Doctor Faustus

(by Thomas Mann)

Formidably long and deep, Mann’s novel was written from 1943 to 1947 and represents his “F.U” to Germany for feting Hitler and forgetting Mann. Still, Mann was right and this work is his masterpiece, one of the most authentic studies of genius.  Roger Scruton called it “Mann’s great valediction to Western culture.”


Continue Reading →

A Distant Episode

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Fiction, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, WRITING & LITERATURE |

(by Paul Bowles)

Like the cove in George Orwell’s piece about bookshops, we generally ‘do not desire little stories’, yet this is P’s personal favourite, along with Joyce Carol Oates’ Where are You Going, Where have You Been?. Warning: Both stories are particularly nasty.

To excel at linguistics, you need a healthy tongue

To excel at linguistics, you need a healthy tongue

Continue Reading →

The Dinner Game

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Film, Comedy Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir. Francis Veber) (1998)

Kenneth Tynan said that you have to be cruel to be kind in high French comedy. In the present case, a bunch of nasty Parisian swells convene a regular dinner in which they have to bring along an unsuspecting dill, each with his own dumb hobby/obsession that their hosts can suavely, and discretely, mock. The book publisher’s friend has, by accident, found an idiot for the next round – in fact, he’s a world champion. But most satisfyingly, cruelty loses to stupidity in this sublime Gallic turn, and one also learns how many matches it takes to build the Eiffel Tower.

diner cons

Things seemed to be going so well…

Continue Reading →

A Delicate Balance

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Film, Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir. Tony Richardson) (1973)

One Friday night a tense little New England family receives a surprise visit from a couple of old friends. It seems they were at home and suddenly ‘became frightened’ for no apparent reason. So they decide to move in with their oldest friends, opening up some old, and some still warmly moist, scars, testing the limits and concept of true friendship.

More delectable, drunken, hate-filled east coast dummy-spits from Edward Albee. The Varnished Culture always draws the cat’s attention to what might happen to him if he ever “doesn’t like us anymore”.

delicate balance

“They were suddenly frightened!”

Continue Reading →

Defend the Realm

(by Christopher Andrew) (Other editions entitled The Defence of the Realm)

The author is suited to the task of telling MI5’s story and not just because he’s a Cambridge man. Impeccably credentialed and given an exclusive entreé to classified material, Mr Andrew provides a rational, impartial and exquisitely detailed work, easy to read and to read compulsively.


The 4 Horsemen of the apocalypse…clockwise from top right – Blunt, Maclean, Philby & Burgess


Continue Reading →

Death Comes for the Archbishop

(by Willa Cather)

A series of disappointingly empty episodes in old New Mexico, where the priests are as mixed a bag as anywhere else.


Continue Reading →

Dead Souls

(by Nikolai Gogol)

Gogol was no Dante. He could not legislate in his novels. But he pinned sinners more lethally than most and the wild scheme to buy and sell the dead, today, looks a lot like dealing in derivatives.

The dead souls were peasants who had passed on between official census, and hence you incurred their holding costs (tax) till they were officially designated as dead at the next census. The protagonist, Chichikov, would acquire those dead souls, thereby assuming the tax burden of them, but he would mortgage them as live souls till the next census.

Priestley wrote “On the gothic tower of romanticism, Gogol is responsible for the gargoyles.”

Merrily they roll along...

Merrily they roll along…

Continue Reading →

Dead Man

November 3, 2014 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir. Jim Jarmusch) (1996)

Johnny Depp rides again, or should it be sails, into the sunset, only this time, weird works.

"Stupid White Men"

“Stupid White Men”

[As Depp Indian films go, this is as good as The Lone Ranger is execrable…] Continue Reading →

The Count of Monte Cristo

(by Alexandre Dumas)

A turgid but absorbing boys’- own revenge yarn.


Where will I hide the dirt?

Continue Reading →


(by Samuel Richardson) (1748)

The Varnished Culture mentions this merely to brag: longer than War and Peace (it’s the longest novel in English at approximately 984,870 words), this account of virtue chased and trashed is the novel’s version of continuous cricket: mad in detail, slow in execution, passionately related. Told in letters, very long letters, the correspondents spend what seems a year recalling a year but a crowded year. Take this book to a desert island; it will endure and also make a crackling blaze.

Coleridge nailed Richardson’s “close, hot, day-dreamy continuity” and Priestley (in Literature and Western Man) commented: “The whole fantastically elaborate business of Clarissa and Lovelace, over which so many eighteenth-century readers wept, could only exist in an over-heated evangelical -erotic dreamland.” 

Walter Allen, in The English Novel, was a little more brusque: “…Richardson was mad – mad about sex, and I doubt whether it is possible for the critic who comes to Clarissa after reading Freud to deny that the novel must have been written by a man who was, even though unconsciously, a sadist in the technical sense; the loving, lingering, horrified, gloating descriptions of Clarissa’s long-drawn-out sexual humiliation at the hands of Lovelace, the rape that is constantly threatened and constantly deferred until, when it occurs, it has an additional horror simply because of its long postponement, provide an element of quite inescapable pornography…”

Are these reactions in fact overreactions, testimony to the length and depth of Clarissa?  Mark Kinkead-Weekes, in his Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist, considers that “Clarissa is the finest novel of its century“* and cautions against casting Miss Harlowe as an angel and Lovelace as a demon: “Clarissa’s tragedy is an exposure of a materialist and acquisitive society; of the moral decay of both the aristocracy and the ‘middle class’“** – a “struggle for Clarissa to come to terms with her fear of sex, her readiness to cast herself as a victim, her melancholy, and her morbid longing for death – or her spiritual pride, which is for Richardson at the heart of it all.”+  Lovelace’s “gaiety, his apparent candour, his wit and charm, even his rakehell insouciance and energy…[pose] a trap for the unwary and superficial here…For in [the] opening volumes we see him mostly through the eyes of Clarissa…“^

[*Page 1. **Page 124. +Page 488.  ^Page 142.]

“O-ho charmer, how came you there?”




Continue Reading →

© Copyright 2014 The Varnished Culture All Rights Reserved. TVC Disclaimer. Site by KWD&D.