Sunday, March 19, 2006

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

While we're on the subject of libraries...

This seems a splendid idea: the OED, a decent newspaper archive, and a shelf of other expensive reference works, from anywhere in Britain, for anyone with a library card. And I didn't notice it until the official responsible managed to get a letter in The Times. My local seems to have some similar system, but I'll definitely be asking them about this one.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Hot news

On a certain Saturday in May, 360 ping-pong balls will descend this spiral staircase. Because of art.

Knowing the Bromley House library's membership procedures - which are friendly and fairly open but not quick - you would probably need to apply now to see it as of right.

They'll equally probably let in guests. But if you live in Nottingham, read, and have any spare time in office hours, you'll want to join.

Rewards of reading on

TLS, March 10, 2006; "Learned Journals" roundup; final item; first sentence:

"Few academic journals can pull off two articles about farting in one issue, but Exemplaria does it with panache."

The writer is Bettina Bildhauer. The articles she mentions are by Valerie J. Allen and Peter W. Travis, on the place of breaking wind in grammatical/musical theories and "thirteen ways to interpret a fart, as exemplified by Chaucer's Summoner".

If you're feeling the doubts I felt, well, Exemplaria seems to exist: it has a website, at any rate. If you're tempted to subscribe, it's $50 a year individual outside US (not $85 - naughty Lit Supp), but bear in mind that it's "A Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance Studies" and Bettina Bildhauer says that means mostly late Medieval literature, mostly through deconstruction and psychoanalysis.

Oh, and if you're thinking of reading the rest of the article on the web, and you're not a TLS subscriber, you should give up: all you'll get is a few highlights and a broken link to a .pdf of the previous issue's contents page.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

What may have started it

In the event anyone's reading this, it's probably because I got involved in a discussion between two infinitely better bloggers (this one and this one) on Anthony Burgess and Graham Greene. It's going on here and here. You may therefore be interested to read the bit of criticism Burgess says gave Greene a grudge against him. This seems to be "The Greene and the Red: Politics in the Novels of Graham Greene", reprinted in his 1968 journalism round-up Urgent Copy. Here's the relevant quote:

Of the English Catholic novelists, Graham Greene is by far the most interesting, since he is probably the least orthodox. The implied doctrines of his novels approach Jansenism, which has been repeatedly condemned by Rome. Cornelius Jansen, founder of the theological school whose most famous and brilliant adherent was Pascal, came too near to Calvinism to be orthodox: he found too much semi-Pelagianism in the 'laxist' Jesuits; he affirmed and re-affirmed the more 'rigorist' doctrines of St Augustine. In Jansen, original sin was not mere 'imputation': it expressed itself in the depravity of nature (whose order was, contrary to official teaching, distinct from the supernatural order), in appetite and in concupiscence. The horror of the natural world is one of the most fascinating aspects of Greene's fiction. Sin is not cool and intellectual matter for theological dissertations; sin is expressed in the joyless sex of Brighton Rock, with its broken toenails in the bed; the carious landscape of The Power and the Glory; the hell of Haiti in The Comedians.

Burgess goes on to suggest that this gives Greene some sympathy with communism on the grounds that it is more open about its materialist depravity.

"A place that seems to breathe sin is, paradoxically, spiritually healthier than an ascetic garden city," he says Greene thinks. Communism has the merit that "since in an evil community good can be brought about only by revolution... its techniques are apter for killing evil than are those of an affluent and settled democracy". I have omitted much subtlety and hedging.

I'm not up to assessing all this as lit-crit or theology. But I can see it's a sort of lecture on orthodoxy, and from someone who begins by declaring himself "of an old though not particularly distinguished Lancashire Catholic family, one that held to the faith through the Reformation and had its quota of undistinguished martyrs". That might smart.

(Incidentally, the reasons I'm coming up with so much Burgess and so little Greene are that Burgess is much apter to turn up in second-hand bookshops, and that Greene didn't reprint great gusts of fugitive work. Both factors speak well of Greene.)

You're a guest at the Somme

It is about 1917. Your tour guide is C.E. Montague, who was the chief leader-writer of the Manchester Guardian back when it was the only paper of weight in England consistently to oppose the Boer war. When the first world war broke out he dyed his grey hair black and volunteered for the trenches. After a few years they imposed an age limit on that; he has ended up as a censor and press officer. This account is from H.M. Tomlinson's introduction to Montague's posthumous A Writer's Notes on his Trade:

One night H.W. Massingham arrived at our chateau, on a brief visit. He was the editor of the Radical Nation, a weekly political and literary review which fought nonsense with such knowledge and persistence that for a time the Authorities declined to allow the soldiers to read it. Montague was a Radical. Probably the opinions of both of them about war approximated; they approached each other, at that time, even over that particular war. I am sure Massingham was not able to guess that. Montague made no sign. The next morning, early, the three of us set forth for Courcelette, on the Somme. It was bitterly cold, and Massingham, frail, and not then in the best of health, had had enough of it long before we reached the ruined town of Albert. This is not the place to do more than mention the fact that the battleground of the Somme was unattractive. I saw Massingham's eyes full of horror as he glanced over the landscape, at the point where Montague judged we had better leave our car. A leg bone with the boot still on it was sticking out of some rubbish beside us. Montague was beginning to look cheerful. The day was grey and the wind was north-east. Shells were falling into Devil's Wood, shells were falling on La Boisselle. Montague turned to our driver with instructions for him.

"We shall be back in about two hours. If they are shelling this road, don't come to us. We will come to you."


Massingham overheard this item of local interest with deep curiosity. Had Montague but known it, he would have taken the driver aside and whispered it; but he really appeared to suppose that any man would value an opportunity such as now offered. On we went.

We came to what used to be the windmill, on the Pozières ridge. Nothing showed there but tumbled rubbish in the universal mud; but as we drew level with it four nine-inch howitzers and two six-inch naval guns went off together, and slightly lifted me from my feet. All in the work of such a day! But Massingham was not used to it, and he was visibly shaken. One would be, even without neuralgia, and he had some. Montague, however, was getting brighter and brighter. He had no eye for Massingham. His gaze ranged the horrid landscape for inspiriting signs that it might oblige us with a display of its common routine of eruption and disaster, for he desired to satisfy the interest of a brother Radical; therefore he never noticed that Massingham already was more than confirmed in all he had ever thought of battle.

We passed an aeroplane which had crashed, and beyond that the track rose again to a ridge; and over the ridge was the enemy. Montague stopped, and inspected Massingham, who was in a blue-serge suit and dark overcoat. Montague spoke. "On the top there," he said, "the enemy will be able to see us. He mightn't waste shells on three soldiers, but if he saw a civilian he would guess an important visit was being made, and he might hand us a bouquet. We'd better go back to the battery and borrow a khaki overcoat for you, before we go on."

"But," expostulated Massingham, "I don't want to go on. I've seen all I want to see."

Montague's disappointment was manifest. He was just beginning to enjoy himself. Could Massingham ever again have such a chance as this to see how very bad the worst could be? Why waste such a day?

It may add something to know these men were old colleagues, as well as fellow radicals. Massingham was editor of the liberal Daily Chronicle when the Boer war broke out. He opposed it. His proprietors told him to change his mind or resign. And when he resigned, he found refuge as a London and parliamentary correspondent for the Guardian.

[A Writer's Notes on his Trade, by C.E. Montague, London, 1930. Highly crafted craft essays, still full of valuable perception, but also illustrative of how different posh journalism was in his day. A capacity for instantly producing apposite quotes from Walter Scott will no longer help you get a job; he writes as if it does, both in style and content. Past notes on Montague here and here. ]