The “loose, baggy monster” (Charles Dickens)

February 7, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, Fiction, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Charles Dickens (7 February 1812 – 9 June 1870) It is important to remember that many of Dickens’ books were serialised, hence their great bulk crept-up on the audience, so intent on the trees that they forgave the tangled, unstructured wood. Peter Ackroyd, in his massive (and borderline prurient) biography, noted that, in America for example, his readers “greeted the arrival of the latest sheets of The Old Curiosity Shop with cries of “Is Little Nell dead?””  It is all very well to be snobbish about Dickens – F.R. Leavis calling him a genius but only a genius as an ‘entertainer’…

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Robert Louis Stevenson

November 13, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Painting of RLS by Count Girolamo Nerli (1892)

Born 13 November 1850 Stevenson went from the writer of ‘Boy’s Own’ stories and developed into an accomplished and beloved writer who is likely to have got better and better had he not died from chronic ill health aged 44. J. P. Priestey wrote in Literature and Western Man (1960) “Stevenson’s enormous popularity, partly the result of his narrative gift but also the reward of his style, which has an unusual and very personal grace and charm (and some of his sourer critics might try to learn something from it before dismissing it as a mere trick), has now lasted…

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Wish We’d Said That

Photo of Wilde by Napoleon Sarony (1882)

Oscar Wilde (16 October 1854 to 30 November 1900) The Divine Oscar is recalled daily by defamation lawyers, cautioning their prospective clients.  But we prefer to recall his playfulness, his essential kindness, and gargantuan wit. Richard Ellmann, in his biography of Wilde (1987), said of him that he “had to live his life twice over, first in slow motion, than at top speed. During the first period he was a scapegrace, during the second a scapegoat…His language is his finest achievement. It is fluent with concession and rejection. It takes what has been ponderously said and remakes it according to…

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(Documentary by Shane Salerno, 2013) (The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger, 1951) The consolation of philosophy.  That gave Salinger some peace from his war-borne PTSD, his difficulty with close relationships, his hankering for younger women, his feather-like sensibilities and his disdain for almost any other living writers. It also gave us his best book, Franny and Zooey (1955), but regretfully, it conferred upon him an unwholesome permit to abjure the world, retreat to a snow-bound hut and write for the sake of writing. Alas, he may have been clapped-out by the time he perfected his Unabomber impersonation – his 1965 story,…

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Happy Birthday, Blaise

September 1, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Blaise Cendrars (born 1 September 1887) Happy birthday to the weird and wonderful Blaise Cendrars (real name, Frédéric Louis Sauser) whose alter ego kept creating alter egos (Our review of Moravagine is here.) In La Pierre, 1 September 1917, during the war in which he lost his right arm, although that didn’t slow him down, he wrote: “And more than ever I marvel to see how simple everything is, how easy, useless, and absolutely unnecessary. We commit the most gigantic acts of stupidity and the world hee-haws with joy as, for example, with war, its fanfares, its Te Deums, its…

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