The first half of the book, set in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the mid-1920s, reads as if it were written by a minor male charaCharming Canadiana.
The first half of the book, set in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in the mid-1920s, reads as if it were written by a minor male character (an ineffectual teenager) in the "Anne of Green Gables" books.
The second half of the book follows the same "character" across the ocean to England, to college days in Oxford, where he now takes on the mannerisms of an undergraduate in an early Evelyn Waugh novel.
There are a lot of interesting tidbits here. Berenson, a prominent art historian of the Italian Renaissance, was born in a Lithuania shtetl in the yeaThere are a lot of interesting tidbits here. Berenson, a prominent art historian of the Italian Renaissance, was born in a Lithuania shtetl in the year that the American Civil War ended, and was active mentally until the end of his life. This collection of diary entries covers the years from 1947 to 1958, when he was between 81 and 92 years old. His mind was active and sensitive and curious through the entire period of this book: we should all be so lucky! And Berenson is also an effective teller of the indignities and annoyances of aging as well: the weakness, the forgetfulness, the loss of faculties. Getting old sucks - even for Bernard Berenson, living at a fabulous Tuscan villa surrounded by timeless art, waited on by faithful servants and in the company of a patient, devoted, and cherished life-partner.
This book was published only five years after "BB"s death, and I suspect that there were a lot of passages that were too indiscreet to be published at the time. Which is a shame. It's also a shame there is so much repetition in the published diary entries. The book would be twice as good if it were half as long. When Berenson has something interesting to say, he's very interesting: he served as a fascinating link between worlds of literature, art, and scholarship from the late 1880s to the late 1950s. Oscar Wilde was a friend of his; Berenson was taught at Harvard by Henry Adams; he became the art adviser for Joseph Duveen; he was Bertrand Russell's brother-in-law. In the 1950s, all sorts of people who were passing through Italy stopped to see him and pay him homage: the range of contacts goes from Harry Truman to Ray Bradbury to Henri Matisse to the former Queen of Romania....more
It does seem churlish to criticize a diarist for being self-centered, but there's something missing here that prevents the "Later Diaries" of the 1960It does seem churlish to criticize a diarist for being self-centered, but there's something missing here that prevents the "Later Diaries" of the 1960s from being as interesting as they could have been or should have been. And maybe it is that Ned Rorem was so wrapped up in his own personal life with its rather minor accomplishments and frustrations that he failed to see what was going on around him. I mean: the 1960s! The youth rebellion, the Vietnam War, Race Riots in the cities. He does write a little bit about Rock and Roll music, for which I give him some credit, but there is no sense that he appreciated the significance of the tumultuous decade that the time frame of this publication encompasses.
Rorem combines discretion and indiscretion in a peculiar manner. There's something "chilly" as he recounts (like Don Giovanni) his thousands of sexual encounters in his twenties and thirties - it seems as if these were accomplished through compulsion, without any true significance or meaning. At a certain point in the decade represented here, he appears to have foresworn further sexual encounters, but it's not really clear why or when he does so. Moreover, by the early 1970s he seems to have entered into a long term committed emotional relationship with a younger man, JH (Jimmy Holmes, as identified in the photographs), but there is no elaboration or explanation.
Then there's the recurrent self-pity, which is rather unappealing in a man who is living a comfortable upper-middle class lifestyle in Mid-Manhattan, without personal tragedy or major illness. He's getting older and is not quite as beautiful as he used to be! Alas.
Rorem is most interesting in writing about his friends and rivals who were also active composers of the time: Copland, Menotti, Bernstein, Boulez - they all show up here and Rorem has interesting things to say about them.
If you are looking to read the journals of a prominent gay artist in the 1960s, I would recommend the Diaries of Cecil Beaton. Beaton no doubt was "bitchier" and probably a lot harder to get along with, but the Beaton Diaries give a better sense of what it is was like to be a middle aged gay artist in the 1960s. (Admittedly Beaton was a visual artist, and 18 years older than Rorem, but he actually seems to have had a lot more young friends than the composer.)...more
It is what it is: 300 pages of good gossipy reading, about one of the most famous literary couples of the last 35 years. A brilliant playwright of theIt is what it is: 300 pages of good gossipy reading, about one of the most famous literary couples of the last 35 years. A brilliant playwright of the "kitchen sink school", Pinter acheived the remarkable feat of being mentioned in a great Stephen Sondheim song shortly after he turned 40. ("The Ladies Who Lunch", from "Company.") He went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Fraser - born in 1932 - is a popular and admired historian and biographer, often writing about powerful women and Queens who lose their heads (she is probably best known for her biographies of Mary Queen of Scots and Marie Antoinette.)
This is the story of a romance and a long relationship that began in scandal: Lady Antonia and Pinter met at a London dinner party in January 1975, at a time when they were both married with children. But "the heart has its reasons which reason cannot know," and in spite of their families and social expectations of the time, they determined to break the bonds of family and societal expectations to create a new lasting marriage of minds.
I got the feeling that these diary entries were jotted down in spare moments, not much reflected upon. She had a busy life - with six maturing children, a demanding husband, loving and active yet elderly parents - and a writing career of her own in which she was nearly always working on a lengthy manuscript. As a result, her diary is not particularly "literary" in itself, nor does Lady Antonia come across as particularly deep or reflective. The real interest lies in what the Pinters were doing at any given time, and who they were meeting.
Beware: Lady Antonia is not adverse to name-dropping! But it's true that both she and her husband were both members of what in Britain is known as "the chattering classes," - and they both had links to theatre and film as well. So its not really surprising that they were always meeting Philip Roth for lunch, Salman Rushdie was popping over for a spot of tea, Vaclav Havel was calling for advice from Prague, they were going to cast parties with John Gielgud and discussing film projects with Jeremy Irons, and Cherie Blair wanted to interview them for a BBC documentary....more
I am a very big Iris Murdoch fan - read all of her novel, and most of her philosophy - so I find the subjecOh my, it's hard to review this miscellany!
I am a very big Iris Murdoch fan - read all of her novel, and most of her philosophy - so I find the subject matter intrinsically interesting. That said, I found this book to be poorly edited, misleadingly titled, and often quite disappointing. And there's no index!
But I still "liked it."
First the diary: it's really just a two-week long journal from late August 1939, about Murdoch's experience with a semi-professional theatrical troupe when she was just twenty. Not terribly interesting, either.
Then there are separate "runs" of letters from Murdoch to two of her lovers and intimate friends during the Second World War, Frank Thompson and David Hicks. Instead of "integrating" the sequences, they are presented in different "chapters" of the book - even though Murdoch's relationship with them overlapped - as would happen often throughout her long and varied romantic life. It's a peculiar editorial choice, and I think it doesn't really serve the reader - or Murdoch - well.
Actually, many letters of Thompson _to_ Murdoch are reproduced in the book as well - perhaps a few more than letters of Murdoch _to_ Thompson. These are somewhat interesting in themselves - as Thompson was a soldier and a poet and a Communist and is regarded as a great hero in Bulgaria (where he assisted the anti-Nazi Resistance movement) - but they don't really contribute much to an understanding of Iris Murdoch.
The most interesting part of this book was the concluding "chapter," the section of letters to David Hicks, a fellow writer and intellectual with whom she battled verbally, but who became engaged to her for a short while in late 1945/early 1946. She and Hicks saw each other only briefly in the period in question, so the affair was indeed carried out mostly in letters - and letter overwhelmingly from Murdoch. The authorial voice of Murdoch begins to emerge in these contradictory, frustrating, emotional, intelligent and brilliant missives. ...more