Miffy the rabbit, no new books


This video is called Miffy‘s birthday (official Miffy video).

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Miffy retired in 2011

Update: Wednesday, July 30 2014, 09:09

Dick Bruna has stopped drawing. The Miffy book he published in 2011 is the last one. The Dick Bruna House says the 86-year-old artist wants to slow down, because of his age.

The first book about Miffy was in 1955, and so the last one was in 2011. They were issued all over the world. The rights will not pass on to someone else, like happened with Spike and Suzy by Willy Vandersteen.

RTV Utrecht reported that Bruna‘s workshop will be transferred to the Dick Bruna House in Utrecht. Next year Miffy will play a prominent role at the start of the Tour de France in Utrecht.

Dutch seventeenth century painting and foreign authors


This video is called Art Museum Mauritshuis (The Hague, the Netherlands), part 1.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

The Golden Age of Dutch art has inspired writers from Marcel Proust to Donna Tartt

Just as Tracy Chevalier pilfered Vermeer’s ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ and Proust purloined the artist’s ‘View of Delft‘, so Donna Tartt appropriated Fabritius’s ‘The Goldfinch’ – set to be Booker-longlisted this week – as her inspiration. But what is it about the Golden Age of Dutch art that so enthrals novelists? Boyd Tonkin travels to the Mauritshuis museum, home to these three masterpieces and many more, to see for himself.

Sunday 20 July 2014

Blessed are the latecomers. By a couple of days, I missed the official press unveiling of the restored Mauritshuis, the treasure-crammed “jewel-box” of an art museum in The Hague that houses the Dutch royal picture collection. So, after the media crowd had left but before the gallery opened its doors to the public, I was allowed to sit in Room 15 for as long as I liked, almost alone. Outside, around the town lake and beside the 17th-century courts and mansions of the seat of the Netherlands government, orange-clad cafés geared up for another Holland World Cup game. Inside, in room after masterpiece-crammed room, time stopped – and the paintings began to whisper their tantalising stories.

On one wall, between Gerard ter Borch’s Woman Writing a Letter and Hunting for Lice, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring forever turns an enigmatic gaze on the spectator. Across the room, the same artist’s View of Delft captures for all eternity his home city in 1660 or 1661, bathed in fitful sunshine after a passing shower. Next door in Room 14, re-positioned between windows in honour of its new-found celebrity, hangs The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius, the Delft-based pupil of Rembrandt and perhaps a teacher of Vermeer.

I was more fortunate than Tracy Chevalier. Although the novelist had kept a poster of Girl with a Pearl Earring on her wall since the age of 19, she only caught her in the flesh here at a Vermeer exhibition in the mid-1990s. “These are paintings that need a calm empty room to be appreciated in,” she later said. “You were lucky if you had three seconds in front of a painting before you were shoved out of the way by another visitor.” Even so, that brief encounter incubated the bestseller that, after its release its 1999, helped to make this ever-elusive canvas one of the best known of all Dutch paintings.

The “girl” had starred in fiction at least once before. In Russell Hoban’s The Medusa Frequency (1987), a stalled writer travels to the Mauritshuis to see her – only to find that she has moved to a temporary show abroad.

As for Fabritius’s quizzical bird, it entered the fiction charts – via Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – thanks to a sojourn in New York. Tartt’s novel turns on the (imaginary) theft of the picture after a terrorist bombing at the Met, and pivots its reflections of art and life around the secrets of this gnomic painting. It has already won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction – and now it looks like a strong contender for the Man Booker Prize longlist, due on Wednesday in the first year of eligibility for American works.

Yet no tale spun around the masterworks of the Mauritshuis can match in literary gravitas the fictional afterlife of Vermeer’s View of Delft. For Marcel Proust, who saw it first in the Hague in 1902, and again in 1921 when it visited the Jeu de Paume in Paris, this cityscape of buildings irradiated by an ever-changing light was simply “the most beautiful painting in the world”. Across the epic length of his A la recherche du temps perdu, it recurs as a touchstone and talisman of art’s perfection – and art’s mystery.

'The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp', one of the fine Mauritshuis Rembrandts, inspired the novelist Nina Siegal (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Remarkably, for a gallery that displays only 260 works, the contribution of the Mauritshuis to literature does not end there. The American writer Nina Siegal has just published a novel prompted by The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp – the youthful masterpiece of 1632 found in the Hague’s dazzling cluster of first-rate Rembrandts. And downstairs, Holbein’s portraits of Jane Seymour and of the cruelly handsome Robert Cheseman, Henry VIII’s master falconer, plunge the imaginative viewer straight into the milieu of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.

This inspirational gallery has re-opened after a two-year, €30m refit. A new underground foyer connects the neat waterside palace – built around 1640 for the former governor of Brazil, Johan Maurits of Nassau-Siegen, and home of the Dutch royal collection since 1822 – to an Art Deco building across the street converted to host shows, events and a library. But the “jewel-box” ambience remains – even embellished with a state-of the-art lift that hoists you from the subterranean entrance-hall to just inside the old front door.

Director Emilie Gordenker walks me around rooms renovated with a vigilant care for period fittings and materials. “It’s the perfect size as it is,” she says. “We didn’t want to turn it into a big museum.” (The royal collection numbers some 800 works, many on show nearby at the Prince William V Gallery.) She believes the focused but secretive masterpieces of the Golden Age invite, and reward, repeat visits. “You see more and more in them; they benefit from close attention.”

Save for The Goldfinch’s new prominence, the star attractions of the Mauritshuis have not been fenced off in any VIP enclosure. “People said, ‘Don’t you want to put the Girl with a Pearl Earring on her own?’ No: you see her surrounded by the very high quality of the other paintings.”

Does Dr Gordenker, who curated Dutch and Flemish art at the National Gallery of Scotland, before coming here in 2008, have any personal favourite? “It’s like asking a mother about her favourite children!” In her guide to highlights of the Mauritshuis, though, she does write that if “forced to choose”, it would be View of Delft.

'View of Delft' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1660-1661 (Mauritshuis Gallery)

Writers of fiction have woven yarns around the lives of artists, real or imaginary, since as early as 1831, when Balzac re-invented the young Poussin in The Unknown Masterpiece. From Somerset Maugham channelling Gauguin in The Moon and Sixpence to Irving Stone’s semi-documentary heroics in Lust for Life (Van Gogh) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (Michelangelo), the results have spanned the sublime and the faintly ridiculous. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera appear in Barbara Kingsolver’s Orange Prize-winning The Lacuna. Orhan Pamuk‘s My Name is Red, with its richly tinted evocations of Ottoman court painting in the 16th century, shows that the genre can adapt to fit a variety of frames.

At the Mauritshuis, the proximity of so many story-spinning canvases prompts a different sort of question about the traffic between prose and picture. Here, the broad sweep of the bio-novel takes second place to the ellipses and enigmas of individual works. For all the heavyweight scholarship devoted to symbolism and allegory in paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, the mystery of these frozen moments continues to haunt viewer and story-teller alike. True, Chevalier’s novel does in its oblique way, via the voice of the maid Griet, observe the life of Vermeer and his household in Delft; more importantly, it captures, scene by scene and gesture by gesture, the episodes, emotions and secrets hinted at by that outlandish jewel glinting at the servant’s (if she is a servant) ear.

The paintings from this place and time seem to serve as uniquely combustible firelighters of narrative. As Chevalier has said about the Girl’s almost startled sideways glance, “It’s the kind of expression you can interpret in different ways depending on your mood.” The writer, she has argued, may stretch the passing glimpse into a plot and colour in the vacant temporal background: “A painting is about a moment, a book is about a sweep of time – be it 100 years or a day or an hour, it is still about what changes between the beginning and the end of the story.”

The biographical canvas of Carel Fabritius is nearly as blank as the plain rough-cast wall behind his finch. To Donna Tartt, this picture tells a story not about the artist but about art itself. Its thick brushstrokes both make and break the illusion of reality, allowing us to experience both the subject and the artist’s technique in the same moment. As her bereaved young hero Theo puts it, “you see the mark, the paint for the paint, but also the living bird”. Fabritius’s artwork functions both as “the thing and not the thing”, a sacred sign of that “slide of transubstantiation where paint is paint but also feather and bone”. So the bird sings the magic of creation.

In Tartt’s book, the meaning of the painting entwines with the death of Theo’s mother and his long journey though grief. In Dutch Golden Age art as a whole, the vivid snapshots of life are often pregnant with an awareness of mortality. With their skulls and maggots, their blown roses and rotting fruits, these paintings swarm with every sort of memento mori to recall the transience of our days – and our loves. And the novelist, perhaps unlike the painter, can not only hint at but also describe the story’s end.

In The Captive, the fifth volume of A la recherche du temps perdu, Proust’s obsessional admiration for View of Delft reaches its climax. The writer Bergotte has long wanted to revisit not only Vermeer’s painting but one small corner of it, “a little patch of yellow wall” which “was so well painted that it was, if one looked at it by itself, like some priceless specimen of Chinese art, of a beauty that was sufficient in itself”. Critics and biographers argue over the fragment Proust had in mind; yellow patches lie on both sides of Vermeer’s Rotterdam Gate.

Already sick, Bergotte hauls himself (as Proust did in 1921) to the Jeu de Paume, where he sees the Vermeer – then dies, of a stroke. In his final revelation, “the precious substance of the tiny patch of yellow wall” comes to stand not only for the sublimity of the greatest art but the purpose of life itself. It appears to the dying Bergotte like a coded signal from a better world, “based on kindness, scrupulousness, self-sacrifice, a world entirely different from this one and which we leave in order to be born on this earth, before perhaps returning there to live once again”.

The yellow wall – or, perhaps, the meaning of life – is in Room 15 of the Mauritshuis. The girl with a pearl looks straight at it. Next door, a goldfinch chirrups silently and unfathomably on its perch. A few metres away, seven medical students crowd around Dr Tulp’s pallid cadaver, each pointy-bearded face bristling with ambitious life. Three centuries and more ago, every one of those lives ended with one more chalk-white corpse.

Even though I had the chance to wander through an almost-silent gallery, the stories stacked inside the Mauritshuis could deafen you; the seam of fictional transformation from Proust to Chevalier, Tartt and Siegal is far from exhausted. Among the plentiful great Rembrandts in this gallery, you will find his haunting Two Moors from 1661: a pair of Africans, one defiant, the other subdued, the spectrum of feeling on their faces seeming to express the span of experience available to alien newcomers in the Holland of the Golden Age. Who will write their story?

The Mauritshuis Royal Picture Gallery (mauritshuis.nl), Plein 29, 2511 CS The Hague, is open daily until 1 November, then Tuesday to Sunday.

After a triumphant tour of Japan, then the United States and ending in Italy, the Girl with a Pearl Earring has returned home to the Mauritshuis royal picture gallery in The Hague. For ever. The museum, which reopened last month after two years’ renovation work, will no longer allow Vermeer’s masterpiece out. Officially the Mona Lisa of the North has been gated in order to please visitors to the Mauritshuis who only want to see that painting. Its fame has steadily increased since Tracy Chevalier published her novel in 1999 followed in 2004 by the film by Peter Webber starring Scarlett Johansson. Anyone wanting to see the portrait will have make the trip to the Dutch city: here.

British disabled poet Mark Burnhope interviewed


This video from Britain says about itself:

27 November 2011

Mark Burnhope reads ‘The Well and the Ceiling Rose’, ‘The Snowboy’ and ‘Shinglehenge’ (from The Snowboy).

By Jody Powell in Britain:

A Christian outsider, maybe-Quaker, physically disabled and queer

Thursday 17th July 2017

32-YEAR-OLD MARK BURNHOPE is a poet, editor and disability activist whose new book Species is his first full verse collection. Here he tells Jody Porter all about what impels him to write

What are your religious/political beliefs and how have they affected your poetry in the past and now in this book?

I’m a Christian outsider, maybe-Quaker, physically disabled and queer.

My religions are poetry, contemplation, social action and disability rights. I’m agnostic about the nature of “God” but her presence will always permeate my work and identity as “other,” even in contexts where I’m told I belong.

My chapbooks, The Snowboy and Lever Arch, dealt with religious disenfranchisement in their own ways. Species explores otherness as “natural/unnatural,” so people occupy the same space as animals, birds and monsters.

My politics are just my self, primarily filtered through disability/queerness.

I’m on the left but recoil from its tendency to exclude disenfranchised people in spite of its purported ethos of inclusion.

Recent examples include Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) having their wheelchair-using speakers turned away from the recent large London protest on the basis that it was their responsibility to pay for access to the stage, and not the event organisers — the People’s Assembly, who were quick to apologise and hopefully take steps to improving the situation for the future.

Then there was the discomfort I felt when certain people sharing pictures of DPAC protesters at Westminster Abbey fighting to keep the Independent Living Fund infantilised us, joked about us as defenceless, ultimately harmless and no genuine threat to government. Too often, that’s the able-bodied left for you.

I’m on the left because that’s where I find myself. But all this time, disabled people themselves have been leading a grass-roots, self-advocating charge against welfare reform and it saddens me when that’s co-opted by a non-disabled majority left that considers us only an optional piece of a larger puzzle — the “bigger fish to fry” syndrome — then depicts our efforts as quaint have-a-go attempts to join in.

I appreciate the sentiment behind a phrase like “solidarity with disabled people” but we’ve never spoken of “solidarity with able-bodied people,” we just call them the left.

I wish we received the same treatment but I find myself having to watch the action from the periphery too often.

What’s the significance of the collection’s title Species and the Darwin quote at the front of the book?

The book’s first epigraph, from theologian Francis Turretin in the 17th century, says that the law given to Moses “is usually distinguished into three species: moral… ceremonial… and civil.”

The book of Exodus contains the “clobber passages” which Christianity has used to oppress queer people alongside lesser-known verses which designate women, disabled people and others as “abominations.”

It’s not just gay people. The continual reinforcement of these prejudices in our day and age is due, in part, to this arbitrary and textually unsupported division of the law into three “species.”

The Darwin quote — “We will now discuss in a little more detail the struggle for existence” — relates to natural selection, that the strongest survive and the weakest conveniently die out for the continuation of “the whole.”

Species includes a sequence about the Atos-sponsored London Paralympics 2012, the government systemic ableism of eugenics-inflected propaganda and the dismantlement of the welfare state under the guise of “reform.”

The Darwin quote is a joke, meant to lead the reader into the book with a wry smile. I used the quote because it made me laugh. We have to laugh, or we’d cry.

What are abnominals?

The abnominal is a form invented by Scottish poet Andrew Philip, described in his second collection The North End Of The Possible: “The abnominal is a form I have developed using only the letters of the dedicatee’s name, each of which must appear at least once per stanza.

“The poem, which is 20 lines long, should begin and end by addressing the dedicatee in some way. The title must also be an anagram of their name.”

This allowed me to directly address relevant personalities: David Cameron, David Attenborough, Maurice Sendak and a few more.

Who in contemporary poetry do you admire?

Many mainstream magazines exclude disenfranchised writers and the writing modes central to their practice. In those spaces, everything tends to just melt into a generalised “best-of-British poetry.”

Yet if a poet’s work is inclusive, intersectional and concerned with representing disenfranchised writers, I’m probably going to read it.

On that list are radical feminist and disability/crip work and poetries of race, colour and queerdom.

One group that’s given me more confidence in writing my own bodily experience is the disability or “crip” poetics movement in America.

Mike Northern, Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Fiona Black and all the poets collected in Wordgathering online, along with the Beauty Is A Verb anthology and feminist works breaking down the barriers, are writing my revolution.

Species is published by Nine Arches Press at £8.99.

South African anti-apartheid author Nadine Gordimer dies


This video says about itself:

Nadine Gordimer on racism

3 October 2007

Here, she describes her escape from the racist ideology she had grown up with. Full interview here.

From the Irish Times:

Anti-apartheid author and Nobel winner Nadine Gordimer dies

Many of her stories dealt with South Africa’s segregated system under white-minority rule

Monday, July 14, 2014, 15:11

South African Nobel Prize-winning author Nadine Gordimer, an uncompromising moralist who became one of the most powerful voices against the injustice of apartheid, has died at the age of 90, her family said today.

Gordimer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, died peacefully at her Johannesburg home last evening in the presence of her children, Hugo and Oriane, a statement from the family said.

“She cared most deeply about South Africa, its culture, its people and its on-going struggle to realise its new democracy,” the statement said.

Regarded by many as South Africa’s leading writer, Gordimer was renowned as a rigid moralist whose novels and short stories reflected the drama of human life and emotion in a society warped by decades of white-minority rule.

Many of her stories dealt with the themes of love, hate and friendship under the pressures of the racially segregated system that ended in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.

A member of Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) – banned under apartheid – Gordimer used her pen to battle against the inequality of white rule for decades, earning her the enmity of sections of the establishment.

Some of her novels, such as A World of Strangers and Burger’s Daughter, were banned by the apartheid authorities.

But Gordimer, a petite figure with a crystal-clear gaze, did not restrict her writing to a damning indictment of apartheid, cutting through the web of human hypocrisy and deceit wherever she found it.

“I cannot simply damn apartheid when there is human injustice to be found everywhere else,” she told Reuters shortly before winning her Nobel prize.

In later years, she became a vocal campaigner on HIV/Aids, lobbying and fundraising on behalf of the Treatment Action Campaign, a group pushing for the South African government to provide free, life-saving drugs to sufferers.

Nor did she shy away from criticising the ANC under President Jacob Zuma, expressing her opposition to a proposed law which limits the publication of information deemed sensitive by the government.

“The reintroduction of censorship is unthinkable when you think how people suffered to get rid of censorship in all its forms,” she said in an interview last month.

The daughter of a Lithuanian Jewish watchmaker, Gordimer started writing in earnest at the age of nine.

A lonely childhood triggered an intense study of the ordinary people around her, especially the customers in her father’s jewellery shop and the migrant black workers in her native East Rand outside Johannesburg.

A teenage naivety was eventually replaced by a sense of rebellion and as her talent and reading public grew, her liberal leanings earned her the reputation of a radical.

Eventually the government censors clamped down and banned three of her works in the 1960s and 1970s, despite her growing prestige abroad and her acceptance as one of the foremost authors in the English language.

The first book to be banned was A World of Strangers, the story of an apolitical Briton drifting into friendships with black South Africans and uncovering the schizophrenia of living in segregated Johannesburg in the 1950s.

In 1979, Burger’s Daughter was banished from the shelves for its portrayal of a woman’s attempt to establish her own identity after her father’s death in jail made him a political hero.

Despite Gordimer’s place in the international elite, she maintained a passionate concern for those struggling at the bottom of South Africa’s literary heap.

“It humbles me to see someone sitting in the corner of a township shack he shares with 10 others, trying to write in the most impossible of conditions,” she said.

Margaret Atwood: Nadine Gordimer: evergreen, ageless and an inspiration to all writers.

Sir Walter Scott’s first historical novel, two hundred years ago


Sir Henry Raeburn's portrait of Sir Walter Scott (1822)

By David Walsh in the USA:

Two hundred years since the publication of Waverley

Sir Walter Scott and the drama of history

9 July 2014

Monday marked 200 years since the publication of Waverley, a novel by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832), an event of genuine artistic and intellectual significance. Waverley is widely considered the first historical novel—that is, the first work that treated the past not primarily as ornament on a tale of “timeless” morals and manners, but from the point of view of its own distinct significance as the necessary and comprehensible prelude to the present.

Literary critic Leslie Stephens observed that “the special characteristic of Scott as distinguished from his predecessors is precisely his clear perception that the characters whom he loved so well and described so vividly were the products of a long historical evolution.”

Charles Edward Stuart ('Bonnie Prince Charlie')

Scott’s book follows Edward Waverley, a young, high-born Englishman, as he becomes involved for a time in the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745—the effort, launched in Scotland, to restore the Stuart dynasty to the British throne. The uprising, led by Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”), was in large measure an effort to turn the clock back to feudal times and forestall the spread of capitalistic relations. Highland clans and Scottish landowners opposed to the 1707 union of England and Scotland and those Scottish merchants who had been damaged by that union—along with a section of English aristocrats—took part in or sympathized with the unsuccessful rebellion against the government of George II.

Scott brilliantly portrays the uprising and its consequences from the social, political and moral points of view (in his study of the family, private property and the state, for instance, Friedrich Engels wrote, “Walter Scott’s novels bring the Scotch highland clan vividly before our eyes”), without sacrificing tension and spontaneity. The reader encounters a host of characters, English and Scottish (and even French), from many social backgrounds and taken from life. Waverley is an artistic accomplishment of the highest order, even if it is not yet Scott’s very finest work.

The novel has a great historical value, but that in and of itself would not be a compelling enough reason to recommend it to a wide audience or to urge a consideration of Scott’s body of work as a whole, which is the primary motive for this article. Waverley is immensely enjoyable and entertaining, dramatic and gripping, and almost “Shakespearean” in its objectivity. Scott is able, to a remarkable degree, to give the principal parties their respective due. This certainly includes the clan and Jacobite leaders, even while he recognizes and identifies the hopeless and retrograde nature of their rebellion.

Illustration for Scott's Waverley

Scott was on the eve of his 43rd birthday in July 1814. He was already a celebrated narrative poet—The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805), Marmion (1808), The Lady of the Lake (1810)—and, in fact, Waverley was published anonymously in part to protect his existing reputation should the book fail to please the public. Scott had read and studied voraciously, accumulating a store of local and national history, poetry, ballads, folk tales and more, as well as undergoing a more conventional education. Waverley, with its profusion of cultural and historical allusions, is the book of a man well into life. In its richness and maturity, it is not a typical “first novel,” in that sense.

The appearance of Scott’s novel made an immediate and enormous impression. According to the Walter Scott Digital Archive at the Edinburgh University Library, “The success of Waverley was phenomenal and established Scott as a novelist with an international reputation. The first edition of one thousand copies sold out within two days of publication, and by November a fourth edition was at the presses.”

Ian Duncan, in an introduction to a recent edition of Waverley, suggests that the book “has a strong claim to be the most influential work in the modern history of the novel.” Scott went on to author another two dozen novels over the next decade and a half or so, in the process becoming the most lionized and popular literary figure of his day.

Thirteen of the novels, including most of the highly regarded ones, are set between 1644 and 1799, most of those in Scotland (or northern England), and treat various sides of the great historical transitions of the day. The subject is often civil war or internecine religious conflict, in which hostile social forces violently collide, treated generally through the activities of rather unheroic and secondary figures.

Scott’s stature in the first third of the nineteenth century and beyond is almost impossible to conceive of today. He became a venerated, even adored, figure, whose work reached wide layers of the reading public and influenced countless writers, including Victor Hugo, Alexander Pushkin, Honoré de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Gustave Flaubert and Leo Tolstoy.

Alexander Pushkin

Pushkin, the great Russian poet, for example, wrote: “The influence of Walter Scott can be felt in every province of the literature of his age. The new school of French historians formed itself under the influence of the Scottish novelist. He showed them entirely new sources which had so far remained unknown despite the existence of the historical drama of Shakespeare and Goethe.” Tolstoy’s War and Peace owes a direct and unmistakable debt to Scott.

Both Charles Dickens’s Barnaby Rudge and, more successfully, A Tale of Two Cities would have been unthinkable without the earlier writer’s example. In a letter, Dickens wrote of reading such Scott novels as “Kenilworth [1821]…with greater delight than ever,” and also noted that “in Scott’s Diary which I have been looking at this morning, there are thoughts which have been mine by day and by night.”

George Eliot, another major English novelist, also admired Scott tremendously. A biographer comments that her “passion for books seems to have sprung into being on her first contact with Sir Walter Scott,” when she read Waverley in 1827 or so. The biography continues, “The love of Scott lasted throughout her life,” and cites Eliot’s later comment, “It is a personal grief, a heart wound to me, when I hear a depreciatory or slighting word about Scott.”

The latter’s poems and novels inspired operas (Donizetti, Rossini, Bizet), musical pieces (Schubert, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Sullivan), theatrical works and paintings. Eleanor Marx observed that her father “read and reread Walter Scott; he admired him and knew him almost as well as he knew Fielding and Balzac.” Franz Mehring commented that Marx “recognized a number of Walter Scott’s novels as being models of their kind.” He apparently considered Old Mortality (1816), which treats the conflict between Scottish Presbyterian rebels (“Covenanters”) and Royalists in the late seventeenth century, to be a particular “masterpiece.”

Ironically, Scott’s The Lady of the Lake was so popular that it inspired both abolitionist Frederick Douglass (who, after his escape from slavery in 1838, chose his last name from a central character) and the Ku Klux Klan (which allegedly adopted the custom of cross burning from the Scottish clans’ tradition depicted in the work).

A conservative in his political and social views, Scott nevertheless breathed the same air as his more radical (although, in some cases, only in their youth) contemporaries William Wordsworth, Ludwig van Beethoven, Friedrich Hölderlin, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Robert Owen, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Friedrich von Schlegel (all born in the years 1770 to 1772!). The great event here is the French Revolution of 1789, which erupted when they were at an impressionable age.

Scott was hostile to the French Revolution and social upheaval in general, although The Heart of Midlothian (1818) opens with a scintillating account of a popular revolt. In any event, something of the drama of the stormy era unquestionably entered his bloodstream—and never left it. As Trotsky noted in a very different context, “the ‘spirit’ of an epoch…is reflected in everybody, in those who accept it and who embody it, as well as in those who hopelessly struggle against it.” (It is not for nothing that Scott authored a nine-volume biography of Napoleon in 1825-1827.) One becomes aware of this intense dramatic element as the best of Scott’s novels progress toward their climactic confrontations.

He was a product in part of the Scottish Enlightenment. As Peter Garside has pointed out, “There is still a tendency…to think of Scott solely as a nineteenth-century figure, but of course his first thirty years [half his life] were spent in eighteenth-century Edinburgh” (Scott and the “Philosophical” Historians, 1975). Garside continued, “Scott had a strong sense of the intellectual and cultural importance of the Scottish Enlightenment as a whole,” which included such figures as Adam Smith, David Hume and Robert Burns.

Occurring in a “post-revolutionary” society, the Scottish Enlightenment had a politically moderate coloring for the most part, but its humanism, belief in reason, general broadmindedness and hostility to the arrogance of authority certainly helped shape Scott’s outlook. (One of his professors at the University of Edinburgh in 1790-1791 was the Enlightenment philosopher Dugald Stewart, who was a sympathizer of the French Revolution, at least in its initial stages, and fell under suspicion as a result.)

A generally tolerant and democratic sensibility is to be found in Scott’s work—for instance, in his scathing treatment of anti-Semitism in Ivanhoe (1819). In addition, it would be difficult to imagine this rather contemptuous passing comment by one of the central female characters in Waverley appearing in a novel prior to Scott’s day: “I believe all men (that is, who deserve the name) are pretty much alike; there is generally more courage required to run away. They have besides, when confronted with each other, a certain instinct for strife, as we see in other male animals, such as dogs, bulls, and so forth.”

(Scott, to his credit, was a sincere admirer of Jane Austen, among other female writers. In his journal, he commented, quite wonderfully, “The Big Bow-wow strain [!] I can do myself like any now going; but the exquisite touch [referring to Austen], which renders ordinary commonplace things and characters interesting, from the truth of the description and the sentiment, is denied to me. What a pity such a gifted creature died so early!”)

David Daiches, in his 1951 essay “Scott’s Achievement as a Novelist,” rejected the notion of Scott as an “ultra-romantic figure.” Instead, he argued, “Scott’s best and characteristic novels are a very different matter. They might with justice be called ‘antiromantic’ fiction…. It is worth noting that the heroine of the novel considered by most critics to be Scott’s best [The Heart of Midlothian] is a humble Scottish working girl.”

That heroine, Jeanie Deans, travels to London by foot to try to obtain a reprieve for her sister, falsely charged with child-murder. When she reaches the English capital, “she pours out her heart in her humble Scots diction” to the queen. “And when Jeanie tries to find out how she can repay the kindness of the noble duke who had helped her to her interview with the queen, she asks, ‘Does your honour like cheese?’ That is the real Scott touch.”

Scott’s historical novels, argued famed essayist Thomas Carlyle, “taught all men this truth, which looks like a truism, and yet was as good as unknown to writers of history and others, till so taught: that the bygone ages of the world were actually filled by living men, not by protocols, state-papers, controversies, and abstractions of men.”

One tends to remember, as Daiches pointed out, the minor or “middle” characters who abound in Scott’s work, the practical and energetic Scottish lawyers and farmers, the eccentric pedants and courthouse hangers-on, the landladies and tavern-keepers, the adventurers and vagabonds, the merchants and gypsies. The novelist is moved by the traditional heroism of an earlier day (and saddened by its passing), but finds it impotent, while he takes satisfaction in “the peace, prosperity and progress which he felt had been assured by the Union with England in 1707” and brings colorfully to life those who are making the most, for better or worse, of the new conditions.

Scott’s writings began to fall out of favor in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and it is not terribly difficult to figure out why. There are areas of life, as Scott himself indicates in his comment about Jane Austen, excluded from his work. The rise of the psychological novel and its more intimate, fluid treatment of human relationships made Scott a less attractive figure. His deliberately roundabout style, his often leisurely, sometimes careless approach, which suggested a real or imaginary rural world in an earlier age, seemed both artificial and stodgy in the light of mid-century realism and, later, naturalism.

Mark Twain in 1895

Mark Twain famously ridiculed Scott in Life on the Mississippi (1883), amusingly, if mistakenly, accusing the Scottish writer (clearly with Ivanhoe and such in mind) of setting “the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society.”

On the other hand, bourgeois critics and writers took advantage, so to speak, of Scott’s weak side and his less appealing qualities as part of a wider attack, after the 1848 revolutions and the appearance on the historical scene of the working class, against the very concept of historical change and progress. As conscious or unconscious defenders of the status quo, which was now threatened from below, historians and novelists alike increasingly tended to treat society in an unhistorical manner, accepting the given social order and relationships as having existed from all time.

As the left-wing Hungarian critic Georg Lukács argued, in The Historical Novel (1937), “Since history…is no longer conceived [after 1848] as the prehistory of the present, or, if it is, then in a superficial, unilinear, evolutionary way, the endeavours of the earlier period to grasp the stages of the historical process in their real individuality, as they really were objectively, lose their living interest…. [H]istory is modernized. This means the historian [or novelist] proceeds from the belief that the fundamental structure of the past is economically and ideologically the same as that of the present. Thus, in order to understand the present all one has to do is to attribute the thoughts, feelings and motives of present-day men to the past.”

Lukács’s work, in fact, led to a revival of interest in Scott, and it is worth briefly going over a number of his conceptions. Like many intellectuals in the Stalinist orbit, Lukács was at his most useful when dealing with eras very distant in time from his own. When he arrived at the twentieth century, his literary criticism inevitably strained and twisted to conform to both the Stalinist political and cultural lines.

In The Historical Novel, Lukács first addresses the rise of a new, widespread historical consciousness out of which a writer such as Scott could emerge. He associates that development with “the French Revolution, the revolutionary wars and the rise and fall of Napoleon, which for the first time made history a mass experience, and moreover on a European scale.” The quick succession of upheavals between 1789 and 1814 “gives them a qualitatively distinct character, it makes their historical character far more visible than would be the case in isolated, individual instances.”

Moreover, discussing the new, mass character of the armies in the Napoleonic wars, the far-flung experiences of hundreds of thousands, or millions, which extended from Egypt to Russia, Lukács remarked, “Hence the concrete possibilities for men to comprehend their own existence as something historically conditioned, for them to see in history something which deeply affects their daily lives and immediately concerns them.”

In the wake of the Restoration of the European monarchies after Napoleon’s final defeat in 1815, a new type of argument in favor of historical progress had to emerge: “According to the new interpretation the reasonableness of human progress develops ever increasingly out of the inner conflict of social forces in history itself; according to this interpretation history itself is the bearer and realizer of human progress. The most important thing here is the increasing historical awareness of the decisive role played in human progress by the struggle of classes in history.”

Although Britain was held up in the early nineteenth century as the model of peaceful, upward development, keen observers such as Scott, wrote Lukács, “were made to see that this peaceful development was peaceful only as the ideal of an historical conception…. The organic character of England’s development is a resultant made up of the components of ceaseless class struggles and their bloody resolution in great or small, successful or abortive uprisings.” Much of Scott’s novel-writing concerns these episodes.

Scott’s choice of “mediocre, average” heroes pointed to his renunciation of Romanticism and his effort “to portray the struggles and antagonisms of history by means of characters who, in their psychology and destiny, always represent social trends and historical forces.” Lukacs continued, “For the hero of the epic is life itself and not the individual.”

“In Scott’s most important novels historically unknown, semi-historical or entirely non-historical persons play the leading role…. Scott thus lets his important figures grow out of the being of the age, he never explains the age from the position of its great representatives…. For the being of the age can only appear as a broad and many-sided picture if the everyday life of the people, the joys and sorrows, crises and confusions of average human beings are portrayed.”

There is a great deal more to be said on the subject of Scott and the historical novel, but let this suffice as an introduction. If any readers, unfamiliar with the novelist’s work, develop an interest in his novels as the result of this essay, its purpose is served.

First world war in a German novel


This German video is called Edlef Köppen · Heeresbericht [German title of Köppen's novel, called Higher Command in English].

By Clara Weiss in Germany:

Edlef Köppen’s Higher Command: An important novel on the First World War

8 July 2014

In recent years, Edlef Köppen’s novel about the First World War, Higher Command, has again become available in a number of formats in German. It has appeared as a hardback and paperback book, as an audio book, and as an e-book. The novel is also available free of charge in German from the Project Gutenberg web site. The book appeared in English in 1931 and has not been republished since then.

In view of the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, Higher Command is very relevant reading.

The novel focuses on a 21-year-old student, Adolf Reisiger, who, like many others caught up in a surge of patriotism and enthusiasm for war, volunteers for military service in the summer of 1914. The novel describes his experiences: first on the Western Front in France and then on the Eastern Front for a few months, until he lives through the final defeat of the German army in the summer of 1918. By then, he has risen to the rank of officer, but all his initial enthusiasm for the war has evaporated.

Reisiger experiences the first gas attacks in France. At first, the soldiers regard them as just another of the military’s technical innovations. The first reports of gas attacks are dryly received as “a lot of fuss about nothing”, but the devastating consequences soon become apparent.

The novel’s senior-ranking German doctor, who shows the soldiers how to put on gas masks, assures them, “Of course, we adhere to the rules of international law, which have frequently enough been outraged by those swine over there, but we are making it as hot a hell for them as we can.” [Edlef Köppen, Higher Command (New York: J. Cape & H. Smith, 1931), p. 129]

A few pages later, Köppen languidly cites newspaper reports about a German gas attack on the French army: “The gas cloud swept over a sector of the front chiefly occupied by the French-Colonial Division between Bixschoote and Langemark, and spread terror and confusion in their ranks. 15,000 cases of asphyxiation occurred, of which 5,000 terminated fatally.” [p. 133]

Accounts of the mass slaughter during the war are conveyed in a simple and sober language. It is precisely this transparent narrative style that imbues the scenes of barbarity with such shocking force.

The description of one of the Allies’ cavalry attacks, for example, is as masterful as it is unsettling: “Machine-gun fire sprayed amidst the plunging horses, whose shattered stumps dragged along the ground. Shrapnels bursting in the air, then shells exploding on the ground, sheets of sulphurous flame, columns of brown smoke, jets of bleeding intestines as thick as a man’s arm, limbs and trunks of man and beast hurled skywards; such was the sight they witnessed all along the whole cavalry-front from Loos to the coal-dump.” [p. 198]

Reisiger and his comrades are increasingly unable to see any sense in the mass slaughter. By 1917, at the latest, the soldiers are war-weary to the point of exhaustion. In these months, Reisiger is transferred to the Eastern Front. Shortly before this, he has been promoted to an officer rank, although he has published pacifist poems in the left-socialist newspaper, The Action, in 1916. Now, on the Eastern Front, he witnesses the mass desertion of the Russian soldiers. The Soviet government, which came to power under the leadership of the Bolsheviks in October, brings the war to an end a few months later.

But even after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, whose harsh conditions were forced upon the Soviet government, the German government continues the war. Reisiger is again commissioned to the Western Front, where the German High Command hopes to deliver the Allies a crushing blow. As an officer he is involved in the preparation of the offensive in the summer of 1918, which ends in a devastating defeat for the Germans. The relative strength of the Allies, now reinforced by American troops, has grown to 7 million combatants, compared to 2.5 million on the German side.

After the German army is virtually overrun by the Allies, Reisiger deserts. He tells his superiors that the war was the greatest of all crimes and that he no longer wants to be part of it. On account of this, he is put into an asylum.

What makes Higher Command exceptional is that contemporary documents are woven into the narrative throughout the whole novel: excerpts from German newspaper articles, dedicated to maintaining the tide of war propaganda; statements from generals and Kaiser Wilhelm II; encyclopaedia entries; censorship ordinances; the call for peace, made by the Soviet government to the peoples of the world after the victorious October Revolution of 1917.

The battles, in which Reisiger participates, are not only reported from the narrator’s perspective; their horror and significance is enhanced by the inclusion of pertinent newspaper articles and quotations from historical works that were written later.

This technique enables the author to reveal not only the striking contrast between the propaganda and the brutal reality of a war that destroyed the lives of millions of people. The reader also gains a rarely communicated insight into the contemporary political and cultural climate.

This almost documentary character of the novel largely succeeds in making comprehensible the tremendous shock to the consciousness and world view of millions of soldiers and civilians during the war. Many soldiers as well as civilians believed the propaganda at the beginning of the war. But the brutal reality of front-line warfare, mass poverty, hunger and the despair of families left behind obliterated these illusions in the prevailing order.

The author, Edlef Köppen, was born in 1893 and, like Reisiger, fought in the war for four years. During the 1920s, he worked as a radio editor and published poems. He wrote his strongly autobiographical novel in the late twenties. It appeared in 1930, two years after Erich Maria Remarque’s famous All Quiet on the Western Front.

The onset of the global economic crisis in 1928 once again made the First World War a hotly debated topic in the Weimar Republic. In 1930, the book market began to be flooded with right-wing patriotic war novels, partly in response to Remarque’s anti-war book, of which hundreds of thousands of copies were sold in the first few years.

These circumstances, as well as the overwhelming popularity of Remarque’s novel, pushed Higher Command into the background. Nevertheless, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. The German writer Ernst Toller wrote: “Köppen’s book must find hundreds of thousands of readers, in Germany and in all other countries.”

Although the work then appeared in English in 1931, it has never become as well known as other anti-war novels either in Germany or abroad.

The Nazis burned the book in 1933. Köppen was able to publish some works in Berlin newspapers under a pseudonym, but he soon withdrew—as did many oppositional intellectuals—into the film industry. He started to work with the TOBIS film producer, but came into serious conflict with the Nazis when the film producer was subordinated to Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry.

Köppen refused to join the Nazi party and work on anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi films in the party’s programme. In February 1939, a few months before the beginning of World War II, he died from the lingering effects of a war injury at the age of only 46. His novel was largely forgotten. It didn’t appear again in German until the 1970s.

Although Higher Command is artistically different in every respect from All Quiet on the Western Front, it in no way falls short of the literary quality of Remarque’s famous novel. Under conditions in which the imperialist powers are again preparing for a world conflagration and the media are again beating the drums of war, Higher Command deserves a wide readership.

British anti-World War I Sassoon poem was censored


This video from Britain is called Suicide in the Trenches by Siegfried Sassoon: Read by Stephen Graham | Remembering World War 1.

From daily The Independent in Britain:

Unpublished Siegfried Sassoon poems get first reading – and show anti-war sentiment was toned down before publication

Phrases like ‘you’re great at murder’ were later scratched from ‘Atrocities

Claudia Pritchard

Sunday 06 July 2014

Two unpublished poems by Siegfried Sassoon will be given a public reading for the first time today by the actor Samuel West, among them the first draft of “Atrocities”, in which Sassoon is much more direct about the visceral act of killing the enemy than in the later, published version.

Phrases that were later scratched include “you’re great at murder”. And the final lines, which the owner of the original manuscript, Annette Campbell-White, says finish “quite limply” with “still talking big and boozing in a bar”, contain the phrase “gulp their blood in ghoulish dreams”. Where Sassoon originally wrote “How did you kill them?”, he later revised this to “How did you do them in?”

Ms Campbell-White, a Sassoon specialist and collector, bought the poems at auction last year. “The war department or publishers thought that ‘Atrocities’ was a little too harsh, and so when it was published it was modified,” she said. At the time of the Bonhams sale she also acquired a large exercise book, Sassoon’s “daybook” from the 1920s, containing two dozen or so poems illustrated by the poet himself. Among them is a homage to Beethoven – “hail him heroic, honour him as great” – which West will also read at a music and poetry event in Buckinghamshire.

“The poems are very good. I am amazed they have never been published,” said Ms Campbell-White. “They are about all aspects of life, nature … a sort of poetic diary.”

Today’s event, called “Peace in Our Time?” forms part of the Garsington Opera summer season in a theatre in the grounds of the home of millionaire art collector Mark Getty, heir to John Paul Getty, at Wormsley, near High Wycombe. Garsington has an association with Sassoon through the socialite Lady Ottoline Morrell, owner of Garsington Manor from 1914 to 1928. It was at the manor that the operas were staged, from 1989 to 2011, before moving to Wormsley.

At Garsington Hall, which he visited regularly, Sassoon was encouraged by Lady Ottoline to take a stand against the way in which the First World War was proceeding. He had served with distinction until openly questioning the purpose of the war in 1917. He had received the Military Cross, but threw his medal into the Mersey. Only admission to the psychiatric hospital at Craiglockhart near Edinburgh spared him a court martial. He died in 1967.

Garsington was a haven for artists, intellectuals and conscientious objectors, including D H Lawrence and Lytton Strachey. Conscientious objectors, including members of the Bloomsbury circle, escaped prosecution by working on the farm there.

In 1917, Sassoon wrote a letter called “Finished With the War: A Soldier’s Declaration”. In it he said: “I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects… would now be attainable by negotiation.”

“Sassoon’s best poetry was written at the time of the war,” said Ms Campbell-White. “It was something to do with the stress, adrenaline and terror of that time that made the writing of the First World War poets so extraordinary. Sassoon remained a fine poet, but if Rupert Brooke, for example, had come back, what would he have become?”

Dave Sherry tells Tomáš Tengely-Evans he wants his new book Empire and Revolution to take on the elite’s attempt to whitewash the First World War: here.

Girl with Pearl Earring, goldfinch, are back in The Hague


This March 2013 video from the de Young museum in San Francisco, USA, is called Opening Day of Girl with a Pearl Earring: Dutch Paintings from the Mauritshuis.

Johannes Vermeer‘s famous seventeenth century painting Girl with a Pearl Earring had to leave the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, as that museum was reconstructed.

Now, that painting and other famous paintings are back at the Mauritshuis. Which is reopening: twice the size it used to be.

This video from the Netherlands is called Mauritshuis museum to reopen in June [2014] after revonation.

This is a Dutch video of today, about the Mauritshuis reopening.

This video is called How a Dutch Master Made ‘The Goldfinch‘ Come Alive.

It is about another painting returned now to the Mauritshuis, The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius.

The painting recently got in the news because of the novel of the same name by Donna Tartt.

This video is called BBC Culture: Donna Tartt shares The Goldfinch’s secret history.

Pearl of a museum: Vermeer shines among Dutch icons in new Mauritshuis: here.