romanzo che scandisce con precisione il trascorrere della giornata, gli orologi di casa Hvide siano fermi; né che i padroni di casa si muovano tra ombre che sembrano spettri del passato. Così Sua Grazia, moglie di Ole, torna nei sogni ai balli di gioventù, agli accompagnatori ormai morti da tempo, ripetendo nel sonno “Weimar, Weimar”; mentre il giovane rampollo Fritz Hvide ha “una bellezza antica, la bellezza di un monumento funebre”.
Il giovane è omonimo del padre di William, che in serata avrà un chiarimento definitivo con la moglie Stella: una pagina struggente che racchiude alla perfezione la tecnica dell’autore di indagare “magistralmente le dinamiche del quotidiano, […] agendo in sostanza sul territorio del non detto e del rimosso” e delineando i moti dell’animo senza descriverli ma mostrandone gli effetti (dalla postfazione di Luca Scarlini). Nel ricevere la visita di un’amica di giovinezza, da vent’anni marescialla a Vienna, Stella rievoca i ricordi passati, come già ai tempi della casa bianca — appassiti a loro volta come i petali dei fiori che, sulla tavola a cui i tre siedono, cadono uno ad uno. Ma le nubi temporalesche, metaforiche o meno, si sono raccolte fin dal mattino, e la fine di quel mondo non sarà poetica. Avrà anzi l’aspetto storpio, malato e ripugnante del commendatore Glud, un cinico usuraio cui la nobiltà è infine costretta a rivolgersi, apponendo il proprio sigillo sulla ceralacca che cola sui contratti come sangue.
Al termine della cena, nella quale si è discusso del Grundtvigianesimo e —appropriatamente— dell’Amleto, il brindisi finale, con l’ultima bottiglia di tocai stravecchio, dona riflessi sanguigni allo stemma dei Hvide sui bicchieri intagliati.
La casa bianca mostrava con gli occhi dell’infanzia la grazia di un mondo in realtà già decaduto; intenzionalmente più prosaica, La casa grigia offre un punto di vista adulto e disincantato, e tuttavia riesce ad essere a suo modo ancor più poetica e struggente nelle delicate immagini di una magistrale e potente simbologia.