Author Archive

NYRB publisher Edwin Frank on “The Pilgrim Hawk”: “Subtlety and ferocity, despair, and some genuine camp.”

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022
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Edwin Frank: “A book of concrete observations and endless reflections and lapidary sentences.”

Stanford’s Another Look book club has often showcased New York Review Books’ excellent offerings, so as we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Stanford book event series, we’re pleased that our fall event on October 5 will feature Glenway Wescott‘s too-little-known 1940 novella, The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story. New York Review Books founder Edwin Frank (and, incidentally, he’s also a former Stanford Stegner Fellow), agreed to answer a few questions about the book, one of he first NYRB Classics published in 2001. (The Book Haven also ran an interview, “Great literature is literature that remains news,” between Edwin Frank and another Stanford alum, Daniel Medin, at Shakespeare & Company in Paris, 2016, here.)

Another Look was launched in November 2012, with William Maxwell’So Long See You TomorrowTobias Wolff, founding director of Another Look, talked about his choice in a short video here. Our tenth anniversary event for Wescott’s novel will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 5, at Levinthal Hall in the Stanford Humanities Center, 424 Santa Teresa Street, on the Stanford campus. The event will also be livestreamed. Come celebrate our tenth with us! It’s not to late to register here
, for the virtual and live event. Walk-ins are always welcome, too.

The panelists will include a special guest, Steve Wasserman, former book editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review and editor at large for the Yale University Press, and now publisher of Heyday Books in Berkeley. Other panelists will include: Stanford Prof. Robert Pogue Harrison, author, director of Another Look, host of the radio talk show and podcast series Entitled Opinions, and a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books; Stanford Prof. Tobias Wolff, one of America’s leading writers, founding director of Another Look, and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts. Author Cynthia L. Haven, a National Endowment for the Humanities public scholar, will round out the panel.

The interview with Edwin Frank …

CYNTHIA HAVEN: Wescott’s prose is meticulous, keenly observed, epigrammatic, profound – and often very funny. Do we have any idea how he wrote? How he crafted this perfect novel? His papers and manuscripts are at Yale, do they give us any idea?

EDWIN FRANK: I don’t know how Wescott worked and haven’t seen the papers. Nor am I conversant with the details of his life, except in the vaguest way, and I hadn’t even realized that Yvor Winters was his mentor. Interesting! As to his neglect as a writer, in America, or perhaps anywhere, not writing a lot, and essentially giving up writing novels, as Wescott did, is not a great recipe for a career as a writer. Why he wrote so little is another question—I don’t know the answer—though both Pilgrim Hawk (with its ambisexual Alex) and Apartment in Athens can be read as tales of the closet, suggesting that Wescott found himself more and more caught out by not being able to write frankly as a gay man.

HAVEN: Pilgrim Hawk features a lot of complicated relationships: painful love, unhappy love, unrequited love, non-existent love—often suggested in glances, or a quip, or in silence. How much do you think this evasiveness reflects Wescott’s own ambiguities, as a gay man at a time when it was far less acceptable than it is today?

FRANK: The Pilgrim Hawk is clearly enough about frustration, in love and as a writer. Counting the triangles it traces is an interesting exercise: there’s Madeleine, Larry, and Lucy; Jean, Eva, and Rickert; Tower, Alex, and Tower’s brother (and one might treat these three triangles as constituting a higher order triangle in their own right of different—or are they all alike at some level?—kinds of marriage); and perhaps most importantly, Tower, Alex (and all the rest of them for that matter), and The Pilgrim Hawk, the story of a day (and his life) that Tower finally can be deemed to have put down  (though the narrator of a book is never quite its writer, close as they may be), fulfilling himself as observer, even as central to his observation is his own inability to love. The narrator is left as one of “The lovers [who are] to be pitied…are those who have no one to hate, whose rough shooting can take place only in the imagination, and never ends” (page 34). 

“More and more caught out by not being able to write frankly as a gay man.”

The rough shooting was about to hit a different order of magnitude in 1940…

FRANK:“Rough shooting” reminds me that the book also has World War II in the background, and here another triangle can be discerned, between the late 20s, when the action takes place—the past—1940, the date of narration and of publication, when the war had begun but the U.S. had yet to enter it—the present—and the future, undetermined apart from the war going on (perhaps parallel to the narrator’s loveless future). In that light the book can be read as a very subtle allegory of the feckless fashionable interwar years that the Cullens, and Alex’s showy but “not splendid” house with its big glass modern windows, epitomizes, as the senile French politician in the chateau next door does the corruption of the Belle Epoque. Implicit is the question of what future is there for the world at war (so ostentatiously charted in the first paragraph) and what kind of world was it that led to that war. (You could read the book alongside Civilization and Its Discontents.) But this question is very much implicit, and maybe I am making too much of it, though the central presence of the hawk inevitably puts questions of entrapment and predation in the air (or on a bloodstained gloved hand). The narrator’s predatory gaze is also emphasized increasingly throughout. 

But as Michael Cunningham nicely says in the introduction the poor hawk is doomed from the get-go to be a symbol and yet triumphs for all that, becoming, in the telling, wonderfully, electrically, real and distinct. Those burning claws! And there is a lot of edgy, self-aware humor, too: “Still, I felt rather as if I had a great thought of death concentrated and embodied and perched on me” (page 47). Rather!

A book of concrete observations and endless reflections and lapidary sentences: “She said this in a great sad false way” (page 88); “airy murderess like an angel; young predatory sanguinary deluxe hen” (page 94).

HAVEN :The falcon’s name Lucy is usually linked with Walter Scott’s novel, The Bride of Lammermoor. But it also has associations with Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Its final act is one of the most frenzied in all opera. Certainly Westcott’s fierce and ominous Lucia has a good deal of madness about her. Can you channel Westcott for a moment and connect the Lucys—Wescott’s Lucy with Scott’s and Donizetti’s?

FRANK: There is nothing subtle about Donizetti’s Lucia, but there is nothing but subtlety in Wescott’s book, subtlety and ferocity, despair, and some genuine camp. That mix, so unusual, may explain why its audience has always been a little select. 

REGISTER HERE FOR THE EVENT!

Go HERE to read more about it!

Another Look’s 10th anniversary pick: Glenway Wescott’s “The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story” – Wednesday, October 5!

Tuesday, September 13th, 2022
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Another Look was launched in November 2012, with William Maxwell’So Long See You TomorrowNow we celebrate our tenth anniversary with another wonderful and too-little-known book, Glenway Wescott‘s 1940 novella The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story (NYRB Classics)The event will take place at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 5, at Levinthal Hall in the Stanford Humanities Center, 424 Santa Teresa Street, on the Stanford campus. The event will also be livestreamed. Come celebrate our tenth with us! 

Registration is encouraged, but walk-ins are always welcome. Register here – or on the QR code on the poster below.

The Book

The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story traces a single afternoon in a French country house during the 1920s. Alwyn Tower, an American expatriate and sometime novelist, is staying with a friend outside Paris when a well-heeled Irish couple drops in — with Lucy, their trained hawk, a restless, sullen, disturbingly totemic presence. Lunch is prepared, drink flows, and the story that unfolds is both harrowing and farcical.

Novelist Michael Cunningham in his introduction calls the book “murderously precise and succinct.” Critic and author Susan Sontag said, “The ever-astonishing Pilgrim Hawk belongs, in my view, among the treasures of twentieth-century literature, however untypical are its sleek, subtle vocabulary, the density of its attention to character, its fastidious pessimism, and the clipped worldliness of its point of view.”


The Panelists

The panelists will include a special guest, Steve Wasserman, former book editor at the Los Angeles Times Book Review and editor at large for the Yale University Press, and now publisher of Heyday Books in Berkeley. Other panelists will include: Stanford Prof. Robert Pogue Harrison, author, director of Another Look, host of the radio talk show and podcast series Entitled Opinions, and a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books; Stanford Prof. Tobias Wolff, one of America’s leading writers, a founding director of Another Look, and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts. Author Cynthia L. Haven, a National Endowment for the Humanities public scholar, will round out the panel.

The Venue

Some of you may remember that Levinthal Hall is where Another Look began a decade ago. You’re right! Our audience attendance outgrew that venue in 2015, and we moved to a larger space. However, now we are offering virtual as well as in-person attendance, which allows us to return to our former home. We will announce how to register for the virtual event in our next email, as we are still finalizing arrangements.

Parking

Metered parking spaces are available along Santa Teresa Street. Parking is free after 4 p.m. Free parking is also available on the lot adjacent to the Stanford Humanities Center after 4 p.m.

How to get the book

Books are available at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park (650-324-4321) and Books Inc. at Town & Country in Palo Alto (650-321-0600). We’d recommend calling first to make sure a book is waiting for you. Books are also available at Amazon and at Abebooks. If all else fails, you can order directly from the publisher here.

Our October 5 event is sponsored by Stanford Continuing Studies, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages.


Literature, the real world, and Milton’s “tremendous creative energy”

Saturday, September 10th, 2022
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Fruitful forays into the world of Milton

I have been reading Barbara Lewalski’s excellent biography, The Life of John Milton (Blackwell, 2000) – so what a surprise to find that she has a former protégé at Stanford – Prof. Roland Greene, director of the Stanford Humanities Center.

Greene: he’s an inspiration, too

Here’s an excerpt from his appreciation for his “beloved mentor and colleague” over at Stanford’s Arcade. The article, “The Critical Horizon of Barbara K. Lewalski,” was written some time after the scholar’s death on March 2, 2018. He opens with her early 1953 article “The Authorship of Ancient Bounds,” about the provenance of an unsigned Puritan tract. Then on to the great Puritan poet, the subject of her first book in 1966, Milton’s Brief Epic: The Genre, Meaning and Art of Paradise Regained:

More than fifty years on, it is still the best thing ever written on Paradise Regained, but at this distance one is struck by how carefully Lewalski draws the horizons of her scholarship: that is, the sense of what this work is ultimately about. In a blog post called Misplaced Horizons in Literary Studies, I have written about the drawing of horizons in criticism and the perspectives that contribute to them, and how (especially now, as our common enterprise seems less and less urgent to the rest of the academy, let alone the public) we have to see the making of a horizon as a statement of values: is the horizon the real world, or intellectual history, or the Bible and its influence, with literary texts inside that horizon as perspective? Or is literature itself the horizon, with all of these things inside it as perspective? It is the latter kind of project, I argue, that has met certain parochial customs and rewards of our discipline while pulling us away from the intellectual life of other disciplines—because historians, philosophers, social scientists, and others simply do not see literature as a valuable horizon in relation to the real world.” He writes that Lewalski “broaches Biblical poetics as a guiding concept or a horizon. Suddenly the limitations of genre as a horizon are plain, and while that term continues to play an important role as a contributing perspective, from here on it is nearly always controlled by Lewalski’s more powerful and original concepts of Biblical and Protestant poetics that permit her to chart the flow of ideas and figures into and out of seventeenth-century literature.”

Stanford's Roland Greene remembers an important mentor, Miltonist Barbara Kiefer Lewalski
An unforgettable mentor

“Lewalski’s later work, notably three distinguished monographs, builds on this foundation, but the definitive moment in her scholarship is the passage through the first three books to 1979. A year later, she left Brown University, where she had taught since 1956, for Harvard, and remained there until her retirement in 2015. I had the privilege of knowing her as my teacher and adviser in my undergraduate years at Brown and then a few years later as my colleague at Harvard. For many of us, Barbara at Brown was her essential phase, in which her approach was still being formed in conversation with … peers such as [Earl] Miner, who became my Ph.D. adviser. By contrast, Barbara at Harvard in the 1980s and nineties was an eminence who embodied a settled method, a then somewhat old-fashioned historical scholarship that stood apart from the fashion for the New Historicism of the time. In the Brown years, moreover, she was younger (not yet fifty when I first knew her) and more informal, and her human existence took place in Providence, where she lived until the end of her life, as it never did in Cambridge. I can see Barbara in shabby Horace Mann House at Brown in about 1977, wearing casual clothes she would never appear in at Harvard, sitting at the head of the seminar table with one leg tucked under her and reciting in a brassy, colloquial tone: “Busy old fool, unruly sun, / Why dost thou thus / Through windows and through curtains call on us?” As I told my students a few days after Barbara’s passing, I’ll always hear certain poems in her voice. Maybe our voices that survive resonantly in the memories of students are as powerful as those in our criticism; or maybe these voices are somehow the same. I believe Barbara found her voice in those early books and in the Brown era.”

Read the whole thing here.

West Side Story: a movie review and Girardian analysis in 18 tweets. You’ll thank me and save $13.69.

Saturday, September 3rd, 2022
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It’s splashy, anyway. Photo by Niko Tavernise/Twentieth Century Studios.

Saturday night is usually the night people go to the movies. But it’s a Labor Day weekend, so you have two more nights to head out to your local movie theater.

Here. We can save you about $13.69 in AMC ticket prices. We have a review below of the new (okay, not so new) Steven Spielberg‘s West Side Story, and it’s a stinker. The review comes to us courtesy of “Paulos “(handle @myth_pilot) on Twitter. He describes himself as an “interpreter of dreams” – which is kind of what a movie reviewer does.

Here goes:

Tyler Cowen interviews the Book Haven, and “Czesław Miłosz: A California Life” is up for a book award!

Monday, August 29th, 2022
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Last week I received some great news for me – and some terrific news for Czesław Miłosz: A California Life (Heyday Books), too! We’re both finalists for the Northern California Book Awards, in the non-fiction category (I am definitely non-fiction; so is the book). And that’s an honor, too, whatever happens at the event!

So join all of us celebrating on Sunday, September 11, 2022, 2:00 pm, when the 41st annual Northern California Book Awards recognize the best published works of 2021 by Northern California authors and California translators state-wide, presented by the Northern California Book Reviewers, Poetry Flash, and San Francisco Public Library, with community partners Mechanics’ Institute Library, Women’s National Book Association-San Francisco Chapter, and Pen West. Book sales and signing will take place in the lobby of Koret Auditorium at the San Francisco Public Library on Larkin Street.

The event is free and open to the public. And I’ll be signing books, too!

More good news: I have an interview with economist Tyler Cowen of Marginal Revolution fame (we wrote about his interview with Ted Gioia here.) Go to the podcast here. It’s been getting lots of traction on Twitter. Check that out, too.

Tyler has done lots of interviews – I’m #157. Collect the whole set here.

So lots to celebrate all around, as summer slowly winds to a close.

Celebrate the summer while it lasts: Milton’s Paradise isn’t lost at all in Chalfont St. Giles!

Saturday, August 20th, 2022
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I’ve written about the Milton Cottage, John Milton‘s only surviving residence in the world, here and here. And I’ve also written about Stanford’s one day-long celebration fourteen years ago, to coincide with the poet’s 400th birthday by reading Paradise Lost, here.

But why not just celebrate the season in beautiful Buckinghamshire? Paradise wasn’t lost at all today in Chalfont St. Giles, where Milton had a short sojourn in 1665-66. Milton fans gathered in the cottage to read Paradise Lost, beginning to end, all 10,550 lines of it, and commemorated the event on Twitter (@miltoncottage). And now we share it with you – the morning, afternoon, the evening, when they finished the last lines fortified with a few glasses of wine, as Adam and Eve are expelled from Eden:

Some natural tears they dropt, but wiped them soon;
The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow,
Through Eden took their solitary way.

“Come and join us!” they call. Don’t we wish?

And an update this morning: