Happy Birthday, Milton! Here’s how you can support him – no, no, not with another civil war, but by preserving his cottage.

December 9th, 2019
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Milton makes whoopee.

Happy 411th birthday to John Milton! You can see him at the party today at left. He celebrated – where else? – at his cottage in Chalfont St. Giles, his refuge while he was out of royal favor after the defeat of Oliver Cromwell. We’ve written about it here and here.

Milton’s Cottage is the only surviving home of the poet and parliamentarian who wrote Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained, Lycidas, Comus, Areopagitica, and so much more. Today, his birthday, is a good way to think of how we can all help preserve this chunk of 17th century literary history.

Why? Let one of the trustees, Stanford alum John Bradley, tell you: “Here in 1666, he completed his epic work Paradise Lost.”

“During his lifetime in the 17th century he laid the groundwork for the democratic way of life we enjoy today. He championed the four basic freedoms of thought, of speech, of religious following, and of freedom of publication, which we are still hotly debating today. This legacy provides an anchor for the civilized world as we know it. His influence on founding father Thomas Jefferson and John Adams is fully apparent in the wording of both the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment, which enshrines theses freedoms.”

Americans can make tax-deductible donations via the British Schools & Universities Foundation and Network for Good here, noting Milton’s Cottage Trust as a preference. And if you’re in Britain, you have a chance to make donations that will be quadrupled here for “Darkness Visible,” to support a program at the Cottage for the visually impaired (as Milton was). But you must move quick! quick! quick! Donations must be received by midday tomorrow – London time.

Want to see the Milton Cottage yourself? Try the video below.

Olga Tokarczuk’s Nobel lecture: “Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world.”

December 8th, 2019
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Today at the Swedish PEN-club (Photo: Joanna Helander)

This weekend Olga Tokarczuk gave her Nobel lecture, a much-anticipated event in literary world. Her topic: “The Tender Narrator.” It was a knock-out.

Her explanation of the title:

Tenderness is spontaneous and disinterested; it goes far beyond empathetic fellow feeling. Instead it is the conscious, though perhaps slightly melancholy, common sharing of fate. Tenderness is deep emotional concern about another being, its fragility, its unique nature, and its lack of immunity to suffering and the effects of time. Tenderness perceives the bonds that connect us, the similarities and sameness between us. It is a way of looking that shows the world as being alive, living, interconnected, cooperating with, and codependent on itself.

Literature is built on tenderness toward any being other than ourselves. It is the basic psychological mechanism of the novel. Thanks to this miraculous tool, the most sophisticated means of human communication, our experience can travel through time, reaching those who have not yet been born, but who will one day turn to what we have written, the stories we told about ourselves and our world.

A few excerpts:

The category of fake news raises new questions about what fiction is. Readers who have been repeatedly deceived, misinformed or misled have begun to slowly acquire a specific neurotic idiosyncrasy. The reaction to such exhaustion with fiction could be the enormous success of non-fiction, which in this great informational chaos screams over our heads: “I will tell you the truth, nothing but the truth,” and “My story is based on facts!”

Fiction has lost the readers’ trust since lying has become a dangerous weapon of mass destruction, even if it is still a primitive tool. I am often asked this incredulous question: “Is this thing you wrote really true?” And every time I feel this question bodes the end of literature.

***

Reading in Yonkers last year, in the home of Izabela Barry.

I have never been particularly excited about any straight distinction between fiction and non-fiction, unless we understand such a distinction to be declarative and discretionary. In a sea of many definitions of fiction, the one I like the best is also the oldest, and it comes from Aristotle. Fiction is always a kind of truth.

I am also convinced by the distinction between true story and plot made by the writer and essayist E.M. Forster. He said that when we say, “The king died and then the queen died,” it’s a story. But when we say, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief,” that is a plot. Every fictionalization involves a transition from the question “What happened next?” to an attempt at understanding it based on our human experience: “Why did it happen that way?”

Literature begins with that “why,” even if we were to answer that question over and over with an ordinary “I don’t know.”

***

Humanity has come a long way in its ways of communicating and sharing personal experience, from orality, relying on the living word and human memory, through the Gutenberg Revolution, when stories began to be widely mediated by writing and in this way fixed and codified as well as possible to reproduce without alteration. The major attainment of this change was that we came to identify thinking with language, with writing. Today we are facing a revolution on a similar scale, when experience can be transmitted directly, without recourse to the printed word.

There is no longer any need to keep a travel diary when you can simply take pictures and send those pictures via social networking sites straight into the world, at once and to all. There is no need to write letters, since it is easier to call. Why write fat novels, when you can just get into a television series instead? Instead of going out on the town with friends, it would be better to play a game. Reach for an autobiography? There’s no point, since I am following the lives of celebrities on Instagram and know everything about them.

It is not even the image that is the greatest opponent of text today, as we thought back in the twentieth century, worrying about the influence of television and film. It is instead a completely different dimension of the world—acting directly on our senses.

***

With translator Jennifer Croft, after winning the Man Booker Prize in 2018 (Photo: Janie Airey/Man Booker Prize)

The flood of stupidity, cruelty, hate speech and images of violence are desperately counterbalanced by all sorts of “good news,” but it hasn’t the capacity to rein in the painful impression, which I find hard to verbalize, that there is something wrong with the world. Nowadays this feeling, once the sole preserve of neurotic poets, is like an epidemic of lack of definition, a form of anxiety oozing from all directions.

Literature is one of the few spheres that try to keep us close to the hard facts of the world, because by its very nature it is always psychological, because it focuses on the internal reasoning and motives of the characters, reveals their otherwise inaccessible experience to another person, or simply provokes the reader into a psychological interpretation of their conduct. Only literature is capable of letting us go deep into the life of another being, understand their reasons, share their emotions and experience their fate.

A story always turns circles around meaning.

***

In Doctor Faustus Thomas Mann wrote about a composer who devised a new form of absolute music capable of changing human thinking. But Mann did not describe what this music would depend on, he merely created the imaginary idea of how it might sound. Perhaps that is what the role of an artist relies on―giving a foretaste of something that could exist, and thus causing it to become imaginable. And being imagined is the first stage of existence.

Read the whole thing here.

The first case of real forgiveness ever? Maybe so. My talk on René Girard at Notre Dame.

December 5th, 2019
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Giovanni Maria Bottala’s “Joseph Sold by His Brothers,” circa 1636-42

On September 23, I was honored to be invited to Notre Dame to deliver the inaugural Church Life Journal lecture on “René Girard and the Present Moment.” The talk is now up here

An excerpt:

Roughly 200 billion tweets appear every year. And 100 million hours of videos are watched on Facebook daily, and more than 250 billion photos have been uploaded to Facebook. Reaction time gets faster and faster, and we are free to vent our worst side, our unconsidered selves, on more and more platforms. We excuse our daily defamation as harmless, but it is not. It changes us.

In this environment, how difficult to hold to Girard’s injunction of total non-retaliation! …

We have some good precedents: Girard often described the story of the Old Testament Joseph, son of Jacob, bound and sold into slavery by his mob of ten envious and resentful half-brothers. He called it a counter-mythical story, because in myth, the lynchers are always satisfied with their lynching. But here, the story takes a different twist. Initially, the brothers plan to kill Joseph, but one of them, Judah, has the idea to sell him into slavery instead. However, Joseph reestablishes himself as one of the leaders of Egypt and then tearfully forgives his brothers in a dramatic reconciliation. Its full description of forgiveness is, Girard claimed, the first in all of history, in its sophistication and nuance. I haven’t been able to disprove him yet.

I recommend Robert Alter‘s magnificent retelling, with annotation, of the story in his Genesis. The read is absolutely gripping, a page-turner, with very careful breakdown of the dialogue. Before his self-revelation, Joseph tries his half-brothers with several ordeals, and demands that they bring him their youngest brother, Benjamin. He is cautiously testing his half-brothers with Benjamin, the only other child of Jacob’s beloved Rachel, born of the rivalry that poisoned the family. After all, he does not know whether they have killed Benjamin, too. Why would they not?

But the figure who is at least as riveting, to me, is Judah—the very brother who had the idea to monetize the elimination of his brother. During the dialogue, he is transformed. He says his father’s heart would break with the loss of Benjamin—he who had maliciously, recklessly shredded his father’s heart before, accepts the bitter pill of his father’s outrageous favoritism, and begs to offer himself as a slave instead.

The wailing of Joseph in the recognition scene is so loud and unrestrained that, as it is written, “the Egyptians heard and the house of Pharoah heard.” We all admire Joseph, we imagine we would like to be like him – but who wants to be Judah in his culpability, in his callousness, in his repentance, and his anguish? Yet the Jewish people are named for him.

 

Read the rest here.

Remembering Clive James: “Dying turned out to be just what he needed.”

December 2nd, 2019
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Bryan Appleyard has written a vibrant retrospective in The Times of London with the title (don’t blame him for it; he didn’t write it): “From Plato to Playboy,  Clive James could juggle the lot.” 

The article on the death of the celebrated literary critic and author, published today, begins:

In 2010, already knowing that he had emphysema, Clive James was admitted to hospital with kidney failure. There he was also diagnosed with terminal leukaemia. But somehow he just kept going. Until now. Since that day nine years ago, there have been four books of essays and, just published, a collection of his writing on Philip Larkin. There have also been several books of poems and a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

“I feared the world of men.”

Approaching death, the nuisance of incapacity and constant medical care drove Clive to ever greater heights of creativity.

In fact, before 2010 he had been in decline. Dying turned out to be just what he needed.

“I was getting tired of life,” he told me in a 2012 interview. “I’ve lived long enough. I’ve done what I can. I had suicidal thoughts when I was young. I fancied myself as a melancholic; quite a lot of people do — it’s a fashionable thing. Anyway, all these ideas were coming to me when I was going to sleep, ideas of self-destruction. They all promptly vanished the moment I was under real threat. There was a sudden urge to live. I wanted to do more, to write more.”

What happened next? Lots. “He went on to do, well, everything: novels, satirical poetic epics, essays, anything that came his way or into his head. Whatever it was, it had to be out there, protecting him from the abyss. It would be wrong to think this was simply existential dread, the fear of personal extinction — we all have that, and Clive had more than most in his final nine years. His own analysis suggests the heart of the matter was the death of his father in 1945, when Clive was six.

“We are all lucky to have got here.”

“His father had survived a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp and was on his way home when his plane crashed, killing him. Clive was with his mother when she got the telegram. He wrote: ‘I understood what it did to her in one second. I understood everything. I knew she had spent all that time waiting and she could not bear it. When she collapsed I saw suffering she could not bear and it marked my life, no question. I had a feeling of helplessness. I was man of the house . . . I couldn’t help her, and I had been helpless ever since. I sometimes thought . . . that everything I had ever written, built or achieved had been in order to offset that corrosive guilt, and that I loved the world of women because I feared the world of men.'”

He concludes: 

It is a sadness that I cannot claim Clive was a friend. We met, we talked, we said nice things about each other, but we were not friends. …

Friend or not, I owe him. He extended the playground in which I play. And what a death he died! He showed us all how to do that. He attained serenity amid the frenzy of his late work, and he lived and worked with that supreme insight of the poet Wallace Stevens: “Death is the mother of beauty.”

“By complaining at all,” he once told me, “I am complaining too much. We are all lucky to
have got here.” And in one of his final poems he wrote: “Life cries for joy though it must end in tears.”

Read the whole thing here. Online comment from around the net: “An intellect lightly worn. Rest in pages, Clive.”

An Advent villanelle from Philadelphia’s Frank Wilson: “one of those memories that are like photographs”

December 1st, 2019
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The first day of Advent this year, on a footpath in Yonkers, NY. Photo courtesy Izabela Barry.

Today is the first day of Advent. Is there any poem to commemorate the day? I had to look no farther than “Books Inq.,” the blog of Frank Wilson, retired book editor at the Philadelphia Inquirer

Walking home

The poem began when he was visiting his friend, the composer Harold Boatrite, who had set another villanelle of his to music. Frank had been studying piano with the composer, who lived on a short, tree-lined street in the heart of Philadelphia, and the lessons often finished with discussions of religion. “As I left his house one day, I looked up at the sky and around at the trees, and the first line just came to me,” Frank recalled.

“Advent had just begun and I must have been thinking of it, because the third line, which of course rhymes with the first, then came to me. I had nice long walk home ahead of me and, like Wallace Stevens, that’s when I liked to work on poems. The second line reference to winter, despite the clear and sunny, not-so-very cold day, gave the line the context I needed, and I had the first stanza of a villanelle. If memory serves, it was mostly – if rather roughly – done by the time I got home.”

“That opening line coming to me just after I left Harold’s has been with me ever since, one of those memories that are like photographs. I never look at the poem without being back at that moment of that day.”  

Advent

The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear
(Though winter’s scheduling an arctic flight).
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

Some say a telling sign will soon appear,
Though evidence this may be so is slight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Pale skeptics may be perfectly sincere
To postulate no ground for hope, despite
The rumor that a rendezvous draws near.

More enterprising souls may shed a tear
And, looking up, behold a striking light:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

The king, his courtiers, and priests, all fear
Arrival of a challenge to their might:
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

The wise in search of something all can cheer
May not rely on ordinary sight:
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.

Within a common place may rest one dear
To all who yearn to see the world made right.
The leaves are fallen, but the sky is clear.
The rumor is a rendezvous draws near.

Happy birthday to the Book Haven! We’re ten years old!

November 30th, 2019
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We began on November 19, 2009. And we’ve been going ever since. For years we’ve anticipated this special tenth anniversary (alright, alright, we’re eleven days late; we’ve been busy).

What did we imagine? We had envisioned champers and brie and little pink cakes! We had hoped for international acclaim and cybercards and cyberroses … oh well, why bother? Instead: one solitary woman at a computer, cranking out books and articles (and even the occasional blogpost) faster than any reasonable person should.

However, the occasion of our tenth anniversary was not entirely unmarked. The Book Haven has made it’s debut appearance in The Smithsonian Magazinewith this paragraph in the current issue, on a subject we know startlingly little about. It generated a scholarly query last week in my inbox, so it’s good to know our July 11, 2018, post is getting some attention

The end result, according to a blog post by Stanford University’s Cynthia Haven, was a masterful collection of 1,299 gouaches, 340 transparent text overlays and a total of 32,000 words. One painting finds the artist cuddling in bed with her mother; another shows a seemingly endless parade of Nazis celebrating Adolf Hitler’s appointment as Germany’s chancellor while swastikas swirl above their heads.

Maybe next year?

Read more here.

What else has happened, since we last wrote about ourselves, five years ago, here? Some time ago, we hit a record high of 45,000 hits in a month. However, gone are the days when we used to wake up in the morning, pull the laptop out from under the bed, and compulsively check our numbers on Google Analytics. We have our following, and we get our bouquets and our punches … and our letters. Like this one a few days ago, from the U.K.: “I am just writing a very quick thank you for introducing Edna St Vincent Millay to me. I had been searching for Sara Teasdale and found a wonderful article written by you at The Book Haven. If it wasn’t for your article I wouldn’t  have found and fallen in love with Edna.” We’re glad you did, sir!

This year alone: We’ve posted on the controversy surrounding the Stanford University Press here and here. After the death of the notable Johns Hopkins polymath and bibliophile Richard Macksey, we were quoted in The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun and wrote about his passing here and here and here. We’ve forged a partnership with The Los Angeles Review of Books to create an Entitled Opinions channel, as well as a series of articles.

Books, books, books. We’ve written about many books. We wrote about our debut in Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Nation, plus reviews of Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard. (Too many to list – put it in the Book Haven search engine). Plus… we were named a 2018-19 National Endowment for the Humanities public scholar, the inaugural Milton Cottage resident, and oohhh, so much more.

Sorry, maybe for 2020.

The Book Haven broke the national news of President Trump‘s plans to scuttle the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts – but other media outlets were close on our heels. We memorialized fallen greats at Stanford, many of them friends: Dostoevsky scholar Joseph Frank and theater director and Brecht protégée Carl Weber, French intellectual Michel Serres and Milton Scholar Martin Evans, and of course, the French theorist René Girard. And, this month, another cherished friend, the French scholar Marilyn Yalom.

The Book Haven has taken you to Bergen, Sigtuna and Stockholm, Kraków and London, Warsaw, Paris, and Avignon, among other locales.

We’ve described how we brought about the acquisition of Russian Nobel poet Joseph Brodsky Papers at Stanford, and our debut on Russian TV … and later the acquisition of Russian poet Regina Derieva‘s papers.

We’re still here. So many excellent blogs and online journals have folded – Elegant Variation, House of Mirth, Bookslut – and journals, too, such as Quarterly Conversation and Smart Set. We’re still here, and looking forward, in six weeks time, in joining you for the brand new decade for all of us.

C’mon, December, we’re ready to take you on – to the end of the year and beyond. Our vision going forward is 2020.

Happy birthday to us! Long may we live!

René Girard in Europe’s prestigious “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”!

November 25th, 2019
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Usually gifts are for Christmas and not Thanksgiving, but I’m getting my presents early! My article on René Girard was published over the weekend at Neue Zürcher Zeitung, one of Europe’s leading newspapers. The article (in German) is here. Or below, if you can read the tiny, tiny type.

There’s more: Not only did the article look handsome on the page, but it was also presented on the cultural channel of the Swiss radio, which chooses an article from the Swiss/German press every morning and discusses it to bring it to the attention of potential readers.

Matching wits with Marilyn Yalom in Palo Alto: a game of chess in 2004

November 22nd, 2019
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How did the queen become so powerful? (Photo: Chris Stewart//San Francisco Chronicle)

No sooner did I tweet the news of author and French scholar Marilyn Yalom‘s death on Twitter, than lit critic John McMurtrie, formerly book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, tweeted right back. (See below.)

Since her death, a few people have asked me which is my favorite of Marilyn’s books. After John’s tweet, I think the answer would have to be the one I haven’t read yet: The Birth of the Chess QueenThat’s because of his story in the Chronicle fifteen years ago.

His charming tale of a memorable match in Palo Alto begins:

The chessboard before me is full, and my mind, it so happens, is suddenly a blank.

“My, these are nice-looking pieces,” I think to myself in a daze, scanning the dignified Nordic figures in this replica of the famous “Lewis chessmen” set from the Middle Ages. My pieces have their backs turned to me and they’re ready to enter the breach at my command. Now if I can only pull my thoughts together and put these little warriors in the right squares.

My opponent makes her first move. Here we go – time to kiss my kingdom goodbye.

On the opposite side of the board is Marilyn Yalom, the author of “Birth of the Chess Queen: A History” (HarperCollins, $24.95). The book explores the rise of the game’s queen vis-a-vis the rise of real queens in Europe. Yalom says she doesn’t play the game well, but surely she must be understating her prowess: She’s a senior scholar at Stanford’s Institute for Women and Gender who just wrote an entire book on chess. My knowledge of the game, on the other hand, never progressed much beyond childhood “matches” on the beach, when all it took to put an end to a game was the arrival of another game – any other game.

But there was no getting out of this match today. A challenge was laid down (silly me), and e-mail and phone calls were exchanged. As with war, once the plans have been drawn up, there is no easy way to back down. This battle was going to be waged.

Yalom, 72, stumbled upon this bit of knowledge six years ago and was intrigued. Many historians have written about the game’s evolution, she says, “but they’re not asking the questions that I’m asking.” Namely, what outside forces helped put a woman on the board, then made her the most powerful piece in the game?

In the midst of the chess game, John recalls “getting lost looking out the big back window of Yalom’s spacious house, taking in the soothing sounds of a nearby rooster. Amazing that one can be in Palo Alto, not far from Stanford, and still hear farm animals.” And it’s still that way. The redwood-and-stone home is where a reception after was held after her funeral today. She will be much missed. Read the rest of John’s story here

Matching wits at the July 23, 2004, game. (Photo: Chris Stewart//San Francisco Chronicle)

Remarkable spirit: remembering scholar, author, feminist Marilyn Yalom (1932-2019)

November 20th, 2019
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In the pink: signing books at Kepler’s. (Photo: Margo Davis)

Marilyn Yalom, a popular French scholar and author, a founder of feminist studies at Stanford, and beloved wife of the celebrated author and psychiatrist Irv Yalom, died this morning of myeloma. She was 87.

Her illness was swift, but long enough for friends to express their love and appreciation. On September 1, a surprise party was held at her home by women writers who were part of her Bay Area women writers’ salon. A book of letters was presented to her then from the  salonnières.

Marie-Pierre Ulloa, a lecturer in Stanford’s French and Italian Department, also collected letters for a book, this time from the Stanford community. The fate of the book, which was presented to Marilyn in unfinished form a few days ago, remains up in the air, but Marie-Pierre is allowing me to publish my contribution here, as a sort of eulogy.

Dearest Marilyn,

You don’t remember our first meeting, so I’ll remind you: in 1983, I interviewed you to discuss your anthology, Women Writers of the West Coast.

The setting was your charming home on Matadero Avenue, though I have few memories of the house that would eventually become so familiar to me. I disappeared from your life then, and returned nearly a quarter century later, when the legendary Diane Middlebrook died in 2007, and I somewhat timidly joined the Bay Area women writers salon that had become your own endeavor, extending the note that your closest friend had sounded.

Working on Evolution of Desire: A Life of René Girard, I came to know your academic beginnings as the French theorist’s first graduate student: a young woman in a high-powered program at Johns Hopkins, arriving in 1957. “The dedication to our work was, for me, beyond anything I had experienced at Wellesley or Columbia or the Sorbonne,” you told me. “We were true believers. The life of Johns Hopkins was the life of a scholar.” You received your doctorate with distinction. We would talk meet again in the redwood and stone home nestled among the oaks and tall pines – sometimes taking tea in Wedgwood cups, among the hundreds of books, the Balinese masks, the framed art photographs, and a serene Buddha; at other times, sharing a glass of your son Reid’s Cabernet at night, as we waited for your husband Irv to return home from a meeting.

We spoke about your years as a harried graduate student and mother of several children, living in the housing assigned to young psychiatrists in residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. In that era of more limited expectations for women, perhaps few anticipated that you would become such a popular and acclaimed author in your own right, with a shelf of books to your credit. Our friendship ripened during the years you published How the French Invented Love: Nine Hundred Years of Passion and Romance (HarperCollins, 2012) and then The Amorous Heart in 2018, a few months before my own book. I attended your public events for it, at Kepler’s, at the Stanford Humanities Center, and wrote about them (here and here).

That was the public part. But then there was the unseen part, the salon part: encouraging women to write; guiding their publishing decisions; coaching them to absorb your own authorial dignity and tact, though few of us mastered those lessons as well as you had. You even persuaded a few of us to get top-notch author’s photos from another friend, the notable photographer Margo Davis. At each gathering on Matadero or at your apartment in the City, the salonnières would describe our most recent triumphs and challenges, and one of two of us would present our newly published books. You did more: I remember the launch party for Evolution of Desire, with cases of fine French wine, guests from around the world, and armloads of orchids from my garden – and a special guest, the French consul Emmanuel Lebrun-Damiens. You encouraged us to keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, as you did.

And as you do still. Even now, you are writing a book with Irv, jointly documenting this last year of your journey together, a story that began when you were teenagers in Washington D.C. In our most recent phone call a week or two ago, you assured me that illness had not stopped your work. You are still working on the manuscript, together.

I describe all this because it is an inspiring model for all of us. Your lifetime’s effort will live through us, and touch so many others who will never have a chance to meet you. I want it to be remembered, beyond this year and beyond Stanford. There is no one like you, and no one will take your place. Our gratitude to you is deep, and our love deeper still.

Postscript: One thing I should have written, and didn’t: She was a class act, a woman of extraordinary poise, graciousness, and charm.

A surprise party for Marilyn at her Palo Alto home in xxx. (Photo: Reid Yalom)

 

Emily Dickinson desecrated in biopic, George Eliot reworked in a novel.

November 18th, 2019
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Will the real Emily Dickinson stand up? And hurry.

Can’t we just leave her alone? Poet A.M. Juster (we’ve written about him here and here) is not amused by the new re-creations of the life of Emily Dickinson. And he says so in the current issue of The Commentary, where he writes: 

“’Tis the season for digging up and desecrating Emily Dickinson. First came last year’s Wild Nights with Emily, a flimsy film starring Saturday Night Live alum Molly Shannon, which the Washington Post said threatened “to reduce the writer’s life to the punchline of a literary version of Rodney Dangerfield.” Now the perpetrator is Apple TV’s 10 half-hour episodes of its strange new series, Dickinson.”

I haven’t seen it, and for good reason. I avoided it. Mike Juster was not so wise, but we share a common grievance:

Definitely not this.

Read the whole thing here.

Over at the Financial Times  reviews a fictional retelling of the author of Middlemarch and her vexed love life:

In this compelling fictional reworking of George Eliot’s later life, her second husband John Cross orders champagne on his wedding night with the words: “I want the best, because I have the best. I am married to the best.”

But by the time we reach their honeymoon in 1880, towards the end of the novel, Kathy O’Shaughnessy’s tender and haunting study suggests that for those who are acclaimed as the best, the most brilliant and most visionary, relationships can be fraught with misunderstanding.

Was it only men? Hardly. her charm apparently transfixed women as well: 

Not that she was short of female companionship. In Love with George Eliot recreates with touching, sometimes excruciating, precision the devotion that Evans inspired and expected from other women. “Nearly worshipful” is the look that her adoring friend Maria Congreve gives her, while poor Edith Simcox, the feminist writer who fell hopelessly for Evans and assiduously kept the George Eliot flame burning for years after her idol died, is consumed for the rest of her life by her “hungry love”.

Read the whole thing in the Financial Times here.


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