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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Vladimir, you’re needed!

July 2, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, WRITING & LITERATURE |

Vladimir Nabokov died 2 July 1977.  Forty years later, his crisp, lush, exquisite prose, his deep insight and weirdness, as well as his celebrated courage in tackling the extremely tacky in a highly sophisticated way, is needed more than ever, in the face of what some like to call ‘contemporary literature’.  There’s no need to buy brick walls of modern novels – go into a decent second hand store (if you can find one) or Kindle up a copy of, say, Despair, Lolita, Pale Fire, Pnin, Transparent Things, etc., or his great memoir, Speak, Memory. Our appreciation of Nabokov was written…

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June 16, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classic Books, LIFE, WRITING & LITERATURE |

June 16 (1904) June 16 is the day we commemorate Ulysses, the massive (“unreadable modernist”)* novel by James Joyce (2/2/1882 to 13/1/1941) which turns on events on that day in Dublin. It is structurally based on The Odyssey, a work written a few thousand years ago (Leopold ‘Poldy’ Bloom is Odysseus, or Ulysses in Roman parlance; Marion Bloom is Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus is Telemachus), so that episodes, action (if you can call it action – not a whole lot happens) and characters follow, roughly, Homer’s book.  Psychologically, Joyce adds the modernising shade of Hamlet. For The Varnished Culture, the novel is too big…

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