— A note on E.B. White’s style, from Wilfrid Sheed’s phenomenal 1976 review of the author’s collected letters.
|Gwendolen Chelm:||Those men are desperate characters.|
|Harry Chelm:||What makes you say that?|
|Gwendolen Chelm:||Not one of them looked at my legs.|
From John Huston’s BEAT THE DEVIL (UK, 1953)
Robert Wiene’s THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI (Germany, 1920)
From Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard’s BEAUTIFUL LOSERS (US, 2008)
I was watching Marc Maron’s special THINKY PAIN when, at the very end, author Sam Lipsyte shows up. The more I think about this, the more it makes sense.
From Michelangelo Frammartino’s LE QUATTRO VOLTE (Italy, 2010)
From Henry IV Part II, Act 3, Scene I.
How many thousand of my poorest subjects
Are at this hour asleep! O sleep, O gentle sleep,
Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frighted thee,
That thou no more wilt weigh my eyelids down
And steep my senses in forgetfulness?
Why rather, sleep, liest thou in smoky cribs,
Upon uneasy pallets stretching thee
And hushed with buzzing night-flies to thy slumber,
Than in the perfumed chambers of the great,
Under the canopies of costly state,
And lull’d with sound of sweetest melody?
O thou dull god, why liest thou with the vile
In loathsome beds and leavest the kingly couch
A watch-case or a common ‘larum bell?
Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast
Seal up the shipboy’s eyes, and rock his brains
In cradle of the rude imperious surge
And in the visitation of the winds,
Who take the ruffian billows by the top,
Curling their monstrous heads and hanging them
With deafening clamor in the slippery clouds
That with the hurly death itself awakes?
Canst thou, O partial sleep, give thy repose
To the wet sea-boy in an hour so rude,
And, in the calmest and most stillest night,
With all appliances and means to boot,
Deny it to a king? Then, happy low, lie down.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
In his soliloquy, Henry bemoans the burden of kingly cognition, locating the weight of decision that rests on noble shoulders in a tangle of parallel structure and stark contrast. The opening lines of Henry’s lament lay out his dilemma, one of a genteel monarch denied “gentle sleep.” His appeal to sleep then moves from the abstract to the concrete. He interlaces paired tercets that draws our attention both to the enormous gulf between his poorest subjects and himself as well as the enormity of sleep’s unjust absence in the life of the troubled King. Henry begins to feel the slight more deeply, individualizing and idealizing the hypothetical peace of the low-born mind in the form of a sea-boy dozing topmast during a tumultuous storm.
“A lot of that feminist discourse—you know—even in the 1980s when I was coming of age, really still was about the irreconcilability of motherhood and creativity. I felt like the Jane Franklin story somehow, there’s some piece of it that opened up for me a way to say: Okay, we don’t know Jane Franklin was a genius. There’s no unseen genius here. She’s not Judith Shakespeare. But she was a person with 12 children who fought so hard to find some kind of an intellectual life in a world that made it almost impossible to her to have one. And that seemed to me worth telling. Not the extraordinariness of her circumstances or her genius, but the very ordinariness of it.” - Jill Lepore, on Jane Franklin
From Lee Yong-Joo’s Architecture 101
With some downtime between scheduled events, I settled into a small library in Yale’s Trumbull College. From where I was sitting, I could see stacks that seemed to be unified around the theme of American history. The shelves were piled with dusty old library editions from a century ago about Great Men. One such edition caught my eye for reasons I am still working out. Nevertheless, I picked up Volume I of William Roscoe Thayer’s The Life and Letters of John Hay. For those who are completely unfamiliar with Hay or, like me, learned about him only as a footnote in the study of Lincoln (for whom he was a personal secretary), McKinley (for whom he was Secretary of State), and for T. Roosevelt (ibid.), Hay made some significant contributions to the politics in the last half of the nineteenth century and deserves, I believe, further study.
I only had time to read the Preface and the first chapter, “Beginnings”, but I found myself intrigued by the young life and origins of John Milton Hay. Apart from some interesting views on immigrants, Thayer’s text also read remarkably well for an exposition dump. (Learning lineages is rarely interesting; we’re often just waiting for the author to get around to the subjects significant contributions or telling events.) Like many biographers, Thayer has drawn extensively from letters written by and to Hay.
One such excerpt amused me quite a bit. Hay, who grew up in Warsaw, Ill., shared what he thoughts on the appellations:
"Towns are sometimes absurdly named. I lived at Spunky Point on the Mississippi! This is a graphic, classic, characteristic designation of a geographical and ethnological significance. But some idiots, just before I was born, who had read Miss Porter,* thought Warsaw would be much more genteel, and so we are Nicodemussed into nothing for the rest of time. I hope every man who was engaged in the outrage is called Smith in Heaven.”
* [Thayer’s Note] Jane Porter (1776-1850) published, in 1803, Thaddeus of Warsaw, a romance which had a great vogue for half a century.