Since the last time I wrote about my experience reading this book, I've been busy. I got distracted by... things. And my reading time ended up falling by the wayside, which means that when I finally got un-distracted and picked the book back up, I had pretty much forgotten everything I'd read. I mean, I know what I read, but I lost the rhythm of it.
In short, I'm starting over.
I'm reminded of being 17 and being assigned A Tale of Two Cities to read before school started, and I'd begin the book, get distracted by life and put it down, rinse and repeat. By the end of July that summer I had the first chapter memorized. (I hated A Tale of Two Cities, by the way, and I've never tried picking it up again to see if I hated it because I was 17 or I hated it because, well, I hated it.) Though the beginning of Ulysses may be worth memorizing (my internal jury is out on this), here's hoping that I don't start over enough to memorize the beginning. Here's also hoping that I'm not still reading this in July.
So as not to be entirely pointless, I do have some things to say about the book. Having gotten through the first section of it (and being a bit of a nerd about Homer), I had a fun time looking for parallels between the beginning of Ulysses and the Telemachiad (the beginning of the Odyssey) -- no really -- and who knows? Maybe the second time around it'll be even better. I have a question, though. I remember a time when I used to be able to read books without constantly looking for symbols and allusions and other assorted what-nots, and I sort of wonder if the fact that I don't seem to be able to do this now is something of a hindrance. I mean, isn't there something to be said for just reading a book? Does working at literature make it more or less enjoyable? I'm not sure, but it's something I think about a lot.
Maybe if I'd spend less time thinking about the act of reading and more time actually reading I'd be further along. But then, thinking too much has always been one of my very favorite pastimes.
I guess I'll leave it there. Until next time (when I hope I'm not on my third beginning of Ulysses).
So, I started reading James Joyce's Ulysses a couple of weeks ago, and at the rate I'm going, I'll be reading it for awhile. Levi and I were emailing about what I was going to write about here this week, and I mentioned that I was thinking about doing an occasional series about my experience of reading the book, my odyssey through Ulysses, if you will (groan), because -- perhaps because it's so long, perhaps because there's an attitude of "Oh, you're reading Ulysses? You're not going to finish that!" surrounding the book -- reading this particular classic seems to be as much about the journey through its pages as it does about the book itself. And maybe, just maybe, if from time to time I write about reading the book, it will help propel me through it. So here we are at the first installment. How exciting.
I will admit that I haven't gotten very far with it yet. This is at least due in part to the fact that I usually read for about an hour at night before I go to sleep because I have a hard time fitting it into my day otherwise, and Ulysses seems to have the ability to knock me out almost immediately, leaving me to wake up five minutes or an hour later feeling completely disoriented and wondering what the hell is going on. So maybe I should try reading it in the afternoon, or something.
Despite the fact that it's apparently like a lullaby (at least to me), I'm not having a bad time with it. I am incredibly grateful that I know Homer's Odyssey really well, because it's been helpful. In fact, I've been using it as a companion reference while I read. So far, it's working. And that's pretty much all I have to report at present -- I'm not very far, the Odyssey is useful -- but I will check back in with another update on my progress when I get a little further along in the book. To those of you who have finished Ulysses, I have a question for you: I know it's not a race, but how long did it take you to finish it?
Perhaps you'll have a pint of Guinness later, or maybe you have a hankering for a gorgonzola sandwich for lunch (at Davy Byrnes Pub, perhaps?). Or maybe it's a good day to finally begin the epic task of reading Joyce's tome (or doing what most people do -- pretending to read Joyce's tome).
Anyway, does anyone have plans to celebrate Bloomsday? If so, be sure to give us a report. If not, maybe you should make some. There's nothing like literature to inspire some good revelry...
I've been pondering the film Tom and Viv, a very convincing 1994 art film about young T. S. Eliot and his troubled marriage. A shy but ambitious American visiting England, Eliot fell in love with Vivian Haigh-Wood, a tempestuous woman whose upper-class British style and ribald sense of humor fascinated him. They married impulsively, then discovered they did not get along at all. The bad marriage lasted for many years, and in fact seems to have inspired many parts of Eliot's poetry. Sexual and interpersonal anxiety is central to most of his work; it is fascinating to realize that in real life T. S. Eliot did dare to eat a peach, and perhaps too impulsively at that.
In the film, Eliot is played by Willem Defoe, and I think he does a great job. I don't usually like Defoe -- I thought he was badly miscast as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ (Willem Defoe does not look Jewish), and in Wild At Heart I thought he was just plain weird. But he was born to play T. S. Eliot, sallow skin, cautious diction and all.
Miranda Richardson is just as good as Vivian, who you feel both sorry for and angry at in this film. The movie is also an interesting tableau of Jazz Age London; we see Vivian Eliot having a meaningless affair with Bertrand Russell, then getting into a catfight with a group of women including the haughty Virginia Woolf.
Overall, I thought this was one of the best literary biographies I'd ever seen on film. I'd like to know what you thought of it -- have you seen it?
Last week I asked about your favorite poems, and I really enjoyed the stream of responses which included, in the order in which they were posted: "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot, "High Flight" by John Gillespie Magee, Jr, "The Height of the Ridiculous" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Matthew 6:25 - 34, "Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking" by Walt Whitman, "The City in Which I Love You" by Li-Young Lee, "Poem In October" by Dylan Thomas, "Constantly Risking Absurdity" by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "A Supermarket in California" by Allen Ginsberg, "l(a" by e.e. cummings, the entire "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman, "Herbsttag" by Rainer Maria Rilke, "Death Fugue" by Paul Celan, "Cloud" by Vladimir Mayakovsky, "The Waste-Land" by T. S. Eliot, "What a Piece of Work is Man" (from "Hamlet") by William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130 by Shakespeare, "The Second Coming" by W. B. Yeats, "Kaddish" by Allen Ginsberg, "Power" by Gregory Corso, poems by Jane Kenyon, Anne Sexton, Christina Rossetti, Carl Sandburg, "Wild Swans at Coole" by Yeats, "The Drunken Boat" by Rimbaud, "Sonete Postrero" by Carlos Pellicer, "Sonnet" and "Masa" by Cesar Vallejo, "in Just-/spring" by e. e. cummings, "Howl" by Allen Ginsberg, "The Raven" by Edgar Allen Poe, "When i consider how my light is spent" by John Milton, "The Purist" by Ogden Nash, "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost, Sonnet 116 by Shakespeare, "As The Mist Leaves No Scar" and "The Reason I Write" by Leonard Cohen, "So I said I am Ezra" by Archie Ammons, "This is Just to Say" by William Carlos Williams and "Variations on a Theme by William Carlos Williams" by Kenneth Koch, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion" by Dylan Thomas, "In Society" by Allen Ginsberg, "Acquainted with the Night" by Robert Frost, "13 Ways of looking at a blackbird" and "The poem that took the place of a mountain" by Wallace Stevens, "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner" by Randall Jarrell, "Fern Hill" by Dylan Thomas, "Mending Wall" by Robert Frost and "Love is a Dog from Hell" by Charles Bukowski.
The first one mentioned (by none other than my LitKicks co-editor Jamelah) happens to be my own favorite. T. S. Eliot began writing his poem "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" in 1910, when he was a 22 year old philosophy graduate student. Five years later it was published in Poetry Magazine, and it became his first famous work.
Faulkner's first novel, Soldier's Pay, was published in 1926, though it received little acclaim. Only with the publication of The Sound and the Fury in 1929 would he receive significant critical and popular recognition. As a truly Modernist novel, The Sound and the Fury broke new ground with its four different narrators, the use of stream of consciousness writing and the use of a mentally handicapped boy as one narrator.
As his writing career progressed, Faulkner continued to play with narration, expanding to 15 narrators in As I Lay Dying, published in 1930, and incorporating stories within stories in Absalom, Absalom!, published in 1936.
Perhaps what made Faulkner's works so unique was the setting he created and used in the majority of them: Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. From the abandoned plantation of Thomas Sutpen on the outskirts of Yoknapatawpha to Emily Grierson's house in Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha, Faulkner created a world that typified the South in which he had grown up and in which he continued to live.
In 1942, Faulkner went to California to write screenplays, primarily for the pay, where he worked on adaptations of his own novels as well as those of other authors such as Hemingway and Chandler (To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, respectively).
In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his life's work. At the acceptance ceremony in Sweden, due to nervousness and the fact he was slightly drunk, Falkner's acceptance speech comes out garbled and nearly unintelligible to listeners. When it was published the following day, however, people raved about it and praised it as one of the best Nobel speeches.
Faulkner continued to publish right up to the year of his death in 1962. Though, his later works were never as critically acclaimed as his early ones. His drinking also continued, but it seemed to have little effect on his work or his success.
William Faulkner died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962. For more information on Faulkner, the William Faulkner on the Web website is an excellent resource.
Garrett Caples is one such young poet who's taken the surrealist example to heart.
His work is a swirling labyrinthine landscape in which reality and the content of dreams fuse and collide and fire up and interconnect. Each line throughout his book Er, Um spreads and entangles and forms a very unique image overflowing with suggestion eros imagination thus creating a very rich multi-dimensional vision of the world.
Caples is a poet located in Oakland, California. Not only does his work appear to be influenced by the surrealists (i.e., Char, Lamantia, etc.) but Garrett is very fond of hip-hop as well. His fondness for both genres shows in the first poem - the title poem - in this collection Er, Um:
i was a teenage gingerale: my bubbles spiraled upward and rippled a puddle of ironing board. i was a pile of bored, all tusk and wart, i saw i was screwed and hammered. the more i tooled around the box, the more i stammered glamorously. amorously it was freaky. my speaking came out of sequins, in pudenda-purple puzzles and penis-verdi cubes. i got used to boobs and tubes, iffy lube, the protuberance of obvious wobble.
If I didn't know better I'd say that this poem was written by the bizarre love-child of Ol' Dirty Bastard and Louis Aragon. This is only one example of Caples' genius.
Caples' work is very musical (almost Steinian). When I read the work aloud to my partner I sensed a bizarre urban rhythm pouring forth from my vocal chamber.
There's also an almost inexplicable anxiety that is interwoven throughout Caples' book. to me Caples is almost asking: "Do we really know the world? Can we ever really know anything at all?"... and by asking these such questions caples reinvents the world in which he himself and all of us live in.
"Imagine a town with no numbers. Did I say a town? I more meant the expanse of unplanned plains, or optional intersections. Fields, some trees. No commerce, of course, no work 'cept for food, and who wants to eat alone? (I picture spontaneous picnics.) The individual is still accepted, hate is not unknown, but demand for solitude's grown so rare we lacked concepts for its expression."
excerpt from Turd Factory
The collection Er, Um is a hallucinatory walk through the corridors of Caples' keen mind.
the book is heightened even further by the very unique drawings of hu xin -- a chinese artist who as a graduate student was drawn to salvador dali's paranoiac-critical method and "his own repeated attempts to fuse the essence of traditional Chinese painting and realistic oil painting brought about a distinct technique."
I found that as I flipped through the book I couldn't put it down. The first reading is the reading that counts the most to me and as I read along I found Caples' work to be addictive -- the work is extremely enjoyable: witty, erotic, philosophical, reminiscent of taking a hit of acid, and much more.
"in a joint near
a babbling book
i unconsciously turned
on my tongue
it kept on waking
from a taste of
the bud of being"
excerpt from turning on the tongue
According to Eliot, rather than losing an authentic interpretation, we actually gain it through distance. We may then apply such a temporal relativism to "The Waste Land" itself, saying that in our perception of Eliot's poem, we have a temporal advantage over the poet, as his time is historical to us today. Remaining on the relationship of past and present, now in Eliot's point in time (1921-22), we may elucidate his ordering device for relating disparate subjective modern experiences to a more coherent (albeit ugly) past. In this way, subjective and objective perceptions--past and present information, different classes, places, and times--act as mutual supports, a piling up of equivalent and contrasting metaphors and allegories of the modernist poet's predicament. However, such a future-oriented approach breaks down into ambiguity and multiple interpretations. In the first place, the interpretations differ in whether the critic wishes to expand upon "The Waste Land", if he or she decides to take a personal responsibility for post-modernity's own impotence and sterility, or decides, more academically, simply to decipher a now-historical modernity alone.
Finally, in introducing "The Waste Land", we must comment upon its structure, and its themes. The structure has been likened to a constellation of stars, spatial as opposed to linear, but this can be misleading, not to mention two-dimensional. Despite what some say, interpreting "The Waste Land" does leave a sense of at least partial linear movement. As to the themes of "The Waste Land", there is a lack of thematic clarity, but this, in my view, is Eliot's intention, and at least leaves room for redemption, if it doesn't guarantee it. The lack of clarity may be due to the said ambiguous linear movement and also to the absence of an immediate narrative in the poem's main body, though some clarity may be found in the poem's references to external texts.
When the caged Sibyl is asked her desire, she replies "I want to die," which evokes not just a world-weariness and absence of redeeming joy, but also invokes the eastern radical anti-materialistic philosophy of nirvana, in which one achieves a complete freedom. The self, we discover, is in fact imprisoned by its own very existence, and can become free only through its willed destruction. We come to see that it was the Sibyl's desire for a worldly immortality (an immortal self) which condemned her to eternal decay.
The dedication to Ezra Pound then harks back to the Troubadour poets of twelfth-century Provence, who "represent the origins of great European traditions of high poetic art which go hand in hand with a refined but invigorated sexuality." This allusion to refinement will appear again in "What the Thunder Said", and this necessity for willed self-control (and a controlled desire) is one major element needed for redemption.
In the beginning of "The Burial of the Dead" we hear a "voice of propriety" that wishes to halt all new movement, change, or development. This sterile propriety wishes to remain in the darkness, the twilight consciousness of winter, to avoid the suffering and oncoming rending pains of approaching new birth. Stylistically speaking, this desire is unsuccessful as the poem quickly continues on, morphing into another voice, which alludes to a meeting with Countess Marie Larisch. Death by drowning is evoked (l. 8), which symbolizes the ancient narratives of sacrificial death, always necessary before renewal. However, in the present tense of metonymic details, and real time happenings, such renewal, though alluded to, seems entirely absent: "I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter." (l. 18)
The next section (l. 19-43) momentarily retreats to the original voice, but quickly ruptures into "you know only / a heap of broken images..." which makes clear both the modernist's practical predicament, and the formal structure of "The Waste Land" itself. Such montage-imagism, a "heap of broken images" represents the incoherence of modernist social structures, and the mind it creates in its citizens. Spring, traditionally a seasonal process of rebirth and sexual and spiritual potency, is now perceived as painful. The lost love and desire of Tristan in lines 30-34, followed by the similar but more subjective and direct failure in the hyacinth garden, ending in "Waste and empty is the sea", suggests here that such a renewal will not occur in the modern Waste Land. Other interpretations go further, to suggest that such a renewal will never occur. However, we must keep in mind that such a renewal depends upon a very real individual participation--a self-sacrifice that modern man avoids.
With Madame Sosostris (ll. 42-59) we discover how much ancient myth has been devalued and we are given the reason for modern misery and decay. Madame Sosostris does not portray useless myths, rather, she displays complete blindness towards myths in their real, quite fruitful meanings. Madame Sosostris is so telling because she does not possess the real meaning of such myths at all; she tells us to "fear death by water", which symbolizes how much such myths have been forgotten. Avoiding such a death of self is to avoid renewal and remain in a living death. Myth in the hands of Sosostris becomes empty superstition, devoid of any personal self-sacrifice. There are intimations of redemption, and this may be symptomatic of Eliot's reservations about overtly romantic optimism, blind hope, or easy, painless solutions.
Now, in lines 60-76 we see contemporary society, and it is not surprisingly deemed unreal. Clock-time, and a perpetual twilight of "brown fog" have overtaken seasonal changes of light and dark. It seems that man and woman have entered into a wasteland of twilight and are now unable to return to either darkness or light. Like the Sibyl, they are unable to die, and with the absence of deep feelings, they are barely alive, due to mere avoidance and a lack of true sacrifical meaning (honesty). Society has found itself to be "neither living nor dead". This, in terms of Eliot's historical position, may be the witching hour of civilization as it may still be today, or it may be an experience of the rending pains of new birth.
"A Game of Chess" begins with a style reminiscent of seventeenth and eighteenth century literature. By Eliot's time, a very experientially different urban twentieth century, such a convoluted, luxurious, smooth style seemed unworthy of praise. A psychological interpretation of this matter of literary taste would point us again towards the modern neurasthenic. Clock-time, and a quickening society, was coupled with growing populations in machinated, cluttered, unreal cities that cinematically flashed the senses with commodities and advertisements, all of which became fragments of a new man-made artifice: consumerism, and the beginnings of TV culture. This broadcast-consumerism along with a routinized, conveyor-belt approach to production, would help to send the mind into cognitive dissonanc e, anxiety. Indeed, such a modern dislocation of the senses from intensely felt experiences was, according to Eliot, rooted in this eighteenth century literary tradition, which initiated such a dissociation of emotions and their immediacy. Such a style is mirrored in lines 111-172.
So much have the senses been disassociated that the transformed Philomela's bird-song of romantic passion is now heard by "dirty-ears" as a mere "Jug Jug", or a call for raw, physical sex--intimacy without feeling. We hear disembodied voices (ll. 111 -137) close to nervous breakdown, but even then, they remain unaware of their plight. They avoid the rain, a water-symbol of salvation and redemption that, unbeknownst to them, is urgently required. On top of everything else about "The Waste Land", is the fact that such a plight is unfelt, and therefore inescapable, at least for those who do not bring such anxieties to the sunlight. We might then see these first two sections as the initial stages of a cathartic process.
In the beginning of "The Fire Sermon", the season skips back to late autumn, or early winter:
"The river's tent is broken; the last fingers of leaf
Clutch and sink into the wet bank. The wind
Crosses the brown land, unheard. The nymphs are departed."
We are reminded of The Fisher King, maimed and impotent, his land approaching its consequent decay. The seemingly timeless state of affairs here by the river blurs into modernity with the mention of horns and motors (l. 197) and there is a sense of approaching watershed. But the core of this section (ll. 187-204) is the allusion to Verlaine's Parsifal and how the Knight, questing for the Grail that will renew spirituality, is tempted by sensual music, which is reminiscent of the temptations of Christ in the desert before his death and resurrection. What follows is a reminder that such a tempting sensuality has fallen down to basic impotent desire--"Jug Jug" and the rape of Philomela.
The Unreal City still under a brown fog, flashes again into consciousness, but this time it is in full winter that we find it, though it has barely changed.
Next, we are introduced to Tiresias, the poet's anti-self who sees all impersonally. It is through Tiresias that we have been conscious of the Waste Land. The poem is his. However, there is one parallel possible between Tiresias and Eliot. Both are unable to affect any direct change. In the hyacinth garden, Eliot experiences the very feeling--he becomes the experience. If the problem is that we are removed from real experiences and feelings, and the goal is to diagnose, then such impersonality must be contrasted with the healthy state of experiencing direct emotions, whether they are positive emotions or not. It is no surprise then that such a lover's scene as this (ll. 230-247) is the opposite of the lovers and scene of the hyacinth garden.
In "Death by Water" Madame Sosostris is overcome because there occurs what we had been told to fear--a death by water. There is a sense of peace in such annihilation, but the death does not end "The Waste Land". In what follows, we are also shown a Christ-like figure post-resurrection, the first explicit sign within the main body of the text that intimates an occurrence of resurrection, of redemption. Perhaps then, this same figure that has drowned, is returning again, purified and refined.
"What the Thunder Said" directly appeals to Eastern philosophy, more specifically, Hinduism. The word "after" repeated three times (ll. 322-25) seems to suggest that something has been overcome, perhaps what has just passed, a death by water. What follows is more death (ll 327-330). We could interpret this as a rather radical assertion that "The Waste Land" is no longer a description of decaying, but rather, it is a portrayal of a civilization already dead. Indeed, the desire for water and the uncertainty of the post-death stage reaches a critical climax at line 366 - hallucination, illusion, deranged perception takes over, and with the signalling "co co..." from the rooftop cock, illusion and hallucination departs the poem.
Rain gathers at last (ll. 396-400), and there is excited anticipation. The thunder speaks: DA, DA, DA. The syllable reminds us of Jesus' use of 'Abba' or Daddy to describe his intimate relationship with a Father God. But the Eastern interpretation is three-fold, developing into Datta, Dayadhvam, and Damyata, meaning, respectively, "give", "be compassionate", "self-control". In the first instance--Datta--Eliot brings us back to the hyacinth garden, suggesting that only by this surrender do we exist. The sorrowful realization here is that perhaps such a revelation has come too late for the speaker, that the paralysis experienced in the hyacinth garden was an inability to give love, to surrender one's self to another completely. Thus these lines seem to suggest love to be the proper means and motive of giving. In the second instance--Dayadhvam--Eliot links the absence of compassion to the problem of solipsism and egoism--"each in his prison / thinking of the key". Again we hear the suggestiveness of a moment's surrender, and how pride blocks participation in love and perhaps leads to displaced revenge. In the third instance--Damyata--we are urged to control ourselves, like manning a boat upon a calm ocean with the help of the wind, as the heart seems to respond happily to controlling hands.
Indeed, this is a rather different, far more positive interpretation than is usually given to this section of "The Waste Land". Eliot possibly leads us to believe that our private experiences are truly only our own, but, in terms of the Eastern philosophy which he evokes, such a perception is only true because we live in a world of samsara, the only escape from which is nirvana. But the prescriptions are ambiguous, and dogged by the past-present state of the modern Waste Land where people do not recognize such redemptive meaning. But speaking out more radically now, if we maintain an absence of salvation, we have to realize what we are really saying, and be responsible for the consequences of our words--proposing no salvation essentially condemns all futures to desolation.
In the final section, we meet the Fisher King again, and a crumbling society. There is an individual desire to order one's own land. At line 427, we are reminded of purgatory's refining flame, supported by "DA", where self-control, compassion, and giving up one's self (all in love) are healthy forms of passion, renewing desires, refined burning. This refinement overcomes the sterile avoidance of the voice of propriety (ll. 1 - 7; 19 - 20), the improper desires of emotionless sexuality (ll. 218 - 248) and emotionally detached existence in general (ll. 111 - 138). The swallow reference (l. 428) is reminiscent of Philomela, and of sadness, but with the hope of renewal, and intimations of spring again. We see that "The Waste Land" has been a process of personal maintenance--"These fragments I have shored against my ruin". The process has also been one of warning, that the references to the past are not an attempt to escape, nor mere romantic nostalgia. This leaves us one choice, to turn and embrace the future. The thunder speaks again and we end in a peace which lies outside understanding, a nirvana-like state of positive nothingness, and a sense of completion--"Shantih shantih shantih".
With the poem's ambiguous intimations of salvation leaves an interpretation that salvation will not just occur, nor will it be automatically achieved by a mere movement of time. Redemption is left up to the will of individuals to create it. Essentially, when critiquing "The Waste Land" we must bear this self-willing in mind. Many interpretations choose not to find salvation, others choose to be more positive. The poem leaves these two doors open.
Thus, one must maintain hope and the way towar ds salvation, especially in this post-modern point in time, where, if anything, the modern neurasthenic has reached paranoia levels, and permanent states of drudgery, induced by the sedentary, sedative, and dissociated visual-feeds from the popular culture. What the thunder said should not only be remembered as an ethic, but also lived as an individual life. This is the only way to escape the prison of the self, and renew our feelings, to reacquaint them with direct experience, to experience shantih, a peace beyond understanding.
We will give our lives completely every day.
FOR THIS IS THE ASSASINS' HOUR."
-Arthur Rimbaud, Drunken Morning
"The revolution was in his poetry from the beginning and to the end: as a preoccupation of a technical order, namely to translate the world into a new language."
Hold it. Wait a minute. Cut! My kid sister will go on and on if we let her. The youngest Muse has an itty-bitty case of sibling rivalry. Ok? She's always, always practicing her acceptance speech, and she's always trying to catch up to me. I'm Calliope; Muse of epic poetry and rhetoric. Just call me Callie for short.
Homer, Melville, Proust, Shakespeare, Tolstoy; that's my line of work. I've been around awhile, so the glam's kind of off the rose, so to speak. I can be casual. Sis, being new to the game, is another story, however. She takes the job so seriously. But what can I say? There's no comparison. Pop culture can't hold a candle to the classics. She really needs to lighten up.
But she doesn't even have a name yet. And let me tell you that really chaps her, big time. I've told her and told her. Don't worry! I didn't get my name until well into my third century. You know? Whatever. We can deal with that later, after the council gives her full privilege and makes the 10th Muse an official addition to the clan.
We worked together on that first case and she did a fine job. To be honest, all I did was supervise. And now we are going before the council. Zeus, Mnemosyne, Aphrodite, Demeter, Persephone, Aries, Hermes, Hades, Hera; the whole gang will be there.
"She sees far horizons, beyond the limits of her birthright. She writes the future I have shown her. She plants the seeds of change and paints vistas others will soon hunger for. And when her time has passed, I watch over her garden as well as the harvest she has reaped, so that it flourishes and endures, into an era, where it will in turn inspire new generations to remember, the Muse, whose name goes unsung."
See what I mean? She drones. Absolutely. It's a good thing Edith Wharton had a mind of her own. Excuse me. That was tacky. Sister is earnest, and she has her talents. Well, I'm sure she'll get better. Ok. I admit it. I helped her out a little bit, and Edith did have an ear for the classics.
"Edith was the perfect candidate for amusement. She proved to have a quick and rich imagination at a very early age and was born into a family of privilege in 1862, which was an exhilarating time for world history. It was an era of accelerated change and invention. Her 75-year lifespan, which ended in 1937, encapsulated the height of civilization's capacity for progress and expansion as well as the depths of humanity's ability to create misery and ruin. Save for one thing. She was spared the horrors of the atom bomb, and thus, didn't even see a glimmer of the Atomic Age and the barbarism that was set loose a mere eight years after her passing."
But that is another bone, which we will pick with Aries at a later date. Now, we go before the council with our appeal. We need another Muse. Nine is just not enough. Sister did a spectacular job with her first assignment. She has carried it through to completion. And we now face a new era desperately in need of inspiration. It is time for her probation to end. She is entitled to a name; status, rank and the full extent of her powers should be bestowed upon her immediately. None of this "in due course" business. I speak for all of the Muses when I say that we are fed up with the bureaucracy and the red tape and the delay tactics. It is all such fallacious hogwash and folderol. We have grown weary of being treated as inferior divinities, while the gods run off and play like children in a sandbox.
Oh, I beg your pardon. I shouldn't have gone off like that, but we do feel so passionate about this issue, and we hope you will stand behind us when we make our plea. You see, they think that humans don't care anymore. They think that the Muse is- obsolete! As a matter of fact, they are considering washing their hands of the whole mess. Like, firing all of the Muses, entirely and forever. Where would we go? What would we do? We would vanish into thin air. There now, the cat is out of the bag and you can see what a pickle we are in. I only ask that you let us show you what we have done, just in this one case with Edith Wharton. And we can do so much more. I promise.
"Edith Wharton was George and Lucretia Jones' third child and only daughter, born in New York City, on January 24, 1862. It was an aristocratic New York family with a pedigree reaching back three centuries; old money accumulated through the shipping and real estate industries. As a daughter of society and a member of the elite upper crust, her prescribed role was to learn the mannerisms and rituals expected of well-bred young women, and in turn, marry well, raise some children and become a hostess within the narrow confines of Old New York. She was privately educated at home by governesses and tutors and had the privilege of access to her father's extensive library.
"The love of story telling appeared in Edith before she learned to read. She often preferred the activity of make believe to the company of children her own age. A near death experience caused by a bout of typhoid fever seems to have enhanced her creativity and imagination. I do believe the veils were lifted during the high fever; that she had a glimpse of the Muse. She was haunted for years afterwards, with the sensation that someone was watching her and following close behind. We were, dear. We were.
"Edith's family moved to Europe for several years during her early childhood in order to escape the high inflation, which was the result of the Civil War, and to preserve their leisurely standard of living. This would prove to be a formative period for her. Edith maintained a love and appreciation for the sophistication and beauty of Europe throughout her entire life. After 48 years of international travel, she would make a permanent move to Europe in 1911, do the unthinkable and divorce her husband, Teddy Wharton, and live in France as an expatriate until her death in 1937."
To tell you the truth, I don't understand why Edith hated living in America so much, and specifically, New York City. It was an exciting time to be there. We were busy doling out inspiration, I can tell you that. Her lifetime spanned a period rich with invention.
Imagine this, you with the computer and the internet. Picture life as a writer without paperclips, pushpins, scotch tape, fountain pens, ballpoint pens, mechanical pencils, crayons, or typewriters. Edith saw all these accessories invented in her lifetime. I guarantee she used them and loved it.
She also saw the invention of toilet paper and the pull chain toilet, band-aids,q-tips, germ theory, and x-rays. Communication was enhanced by first the drop mailbox, then transcontinental and transatlantic telegraph, radio and the telephone. She enjoyed the invent of records and the record player but refused to attend the motion picture show or buy a t.v. She loved her motorcar although she refused to get in a plane, and she totally appreciated her Kodak camera. The invention of the incandescent light bulb, electricity companies, transcontinental railroad, airplanes, escalators, revolving doors, refrigerators, sewing machines, rayon, zippers, cotton candy, hot dogs, bubble gum, coca cola, chocolate chip cookies, Lincoln logs, Monopoly, and the Ferris Wheel changed everyone's life for the better.
The era was known as the Gilded Age. Vast fortunes were made overnight. Railroads afforded western expansion and the transport of goods. Merchandising and manufacturing transformed the United States into a consumer economy. Electricity companies prompted the in vention of a multitude of time saving devices. Skyscrapers soared to the sky, and eventually, super sonic rockets did so as well.
Thoughts changed and new theories expanded the definition of truth. Darwin, Einstein, William James, Freud, and Jung altered forever the belief in creation and the understanding of the mind.
Yes, I loved the adventures of the Gilded Age. The new millennium pales in comparison if you ask me. But then again, I think Edith�s love of Europe was more about getting out of her family's reach than anything else.
"Edith married Teddy Wharton in 1885 at the late age of 23. Teddy was not her intellectual match but a good social one, and they had a love of travel in common. Early on in their marriage they took part in an extravagant three-month cruise in the Aegean Sea, despite familial disapproval. In later years, Edith would say this was the most important thing she could have ever done.
"The experience opened up new vistas for her. She had her first taste of independence from an overbearing, superficial mother, and relished the opportunity to pursue interests and develop friendships with creative and artistic people outside of the narrow scope of her upbringing. Along with the autonomy came a growing sense of self-determinism. Thereafter, she and Teddy spent a significant part of each year in Europe."
The marriage was not a passionate one, however. Her mother had never taught her about sex and Edith's lack of knowledge along with the oppressive mores of the times caused unresolved sexual disappointments. Pervasive social conditioning required that she play the part of hostess and dutiful wife even if there were no children, and these activities appear to have consumed most of her energy and time until she was well past her mid-30's. Understandably, given her creative and independent nature and her unfulfilled sexual desire; depression plagued her during this time. She wrote sporadically during these twelve odd years, publishing only a few short stories and poems of a personal nature, which reflected her unhappiness.
"Her first serious publishing effort and some moderate success came in 1897 with "A Decoration of Houses", which she wrote with architect Ogden Codman. The book effectively and single handedly changed the popular style for interior design, eliminating the clutter and fuss of the Victorian Era, and establishing a brand new career field for others to pursue as well; Interior Design."
This accomplishment coincided with Walter Berry's re-entry into Edith's arena. Walter Berry, the lawyer, judge and diplomat, was an important influence on her writing. Edith claims he taught her everything she needed to know about grammar in the weeks when he assisted with "A Decoration of Houses".
Some would also say he was the love of her life, but there is no proof that they ever did the nasty. They met the year before she married Teddy, and I think she would have married him if he had asked her. But then again, there is no substantiating evidence that Berry did the naughty thing with anyone, so he didn�t appear too inclined towards matrimony.
Now that he was back in her life, he seemed to lend direction to her aims, fulfill an intellectual void, and encourage her growth and independence. They remained close companions for the rest of his life. He was her most loyal reader and it is said that no new manuscript went to the publishers without first meeting his approval. He died in her arms in 1927. Edith said the sun went out for her on that day.
"After "A Decoration of Houses", Edith gained ground and momentum with her creativity and productivity. This proved to be the end of her depression and the beginning of an extravagant phase of expansion. From 1897 to 1904 she published prolifically; three short story collections, two novellas, two more books covering landscape and interior design, and a historical novel based on her travels and research in Italy.
"In 1901 Edith took on another ambitious project well suited to her nature; designing and building her own mammoth sized house and garden; "The Mount", in Lenox, Massachusetts. The decade she spent at The Mount would eventually be one of her happiest memories, as she benefited from living inside of her own creation and blossomed into a professional authoress during that time.
"The quiet atmosphere was conducive to writing and her lifestyle was inspirational. She enjoyed being away from the hectic pace and restraints of New York Society, working in her gardens, taking drives in the country in her new motorcar, and entertaining friends of her own choosing. (Edith loved her role as Salon Mistress and was definately the hostess with the mostest.)
"It was during this period that she developed daily writing habits and a supportive social circle that played a significant part in her success as one of the most prolific female writers of the early 20th century.
"At the age of 40 years, Edith Wharton had finally found her stride. "The House of Mirth", published in 1905, marks Edith's coming of age as a novelist. It was an immediate bestseller. In this novel of manners with a realist twist, she found fertile ground in old New York Society. She dissected the world of privilege, old and new money, with an ironic humor and cast her eye upon the American woman's plight with a grace and flare that won her a faithful and appreciative audience. Throughout the rest of her career, Edith would return to this subject matter, time and time again, to meet with great success."
Ironically, as Edith found her way, Teddy lost his. Mental illness afflicted him around the time that Edith's star was on the rise and her depression had ended. The atmosphere at the Mount was not well suited to his temperament. The quiet of the country seemed to exacerbate his troubles. But I think he was afflicted with a terrible case of inferiority living in the shadow of Edith's success, and that this was the major cause of his problems. See, they were living in a cultural climate that delegated women to the ornamental status and bestowed enormous amounts of power and accolades on men even when it wasn't warranted. He didn't have a job to do and couldn't stand Edith finding success and respect as a professional and an intellectual.
Teddy's mental condition continued on a downward spiral until he finally misappropriated funds from Edith's estate in order to support a mistress and then fought violently to maintain control over her finances. That's when she sold The Mount and moved to Europe for good. She continued to support Teddy financially after that, but refused to live with him and eventually faced the disapproval of her family and filed for divorce. This, indeed, was the major influence in Edith's choice to become an expatriate. It was personal after all, not necessarily a political statement, at least initially.
I think Henry James played a big role in saving Edith's life during the torrid years of a disintegrating marriage. They met at The Mount in 1902, on one of his few trips to America. An honored man of letters, he was, as well as a confidante, sounding board, and inspiration. Their friendship lasted until his death during World War I. He could do what Walter Berry could not. He could be an ear for Edith's marriage troubles and her most infamous affair, with Morton Fullerton.
Morton Fullerton was a dashing man, a journalist; but a bit of a cad. Aside from being incapable of commitment or fidelity, he was also a bisexual. For some reason only Aphrodite will know, however, he brought Edith's blood to a boil. She knew passion for the first time in her life during their affair, and wrote volumes of erotic poetry and journal entries in honor of the occasion. Henry James was there for her throughout all the ups and downs and ins and outs. The affair brought Edith's problems with Te ddy to a head and also taught her depths of feelings she would have otherwise never known.
"Ethan Frome", published in 1911, came out of that period in her life. It has proved to be the most honored of her writings, maybe because there is a depth of honesty and emotion laid down on those pages that cannot be denied. It would appear that she finally buried the ghost of her guilt about divorce in the writing of this manuscript, because afterwards, she made the final move to France.
"With the onset of World War I only a few years later, Edith decided to stay on in France and do volunteer work rather than return to the safety of the United States. These years took her out of the public eye, but on a personal level she worked harder than she had ever worked before, running hostels, infirmaries and orphanages.
"Her novel, "The Good Son" went fairly unnoticed, as the world rushed into the Jazz Age and speakeasies; away from the panic and pain of catastrophic war. Yet her efforts did not go unrecognized. The President of France awarded her with the Legion of Honor in 1916, the highest order the President could dispose.
"Age of Innocence", published in 1920, was overlooked at first; due to the fact that Edith had been busy with the war effort, working behind the scenes, for so long. In this story she returns to the Gilded Age and old New York Society, yet the heroine wins an independent life, unlike the heroine of "The House of Mirth." In this regard she reflects the climate of the Jazz Age and the changes it wrought for women.
"But the delayed notice was short lived. Yes, "Age of Innocence" proved to be her crowning accomplishment; bringing her recognition as the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1921, the year after women in America finally won the right to vote. In 1923 she also became the first woman awarded the Doctor of Letters by Yale University and she made her one and only trip back to America since 1912.
"She continued to write prolifically until her death in 1937; publishing more than 32 books throughout her life. Her final works included, "The Writing of Fiction", her autobiography, "A Backward Glance", "Ghosts", and the unfinished novel, "The Buccaneers". She is best remembered for her humor and irony as a writer in the genre of the novel of manners, yet she also produced poetry, critical analysis, travel writings, short stories, commentaries on World War I, and books on landscape architecture and interior design. She was a prolific letter writer and kept a journal. Upon her death, she left her papers to Yale University with the stipulation that publication be withheld until 1968."
That was MY best idea; keeping the papers and journals under lock and key for 30 years. I'm glad she took it. It gave the rest of the world time to catch up to Edith and her independent nature. We had entered into another era by the time the papers were released; one that brought more equality and appreciation for women, and a renewed interest in women's contributions from the past.
So there you have it. I'm sure you can see what we are capable of. Consider this. As you read us, we read you. Sort of like an interview. Take a moment to think about the possibilities. If you are willing to speak for us at the council, we may inspire you to greatness. Go on. Take your time. We'll be in touch�.
"Soaring beyond the limits of memory and experience, the Muse will take you there. Reaching from beneath the surface of what is known, the Muse will take you there. A love most splendid and a thrill superior, the Muse will take you there."