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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Pride With Prejudice

Jane Austen (16 December 1775 to 18 July 1817) “Her acute sense of character, her bland irony, her exquisite powers of organisation and presentation, turned the uneventful lives of well-fed people in quiet corners into enchanting novels.”* She may have belonged, as Edward Said claimed, ‘to a slave-owning society,’ but Jane Austen was a great writer – one of the very greatest – of small things, and the interior of the provincial English mind. She wasn’t so fussed about ‘themes.’ She wrote about girls looking for a man to marry, which was of prime importance then; today, 200 years after her premature…

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Dante Defeats Disappointment

Image of Dante by Agnolo Bronzino

Giosuè Carducci (27 July 1835 to 16 February 1907) refused the Dante Chair in Rome because, among other things, he feared its politicisation, no doubt correctly. Yet it must have rankled because Carducci knew what many of the wise knew: that the life and work of Dante Alighieri is a miraculous example to all. In these times of artistic, financial, intellectual and moral bankruptcy, verged on a new theocratic age, it is salutary to consider this extract of Carducci’s poem to Dante: “Dante, how comes it that my vows I pay To thy proud image? Still I meditate The verse…

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