Monthly Archives: January 2013

Postscript to a Long Monday

I’m back home from a long day of teaching Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus and Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. All in all, I think both classes went well. I brought a different perspective to TSAR than I have in the past. One of the points that has often troubled me about this novel is the seeming anti-Semitism associated with the character of Robert Cohen. The abuse heaped upon Robert never added quite up; it seemed quite out of character for Hemingway.

I recently read The Living Moment: Modernism in a Broken World by Jeffrey Hart, and I think Hart has developed a theory that works for me, at least. He examines TSAR in context with The Great Gatsby and The Wasteland. In any case, he concludes that while Cohen’s biography may have been taken from someone else, Cohen’s personality is that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s.  It does make some sense. Cohen’s overt romanticism and sentimentality parallels those of FSF. Cohen is an outcast and outsider at WASP Princeton, much like FSF. Cohen is browbeaten by the woman he is pursuing, much like FSF. Hemingway, Hart concludes, was frustrated by the success of GG and found it overly romantic. TSAR is the response. It is definitely an argument worth considering. (The Living Moment: Modernism in a Broken World: Jeffrey Hart: 9780810128217: Books)

Hemingway and Marlowe. Huh?

Today is one of those schizophrenic days you sometimes get in teaching. In one class, I have Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus. In another class, I have Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. It can make your head swim a bit. But it always good to dive into the richness and the diversity of the our literary heritage. Marlowe and Hemingway — so little to do with one another, but geniuses in their own right. I’m going to enjoy today. Will try to post again when it’s all over.

Bourgeois Virtue and Downton Abbey

I just finished watching Episode #5 (Episode #4 for those of us watching in the States) of Downton Abbey. I have to admit it — this show is my guilty pleasure. Usually my tastes run more to the works where the force of the narrative is in rejecting rather than accepting rigid social hierarchies, more Tolstoy and less Waugh. Yes, sure, we have Branson and his good old-fashioned Irish republicanism, but the character often comes across as simply churlish rather than truly revolutionary; as if the worst thing a freedom fighter can do is cause discord at high tea rather than sow dissent in the public square. I have too often thought that the critics of the show have gotten it wrong. It is not simply a museum celebrating the glories of a now-faded imperium. And I think tonight the program showed its true colors. Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD. Julian Fellowes, an aristo himself, has shown where his true loyalties lie. In the contest between barbarians, philistines, and populace, it is the philistines (the middle class) that wins out. Tonight’s episode had three particularly striking moments where view this.

First, there is Isobel’s determination to “save” ex-prostitute Ethel, even to the extent of offering her a position in her house. As a result, Mrs. Byrd, the cook/housekeeper, resigns. The senior staff at the big house, especially the men, are shocked. Here, the middle-class virtue of Isobel is seen as demonstrably superior to the narrow and traditional morality of several working class characters.

Second, Matthew, Isobel’s son, has been investigating Downton’s books. He finds that the estate has been mismanaged for decades, and he is determined to put it back on the right course. He says to Mary that one of the most important middle-class values is husbandry (as in the controlled and judicious use of resources). The bourgeois methods will prove far more effective in saving Downton than those of the aristocracy. Murray, the middle class family solicitor, agrees with Matthew. And thus again we have that idea of saving, of providing salvation.

Third, and most importantly, we have the conflict between the two doctors over the proper treatment for Lady Sybil for the last days of her pregnancy. Dr. Clarkson, the middle-class family doctor, diagnoses her with eclampsia and wants to take her to hospital. Lord Grantham’s chosen physician, the aristocratic Sir Phillip, thinks that she is doing just fine and that they do not need to rely on institutions like hospitals! to bring a child into this world. Guess who is proven right? And so we bid farewell to Lady Sybil. Clarkson’s hard work and experience trumps Sir Phillip’s pedigree.

Matthew Arnold wrote, “Our guides who are chosen by the Philistines and who have to look to their favour, tell the Philistines how ‘all the world knows that the great middle-class of this country supplies the mind, the will, and the power requisite for all the great and good things that have to be done,’ and congratulate them on their ‘earnest good sense, which penetrates through sophisms, ignores commonplaces, and gives to conventional illusions their true value’.” Arnold would have found tonight’s episode especially fascinating.

First Post! (gulp)

I feel a little like Danny Glover in all of those Lethal Weapons films: “I’m too old for this shit.” I won’t bore you with the usual rant of a 40-something about all of this new-fangled social media. But rather than rail against the technological change, I have decided instead to embrace it and make it my own. I want to use it to discuss what I care about, which may seem quaint in the age of FB and Twitter and Tumblr and yes blogs: great writing. Maybe that will be a film or a play, a television show or a film. Maybe it will be high brow or low brow. One day I might engage in the more ethereal of critical theory, and the next I might dive into the visceral emotions of a piece. I hope to always be honest. I hope to have a high intellectual standard, but not pretentious. Smart doesn’t have to be dull. I hope to provoke conversation — even disagreement, as long as it is polite and respectful. I hope to inspire, even in a small way. I have my personal loves, as the title of this site indicates. There’ll be more Kerouac and Joyce than Austen and Hardy. So welcome. As a parting thought, I recently rediscovered this little gem by Whitman: “Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.” Good night.