Along with several of my librarian dork friends, I once even had a Pride and Prejudice party with tea sandwiches and a viewing of our favorite parts of the excellent 1995 television version produced by BBC and A&E. My friend Melinda and I can recite passages verbatim from the book at each other. Very sad.
I was looking forward to the new movie version, anxious to see it, but skeptical whether it could ever live up to the classic 1995 mini-series, which starred Colin Firth. It didn't, of course. Melinda and I saw the new movie together, whispering to each other and giggling. Probably having such an intimate acquaintance with the story helped us both -- we only had to see Mr. Collins to start laughing.
Like Herman Melville, Doyle struggled his whole life to break free of the chains of his literary success. Doyle even famously killed off Sherlock Holmes, in the hope that readers would finally agree to read about other characters. The readers wouldn't, and Doyle eventually relented and brought the detective back to life.
Sherlock Holmes is a character you can approach from many angles. Too often he's a cliche -- a dog with a felt cap and a magnifying glass, or Peter Brady with a felt cap and a magnifying glass. In fact Holmes was a troubled loner, a Hamlet figure, playing his violin alone in his chambers at night, drug-addicted and society-deprived, and congenitally incapable of ever approaching the one woman he loves, the untouchable Irene Adler.
British novelist John Fowles died this weekend at his home in Lyme Regis, England at the age of 79.
The Magus was Fowles' definitive work, a tour de force in every sense. An earnest but vapid young man accepts an invitation for what appears to be a conventional teaching job on a small Greek island where an eccentric wealthy landowner holds court. Once there, the young man discovers himself imprisoned within an elaborate constructed world in which Greek myths come frighteningly alive and philosophical theories about mankind's Dionysian and Appolonian impulses are put to test.
"James said that she began exploring the connection between Shakespeare and Neville about six years ago when she deciphered what she believes is a code on the dedication page of Shakespeare's sonnets. The code revealed the name Henry Neville."Can we be sure? Will our Shakespeare-wasn't-Shakespeare hearts be broken again with the next earth-shattering discovery of Shakespeare's true identity? Well...
"The authors say Neville's life helps explain a switch in Shakespeare's plays, from histories and comedies to tragedies, at the turn of the 17th century. Neville was imprisoned in the Tower of London from 1601 to 1603 for his role in the Essex rebellion (the attempt by the Earl of Essex and his supporters to overthrow Queen Elizabeth I), which the authors say accounts for the more tragic tone of Hamlet, written in 1601 and 1602, and the plays that follow."Oh yes. I believe the world is now collectively saying "Duh," completely unable to believe that nobody saw it before. Hamlet's a tragedy because its author was in prison. Obviously.
I hope that when they pick the next William Shakespeare, they can find someone whose life can explain the switch from the tragedies to the romances, because that's a real head-scratcher.
Seriously. I think it's time someone called Dan Brown.
Harold Pinter, the British playwright who just won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was savaged as an idiot and a fashionable phony when the play that made him famous, The Birthday Party, opened in London in 1958.
It was one of those famously bad opening nights, though it didn't cause a riot like Stravinsky's Rites of Spring. The play is an existentialist tableau, a British nod to the then-fashionable European absurdism of Alfred Jarry, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Jean-Paul Sartre. We open in a dowdy seaside bed-and-breakfast, where a slightly giddy but charming old lady named Meg is prattling to her bored husband, who works as a deck-chair attendant on the nearby beaches.
When I think of Coleridge, I think of those momentary sparks of intuition I have experienced, when my brain seemed to grasp a clear and divine truth. It's like seeing something from the corner of my eye; when I turn to look more closely - it's gone! If others do not share this impression, that is all right, because subjectivity was a major tenet of the Romantic Movement, of which Coleridge was a founding member.
The Romantic Movement was, in part, a rejection of the cold logic that came from the Age of Reason. Romantics such as Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Southey emphasized emotion over reason, feelings over intellect. It was a return to spiritual, ephemeral realms of the imagination, often involving legends and heroes from ancient times. While their writing seems quite structured by today's standards, they were actually breaking away from the strict rules of verse prescribed by earlier poets.
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, the British author of cultishly-popular humorous novels, short stories and plays (Jeeves and Bertie Wooster are probably his most famous fictional creations, and he worked on musicals with composers like George Gershwin and Jerome Kern) became unexpectedly controversial at the height of his popularity.
He was residing in France in 1940 when the Nazis over-ran the country. As a British citizen, he was interred as an enemy alien. The Nazis knew they had a prize catch, however, for Wodehouse was famous throughout the world, and they were anxious to use him for propaganda purposes. They transferred him to a prison in Berlin and made him an offer: he would be treated decently if he would just make a few pro-German radio broadcasts. He agreed to do so -- to save his skin, he would later say -- he would also claim that they were harmless broadcasts in which he simply joked about his imprisonment.
Perhaps this is why, when I am called upon to name my favorite writer associated with the so-called "Lake Poets" of the 1800's (William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Southey, sometimes Percy Bysshe Shelley), I will tell you that I like Thomas deQuincey.
Not a poet himself, deQuincey wrote most of his prose for magazines and newspapers. Much of these works were later collected and published as books. DeQuincey's best known work is Confessions of an Opium Eater. By today's standards it's a rather tame tale, but it was considered edgy in its own time. There is evidence that both Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Baudelaire were influenced by deQuincey to try the narcotic. Besides using opium in his autobiographical account, deQuincey raised eyebrows when he told his readers about a prostitute he befriended. Apparently, sex was not involved; people just didn't admit to "slumming" back then.
Be that as it may, Samson Agonistes is the story of Samson, told in the biblical book of Judges. (I have to give props to my Sunday School teachers from my childhood for my familiarity with the story, which I guess made me comfortable enough with it that I didn't fear the inevitable mind wander.) For anyone who didn't do the Sunday School thing, I'll fill you in on the plot.
Samson was called by God to be the deliverer of his people, who were enslaved by the Philistines, and he had extraordinary strength. As part of the deal, he was never to cut his hair. Samson hooks up with Delilah (whose name, in Milton, is spelled Dalila), who is a spy sent to uncover the secret of Samson's strength. She puts the pressure on, and because she's so hot, he finally gives in and confesses that if his hair is cut, he won't be Mr. Universe anymore, so, well, Delilah cuts his hair, Samson is captured, his eyes are put out, and he is made a slave. One day, when the Philistines are having this big to-do for one of their gods, Samson asks a boy to place him between two of the pillars of the temple, and his strength is returned long enough for him to push the pillars over and cause the building to collapse, thereby killing all the bad guys who have been enslaving his people.
That's it, more or less.
So why does Samson Agonistes exist if all of this is readily available in the Bible? Well, Milton liked applying classical styles to biblical themes. He'd already taken on the epic with Paradise Lost, and with Samson Agonistes, he was going for the Greek tragedy (complete with chorus!), because, you know, Milty liked the way the Greeks worked it.
Anyway, briefly, here's what I think of Samson Agonistes. Don't read it ever, unless someone makes you. And even then, try to find a way out of it. But, if you someday decide not to heed my warning and try to read Samson Agonistes on your own, please remember the following important points:
1. Just because it says "Agonistes" right there in the title, that does not mean that Milton meant for this play to be an agony to read. No, apparently the word means "the struggler" and refers to Samson's, um, struggle. I guess reading it made me Jamelah Agonistes, but whatever, let's just move on.
2. It's written in free verse. (Represent!) Kind of. It's not Whitman, or anything, and it does employ the use of metrical feet, but not in any sort of systematic way, so you couldn't say, for instance, that it's written in dactylic hexameter, which you could if you were talking about the Iliad. For instance.
3. Published in 1671, the play came out 11 years after the restoration of Charles II to the throne of England, and since Milton wasn't what one would call a supporter of the monarchy, you can find evidence within Samson Agonistes that the play is an allegorical critique of the day's culture. No really, you can. If you're into that sort of thing, which I'm sure you are.
4. Let us not forget that Milton was a smartypants when it came to issues of Christian theology, and one of the more interesting themes within Samson Agonistes is that of predestination vs. free will. You know, just because God chose Samson to be the deliverer of his people and gave him extraordinary strength (based on that "no hair cutting" clause), Samson still had the choice to let Delilah cut his mullet (though I'm sure it couldn't have been a mullet -- if his hair had never been cut, then there was no way for it to be business in the front) and had to bear the resulting consequences.
5. Perhaps Milton felt an affinity for ol' blind Samson, since he himself was losing his eyesight. Or perhaps he didn't. It's a hell of a thing.
And there you have it, kids. My review of Samson Agonistes. John Milton may be my homeboy and all, but I definitely didn't dig this the most. But that's okay, because Jamelah Reads the ClassicsTM so you don't have to.
I'm benevolent that way.