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Showing posts from October, 2012

George Frederick Handel - Documentary

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The Novels of Jane Austen

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For nearly half a century England has possessed an artist of the highest rank, whose works have been extensively circulated, whose merits have been keenly relished, and whose name is still unfamiliar in men's mouths. One would suppose that great excellence and real success would inevitably produce a loud reputation. Yet in this particular case such a supposition would be singularly mistaken. So far from the name of Miss Austen being constantly cited among the glories of our literature, there are many well-informed persons who will be surprised to hear it mentioned among the best writers. If we look at Hazlitt's account of the English novelists, in his Lectures on the Comic Writers, we find Mrs. Radcliff, Mrs. Inchbald, Mrs. Opie, Miss Burney, and Miss Edgeworth receiving due honor, and more than is due; but no hint that Miss Austen has written a line. If we cast a glance over the list of english authors republicshed by Baudry, Galignani, and Tauchnitz, we find there writers of…

Lady Gordon (née Julia Isabella Levina Bennet): Cottage at Wigmore, Kent, 1803

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Lady Gordon is remembered as one of J.M.W.Turner's few known pupils. It was Paul Oppé who first speculated, correctly, that she may also have taken lessons from Thomas Girtin (no.77). For this watercolour she has selected Girtin's favourite paper, a coarse laid cartridge of a warmish tint containing slight flecks which give a subtle variety to the surface. Girtin enjoyed a reputation for making sketches in the open air, a practice he seems to have instilled in his pupils, for this watercolour is described by Lady Gordon on the mount as a 'Sketch from Nature'. The mount also bears her initials, Julia Bennet. Two years later she married General Sir James Willoughby Gordon. The latter was Quartermaster General during the Peninsular Wars.

John Keats To Fanny Brawne

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My sweet girl,

Your Letter gave me more delight, than any thing in the world but yourself could do; indeed I am almost astonished that any absent one should have that luxurious power over my senses which I feel. Even when I am not thinking of you I receive your influence and a tenderer nature steeling upon me. All my thoughts, my unhappiest days and nights have I find not at all cured me of my love of Beauty, but made it so intense that I am miserable that you are not with me: or rather breathe in that dull sort of patience that cannot be called Life. I never knew before, what such a love as you have made me feel, was; I did not believe in it; my Fancy was affraid of it, lest it should burn me up. But if you will fully love me, though there may be some fire, 'twill not be more than we can bear when moistened and bedewed with Pleasures. You mention 'horrid people' and ask me whether it depend upon them whether I see you again. Do understand me, my love, in this. I have so mu…

William Holman Hunt: The Lady of Shalott

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Hunt's first Lady of Shalott was a drawing finished in May 1850. Whereas his final version bears the considerable burden of representing his complex conception of 'eternal truth', understandably his first has a less ambitious and more specific function: to illustrate Tennyson's poem 'truly'. In this case truth equates with completeness of illustration, since primarily it is an attempt to show as many important episodes from the poem as possible on one page. As Hunt reports having told Rossetti: the drawing 'was only put aside when the paper was so worn that it would not bear a single new correction' (cited in Bronkhurst, 1984, p.249).

Hunt's anxiety to compress as much of 'The Lady of Shalott' as he could into this drawing can perhaps be deduced from the fact that the shawl which is tied around the lady's waist as she faces the viewer has mysteriously disappeared from her mirror image. This highly uncharacteristic oversight suggests th…

Elizabeth Siddal: The Passing of Love

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O God, forgive me that I ranged
My live into a dream of love!
Will tears of anguish never wash
The passion from my blood?

Love kept my heart in a song of joy,
My pulses quivered to the tune;
The coldest blasts of winter blew
Upon me like sweet airs in June.

Love floated on the mists of morn
And rested on the sunset’s rays;
He calmed the thunder of the storm
And lighted all my ways.

Love held me joyful through the day
And dreaming ever through the night;
No evil thing could come to me,
My spirit was so light.

O Heaven help my foolish heart
Which heeded not the passing time
That dragged my idol from its place
And shattered all its shrine

The James cult - On the work of Henry James, and his loyal following.

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I am a member of a cult. Jamesians we call ourselves, less frequently Jacobites, and we are dedicated to the propagation and sanctification of the works of Henry James (1843–1916), a writer who is, to put it gently, not everybody’s notion of a rollicking good time. Many are the criticisms against James, none of them entirely invalid. Some claim that in his fiction he chewed much more than he bit off; others argue that a great deal of what is at the heart of meritorious fiction—the struggle for survival, the drama of ambition, physical love—is absent from his. Those of us in the cult allow all this, though we view it as quite beside the point. Our condition is put best by James himself in “The Next Time,” a story about an author named Ray Limbert who struggled to produce bestsellers but, unable to turn a silk purse into a sow’s ear, could only create masterpieces. In that story, James wrote:
We are a numerous band, partakers of the same repose, who sit together in the shade of the tree,…

Thomas De Quincey: Charles Lamb

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It sounds paradoxical, but is not so in a bad sense, to say, that in every literature of large compass some authors will be found to rest much of the interest which surrounds them on their essential non-popularity. They are good for the very reason that they are not in conformity to the current taste. They interest because to the world they are not interesting. They attract by means of their repulsion. Not as though it could separately furnish a reason for loving a book, that the majority of men had found it repulsive. Prima facie, it must suggest some presumption against a book, that it has failed to gain public attention. To have roused hostility indeed, to have kindled a feud against its own principles or its temper, may happen to be a good sign. That argues power. Hatred may be promising. The deepest revolutions of mind sometimes begin in hatred. But simply to have left a reader unimpressed, is in itself a neutral result, from which the inference is doubtful. Yet even that, even s…

George Price Boyce: Profile Portrait of Ellen Smith

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Described in a rather old-fashioned manner by Virginia Surtees as 'a laundry girl of uncertain virtue', Ellen Smith was a popular model in the 1860s, sitting not only to Boyce but Rossetti and Burne-Jones amongst many others. George Boyce noted in his diary on November 21st 1865: 'Nelly Smith called. She was not looking well. Has been sitting to Simeon Solomon, Poynter, Stanhope, Jones, Pinwell, and a man of the name of Linton.' Perhaps her most famous appearance is as the bridesmaid in the left foreground of Rossetti's The Beloved, 1865-6 (Tate Gallery). Boyce, who owned several of Rossetti's studies of her and in addition to the present picture, painted her in two watercolours of 1866-7 (George Price Boyce exhibition, Tate Gallery, 1987, numbers 5-6, reproduced in the catalogue). She also appears many times in his diaries. 

Boyce first mentions her in his diary on April 13th 1863 when 'He [Rossetti] made me a present of a lovely study in pencil of the hea…

G.K. Chesterton: Charlotte Bronte as a Romantic

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The genius of Charlotte Bronte is unique in the only valuable sense in which the word can be applied; the only sense which separates the rarity of some gift in a poet from the rarity of some delusion in an ayslum. However complex or even grotesque an artistic power may be, it must be as these qualities exist in a key, which is one of the most complex and grotesque of human objects, but which has for its object the opening of doors and the entrance into wider things. Charlotte Bronte's art was something more or less than complex; and it was not to be described as grotesque; except rarely - and unintentionally. But it was temperamental and, like all things depending on temperament, unequal; and it was so personal as to be perverse. It is in connection with power of this kind, however creative, that we have to discover and define what distinguished it from the uncreative intensity of the insane. I cannot understand what it was that made the Philistines of a former generation regard …

George Eliot: Silly Novels by Lady Novelists

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Silly Novels by Lady Novelists are a genus with many species, determined by the particular quality of silliness that predominates in them — the frothy, the prosy, the pious, or the pedantic. But it is a mixture of all these — a composite order of feminine fatuity — that produces the largest class of such novels, which we shall distinguish as the mind-and-millinery species. The heroine is usually an heiress, probably a peeress in her own right, with perhaps a vicious baronet, an amiable duke, and an irresistible younger son of a marquis as lovers in the foreground, a clergyman and a poet sighing for her in the middle distance, and a crowd of undefined adorers dimly indicated beyond. Her eyes and her wit are both dazzling; her nose and her morals are alike free from any tendency to irregularity; she has a superb contralto and a superb intellect; she is perfectly well dressed and perfectly religious; she dances like a sylph, and reads the Bible in the original tongues. Or it may be that …

Christina Rossetti: Remember

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Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann'd:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

The Birth of British Music - Mendelssohn, The Prophet

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Ford Madox Brown: Cromwell on His Farm

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The lengthy description of the painting in Ford Madox Ford's biography of Brown is quoted from someone identified as Mr Forbes Robertson , senior, but is described as having been conveyed by Brown himself:

On a white horse, which grazes leisurely by the roadside before us, sits a stalwart man of saturnine visage, in the prime of lusty manhood.
He is attired in the sober costume worn by thoughtful men in the early part of Charles I's reign, is booted in buff, and his beaver is slouched. His coat is dark brown, and his cloak is sage green in colour. On his brow there is a palpable wart, and on the scant white bands which adorn his neck is a red spot as of blood. Before him burns a heap of weeds and stubble, which those two labourers have grubbed from the hedges they have been trimming, and it is the flames thereof that have arrested the attention of their master, and on which he now gazes so earnestly yet so absently.
In vain may the buxom wench, sent by her mistress, who stands wi…

Waugh and Brideshead

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Excerpted from Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, by Paula Byrne, to be published this month by HarperCollins; © 2010 by the author.

It is early 1944, and Captain Evelyn Arthur St. John Waugh has fallen out of love with the army. He has just turned 40 and is considering his options. To become a screenwriter? An overture to Alexander Korda comes to nothing. To join M.I.5, the intelligence service? He is turned down without an interview. Only one possibility remains: to revert to his pre-war occupation as a novelist.

On January 24 he writes a letter to Colonel Ferguson, officer commanding, Household Cavalry Training Regiment. “I have the honour to request,” the letter begins, “that, for the understated reasons I may be granted leave of absence from duty without pay for three months.” The understated reasons are various—for instance, that his previous service in the Royal Marines, the Commandos, the Special Services, and the Special Air Service Regiment does not qualify…

Willa Cather, Ivan Turgenev, and the Novel of Character

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As David Stouck points out in his essay "Willa Cather and the Russians" (in this volume), Cather read the fiction of Ivan Turgenev early in her literary career and reflected upon it often throughout her life. She called Turgenev an exception among the Russian novelists, whose books, she said, possessed "amazing fecundity" but were often marred by an "unfortunate disregard of perfect finish" (Kingdom 72). Her comment on the "perfect finish" of Turgenev's fiction, which her literary mentor Henry James had also praised, clearly indicates Cather's early interest in fictional style and technique. More important, an examination of Turgenev's fiction and critical comments, of James's discussions of his work, and of Cather's own fiction and criticism reveals interesting parallels between the fictional theories and techniques of Cather and Turgenev.[1] Such a study suggests, in particular, that Willa Cather's approach to character…

William Morris: Love Is Enough

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Love is enough: though the world be a-waning, 
And the woods have no voice but the voice of complaining,
Though the skies be too dark for dim eyes to discover
The gold-cups and daisies fair blooming thereunder,
Though the hills be held shadows, and the sea a dark wonder,
And this day draw a veil over all deeds passed over,
Yet their hands shall not tremble, their feet shall not falter:
The void shall not weary, the fear shall not alter
These lips and these eyes of the loved and the lover.

Sir John Everett Millais, 'Mariana' 1851

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When it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1851 this picture was accompanied by the following lines from Tennyson's Mariana (1830):

She only said, 'My life is dreary,
He cometh not,' she said;
She said, 'I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead!'

Tennyson's poem was inspired by the character of Mariana in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Rejected by her fiancé, Angelo, after her dowry was lost in a shipwreck, she leads a lonely existence in a moated grange. She is still in love with Angelo - now Deputy to the Duke of Vienna - and longs to be reunited with him.

In the picture the autumn leaves scattered on the ground mark the passage of time. Mariana has been working at some embroidery and pauses to stretch her back. Her longing for Angelo is suggested by her pose and the needle thrust fiercely into her embroidery. The stained-glass windows in front of her show the Annunciation, contrasting the Virgin's fulfilment with Mariana's frus…