Upcoming Discussions

Friday, 8/11/2017, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Nathan Hill, THE NIX (2016)

 

THOMAS HARDY, THEN AND NOW

Friday, 9/15/2017, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Thomas Hardy, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE (1878), first half

Friday, 9/29/2017, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Thomas Hardy, THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE (1878), second half

Friday, 10/20/2017, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Damian Wilkins, MAX GATE (2016)

Friday, 11/10/2017, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Thomas Hardy, TESS OF THE D'URBERVILLES (1891)

Friday, 12/8/2017, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Christopher Nicholson, WINTER (2016)

 

THE WINTER NOVEL

Friday, 1/12/2018, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

TBD

Friday, 1/26/2018, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

TBD

Friday, 2/9/2018, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

TBD

Friday, 2/23/2018, 10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

TBD

Wednesday
Nov032010

More Philippe Petit

As you may know by now, the man on the wire in LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN is never named. We'll want to talk about this in our discussion: the ways that "real time"--that is, history--are offered up in the book as a frisson or perhaps merely background noise for something else, robbed of their "actuality" and turned into something new for the novel.

The book is in no way a "historical novel"--yet it uses history (in the sense of specific, recordable events) for its own ends.

And by doing so, it warps time in the way that fiction often does.

After all, isn't that one of the reasons we read? It is one of the few ways we can remove ourselves from our own timeline, our own narrative, our own story. It's not that we become timeless while reading. It's that we experience time in a different way.

Heady stuff, for sure. But here's another clip of Petit, this time on the indomitable Colbert Report:

The Colbert Report Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Philippe Petit
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes 2010 Election March to Keep Fear Alive
Sunday
Oct312010

Philippe Petit's High-Wire Act

As promised, and with a long lead to our next discussion of LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, here's a video montage of Petit's famed walk on the wire strung between the Twin Towers.

Most of the actual video footage is now secured under copyright for the documentary "Man on Wire" which the library has available for loan. I encourage you to watch the documentary in the next few weeks--simply because it itself is so terrifying and beautiful all at once.

In the meantime, here's the montage of stills someone has put together with Erik Satie's haunting music. (We have a fairly low bandwidth on this site, so you might want to let the full video load before watching it.)

 

Friday
Oct292010

One More Thing About WASHINGTON SQUARE

Early on, I said we'd often pay special attention to the beginnings and endings of novels. This one by James is no exception.

Consider this: the novel opens with a scene of involuntary loss. It opens with death--which is an odd place for a novel to open. Specifically, with the death of two members of Dr. Sloper's family--two events over which he has no control but which both deal him great loss.

The novel then concludes with a scene of voluntary loss: Catherine's dismissing Morris and settling into her quiet life of "mild, firm sadness."

No matter what else you think about her fate, it is something she can control. James did not end with Mrs. Penniman's or Mrs. Almond's deaths--two events that could have been quite "natural" for the plot's conclusion. Instead, he has opted for a loss of a different kind: the loss that Catherine herself chooses.

In this, she has moved well beyond her father.

Tuesday
Oct262010

A Tidbit About WASHINGTON SQUARE

James wrote this smallish novel at what is now considered the height of his first phase of literary output, a period that culiminated with the subsequent novel, one of his unabashed masterpieces, The Portrait of a Lady.

That said, Washington Square is sublime: polished, poised, and succinct. The idea for the novel was suggested to James by his friend, the British actress Fanny Kemble.

Kemble herself was once entangled in a tragic marriage in the United States. She had married Pierce Butler, the heir to an enormous fortune. Butler also inherited his father's many slaves. After seeing their appalling conditions on his plantations in Georgia, Kemble tried to better their lives, much to Butler's dismay. The couple soon separted and eventually were divorced.

To her horror, Butler was given sole custody of their two daughters. Kemble returned to the stage to make a living and was later reunited with her daughters after each turned twenty-one. She was best known in the United States for her solo readings of Shakespeare's plays. From a chair center-stage, she would read an entire play, all the characters, employing various voices and dramatic gestures, to grand applause and in sold-out houses. In the days before youtube, this passed for a hit.

Back in England, Kemble was the toast of London society. There, she met James frequently at swanky dinner parties and the two soon become good friends.

One evening, she recounted to James the story of her younger brother, Henry. According to Kemble, he was beautiful but "selfish and indolent." He courted Mary Anne Thackeray, a plain girl, the only child of George Thackeray, the master of King's College, Cambridge. George Thackeray had inherited a fortune that yielded him in today's money about half a million a year. On learning that his daughter was honoring the suit of a known lay-about, he said that if she dared to marry the young man, he would cut her off.

Mary Anne went to Fanny for advice during the worst of it. The girl then soldiered on against her father. The whole affair soon went up in smoke when Henry himself broke off the engagement, fearing the old man would never relent.

Twenty years later, the don long dead, Henry Kemble returned and proposed again to Mary Anne. This time, she refused him outright, although now a fading spinster. "And yet," Fanny Kemble told James, "she cared for Henry--and she would have married no other man."

As a thank-you for the germ of the story, James put Fanny Kemble into the book--in the "person" of Mrs. Montgomery, the sister of Morris Townsend. However, the advice that James recorded in his dairies as having come from Fanny Kemble to Mary Anne Thackeray was elsewhere reproduced almost verbatim in the text of the book--in the mouth of Mrs. Almond.

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