The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner

(by James Hogg)

The protagonist, Robert Wringhim, finds himself spiraling deeper into a vortex of evil.

Luckily there’s a mysterious but nice young chap to ‘guide’ him on his way.

A towering, fascinating ‘mystery’ novel, revealing how dangerous it is to mix Calvinism and Old Scratch.

Goya's goat

Goya’s goat

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(dir. D.A. Pennebaker) (1960) (Redux 2013)

Very slight and grainy documentary by today’s standards.

Clearly an outsider’s view, despite the intimacy of the footage. Hubert Humphrey was the only candidate heard discussing policy: hence you knew he was doomed.

'Let's see if JFK swallows this...'

‘Let’s see if JFK swallows this…’

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Power Without Glory

(by Frank Hardy)

Never mind that Hardy was an unreconstructed Commo; this is a great, great-big book, a scandalous roman-a-clef based on a Collingwood Mafioso, John Wren and his rise (and rise).  Blessed with no literary touches but a lot of narrative drive, the book has become, in its unpretentious way, a landmark of Australian literature.  Hardy had to overcome a myriad hurdles to get his work published and only then did his troubles really begin, in the form of various reprisals, including an almost ruinous trial for criminal libel.

That sweet old softy, John Wren (photo by The Sydney Morning Herald)

That sweet old softy, John Wren (photo by The Sydney Morning Herald)

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Picnic at Hanging Rock

(dir. Peter Weir) (1975)


“Bye, now.”





St. Valentine’s Day, 1900.  The young ladies of Appleyard College are treated to a picnic at Hanging Rock, a volcanic pile in the heart of the Victorian countryside, near Mount Macedon.  There is twittering around the teacups, too much cake and Australian sunshine, and whilst the party are having an al fresco siesta, people go missing.  But while the film has aspects of a whodunit or a thriller, it cannot be categorised because it simply transcends classification.  As F.R Leavis said of Wuthering Heights, you can call this a sport. Totally magical, mystical, ethereal, and beyond criticism.

The Varnished Culture has been obsessed with the book and the film for many years, watching the latter every Valentine’s day – it is a triumph on every level.

[Incidentally, your correspondents married on the staircase of what was the Fitzhubert Mansion in the film.  We have stayed in Mrs Appleyard’s room at what is Martindale Hall in the Clare Valley, South Australia.  We have climbed the rock and savoured its uncanny, eerie, atmosphere.  We have deconstructed the literary influences on Joan Lindsay in writing a novel based on a myth so potent that it seems not only true as myth, and as an emblem of colonial propriety amid the romanticism of an aged, savage and mysterious wilderness, but seems to move from fiction to perceived reality.]

LESLEY ADDS : The closest I have come to finding a description of the feeling which this film aroused in my upon my first viewing at the world premiere at the Hindley Cinemas in Adelaide is C S Lewis’s explanation of what he calls “joy” .  This is from his memoir – “Surprised by Joy”.  He is talking about “imaginative experiences” – “The first is itself the memory of a memory. As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton’s “enormous bliss” of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to “enormous”) comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit-tin filled with moss, nor even (though that came into it) for my own past. Ἰοῡλἱανποθω[1] — and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased. It had taken only a moment of time; and in a certain sense everything else that had ever happened to me was insignificant in comparison.”  Lewis  relates it to the German word “sehensucht”, or longing for longing, not for the satisfaction of the longing.

[1] – Oh, I desire too much.

UPDATE: We welcome the work based on the Picnic myth by Janelle McCulloch.  McCulloch has been the literary equivalent of the trackers in Picnic, covering every inch of the Rock’s haunting mysteries, and she brings all of her ethereal style and exquisite taste to bear – see our review here.


Frederick McCubbin’s “Lost”

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Picasso Exhibition

November 5, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Sydney Art Gallery)

I have to admit that the hanging I most appreciated said “EXIT” in illumined green and white…

Facts About "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon," Picasso's Most Famous Painting


Wyndham Lewis had this to say of Picasso (1881-1973) in 1940:

“Cézanne is the great influence: that, and the arts of primitive man…Picasso is parasitic…he is at the same time original.  His originality is of a technical order…And were Picasso a musician, he would be able to play a dozen instruments, and be as adept with a kettledrum as with a harp.  But he would not be a Bach or a Beethoven…He is such a great, luxuriant, voracious, plant: and he is a little too much of the liana – the prolific, tropical creeper – rather than the solid giant of the forest – to which description Daumier, or Cézanne, or Goya answers, but he does not.”

Weeping Woman 1937 Pablo Picasso 1881-1973 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax with additional payment (Grant-in-Aid) made with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987

Weeping Woman 1937 Pablo Picasso 1881-1973 Accepted by HM Government in lieu of tax with additional payment (Grant-in-Aid) made with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund and the Friends of the Tate Gallery 1987

The criminal genius who stole one of Pablo’s repellent series of “Weeping Woman” works had the right idea – he swiped it from the NGV and stowed it safely at Spencer Street Railway Station, in a locker, where nobody had to see it – but then it was recovered.  Picasso, the master showman / shaman of 20th century painting, would have approved.

We're "sure" Dora Maar just loved Pablo's 1939 rendering of her (NSW Gallery)

We’re “sure” Dora Maar just loved Pablo’s 1939 rendering of her (NSW Gallery)


Picasso in his studio, Villa la Californie by Arnold Newman on artnet

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Parting the Waters

(by Taylor Branch)

This is the first of a trilogy re American civil rights politics under the stewardship of Martin Luther King Jnr, covering the years 1954 to 1963, ending with the march on Washington and the death of JFK. This giant work is bigger than a mere bio of King and its scholarship and sheer mass of detail is leavened with clear and eloquent prose and mature reflection.


No panegyric, this: King is treated as a human, remarkable though he was, and as the politician he surely was. A wonderful work that demands to be read and read again. The Varnished Culture admits with embarrassment to having not yet taken on the last 2 pieces of the jigsaw, Pillar of Fire and At Canaan’s Edge.  Thumbnail reviews to come in due course.


Dare to dream

On August 28 1963 came a high point of the civil rights movement in America – the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  Taylor Branch has a brilliant chapter on this thrilling moment, carefully deconstructing the machinations that led to the culmination, where King addressed several hundred thousand people and millions more on television: “He recited his text verbatim until a short run near the end: “We will not be satisfied until justice runs down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”…[Then King abandoned some lame suggestions in the speech to advance the cause in various communities and instead he urged continued struggle to bring change ‘somehow.’] “There was no alternative but to preach. Knowing that he had wandered completely off his text, some of those behind him on the platform urged him on, and Mahalia Jackson piped up as though in church, “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin.” Whether her words reached him is not known.”  Courtesy of You Tube, here’s the concluding portion of the “I Have a Dream” speech, 28 August, 1963:



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Pale Fire

(by Vladimir Nabokov)

Great post-modernism. With fake scholarship, confected verse and unreliable commentary (a triple Ephialtes). “I was the shadow of the waxwing slain by the false azure in the windowpane…”

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The Origins of the Inquisition

(by B Netanyahu)

Definitive, immense and profound work on the causes and motives of the Spanish Inquisition.




[Note that TVC recommends the following:

Torquemada himself would be impressed with Wakefield & Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages (1991) and Lu Ann Homza’s The Spanish Inquisition 1478-1614; An Anthology of Sources (2006), which is a very valuable resource of primary documents.

The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision (1998) by Henry Kamen, is a good general volume (TVC has a pretty Folio edition).

The Spanish Inquisition (1937) by Cecil Roth is a superior general academic treatment.

The Inquisition of the Middle Ages (1887) is a definitive work by an early expert (Henry Charles Lea); this is an expurgated version from the 3 volume work (1963); the Inquisitors “inevitably reached the practical conclusion that the sacrifice of a hundred innocent men were better than the escape of one guilty.”

Frontiers of Heresy (1990) by William Monter focuses on various aspects not usually covered in detail.

Good general non academic texts: The Growth of the Spanish Inquisition (1960) by Jean Plaidy; Inquisition and Society in Spain (1985) by Henry Kamen; The Italian Inquisition (2009) by C.F. Black; In the Shadow of the Virgin (2003) by Gretchen D. Starr-LeBeau; Inquisitorial Inquiries (2004) edited by Richard L. Kagan & Abigail Dyer scrutinizes specific cases.

Popular re-hashes, readable but hardly novel: The Inquisition (1999) by Michael Baigent & Richard Leigh; The Inquisition (1984) by Edward Burman; Inquisition (1999) by John Edwards; The Grand Inquisitor’s Manual (2009) by Jonathan Kirsch; The Spanish Inquisition (2002) by Joseph Pérez, and The Pope and the Heretic (2002) by Michael White.]

St Dominic presiding at an auto-da-fe ('act of faith') by Pedro Berruguete

St Dominic presiding at an auto-da-fe (‘act of faith’) by Pedro Berruguete


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(by Joseph Conrad)

Conrad’s robust, sinewy and subtle story of silver madness is the best thing he ever did.

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Nikolaus Pevsner – The Life

(by Susie Harries)

The rather ponderous biographical figure can make for a fascinating biography, when it is written and researched judiciously and with love.  Pevsner’s love for his adopted England is shown in the Teutonic thoroughness with which he trundled about every shire in the country, travelling and lodging uncomfortably with a hard cheese sandwich wedged in his coat pocket, to document every church, every manor, every public building, bridge and stile of consequence.  He accumulated a wall of architectural volumes for the intelligent layperson that still inspire the question: “Is it in Pevsner?”


Durham Cathedral


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